Sunday, March 25, 2007

George Bailey Paxton, 1862-1910

I'm going to start this new blog with a short biography of George Bailey Paxton. He had kind of an interesting life, as my forebears go, and it's possible to piece together a little bit about his life from family sources, census, old newspapers, and other surprising sources (a book on the history of zinc mining, a 1912 history of New Mexico). So here goes. I recognize that some of these pieces will be a little long for blog entries, but I mainly just want to get them out there for family to see and for others to find via Google.

George Bailey Paxton was born on September 12, 1862, presumably on his parents' farm in Deepwater Township in Henry County, Missouri. He entered the world at a tumultuous time, both locally and nationally. The Civil War had been on for more than a year, and guerilla fighting in Kansas and Missouri was bloody. His mother, Amanda Bailey Paxton, had lost her father and a brother at the start of the war, when a band of "Southern guerillas" (as a later family history referred to them) took them from their home and shot them because of their Union sympathies. His father, Samuel, would soon join the local militia, which later became part of the Missouri State Militia Cavalry. The war disrupted the lives of both the Bailey and Paxton families. (I learned about this from a paper by historian Toby Terrar--a Bailey cousin--that focused on the Baileys in the pre-war and war years.)

Both families were new arrivals to Henry County. George's grandfather William Paxton had left the family home in Virginia, first going to what is now West Virginia, where Samuel Paxton was born in 1834, then to Cooper County, Missouri. Samuel acquired 320 acres in Henry County in 1857. He was one of the first settlers of Deepwater Township. George's other grandfather, George Bailey (the Civil War casualty for whom he was named), came from Kentucky to Illinois, where Amanda was born in 1840. They came to Henry County in 1856.

We don't know much about George's early life on his family's farm, but by the time he was a young man, the family must have been at least moderately comfortable. A railroad was laid near the farm just after the war, and the town of Montrose was laid out adjacent to the farm in 1871. A biography of Samuel from 1883 describes a prosperous farmer/businessman:

"Soon after Montrose was laid out Mr. Paxton built the Montrose Steam Elevator, and has since been engaged in buying and handling grain. This elevator has a capacity of 2,000 bushels per day, with a corn sheller and a corn grinding burr. He is doing a large shipping business which will compare favorably with any in Henry County. He still owns his fine farm adjacent to the town, which consists of 115 acres, all in good cultivation with comfortable out buildings, etc., and an orchard of 400 bearing apple trees of select varieties."

The biography also identifies Samuel, Amanda, and their daughter Mary as members of the local Baptist church. The Paxtons must have taken their religion seriously: George's younger brother, Frank Lawler Paxton, was named for a long-time Baptist preacher in the area. (Frank, who went on to be a miner and one of Teddy Roosevelt's Rough Riders in the Spanish American War, would later complain that he had been "churched to death" as a child.)

The census for 1880 finds George, at age 17, living with his parents; the note for occupation says "works on farm."

That fall, George entered William Jewell College, a Baptist institution in Liberty, Missouri. The school has no record of his graduation, but he was enrolled in a liberal arts curriculum there for at least two years, 1880-81 and 1881-82.

After that, I lose track of him for a while. There is an item in a biography of a doctor in Montrose, Richard B. Fewel, that may refer to him. It says the doctor “had the first telephone line in Montrose running from his drug store to his residence, over a quarter of a mile, put up by George Paxton in 1884.” Although we can't know for sure that it was our George, I like to think it was the kind of thing a young engineering-minded man (who later would promote the first electric line in Joplin) might have done with his free time.

What else he did is a subject for speculation. I will assume that it didn't take him long to get into the mining business, because by the turn of the century he was a highly regarded authority on zinc mining in the Joplin area, which was one of the world's major suppliers of zinc at the time. It was probably while working in that area that he met Grace Overholser, whom he married in St. Louis on November 30, 1893. (I don't know why they were married in St. Louis; it suggests a possible elopement.)

Grace, born in 1869, was the daughter of Levi and Mary (Young) Overholser, who had come from Palestine, Illinois, to Baxter Springs, Kansas, in the 1880s. (Baxter Springs was just across the line from Missouri in southeast Kansas; the mining district was known as the "tri-state area" encompassing parts of Missouri, Kansas, and Oklahoma.) Levi Overholser, also known as Lee, was a dry goods merchant in Illinois and presumably engaged in some sort of business in Baxter Springs until the family moved to Oklahoma City in 1893. Levi's brother Henry had arrived in Oklahoma City on the day of the great 1889 Oklahoma Land Run and established himself in real estate and other businesses, and Levi joined him soon after. But the family must have stayed in Baxter Springs long enough for George and Grace to meet.

[UPDATE, 8/30/07: See this post, and these two, for more about Levi Overholser and his family.]

George and Grace had two children: George Burton Paxton, born February 22, 1896, in Oklahoma City (It's not clear whether the Paxtons might have lived there at the time, or if Grace went to be with her parents while she had the baby. George apparently traveled a lot in the West for his mining work.) and Clara Paxton, born October 9, 1899, in Joplin.

By the late 1890s, we begin to see references to George Paxton in newspapers related to his work. A Dallas Morning News item from 1897 lists him as a director of the newly formed Winifred Mining Company in Oklahoma City. An advertisement in the Chicago Tribune from 1899 touting the prospects of the Continental Zinc Co. (for which George was a consulting engineer) identifies him as secretary of the Missouri-Kansas Zinc Miners' Association and "one of the highest zinc authorities in America." Around this time, he also developed something called the Paxton Scale for determining the price of ore.

In June of 1900, the family was found by a census taker at 626 Wall Street in Joplin. His occupation was listed as “mining engineer.” His wife Grace is listed as having borne three children, two of whom are living. This was the only evidence I have found for a third child of George and Grace; he or she must have died in infancy.

While I think George had worked further west before, in September 1900 we hear from a Taos newspaper that he has been hired as superintendent for the Anaconda Copper Co. there. Eventually, George would move permanently to Red River, New Mexico, and the copper mining business.

On March 26, 1901, Grace died of pneumonia. Two years later, George married Susan Botsford, a 24-year-old native of Ohio. It's not clear just where Burton and Clara lived during the decade after their mother's death, but they probably spent most of their time with George's mother Amanda. The elder Paxtons had moved to Joplin in the 1890s, and Samuel died there in 1903. Amanda later moved to Independence, Missouri, where her daughter Mary Paxton Victor (she had married a Baptist preacher) was living.

George and Susan had a child of their own on October 24, 1908, a daughter they called Elizabeth. She was born in Red River.

George got increasingly involved in his New Mexico interests over the decade, as clips from the New Mexican indicate. He operated a property near Red River that was at various times referred to as the Anaconda mine, the Copper King Mine, and the Paxton Mine.

Somewhere along the way, he also got involved with the effort to secure statehood for New Mexico. I have found no documentation of just what his involvement was--his daughter Clara described him as a lobbyist--but it was significant enough for him to spend several months in Washington, D.C., in 1910 as the statehood bill was working its way through Congress. He apparently took up residence at the Riggs House Hotel there around January.

At some point around this time, his son Burton had found a golden eagle feather at Red River. His father took it to a jeweler in Kansas City (Clara remembered going with him) to have it made into a quill pen with a band of Taos County gold and the inscription "State of New Mexico." George had either been charged or had appointed himself with the task of supplying a ceremonial pen with which the President of the United States would sign the statehood act.

George must have known by this time that he was ill with Bright's Disease, a kidney ailment. He had suffered from the chronic form of the disease for 12 years, according to his death certificate. It finally killed him on June 17, 1910, the day that the House of Representatives passed the statehood bill. President Taft signed it into law three days later, using the eagle-quill pen. The essentials of this story are confirmed by a contemporary book called A Concise History of New Mexico (1912):

"The President said a few words of congratulation, and then proposed to affix his official signature. The postmaster general presented a gold pen with the request that it should be used, and Delegate Andrews produced the unique gold-banded quill taken from the great American eagle captured in Taos, and furnished for the occasion, in its beautiful case, as a patriotic service by George B. Paxton, when he had no thought that death would forbid his presence at the ceremony. The President wrote half of the signature with the former and the remainder with the latter, returning the pens to the donors as mementoes of this great historic occasion."

George was 47 years old. His body was returned to Joplin for burial. Among his other achievements, it turns out that he was, in the words of the local newspaper, "the father of Scottish Rite Masonry in the valley of Joplin." He had an elaborate funeral at the Scottish Rite cathedral.

This is about what I know at this point. I'd welcome any information, anecdotes, and especially pictures that anyone might have of George.

I've got a few other ideas for posts; let me know if you have any questions about family history. For those of you who don't count George as an ancestor, rest assured that I'll be posting about the Branches, Jehus, Vermillions, Jichas, Joneses, Shumates, and Overholsers as time wears on. . . .

UPDATE, 3/27/07: A cousin kindly sent me a photo of George. Thanks, cousin!

UPDATE, 4/19/07: Another cousin visited Montrose and sent along pictures of the old Paxton farm in Montrose.

UPDATE, 6/14/07: Cousin #1 saw something I missed in the 1910 census, in which George was recorded in April at the Riggs House in Washington. I had thought that he was there alone, but just below George on the census roll are his wife Susan and one-year-old daughter, listed as "Helen E." (Elizabeth must have been her middle name.) So it seems likely that they were with him in Washington when he died two months later.


SeeNinon said...

I spent some time with Clara Paxton Jones before her death in 1971. We chatted about her early life and I'll relate some of it that I remember: Clara spent a lot of time with her cousin Mary Overholser. Possibly quite a few of her teen years. They may have gone to college together at William Woods (?) in Missouri. Clara was jealous of the more petite Mary. In the annual from her college years, Clara was on almost every page. She was in every activity, including a production of Midsummer Night's Dream. I chided her when I didn't find her in the "10 Most Beautiful Girls" section. She grimaced and said she couldn't make the photo shoot because she was at a rehearsal for the Shakespeare production.

Heinz 57 said...

Seeninon: You're right, she and Mary Overholser went to college together, at Hollins College in Virginia. And before and after that, she lived with Mary's parents, Will and Ella, in Oklahoma City.

I love your story! She and Mary were active in social circles in Oklahoma City, too. Somewhere my mom has a letter that Clara got from a cotton buyer in Duncan, Oklahoma, who pretty much proposed to her after seeing her picture on the Society page of the Daily Oklahoman.