Sunday, May 26, 2013

The tragedy of Rispah and Harriman McKinstry

I've been alluding to a deep sadness that entered Phebe and Rufus's lives, but I've been finding it a difficult story to tell. They only had one child, a daughter named Rispah May. She was born when Phebe was 34. (This is a pattern I see a lot on this side of the family; women having their first child after the age of 30.) Rispah grew up in Elkhorn, and was evidently a social and intelligent girl. When she graduated from Elkhorn High School in 1890, she went on to Milwaukee to study kindergarten education, most likely at the newly opened Wisconsin State Normal School, a school for teacher training. (The Milwaukee State Normal School, now UW-Milwaukee, was an early adopter of kindergarten teacher training. According to one website, in 1892 the school added a Department of Kindergarten Education, which required two years of training. Students received a kindergarten assistant certificate after one year and a kindergarten director diploma after two.)

Rispah's graduation photo, 1890

After receiving her certification, she went on to teach kindergarten for three years in Fond du Lac, Wisconsin, before returning to Elkhorn to take over the kindergarten there for one year, where according to Corinne's scrapbook, she was assisted by her cousin, Edna Vaughn.
  • 1896: Miss Edna Vaughn is at present assisting Miss Rispah Harriman in the Kindergarten at Elkhorn.
While living in Elkhorn, it seems as though she was close with her Vaughn cousins:
  • Date Unknown: Miss Rispah Harriman spent Thursday with Hattie Vaughn.
The next year (1897), she married Byron McKinstry and moved to Harvard, Illinois, where he owned a clothing shop. Over the next ten years, they moved to Seattle, and then to Idaho, chasing the new opportunities out west.

Then, in Corinne's scrapbook, comes this sad clipping:
Sept. 1908: Sad Journey Ended: Remains of Rispah Harriman McKinstry Brought Here; Death Calls Daughter of Mr. and Mrs. R. D. Harriman at Ruhl, Idaho - she leaves infant son and husband

"Word received here Thursday forenoon telling of the hopeless illness of Rispah Harriman McKinstry, wife of Byron N. McKinstry and only child of Mr. and Mrs. R.D. Harriman, was followed about two hours later by the sad brief message telling of her death at her home near Buhl, Idaho. The message from the anxious husband telling of his wife's illness was the first intimation friends and parents here had that she was other than in perfect health and spirits.

Last week Tuesday, a son, their only child, was born to Mr. and Mrs. McKinstry, and only a few hours later, the parents joined in a brief letter to Mr. and Mrs. Harriman, telling of their joy over the happy event. Then, when everything seemed most propitious, the mother was taken ill suddenly, sinking into convulsions and later into unconsciousness. In that condition, Thursday, five hours from the time she was taken, nurses and doctors and the bereaved husband witnessed the passing on in answer to a summons all earthly skill could not stay. The brief note telling of the birth of a son did not reach this city until Monday, the day set for the funeral. The remains were brought here by Mr. McKinstry for burial, the long journey ending Sunday night when scores of sympathizing friends met the train and bore all that was mortal of a loving wife and daughter and a sincerely esteemed young woman, to her girlhood home.

Rispah May Harriman was born in LaFayette Jan. 10, 1872. She was four years old when her parents came to live in this city [Elkhorn.] She attended school here, graduating with her class in 1890, and took up the study of kindergarten work in Milwaukee. After finishing her course, she taught three years at Fond du Lac, where she successfully superintended the work in three departments. Returning to Elkhorn, she taught in the local school one year and Set. 8, 1897 she was married to Byron N. McKinstry. They were residents of Harvard, Ill. during Mr. McKinstry's proprietorship of a clothing store in that city. Later they moved to Seattle, Wash., and it was while there that Mr. McKinstry became interested in the new irrigation project near Buhl and purchased land. Two years ago, they went to Idaho to live.

It had been a happy and enjoyable experience for Mrs. McKinstry. Success crowned united efforts to establish a new home in a new land, and each seemingly insurmountable difficulty had been made light of and overcome. Western hospitality and neighborly kindness, never more generously forthcoming than during the sad hours of her sickness and death, had often been spoken of in home letters and only a few weeks ago, Mrs. McKinstry told of plans and hopes indicating her desire to make Idaho her permanent home. But in a far country, 'midst greener hills and sweeter valleys, she awaits the coming of her friends.

Rev. JF Taintor of Ripon, former pastor of the Congregational church here where Mr.s McKinstry worshiped, conducted the funeral services in the absence of Rev. AO Stevens. The music was by a quartet composed of Mrs. FH Eames, Mrs. PS Stewart, and Messrs. Arthur Freligh and WE Dunbar. Fuller evidences of love and regard, manifested as they were in the outpouring of friends and in the wealth of floral offerings, have seldom been witnessed here. The internment was in Hazel Ridge."
Byron McKinstry arrived in Elkhorn with his wife's body and his newborn son, named Harriman after his wife's maiden name. Overwhelmed and full of grief, he left the baby with Rufus and Phebe when he returned to Idaho. They raised Harriman as their own for six years.

Phebe and a young Harriman McKinstry

Harriman around age 1

Harriman in a baptismal gown
Harriman as a toddler

Harriman around age 3
A school-age Harriman after he moved back to Idaho with his father

Then, when Harriman was old enough to start school, Byron McKinstry came back and claimed his son, taking him away from the grandparents who had loved and raised him in his infancy. The loss of her daughter, and then her daughter's son, was a blow from which Phebe never recovered. We know this from her obituary:
Around Aug. 9, 1914: Mrs. RD Harriman called suddenly: Expires from heart trouble Sunday morning: Was Seventy-Six Years Old and Lifelong Resident of the County -- Funeral Yesterday Afternoon

Mrs. Phebe Vaughn Harriman, wife of the late Rufus D. Harriman, and life-long resident of Walworth County, died at 9:30 o'clock Sunday morning of heart trouble. Her death was sudden, being sick less than two hours. She was taken about 7:30 and a few minutes later Mrs. Emma C. Blodgett, who occupies adjoining rooms in the Harriman house, came in to extend the usual morning greetings. Mrs. Harriman complained of severe pains across her chest, and asked Mrs. Blodgett to telephone for Dr. Geo. H. Young. Mrs. J.B. Stokes, one of the neighbors, was also summoned. Mrs. Harriman's condition continued to grow rapidly worse, and up to twenty minutes before her death, when she lapsed into unconsciousness, she suffered intensely.

Teh news of Mrs. Harriman's death spread over the city, just as people were preparing for church. It came as a great surprise tot he community for comparatively few had heard of her condition. She was a native of Walworth County, her birthplace being in Spring Prairie, and the date November 22, 1838. Her maiden name was Phebe Ann Vaughn, the daughter of Samuel Cole Vaughn and Sarah Vose Vaughn. She was one of a family of four children, but one of whom Otis L. Vaughn, of Burlington, survives. Another brother, Benjamin F. Vaughn, who was a resident of California, died a few years ago, and her only sister, Mrs. Delia B. Latham, died in 1904.

On March 31, 1864, she was married at her home in Spring Prairie to Rufus D. Harriman, then a resident of LaFayette. Mr. Harriman was engaged in farming and LaFayette continued to be their home until 1876, when they moved to Elkhorn and Mr. Harriman entered the meat business, which he followed for many years. One child, a daughter, Rispah May, was born to Mr. and Mrs. Harriman. She became the wife of Byron N. McKinstry. She died September 3, 1908. her death proved a blow, to which her parents never became reconciled. An infant son, Harriman McKinstry following the death of his mother, was taken by the grandparents and for nearly six years he received the tender care of one of the most devoted of grandmothers.

During her long residence in in Elkhorn, Mrs. Harriman had been especially active in church circles. As a member of the Congregational Church, she was among its most faithful and zealous workers, and her demise takes one whose interest and devotion was always manifest. Mrs. Harriman was always interested in the welfare of others, and always anxious to do her part in any sphere of usefulness where she could be of any service to friends or neighbors and of these shad had an especially large circle. Mr. Harriman's death occurred August 3, 1913, his wife's demise following just one year and six days later.

The funeral services were held at the house at 2:30 p.m. yesterday afternoon and were conducted by the Rev. H.A. Schuder of the Congregational Church. The services were largely attended, it being necessary to provide seating for fully one-half of the friends out on the porch and lawn. 
But as often happens, out of grief comes beautiful art. In the next post, I'll share some of Phebe's paintings with you.

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