The following article was written by my friend, Thomas Fiske
Great Uncle Tom fled from the KKK in Kentucky in 1875. He went out west and stopped in a small town on the prairie. Tom’s job in Kentucky had been clerking and sweeping in a small general merchandise store. That’s almost all he knew. That and credit for his customers. He was single, so he didn’t have to know a lot more.
Immediately, Tom saw that the immigrants on farms and in villages out west needed a source of supply for all kinds of things such as needles, pots and pans, magazines, cloth and flatware. Since they depended on farm crops for income, these folks also needed credit. Needs presented themselves all year while crops were harvested once or twice per year. Animals could be sold all year, however.
How Tom did it, I don’t know. But he managed to set up a store. I have an old drawing of his first store out west. He developed an interest in railroads. He wanted to know their routes for the future. Towns which had nearby trains were likely to grow. They would need stores and banks. So with advance knowledge he established a bank in several towns before the railroad moved in.
Tom went one step further. He realized that people in one region of the country harvested crops at a different time from people in another region. Thus, he could set up corresponding banks that would supply funds to each other at different times in different regions.
Tom also did some farming himself and experimented with new crops. After all, the West was new to people and they did not know how bountiful their land could be.
Communication was poor in 1875. Railroads used the telegraph with wires running along railroad-owned poles on railroad-owned land. Tom took advantage of the telegraph by installing branches of the railroad wires in or near his banks. Then he hired relatives to run his banking system. He felt he could trust relatives.
In about 1880 Tom gave a bank to his nephew, Grover. Grover’s dad had been murdered by the KKK. Tom set up his dead brother’s kid in the banking business.
Grover was quite successful as a banker and was very well liked in the small town where he lived. I know that because of newspaper articles my grandmother collected about her brother.
Grover married Nellie Graddy, a small, pretty girl from Kentucky and took her out west to live. Early photos of her indicated that she probably came from money. Grover and his new wife had a son, who died when he was about five years old. They did not have any other children. But they seemed to have lots of money. Then Grover bought a fancy new automobile.
On Easter day of 1909, Grover tried out the new car. He loaded it with friends and took it for a spin. It spun, all right. It spun on its side and threw people out. Grover seemed to be the only one seriously hurt. He was under the car. And that evening, he died. Grover’s death was a terrible shock to his mother and two sisters. At least that is what my grandmother told me. She was his sister.
Nellie imposed on Uncle Tom to run the bank for her, but she was the actual owner of the bank. A few years ago, the bank’s president wrote to me that Grover’s and Nellie’s photos were still on the wall of the bank, which had become the First National Bank of the region.
Uncle Tom died in 1931 and the bank’s teller was promoted to run the bank totally. I met Nellie in the 1950’s and she died a few years later, still a widow and still living in the western town where she had moved as a new wife so many years before.
And that should be the end of the story. But it isn’t.
Two weeks ago I got an email from a young woman who lived in Nellie’s and Grover’s small town in the West. It seemed that she was charged with the responsibility of setting up a reference and museum room in a historical society building. The room was to be dedicated to Grover and Nellie. The emailer wondered if I had any information about Grover and Nellie.
“Yes,” I emailed back. “I have pictures and family history about Grover.” “And,” I continued, “I would be willing to swap photos and documents.” I made it clear that I wanted materials in return.
Of course, the young lady’s request answered my question about what I was going to do with all the junk I had collected concerning Grover’s family. But I did not tell her that. I also did not tell her that my children have seen my genealogical collection. Though they have promised to take care of my precious papers, I know that in their hearts, there lurks a Dempster Dumpster.
So for the last two weeks I have been researching old photos and documents that would be interesting to a neophyte collector with lots of room to spare. For instance, I found a photo today and shipped it to the little town. It was a portrait of Tom’s wife, Carrie Nixon, from Illinois. She was from the same county that President Nixon’s ancestors were from. It is an unusual name, so I am pretty sure, RMN was her cousin.
I found that Uncle Tom (for whom I am named) and Aunt Carrie finished their days in great wealth. But not happiness, because their last surviving grandson was gay. Their line ended with him. I would like to have known Uncle Tom. He was a very successful entrepreneur. My mother knew him and of course my grandmother also knew him. He was quite nice to both of them.
The search continues. I found a news story about the death of Grover, and I have quite a bit of material about his grandparent, Congressman Asa P. Grover. That’s where he got his first name.
Over time a large amount of papers will slowly shift their address from Fullerton, California to a small town out west.
How did this young researcher find my email address? I took the trouble, several years ago, to write something about Grover on one of those many Q&A sections of a genealogy web site. She tracked me down from there.
It appears that Grover and little Nellie will live on, while I quietly slip away into obscurity. I have been required to protect the Grover papers for only about twenty years and my usefulness is over. Unless of course, you want to know about the Leonards of England.