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Monday, January 7, 2013

John Sample Armstrong and Ila Sanders: A Forgotten Image

John Sample Armstrong and Ila Sanders
John Armstrong and Ila Sanders are my great grandparents on my mother’s side.  Until this last trip home, however, I can never remember seeing a picture of them together and only one of him. However, in the bottom of a manila envelope full of crinkled, warped, and haphazardly packaged pictures I found an envelope.  Inside it was a negative, a black and white copy, and an original sepia colored image of them.  It was one of the few labeled pictures in the whole bunch.  All I wanted was for my grandmother to be alive again to tell me once more about her parents.  She loved telling me stories about her parents, siblings, growing up on their farm.  Her mother was his second wife and in total John had 19 children over thirty years.    

Her father, John Sample Armstrong, was born 20 April 1856 at Buzzard Ridge, Tuscarawas County, Ohio to Robert Armstrong and Mary Foster Sample.  John had 10 siblings, and moved with his family to Martin County Indiana when he was 10 years old.  One of the stories grandma told me about her father was him talking about the Civil War.  He could remember his older brothers marching out of town to go and fight, his mother was holding his hand while she cried silently standing next to him.  According to a family genealogy book my mother was gifted from her mother, William served as a private in Companies I and D in the 51st Regiment of Volunteer Infantry for Ohio from 1862-1865.  It doesn't say if John’s other two older brothers, James and Robert, served but they would have been barely old enough to fight at the beginning of the war.  She always said brothers though, so I will keep investigating. 

John was a school teacher for nearly 50 years, educating most of his children at the local one room school house.  Grandma told me he had a love of the classics and Latin insisting that his children studied hard and gained a good education.  They owned dairy cows and worked their small farm in the Trinity Springs area, now known as Crane Naval Station.  First he married Catherine Holt on 18 November 1877 and together they had 9 children: Claude, Robert Carlisle, Mable, Fern, Zorah, Bonnie Bell, Otto, Othello, and Ruby. Catherine, known as Kate, died at the age of 37 on 10 September 1897.  She is buried with her family in the Holt Family Cemetery on Crane.

Ila Sanders, his second wife, was born on 19 February 1881 in Martin County, Indiana to Josephus Sanders and Mary Ellen Wildman.  Her father, incidentally, was two years younger than her new husband.  Also, in a strange twist of fate, Ila was being courted by one of John’s older sons (either Claude or Robert).  Grandma told me that when Ila was brought by to meet his father John was smitten and he began courting her too.  My grandmother’s father stole his son’s fiancĂ© right from under him, but from all accounts they had a good life.

They were married 24 November 1901 and had 10 children: Kathleen, John Lee, Lowell, Beatrice, Max, Hope, George Gordon, Maxine, William Lodge, and Jean.  John died 18 May 1929 when his youngest child was seven years old.  Ila followed him on 2 October 1949.  They are both buried at West Union Cemetery on Crane.  There are stories that Ila is buried at Goodwill Cemetery in Loogootee, Indiana, however her tombstones are both at West Union.  I am working on verifying the correct location and why there is a discrepancy in family history. 

From what I can understand having that many brothers and sisters made for all sorts of trouble, and quite a few humorous stories to boot.  Below are three of my favorites that my grandmother told me, quite often, as I grew up.  I hope you enjoy reading them as much as I loved hearing them.

My favorite story, that would make my grandmother giggle every time, involved a mocking bird and the word mom.  You can imagine having that number of children around meant there were quite a few yells of “MOM!” from many different mouths.  A mocking bird took up residence in a large tree one summer near the house.  Ila was in the kitchen doing dishes at the sink when she heard calls of “MOM! MOM! MOM!” coming from outside.  She picked up the dish towel to dry her hands and went searching for the child who was yelling.  Halfway through the yard is when she realized all the kids were gone and no one was at the farm but her.  The calls started again “MOM! MOM! MOM!” and she tracked the racket to the large tree near the house.  There, on a low branch was a mocking bird imitating her kids. 

Right after John died Ila had her first major haircut.  Grandma told me it was hot and sticky that summer and her mom was tired of her bun and hair getting in her way.  The weight of her thick hair often gave her headaches.  Her older sister (either Beatrice or Hope) was home and grandma said that she was scandalous with her short hair and flapper style dress.  She had an idea for her mom, and convinced Ila to sit down in a chair in the kitchen, she was going to cut her mother’s hair short.  Grandma said her mom was not sure about this and protested at first, but was not up for fighting it.  Ila’s hair was dark brown with a touch of grey in it hanging past her waist.  Her sister brushed it back and cut it off, all one length, just below her shoulders.  That way her mom could still put it up, but it wasn't so heavy and in the way all the time.  Grandma said that her mom was ecstatic about it and couldn't believe how much better she felt.  Her older daughter gave her an “I told you so” look that made them all laugh that much harder.

Finally, a story about her dad.  John had a beautiful chestnut buggy horse.  The only problem, the horse had a horrible issue with passing gas.  Yes, a farting horse.  When his boys began courting one of them was so embarrassed by the horse that he would whip him every time the horse would… let one go.  John had no idea this was happening and was quite surprised when he and his wife were riding in the buggy one day and the horse began to jump uncontrollably away from the carriage jarring them each time he did so.  They were nearly thrown from the buggy on their way into town and turned around to walk the buggy home.  That poor horse was flinching afraid he was going to get hit with buggy whip each time he had the urge, which caused more stress.  See the problem yet?  Her older brothers were in deep trouble with their father, who was not laughing at the time.  To say their hide was tanned and they were punished for ruining a perfectly good horse would put it mildly.  Grandma said that when she heard her father tell this story, many years later, he would start to laugh very hard remembering that poor horse and the look on her older brother’s face when her dad got home.  All because of an embarrassing situation on a date; teenagers never change do they?


  1. Wonderful stories!

  2. Wonderful stories!

  3. Thanks! They always made me laugh as a kid and I thought I should write them down while I could.

  4. Thanks for sharing those stories!