"Life is Like a Flower"
Inspiration for these “Stories in Stone” comes in various forms. It could be a picturesque monument, or perhaps a familiar personage of Frederick’s past. There are unique names to be researched, while sometimes this same research causes me to stumble upon an interesting happening, or tragic event.
When embarking on these history explorations to learn more about an individual, I always brace for enlightenment because I never know where the journey may take me. I love learning about other places and events outside of Frederick, but my favorite topics are those that connect to Frederick somehow. Of course, I get that chance automatically when connecting the dots to anyone buried in our historic Mount Olivet Cemetery.
For this particular edition, my eye was recently caught by the mention of a strangely-named town on a stone—one I was certainly not familiar with, but perhaps many of our readers may be. The moniker is carved into a large monument that can be found in Mount Olivet’s Area C, one that today offers a commanding view of the Grove Stadium parking lot and, on any given evening without a baseball game, showcases dozens of young people learning how to parallel park with the help of driving school instructors.
The geographical municipality that has sparked my interest is known as Rapid City, Dakota. This is the info offered on one of the customized, epitaph panel sides (of the monument) in conjunction with a five-year-old decedent named Eugenie Goff who died on January 23rd, 1887. To further pique my curiosity, I wondered which “Dakota” contained Rapid City, as this is all the stone and our cemetery records told me.
In doing some state geography exploration, I soon learned that the Dakota Territory consisted of the northernmost part of the land acquired in the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, as well as the southernmost part of Rupert's Land, which was acquired in 1818 when the boundary was changed to the 49th parallel. The name “Dakota” refers to the Dakota branch of the Sioux tribes which occupied the area at the time. Most of Dakota Territory was formerly part of the Minnesota and Nebraska territories.
When Minnesota became a state in 1858, the leftover area between the Missouri River and Minnesota's western boundary fell unorganized. That would soon be remedied. The Territory of Dakota eventually became an organized, incorporated territory of the United States on March 2nd, 1861. This would last until November 2nd, 1889, when the final extent of the reduced territory was split and admitted to the Union as the states of North Dakota and South Dakota. Our pivot point, little Eugenie Goff, died nearly three years earlier in January 1887.
Rapid City is the second most populated city in South Dakota and the county seat of Pennington County. Named after Rapid Creek, where the settlement developed, it is in southwestern South Dakota, on the Black Hills' eastern slope. Today, Rapid City is known as the "Gateway to the Black Hills" and the "City of Presidents" because of the life-size bronze president statues downtown. The city's western and eastern parts are split by a low mountain range.
I rapidly learned that this town is home to Ellsworth Air Force Base, and boasts a bevy of tourist attractions such as Art Alley, Dinosaur Park, the City of Presidents walking tour, Chapel in the Hills, Storybook Island, and Main Street Square. The historic "Old West" town of Deadwood is nearby as well. In the neighboring Black Hills are the tourist attractions of Mount Rushmore, the Crazy Horse Memorial, Custer State Park, Wind Cave National Park, Jewel Cave National Monument, and the museum at the Black Hills Institute of Geological Research. To the city's east is Badlands National Park.
Let’s get back to Eugenie Goff. Her life was but a fleeting moment in the grand scheme of things: "5 years, 3 months and 8 days" as is inscribed on her “tombstone” panel. So how, or why, did this little girl die in early 1887? And why was she buried here in Frederick, as opposed to her native home in today’s South Dakota—a distance of 1,565 miles away?
Eugenie Darlenie Goff was born October 15th, 1881, the daughter of George Henry Goff and wife, Grace Christine Erickson. Neither of Eugenie’s parents were natives of the Dakota Territory. Mr. Goff, born in 1845, hailed from Warren, Rhode Island which I found is the smallest city, in the smallest county (Bristol) in the smallest state in the US. He was the son of a cabinetmaker from Massachusetts (Hiram Goff), but lost his father at the time he was 14 years old. His mother, Martha Galusha (Smith) Goff (b.1815), continued raising her son and a daughter, Elizabeth Eugenia (b. 1841), into adulthood. They lived in the home of Martha’s widowed father, Jonathan Smith, in Warren, Rhode Island.
Apparently, George began his sojourn west somewhere in the 1860s, but I failed to find if he participated in military duty during the American Civil War. He was enumerated in the 1865 Massachusetts state census and found living in Springfield, roughly two hours northwest of his native Warren, Rhode Island.
Two years later, we find George in Lincoln, Wisconsin getting married to a woman named Ellen J. Oliver. Kudos to my research assistance Marilyn Veek for finding this missing puzzle piece as the gap exists for Mr. Goff and the 1870 census on most family trees. The research difficulty level comes with the spelling of "Goff" as "Gough."
For one reason or another, the marriage fizzled as Ellen J. (Oliver) Goff married Oliver Hollenbeck in Lincoln (WI) in 1873. George eventually can be found in Eau Claire, Wisconsin at which place he would marry Grace Christine Erickson on August 30th, 1876. The new Mrs. Goff was a Norwegian immigrant who had come to this country with her parents in 1872, eventually settling in Wisconsin.
I had difficulty tracking the young couple’s movements in the late 1870s into the 1880s. I deducted from a later census that George and Grace stayed in Wisconsin at least until after the birth of their first son, Charles A. Goff in August of 1879. The trio moved to the Dakota Territory sometime before 1881, and the birth of Eugenie.
The public discovery of gold in 1874 by the Black Hills Expedition, led by George Armstrong Custer, brought a mass influx of European-American miners and settlers into this region of the Dakota Territory. A group of unsuccessful miners founded Rapid City in 1876, trying to create other chances for their fortunes. It was eventually named for the spring-fed Rapid Creek that flows through it. The frontier village was promoted near and far as the "Gateway to the Black Hills.”
The land speculators measured off a square mile and designated the six blocks in the center as a business section. Committees were appointed to recruit prospective merchants and their families to locate in the settlement. Such merchants soon began selling supplies to miners and pioneers. The city's location on the edge of the Plains and Hills and its large river valley made it a natural hub for the railroads that were constructed in the late 1880s from both the south and east.
The Goffs were cattle farmers, as far as I can tell, but perhaps George began as a merchant, tradesman or speculator in keeping with the narrative of Rapid City? Regardless, having railroad access readily available, or should I say, “rapidly available” in their new home, it’s easy to see how the Goff family traveled to Frederick in advance of their daughter’s untimely death in early 1887. But, why did they come here in the first place?
The answer likely lies in my theory that the Goffs were visiting family here in Frederick for, or immediately following, the Christmas and New Years holidays. You see, George’s mother, Martha, would eventually remarry a Frederick resident, a widower named Alexander Woodward (1821-1910). They met in Chicago as Mr. Woodward had volunteered his services to help rebuild the city after the devastating fire of October, 1871. Mr. Woodward was a brick mason turned greengrocer who lived at the northeast corner of W. 4TH and N. Bentz streets. I’m placing this as the property at 133 W. 4th today.
Eugenie’s obituary is brief, but her illness seems to have come about quickly. I found scant information this in the January 24th edition of the Frederick News.
As the article recounts, her funeral was the following day after her death, and our cemetery records suggest that she was actually placed in our public vault, and awaited burial at a later time when there were more favorable conditions due to weather and frozen ground, minus the modern era digging equipment that would come in subsequent years. Once interred in the Woodward family lot in Area C, she joined Alexander Woodward’s first wife (Ellen).
Upon the monument panel that reveals Eugenie’s place of origin (Rapid City) and vital dates, one can see inscribed a quote that reads:
“Oh Lord, what is life? It’s like a flower, we see it flourish for an hour, with all its beauty on, but death comes like a wintry day and cuts the beautiful flower away.”
I found that this to be a portion of a popular hymn attributed to British poet Jane Taylor (1783-1824). Taylor was also a novelist, and this particular verse was popularly used on quilted samplers during the 1800s. Jane Taylor is best known for the lyrics of the widely known "Twinkle, Twinkle, Little Star.” I was fascinated by this poignant line in respect to a little girl, whose life and death can be personified by a flower. It’s just so “Victorian,” perfectly illustrating the rural, garden cemetery style that Mount Olivet was originally designed to portray.
I read that Taylor’s poem was in part inspired by the bible’s second verse of the Book of Job, Chapter 14. In case you are curious, Job 14 goes as follows:
“We are all human beings.
Our life is short and full of trouble.
2 Our life is like a flower that grows quickly and then dies away.
Our life is like a shadow that is here for a short time and then is gone.
3 God, do you need to keep an eye on something so small?
Why bother to bring charges against me?
4 “No one can make something clean from something so dirty.
5 The length of our life has been decided.
You alone know how long that is.
You have set the limits for us and nothing can change them.
6 So stop watching us; leave us alone,
and let us enjoy this hard life until we have put in our time.
7 “There is always hope for a tree.
If it is cut down, it can grow again.
It will keep sending out new branches.
8 Its roots might grow old in the ground
and its stump die in the dirt,
9 but with water, it will grow again.
It will grow branches like a new plant.
10 But when a man dies,
he becomes weak and sick, and then he is gone!
11 Like a lake that goes dry
or a river that loses its source,
12 so people lose their lives,
never to live again.
The skies will all pass away
before they rise from death.
The skies will all disappear before
anyone wakes up from that sleep!”
With limited space on a monument face, the quote used certainly conveys the point at hand in a swift and dare I say rapid, way. I next started to look at other people buried in this grave plot of Area C/Lot 88. This exercise ultimately allowed me to better see the relationships of decedents buried within. In addition to Eugenie’s panel on the principal family monument found at this site, the other three sides correspond to her step-grandfather, Mr. Woodward, along with his first wife, Ellen (Burrall) Woodward, and Eugenie’s paternal grandmother Martha (Smith) (Goff) Woodward.
Surrounding the monument are the graves of Alexander Woodward’s son William and adult daughters—Sarah Catherine Fraley and Mary Jane Lewis. Mrs. Lewis’ husband, George Thomas Lewis (1842-1915), a former Union soldier in the Civil War, is also buried here, as is her sister-in-law and mother-in-law. The Lewis' were former residents of Leesburg, VA.
One additional person of special interest is residing here as well. This is the namesake for little Eugenie Goff— Eugenie Elizabeth Goff. As mentioned previously, Miss Goff was George H. Goff’s older sister and lived out her life in Frederick with her mother and step-father (Mr. Woodward). Our cemetery records note that she served as a housekeeper, and likely caretaker, for Mr. Woodward following her mother’s death in 1893. I found them living at 409 N. Market Street in the 1900 US Census. Street numbers have changed and this would be 209 N. Market today which is likely the building that serves home to Bushwaller's Tavern today, or the building to the immediate north of it at.
By this same year of 1900, Rapid City had survived a boom and bust and was developing as an important regional trade center for the Upper Midwest. However, I found the Goff family living elsewhere in a place called Maxwell in Meade County, South Dakota.
This locale is in a neighboring county named for Gen. George G. Meade, who by the way, was given charge of the Union Army of the Potomac here in Frederick just mere days before the Battle of Gettysburg.
Meade County is located in the ranching area of western South Dakota, and I’m assuming that this was the farming performed by the Goffs. The county is the largest in the state, encompassing more than two million areas and surpasses the states of Delaware and George H. Goff’s native Rhode Island in land size.
In addition to the agriculture industry, Meade County can boast of having Ellsworth Air Force Base in its southern boundary adjacent Rapid City and nearby Box Elder, SD. Meade County’s county seat is Sturgis, known for the annual motorcycle rally and home to Fort Meade Veterans’ Administration Medical Center. This VA facility transitioned from one of our country's earliest frontier cavalry posts which was home to both the Fourth and Seventh cavalries. It was at this very military installation that the “Star-Spangled Banner” was first required to be played.
Well, aside from learning the colorful history and geography of Meade County, I couldn’t find the village or environs of Maxwell anywhere on a map. The area of the famed Badlands is quite desolate and population centers are far and few. As I explored further, I actually found a location named Goff Ranch near a place noted as Mud Draw on a Google map. Maxwell and Mud Draw sound a bit similar, and I think this could be it because I found an obituary of one of George and Grace’s other children who was born on a ranch homestead near the Tepee Creek, adjacent the Cheyenne River.
This property was recently for sale and was listed as being 2600 acres in the Badlands and located where the prairie begins, just a few miles northeast of Black Hills. I’m assuming the accompanying photo paints a nice picture of the Goff Ranch.
I found next to nothing on the Goffs in South Dakota, but due to them basically "living off the grid," it really comes as no surprise. I did find an article in the Frederick newspaper in 1891 that must have entertained the local citizenry here.
I next set out searching for White Owl, also in Meade County, South Dakota, which contains the final resting places of Eugenie Goff’s parents. This is about a 30-minute drive (26.5 mi) via SD-34 E and County Hwy MC-39 if you are ever inclined to make the trip.
Talk about remote, White Owl is an unincorporated rural village in east central Meade County, South Dakota, United States, with a population of 61 as of the 2010 census. It lies along Highway 34, 55 miles east of Sturgis. White Owl was established in 1890, and opened as the first post office in Meade County in 1893. At an elevation of 2,792 feet, the village today boasts a Baptist church, a community center, post office and oddly enough, a renowned fashion boutique. Most important for our storytelling purposes, here is also where one will find the White Owl Cemetery.
A remote and tranquil place, this is the eternal repository for the mortal remains of George Henry and Grace Christine (Erickson) Goff. Judging from the photos found on FindaGrave.com, the burying ground certainly oozes that rustic, frontier charm. White Owl Cemetery is roughly 1,554 some miles from Mount Olivet—the separation from a child’s grave to her parents. I’m sure for the Goffs, it must have been a true comfort knowing that Eugenie’s grandmother and aunt could easily visit their little daughter’s gravesite, perhaps to place flowers as well.
As for Miss Eugenia Elizabeth Goff and her stepfather, Alexander Woodward, the two would die just seven months after George Henry Goff who died in August, 1909. Interestingly, both individuals would die exactly two weeks apart in March, 1910.
Thanks to the work of Findagrave.com and Ancestry.com volunteers and family historians, I learned a bit more about the lives of Eugenie’s six siblings. In contrast to her own short life, most of these lived to be quite old, a cruel irony I’d have to admit. There is Arthur Henry Goff (1892-1978), a World War I vet who died at age 86. Another sibling, Clarence Galusha Goff (1886-1981) participated in World War I, but reached the ripe old-age of 94, as did kid sister Adelaide D. (Goff) Quinn who is buried near her parents in White Owl cemetery.
Nellie (Goff) Tivis is also interred in White Owl, as she lived to be 102 (1883-1985). Not to be outdone, brother Charles Alexander Goff (1879-1983) attained 103 years on planet Earth. “Charley,” as he was known, was born in Wisconsin as earlier mentioned, and had accompanied his sister Eugenie upon her ill-fated trip to Frederick in 1887. I would learn that he had a special connection his youngest sister, Martha “Mattie” E. (Goff) Newcombe (1899-1997), 20 years his junior.
While living along Tepee Creek, Mattie’s oldest brother (Charley) apparently put her on a horse at the tender age of 3. This led to a lifetime love of horses as Mattie successfully began riding broncs, and later parlayed her natural talent into trick and relay riding, becoming extremely good at both and billed as a "World Champion Trick Rider." The self-taught horsewoman participated in her first major event in 1921 in Sioux Falls.
Mattie (Goff) Newcombe standing on her horse with the moniker of “South Dakota’s Girl Trick Rider” was named All Around Cowgirl in 1927, the same year she performed for President Calvin Coolidge during his summer stay in the Black Hills.
In 1927, she married a neighborhood cowboy, Maynard Newcombe and became a true ranchers' wife in eastern Meade County. She would retire riding professionally in the 1930s but is forever enshrined by a museum she helped create in Fort Pierre, South Dakota. This is the Mattie Goff Newcombe and Casey Tibbs Center—a facility that hosts both an event arena and multi-purpose conference center. It also includes a historical museum devoted to the riding and rodeo sport of South Dakota. The museum displays many of Mattie Goff Newcombe’s belongings and memorabilia from her days as a trick rider.
Mattie Newcombe was one of the first inductees and charter members of the National Cowboy Hall of Fame in Oklahoma City in 1961. She was inducted into the South Dakota Hall of Fame in 1989 and was elected to the National Cowgirl Hall of Fame in Texas in 1994. In 1995, she received the Pioneer Award from the Black Hills Stock Show. Mattie passed away in July, 2005 at what newspapers said was the age of 98. However, in seeing her age in various census records from the early 20th century, I have her born in December, 1899, making her 105 by my calculations. Now that’s a trick as impressive as her riding stunts!
Both Mattie and Charley are buried in Elm Springs Cemetery in Elm Springs, South Dakota about a half hour ride to White Owl and the old family homestead.
We can only imagine the life experiences that little Eugenie Goff could have experienced in the wild west had she not passed at the tender age of five. It again harkens the question to be asked, “What is life?” We are all delicate flowers, and like flowers, and cattle for that matter, some are just hardier than others I guess.
4/11/2022 12:52:48 pm
What an incredibly interesting post. Happy to learn that Eugenie had family here and wasn't left alone after death.
4/11/2022 06:10:21 pm
Wow! This started with little 5 year old Eugenie's Goff's untimely passing, but I was taken in by history of this family and the subsequent generations and the interesting lives they led in Frederick and the Dakotas. Thank you for the amount of research this article must have entailed.
4/12/2022 10:20:45 am
Thank you for an amazing story! I enjoy genealogy as a past time and was born in South Dakota. I can't remember if this came up as a SD story or a genealogy story but I truly enjoyed it. You did an impressive job of bringing that stone back to life and telling the story of this family. So much of the events can be seen in others lives in the frontier lands. My two thoughts were on the first marriage of the dad. Nothing was mentioned but I wondered if the wife wasn't interested in going further west. It was definitely a hard, difficult life, without much comfort. Possibly that is why the marriage fizzled? The second is the trip home. The family must have been able to save enough money for that trip, or they were given that money by family members? Possibly they were making a living out on the frontier. Thank you again for a great history story.
4/12/2022 11:45:07 pm
Very moving story with impressive detail. My heart goes out to this precious little girl and her family. However the state of Indigenous affairs was not mentioned in same detail in your excellent story. To share a little. Life on land taken unfairly by government and sold to farmers and ranchers who perhaps did not realize the full history. My late husband Wesley Deane Halsey was a Registered Hunkpapa Sioux Tribal Member of the Great Sioux Nation. He lived in Frederick and helped plan and build the Smithsonian Museum of the American Indian. When he was alive we had an American Indian organization in Frederick consisting of about 50 people from over 30 diverse tribal nations living in Frederick County and conducted a pow wow at the Fairgrounds. There still are Native families here. Many residents for decades. My husband Deane is buried back home with ancestors and family members. His great-great-grandfather 4x was Chief Pizi Gall who masterminded the Battle that killed Custer and later became a Treaty Judge.The genocide and atrocities experienced by the tribes of South and North Dakota before, during and after the "Indian Wars" (as well as all over the country) are one of our nation's biggest shames. Injustice continues to this day. My late father-in- law Dr Wesley Halsey Sr (Standing Rock Sioux) was Director of Indian Public Health Urban Clinics working for many years out of Rapid City before transferring to headqurters in Wheaton MD. The Black Hills are sacred, Mount Rushmore desecrated sacred ceremonial sites, and Bear Butte most of all a place for prayer and remembrance. The Treaty of Fort Laramie 1851/1858 is still valid and cited in court cases - stating that all land west of the Mississippi River is Indian land. Never to be sold. The Bad Man clause of the Treaty stipulates actions that can be taken against people who break the Tresty and disregard "Peace and Friendship." All of this combined was a huge element in the environment that family lived in. My husband and his family would want readers to remember this so I am sharing.
Daniel L. Flyger
4/13/2022 08:42:51 am
What a great job of sleuthing. As soon as I read the name Goff at the top, I knew it would lead to the family of Mattie Goff. She was an incredible woman.
5/7/2022 09:10:08 am
Thank you. I very much love your Stories in Stone. What a history lesson you give to your readers. Years ago ,we traveled all through North and South Dakota.
5/28/2023 04:51:54 pm
Thank you so much for sharing some of my family's history. I enjoyed & learned some new facts I didn't know.
Leave a Reply.