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Henderson Family
[This is a short narrative written by John Victor Henderson, about his early family life.]

Louis Simpson, a colored man, was in business for himself at 12th and Johnson Streets in Keokuk, Iowa. He made his own hot tamales and roasted his own peanuts. His work was made more difficult by his handicap (he walked with a limp) and since he couldn't find employment otherwise, he prayed to the good Lord for help. God never fails those who trust him and this business was his answer.

Brother Simpson rented a large room in an old two-story frame tenement building, which housed six other families. There, he read his Bible and prayed for God's blessing to others. How the Lord did prosper him in his business. It seemed that everyone wanted Louis Simpson's hot dogs, hot tamales, peanuts, and popcorn, so he had to hire boys to sell for him. Even boys as young as seven years old could earn some money that way. Whenever anyone in the neighborhood was hurt or sick or in need, he did all he could to help, even paying for food and fuel and doctor bills. Most of these people were white folks.

In the rear apartment, containing one large room and one small bedroom, there lived a family of eight. The father, [Charles F. Henderson] was strong, kind, and worked very hard [at the Keokuk Ale, Porter, Beer & Cider Works] for his wife, [Clara (Gustafson) Henderson] and family until he began to drive a beer wagon. Familiarity breeds contempt, and soon he was spending all his money on the stuff and before long he was in trouble and in jail. From then on, it was the rat race of drunk, sober up, in jail, out and do the same thing all over again.

His family almost never saw him sober. The mother was compelled to take in washings to keep the children [Oscar Carl, Raymond Oliver, John Victor, Harry, Edward, and Eleanor] from starving. Many times there wasn't enough money to buy fuel. The school was only a block away but she found it very hard to keep her little boys in classes. The two younger ones (including the only daughter) died in infancy. The colored man helped her all he could. The white people and the authorities would not. Even the church turned a deaf ear, but even so, she gathered her four boys around her knee and read the Bible to them and prayed that God would help care for them.

The strain of hard work and worry proved too much for her, she caught a cold and developed consumption. Soon she was too weak to care for her children, so two of the boys were adopted into families [in Keokuk] and the other two, aged seven and eleven years, were sent to the Orphan's Home [in Stanton, Iowa]. Again, it was the colored man, Louis Simpson, who came to the rescue. He bought the clothes for the boys, paid their train fare from Keokuk to Stanton, Iowa, and gave them plenty of food to eat on the way. It was dark that winter morning when he took them down to the train but as it pulled out of the station, the boys could see his familiar figure as he waved them good-bye.

Within a short time the young mother (she was only thirty-two) died from the dreadful disease and yes, the colored man paid for all the funeral expenses. No one else seemed to be concerned. Afterwards, he gave the boys all this information. Every Christmas, he would send them a big box of fruit and clothing. One day he stopped at the home en route to California and spent a whole week with the boys. After that they heard from him once, and then never again. No doubt, he has gone to his heavenly reward long before now.

I was one of those boys and their mother was mine.

John Victor Henderson

Beer Wagon
Click photo to enlarge

An old photograph accompanied this narrative (which I, Robert Henderson, received from my father, King Henderson) showing a beer wagon being pulled by two horses. There are six people (two sitting in the wagon) discernable in the photo, but they are not identified. Family verbal history relates that the fellow in the wagon on the left of the photo is Charles F. Henderson. The photo was taken in front of the Keokuk Soda Factory, and the adjacent building (with the company name partially obscured) the Keokuk Ale, Porter, Beer & Cider, Bottling Works at 1013 Main Street, in Keokuk Iowa.

Click photo to enlarge

In 2009, this listing was found in the 1894-95 Keokuk City Directory: Simpson, John col'd r 115 s 12th (col'd = black or Negro and r = resided at). This is the John Louis Simpson mentioned in John Victors narrative. In the same year, the obituary for Clara (Gustafson) Henderson was discovered and it supports the narrative also. It was published January 10, 1893, in (I think?) the Keokuk Daily Gate City and is transcribed below:

The death of Mrs. Clara Henderson, aged about thirty years, at St. Josephs hospital yesterday afternoon, finishes a chapter in a story so sad as to touch the heart of the most hardened. Four years ago this woman, was deserted by her husband, who departed with another woman, leaving her with five small boys to care for (the only daughter, Eleanor, only lived a short while and had already died). She struggled along as best she could, working hard and actually starving herself that her children might be provided for. One of her boys sickened and died, after which the privations the woman had borne told on her weakened frame and she took sick with consumption. She was cared for by the Ladies Benevolent Union and the Kings Daughters who did all they could for her. She was taken to St. Josephs hospital, where her death occurred as noted above. Of her four children left, two are in the Swedish Lutheran orphans home at Stanton, Iowa, and the two others, aged seven and ten years, are in the city yet to be cared for by charitable people. The remains were taken to the home of Wm. Elom, No. 711 Grand Avenue, where the funeral was held this afternoon. The services were conducted by the Swedish Lutheran pastor and Rev. Dr. D. Murphy, the remains being placed in the vault.

In the U.S. census for 1880, we find 17 year old Clara Gustafson living on a farm in Blue Grass, Iowa. She has just arrived from Sweden and is staying with her sister Lotte, who is married to Charles Storm. 21 year old Charles F. Henderson is on the same census page and is working as a laborer on the farm. Since the first child of Charles F. and Clara (Gustafson) Henderson, Raymond Oliver Fredrick was born on May 27th, 1881 it is safe to assume that Charles & Clara did not waste much time finding their way to the hay barn. It must have been lust at first sight. During the next eight years, Charles and Clara managed to have five more children, Oscar Carl-1882, John Victor-1885, Edward-1886, Harry-1888, and the only girl, Eleanor, 1889. Harry only lived a short while, and Eleanor died during or shortly after birth.

In the 1887 City Directory for Keokuk, Iowa, in the listing by surname section, Charles Henderson is listed as a laborer, residing at 1513 Morgan Street, just two blocks down from the Swedish Lutheran Mission at 1326 Morgan Street! (see page 106). These are the same people who officiated at Claras funeral, and are connected to the orphanage where Raymond Oliver and John Victor were sent. In the same directory in the listing by streets names section, at the same address (1513 Morgan Street), C. Henderson and Thomas Corcoran are shown as residents? It appears as though Charles and Clara were already having marital difficulties and Charles had moved out and was staying with one of his drinking buddies. This is the period mentioned in the narrative by John Victor where His family almost never saw him sober. It seems that Charles only came around often enough to get Clara Pregnant with Edward, and then Eleanor.

In the same directory, on page 121 Clara Johnson (Clara is listed on her son Edwards birth certificate aas Johnson is listed as a domestic living at 315 High Street, the home of the Jewell family who are listed on page 120 of the same directory. Mary M. Jewell is a schoolteacher and it is probable that she taught the Henderson children and convinced her family to take the Hendersons in for a short while during this trying period.

On page 120 of the 1890-91 Keokuk, Iowa, City Directory, there is a listing as follows:

Henderson, Mrs. Clara, washerwoman, 103 south 12th. In the same directory and the same year, on page 311, in the listing by street section, under the heading of here is the following: 103-John Marks, Miss Clara Henderson. By this time, Clara is listed as Miss and appears to be living with a stranger so it is safe to assume that the separation of Charles and Clara is complete. These are difficult years for Clara as she struggles on her own to keep her family together. She is taking in laundry and some of the kids are working for Mr. Simpson selling his peanuts and hot tamales to earn a few pennies but, alas, the battle is soon lost. Clara contracts and dies from Consumption, aymond Oliver and John Victor are sent to the Swedish Lutheran Evangelical orphanage in Stanton  Town, Iowa. Oscar Carl is taken under the guardianship of Doctor Orrin Porter (O. P.) McDonald of Keokuk, and Edward is cared for by another Keokuk family as yet to be discovered.

Raymond Oliver Fredrick Henderson (1881-1965) (Robert Hendersons Grandfather) was the oldest, and was eleven when his mother died. Raymond and his brother John Victor were sent to the Swedish Evangelical Lutheran orphanage in Stanton Town, Montgomery, Iowa, at the ages of 12 and 6, respectively. The boys attended the Mamrelund Lutheran Church there , and Raymond was confirmed in 1897. Raymond, also, moved to Omaha, NE when he was released from the orphanage. Raymond went to work at the Adams & Kelly sash & door factory as a Boiler Fireman earning $15 a week. He had a second job at night at the same factory as "Night Watchman. On May 15th, 1915 he married Leila Irene Mason and over the next twelve years managed to have six children.

Sadly, Raymond followed in the footsteps of his father and, in 1928, had his wife committed to an asylum (a husbands prerogative in those days) where she spent the remainder of her life. The family fell apart, with 3 of the children (Paul, King, and Mark) being sent to live with farmers in South Dakota (King lived with the Adam Straub family, whose cousins he amazingly and coincidentally met in Germany right after the end of World War II) and the other three (Eleanor, Ralph, and William) being sent to Bassett Nebraska to live with a family named Carpenter (Seeley and Clara).
Oscar Carl is taken under the guardianship of Doctor Orrin Porter (O. P.) McDonald of

Raymond passed away on the 31st of January, 1965 due to a heart attack caused by metatastic adenocarcinoma involving bone.

Oscar Carl Henderson (1882-1965) was taken under the guardianship of Dr. Orrin Porter McDonald of Keokuk, Iowa. Oscar can be found in the 1900 US census living in Fremont, Iowa, on the farm of Frank Anderson, near the orphanage in Stanton where his brothers are residing. When Oscars brother was released, the two of them teamed up and moved to Omaha where they went to work for the same company. Oscar passed away on September 8th, 1965, due to heart failure.

John Victor Henderson (1885-1968) lived a long and fruitful life as a farm equipment Dealer. When he was released from the orphanage, he moved to Omaha, NE. He and his brother Oscar can be found in the 1910 US census in Omaha, working at the Implement House, Oscar as a teamster and John Victor as a bookkeeper. In 1912 John Victor married Rosanne Emilia Shalberg and had four children. John Victor died of pancreatic cancer on September 16th, 1968.

Edward Henderson (1886-1966) remained in Keokuk for some time and is found in the 1920 US census living as a Boarder with the Cooper family at 320 A Street. He eventually moved to Nebraska to be near his brothers and was the victim of a beating in Omaha, which left him brain damaged. He can be found in the 1930 US census residing at the State Hospital for the Insane, at Lincoln Nebraska. Edward lived in the state hospital until his death in 1958.

Contributed by Robert Henderson

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