Saturday, March 12, 2011

Women's History: Spinster Aunt - Myra Sutton

Friend, Mother, Angel
drawing from

Elmira Jane was the daughter of Uriah and Euna (Delaney) Sutton, my paternal third great grandparents. She was born about 1849 and was the 9th of 11 known children. Her sister, my great, great grandmother Serena Susan, was the 10th child, born when Elmira was just 2 years old. In his diary, my great grandfather, Oliver Morton Wallen, always referred to his mother's sister as "Aunt Myra".

In May of 1854, when Elmira was about 5 years old, her mother died, and then two of her siblings died shortly after: Mary, 15, died in July and Joseph, 11, died in September. In January of 1858, when Elmira was 9, her oldest sister Sarah married David J. Tyree. The same year in July another older sister, Isabelle, married Logan Sowder. With his two oldest daughters married, Uriah was now in need of a wife and mother for his younger children and so a few months later, in November, he entered into matrimony once again to a young widowed woman named Telitha Clark.

When Elmira's younger sister Serena married my great, great grandfather William M. Wallen in August of 1869, the newly wed couple lived with his parents in Wabd, Kentucky. Elmira's youngest sister Euna, married George C. Lawrence in 1871 and Uriah's spinster sister Mary died in 1874 which left only three in the household so in 1875 William, Serena and their young family went to live with Uriah, Telitha and Elmira on the Sutton farm a short distance away near Maretsburg. 

Uriah died around the first half of 1881 and in the Fall of that year William and Serena moved their family back to Wabd to live with William's mother who had been widowed since 1877. It was about this time that all of William's siblings and their families left for northern Texas and Indian Territory and there was now room at the old home farm for William's growing family. Because Grandma Sutton and Aunt Myra were alone, my great grandfather Oliver (age 11) stayed with them. Aunt Myra never married and it is not yet known when her step-mother Telitha "Grandma Sutton" died. 

Excerpt from Oliver's diary
In 1886 Serena died of Tuberculosis leaving 8 children (5 of them under the age of 10 years) without a mother, so Aunt Myra went to live at Grandma Wallen's house to help take care of the children. Serena's widowed husband, William M. Wallen, remarried 6 years later in 1892 to Sofa Thacker and according to Oliver, Papa "never helped us any mor, so Jessee and I had to look after the children." Oliver was the oldest, about 22, when his father remarried and now he was the head of a fairly large household. Younger brother Jesse Uriah would take on that roll in 1900 after Oliver married.

When Oliver's sister Mary, 23, died of Tuberculosis in 1895 her husband, James Luther Hayes, remarried right away and so Mary's 3-year-old daughter Viola "Ola" went to join her mother's siblings in the household of Grandma Wallen and Aunt Myra. Tuberculosis also took Oliver's sister Louisa, 19, in 1896 and his sister Lucy, 17, in 1901 and it was becoming obvious that he and all his siblings were at some stage of the disease.

Residents of the old home farm in 1900
Oliver married Sarah F. Davis in 1900. In 1901 my grandfather was born and then a set of twins were born in 1903. Oliver's health was starting to deteriorate at a more rapid pace. Aunt Myra would come and stay when he was too sick to do chores. In 1904 it was decided, for health purposes, to remove the family to the drier climate of Texas. Aunt Myra, Jess, Willie and Ola left for Kempner, Lampasas Co., Texas in November of 1904 and the rest of the family were to follow in January. Sadly, before they could sell all their things and make good their plans, sister Sarah, 26, was called to her heavenly home.  After Sarah's burial Oliver's family and Grandma Wallen left to join the others in Kempner. The only remaining Wallen family in Kentucky were Oliver's father William and his new family, and Oliver's sister Ella who had married Johnnie Norton in 1901 and now had 2 small children.

After the family arrived and settled down with the others in Kempner they experienced more sorrow as it was there, in mid-February, just weeks after burying sister Sarah, that Oliver's youngest brother Willie, 20, died. Sadly, just about 6 months later, in the first days of September, Aunt Myra died too. It is not known for sure if Aunt Myra had Tuberculosis or not but I suspect she did. It was estimated that, at the turn of the century, 450 Americans died of TB every day. Aunt Myra's death was a severe blow to the family. Like a mother, she spent her whole life loving and caring for the entire family through childbirth, sickness, poverty, and death. 

These are the entries in Oliver's diary concerning Aunt Myra's death:

Sept. 1 - ...found Aunt Myra very sick and Sarah hardly able to go. Evry thing looks very gloomy.
Sept. 2 - Aunt Myra and Sarah are no better. I am not well and have been on the down grade for 6 wks.
Sept. 3 - Aunt Myra is very bad this morning. Sarah is no better. At home all day. Aunt Myra died at 6 PM. We have lost a good friend. Aunt has been a mother to us. At 10 o'clock PM Bro. Frank Seak handed me $34.60 that had been made up at church to bear Aunts burial expense.
Sept. 4 - I was given enough to make $42.35 on Aunts funeral expense. Beside people brought in flour, coffee, sugar, beef and other things we needed. The people are good and kind to us but I feel discouraged. We have all worked so hard and it seems like we can't enjoy the fruits of our labor. After a short service by Bro. Sparks, a holiness preacher, we laid Aunt to rest beside Bro. Willie at 3 PM. The casket and robe cost $37.00.

(Note: I do not know why Oliver's wife Sarah was sick at this time, but she never contracted Tuberculosis, and neither did his father, his niece Viola Hayes or his grandmother Louisa Tyree Wallen.)

I recently found a very sweet and detailed death announcement for Aunt Myra Sutton in the Mt. Vernon Signal Newspaper dated Friday, September 15, 1905:

We also learn by letter, from O. M. Wallen, that "Aunt" Mira Sutton, who accompanied the Wallen family to Texas last fall, and who had lived with them for nearly half a century, after five days of intense suffering, passed over the river and is now resting under the shade of the tree with Paul and Peter. Her life was certainly that of love, labor and good offices for others. She was never married, but was indeed a mother to the Wallen family. She was and had been, from early life a faithful member of the Baptist Church. Had been badly afflicted for many years which she patiently bore. We now deplore the lonesome condition of aunt Louise Wallen, with whom aunt Mira has lived for the last quarter of a century, but separations must come, and friends must part, but we know from the acquaintance we had with these two good women that their separation will be short and they will join company in that happy home forever. We deeply sympathize for the remaining members of the Wallen family in their sore affliction and deep bereavement, and pray God to give them faith to look beyond this vail of sorrow, to a time of happy reunion. Rev. O. M. doesn't write very encouragingly of his health at this time. He says that Jesse and Little Ola are enjoying better health than they had while in Kentucky. Aunt Louisie was deprived of ministering unto aunt Mira during her last hours of earth; she being in Indian Territory with some of her children.

Kempner Cemetery, Kempner, Lampasas Co., Texas
Aunt Myra and brother Willie are both buried in Kempner Cemetery. As far as I know, neither has a tombstone.



  1. What a sad story, what a wonderful gift she was to her family.

  2. What an amazing story the diary entry and the account in the paper.I love trying to make the names in FH come to life do it so well.