Life as a Widower

John Jacob never remarried after his wife died.  I often wonder what leads a person to remarry or stay single after a spouse passes away.  He lived 27 years as a widower.  At his own funeral service, it was said that “He missed greatly the association of his mate that he loved and lived with for many years.  He lived alone for some 27 years, but he never lost that love or lost sight of that smiling face that lived with him.”


During those years as a widower, I imagine he had lots of time to spend with his posterity.  In 1932, he sold his property and moved to Bozeman, Montana.  Here are a few photos from his later years.


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Moving West

As their granddaughter Joy notes in an obituary of John Jacob, “in 1913 the spirit of adventure penetrated the Parmer family.  Father John and mother Lizzie packed up their belongings and their eight living children and moved to West Yellowstone, Montana.  From then until 1917 the Bar N Ranch was under John’s management.”

Certainly life in the west had it’s challenges, particularly without our modern day conveniences.  Keeping a house and just providing food for a family was a lot more physically involved than most people have to do today.  Remember John and Lizzie were accustomed to the city.  We even saw some of the homes they lived in (see previous posts).  They also had lived on a farm in Pennsylvania before moving to Montana.  But I imagine they had no idea what the “Ranch” life would be like when they moved West.

This next photo is one of my all-time favorites.  I love that it catches a moment in time.  Notice Lizzie is wearing her prayer cap, which again has the black tie strings.  The laundry goes through the ringer and falls into the laundry basket, which isn’t much different than some laundry baskets today.  Doesn’t the porch look tidy?  A few items are hung and a few items are tucked under the bench and the rest of the washing items are on the bench.  I wonder what the temperature was like that day….and whether or not the porch was in the sun or on the shady side of the house.


Lizzie do laundry on the porch.  West Yellowstone, Montana

The bucket furthest right says “Swifts.”  At first research, I noticed some Swift Borax brands, so I thought it might be the laundry soap.  But upon further research, it is a bucket for lard.  Could you imagine getting a bucket of lard that big?  Here’s a close up of a Swifts Silverleaf Brand Lard bucket I found online.


I find it interesting that people of that time ate what we call terribly unhealthy food, and they still lived long lives.  Makes you wonder if the bad rap those kinds of fats get has any truth to it.  Reduce, reuse, recycle was a necessity then, not an option like it is today.  Only then, instead of “reduce, reuse, recycle,” it was “Use it up, wear it out, make it do, or do without.”  Some of you may have heard that before.  Lard wasn’t wasted when butchering, but was put to use, and an empty lard bucket wasn’t wasted either, but was put to use.

What drew the family West?  It may have been family.  John Jacob succeeded the Abraham Rote family at the Bar N Ranch.  Abraham Rote was the husband of John Jacob’s sister, Margie Alice. Ted says in his history that the Rote family moved to Montana 6 years previous to 1913.  So it is likely John and Lizzie were persuaded to move West and work for the Bar N.  The Bar N Ranch is still around.  You can stay there for a fee.  The website is

The Bar N Ranch was a cattle ranch seven miles west of West Yellowstone, but it was also used for hay that the L.A. Murray Co. freighted into Yellowstone National Park for the work and stage horses.  The Ranch was originally homesteaded by Mattie Canton, the mother-in-law of L.A. Murray.  The Parmers stayed at the Bar N Ranch for three years.  When the Hebgen Dam was built, Hebgen Lake flooded the meadows that were used for Hay.  Without hay for the cattle, the cattle were sold.

PTDC0226 (3)This photo could be of the Bar N Ranch or the Murray Hay Ranch.

John and Lizzie decided to move to Idaho Falls, Idaho, where they stayed until 1920.  During that time, John worked as a butcher.  Here’s a photo in Idaho Falls.  Notice Lizzie has on her prayer cap.


Lizzie and her daughter, Violet “Doll” Parmer.


In 1920, the family moved back to the Madison Basin to work at the Murray Hay Ranch.  The hay was sold to the Yellowstone Park Transportation Co Stage Line.


When the buses took over the stage line, there wasn’t as much need for hay. Then John and Lizzie decided to get their own homestead. More about the homestead will be coming up in the next post.

I haven’t found much written record of their life between 1913 and 1920, but I’m grateful for these few photos.  They really help to imagine what life was like for them.

Life in Pennsylvania

I wish we had more information about their life in Pennsylvania.  We do know that Lizzie wore a prayer cap, and her grandchildren tell us that she was Amish.  However, the Ebersole family was an established Mennonite family.   We do have this photo of John and Lizzie in Amish/Mennonite dress.


It is often difficult to identify what Anabaptist sect a person is from based on dress because every congregation could set their own standards and the Amish and Mennonites had so much in common.  Even people who grew up among them might determine they are one only to later learn they are another.  I did notice that Lizzie’s prayer cap is white and the ribbons are black.  I spent a lot of time researching this detail and finally came across a reference stating that “the Old Colony Mennonites wear white head shawls until they are married and it is changed to black. Similarly, Old Order Mennonite single women wear white strings on a white cap, then the strings are changed to black after marriage. (Source: Bree Komiske ).  This is the only reference I have found of the black ribbons with a white cap, which makes me believe they were Mennonite.

Another indication that they were Mennonite is the fact that Amish men more beards, without a mustache, after marriage, and John Jacob does not have a beard in this picture or in the family picture below, which was likely taken about 1913 before they moved West.  I believe the picture was taken before they moved west because their son, Ted, wrote a short history and talked about a  picture of “Mother Dad and our family in Penn,”  and I believe this family photo was one of those pictures that was taken in Pennsylvania


In fact, I have not seen a single photo of John Jacob with a beard.  Mennonite men were either clean shaven or wore beards along with mustaches.  In addition to John Jacob not wearing a beard is the fact that none of their children are dressed in traditional Amish clothing.  Amish children would usually have traditional dress, including caps, whereas Mennonite children were typically not dressed in traditional clothing.  Note that none of the female children are wearing prayer caps.

A final thought is that Amish do not have their pictures taken, whereas Mennonites are not against photos.  So the fact that John and Lizzie have several intentional photos, including one where they are wearing traditional clothing, is another indication that they were likely Mennonite and not Amish.

Again, we don’t have a lot of info on their life before they moved West.  However, I was happy to find a short history, which appears to be a rough draft, written by John and Lizzie’s son, Ted, that includes a little bit of information about his life in Pennsylvania. He’s the boy in glasses in the bottom right corner of the photo above.  Here is what he wrote in his own hand, which I have transcribed without correcting spelling, grammar, or punctuation:

“Spent the first 9 years of my Life in Penn.  The Last 3 of them we lived on a tobacco far[m] and raised tobacco Acorn and Hogs. We had one white mule that my Dad used to cultivate with Drove by jerk line and Ge and Haw also had 2 more mules Tobe and Pet leaders of a 4 horse hitch and 2 horses,Jack and Mike. I drove this four horse hitch in tobacco harvest by Jerk Line and Ge and Haw–Ge to the right Haw to the left.  The wagon had a rack 4′ high four standard and 2 long poles one on each side.  Tobacco lath was five foot long sharp on one end.  We would put Five tobacco stalk on each lath and hang them between the poles on wagon and haul them to tobacco shed hang them up to cure.  In the winter we would strip the tobacco leafs and bail them Ready for the auctioneer to come sell them to the tobacco companys to the highest bidder besides this I had to help gather the acorns for hog feed. Are home was beautiful around the house and fences yard we had Vine trelles’s covered with Hop’s grape and morninglories Vines a big beautiful yard. We had two miles to walk to school.  And always had fun going to and from school we would pick poposis that Grew along the Fences on both side of the road.  We had a herd dog name Spot that would go with us kids to school.  I also plaid a 5 string bango and sister Emma plaid organ…We would all go to uncl[e] Martin Eberso[l]e Mother’s Bro at Mount Joy to his farm and for a family Reunion once a year.  And would we have fun”

A good explanation of the tobacco growing, harvesting, curing, stripping, and selling process can be found at  Go to page 10 to read about the process that Ted describes above.  You’ll learn why the plants were hung and why they waited until winter to strip the leaves. The pdf as a whole is interesting to scan over.  It also talks about the early settlers of the area and why Lancaster, PA was such a good place to grow Tobacco.  Here’s a 1939 photo of a Mennonite farmer taking tobacco to the barn.


I am so happy to have this little bit of information.  It allows me to picture a little bit of what their life was like.  Our own lives may seem rather ordinary, but writing down a little bit about our daily life may be the only information our posterity will have about us in the future.

Work, Homes, and Children

Over the next several years after John and Lizzie married, John Jacob worked as a hostler, a clerk, and a stableman.  The City Directory show that he worked as a clerk for the Grand Union Tea Company in 1898.   And the 1899 city directory shows that he is a clerk for the H. Y. H. Tea Co.  Did the tea company change names?  No, the manager, John M. Young, of the Grand Union Tea Company resigned in 1899, becoming a partner in the H. Y. H. Tea and Coffee store. John must have been a good employee for the Grand Union Tea Company because it appears he left the company and went to work for Mr. Young and the H. Y. H. Tea Co. when it opened. John Jacob must have been recruited by the manager to leave the company and follow him to the new store.  Interestingly, the new company enjoyed a profitable business for two years and then closed up.  Mr. Young then returned to the Grand Union Tea Company as manager. (Source: Biographical Annals of Lancaster County, Pennsylvania)

Here’s a photo I found online of the Grand Union Tea Company store in Lancaster, PA.

grand union tea company store lancaster

You can read more about the Grand Union Tea Company, and see some great photos, at

The 1900 Census lists John Jacob’s occupation as Hostler. The 1903 City Directory shows that he is a driver. And the 1910 Census shows that he is a stableman. According to an obituary written by his granddaughter Joy, he drove drey for the Tea Co. and the Hershey Candy Co.  So it’s possible that instead of a clerk, he was a driver/hostler.  Later, before the family moved to Montana, John lived on a farm and grew tobacco, a very common crop of the time.  More info about John’s employment after moving to Montana will be shared in later posts.

Jacob and Lizzie seemed to move frequently.  Remember they married at the end of 1887, and they stated on the marriage license that they were both from Whitmer.  Here are their homes as listed in the City Directories over the next few years:

  • 1890-Whitmer
  • 1896-Rockland (possibly with John’s father)
  • 1897-31 N Arch
  • 1898-21 Hazel
  • 1899-216 N Arch; John’s brother Harry is listed at the same home
  • 1903–522 Dauphin; John’s brother Luther is listed at the same home
  • 1905-601 Rockland
  • 1907–Not listed in Lancaster City
  • 1911–725 N Christian

I love that Pennsylvania still has so many old homes in use today.  Some of the homes where John and Lizze lived have since been demolished and replaced with parking lots or other structures.  But here are some photos of homes they lived in that are still in use today.


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Amidst the various jobs and homes, their family grew as children were born.

  • Roy ‘E’–born and died in Aug 1888
  • Esther Mae–Born 19 Oct 1889
  • John Solomon–Born 13 Jul 1891
  • Hirom Franklin–Born 19 Dec 1893
  • Amos Lester–Born 3 Mar 1895
  • Sarah Alberta–Born 3 Dec 1896
  • Edgar Elwood–Born Oct 1898 and died 1900
  • Emma Margie–Born 30 Sep 1900
  • Theodore Apple–Born 3 Apr 1904
  • Violet Amelia–Born 26 Nov 1906

Names are interesting.  Generally, children were named after family members, or the doctor who delivered the child.  If the child was the first baby delivered by a doctor, the child often received the doctor’s name.  Of course there are exceptions, or naming after friends, or famous people.  John Jacob himself is likely named after each of his grandfathers–John Parmer and Jacob B. Eckman.  I found a reference that said traditional naming, during that time period, of children is a follows:

  1. First son is named after father’s father
  2. Second son is named after mother’s father
  3. Third son is named after father
  4. Fourth son is named after father’s eldest brother


  1. First daughter is named afer mother’s mother
  2. Second daughter is named after father’s mother
  3. Third daughter is named after mother
  4. Fourth daughter is named after mother’s eldest sister

I like to look at families to see how much they followed this traditional naming.  So let’s look at John J.’s family. We’ll start with the sons.

Their first child, Roy, died shortly after birth.  I don’t see the name “Roy” in any family names.  So perhaps he was named after the doctor.  Yet it’s interesting to note that John J.’s brother, William, who was just 1.5 years younger than John J., named his oldest son Roy.  Could it be there is a family member we don’t know about?  Or did William name his son after John’s deceased child?  Or did they use the same doctor?  Something to think about for sure!

Their third child is named John Solomon.  John, of course, was a very common name, so determining who John Solomon was named after can be tricky, but it definitely doesn’t follow the traditional naming pattern.  None of John’s children are named after his father, Samuel.  But John Solomon seems to combine the traditional 2nd and 3rd son naming into one name.  John is the name of John Jacob’s grandfather, as noted earlier, as well as Lizzie’s grandfather, John C. Diffenderfer.  So John Solomon could have been named after them, or after his father, John Jacob.  Solomon is the name of Lizzie’s father, Solomon Rutt Ebersole.  So the middle name is easy to trace.

The next three boys–Hirom Franklin, Amos Lester, and Edgar Elwood–could be named after someone or could be just common names of the time.  There are a few Amos’s in the family–Lizzie has a brother named Amos and John J.’s sister married an Amos.  And John J. has a brother whose middle name is Elwood.  I’d be interested in seeing a birth certificate for them to see if they are named after their doctors.  That is what happened with the youngest son, Theodore Apple.  He was named after the doctor who delivered him.

Moving to the daughters, John J.’s second child, Esther, is likely named after his mother, Hetty.  Hetty is a nickname for Esther, which is what Hetty’s given name was.  So they skipped naming the first daughter after the mother’s mother, which would have been Sarah, but they did name the second daughter Sarah.  So they flipped the traditional order for their first two daughters.

Their third daughter is Emma Margie.  Emma was one of Lizzie’s sisters.  Lizzie was the oldest daughter in her family.  Emma was the next oldest.  So it’s likely that they skipped naming a daughter after Lizzie and went to the mother’s eldest sister in the traditional naming pattern.  Emma’s middle name is Margie, which is John J.’s oldest sister.  So Emma Margie is named after her two oldest aunts.

The youngest child, and last daughter, is Violet Amelia.  I’m not sure where Violet comes from, but Amelia is one of Lizzie’s youngest sisters, who were twins-Ella and Amelia. So a traditional pattern is mostly followed for John and Lizzie’s daughters.  Knowing this traditional naming pattern can sometimes help in family history research.

We don’t have a lot of information about their life in Pennsylvania, but we do have a little.  Be sure to read the next post for those details.

Giving Thanks

On this day of Thanksgiving, I’m grateful for many things.  First and foremost, I’m thankful to God for his many blessings, including faith, family and friends.

Among my blessings, I count my forebearers.  The past year and half, as I have learned about the lives of family who have lived before me, I have gained a greater appreciation for them.  I am grateful for their good lives, for their raising good children, and for their being examples of goodness that has all led to my good parents teaching me goodness.  What a blessing!

I am also grateful to all those who have and who continue to share their memories.  With you, the family legacy can continue for us today and for those to come.  Thank you!

Happy Thanksgiving!


Helen and Theodore Apple Parmer