Archive for January, 2023

Dragonseed and Mrs. Smart

January 23, 2023

Seeing Dragonseed on television earlier this week jolted me back to high school English class with Junia Smart. In her early sixties and having a physique similar to The Little King cartoon character, in our estimation, she was ancient. Whenever she wanted us to do something quickly she’d say, “Chop, chop.” She was said to have been born and grew up in China as a daughter of missionaries and a personal friend of Pearl S. Buck. She gave extra credit for book reports on Buck’s books but submitting one came with risks. You actually had to have read the book.

Dragonseed brought to mind her reactions to an airplane that frequently flew over. The high school was about a half mile from the local airport. Whenever the pilot who kept his P-51 Mustang there took off he was still at a low altitude when he roared over the school with the Rolls-Royce Merlin engine whining. It passed just above Mrs. Smart’s room on the second floor. A look of terror came across her face and she looked as if she was going to crawl under her desk. Sensitive teenage boys in the class responded by whistling to simulate the sound bombs made falling. I didn’t do it because I never learned how to whistle.

Having research tools available and with no pressing deadlines to meet, seeing Dragonseed brought Mrs. Smart to mind and I did a little research. What I found was that she was born Junia Graves White in 1903 to Presbyterian missionaries in China. The family would return to the U.S. every several years on furlough. She graduated from a Presbyterian girls school in North Carolina, Flora MacDonald College, with an A.B. degree in 1928. She and her sister Sarah were in the Sister Club and the Minister’s Daughter’s Club. Junia was also on the “championship” hockey team and President of Epsilon Chi Literary Society.

After working briefly as a social worker and teacher, she returned to China. There, she met a minister five years her junior named Arthur J. Dieffenbacher and married him in 1938. In 1940 with Japan waging war on China, Junia’s father died and the Dieffenbachers returned to the U.S. A rumor at school claimed she had seen Japanese soldiers murder her father but I have been unable to confirm that. Regardless, Junia surely had some horrifying experiences. Then alone, her mother joined her daughter in Pennsylvania.

The next year, Junia’s only child, Sarah Junia Dieffenbacher, was born. Rev. Dieffenbacher preached in Cincinnati until he joined the army as a chaplain in 1943. He was killed in battle in August 1944 in France, leaving Junia with a small child and elderly mother to care for. Her mother died the next year.

By 1947 the war widow had relocated to Alton, IL where she gave talks about China. She probably moved to take a teaching job because she was teaching English at East Junior High in 1948.

In 1950 she married Rexford Smart and relocated to Ontario to work his dairy farm. That apparently didn’t work out because they returned the next year and he took a job s a custodian.

In 1953 she took a position teaching English at Civic Memorial High School in nearby Bethalto, IL. There, she sponsored the school newspaper and coached the public speaking team with Miss Rainey, the English and Latin teacher who hadn’t changed her hair style since WWI and whom students claimed had helped Caesar put chains on his chariot in the winter.

Her daughter Sarah married in 1965 and lived in Stilwell, OK where she taught English at the public high school. Junia relocated there by 1968 and resided there the rest of her life. Rexford died in 1980 and she died ten years later at 87 years of age.

More on Alice Pendleton

January 16, 2023

After making my last post, I did a little research on Mary Alicia “Alice” Nevins Lloyd Key Pendleton and found that she was quite a lady. Born in 1823, 1824, or 1825, she seemed to get younger as she got older,  in or near Frederick, Maryland, possibly on her father’s 560-acre farm along Big Pipe Creek. Her parents were Francis Scott Key, a name known by all schoolchildren, and to his wife Mary Tayloe Lloyd Key. Her father owned six slaves when she was born. His sister, Anne Phoebe Charlton Key, married Roger B. Taney, making him Alice’s uncle. Taney became Chief Justice of the Supreme Court in 1835 and would later issue the infamous Dred Scott decision.

Alice had ten siblings but not for long. Her brother Daniel, a midshipman at Annapolis, was killed in a duel by a fellow cadet over a disagreement about steamboat speed.. The next year, John, a young lawyer working in their father’s firm, died of an unspecified illness. Philip Barton Key avoided a duel over a woman in 1843 but was murdered in 1859 by congressman Daniel E. Sickles over the affair Key had with Sickles’ wife. Sickles, who would later gain infamy as a Union general at Gettysburg,  was the first person to be found not guilty for reason of temporary insanity. Francis Scott Key did not live to see his son killed because he died of natural causes in 1843.

In 1846, Alice married George Hunt Pendleton, a lawyer from Cincinnati, Ohio, who came from a political family. They had five children. Since her husband served in both the Congress and the Senate, she spent much of her married life in Washington, DC.

In 1858 she joined the Mount Vernon Ladies Association of the Union, the organization that purchased and preserved George Washington’s home, as a Vice Regent. In 1876, she purchased a “small estate,” a one-acre lot in Ochre Point overlooking the Atlantic Ocean at Newport, Rhode Island for $9,750. The next year, she bought a 10-feet-wide strip of land adjacent to her property. She named the cottage she had built “Cave Cliff.” Her nephew composed “The Cave Cliff Waltz” and dedicated it to her—“Aunt Alice.”

She spent the winter of 1876-77 in St. Augustine, Florida where she met Richard Henry Pratt and began supporting his efforts to educate the Indians. One of them took the name of David Pendleton Oakerhater to honor her for her financial support which allowed him to study for the Episcopal ministry. Oakerhater is a corruption of his Cheyenne name O-kuh-ha-tah, which meant Sun Dancer. She and her husband remained interested in Indian education.

She lived in Berlin while her husband was ambassador to Germany. She returned to the U.S. in March 1886 to be with her son Frank after his wife died. In May, she was killed when she suffered a compound skull fracture jumping from a runaway carriage.

Here is a link to her bust in the National Portrait Gallery:

Here is a link to a recent photo of her little Newport cottage:

More about Carlisle Indian School founding

January 6, 2023

While looking for a little more about the life of David Pendleton Oakereater, I came across an 1879 newspaper article that brought a little more light to the founding of Carlisle Indian School, although Oakereater was never enrolled there.

Mary Alicia Key Pendleton, wife of Senator George Hunt Pendleton of Cincinnati, Ohio and daughter of Francis Scott Key, spent much of the 1876-77 winter in St. Augustine, Florida. While there, she organized an archery club and applied to Richard Henry Pratt to detail two Indian prisoners at nearby Fort Marion to teach a class of ladies how to shoot bows and arrows. Pratt assigned the task to Making Medicine, Cheyenne aka Oakereater, and Playing Boy, Kiowa aka Etahdleuh Doanmore. So, after only a year and a half of confinement, the prisoners no longer scared the townspeople, at least some of them. One supposes that Mrs. Pendleton figured that if her father could survive the shelling of Fort McHenry, she could manage contact with a few Indians. The young men worked with the club throughout the winter. During this time, Mrs. Pendleton became much interested in the two young men and gave them presents. When their incarceration was over, she paid their expenses to travel to Syracuse to become educated by an Episcopal minister.

She became interested in the education of Indian children in general and used her influence, particularly with her husband, it seems. Sen. Pendleton was credited by using his position on the Indian Committee to move Congress to take action that resulted in the transfer of Carlisle Barracks to the Interior Department, which controlled the Bureau of Indian Affairs.

At this point in the article, The Wichita Weekly Beacon reporter inserted his or her opinion: “This is the entering wedge, and other useless barracks and forts will, no doubt, be poetical justice, though long deferred.” Further research will be required to determine how many army bases would house government Indian schools.

Sen. Pendleton is perhaps best remembered by the 1883 act bearing his name that required civil service exams for government positions. This bill was passed in reaction to James A. Garfield’s assassination by a disappointed office-seeker. With close ties to the Copperhead political faction, he ran on the Democratic ticket as George McClellan’s vice-presidential candidate against Lincoln’s reelection in 1864.