A while ago I had noticed that my daughter-in-law’s grandfather had the middle name of Merril/Merrill. In looking back farther, as expected, I confirmed that his middle name was the maiden name of one his ancestors – in his case his maternal grandmother, Frances Merrill. Since the Merrill name is in my family tree as well, the mother of my maternal grandfather being Annie Merrill, I suspected that there was a family connection. Further research confirmed that my daughter-in-law was also my 8th cousin.
Upon relaying this to her, she informed me that it would not be a blood relationship since there was an adoption in that part of her family tree. I initially just took her at her word. This past week I had the opportunity to spend a few days in Florida with my son, daughter-in-law, and three grandchildren. While there, I noticed on their book shelf a ½” notebook containing a lot of genealogical material that had been produced by her grandparents back in 1995. Included in that notebook was a two-page write-up about the “adoption” of Frances, who was reported to have been rescued from an Indian village and adopted by the Merrill family. In asking about it, my daughter-in-law also informed me that two family members had recently taken a DNA test and their results showed no Native American blood in them. So perhaps the adoption story was incorrect?
Below I have reproduced the two-page write-up about Frances and following it my investigation into the facts behind it.
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A few words concerning Frances F. Benton, wife of Dennis G. Benton, Sr.
Away back in the times of History when the white man was coming into the part of the “New World” now called Pennsylvania, there was a tribe of Indians that was called by some “The Penn Indians.” They were of the “Sac Tribe.”
In time these Indians were bought out of Pennsylvania and moved to the Mississippi, or what was called the West at that time. Then a more Whites came to the New World, they finally caught up with these Indian again and were having trouble with them.
This tribe was finally surrounded and real war broke out. They fought until they thought every Indian was dead. The Captain of the Whites called “attention” and gave the order that if you hear a groan out of any Indian to go and finish him off for they did not want even one to escape.
While standing at attention someone heard a little girl or baby crying. They followed the sound of the voice and found a little girl and her brother under a syrup vat or scalding vat used in butchering. They Captain came and started to draw his sword to kill these two children. But a man by the name of Mr. Merrill grabbed the Captain’s arm and would not let the Captain kill the children. “I have been married for 20 years and have no children. I want them and if you will let me have them and give me leave of absence long enough to take them to my wife, I will return to you and serve you as long as you need me.”
The captain granted Mr. Merrill his leave of absence and he took the children to his wife and then returned as per his promise.
After the war was over and the soldiers had returned to their homes, the cholera broke out and both Mr. and Mrs. Merrill died of cholera and these two Indian children were then adopted by an elderly couple by the name of Rachold.
They lived happily together until in their old age both Mr. and Mrs. Rachold passed away. Nobody seemed to want these Indian children who were big enough at this time to get work and everyone seemed to want to get rid of them.
About this time in History, new land was being opened up for homesteads in what was called Kansas. There were several families making up a train of wagons that were going to travel through together to Kansas and all take homesteads in this new land. So the people in general in the vicinity made up an agreement or purse and sent these children with this caravan and told them “when you get to Kansas, turn this boy and girl loose and let them go to the rest of the Indians and live with them.”
While on their way to Kansas, this caravan was overtaken by real winter weather and they pulled into a town in the state of Iowa and made camp for the winter. While there this Indian girl (maiden) met a young man, fell in love with him and married him. Later in life this couple with their children also went to Kansas to homestead. The brother of this maiden (wife of Dennis G. Benton) went along with them to Kansas. They homesteaded and built a house and set up a saddle post office for the community – Carmi, Kansas.
(Note by Harriet E. Walton: Charlie Benton was born in dugout while they were building the soddie. Harriet E. Benton Walton was born in the Post Office and lived in it until 7 years old. Her Mother died when she was 16 years old.)
The brother of this Indian girl obtained work on a farm helping with the farm. They also had another farm hand, at this place, who did not like Indians. But this Indian was a good worker and this farmer would not fire the Indian. There came a time one day when the farmer and his wife had to make a trip into town and would not be back in time to fix dinner for them. So they told the men, “When noon time comes, one of you take care of both teams while the other one gets the dinner. They drew straws to see who would get dinner and it fell to the Indian to get the meal. This he did and went to call the while man for dinner, but could not find him. But he saw the cattle all coming to the barnyard for a drink. He also notices that the corral wires had been clipped, and that all the cattle could walk right out into the standing grain fields and sorghum crops. The Indian tried to patch the fence but there was nothing to patch it with. So the Indian got in the gap and tried to keep the cattle from getting out of the corral. But there was a bad fighting bull in the herd and taking things in hand, charged the Indian and gored him to death.
When the farmer and wife arrived home, this is what they found. The Indian dead where the bull had killed him, and all the stock out in the growing grain. The white man was gone, both teams tangled in their harness – not having been fed at noon.
Now back to this Mr. and Mrs. Dennis G. Benton family, fighting their way through hardships of early pioneer life. They succeed in bringing up a family of seven children who grew to marriageable age and married.
This was written by Fred. B. Willard (grandson of the Bentons) from memory.
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Indian War – The tribe described in the first few paragraphs is the Sac/Sauk tribe (*1). This tribe was involved in the Black Hawk War and the types of incidents mentioned such as killing of the Native Americas by the Europeans really did happen that way (*2). It should be noted that this war took place in April-August of 1832. Following that war, the Native Americans had been pushed back all the way to western Iowa.
Merrill Involvement in the War – The “Mr. Merrill” mentioned in the legend is Lloyd Merrill (1804-1854). But there are a few problems with the legend as recounted. First, in 1832, while he was about the right age to be a soldier in that war (he would have been about 28), Lloyd was still living in NY (as evidenced by his having children born in NY in both 1830 and 1833). Secondly, there is no record of his ever having performed any military service.
Frances being an Indian Maiden – Frances was born in Ohio in 1840, eight years after the Black Hawk War took place. Also, the mention that Lloyd wanted to take the young children because he and his wife had been married for 20 years and had no children is false. In the 1840 census Lloyd is recorded as having four children – one boy 15-19, one girl 10-14, and two girls 5-9. In the 1850 census, when names of family members are recorded we can see that the boy is Hadger (born 1826), the older girl is Orello (born 1830), one of the younger girls is Lucilia (born 1833), one has apparently died, and the family has been supplemented with Frances (born in 1840 after the census was taken earlier that year). There is no record of a “brother” about the same age as Frances.
Rachold Family – Both Lloyd Merrill and his wife passed away in the cholera epidemic of 1854 when Frances was a young teen. I could not locate any family by the name Rachold or anything like it living in Ohio in the 1850 census, although it’s possible that the name of the family is enough different that I could not locate them. But Frances married in 1856, just two years later, so she would not have lived with them long, if at all. And since she was already “old enough to work” when her parents died, this element of the story is also a bit suspect, although it may be true.
Meeting Dennis Benton – While there is no issue with whom Frances married, the story about going west on a wagon train and meeting him in Iowa is unlikely. Frances and Dennis married in Erie County, Ohio, the same county where she was born and lived with her parents until their untimely passing. She and Dennis did move to Iowa early in their marriage (their first child was born there in 1858), but meeting in Iowa and then making the long trek back to Ohio (where they were both from), only to almost immediately return to Iowa, would not have been practical. It is far more likely that they met and married in Ohio, then moved to Iowa a short time thereafter.
Frances’ Brother – As noted above, there is no record of another brother in the Merrill family. There is a younger brother living with Dennis and Frances in the 1860 census, but the younger brother is Hiram Benson, a younger brother of Dennis, not of Frances. Thus, the story of the Indian brother, the white man, and the cattle is also quite unlikely or at least is not a story about Hiram. Hiram served in the Civil War in 1862 and was a casualty of that war.
Final Years – The remainder of the story, about Dennis and Frances living in Iowa but eventually moving to Kansas is correct. Based on census records and other data, it appears that they had a total of fifteen children but several of them died young: Loyd Burr (1858-1862), Laura Annette (1860-1904), Edward J. (1862-1876), Albert Henry (1866-1944), unnamed son (1869-1869), Clara Aretta (1869-1869), Fannie L (1872-1938), Esther Lucelia (1872-1872), Fredrick W (1873-1874), unnamed daughter (1875-1875), Flora Evaline (1876-1926), Dennis Goddard Jr (1878-1970), Charles Watson (1879-1952), Harriet Estella (1882-1976), and Minnie Ruth (1885-1918). The years from 1869 to 1875 must have been very hard ones with five of six children born in that period dying at birth or shortly thereafter. Frances died in 1898 and Dennis a few years later in 1903.
Where did the Legend come from?
The author of the above paper was Fredrick Burl Willard (1893-1982) who was a son of Laura Annette [Benton] Willard. Frances died when Fred was only 5, Dennis when he was 10, and his mother when he was 11. So as he recorded this story “from memory” late in his life it had been nearly 8 decades since he had heard the various aspects of it.
There is certainly no doubt that Dennis and Frances lived a hard life on the prairies of Iowa and Kansas. But it appears that Fredrick blurred several things together in his memory from when he may have heard them until they were recorded from that memory so many decades later. The story of the Black Hawk War and the result of the Native Americans being pushed out of eastern Iowa would have been an exciting one for a young boy to hear. And it is quite likely that he heard stories of the wagon trains of people who moved west from places like Ohio to Iowa and Kansas. Kansas had become open to settlement in 1854, just a few years before Dennis and Frances met (in Ohio), so it’s easy to see how those facts became mingled in Fred’s young mind.
Thus, while it appears that the “Indian maiden” story is only a legend, the real story is just as interesting and I have enjoyed the work of researching it. The bottom is that my cousin relationship to my daughter-in-law is in fact a blood relationship and the science behind the DNA that did not detect any Native American blood in the family can be confirmed.