HISTORY NEBRASKA MANUSCRIPT FINDING AID
RG1346.AM: Uriah Wesley Oblinger, 1842-1901
Papers: 1840; 1862-1911; 1931-1968
Indiana; Grafton, Fillmore County, Nebraska; Gove County, Kansas; Hickory County, Missouri; Minnesota: Soldier; farmer; District Court Clerk
Size: 3.5 cubic ft.; 3 reels of microfilm, digital files
The Uriah W. Oblinger Collection was donated to the Nebraska State Historical Society in 1958. Though the collection includes a variety of papers relating to the Oblinger family, the most important items are 318 letters dating from 1862 to 1911. At the heart of this correspondence lies the story of land and its settlement, of Uriah’s lifelong attempts to settle and prosper on a farm of his own. Principal writers include Uriah, Mattie Thomas (Uriah’s first wife), Giles Thomas (Mattie’s brother), Laura Bacon (Uriah’s second wife), and the Oblinger children. A large cast of supporting writers–blood relatives, relatives by marriage, friends, and associates–also plays a part.
Uriah W. Oblinger was born May 14, 1842, in Montgomery County, Ohio, the son of Samuel and Esther (Zook) Oblinger. The family moved to Miami County, Indiana, in 1843. As a young man Uriah helped both with farm work and with the running of his father’s grist and sawmills. Samuel Oblinger was also a Dunkard (German Baptist) minister. Uriah’s early religious convictions are unknown, but letters written during their courtship indicate that he met his first wife, Martha Virginia “Mattie” Thomas, at Sunday school. The Thomas family was Methodist Episcopal, and farmed in neighboring Cass County, Indiana.
Near the beginning of the Civil War in April 1861, Uriah enlisted for three months service in Company D, Sixth Indiana Infantry. He re-enlisted in August 1861 and served for three years in Company A, Thirty-ninth Indiana Volunteer Infantry, and in the Eighth Indiana Volunteer Cavalry. He was mustered out of service in Indianapolis in September 1864. During the war Uriah corresponded with Mattie; a few of these letters survive in the collection, along with some written to the Thomas family by Giles Thomas, Mattie’s brother, who served in Company K, Ninety-ninth Indiana Volunteer Infantry.
Uriah and Mattie continued their courtship after the war, but Uriah had few resources and Mattie’s father apparently had reservations about the relationship. It would be five years before they married. Searching for a place to settle and trying to earn enough to marry and support a family, Uriah traveled to Minnesota in 1866 and to Illinois in 1868. A number of letters survive from this period in which the couple discuss their separation, their longing to be settled together on a farm of their own, religion, politics, family, crops, weather, and local events.
Mattie and Uriah were finally married on March 25, 1869. They rented a farm about three miles from the Thomas family farm in Indiana until the fall of 1872, when Uriah and two of his wife’s brothers, Giles and Samuel Thomas, journeyed west to settle in Nebraska. The three young men took advantage of the Homestead Act which Congress passed in 1862. The act offered 160 acres of free land to qualified entrants who fulfilled residence and improvement requirements. Uriah filed for land approximately eleven miles west of Geneva in Bennett Township, Fillmore County, Nebraska. Giles and Sam took claims nearby, approximately a mile and a half south in Momence Township. Sam, however, returned to Indiana within a year. Uriah’s letters back to Indiana between September 1872 and May 1873, when Mattie joined him in Nebraska, paint a vivid and detailed picture of the homesteading experience: filing a claim, sod-busting, building a sod house, and all the accompanying hardships. In a letter dated December 1, 1872, Uriah wrote, “the longer I stay here the better I like it, there are . . . mostly young families just starting in life the same as we are and I find them very generous indeed. we will all be poor here together.”
Mattie and Uriah worked their land together for almost seven years–fighting blizzards, drought, grasshopper infestations, and low crop prices throughout the 1870s. Their letters to the Thomas family in Indiana are filled with descriptions of their homestead and their improvements on it, crop and livestock reports, weather, neighbors, local activities, and politics. Giles wrote about similar subjects, especially crop conditions, prices, and farming.
The Oblingers’ personal finances were beginning to improve when Mattie died in childbirth, along with an infant son, in February 1880. She was thirty-six and left Uriah with three young daughters: Ella (age nine), Stella (age five) and Maggie (age two). Unable to make a living farming and take care of the household and his children too, Uriah sold nearly all of his possessions and moved to Morristown, Minnesota, to be near his father and siblings. There he took whatever work he could find. His daughters lived with relatives, separated from each other and their father, until Uriah could provide a home and mother for them.
Little is known of their meeting or courtship, but on October 30, 1881, Uriah married Laura Iona Bacon at Sharon, Le Sueur County, Minnesota. The couple had three daughters, Sadie, Nettie, and Lillie; a son, Chester, was also born but died at nine months of age. Uriah initially supported his family by working for a railroad surveying party, moving throughout the region as sections of the line were finished, while Laura stayed near Ottawa, Le Sueur County, Minnesota. After leaving the construction crew in 1882, Uriah again took work where he could find it until 1883, when he returned to Fillmore County, Nebraska, with his family. The Oblingers rented a farm about a mile and a half south of Uriah’s original homestead, farming there until 1885.
In late 1885 Uriah heard good reports of the Kansas country and made a trip to survey his prospects in the area. By April 1886 the Oblinger family was settled in Gove County, Kansas, where Uriah farmed and served as clerk of the Gove County District Court. Laura broke her arm in January 1887, and when the break was not set properly, went to her parents’ home in Ottawa, Minnesota, for treatment and rest. She took the younger Oblinger daughters, Sadie and Nettie, with her to Minnesota. She discovered that she was pregnant (with Lillie) while in Minnesota. A large number of letters survive from this separation, including several from Stella and Maggie Oblinger to their stepmother. Laura’s letters tend to focus on health-related topics, the children, and Uriah’s Minnesota relatives, while Uriah’s replies include his own opinions about Laura’s health, weather, crops, information about court cases and land proofs, local Gove County news, politics, and the children. Stella and Maggie wrote mostly about housekeeping in the Oblinger dugout, livestock, and school.
Laura returned to Gove County in the fall of 1887. Uriah lost his bid for re-election as District Court clerk in 1890, largely because he was out of the state at a Grand Army of the Republic (G. A. R.) regimental reunion in Indiana during the campaign. A series of letters in 1890 document Uriah’s application for a veteran’s pension, and also include descriptions of the trip to Indiana for the reunion. Laura kept the clerk’s office running during Uriah’s absence, and her letters relate mostly to court business, politics, and her health.
Soon after the election Uriah visited friends in Wheatland, Hickory County, Missouri, searching once more for a new place to start. By spring of 1891 the Oblingers were living on a rented farm near Wheatland, where they stayed until the fall of 1894. Letters from 1894 make it clear that the Missouri venture was not a success. With mounting debts in a failing economy, Uriah headed back to Nebraska, while Laura remained in Wheatland to settle the family’s affairs. He rented a farm near Danbury, Red Willow County, where his oldest daughter, Ella, farmed with her husband and children. Laura and the younger children joined him there, but on her doctor’s recommendation Laura spent the winter of 1895-96 in San Francisco, staying with her parents, who had moved to California from Minnesota. She came back to Nebraska during the spring and summer of 1896, but returned to San Francisco permanently that winter. Letters are sparse from these later years, but show that despite enduring so many setbacks, Uriah maintained a basic optimism and was ready to start again. By 1900, however, with his health deteriorating, Uriah had to move in with Ella. He died on March 27, 1901.
Giles Thomas stayed in southeast Nebraska. His letters to the Thomas family complement those of Uriah and Mattie during the 1870s. It was Giles who wrote to Indiana with the news of Mattie’s death in 1880, and of Uriah’s desolation in the months that followed. Between 1880 and 1886 Giles’s letters reflect his own growing prosperity as he expanded his farming interests into neighboring Clay County, Nebraska. No letters by Giles survive after 1886, but he lived to a very old age and died in Geneva, Nebraska, on February 16, 1929.
SCOPE AND CONTENT NOTE
This collection consists of manuscript material arranged in seven series: 1) Correspondence, 1840, 1862-1911; 2) Diary, July-September, 1864; 3) Account Books, 1864-1886; 1897-1899; 4) Oblinger Family History; 5) Related Family Histories; 6) Miscellany; and 7) Letters and Transcripts, edited versions.
The Correspondence, 1840 and 1862-1911, of Series 1 comprises the bulk of the collection and provides insight into many aspects of the Oblinger family’s life. Transcripts were made of most letters prior to 1880, and a few after that date. The transcript of a letter will often have a notation concerning a corresponding envelope, the original of which may be missing. All extant envelopes have been placed in front of the corresponding original letter. See the chronological Calendar of all letters in Series 1.
Researchers should note that two edited versions of the letter transcripts appear in Series 7 of this collection. These versions differ both from each other and from the filmed versions in Series 1. When the letters and transcripts were reprocessed for filming in 1996, the staff found that parts of some letters had been incorrectly combined and transcribed with other letters of different dates. Some letters were labeled as incomplete, but the missing parts had merely been appended to the wrong letter. The staff has made every effort to correctly combine the letters and adjust the transcripts.
Of particular interest are the courtship letters exchanged between Uriah and Mattie Thomas during the 1860’s. During the Civil War, Uriah describes raids against the Confederacy in Mississippi, Alabama and Georgia. After the war, Uriah tells Mattie his experiences in Minnesota and Illinois, while Mattie writes of events and local news in Onward, Indiana.
By 1873, Uriah and Mattie Oblinger were settled on a homestead in Fillmore County, Nebraska. Their letters back home discuss their land, work, neighbors, crops, religious meetings, sod houses, grasshopper problems, and finances. The Easter Blizzard of 1873 is described. Also included in the correspondence are letters written by Giles Thomas, Mattie’s brother, to his parents in Indiana. Giles’ letters are similar to Uriah and Mattie’s in content.
Mattie died in childbirth in 1880. The following year Uriah married Laura Bacon. Most of the letters from the 1880’s were written by Laura and Uriah while they were separated from each other by Uriah’s work or during Laura’s illnesses. Laura wrote from Ottawa, Minnesota, while staying with her family. Uriah moved with his job on the railroad, then settled in Gove City, Kansas. Uriah describes his new homestead in Kansas, crops, weather conditions, finances, immigrants and housing in town. Also included are more letters from Giles, still in Fillmore County, Nebraska, describing improvements made on his land.
Other correspondence of interest describes Uriah’s Civil War service in letters concerning his pension (1889-1894); legal cases in Gove County, Kansas, while Uriah served as District Court Clerk (1886-1891); and the presidential election of 1900 in which Uriah supported the McKinley-Colfax ticket. The single 1840 letter, written by W.P. Thomas, Mattie’s father, to his relatives in Virginia, is available only as a photocopy. It describes emigration and land in Cass County, Indiana, where he and his family had recently resettled.
Series 2 contains a typescript of the Diary, July-September 1864, kept by Uriah W. Oblinger while serving with Company A of the 8th Indiana Cavalry. He describes raids made by his unit in Alabama and Georgia, providing information on amount of railroad track destroyed, men lost, prisoners taken, enemy killed, and miles marched per day. The original diary appears in Series 3, Vol. 1].
The Account Books, 1864-1886, and 1897-1899 of Series 3 are a financial record of receipts and payments by Uriah Oblinger. Besides recording produce sold, bank accounts, and other business transactions, Oblinger kept a breeding record in Volume 1. This volume also contains recipes, family medicines, horse medicines, and a “Record of Chickens” kept by his daughter, Stella, which shows the prices of eggs and chickens and the items for which this money was used. The original Civil War diary, which appears in Series 2 in typescript form, is in Vol. 1, p. 99-122.
Series 4, Oblinger Family History, includes genealogy and marriage records, recollections, research materials, documents and family reunion programs.
The Family Histories of Series 5 contain information about families related to the Oblinger line through marriage.
Series 6, Miscellany, includes autograph books, a Bible, a poetry book, hymns and military songs, clippings, invitations, programs, Stella Oblinger’s notebook, publication agreements, etc.
Series 7, as noted above, contains edited versions of the letter transcripts, one by Phyllis Winkelman, the other by the University of Nebraska Press. Additional complete and incomplete copies of the transcripts containing editing marks are present, and may have been copied or taken from the Winkelman and/or University of Nebraska Press edited versions. Copies of letters/transcripts quoted in the 1996 Ken Burn’s documentary, “The West,” are also included.
Three children’s books, two Valentine cards, and a scrapbook containing advertisement cards, decorative cards and stickers have been transferred to the Museum.
Series 1 through 4 are restricted for preservation. Patrons must use the microfilm copy or digital files.
Note: See the Library of Congress’ American Memories site for scans and transcriptions of the Oblinger correspondence. See the photo component [RG1346.PH] for 91 photographs of the Uriah Oblinger Family, the William Thomas Family, and related families.
Series 1 – Correspondence, 1840, 1862-1911
- Feb. 17, 1840
- January – October, 1866
- November – December, 1866
- February – June, 1868
- July – September, 1868
- January – April, 1873
- May – December, 1873
- April, 1887
- May – June, 1887
- July, 1887
- August, 1887
- September, 1887
- March – April, 1890
- August – September, 1890
- October – December, 1890
- January-February, 1894
- June-November, 1894
- March 1895; 1896-1897
- 1902 and 1911
- Undated Letters and Fragments
Series 2 – Diary, July-September, 1864
- Diary kept by Uriah W. Oblinger, July-September, 1864; Experiences while on raids with Company A, 8th Indiana Cavalry (Transcript; the original diary is in Series 3, Vol. 1, p. 99-121).
Series 3 – Account books, 1864-1899
- 1864-1879; “Record of Chickens”, 1897-1899; also includes recipes, family medicines, horse medicines, breeding record, and the diary of Series 2 in its original form.
Series 4 – Oblinger family history
- Genealogy and Marriage Records; (includes photographs: part of the original log house of Nicholas Oblinger, built in 1751 in Lehigh Gap, Pennsylvania; Oblinger and Thomas graves)
- “Sketch of My Father’s Life”, “Sketch of My Grandfather’s Life”, and “A Family History”, (all three written by Ella Oblinger Roesch).
- Recollections of Maggie (Oblinger) Sandon
- Recollections of Maggie (Oblinger) Sandon, written to Mrs. Wesley Huenefeld
- Research material gathered by Phyllis H. Winkelman – primarily Oblinger Family genealogy and Uriah Oblinger’s residency records in the various states.
- Uriah Oblinger’s homestead in Fillmore County, Nebraska – case records, patent record, maps
- Documents – Education, Military, and Pension records
- Family Reunion Programs, 1931-1968
- Phyllis Winkelman’s correspondence about Oblinger family portraits
- “Family Record” (Family Tree) drawing by Uriah Oblinger (see oversize)
Series 5 – Related family histories
- Genealogies – Thomas and Black Families; includes research correspondence and notes gathered by Phyllis Winkelman.
- Genealogies – Thomas and Black Families; includes research correspondence and notes gathered by Phyllis Winkelman.
- Thomas Family Genealogy – includes research correspondence and notes gathered by Phyllis Winkelman.
- Genealogies – Thomas, Black, Henderson and Howe Families; includes research correspondence and notes gathered by Phyllis Winkelman.
- Greene Family Genealogy – compiled by Phyllis Winkelman
- Notes on Neale Family History
- Wheeler Family History and notes
Series 6 – Miscellany
- Vols. 1-3, Autograph Books owned by Ella and Stella Oblinger, 1884-1898
- Vol. 4, Bible
Vol. 5, Poetry of Affections, bought by Uriah Oblinger (1864) and presented to Mattie Thomas (1866).
- Hymns and military songs
- Clippings, invitations, programs, penmanship lessons, Stella Oblinger’s notebook
- University of Nebraska Press; Editor’s notes concerning “Land of Their Own”
Series 7 – Letters and transcripts, edited versions
- Letter transcripts, edited by Phyllis Winkelman – June 1865-Dec. 1872
- Letter transcripts, edited by Phyllis Winkelman – Jan. 1873-Feb. 1880
- University of Nebraska Press, Editor’s copies of letter transcripts, Aug. 29, 1862-June 25, 1868
- University of Nebraska Press, Editor’s copies of letter transcripts, July 5, 1868-Dec. 22, 1872
- University of Nebraska Press, Editor’s copies of transcripts, Jan. 12, 1873-Jan. 11, 1880
- Complete set of transcripts, Feb. 17, 1840 and Mar. 27, 1862-Mar. 13, 1870
- Complete set of transcripts, Sept.-Dec., 1872
- Complete set of transcripts, Jan., 1873-Dec., 1877
- Complete set of transcripts, Jan., 1878-Aug., 1911
- Incomplete set of transcripts, Mar. 27, 1862-May 10, 1868
- Incomplete set of transcripts, Nov., 1872-Aug., 1911
- Copies of transcripts and letters quoted in Ken Burns’ “The West”
Fillmore County, Nebraska
Frontier & pioneer life
Oblinger, Ella, 1870-1958
Oblinger, Laura (Bacon), 1863-1931
Oblinger, Martha “Mattie” (Thomas), 1844-1880
Oblinger, Sabra Estella “Stella,” 1875-1912
Oblinger, Uriah Wesley, 1842-1901
Sandon, Maggie Esther (Oblinger), 1877-1965
Thomas, Giles Stafford, 1840-1929
Winkelman, Phyllis H., 1915-2006