Biography of Nathaniel & Samantha Stanbery

Nathaniel & Samantha (Oglesby) Stanbery

Nathaniel Stanbery, the father of Van Buren Stanbery, was born in Tennessee.  Information on this man is scarce, especially since he died at a young age.  There is suspicion that our Nathaniel (or "Nathan") was a son of Samuel and Matilda (McCollam) Stanbery who in 1850 were living in the "Van Buren Township" of Newton County, Missouri, but further evidence still needs to be discovered.  This Samuel and Matilda had a son named Nathan who was 23 years old, born in about 1827 in Tennessee. We know that our Nathaniel married Samantha Oglesby in about 1866 when she was about 16, and we know, according to one of his granddaughters, Velda (Stanbery) Fairbanks, that Nathaniel was significantly older than Samantha.  If we could find Nathaniel and Samantha in the 1870 federal census several questions could be answered, but extensive searches have been done through the Missouri, Illinois and Tennessee census records as well as marriage records to no avail.  In fact, other than that 1850 listing of that "Nathan Stanberry" in Van Buren Township, no other documentation has surfaced on the man, not even to verify his name which we know by hearsay. One might consider the fact that he named his first son Van Buren Stanbery as a clue that perhaps this is the right family, but that isn't solid evidence. The exact place of birth of Van Buren Stanbery is also a mystery, as the four censuses in which his name appears beginning in 1880, he stated that he was born in three different states, hence the reason for searching through Missouri, Tennessee and Illinois records.  Somehow the Oglesby family has been just as elusive.  Samantha should have been listed in the 1860 census at age 10, but exhaustive searches have been done, household by household through multiple census records in three states with no success.   The 1880 census shows Samantha as having been born in Tennessee, but her death certificate states Johnson County, Illinois.  After years of fruitless searching we still have a lot of unanswered questions about the Stanbery and Oglesby families. 

Family tradition, reported by one of Nathaniel's granddaughters, Velda (Stanbery) Fairbanks, has it that Nathaniel's lineage must have come through North Carolina, as he proudly claimed to be "North Carolina Dutch," although her brother Stan Stanbery claimed that Nathaniel had come from Pennsylvania to Missouri. The census records indicate that he was born in Tennessee. Stanbery is an English surname, but apparently Nathaniel had some Dutch blood as well.  There is very little we know about Nathaniel, as he didn't want to talk about his past, so there must have been something unpleasant he wanted to put behind him.  We do know that he was an angry man, an alcoholic with a vicious temper, so no doubt he had some serious issues in his past.   Homer Stanbery, another of his grandsons, claimed he fought in the Civil War, and research still needs to be done to verify that.

Samantha Oglesby was born on Monday, July 1, 1850. Oglesby being an English name, one would assume that Samantha's paternal ancestry originated in England, although she was said to have been of half Irish and half "mixture" parentage. Samantha was short, had a light complexion and blue eyes. In her later years, she was heavy set, and was described as being as wide as she was tall. She was a tough, pipe-smoking woman who seemed to never be afraid of anything. Samantha was also a very outgoing woman who could talk "a mile a minute."

Homer Stanbery recalled an event that Samantha told him as a kid, that took place one afternoon during the mid-1860's somewhere in Missouri.  Nathaniel and Samantha went to a baseball game which was underway when they arrived on horseback. Several families were there and were having picnics, watching the game. Upon their arrival, Nathaniel's dog was attacked by a larger dog that belonged to one of the men at the game. Nathaniel hated dog fights, so he proceeded to break up their fighting, when at once the larger dog's owner stepped up and grabbed Nathaniel, saying, "Let them fight!" Nathaniel wasn't about to stand back and let that man's dog kill his, so he knocked him down and kept trying to break up the dog fight. Then one of the man's brothers ran over and grabbed Nathaniel. Nathaniel turned and knocked him down and stomped at him with his boot spurs, puncturing his juggler vain by accident, and he bled to death on the spot. Then another one of the brothers ran up to Nathaniel with a baseball bat, and proceeded to beat him, but some other men came on the scene and broke up the fight. A local law man saw the incident but realized that Nathaniel had not intended to kill the man. He told Nathaniel that he should go on back home and stay out of sight in case the dead man's brothers should come after him. Then the law man talked to the two brothers and told them that he thought that Nathaniel had reacted in self-defense, but did not intend to kill their brother. He told them that they should just let it go at that. As Nathaniel and Samantha were departing, they passed by the dead man and his widow. She was holding her husband's head in her lap, weeping over him, and when she saw Nathaniel, she looked up and cried out angrily, "You bloody devil, you killed my man!"

Nathaniel and Samantha Stanbery had three sons together. Their first child was named Van Buren Stanbery, born on May 8, 1867. Their second was James ("Jim") Stanbery, born in about 1869. According to some of the census records, Van and Jim were probably born in Illinois or Tennessee. Apparently, in about 1870 the Stanbery family moved to Stoddard County, Missouri. It was there that Nathaniel and Samantha's third son, George David ("Dave") Stanbery, was born, on January 20, 1871. The Stanbery family lived in Bloomfield, Dexter and also in Hawkins, Missouri at different times.

Homer Stanbery told about his grandfather Nathaniel Stanbery being a heavy drinker who would often come home drunk. One day, Nathaniel and Samantha got into an argument. Instead of taking his anger out on Samantha, he began to get her back in a worse way, by whipping their oldest child, Van. Nathaniel got a whip and began thrashing their boy. Twice Samantha pleaded with Nathaniel to stop, but he kept whipping Van. Samantha took it as long as she could, but when she saw blood dripping off Van's fingertips, she had enough. Samantha grabbed a chair and hit Nathaniel over the head with it.  Homer, remembered Samantha saying, "I took a chair and hit the old fool over the head with it, and that ended it."

Nathaniel died sometime in about 1871. There are discrepancies in the oral accounts of his death.  Stan Stanbery had heard about a tragic event that killed Samantha's husband, but Homer recalled the same event as having taken place to Samantha's father, Mr. Oglesby.  The story may have been lost in the translation over the years, so we're unsure which is accurate, but the incident is being recounted here as told by Homer, since his rendition had specific details.

During the 1860's, Mr. Oglesby worked as a delivery man. He had a contract with the railroad to deliver goods into the small towns where the railroad did not run. One day in about 1866, Mr. Oglesby loaded up his wagon with sacks of flour at the train station, and began his trip to one of the remote towns. He had three yoke of oxen (six head) pulling the wagon, and they had to travel through mostly wooded areas on small dirt roads. Along the way, the oxen smelled the water in the river, about 100 yards away. To get to the river by the trail, they would have had to have gone further down the road some, but through the woods was a quicker route, and that was the route that the oxen chose. Mr. Oglesby could not control them, and they began running wild toward the river. Some time had passed and Mr. Oglesby had not arrived at the town. Realizing that something wasn't right, one of the townsmen got on his horse and rode to the Oglesby's house to find out what was going on. They knew about how long it normally took Mr. Oglesby to deliver the goods and return, and it was long past his expected time of arrival, so they decided to go looking for him. Martha Oglesby, and her daughter, Samantha, got on horseback and rode with the man along the trail that Mr. Oglesby took every day, in hopes to find him. To their horror, off the beaten path they found Mr. Oglesby's body which by that time had been eaten by wild hogs. He had apparently been wedged between some trees and thrown from the wagon as it sped through the woods.  Part of one of his legs was found lodged between one of the wheel hubs and a tree.

Regardless of whose death that described, Nathaniel was dead by 1871, and Samantha was left to raise the three children, the youngest being under one year of age at the time.  Within a few years Samantha married a man named Jesse W. Ballard who was about 26 years older than she was. Jesse's wife had died just prior to 1870, and he was left with several children, so Samantha became a step-mother. Over the next several years, Jesse and Samantha had three daughters together. Their first daughter was named Luticia ("Lou") Ballard, born in about 1876, and then in about 1879, Samantha gave birth to America Emma ("Emmie") Ballard.  The 1880 Census of Stoddard County, Missouri (Castor township) lists Jesse & Samantha's two daughters, as well as two of Jesse's sons, one being the same age as Samantha. Samantha's mother, Martha Oglesby, age 63, also lived with them.  Sometime between 1880 and 1883, Margaret J. Ballard was born, and then on January 11, 1884, Hattie Ballard was born.

In about 1880, a family from Cannon County, Tennessee moved to Castor township in Stoddard County, and rented a place near the farm where Samantha and her family lived. James Abner Bond and his family lived and farmed there for a few years, and it was during that time that Van Stanbery became acquainted with one of James' daughters. In 1884 or 1885, the Bond family continued their southwestern journey and settled in Ellis County, Texas. Van made up his mind that he would one day move to Texas and would marry that young lady named Mintie Bond. It was in 1887 that Van moved to Texas, and in September of that year he married Mintie, and they began their family there. (See the Van Buren & Mintie Stanbery biography for the rest of their story).

On August 20, 1891, Jesse & Samantha's daughter, America Emma Ballard, married Jacob (Jake) Norman at the Ballard's residence near Holcomb, Missouri.  About seven months later, on March 18, 1892, Lou Ballard married Abram (Abe) Isaac, also at the bride's home.

In January of 1896, Samantha's youngest son, Dave Stanbery, married a young lady named Seebell "Cornelia" Mitchell in Stoddard County, Missouri. Cornelia was a daughter of David Michael Mitchell and Eliza Jane Williams. Dave and Cornelia soon moved out west to the state of Washington, and lived in the tiny town of Palouse which was only a mile or so from the Idaho border. Their first two children were born there, and then in the fall of 1899, they moved to Idaho County, Idaho, where they began homesteading.  (See the Dave & Cornelia Stanbery biography for the rest of their story).

Then on February 13, 1896, Margaret J. Ballard married George W. Samples in Samantha's home.  Jesse Ballard died sometime between 1892 and early 1896, and on Thursday, December 9, 1897, Samantha Ballard remarried to William R. Price. They were married at her residence in Stoddard County, Missouri. Samantha then became known as "Grandma Price" to the younger ones of the family. Samantha and William were not married very long before he died, leaving her widowed for the third time.

After William Price's death, Samantha began taking turns living with her grown children.  Her second son, Jim Stanbery, had married and was raising his family in Missouri, as were her Ballard daughters.  Samantha lived with them for awhile   and later decided to take a train to Ellis County, Texas to live with Van and his family. She stayed there for several months, and before too long, she was ready to move on. Sometime during the 19-teens Samantha decided to take the long journey out west to stay a few months with her son Dave, so she caught a train to Idaho County, Idaho. Several months would pass and then she would decide that it was too cold in Idaho for her, so she would move back to Missouri and so on.

Samantha's great-granddaughter, Lillie Bell (Stanbery) Heddins, recalled hearing her tell of the cold winter weather in Idaho. They would bury their milk in a hole inside their house and it would often freeze over.  Lillie Bell vividly remembered how Samantha spoke rapidly with a "funny" accent. Homer Stanbery said she spoke with an Irish accent.

Homer also recalled that after about six months of living with them in East Texas, she would get a bit nervous and fidgety. They could always tell when she was nearing the point of deciding to depart because she would begin to sit upright, with her legs crossed, her knees lifted toward her chest, and her hands interlocked, quivering slightly. It would not be long before she would write a letter to one of her other grown children saying, "If you want me to come home, just send me some money and I'll come home. These kids are runnin' me crazy." Before long, she would get some money in the mail, and off she would go to spend the next six months or so with another one of her children and their families. While Samantha lived with Van Stanbery and his family, she shared a bed with Homer. With over a dozen children in their home, there was no private room to be had! Samantha preferred sleeping in the bed with her grandson Homer because, unlike her granddaughters, Homer was still and wouldn't kick in his sleep.

On one of her train trips between Missouri and Texas, according to Homer Stanbery, Samantha stayed overnight at a hotel in Texarkana. The next morning, as she was walking down the hotel stairs on her way to the train station, she tripped and fell, and broke her left wrist. Later, a Negro porter on the train saw that her wrist was broken and he asked her about it. She told him what had happened, and he said to her, "Say, if you'll give me half of it, we can swear that you fell on the train, and we can get some good money out of it." "Thanks Almighty!," Samantha angrily replied, "I'm not a thief! Do you really think I'd lie like that to get a little money?!" That porter didn't exactly know what he was getting into when he made that proposal! Samantha never did have her broken bone set, so she lived the rest of her life with a protruding knot on her left wrist where the bone was out of place.

Samantha was a feisty little woman who didn't seem to be afraid of anything, and would often venture into a potentially menacing situation armed with just a butcher knife. At night when a ruckus was heard in the chicken coups outside, she would fearlessly stomp out there to investigate, with her butcher knife in hand!

Samantha was a real talker and a story teller. Although she didn't believe in ghosts herself, she loved to entertain her grandchildren with scary ghost stories, which often raised the hairs on their little heads! But she also went out of her way to prove to the children that the strange noises they heard or shadows they saw could actually be explained away logically.

Homer recalled one such instance when Samantha solved a mystery of a frightening sound that kept reoccurring in a rent house nearby. The people who lived there were awakened every night by a scraping sound that began on one side of their bedroom wall and traveled across the ceiling to the other side of the room, where it would stop. Early the next morning the same sound would start again and would travel back to where it had started several hours before. The renters of the house were frightened by the strange sound, but Samantha set out to prove that it wasn't a ghost, and she soon discovered that the sound was actually being made by a opossum whose back leg had been caught in a trap. Every night the opossum would crawl up the side of the house, and walk across the roof, dragging the trap behind him which would make the scraping noise. Early the next morning, after a night of hunting, he would return the way he had come earlier.

Samantha related to her grandchildren one incident when her own children said they saw a man on the side of the road. Samantha and her children were walking home from church in their little Missouri community. It was after dark, and Samantha's children insisted that there was a man lying on the side of the road. She kept trying to convince them that it was just a log, but they wouldn't believe her. Finally, she decided to approach the "log" and kick it, to prove her point. When she did, however, she realized to her surprise that it actually was a man, a drunken man, who grunted when she kicked him! Samantha jumped back and went on her way with her children.

Samantha was living with her daughter and son-in-law, Hattie & Henry Samples, in Holcomb, Dunklin County, Missouri when she died. Samantha had become very sick, having diarrhea and eteritia, and she died on Thursday, October 20, 1932 at the age of 82. Samantha had outlived three husbands and two of her sons. Her body was buried the next day at Sumache Cemetery just outside of Holcomb, Missouri in the Punkin Community. To date, no tombstone has ever been erected for her.


Compiled and written by Roland J. Heddins, copyright 2002. As further details are discovered, this biography will be updated. If you have any details to add, please email Roland at [email protected]. No part of this biography may be published (in print or on the internet) without permission. Thank you.


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