When Luther and Mahala (Minor) White and most of their children left Missouri and emigrated to Isabel, Kansas in early 1884, one beloved member of the family remained behind -- their married daughter Helen (White) Clark and her husband Will. The two families began a long series of letters, primarily between Helen and her recently married sister Nettie (White) Bailey, nicknamed "Nett," that capture the difficulty of pioneer life and the agony of their separation.
Tragically, Nett was killed by lightning in July 1889, just five years after the letters begin. Letters between the Kansas and Missouri families continued through 1917. The final letter is from Layton White -- a week before his death -- to his niece Blanche.
The trove of letters lovingly was kept together by Nett's daughters Mabel (Bailey) Phelp and Blanche (Bailey) Peterie who obtained them in the 1950s. They were shared among various family members until about 1984, when Blanche's granddaughter Janet (Hoyt) Sperry brought them to her home in Montana and painstakingly retyped each and every one so they would be available to all of the family. Janet carefully scrutinizing the faded and small handwriting to make sure she was capturing every word correctly. In the end, the family donated the entire collection to the Kansas Historical Society in Topeka, accession number 2003-065.02. A complete set of copies of the retyped letters is in the Lincoln Library in Medicine Lodge, KS, and in the Minerd.com Archives.
In her retyping, Janet maintained the original misspellings and lack of punctuation. Minerd.com's editor has added periods at the end of sentences, and divided very long paragraphs into smaller ones, for easier reading and understanding.
Minerd.com extends its deep gratitude to Janet and to her cousin, Judge Richard Raleigh, for their generosity in many ways. These letters -- and the story of the drama of hardscrabble life and death on the Kansas prairie of the 1880s -- are now available to the public at large to enjoy for the very first time, at no cost.
Janet was featured as our "Photo of the Month" in November 2011, standing beside the small house that once belonged to one of the primary letter-writers, her great-grandmother, Nettie (White) Bailey.
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