Thursday, December 29, 2011

Frank O. Miles

Frank Ottley Miles was born in 1884 in Sioux City, Iowa. He was the second child of Fannie May (Brewster) and Charles Dallas Miles. An older sister, Hattie was born in 1879.

[The census records of 1880 and 1900 suggest that Charles and Fannie had only one other child, a daughter named Hattie, born 1879. But in the 1910 census the name "Elsie Duree," daughter , divorced, appears with two grandchildren. The census records that Fannie had three living children, a fourth was deceased.]

Frank Ottley Miles is my wife's grandfather and father to Mary Van Huss, Charlie Miles and Joan Smith. By trade he was an oil rig builder. In the 1920's he traveled to French Algeria where he met and wed Maria Llabres. His travels also included trips to Angola, French West Africa, and the Belgian Congo.

1880 - Dakota Territory 

In 1880, before Frank was born, Charles and Fannie Miles homesteaded in the Dakota territory. Their farm was located in  Virginia Township of Union County. On Google maps, it is an are of large farms and few towns. One gets there by traveling north from Omaha to Sioux City, Iowa. From there it is 40 miles north along I-29, following the Missouri river past Junction city until coming to Highway 48, where you swing east and travel about 10 miles.

In 1880, Charles and Fannie would have traveled over trails that rambled over the flat fertile prairie. Travel, then, was by horse and wagon, the dirt roads interrupted by streams that had to be crossed at points that could be forded. This was before the railroads and  towns,  just wide open prairie and a chance to start fresh.

The timing for 27 year old Charles, 23 year old Fannie, and one year old Hattie couldn't have been worse. They were greeted by the Hard Winter of 1880-1881. From October of 1880 through the late spring of 1881, snow fell in unprecedented amounts and when spring finally arrived and the sun shone, the snow melted turning the prairie into a giant lake. It was not an auspicious start for the young family.

On October 15, 1880 I was in the town of Eden in Union County. On the morning of that day I started to take an all day drive in the county on business. The morning was mild and gave no indication of a storm coming, but it began to be cloudy in the middle of the forenoon. At noon I stopped at a farm about fifteen miles out from town, had the horses fed and took dinner with the farmer. During the dinner hour moist snow began to fall but did not seem threatening. I was in a quandry whether to go further in the country and finish the work office day or to return to town, but finally decided to return and it was well that I did so. The snowfall increased rapidly and became blinding. In the last two miles before reaching town I could hardly see the road or the horses, but I arrived safely about three o'clock in the afternoon. The storm went on and we guests in the over-crowded hotel were confined under the roof for three days.
History of Spink County, South Dakota 

This terrible winter was followed by economic hardship struck in the early 1880's. Increased farming brought lower wheat prices, then there was a severe drought.

 How long the Miles family stuck it out on the prairie is not known. Frank Ottley Miles is born in 1884 in Sioux City, Iowa, but there is no explanation for the location.

The 1890 US census was destroyed in a fire and we take up the family again in 1900.

1900 - Payne County, Stillwater Oklahoma

Until the 20th century, Oklahoma was Indian territory, a place where the US government forceably removed eastern tribes. Ever increasing demand for free and cheap land finally put even Oklahoma up for grabs by Americans of European descent. After 1887 and the Dawes Act, Okla homa was up for grabs. Early settlers in Oklahoma became known as Sooners, the nickname of the state.

The 1900 US Census records that the Miles family, Charles, age 47, Fannie, age 42, and son Frank Miles, age 15, were farming in Stillwater, Payne County, Oklahoma on land which was mortgaged to the bank. Daughter Hattie was now married to Allison Hileman. There is no mention of any other children in the census record, but the census does record that Fannie has four children, three of whom are alive.

Stillwater was created from the Cherokee Outlet. It was part of the first land rush of 1899. The following year, 1900, Stillwater had barely advanced beyond the stage of a tent city.  Telephone and gas service was newly established; the Eastern Oklahoma Railroad arrived; and, the population was less than 500. The population of the county at the time of the census totaled 3,536.

Isn't it interesting that Fannie's parents were from New York and she was born in Kansas in the year 1857. Fannie's maiden name is possibly Webster, a fact we learn from the grave registration information for Morrison cemetery in Morrison, Oklahoma where Charles and Fannie Miles are buried along with their daughter Hattie.

1910 - Noble County, Autry Township, Morrison, Oklahoma

By 1910, Charles and Fannie have moved to neighboring Autry Township in Noble County, Oklahoma. Anyone who has driven south from Wichita along I-35 on the way to Oklahoma City will pass through Noble County. Perry is it the largest city in the county. Payne County and Stillwater are to the east.

Note. It is also possible that Charles and Fannie Miles were living in Pawnee County,  just over the county line from Noble County, near Morrison.

Now Charles and Fannie are joined by a daughter Elsie Duree, two granddaughters, and Susie Critz, whose relationship is unclear. Frank has moved out of the house. We know that Charles and Fannie had a daughter Hattie who died in 1957. The relationship to Elsie Duree is still unclear.

El Dorado Oil Fields

El Dorado K
Frank Miles 1918
Some time before 1910 Frank moved off the family farm and made his way to the oil fields of El Dorado, Kansas. These fields were newly discovered in 1915 with the drilling of the Stapleton #1, famous as the first use of scientific methods to discover oil. By the time the US entered WWI in 1917, this field produced the majority of oil for the war effort. By 1918, Frank was traveling abroad building oil rigs. His travels took him to French Algeria at the close of the war, and later to French West Africa, Angola, and the Belgian Congo.

Years later after Frank married and returned from Africa, he and his family would settle in Spring Township, Butler County, just off of Haverhill Road. The Stapleton #1 is reached by traveling north on Haverhill to 6th Street.

Passport Application Frank Miles, 1918

Below is the first passport application for Frank O. Miles submitted May 18, 1918. It is barely legible. What can be read is that Frank was born in Sioux City, Iowa on February 21st, 1884. His father was Charles D. Miles of Marietta, Ohio.

Passport Application 1920

Frank applied for and received a second passport in October of 1922. The passport was issued in El Dorado, Kansas on October the 9th. Frank gives his middle name as Ottley. There are also a few more details of his residence - that he resided in England from July 1918 until June 1919, and that he resided in Algeria from June 1919 until May 1922.

We now know that Frank was an Oil Rig Builder,. Back in the 1920's oil rigs were constructed of wood and appeared as so many towers peppering the landscape. He traveled over much of Africa building new rigs. The countries Frank listed included Angola, Portuguese West Africa, and the Belgian Congo.

Add to these few details, that Frank married Maria Llabres in June of 1920. Then, in November of 1925, Frank, his wife Maria, and baby son Charles left Bordeaux for New York aboard the French liner Le Bourdonnais. They settled in Spring Township, Butler County where they remained for the rest of their lives raising their three children Charlie, Joan, and Mary. Maria would remain on the farm with one exception, a trip that she took with her daughter Mary in the late summer of 1954 when she traveled back to France and Algeria to visit relatives.

Spring County then, as it is now, was rural. It is a distance of perhaps 15 miles along Haverhill Road from El Dorado to the township.

Tuesday, December 27, 2011

Maria Llabrés

The name Llabrés

It was in the year 1895, in the port city of Soller, Mallorca, Spain that Maria Llabrés was born. 

One can go to the search engines and type in the name "Llabrés" and "Mallorca" and come up with multiple hits. One can even find a hotel in Soller named Llabrés. The family name appears most often in the Sapnish province of Catalonia between the provincial capital of Barcelona and neighboring France. Also, the name can be found in the United States, the Philippines, and South America.

What the name means is at this time unknown, to me. I hope to Facebook a living member of the Spanish Llabrés family and find out.

Maria Llabrés

These are the bits and pieces that make up the life of Maria Llabrés, born 1895 in Soller, Majorca, Spain. For those of you who do not know, Maria Llabrés was my wife's grandmother, mother to Mary Van Huss.

I met Maria only once while dating my wife. This goes back more years than I want to remember. Maria, then in 80's, had dark brown dark brown hair and eyes that matched her fiery spirit. Her husband, Frank Miles, ten years her senior, had long since passed. Maria lived alone, or I should say with her dogs, on the same small farm on Rural Route 2 in Butler County that she had lived on for forty plus years.

Her small stature hid a determined  spirit. Like the old joke, it is not the size of the dog in the fight, but the fight in the dog. One did not mess with Maria. She never sat down while I visited. Instead, she always found something with which to keep busy. She served her guests red wine sweetened with sugar. Her most repeated remark was "beaucoup jolie", meaning very pretty. It was a comment about what she saw around her as much as a comment about her attitude to life.Her other French, was the command to the dogs, "Viens!", which means come.

Certificate of Marriage 1920

In 1920, she and Frank Miles married. The Certificate of Marriage records that the wedding took place on June 12th, 1920 in the city of Castiglione, Algeria. The groom was Frank Miles, then 36, and living in St. Aime, Algeria. "Aime" is a French word meaning, appropriately enough, love. The bride is Maria Llabres, 25, born to Spanish parents in Soller, Majorca, Spain, and then living in Castiglione, Algeria. Castiglione may sound Italian, but it was named for a French General serving under Napoleon.

Maria's Spanish connection is a little puzzling. Years later, Maria's daughter Mary would visit Soller and Majorca my wife and me. Mary explained that her mother's family had a hotel in Majorca before moving to Algeria. Maria spoke French not Spanish. That is something revealed in the 1930 Census and a fact personally known to the family. Maria's French connection is also bolstered by a visit in 1954 by mother and daughter, Maria and Mary, to relatives in Paris, Marseilles, and Algeria.

Le Bourdonnais

One can conclude that Frank and Maria lived in Algeria for the next five years. Then, according to the next record, they embark from France to the United States. There they are on a  passenger list of United States citizens aboard the ship Le Bourdonnais, sailing from Bordeaux, France to New York in 1925. Also on board is son Charlie, born in St. Aime, Algeria.

1930 US Census

By the time of the 1930 US Census, Frank and Maria Miles are living in Spring Township of Butler County, Kansas. Spring Township is a rural township east of Augusta, west of Leon, and south of El Dorado. The census reveals few details of their marriage, but we do know that 8 year old Charles and 10 month old Joan Miles were born in Algeria and Kansas, respectively. Also revealed is that Maria spoke French and not Spanish, in spite of the statement that Maria and her parents were born in Spain.

1954 Visit to French Algeria

In the late summer and fall of 1954, mother and daughter, Maria and Mary, would visit French relatives in Paris, Marsailles, and French Algeria. The trip began July 21, 1954 and ended September 14th with their arrival in New York.

Everything else about Maria Llabrés Miles is speculation. For example, the family name Llabrés. It is an unusual name. It has a Spanish spelling. But it could have been French. Maria spoke French. She and her daughter, Mary went back to France and Algeria to visit French relatives. Even later, my wife and I would visit some of these same relatives in Paris, Marseilles, and Toulouse. Could Llabres be derived from the village of St. Bres in France?

Saint-Brès est un petit village français, situé dans le département du Gard et la région du Languedoc-Roussillon.That is a long way from Majorca. How they would have got there, if true, is anyone's guess.

Even more intriguing is the existence of the Hotel Fonda Llabres in Alcudia on the same island of Majorca, just 30 miles east of Soller. This Hotel was bought by the family Llabres in 1950. Could it be that some of the family remained in Majorca, and are now recreating family history?

Of course, it is also possible that Maria's family was from Bresse in the Vosges Mountains of France. An obituary published at her death in 1983, at the age of 88, reports that " Maria Labrezze Miles" daughter to Marguerite and Paul Labrezze" died at the age of 89. La Bresse is located in Loraine, France.


Likely, the name "Llabrés" comes from Vehinat de Llabrés - "es un municipio de la Provincia de Girona, en la comunidad de Cataluña, España", a small city in Catalonia. It is close to Barcelona and closer still to the French border.

Do a Google search for the surname Llabres and what do you find? It most commonly appears in the Philippines, then Spain, then South America. 

When speaking of French relatives, Mary Van Huss and her family often referred to the name "Guerriere" . That translates as "warrior", but that should be another story.

Monday, December 26, 2011

Three Throstles

A throstle is a song-bird, known as a thrush across the pond. A throstle is also an antiquated machine that spins cotton and wool threads into fabric, and, by extension, a storyteller who tells his tales from the tattered bits of yarn.