Charles Henry Ritchey – Prairie Farmer

The following biography was written by James Eben Ritchey, Charles Henry Ritchey’s son, and given to his children to hand down through the family.  My husband, Ritchey Brown, is very proud of his plains states heritage.  We were fortunate to visit Illinois, Iowa and Nebraska in 2002.  Charles Henry Ritchey is my Ritchey’s great-grandfather.

Charles Henry Ritchey – Prairie Farmer

Tall, auburn-haired Charles Henry Ritchey won the hand of beautiful Lucinda Amanda Jewell.  Others courted, but it was the six-foot tall, blue-eyed Charles Henry who ‘had a Jewell to keep his house in order.’

Charles Henry, son of Charles Ritchey and Amanda McKee, was born at Rushville, Schuyler County, Illinois, on 14 April 1848.  When Charles Henry was only three years of age, he lost his mother after the birth of her fourth child, Jacob.  Six weeks later his father remarried.  The new step-mother, Martha, cared for the three small children – William McKee, James Sylvester and Charles Henry.

Charles Henry Ritchey and Lucinda A. Jewell were married 4 February 1875, at Rushville, Illinois.  Three children were born at Rushville – Charles Thomas, Mary Emma and James Eben.  When James was but a babe, his parents, grandparents, aunts and uncles traveled by covered wagon to Corydon, Iowa.  While in Corydon, Elmer Cross was born.

When James was about four, the entire party journeyed westward to Fillmore County, Nebraska.  They brought a large herd of cattle with them.  Charles Henry’s father-in-law, Thomas W. Jewell, and his uncle, Enoch Jewell, had gone ahead to look for land.  The Jewells bought one hundred sixty acres of land near Strang, Nebraska (two miles west and one mile south).  On the Thomas Jewell farm there was a white, four-room house.  On Charles and Lucinda’s farm there was a sod house.  They lived in the sod house about a year; then Charles Henry built an L-shaped house on the ‘Cobb’ place about one-fourth mile from the soddie.

Ritchey standing behind the gravestone of his great-grandparents.  Thomas W. Jewell, born April 3, 1815, died August 19, 1895.  Zillah Jewell, born March 18, 1823, died September 5, 1907.  Geneva Cemetery, Fillmore County, Nebraska.

Since many settlers were coming to Fillmore County, it was difficult to keep a place.  Another move, about two years later, found them one and one-half miles east of the county ‘poor-farm.’  Their home was on the south side of the road.  While living on the ‘Butler’ place, the family experienced the severe blizzard of 12 January 1888.  The blizzard blew off the top of the barn.  Luckily the children were not in school the day of that awful blizzard.

In 1890, Charles Henry moved his family to Geneva, Nebraska.  Here Edith, Maude, Arthur and Frank were born.  (Frank was born during a very bad blizzard on 8 February 1891).  Maude lived to be nine years of age and passed away with diphtheria.  While very small, Edith died of whooping cough in 1890.  The deaths of those small children were so hard for the family to bear.  The three little ones are buried in Geneva Cemetery.

Children of C. H. & L. Ritchey – Edith, Arthur and Maude.

The older children, Charles, Mary, James and Elmer, attended school at the ‘Ward School’ in the west part of Geneva.  Charles Henry hauled bricks at the brickyard.  James herded cows for another farmer; in exchange for his work, James was allowed to pasture the Ritchey cattle on his employer’s farm.

The Ritchey’s next move was on Highway 81 (one mile east and one-half mile south of Geneva).  Because there was no windmill on that place, they moved in 1898 to a place which had a windmill and a brick house (located one-half mile south and one-half mile west).

In 1894 and 1895 there was a severe drout further west.  Settlers in Perkins County had ‘starved out’ and were returning east.  The destitute travelers ‘borrowed’ the oats and corn of the Fillmore farmers in order to feed their horses and cattle.  The travelers also dug up the potatoes grown by Charles Henry and his family.  That fall Charles Henry and son Charles went to Missouri to shuck corn.  When they returned from Missouri, they brought bushels of apples which were made into apple butter.

Charles Henry and Lucinda continued to farm on rented land near Geneva, but Charles Henry yearned to own a farm of his own.  After the four older children married, Charles and Lucinda had a sale.  They moved to Custer County where they bought a farm in March 1909.  Charles Henry and his youngest son, Frank, continued to farm, but Charles Henry was not well.  Cancer of the stomach and liver claimed his life on 25 October 1912.

Geneva Cemetery

Today Charles Henry and Lucinda, Lucinda’s parents, Thomas W. and Zillah Jewell, and the three little ones lie in the tree-shaded cemetery in Geneva, Nebraska.

All of his life Charles Henry struggled with the elements, while turning the prairie sod into farmland.  At his side was the Jewell he had courted and won – Lucinda.

Charles H. Ritchey, 1848-1912.  Lucinda Ritchey, 1849-1933.

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