Wednesday, May 31, 2017

Myiel Pierce, Jr.

2017-5-31. Pierce Myiel as an old soldier
(Click on image to enlarge)
Image courtesy of Alice Smedstad.

In a resolution honoring him after his passing, the Ross Township Farmers Institute described Myiel Pierce, Jr. as "the first white child born in Merrillville" ("Merrillville," Lake County Times (Hammond, Ind.) 30 Jan. 1923). And Myiel Jr. was a Civil War veteran. So you'd think he'd get a more substantial obituary than this:

2017-5-31. Myiel Pierce Jr. obituary
(Click on image to enlarge)
Hobart News 23 Jan. 1923.

But thanks to his descendant, Alice Flora Smedstad, we know a bit more about him. In her book, Soldiers & Veterans Memorialized at the Merrillville Cemetery,[1] Alice mentions some military events that Myiel may have participated in — since they were were circled in his own personal copy of Daniel R. Lucas' History of the 99th Indiana Infantry (1865). She also includes a poem that the soldier Myiel sent to his sweetheart, Maria Prudence Muzzall.

This page from the Crown Point Register of September 2, 1862, lists the then members of the 99th.

2017-5-31. Pierce crownpointregister-sep041862-3
(Click on image to enlarge)

Maria Muzzall must have liked the poem, and the young soldier who sent it: she married him on November 12, 1866. The 1880 Census shows them with five young children: Alfred, Marion, Claudie, Arthur, and Maud. (Little Arthur died in 1882, Maud in 1883, Claude in 1916.) About 1884 they had another daughter, Nora, who would become the Mrs. Herbert Saxton of Myiel's obit.

About two months short of their 40th wedding anniversary, Maria died suddenly.[2]

2017-5-31. Pierce, Maria (Muzzall)
(Click on image to enlarge)
Portrait of Maria (Muzzall) Pierce courtesy of Alice Smedstad.

A year later, Myiel married Alice Coffey (sometimes spelled Coffee). Since she was then 50 years old, it is not surprising that they had no children. Alice survived her husband by about seven years. It is interesting that, although the Pierce family grave marker bears her name and year of birth, her date of death was never added, and Alice's remains rest in the Coffey family plot. According to the gossip handed down through the family, Myiel's relatives did not like Alice (reason unknown), and perhaps she'd had enough of the Pierce name.

Our subject's father, Myiel Pierce, Sr., had built the California Exchange Hotel in Merrillville in the 1840s. Before the decade was out, Myiel Sr. met an untimely death, leaving his widow, Marcia, with young children in difficult circumstances — she being, in the words of Timothy H. Ball, "compelled to go into the hayfield and do a man's labor in order to maintain her family and home" (Lake County Encyclopedia). Even Marcia's obituary, over 40 years later, did not fail to mention that early hardship:

2017-5-31. Pierce crownpointregister-jan311890-7
(Click on image to enlarge)
Crown Point Register 31 Jan. 1890.

The fact that the California Exchange Hotel served liquor suggests that Myiel Sr. was not abstemious. Now Alice Smedstad has a pet theory that the father's attitude toward alcohol and his early death and the son's Prohibitionism are all somehow connected. I love this theory as if it were my own, but of course we'll never know if it's true.

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Here is Myiel Pierce's farm as it looked in 1908:

2017-5-31. Pierce M 1908
(Click on image to enlarge)
From the 1908 Plat Map.

The western and southern boundaries coincided with Broadway and E. 73rd Avenue, but there are no modern streets marking the other boundaries exactly; the closest would be 68th Place on the north and Delaware Street on the east.

Clifford Pierce Middle School is on land that was once the Pierce farm. So is Maxim's Restaurant.

Finally, an accidental shooting in May 1921 may or may not have happened on his farm, depending on whether you believe a Hammond newspaper ("Death From Forgotten Revolver," Lake County Times (Hammond, Ind.) 19 May 1921).

[1] On sale at the Merrillville History Museum (and can be ordered through their website).
[2] "General News Items," Hobart Gazette 14 Sept. 1906.

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