From Susan Bear’s Album: Levi Rowland Bear

There are six tintype portraits of children in Susan Bear’s photograph album, all identified, all in the same period ink hand, all by anonymous photographers.

These were the children of John M. and Elizabeth Bear, emigrants from Washington County, Maryland to the Church of the Brethren-dominated “Maryland colony” in Ogle County, Illinois.

Ogle County, centered on the village of Mt. Morris, began to attract transplants from Washington County in the 1830s. Members of the Church of the Brethren, in particular, were drawn to the hilly, sparsely-settled prairie west of Chicago.

According to the laudatory Mount Morris: Past and Present, a 1900 history published locally in Mount Morris by the Kable Brothers, the earliest settlers were “so impressed by the beauty of the country and the richness of the soil,” well-watered by springs and streams, that they determined to settle there.

In 1836, two men from Washington County, Nathan Swingley and Samuel M. Hitt, brought a number of Maryland men to the area as laborers, “promising them $1.00 a day for service in building houses, splitting rails and building fence, breaking the prairie and harvesting the crops” (Mount Morris, Past and Present, 13).

The typical route was “by wagon to Wheeling, West Virginia, by boat on the Ohio, Mississippi and Illinois rivers to Peru, and the remaining distance by wagon” a trip of perhaps more than 800 miles (13).

John M. Bear (b. abt. 1822, Washington County, Md.), made his move in 1844, and while working initially for well-to-do Maryland emigrant John Coffman, took up a claim in 1849  in Pine Creek Township, some 10 or so miles south of Mount Morris village, east of the Rock River.

There John Bear and his wife, Martha Elizabeth, prospered, and six children were born to the couple between 1856 and 1865:

Isaac Martin Bear 1855, John Buchman Bear 1857, Rose Miranda 1860, Levi Rowland Bear 1861, Lily Almira 1863, and Mary Kate 1865.

Their situation began to deteriorate with their father’s death in 1878. Elizabeth continued to farm with the aid of the boys, but about 1886, she, along with Isaac, Levi and Kate, moved to Mount Morris Village, where Levi took up work as a barber.

Mount Morris: Past and Present mentions Levi several times as an up-and-coming young businessman who was entering into village life with vigor. He played violin in a small orchestra, and belonged to a fraternal order called the Modern Woodmen of America.

After their mother’s death in 1903, Levi, Lily and Mary Kate made a big decision: They left their settled lives in Mount Morris to pioneer, once again,  in Williams County, North Dakota.

Levi took 160 acres on the southern edge of Tyrone Township; Kate took an adjoining 80 acres just south of the township line in Missouri Ridge Township, and Lilly another 160 adjoining Kate’s land to the south of Lily’s–460 acres in all, about 10 miles north of Williston, North Dakota.

They called their new home Four Bear Ranch, and seemed to prosper.

Mary Kate died in 1916; Lily, now in her 50s, continued to keep house for her brother.

On 9 April 1923, Levi Rowland Bear hung himself in their barn. According to his obituary in the Williams County Farmers Press, he planned his death so that two of his friends would be coming to the ranch in time to find him, in order that his sister would not discover his body alone.

“It is thought,” said the paper, “that despondency was the cause of his act.”

Isaac Bear left a note for Lily. It said “Dear Sister, you will forgive me for this for I am too crazy to live.”

He is buried in Riverview Cemetery, Williston, North Dakota. His grave is unmarked.

From Susan Bear’s Album: John M. Wisherd

Hagerstown photographer Bascom W. T. Phreaner took this carte de visite portrait of a seated John M. Wisherd on the 10th of February 1870.

I found a John M. Wisherd, born 24 September 1847 in Pennsylvania, living with his family in Washington County in 1850. He seems about the right age for this photo. John’s parents were farmers Jacob Wisherd (b. abt. 1817, Pa.) and Catherine (Stahl) Wisherd (b. abt. 1822, Pa.).

What’s the connnection to Susan Bear? My hunch, based on a Maryland marriage record, is that John’s uncle William Wisherd (b. November 1829, Pa.) married Susan Bear’s sister Lydia Bear (1828-1865).

I think of them as the “wandering Wisherds,” because they were always moving on. In 1860, William and Lydia were farming in Fulton County, Illinois. They had two little daughters, Elizabeth and Mary. It was here that Lydia died at the age of 37.

Other family members had also migrated west: Jacob and Catherine Wisherd and all their children, including John. By 1870, their farm was in McDonough County, Illinois, and John was running it with his widowed mother.

John married Mary Drake Hatch, a widow with two children, about 1878, but they did not remain in McDonough County. By 1900, they were farming in Cottonwood Falls, Chase County, Kansas. They had four children of their own, Minnie, Floyd, Perry and Ida.

Again they moved west: finally, to 17th Street, in Los Angeles. Minnie had married and had a son, Edgar Heintz.  Perry was a coffee and tea merchant, and Floyd was selling shoes.

John M. Wisherd, now widowed,  last appears in the census in 1920, still living in Los Angeles with some of his children. I believe this young Washington County farmer with the far-away gaze came to his final rest here where the west ends.

From Susan Bear’s Album: Martin L. Hightman

It’s tricky, trying to glue the fragments  of a family back together through photographs.

This carte de visite by an unidentified photographer is one of only 11 in the Susan Bear album that has some identifying text. In the Washington County, Maryland Bear/Baer family tree I’ve constructed so far, the surname Heightman had not come up. Only when I searched ancestry.com records with a different spelling, Hightman, and without the initials M. L., did something slip into place.

A Martin L. Hightman was born into a Burkittsville, Frederick County family of dry goods merchants about 1852.  Burial records for other Burkittsville Hightmans brought up the grave records of his parents: John Hightman (1825-1891) and M. Elizabeth (Bear) Hightman (1825-1913).

One of Susan Bear’s sisters was named Mary Elizabeth, and her birth year, about 1826, fit. Was there a record of a marriage between a Mary Elizabeth Bear and a John Hightman that fit the time frame?

There was. Mary Elizabeth Bear and John Hightman married in Frederick County on 2 October 1851.

This photograph had to be of Mary Elizabeth Bear Hightman’s eldest son, Martin Luther  Hightman (1852-1891). It was, judging by the subject’s age and the style of the carte, probably taken in the early to mid-1860s.

Why it lacks a photographer’s imprint is hard to say. Certainly the photographers of Hagerstown and Frederick of the era–E. M. Recher, Jacob Byerly and others–promoted their work vigorously with a variety of advertising backmarks. The photographer may have been one of the many itinerants who worked during the Civil War. Or it could have been a copy.

Like his father, Martin L. Hightman became a Burkittsville dry goods merchant. He was also the village’s postmaster. He and his wife Lovetta Arnold had five children: Frederick Arnold, Cora, John Roy, Harrison Martin, and Mabell E. Hightman.

Frederick obtained a bachelor’s degree at Gettysburg College in 1902 and graduated from Gettysburg Theological Seminary in 1905.  In 1908, Rev. Frederick Arnold Hightman  (1876-1967) founded the northeast Baltimore congregation that became Ephiphany Evangelical Lutheran Church. The stone church in the Gothic Revival style still flourishes on Raspe Avenue just south of Belair Road.

Martin and Lovetta Hightman are buried in Burkittsville Union Cemetery in Frederick County. Rev. Hightman is buried in Moreland Memoral Park, Parkville, Maryland, a few miles from his church.

From Susan Bear’s Album: Mr. and Mrs. Martin Bear

Taken at the Hagerstown, Maryland studio of Elias Marken Recher, this carte de visite photograph was found in an album that belonged to their daughter, Susan Bear (1836-1909) of Hagerstown.

On the reverse is written “Mr. and Mrs. Martin Bear’s pictures taken from a Ferrotype [aka tintype] June 18th 1872”.

Well-to-do Maryland-born  farmer Martin Bear or Baer (1799-1872) and Elizabeth (Stahl) Bear (1795-1875) had seven daughters: Christianna (b. 1824), Mary Elizabeth (b. 1825), Lydia (1828-1865), Sarah Catherine (b. 1831), Louisa (1834-1888), Susan and Anna (1839-1927) .

Only four of the seven Bear girls married that I can determine: Lydia married Washington County farmer William Wisherd, Louisa married a TroupMary Elizabeth married Burkittsville, Maryland dry goods merchant John Hightman or Heightman, and Sarah married Williamsport grocer Caleb F. Eakle.

According to the 1878 advertisement of the trustees’ sale of Martin Bear’s estate, Bear owned at his death 208 acres about five miles from Hagerstown, where the Williamsport and Greencastle Turnpike crossed the Western Turnpike. The estate included a stone house, orchards, a well, a stream, a barn, etc.

Although I have not yet been able to determine Martin Bear’s parentage, I am guessing that two others who lived close to him–Isaac Bear (b. abt. 1790, Md.) and John Bear (b. abt. 1796, Md.) were his brothers or close relations.

Another Bear/Baer named John M. Bear (1822-1878), who was probably a close relation, emigrated quite early to Pine Creek Township, Ogle County, Illinois. The evidence for the connection is the presence in Susan Bear’s album of six tintype portraits of John M. Bear’s children: Isaac Martin Bear, John Buchman Bear, Levi Rowland Bear, Rose Miranda Bear, Lilly Almira or Elmira Bear, and Mary Kate Bear (more about this family in future posts).

Susan’s jewel-like album, studded with white beads and held by metal clasps, measures about 4-1/2″ x 6″. It is inscribed on the flyleaf “Christmas gift / Presented to Susan Bear / Dec 25th 1869 by / Mr. L . . . R . . . . . “

The Bear family may have scattered to Ogle County and beyond, but the affection Martin Bear felt for his wife, even after a long and arduous life together, still feels fresh in this wonderful image.

Martin Bear and Elizabeth (Stahl) Bear are both buried in Riverview Cemetery, Williamsport, Washington County, Maryland.