Earlier this year, out of the blue, a gentleman walked into the Butler County Historical Society with two boxes of old photos and letters that he literally rescued from the garbage. They had belonged to his neighbor, an elderly woman who recently passed away, and the man felt like someone ought to be interested in that stuff, so he salvaged the boxes and brought them here.
He would not leave his name, but we owe him a world of thanks. The neighbor was Jean Fludder Armstrong, a Hamilton native, long-time educator, once a member of the Historical Society Board of Trustees and life member of the Daughters of the American Revolution.
The boxes sat around for a while before anyone had a chance to go through them, and in the meantime, the Historical Society got a check from Mrs. Armstrong’s estate. She thought to remember us in her will, but did not leave any instructions for the disposal of her family papers and it is only by sheer serendipity and the good grace of a neighbor that those were saved.
While it might be a stretch to say that the boxes are historical gold mines, they did contain a lot of valuable treasure and much of it will indeed be accessed into the Butler County Historical Society archives and collections.
Mrs. Armstrong was a well-traveled person and the box did contain some interesting and historically significant material.
Among some of the treasures:
- Photos of Hamilton’s V-E Day celebration;
- Photos of the parade that celebrated the opening of the truss bridge that was washed away in the 1913 flood;
- Souvenirs from community and high school events;
- A bundle of letters from U.S. Senators and Congressmen with their signatures; including thank you notes from Robert F. Kennedy and Jacqueline Kennedy for the family’s donation of material to the JFK Library;
- Genealogical information about the Morand family, including photos of William J. Morand, a Hamilton industrialist and Mrs. Armstrong’s grandfather.
As it turns out, Mr. Morand served in the historic Sixth Regiment of the United States Infantry of the Regular Army during the Indian Wars (1880-1885). He was stationed in the heart of White River Ute Territory. The boxes from his granddaughter included photos of him in his dress uniform–he was the company bugler–and a nine-page narrative (read “Five Years with Uncle Sam: A Retrospect” here) that he had written in his later years about his military experience.
In the document, he recalls one of their marching refrains:
We’re on the trail of Sitting Bull
And this is how we go:
Forty miles a day on beans and hay
In the Regular Army, Oh!
He writes not only of his encounters with the Indians and the early Mormon settlers, but also one important surprise encounter in the summer of 1883: President Chester A. Arthur. His regiment was stationed at the time in Yellowstone Park, and in his visit West, the President set up camp just on the other side of a corral fence.
“On the day of his arrival, I was out with my rifle hunting wild geese up along the Gardiner River,” he writes. “As I was going along the road or trail rather [sic], I saw a lone horseman approaching. As he drew nearer I recognized it was the President of the United States and Commander in Chief… As such, I knew he was entitled to the salute of ‘presentarms.’ When he approached nearer, I stepped to one side of the trail, halted, faced him and saluted by ‘presenting arms’. He recognized the salute, halted and engaged me in a few minutes of conversation.”
The president then joined his escort, “G” Troop of the 5th U.S. Cavalry, “a party of considerable numbers, [which] soon came riding by, and an inspiring sight that was.”
The material in the Armstrong boxes certainly merits not only inclusion in our collection, but further research. The thank you notes from the Kennedys were for a donation of Mr. Morand’s journals that he kept during his military service, so while that is not in our possession, we now know where to go for that information, which may be of interest to military historians as well as Morand descendants.
The Morand family had previously donated a number of items, and now we can start putting the dots together and could be an exhibition or part of an exhibition in the future. If nothing else, our Moran family genealogical file has been greatly enhanced by this chance donation.
The moral to this story is that even though the Butler County Historical Society relies upon the generosity of its donors for the funding to keep us in operation and we want to encourage legacy giving, we also want to encourage people to entrust us with their family documents. The genealogical value alone is significant, especially when people are identified in old photos, but there are also genuine slices of local history buried in attics and basements all over this county, and we hope that it eventually finds its way here.