"To forget one's ancestors is to be a brook without a source, a tree without a root."
(An old Chinese proverb.)

VOL. XLVI, No. 1 MARCH 1998  WHOLE NO. 181a

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THE SPARKS QUARTERLY, published by The Sparks Family Association.
Paul E. Sparks, President, 155 North Hite Avenue, Louisville, Kentucky (40206-2311)
Russell E. Bidlack, Secretary-Treasurer & Editor, 1709 Cherokee Road, Ann Arbor, Michigan (48104-4448)
The Sparks Family Association was founded in March, 1953, as a non-profit organi- zation devoted to the assembling and preserving of genealogical and historical materials pertaining to the Sparks Family in America.  It is exempt from federal income tax under the provisions of the Internal Revenue Code, Section 501(c)(7). Membership in the Association is open to all persons connected with the Sparks family, whether by blood, marriage, or adoption, and to persons interested in genealogical research. Membership falls into three classes: Active, Contributing, and Sustaining.  Active membership dues are $10.00 per year;  Contributing membership dues are $15.00 per year; and Sustaining membership dues are any amount over $15.00 that the member wishes to contribute for the support of the Association. All members receive The Sparks Quarterly as it is published in March, June, September, and December.  Back issues are kept in print and are available for $3.00 each to members and $4.00 each to non-members. The first issue of the Quarterly was published in March, 1953. Eight quinquennial  indexes have been published for the years 1953 -1957, 1958 -1962, 1963 -1967, 1968 -72, 1973 -1977, 1978-1982,1983 -1987; and 1988-92.  Each index is available for $5.00. A complete file of the back issues of the Quarterly (1953-1996), including the eight indexes, may be purchased for $290.00.  The forty-four years of the Quarterly (1953 -1996) comprise a total of 4,760 pages of Sparks Family history.  The eight indexes  amount to 874 additional pages.  (An index covering the years 1993-97 will be published in 1998.) A table of contents is also available for $5.00.  Comprising 65 pages, this lists the contents of each issue beginning with that for March 1953; it is updated at the end of each year with a listing for the year just completed and is mailed to each member without charge.  The International Standard Serial Number (ISSN) that has been assigned to the Quarterly is ISSN 0561-5445.

Orders for individual back issues of the Quarterly, the table of contents, as well as for a complete, file should be sent to the editor, Russell E. Bidlack, 1709 Cherokee Road, Ann Arbor, MI, 48104-4498.




By Eula Ray (Sparks) Cook

[Editor's Note: The March 1988 issue of THE SPARKS QUARTERLY, Whole No. 141, was concerned with some of the descendants of Reuben and Cassa (Buttery) Sparks of Wilkes County, North Carolina. Among them was a great-grandson, Isaiah Sparks. (See page 3199, Item A, 6, b.) The item concluded that no date of his death had been found. A great-granddaughter, Eula Ray (Sparks) Cook, has now supplied us, with not only the date of her ancestor's death, but the sad and unusual circumstances surrounding it. We are grateful to Mrs. Cook for sharing this information with us. She lives at 923 Roslyn Road, Winston-Salem, North Carolina, 27104. We are also grateful to Wayne Calton Sparks for permission to use the photograph of his great-grandfather, Josiah Isaiah Sparks, on the cover of this issue of the QUARTERLY, as well as that of the family of his grandparents, John and Jennie (Edwards) Sparks. The above record is presented exactly as written by Mrs . Cook because of the sensitivity of the subject.]


I guess we will never know the complete story of Josiah Isaiah Sparks and the reason he was charged and convicted with the stealing of the horse from his father-in-law's pasture or why he had to die at such an early age. Because of this we are left with a tremendous void that is a big part of us all.

The story was told many times as I grew up about Isaiah being charged with stealing a horse . A mare that belonged to Col. Granville Willey. Col. Granville Willey was the father of Levi Willey and Charity's grandfather.

I will try to piece together the story as I have heard it over the years, along with the facts as we now have, to create an understanding as to what happened.

Isaiah Sparks was a son of Reuben J. and Nancy (McGrady) Sparks. His only brother was killed in the Civil War. The battle of Petersburg, Virginia. Reuben J. Sparks left his family and went to Russell County, Virginia in 1868. Isaiah was about 17 years of age then. Isaiah married Charity Willey on January 01, 1871. Charity was the daughter of Levi Willey.

Isaiah worked at odd jobs and was a horse trader. The story goes that he would make frequent trips to Raleigh, North Carolina. He would walk, most of the time, to Elkin, North Carolina, which is in Surry County and catch a train to Raleigh. To my knowledge the why of these trips was never told. But apparently the incident where he was caught and charged with horse theft, his sole mission was to go to Elkin and back.

So on this early November day in 1882, he took the mare from his father-in-law's pasture and went to Elkin. Needing a way to Elkin, Isaiah may have asked to borrow the horse and upon being refused, took the horse anyway. (The validity of this is pure speculation on our part and cannot be verified.) We do know there were hard feelings toward Isaiah by the Willey family . Why this was so we may never know . But Carroll Sparks said this was repeated throughout his growing up . Some say that Isaiah was quick to temper and loved to fight .

The horse was reported missing right away . Col. Granville Willey swore out an affidavit on the 11th of November, 1882, to the fact that the horse was taken on the night of November 8, 1882. Stating that it was his mare and was taken from the pasture of Levi Willey.

A warrant of arrest was issued on November 11, 1882. They found the horse in Surry County with Isaiah's overcoat, breeches and saddle on the mare but Isaiah was not present. He was later arrested as he returned to Alleghany County (most probably to his home) and was held in jail for five (5) months, prior to the Spring term of Superior Court which was held in April of 1883.

Isaiah felt that there was no way he could get a fair and impartial trial in Alleghany County, due to the animosity toward him . He felt the people had talked so much about the case, that they had already formed their opinions as to his guilt . He gave an affidavit to this fact, but he was refused a trial in a different county and they proceeded to try him . Apparently he felt he had a better chance by throwing himself on the mercy of the court, thereupon pleading guilty to the charges and he was sentenced to five (5) years of hard labor. (Five years and 5 months, as he had already served 5 months.) This, in my opinion, was a rather harsh sentencing for the borrowing (?) of a relative's horse. But back then the stealing of a horse was a capital offense that could carry a death sentence . However, we are left with a lot of questions pertaining to this most unusual case.


You would think that the story would end here, with a far different finish . With Isaiah serving his sentence and returning home to his family but this was not to be the case. Isaiah only lived for three (3) months after he was incarcerated at CENTRAL PRISON in Raleigh, North Carolina. We have never known if he became ill and died or if he was killed. A mere 32 years of age, an age we would think would let him see his incarceration through with relative ease . He died leaving a wife and two small sons, ages 10 and 8.

Charity and her family did not seek to have his body returned to Alleghany County for burial. We don't know if it was due to the cost involved or if they just did not want him returned. So he was buried somewhere in Raleigh.

Charity died in 1891 at the age of 41 years. She started bleeding profusely from the nose and they were unable to stop the bleeding. Her son, Eddie Sparks, started to go for a doctor but when he returned to the house from saddling the horse, he found Charity lying in a pool of blood on the kitchen floor, dead.

Eddie and Calton were placed under guardianship of Solomon Fender, Jr . (Solomon Fender, Jr. was the brother-in-law to Charity, having married her sister, Elizabeth.) He was to oversee their education and managing of the estate left them with the death of their mother. They were well schooled at the TRAPHILL ACADEMY in Traphill, North Carolina.

Oh! if we could only fill in all the missing pieces, so that we could have a much clearer picture of this tragic story, we would have a more peaceful feeling, a feeling of finality. Until then we will keep searching for more facts. Maybe, just maybe, somewhere, sometime, someone will come forward with THE REST OF THE STORY.

This was compiled by Eula Ray (Sparks) Cook from court records and family stories .

[Editor's Note: Isaiah and Charity (Willey) Sparks had five children:]

l. Pomeroy Sparks was born on December 22, 1871. She died sometime between 1880 and 1883.

2. Willey Sparks was born about 1872 and was obviously named for her mother's family.
She died between 1880 and 1883.

3. Julius Edmond ["Eddie"] Sparks was born on April 23, 1873. He was married to Fannie Edwards on April 14, 1897. She had been born on November 24, 1876, and was a daughter of David and Caroline (Edwards) Edwards. Eddie Sparks was a teacher and a farmer. He died on April 20, 1962. Fannie died on June 8, 1965. They were the parents of nine children. They were:

David Glenn Sparks, Calile L. Sparks, George S. Sparks, Lura M. ["Lou"] Sparks, Simeon E. Sparks, Chelsie H. Sparks (male), John Robert Sparks, James Woodrow Sparks, and Treva Mae Sparks.
4. John Calton Sparks was born on February 4, 1875. He was married to Maza Virginia ["Jennie"] Edwards on September 8, 1897. She had been born on July 2, 1877, and was a daughter of Andrew and Liza (Richardson) Edwards. Calton (as he was called) was a teacher, carpenter and surveyor. Jennie died on April 13, 1935 and Calton died on December 2, 1861. They were the parents of seven children :
Stella Clide Sparks, James Andrew Sparks, Dewey Israel Sparks, Tressie Mae Sparks, Elmer Ray Sparks, Eliza Hazel Sparks, and John Lee Sparks. (See the photograph of Calton and Jennie Sparks on p. 4937.)
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John Calton and Jennie (Edwards) Sparks

With Their Four Oldest Children, about 1908

Front row, left to right: Dewey Sparks,
John Calton Sparks holding Tressie Sparks,
and Virginia ["Jennie"] (Edwards) Sparks

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5. Levi Sparks, son of Isaiah and Charity (Willey) Sparks, was born about 1877. He apparently died between 1880 and 1883.
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By Russell E. Bidlack

In THE SPARKS QUARTERLY of March 1972, Whole No. 77, pp.1472-73, we published a biographical sketch of David Rhodes Sparks that had been written by Walter R. Sanders and included in a 1953 history of Litchfleld, Montgomery County, Illinois. We did this as part of a supplement to records of the family of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks (the parents of David Rhodes Sparks) that had been found, and shared with us, in a most unusual manner (see pp. 1466- 68 of the issue of the QUARTERLY cited above) .

Since publishing this record of David Rhodes Sparks, we have learned that in his old age, beginning in January 1893, he wrote for his descendants the story of his eventful life . His account remained as he had written it, in longhand, until 1932 when his grandson, George Sparks Milnor, and a grandson-in-law, Col. Mathew A . Reasoner, arranged for a typewritten transcription to be made, comprising some 94 pages, to which were added other family records. Twenty-eight copies of this transcription were distributed among the family. In 1967, one of these copies was placed in the Haynor Public Library in Alton, Illinois .

It is evident that in making the typewritten copy of this manuscript, an unfortunate error was made. The maiden name of the mother of David Rhodes Sparks was copied as"Givens" whereas it was actually Gwin (or Gwinne). Rather than perpetuating that error, we will substitute the correct spelling in sharing portions of this autobiography with our readers.

As noted above, the family records of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks that we published in the QUARTERLY of March 1972, came to our attention under a most curious set of circumstances.

It was in Ponca City, Oklahoma, in 1971, that a young man named Klem P. Chandler, age sixteen, purchased a box of old papers and letters. Klem was then collecting a variety of curiosities, especially "old stuff.".   In this box of tattered papers, he found an envelope on which was written "Sparks Family Records."  Therein were eleven sheets of paper torn from a tablet on which had been copied, apparently from a family Bible, perhaps by one of the children or grandchildren of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks, a record of their family. The mother of Klem Chandler, Mrs . Emma Chandler, recognized the genealogical importance of this record, and she sought out the existence of our Association . Mrs . Chandler sent the editor a xerox copy of these eleven sheets . The first entry on the first page is the birth record of Baxter Sparks (May 8, 1777), followed by that of his wife, Elizabeth Sparks (May 1, 1786). These entries are followed by a record of the births of their ten children, born between 1808 and 1828.

The middle initials of these ten children are given in this record, including David R. Sparks, born October 15, 1823. This was David Rhodes Sparks, and when he wrote his autobiography, he included a list of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks's children, with their full names . Following is the list :


The ten succeeding tablet-size sheets of paper found by Kiem Chandler contain a record of the births of a number of the grandchildren of Baxter and Elizabeth Sparks, as well as several marriages and deaths in the family. On the seventh page is the date of the marriage of Baxter and Elizabeth: September 20, 1806. Among the deaths recorded on the ninth page are those of Baxter Sparks (on September 7, 1840), and of Elizabeth Sparks (on March 24, 1844). The last entry, on page eleven under deaths, was dated July 28, 1873--for Anna Pearl West. We have not discovered her connection with the family of Baxter Sparks, although his son, Edmond Baxter Sparks, was married in 1841 to Elizabeth West. It was doubtless some time after 1873 that these entries we're copied from Baxter and Elizabeth's family Bible in the form that KIem Chandler found them .

Although the maiden name of Elizabeth Sparks, i.e., Owin, does not appear among the names on these eleven sheets, David Rhodes Sparks identified it as Elizabeth's maiden name in his autobiography. In a supplement to the autobiography prepared by George Sparks Milnor and Col. Reasoner, Elizabeth's maiden name was given as "Gwynne," which was an alternate spelling of Gwin. Also, In a biographical sketch of William A. J. Sparks, youngest child of Baxter and Elizabeth, contained in the Portrait and BiographicalRecord of Clinton, Washington, Marion and Jefferson Counties published in Chicago by the Chapman Pub. Co. in 1892, his parents were identified as Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks. There it was stated, also, that both Baxter and Elizabeth were natives of Virginia.

According to the opening paragraphs of David Rhodes Sparks's autobiography, both his grandfather and his great-grandfather had been named Thomas Sparks This information, he said, had come solely "from the lips" of his father, Baxter Sparks. While we believe that these names are probably correct, David Rhodes Sparks was surely mistaken when he added that they had lived near Richmond, Virginia. We have ample evidence that their homes in Virginia had been in the county of Pittsylvania, the southern border of which adjoins North Carolina.

Before migrating to Pittsylvania County in or about 1777, this branch of the Sparks family had lived in Prince Georges County, Maryland . A Thomas Sparks, whose age was given on a 1776 census of Prince Georges County as 65 (thus born in or about 1711), was one of those who migrated with his family to Pittsylvania County, as did his brother, Matthew Sparks, who was a few years younger than Thomas.  David Rhodes Sparks believed that his great-grandfather, Thomas Sparks, had been born about 1709.

David Rhodes Sparks stated that his grandfather, also named Thomas Sparks, had been born about 1742. Indeed, the Thomas Sparks born about 1711, whose wife, Elizabeth, had been shown as 58 years old on the 1776 census, did have a son named Thomas, but Matthew Sparks, whose wife's name was Eleanor, also had a son named Thomas, and these three Thomases, father, son, and nephew, can be easily confused in the Pittsylvania County records. The Thomas, son of Thomas, was married to a woman named Elizabeth, adding to the confusion. Although David Rhodes Sparks did not mention the maiden name of his grandmother, other family members have believed that it had been Sanders . Support for this is found in the fact that the first child of Baxter and Elizabeth was named Mary Sanders Sparks. Some have claimed that the mother of Baxter had been named Mary Sanders. It is possible, of course, that this Thomas Sparks had been married twice, first to a Mary Sanders and second to Elizabeth ------..


We know that there was a Sanders family in Prince Georges County, Maryland, for a Lydia Sanders was married there on November 25, 1788 to a William Fowlar. Sanders was sometimes spelled "Saunders," and a Josias Saunders, age 25, appeared on the 1776 census of Prince Georges County with his wife, Jemima, age 32--the same census on which the elder Thomas Sparks had appeared, as noted above.

According to the autobiography of David Rhodes Sparks, his father, Baxter Sparks, at the age of 25 (thus about 1802) moved from Virginia to Kentucky, to "near the present City of Louisville, where he worked at his trade, that of saddler, until the year 1807, when he married Miss Elizabeth Gwin."  He added that Elizabeth's father (whom he did not name) had moved from Virginia to the Territory of Indiana "but a few miles from Louisville." This would place the Gwin family in what became Floyd County, Indiana, in 1819. (Floyd was formed from Harrison and Clark Counties and is across the Ohio River from Louisville, in Jefferson County, Kentucky.) We know that Baxter Sparks was in Clark County, Indiana, on February 25, 1808, because of an entry for him in Clark County's Estray Book.

David Rhodes Sparks explained how his parents had become acquainted . He said that the Gwin family "had formerly lived in the same neighborhood as that of my father."  Records from Pittsylvania County do, indeed, reveal that the Gwin family had lived near the Sparkses on Sandy River. The head of this family in 1778, according to the tax list of Pittsylvanla County that year, appears to have been George Holmes Gwin, with sons named Holmes, Jesse, and Littleberry . They were listed in the same district as the Sparkses; a William Gwin also lived nearby . It was unusual for a man at that time to have, and to use, a middle name, as did George Holmes Gwin . It may be significant that a son of Baxter and Elizabeth Sparks was named Wesley Holmes Sparks.

According to Pittsylvania County Deed Book 10, p. 436, a bond dated September 19, 1796, was posted to Virginia Governor Robert Brooke permitting Littleberry Gwin, John Gwin, and Matthew Sparks to build a bridge across Sandy Creek. This Matthew Sparks may have been a brother, or first cousin, of the Thomas Sparks who was father of Baxter Sparks. The above John Gwin may even have been the father of Elizabeth Gwin, wife of Baxter Sparks. When the 1810 census of Harrison Township of Harrison County, Indiana Territory, was taken (which is the only portion of the 1810 census of Harrison County that survives), Baxter Sparks was shown as heading a household there . His age was given as between 26 and 45. Only the name of the head of each household then appeared on a U.S. census, but we can be sure that the female enumerated in his household as be tween 16 and 26 was Baxter's wife, Elizabeth, and that the girl and boy shown as under 10 years were their children, Mary and Thomas. What is especially interesting is that the next name on this census following Baxter Sparks is that of John Gwin. He was enumerated as over 45 years of age, as was also the female in his household, who was surely his wife . In their household, also, was a male 26 to 45; two males 16 to 26; a male between 10 and 16; a female 16 to 26; and two females between 10 and 16. The next household visited by the census taker was that of Dolly Bates, followed by that of John Gwin, Jr., whose age was given as between 26 and 45. The female in his household, shown in the same age category, was surely his wife, and the three males and one female, all under 10 years, were doubtless their children . Thus, John Gwin, Jr . and Baxter sparks were of the same generation. lt is logical to guess that the elder John Gwin was John, Jr.'s father and Baxter's father-in-law.


Half a century ago, in April 1948, George Sparks Milnor, grandson of David Rhodes Sparks, made a journey with family members from his home in Alton, Illinois, to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, stopping on their way in Indiana where Baxter Sparks had lived. Mr. Milnor described this journey in a long, undated account that he shared with relatives, including the late Frances Sparks Jones, a great-granddaughter of David Rhodes Sparks's brother, John Gwin Sparks. Mrs. Jones shared this account with the present writer before her death in 1983. In this account, Mr. Milnor stated that, indeed, Elizabeth, wife of Baxter Sparks, had been a daughter of John Gwin . Following are portions of Milnor' s account of his journey.

For several years the writer [George Sparks Milnor] had been looking forward to a trip to southern Indiana and Virginia in hopes of securing further data regarding the Sparks genealogy and family. The opportunity arrived in April 1948....

The autobiography of Grandfather David Rhodes Sparks contains the only known genealogical record of our branch of the Sparks family . There is no evidence that he had access to any written records, but was very clear as to the information obtained from his father, Baxter Sparks, and from his older and only sister, Mary Sanders Sparks, who married Dr. L. S. Coon in 1829....

In the autobiography, he mentions the fact that Baxter and Elizabeth Gwin, following their marriage in 1807, first "settled on a farm, or rather in the woods, about six miles south of New Albany, Indiana." Although he does not say so, the chances are that this farm was located in Floyd County, of which New Albany is the county seat . The autobiography indicates that the five oldest children, Mary Sanders, Thomas Paine, John Gwin, Nelson Mathew, and Wesley Holmes, were born on this first farm.

The second farm owned by Baxter and on which David Rhodes Sparks and his older brothers were born, is described in the autobiography as being located "on a branch of Indian Creek, about 10 miles south of New Albany and 1 mile from the very small village of Lanesville, Harrison County, Indiana. . . .

Being anxious to have more accurate data as to David's place of birth, I searched the records at Corydon, the county seat [of Harrison County], and with little trouble found the following: On November 27, 1817, Baxter Sparks either "entered" or bought from the government, the southwest 1/4 of section 17, Town 3, South, Range 5E, being 160 acres. The following year, November 14, 1838, Baxter Sparks "entered" the adjoining southeast 1/4 of section 18, Town #3, South, Range 5E, being 160 acres, all in Franklin Township. This is the first land owned by Baxter Sparks in what was then and is now Harrison County, Indiana. As will be shown later, Baxter retained ownership of all of the above farm, 320 acres, for ten years or more . From the county map, we had no difficulty in locating this farm which is, as grandfather described it, about1/2 mile (about 1 mile by road) from the village of Lanesville, and is on a branch of Indian Creek, the branch running through the farm. The farm, or part of it, is now [1948] owned by Gilbert Schneider, son of Jacob Schneider, who has a comfortable house and other farm buildings across the stream of where it is believed the old Sparks house or cabin was located. There is nothing left of the old cabin, although some stones evidently used as a walk from the road to what appears to have a cabin site, were located. There are still some jonquil flowers blooming along the waik, and it is believed that this is the location on which Baxter Sparks built the cabin referred to in grandfather's autobiography, and where the four youngest boys, including David Rhodes Sparks, were born . We took pictures of the site.


The farm is in a valley between wooded hills. The hills are rocky and covered with mostly second-growth timber. The valley is under cultivation. The soil is good for that part of Indiana, which makes one wonder as to the incentive or objective that Baxter had in mind when he moved, first to New Albany and, two years later, to the prairie lands of Illinois. There is no doubt that the soil in Macoupin County, Illinois, where Baxter settled, is better, richer, and more level than in that section of Indiana, but it must be remembered that the new location near Staunton, Illinois, was more wild and unsettled in 1836 or 1837 than was southern Indiana near the Ohio River .

The record did not disclose what Baxter paid for the land--probably $1.25 per acre, or whatever the price fixed by the government may have been at that time.

It was on the above described farm that Baxter's four youngest children were born: Edmund Baxter, David Rhodes, Harvey Addison, and William Andrew Jackson.

A further examination of the records show that on February 16, 1822, Baxter Sparks sold to Thomas Carr 80 acres for $80, being the west 21 of the southeast 1/4 of Section 18, and that on April 22, 1828, Baxter Sparks sold to John Gwin, for the sum of $300, 50 acres of the southwest 1/4 of Section 17. This is particularly interesting as John Gwin was the father of Elizabeth Gwin, Baxter's wife. Presumably, Baxter and his father-in-law were then neighbors on adjoining farms. [Editor's Note : This John Gwin who purchased the land from Baxter Sparks was more likely Baxter's wife's brother, John Gwin, Jr., than her father.]

On December 12, 1837, Baxter sold to Jeremiah Pritchett the east 1/2 of the southeast 1/4 of Section 18, 80 acres and 110 acres of the southwest 1/4 of Section 17, for which he received $700.

The last mentioned sales completed the disposal of the entire 320 acres originally purchased . All of the above land is in Franklin Township.

Grandfather's autobiography states that the family moved from the Indiana farm to New Albany in the spring of 1834, where he owned property, and then to Illinois in 1836, after having lived about two years in New Albany.  I believe that the dates given by my grandfather were from memory, and some inaccuracy as to dates is possible . Based on the county records, the home farm was not sold until December 1837, which fact, however, is no reason why Baxter and family could not have moved to New Albany to live in 1834, and Illinois in 1836, and still have retained ownership of the farm until December 1837. As a matter of fact, Baxter's oldest sons, Thomas, John, and probably Nelson and Wesley, did not move with Baxter as is shown by a letter in my possession written by the mother, Elizabeth, to Thomas in Harrison County In 1840, urging him to bring his family to Illinois . In all probability, Thomas and the others continued to live on the Harrison County farm until it was sold in December of 1837. From available material, I believe that Baxter, his wife, Elizabeth, and sons Edmund, David, Harvey, and Jackson, are the ones that originally moved to Illinois . Later on, Wesley joined them, and somewhat later, Thomas.  John never moved to the Staunton Farm, but settled in southern Illinois near Marion, where he raised a family prior to moving to the state of Washington, as mentioned in grandfather's book. . . .

Baxter's wife, Elizabeth, made a trip from the Staunton farm back to Harrison County in 1840, and on her return (presumably by horseback or wagon), she was met by a family friend who gave her the sad news that her husband, Baxter Sparks, had died during her absence.


Baxter, his wife, Elizabeth, who died in 1844, and other members of the family, were interred in a private burial ground on the Sparks farm north of Staunton. Many years later, probably in the 1890s, Grandfather and William Andrew Jackson Sparks, erected a fine granite monument in the Sparks cemetery . As the farm had been sold many years before, the little cemetery was not well maintained . By 1937, it was discovered that the cemetery was almost completely overgrown with briars and other vegetation, and the monument had been defaced by vandals. At the suggestion of Col. M. A. Reasoner, it was decided to move the monument a mile or so east to a public cemetery known as the Chapman Cemetery, which is maintained in good condition . Col. Reasoner secured the necessary permits, the monument was moved and installed near the Chapman lot in which Richard Chapman and other members of that family are buried. This move seemed particularly fitting as the Chapman and Sparks families were closely related through the marriage of David Rhodes Sparks to Anna Davenport Chapman.

The small headstones originally placed in the Sparks cemetery, the inscriptions on which are now [1948] almost obliterated by age, were not moved, nor were the remains of those buried. The above mentioned Sparks monument was moved with the consent, full approval, and at the expense of various descendants of Baxter Sparks. . . .

We then continued our trip through Louisville, Corbin, and southeastern Kentucky to Cumberland Gap, and on to Danville, Pittsylvania County, Virginia. In making the trip, we approximately followed the Boone Trail which, without doubt, is the route followed by Baxter when he moved from Virginia to "near Louisville." . . .

The route from Louisville, Kentucky, to Danville, Virginia, is some 450 miles . A large part of it is through mountainous country, and there is no doubt but that it required Baxter Sparks and other pioneers several weeks to make the journey by horseback or wagon . When it is remembered that Baxter made the trip only six years after the first wagon trail had been made [the Wilderness Road], it is easy to visualize the hardships encountered in traveling through this rugged country . At this late date, it is difficult to understand what incentive motivated Baxter and others to make the move . Undoubtedly, it was the pioneer spirit and the urge to settle In a newer country and on more fertile land . . . .

Danville was the eastern objective of our trip because, after several years of intermittent research, I have been able to develop, without reasonable doubt, the fact that Baxter's home at the time he left Virginia was, in all probability, in Pittsylvania County . Pittsylvania County, Virginia, records show Order Book 4, page 391, Court Record, February 1732: "Thomas Sparks producing recommendation from the Elders of the Methodist Church as a minister of that Society is hereby authorized and empowered to join in matrimony any persons in this county according to an Act of Assembly." The records also show that this Thomas Sparks became a landowner in Pittsylvanla County in 1778 and in 1780 was given a government grant of a tract of land along the Sandy River in said county . Later, Thomas bought and sold numerous other pieces of land, including some on both sides of the Sandy River, as well as a tract on Dean's Creek.


[Editor's Note : While George Sparks Milnor was entirely correct in believing that the Thomas Sparks who had been Baxter's father had lived in Pittsylvania County, Virginia, as had Baxter Sparks during his youth, Mr. Milnor appears not to have realized that there had been three, perhaps four, men of varying age living in Pittsylvania County in the late 1700s and early 1800's who had the name Thomas Sparks. In a forthcoming article for the QUARTERLY, we will try to present evidence to distinguish their relationship to each other.]

The county records also show that John Gwin owned a tract of land along the Sandy River adjoining that of Thomas Sparks . Gwin sold this land in 1804.  We know from Grandfather's book that Gwin and his daughter, Elizabeth, moved from Virginia to Harrison County, Indiana, in 1806. Furthermore, Baxter and Elizabeth Sparks had been neighbors before they had left Virginia. . . .

From the description given in the deeds, it was comparatively easy to view the land along both sides of the rather small Sandy River which flows into the Dan River near Danville.   Therefore, we had the satisfaction of seeing the land that the Rev. Thomas Sparks owned, and where he lived for many years, but with out locating the exact farm.

The court records show that in 1799, Thomas Sparks was granted permission to build a grist mill on Bean's Creek. So, in all probability, Great-Great-Grandfather Thomas Sparks became the first miller in the family... .

[Editor's Note : George Sparks Milnor closed the account of his journey with a conjecture that the Thomas Sparks whom he had concluded was Baxter Sparks's father, had come to Pittsylvania County from Culpeper County, Virginia. We are quite convinced that Mr. Milnor was mistaken in this conjecture. As noted earlier, there can be no doubt that It had been from Prince Georges County, Maryland, that members of the Sparks family had migrated to Pittsylvania County, Virginia, in or about 1777. Because Baxter Sparks was born on May 8, 1777, we cannot be certain whether he had been born before his parents left Maryland or after their arrival in Virginia.]



[Editor's Note: We now present portions of the autobiography that David Rhodes Sparks, son of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks, began writing at his home in Alton, Illinois, in January 1893. He was then 71 years of age. We omit here his references to his grandfather and his great-grandfather because they have been discussed in the preceding introduction.]

It is with feelings of distrust of my ability that I attempt to give my children a true and intelligible record of our family, and a short but true sketch of my own life . However, I shall proceed with such material as I have at my command....

My father, Baxter Sparks, was born in 1777. At the age of 25 years, he emigrated to Kentucky, near the present city of Louisville, where he worked at his trade, that of a saddler, until the year 1807, when he married Miss Elizabeth Gwin, who, with her father, had the year before removed from Virginia and had settled in the then Territory of Indiana, but a few miles (across the Ohio River] from Louisville . They had formerly lived in the same neighborhood as that of my father, and from this acquaintance the marriage soon followed


The newly married couple settled on a farm, or rather in the woods, about six miles south of New Albany, then a very small village. Here, wIth the energy and pluck of a pioneer, he hewed out his first little home and farm . When it is considered that this whole section of country was a hilly, heavily-timbered forest of land, the undertaking, with only a stout heart and a bare axe in hand, can be better appreciated . How they managed to support life is more than I can understand . Yet, such was the energy and will of the man, he seemed not to consider the hardships before him, and after a few years of cutting and clearing the land, or a portion of it, he sold this little hard-earned farm and entered a large tract of land on a branch of Indian Creek about ten miles south of New Albany, and about a half-mile from a very small village called Lanesville . He was now in the County of Harrison, named after William Henry Harrison, the grandfather of our President of today The county seat of Corydon was then the seat of government for the Territory of Indiana, and has since been the county seat of Harrison County . [Note : In the transcription of Sparks's autobiography in 1982, "Lanesville" was mistakenly copied as "Louisville."]

On this latter farm, I was born October 15th, 1823, and now, perhaps, I may as well proceed to give the births in my father's family as they occurred, as well as a sketch of the life of each.

My only sister, Mary Sanders Sparks, was born March 13th, 1808. She grew to womanhood on the farm near Louisville, where she was married in 1829 to Dr. L. S. Coon, who settled in Louisville and practiced medicine, and was there and did great service in the great epidemic of cholera in the year 1832. I can distinctly remember that year of terror and death in this sparsely settled country . In some cases, whole families were swept out of existence.  In the midst of this terror and death, Dr. L. S. Coon never faltered from his duty; rich or poor, it made no difference-- he did his duty most heroically and manfully . He moved to this state [ Illinois ] in the winter of 1835 and 1836, and was followed in the spring of 1836 by my father, who bought and settled on a farm one mile north of the then mostly newly marked out town of Staunton. Dr. Coon and his wife settled in Staunton and lived there, with a short exception, to the time of their death . The doctor, preceding my sister to the grave, died January 19th, 1869. My sister retained her old home to the time of her death, April 8th, 1881. She bore no children of her own, yet her house was always the home of one or more motherless child, and today there are those who speak of her as "Grandmother."

Thomas Paine Sparks was born October 21st, 1809, and grew up to be a man of most magnificent physique, and mental capacity, yet by some strange chance he fell into the habit of excessive drinking, that was so common in those days . He married and left two children, a boy and a girl, both now grown with families.  He died suddenly of heart disease in 1874. It is only fair to add to this that Uncle Thomas gave up the habit mentioned many years before his death.  He was highly respected in his home town, and was a man of fine appearance and well read for his day.

[Editor's Note: In the "Family Record of Baxter Sparks," discussed earlier on p. 4938, and published in full in the QUARTERLY of March 1972, Whole No. 77, the date of the marriage of Thomas Paine Sparks appears as December 31, 1829. While the name of his wife was not given, we know from the record of his marriage, on this date, in Harrison County, Indiana, that his wife's name was Nancy Chapman. While David Rhodes Sparks stated (see above) that Thomas had only two children, the "Family Record...," as it will be cited hereafter, lists four, as follows :


(1) George W. Sparks, born January 30, 1832;
(2) Marion Sparks, born January 22, 1834;
(3) Mary E. Sparks, born October 4, 1836; and
(4) Nancy I. Sparks, born September 19, 1839.

Perhaps two of these children died in youth, since David Rhodes Sparks remembered only two. Among the deaths listed in the "Family Record..." is that of a Marion F . Sparks on October 1, 1849, but whether this was the child of Thomas P. Sparks named Marion, we do not know. Thomas Sparks was shown as the head of his household on the 1830 and 1840 censuses of Harrison County, Indiana; on the latter he was shown with a female aged 20 to 30, who was doubtless his wIfe, along with a male and two females between 5 and 10, and a male under 5. This suggests that the child named Marion was a son, not a daughter. Thomas Paine Sparks may have been the Thomas Sparks, age 45, born In Indiana, who appeared on the 1850 census of Marshall County, Illinois, with wife Nancy, age 40, also a native of Illinois. Their children, George, age 18, and Mary, age 15, seem to match the information in the "Family Record...," except that their places of birth were recorded on the census as Ohio. Also included in this 1850 household was an 8-year-old female named "Mana" born in Illinois . Thomas P. Sparks may have been the 60-year-old Thomas Sparks living in Macoupin County, Illinois, when the 1870 census was taken, shown as "works in a mill," in whose household was one other person, Pollyanna Thomas, age 69, a native of Kentucky.]

John Gwin Sparks was born September 22nd, 1811. He was a man of good abilities and never used intoxicating drinks under any circumstances . He first learned the hatters trade, and worked at his trade for a number of years, but tired of this business and turned to the study of law, which he practiced for the remainder of his life. He lived in Washington Territory for more than twenty-five years, and died in 1891 in Olympia, where he had lived most of the time. As I have not seen him for more than forty years, I know little of his life, more than that he was highly respected where he lived, having held a commission under Mr . Lincoln, and the office of Judge.

[Editor's Note: According to the "Family Record...," John Gwin Sparks was married on January 16, 1834, but the name of his wife was not given. From a census record, however, we know that her name was Rebecca; she had been born about 1818 in Illinois. The "Family Record..." lists three children: (1) Mary Sparks, born January 2, 1836; (2) Elizabeth S. Sparks, born on February 18, 1838; she was probably the Elizabeth Sparks listed among the deaths in the "Family Record " on March24, 1844; and (3) Francis M. Sparks, born May 21, 1840. John G. Sparks and his family were living in Jackson County, Illinois, when the 1850 census was taken. His profession was given as lawyer. Living with John G. and his wife, Rebecca, in 1850 was their daughter, Mary S. Sparks, age 14, and their son, Francis M. Sparks, age 10. Since their daughter, Elizabeth, was not listed in their house hold, she was doubtless the Elizabeth Sparks, as noted above, who died on March 24, 1844. When the 1860 census was taken, Rebecca Sparks was living in Williamson County, Illinois, which adjoins Jackson County on the east . Her age was given as 41; she had no occupation. Her son, Francis M. Sparks, age 20, was the only other person in her household. We have found no record of John Gwin Sparks in the state of Washington, nor do we know when he moved there . It is curious that on the 1870 census of Jackson County, Illinois, In the "Precinct of Carbondale," Rebecca Sparks, age 54, was shown as "Hotel keeping." Nine residents at the hotel were listed, none of whom, however, was named Sparks.]


Nelson Matthew Sparks was born March 21st, 1814. This brother seemed to have been unfortunate almost from infancy. When a small boy, his ankle was badly broken by the fall of a tree. While he was still very young, he was kicked by a horse and very nearly killed, and he wears the deep scar over his eye to this day. And, again in early boyhood, he met with another very serious accident-- his foot caught in a wheel and was crushed and torn, making him a very bad cripple for life . Now, having both limbs badly damaged, this seemed to have made him exceedingly nervous. However, our father managed to give him a fair education for that time, and he taught school for a great many years for a livelihood. He is now [1893] living in the city of Litchfleld, this state [Montgomery County, Illinois.   Though quite old, he is in fair health, and a rabid Methodist as well as a radical Republican.

[Editor's Note : Nelson Matthew Sparks, who was sometimes called Matthew, was married on March 1, 1840, according to the "Family Record...," but his wife's name was not recorded. On the 1850 census of Jackson County, Illinois, in the same district as John Gwin Sparks, "N. M. Sparks," age 34 and a native of Indiana, was enumerated as a "School Teacher" by occupation. We assume that the 23-year-old female in his household was his wife; her name on the census was given as Sarah
A. Sparks, a native of Kentucky. The "Family Record. ." indicates that N. M. Sparks had two children: (1) Maria J. Sparks, born February 24, 1841; and (2) Mary E. Sparks, born May 12, 1843. Neither of these children, however, was included in the household of "N. M. Sparks" on the 1850 census. Likewise, when the household of Nelson M. Sparks was enumerated on the 1860 census of Jackson County, Illinois, neither of these daughters was included, but living with him and Sarah was 8-year-old John Sparks, born in Illinois, who was probably a son.

[By 1870, Nelson Matthew Sparks had moved to Litchfleld In Montgomery County, Illinois, and on the census of that year he was shown as 54 years old and a "Watchman, flour mill."  His wife, Sarah, was now 43 years old; the John Sparks who had been eight in 1860, was shown as "John K. Sparks," age 18, and "works in flour mill" in 1870.]

Wesley Holmes Sparks was born May 23rd, 1816, of small stature, bright and full of energy. At an early age, he learned the trade of shoe-making, and worked at it for several years, but, becoming dissatisfied at this humble trade, he determined to study medicine . He persevered, under the most discouraging circumstances, until he finally received his diploma from the hands of Dr. McDarnell of the Darnell [sic] College of St. Louis in 1850. He soon after married a second wife, and located at Maryville on the Illinois River, where he entered upon a very successful practice, but the unhealthy location soon had its effects on him, and he died in 1852.

[Editor's Note: According to the "Family Record...," Wesley H . Sparks died on August 7, 1852. He had been married, according to the "Family Record..." on December 1, 1838, but his wife's name was not given. On the 185.0 census, his wife's name appeared as Amanda Sparks, age 33 (thus born about 1827), but Amanda may have been Wesley's second wife.

[Wesley Sparks's name appears on the 1840 census of Macoupin County, Illinois, . near that of his father. His household then included a male in the same age category as himself (20 to 30), as well as a female in the same age bracket, whom we may assume was Wesley's wife . There were also six children enumerated:  two males and three females, all under the age of five years, plus a girl between 5 and 10. The "Family Record . . ." lists two children of Wesley Sparks : (1) Elisabeth E. Sparks, born October 26, 1838; and (2) Vanburen Sparks, born April 20, 1840. Considering the date given for his marriage, we can assume that there was an error of some nature in this record. Perhaps there was a relative with children living with Wesley and his wife in 1840. When the 1850 census was taken, Wesley Sparks was in St. Louis, having just completed his medical training. His age was recorded as 36 years, and occupation was given as "Doctor." His place of birth, however, was mistakenly given as Kentucky. As noted above, his wife's name was given as Amanda Sparks, age 33, and a native of New York on this 1850 census. No children were living with them. In his brief sketch of Wesley Sparks, David Rhodes Sparks made no mention of Wesley's first wife, noting only that soon after receiving his medical diploma in 1850, "he married a second wife." It is quite possible that Amanda was this second wife.]


George Gwin Sparks was born September 18th, 1818, and died in his infancy, before I was born. [The "Family Record....." gives his date of death as October 18, 1822.]

Edmund Baxter Sparks was born August 20th 1820. He grew up to be a man of ability, considering the early state of the country . He married when quite young, lived on a farm until 1850 when the great rush to California gold fields took place. In company with a group of friends, myself among them, he crossed the Great Plains and Desert Mountains with an ox team to California, where he died about two months after reaching the mines . He left a widow and one child, but still living; the widow, however, having married many years since .

[The date of Edmund Sparks's marriage appears in the "Family Record..." as October 28, 1841, and his date of death in California as July 25, 1851. Later in his autobiography, David Rhodes Sparks noted that Edmund had died shortly after they reached "Coloma on the South Fork of the American River . He continued : "After stopping over night, we started early next day to climb the mountain, about two miles hard climbing to the top.... We found the pay rather dull, but moving up the branch half a mile or so we found better digging . Here my brother took sick, and after a week or ten days, he died. We bought a plain pine box coffin at Coloma for $25.00, carried it up the mountain on our little mule, and by the aid of some miners nearby we rigged up a wagon and buried Brother in what was then called Greenwood, about four miles from where we were camped."

[Edmund Baxter Sparks and his brother, David Rhodes Sparks, left for California on March 28, 1850, leaving each of their wives with a small child in Macoupin County, Illinois . Edmund was married, according to the "Family Record...," on October 28, 1841, but his wife's name was not recorded. The "Family Record. . ." lists three children of Edmund: (1) John B. Sparks, born January 13, 1844, died April 29, 1848; (2) Elizabeth Malinda Sparks, born March 21, 1846, died April 11, 1846; and (3) Melinda E. Sparks, born June 5, 1847. It appears that the first wife of Edmund Baxter Sparks died and that Edmund had been married again by 1848 or 1849. This wife seems to have been named Elizabeth and she had been born in Illinois about 1827. When the 1850 census was taken in Macoupin County, Elizabeth Sparks, age 23, with an infant son named Edmond, one year old, was living with a 31-year-old farmer named C . L. Allen, perhaps a brother . This child may have been the Edmund Calvin Sparks whose death in the "Family Record. . ." was recorded as occurring on July 25, 1851.]

David Rhodes Sparks was born October 15, 1823, but as I shall further on give a short sketch of my life, I will make no further remarks here.

[Editor's Note: The grandson of David Rhodes Sparks who arranged for the reproduction of his grandfather's autobiography in 1932, provided at the end, a record of his marriages and his children. David was marriedin 1846 toMariah Parisher. She died the following year and was buried at Staunton, Illinois. She had no children. On December 20, 1848, David Rhodes Sparks was married (second) to Anna Davenpqrt Chapman. She had been born on May 13, 1830, at Staunton, and was a daughter of Richard Chapman.


Children of David Rhodes and Anna Davenport (Chapman) Sparks

(1) Mary Ann Mariah Sparks, born September 26, 1849, died September 3, 1931. She was married to Frank Richmond Milnor on April 23, 1874. He had been born on December 15, 1846. They had two children: (a) Mabel Sparks Milnor, born May 22, 1877; she was married to Mathew A. Reasoner; and (b) George Sparks Milnor, born December 11, 1880; he was married (first) to Alice Bowman, and (second) to Alice Elizabeth Ryrie.
(2) Richard Baxter Sparks, born March 7, 1852, died April 14, 1861.

(3) Wesley David Sparks, born May 4, 1854, died in May 1909. He was married to Emma L. Fisher, who died in 1905. They had no children.

(4) Julia Josephine Sparks, born April 18, 1856, died August 5, 1860.

(5) Hosea Ballou Sparks, born November 5, 1858. He was married to Bessie Mayo Pegram on June 6, 1894. They had no children.

(6) Charles Fletcher Sparks, born August 14, 1861. He was married on June 25, 1884, to Mary S. Noble. She had been born on August 29, 1860, and died on March 19, 1914. He was married (second) in November 1915, to Marceline Randolph Reyburn . Charles Fletcher and Mary S. (Noble) Sparks were the parents of the following children:

(a) David Noble Sparks, born July 13, 1885, died in July 1886;
(b) Mary Esther Sparks, born December 25, 1886; she was married to Paul Bliss Cousley;
(c) Edwin Milnor Sparks, born March 1, 1889; he was married (first) to Dorothy Hanna and (second) to Irene Fries;
(d) Richard Davenport Sparks, born November 4, 1890; he was married to Johny Matthews;
(e) William R. J. Sparks, born April 2, 1893, and died in infancy;
(f) Katherine Noble Sparks, born February 16, 1895; she was married (first) to Dr. Harry Seiwell and (second) to Edgar Drier;
(g) David Rhodes Sparks, born November 3, 1897; he was married to Lucy Chase in June 1828.
(7) William Lincoln Sparks, born October 17, 1864; died July 28, 1866.

(8) William Lincoln Sparks (second son with this name), was born on April 1, 1867.  He was married to Marie Louise Buckmaster on December 10, 1892. She had been born on January 3, 1870. They were the parents of three children :

(a) Hunter DeBow Sparks, born August 29, 1894; he was married to Victoria Coppinger on December 29, 1917;
(b) WIlliam Baxter Sparks, born April 6, 1900; he was married to Nell McGuinnes in September 1926; and
(c) Marie Virginia Sparks, born December 6, 1902; she was married to John Lamb on April 6, 1924.

(9) Edmund Weston Sparks, born October 24, 1869. He was married to Ida Elizabeth Yager on October 2, 1894. She had been born on October 6, 1870. They were the parents of one child,

(a) Anna Davenport Sparks, born Febru ary 22, 1897. She was married to Dr. Herbert Bergamini in June 1919.]
Harvey Addison Sparks [son of Baxter and Elizabeth (Gwin) Sparks] was born January 19th, 1826. He grew up to be a very strong and fine-looking young man . Was married at the age of nineteen years, and died a few months later, leaving no children. His death occurred in October 1845. Thus a life, so full of promise, was suddenly cut down.

[Editor's Note : The date of the death of Harvey Addison Sparks is given in the "Family Record..." as September 1, 1845. There is no record of his marriage in the "Family Record...."]


WIlliam Jackson Sparks was born November 19th, 1828.   His father having died in 1840, and his mother in 1844, he was left at this tender age, with very little means to take care of himself.  He received limited help from his other brothers who, though willing, were also poor. Under these adverse circumstances, he managed, with much skill and ability, to gather up sufficient education to teach a small country school. I will mention one honored name he never forgets, who helped him to secure this position, and that was old Father Richard Chapman, of whom I shall speak further on.

This little start enabled him to go to the Lebanon College of the state for one term. He again taught school for further means to continue his course in the College, and in this way, with the small means he was able to secure, he graduated from that school in the year 1850. He then taught school under Judge Breeze of that town. He soon obtained a license to plead at the Bar. He was elected assistant clerk of the House of Representatives, and in 1853, under Pierce's Administration, he was appointed Receiver of the Land Office at Edwardsville, which position he held until the office was closed . During these years, with money received from his work, he made his first start as a man of means. Careful and industrious to the last degree, he worked his way to considerable wealth and prominence . He was elected a member of the Lower House of Representatives in the state [Illinois] about 1858, and again to the State Senate in 1863. He was, and is [1893], an ardent Democrat and was highly indignant at Governor Yates for that Legislature [sic].

He had married Miss Julia Parker while holding the land office in Edwardsville . He removed to Carlyle after the office was closed, and makes his residence there to this date.

In 1874, he was elected to the Lower House in Congress, and, being successively elected, held that office eight years, holding several honorable positions on Committees . The state having been redistricted, his old district was completely broken up, and he retired from any further effort in that direction, but on the election of Mr. Cleveland to the Presidency in 1884, he was appointed Land Commissioner, which position he held for three years . Then, owing to a disagreement between himself and Secretary Lamar, he resigned the office. Since that time, he has made his home in Carlyle where he owns a beautiful residence .

In 1888, he was a very popular candidate in the Democratic Convention for the nomination for Governor, but for some reason, which cannot be explained, he was defeated. His party was also defeated that year.

His wife is now [1893] in very poor health, and he is doing nothing more than look after his pastime and his loved wife's comfort....

(Editor's Note : The "Family Record..." gives his date of birth as November 15, 1828. His full name was William Andrew Jackson Sparks; he was often called W. A. J. Sparks. Excerpts from a biographical sketch appearing in the 1892 publication, Portrait and Biographical Record ofClinton, Washington, Marion, and JeffersonCounties, Illinois appeared In the QUARTERLY of March 1971, Whole No. 77, pp. 1473-74. He was married to Miss Julia Parker of Edwardsville, Illinois, on April 16, 1855. They had no children. William A. J. Sparks died on May 7, 1904.]



[Here appears a photograph, beneath which is the following caption:]



(View photograph)

I was born, as has been stated, in Harrison County in the state of Indiana. The country at that time was very sparsely settled, and as a rule with very poor people, and consequently my opportunity for education was bad . I can remember attending school in my younger days. We had to walk about a mile and a half to the school house--a little log cabin located in the midst of a very heavy timber.  A spring nearby supplied us with water.  The house itself, if it can be dignified with such a name, had a rough slab floor and one of the old-style fire places that could easily take a stick four feet long . Great logs would be rolled into it, creating a huge log-heap of fire. Our lights consisted of an open crack between the logs, with a board swung by straps to shut out the cold. Our seats consisted of a half log. Take a small tree, for instance, and split it in two in the center, then dress the flat side, bore four holes in the round side, drive in pins for legs, and you have the school bench of my early boyhood.

Everything was then ruled by force in the schools;  moral suasion was not practiced to any extent. When the teacher appeared, he usually had a stern frown on his face (this was before the days of the Yankee School Marm); and a great bundle of long beech switches was kept sticking in the cracks between the logs as a warning to evil doers . I have seen boys, not over twelve years of age, whipped unmercifully and, in some instances, until the blood ran down from the lacerated skin . Yet, no one seemed to protest . The very religion of the day invited this cruelty to the young and risng generation. The cries of these little sufferers ring in my ears today, and I despise the practice of whipping with all my nature, as being brutal in its every form. If the child Is too small for reason, it is cruel to beat the little one;  if big enough to be capable of reasoning, then apply reason and not the lash.


I have digressed from my subject, yet what I have said points out how poor our chances were for the very commonest education.

My father sold his farm, where I and most of the children were born, in the spring of 1834 and moved to New Albany, Indiana, where he owned property. He lived here two years, during which time I had better opportunities for schooling; however, in the spring of 1836, he sold his property in New Albany and moved to the village of Staunton, in Macoupin County, Illinois. Here, as I have said before, he bought a small farm . Chances to go to school in this still newer country were even worse than they had been even in Indiana, and my school days were now limited.

My father died in October 1840, leaving my widowed mother with three children living at the old home . I, being the eldest, then seventeen, had to manage the small farm as best I could. Nothing of any note occurred until the spring of 1844 when my mother died. Her death broke up the family, and each of the children was, to a large degree, left to take care of himself.

As it is difficult for the boys of today to realize the changes that have taken place within the last fifty years, especially here in the West, I will refer to a few facts . Fifty years ago, we had not a railroad in the state . Chicago, now the third, if not in fact the second, city of the United States, was little more than a country trading post. St. Louis, older and larger, was, nevertheless, insignificant as a city when compared to its present size and population of more than half a million prosperous citizens . Kansas City, now a large and thrifty railroad city, was unknown then, with wild animals and wolves howling about what were to be its streets . I have seen deer and wolves in the fields of our farm, and our Great Prairies were but a wild waste of land, producing millions of tons of fine grass which served no purpose except to rot on the ground and add to the already fertile soil.

Such was the West of fifty years ago; and when we look now upon her vast fields teaming with life, upon her system of railroads almost as great as that of the balance of the world, and upon the chain of large. and prosperous cities stretching across to the Pacific Ocean, we cannot but be overwhelmed at our wondrous growth and prosperity. Although I, myself, have lived to see this change and, to a degree, have labored to bring it about, I feel it is almost incredible that so great a transformation should be wrought within the lifetime of one man. Such a miraculous advance was never witnessed by the human race before, nor is it likely to be seen again in any one lifetime.

Besides the railroads that have worked such wonders, we now have the telegraph, which is more wonderful still, if, Indeed, of less importance . The telegraph seems almost at the door of every house of this great country; nor was a great ocean, three thousand miles in width, a barrier to the magnificent science which created the instrument. Cables plunge into the water on one seacoast and emerge on the other, and, with a flash, as if from God, nations speak to each other across the waters. Commerce is quickened and made more certain, and human thought is carried around the world before I can write one of these lines .

And now add to the telegraph the telephone, still but a few years old, and it would seem that human skill and invention has reached its limits . But I do not believe the end is yet. Science is still at work, and the very Throne of the Supreme Being, if we can conceive of such a thing as existing, will be reached.


With the telephone we stand in our warm, comfortable houses and converse with friends twenty or thirty miles away, our words passing over flooded streams, fields, and forests alike. And not only this, but we recognize the voices that speak.  Even the child of four years may call up its Papa twenty miles away and recognize the loved voice. The child wonders how it is that he can hear and talk to Father or Mother, and yet not see them. And the child is not alone in this for, to me, the wonder is just as great; not that sound may be conveyed, but that the voice may be known and understood .

I refer to these great advances that those coming after me may better realize what tremendous changes and inventions have taken place within my own time and memory . And in speaking of the wonderful work of science, I cannot refrain from quoting a sentence from one of the most eloquent orators and deepest thinkers America. ever produced, Robert H . Ingersoll. He said : "Science took a teardrop from the brow of toil and converted it into a power that turns the tireless arm of machinery and moves the commerce of the world."  I quote from memory and may not use the exact words, but the meaning of this gentle but great thinker is there. What grand words and lofty thought!

And now I must go back to where I left off with my own doings through life . After the death of my mother in 1844, I worked on a farm in my own interest. But this was the year of the greatest high waters known to the Mississippi since the white man settled upon its fertile banks . While I was not affected by the river, I was by the torrent of rains that fell in this latitude, and my little crop was ruined .

The next year, 1845, I hired my help to an old farmer in the West Prairie, by the name of Valentine Sawyer and familiarly called by all of us young men, and even by his older children, "Uncle Tine." Uncle Tine was like a father, not a boss, to me, .and his grand old wife, "Aunt Polly," as we endearingly called her, was like a mother . We were not servants, as are the hired men of today, but all sat and ate at the same table and were equals . My wages were eight dollars per month, except in July, harvest month, when I received nine dollars, and cut oats part of the month with a scythe and cradle.

One hundred years from now, these harvest implements, which came after the old cycle of earliest times, will be amongst the relics of our museums. Even now, many young men would not know for what purpose they had been used, so totally are they unlike our present magnificent self-binders drawn by three or four powerful horses .
[Editors Note: David Rhodes Sparks's autobiography will be continued in a future issue of the QUARTERLY . He enlisted in the U .S. Army to serve in the War with Mexico in 1847.]

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