Mary Melvina Hoit 1842 – 1916 Biography
Mary Melvina Hoit was born in Meigs County, Ohio in 1842. She was one of the two daughters. Her sister’s name was Ruthanar. We do not have the names of her parents but in scrapbook #3 in one of the letters she wrote to newspapers there is come family history.
Her father moved from Meigs Co. to Quincy, Ill. In Adams County in 1844. They lived in town until the following spring when they moved to the north line of Adams County and purchased a farm from his brother-in-law, Truman Hocox. This farm was in the area, which was called Green Grove in 1876 (the date of the published letter). Mr. Hoit was present at the time the township was organized in 1845 and was he one who proposed the name of Keene, the name that it bore in 1876. He later held the positions of Clerk, Assessor and Collector. He also built the district schoolhouse, which was still in use in 1876. Mrs. Hoit taught school during this same time.
(Ed. Note: All of the above places and directions check out completely with modern maps except for the town of Keene. There are two possibilities to explain this: one, the name of the town could have been changed in the ensuing years; two: the town no longer exists. It is our belief that this town possibly met the same fate as that of Paradise, Oregon. In the days when travel was so much slower and more difficult, it was necessary for the settlements to be closer together. With the advent of more efficient transportation and communication the need for the existence disappeared and often, so did the town. In our lifetime we have seen the once busy community of Paradise disappear from the maps of Oregon.)
The line which divided Mr. Hoit’s farm from that of his brother-in-law was also the county line of Adams and Hancock Counties. In scrap book #3 are her teaching certificates from Hancock County. The first is dated in 1858 and she has written on it that she was 16 years old at the time. The second is dated 1860 and the third one in 1865.
During the Civil War both Melvina and her sister, Ruthanar, worked as Volunteer workers, which is comparable to our Red Cross works now. In scrapbook #3 are three letters written to Melvina from Civil War Service men, thanking her for her work in the hospitals in the their behalf.
At some time during her young, adulthood Melvina also had her own dress-making business. Her business card appears in the scrapbook and reads as follows:
Miss M.M. Hoyt
Rooms- Main Street over P. Roscow’s Store Warsaw, Illinois, will seek to oblige the lady public by cutting and fitting to order.
Always on hand an assortment of latest Parisian Styles of Ladies’ and Children’s fashions
Her granddaughter, Cordelia, remembers that Melvian was able to draft patterns and had used her pattern drafter for many years. She passed the knowledge of this art, along with the equipment, on to her daughter, Maud. Cordelia can remember her mother using the drafter also.
On March 3, 1867 Melvina married William David Burnap in Handock County. Their marriage license is in the scrapbook. They set up house keeping in West Point, Illinois where their first three children were born. There first, a daughter apparently died at birth or shortly there after. Their second child, Maud Ruthanar, was born in 1870 and their third was a son, Marius, born in 1871. In September 1872 they moved to Beloit, Kansas where three more sons were born to them, Eugene, Albert and Acel.
While in Kansas she was a regular contributor to the Carthage, Illinois Gazette writing news articles of events in the new home, giving farm reports household items and just general reporting. On several occasion Melvina notes they are receiving the paper from Illinois (600 miles) in 60 hours and sometimes less. It is from these articles we are obtaining the information contained in this history. She was also a fiction writer and adopted the name of May Fawn as her pen name. In the scrapbook there are several of her stories which had been published in newspapers and some in national magazines such as the American Farm Journal.
Two of her household hint articles are particularly interesting. One concerns using chicken feathers as a substitute for geese feathers in making beds and pillows. The other discusses making and caring for husk mattresses. She gives a detailed instructions such as: gather the husks early in the season before a frost hits; use only the husks early in the season before a frost hits; use only the hulks grown next to the car, split in strips one inch wide, etc. We wonder how many of her female descents are proficient in these “common place” household duties!
In 1873 and ’74 Kansas experience a famishing grasshopper siege. There are numerous references to this even in the scrapbook. One is a notice published in the Beloit, Kansas Index, January, 1875, to the general public explaining that this was a calamity which no human could have averted and which left approximately 2000 people in danger of actual starvation unless help and aid was forthcoming. Besides the aid of food they also were asking for a seed for their spring planting as every green thing was completely destroyed. Melvina sent this article, along with a letter of her own, to the Carthage Gazette further explaining that Governor Osborn of Kansas had not only refused direct aid to the people from the treasury, but had refused aid offered him by the governors of neighboring states and further more, food and supplies that had been sent by individuals as being detained in Topeka until actual starvation existed in the stricken areas. Due to these circumstances the individual townships were forming aid committees on their own, hence toe above public notice in the paper. Melvina suggests to the Illinois readers to send their contributions direct to the committee who would see that it reached its proper recipient. Melvina had a wonderful command of he English language and did not hesitate to use it in chasting the governor and other state officials by name.
Another of her articles to the Gazette in 1879 tells of an Indian raid in Kansas at that time. They were visiting William Burnap’s father in Pawnee Rock; Kansas so were far enough away not to be directly involved but close enough for the excitement and the facts. She states the Indians wee only exasperated at treatment under their peace treaty and simply went off the reservation to hunt food. According to reports of herders they visited, they took only what they actually needed “unlike their white brothers.” Seventeen people died but it would so easily have been hundreds, she states, if the Indians had been so inclined as military aid could not possibly have reached he citizens in time “regardless of secretary Schurz’ preposterous statements to the contrary”. She states that a few hundred bayonets plus more meat and potatoes could have averted the entire incident as well as saving lives. Historians now accept Washington’s treatment of the Indians as one of national disgraces. Melvian couldn’t have agreed with them more!
There are many informative articles referring to the actual corps and he problems of he farmers of the times. In 1877 she notes that the corn crop was so excellent, but the market price was 10 cents per bushel after being transported to the market. As there was a considerable amount of emigration from the East that year, and the lightly wooded hills and creeks could not possibly afford enough fuel, people were using the corn for fuel. He cinders were fed to hogs and chickens to give them “a better appetite and healthier digestion, but we can not recommend it where wood or coal could be obtained”.
During this period she and William were both very active in local political and community affairs although neither of them would join any organization, which utilized a type of secret ritual. They were both officers in a political group called the Liberal League, an organization whose basic aims were toe total separation of church and state, taxation of church properties, universal scientific education of the masses to release them from “superstitious religions”, and a completely Free Press. There are many religious articles contained in Melvina’s scrapbooks but upon studying them it becomes apparent they are all critical of modern religion denoting it as either superstition or hypocrisy. Her granddaughter, Lelah Ralls, states that Melvina retained her agnostic viewpoint throughout her long life.
In one article concerning the activities of the above group she writes that the July 3, 1881 meeting held at Burnap’s Grove was seriously affected and depressed by the unloosed for and overwhelming calamity at Washington this week”. History tells us that President Garfield was assassinated on July 2, 1881 so this is undoubtedly the occasion to which she refers.
Melvina and William were firm boosters of Women’s rights. There are many articles concerning this subject in all of the scrapbooks, which give a deep insight into the situation at the time. Some of the events and conditions described seem impossible to those of us today as it was not just the voting privilege that women wanted but the right to be something more that a “second-class citizen”. History shows us after were many radicals attached to the Women’s Rights movement and although Melviana was not of the ax-wielding, saloon-wrecking Carrie Nation type she was known for her advance thinking, her strong-mindedness, a rather acid tongue and not only the ability but the inclination to use same at any opportunity on the given subject!
In August 1881 the Burnap family moved to Pleasant Mount, Missouri. Here their youngest child, Ocie Vaun was born in 1885. When she was six weeks old the family left Missouri for he overland trek to Wallowa County, Oregon. Melvina was in poor health all through the trip and at one point was so ill they considered putting her on the train for the rest of the journey. Her illness threw the burden of caring for the entire family upon the 15-year old shoulders of her daughter, Maud – certainly no easy task for an experience housewife and mother.
They settled in Wallowa County but later moved to Walla Walla, Washington. In 1910 they returned to Oregon settling near La Grande. In 1911 William died leaving Melvina a widow after 44 years of marriage. She then moved to Touchet, Washington where she cared for the two children of her daughter, Ocie Vaun, who died in 1912. She later left for Seattle, alone, where she died in 1916 at the age of 84 years.
Her granddaughters, Lelah and Cordelia, recall that she continued her active interest in community and political affairs all through her life. Although she was definitely not he typical mother and grandmother of the time, it is because of her and others like her, who dared to be different, that some rather sweeping changes occurred in the American way of life.
History of Burnap and Cole Families “Crossing the Plains” by Maud Ruthanar Burnap. Compiled and printed by Bonnie June Lindroff (Boone) in 1965-1966. Page 27 – 29
1. Mary Melvina Hoyt (Asel1)1 was born September 30, 1842 in Chester, Ohio, and died May 25, 1926 in Retsil, Washington (Washington Veterans Home). She married William David Burnap March 03, 1867 in West Point, St. Albens Township, Hancock County, Illinois3. He was born May 10, 1842 in Bedford Township, Meigs County, Ohio, and died December 22, 1911 in La Grande, Union County, Oregon.
Children of Mary Hoyt and William Burnap are:
2. i. Maud Ruthanar Burnap, b. January 16, 1870, West Point, Hancock County, Illinois; d. August 13, 1935, Enterprise, Wallowa County, Oregon.
ii. Marius Melvin Burnap, b. August 11, 1871, West Point, Hancock County, Illinois; d. June 04, 1946, Pendleton, Umatilla County, Oregon.
iii. Albert Vinton Burnap 4, b. October 31, 1871, Mitchell County, Kansas; d. December 23, 1963, Boise, Ada County, Idaho; m. Catherine Mcallister 4, October 04, 1897, Walla Walla, Washington; b. June 14, 1875, Walla Walla, Washington; d. April 09, 1958.
3. iv. William Eugene Burnap, b. September 25, 1876, W. Asher, Michell County, Kansas; d. March 16, 1946, Pendleton, Umatilla County, Oregon.
4. v. Asel Hoyt Burnap, b. November 29, 1879, baron County, Kansas; d. June 25, 1950, Walla Walla, Walla Walla County, Washington.
5. vi. Ocie Vaun Burnap, b. April 11, 1885, Lamar, Barton County, Missouri; d. September 21, 1912, Touchet, Walla Walla County, Washington.
Donated by Mona Pomraning