Old Bible reveals secrets
Thu, 03/31/2016 - 11:04am admin
1884 Bible discovered at St. Andrew’s has intriguing story to tell in poignant inscription found within
By Dwight Harriman, Livingston Enterprise
The quotes ‘fell asleep’ indicate to me that it was more likely an illness than an accident.” – Park County historian Jerry Brekke
One hundred and thirty-five years ago, Jossie Pearse, a young boy whose parents worked for the U.S. government at the Crow Agency on Rosebud Creek, died.
It was Good Friday, 1881.
The cause of his death is not known, but it could have been scarlet fever or measles.
His brokenhearted parents, Joseph and Henrietta Pearse, buried him on the reservation on Easter Day.
Three years later, on Easter Sunday 1884, after a move to Livingston and in remembrance of their son, Henrietta Pearse presented a large family Bible to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
The presentation was recorded in the April 21, 1884 Daily Enterprise, the precursor to The Livingston Enterprise.
As 135 years passed, the Bible disappeared from memory and eventually, from sight.
Fast forward to about four years ago in Livingston. At St. Andrew’s, altar guild members had for a long time been working around a box near the altar. Someone finally looked inside and discovered a very large family Bible showing obvious signs of age.
At the front of the Bible was a poignant inscription:
“On Easter Day, A.D. 1884, this Bible was presented to St. Andrew’s Church, Livingston M.T., by Mrs. J. H. Pearse. In memory of my beloved son Jossie, who ‘fell asleep,’ at the Crow Indian Agency, on Good Friday and was laid to rest on Easter Day, A.D. 1881, ‘In the sure hope of a Joyful Resurrection.’”
– Mrs. J. H Pearse
Recognizing the value of the Bible, the altar guild told St. Andrew’s pastor Rev. David Gunderson it needed more prominence, and it was placed on a stand near the altar, where it sat until parishioner Jay Kiefer arrived late for church one Sunday last spring. His tardiness forced him to find a seat at the front, which is where he noticed the poor condition of the large Bible on the stand.
After the service, he went up and inspected it. He, too, realized its value to the church as he saw the inscription and, with fellow parishioner Lynne Weaver, who died in October last year, helped push for restoring the Bible. The restoration was done by Shaffner’s Bindery in Missoula and returned to the church where, rediscovered and beautifully restored, it lies open for the congregation to enjoy.
“They couldn’t believe that it was the same Bible,” Kiefer said.
The Bible has been rediscovered, but not its history. This is the story behind it and the child in whose honor it was dedicated. It’s a story not only of one family’s hopes and loss in early Montana, it also opens a remarkable window into Livingston history and life in the late 1800s.
Jerry Brekke, Park County historian, who did extensive research on the Pearses, said the Pearse and Clark families – Henrietta’s family – can be traced to Lancaster, Ohio. Both families were prominent and well-to-do. Henrietta’s brother Robert in 1867 became attorney general of Nevada. Joseph served in the 1st Regiment of the Ohio Cavalry during the Civil War, becoming first lieutenant by the time his military service concluded.
Joseph is referred to in historical and newspaper articles as “Capt. Pearse.” It was customary in those times to give a brevet rank — an honorary military rank higher than was actually held — after completion of honorable service, Brekke said.
Joseph and Henrietta were married in February 1872. The couple had two daughters — Henrietta and her younger sister Adaline. And they also had a son — Jossie.
“Their son does not show up on any public record other than this Bible,” Brekke said of the St. Andrew’s Bible.
“Jossie” might be short for Joseph, his father, or his grandfather, Joshua Clarke in Ohio, the historian said.
Moving to Montana
The Pearses came to Montana in late December 1878, when Joseph took a job with the U.S. government in the Montana Territory to work at the Crow Agency on Rosebud Creek. He arrived with another agency employee, W.C. McFarland, and the new agent of the Crow Agency, their boss Augustus R. Keller, both of whom were also from Lancaster, Ohio.
“People (tended) to move west with people they know … they tend to take their network with them,” in contrast to the popular notion of rugged individualism in the “Go west, young man” slogan, Brekke said.
The Crow Agency on Rosebud Creek was actually the second Crow Agency. The first one was Fort Parker, located in the Mission Creek area east of Livingston. The Fort Parker agency was moved to the Rosebud Creek location, near the present-day town of Absarokee, in 1875.
The Crow Agency on Rosebud Creek administered the Crow Indian Reservation, handling the distribution of goods and land appointments.
Joseph was in charge of overseeing the agricultural component of the reservation, “which was a big thing,” Brekke said.
The reason is that American Indian culture was undergoing a dramatic change at that time. The bison were vanishing and Native Americans were shifting from roaming lifestyle sustained by bison hunting to living in communities sustained by farming.
Ever since the signing of the 1825 Crow Friendship Treaty, the Crow had been allies of the U.S., and the government had peaceful relations with them, Brekke said.
At the agency, Henrietta Pearse was a school teacher and matron. She attended to the domestic education of female students – basically “home ec,” Brekke said.
When the family arrived at the agency, daughter Henrietta was 6, Adaline was 2 and Jossie may have been an infant, but Brekke believes he was born on the reservation because there is no birth record for him in Ohio. There is no birth record at the reservation because such records were not kept at the time in Montana Territory.
As the young family went about their duties in their new home in a strange land, tragedy struck.
How did Jossie die?
Brekke estimates Jossie would have been between an infant and 3 years old when he died.
Historical records never state the cause of the young boy’s death. But the historian said it could have been scarlet fever or measles.
“Scarlet fever and measles were the perennial killers of the times – especially in spring and especially affecting children,” he noted.
Referring to the inscription at the front of the Pearse Bible, Brekke said, “The quotes ‘fell asleep’ indicate to me that it was more likely an illness than an accident.”
In fact, the year before Jossie died, early histories show scarlet fever swept through the Crow Agency in the spring of 1880. It claimed the lives of 43 Crow, and the school closed for months.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, scarlet fever results from Group A streptococcal infection, or strep throat.
Strep throat is easily treated with antibiotics today, but in the late 1870s, long before antibiotics were available, the disease could be a killer.
Whatever the cause of his death, little Jossie died on Good Friday, 1881. He was no doubt buried on the reservation, Brekke said, because the nearest settlement in that secluded region was about 15 miles away in Stillwater, or what is today Columbus.
No records mark the boy’s passing. That’s not surprising, since the Crow Agency was such a remote location and Montana Territory did not require death certificates until after 1907, Brekke said. Instead, birth and death records in these situations were recorded in family Bibles – such as the one the Pearses gave to St. Andrew’s Episcopal Church.
Far from their original home in Ohio, in the far-flung wilderness of Montana Territory, the Pearses grieved.
Next week: Livingston in the 1880s and what became of the Pearses.