GJ HISTORY: Civil War vet makes indelible impressions in marble and on Mesa County
GJ HISTORY COLUMNIST
Little did Samuel Dowden know when growing up in Indiana, he would later become one of the Boys in Blue, fighting to preserve the United States of America. Or, that he would become a rancher and a master mason of marble, granite, monuments, tablets and grave markers. On a sad note, because of his trade, he was the maker of a beautiful headstone for his 12-year-old daughter, Laura Della.
Samuel Milton Dowden was born April 9, 1843, in Monroe County, Ind., to William James Dowden and Rebecca Ketchum. On May 19, 1870, Samuel married Laura A. Nelson, daughter of William Nelson and Phoebe Bullis in Mount Vernon, Jefferson County, Territory of Colorado.
On Aug. 23, 1861, 18-year-old Samuel joined the Union Army, 31st Indiana, Company G, as a musician and fifer in Monroe, Ind. He went south with the 31st Indiana and fought at Fort Donaldson; Shiloh; the Battle of Corinth, Miss.; Gallatin, Tenn.; Perryville, Ky.; Marietta, Ga.; and Nashville, Tenn., plus many other battles. Pension records show that he was in the 31st Indiana three years, 10 days; and in that time, he marched more than 3,000 miles, fought in more than 16 major battles and was on detached service for 41 days in 1862.
In one battle they were under fire for 12 days without tents and on short rations. Later, due to a bad reaction from an impure measles vaccination leading to dysentery, he was discharged in Chattanooga, Tenn., Sept 15, 1864. It was a disease, “The Tennessee Two Step,” as the Army boys called it, not a bullet that sent this veteran soldier boy home.
He returned home to Indiana for four years, and in 1868, he came to Colorado Territory. Two years later, he met and married Laura Nelson. In 1889, they moved to Routt County, Colo., where most of their children were born.
PUTTING DOWN ROOTS IN MESA COUNTY
In 1893, the family moved to Mesa County where Samuel ranched and later owned the Grand Junction Monument & Marble Works on the northeast corner of Seventh and Main Street, next to what is now the Blue Moon Restaurant. Wherever he and Laura went, like “Johnny Appleseed,” they planted their family roots deep in each community they lived in.
In Grand Junction, Samuel marched in all the Memorial Day parades, playing his fife. He was also a member of the National Civil War Musician’s Association; a Mason; a member of the Grand Army of the Republic, John A. Logan Post 35; and a follower of William Jennings Bryan.
Samuel was committed to Grand Junction and Mesa County, and running as a candidate on the Populist & Silver Republican Party, he defeated the Socialist Labor & Prohibition candidates, and was elected Mesa County Assessor in 1897. He served as assessor from 1897-1901.
He and Laura had eight daughters, all born in Golden, Hayden or Craig, Colo. One daughter, Phoebe, died as a baby in 1891. In 1901, their sixth daughter, Laura Della Dowden, 12, came home from Lowell School, site of the current Grand Junction City Hall, and became ill with virulent diphtheria and died the same day.
The funeral was held in their home at 851 Rood Ave. After the funeral, Samuel solemnly walked around the corner to his shop at Seventh and Main and carved his daughter’s tombstone. At the bottom of the tombstone he carved his name S. M. Dowden. This was a very special tombstone for one of his darling girls.
Samuel, as a valued citizen of the community, was a member of the planning committee to bring the Department of CO/WY, Grand Army of the Republic meeting to Grand Junction in May of 1910, where more than 800 Union Soldiers and their families met for a week during Memorial Day. Samuel would was not destined to attend the event because in early June 1909, he became ill. He died July 16, 1909, at his home on 851 Rood. He was 66.
Samuel was laid to rest by members of the Masonic Lodge and his comrades of the John A. Logan Post 35, Grand Army of the Republic. Several hundred people attended his funeral with a great outpouring of flowers to pay the last tribute to his outstanding character.
A LEGACY OF HEADSTONES
Today, his battered veteran’s tombstone stands in the Masonic Section of the Orchard Mesa Cemetery next to the monument he carved to his daughter Laura Della. On the other side of Laura Della is Samuel’s mother-in-law, Phoebe Nelson, who died in 1904. Ironic, if there ever was a headstone for her, today there is no monument to mark Phoebe’s gravesite.
Laura applied for Samuel’s pension and she had to prove to the Pension Department that she was really married to Samuel because when they married, Colorado was a Territory and recording of marriage licenses were not required.
Laura went to Home Loan and Investment Company on Dec. 15, 1909, at 357 Main St. in Grand Junction and met with manager William Marsh, who as a notary made an affidavit to the U.S.Pension Commissioner in Washington, D.C., to the fact that Samuel and Laura were married in the Territory of Colorado in 1870. With this proof, Laura was granted Samuel’s Civil War pension.
After Samuel’s death, the family remained in Grand Junction for a few years. About 1911, for Laura’s health, she and her family moved to Southern California. Laura Nelson Dowden died in Long Beach, Calif., on Sept. 25, 1936, and is buried in the Sunnyside Mausoleum in Los Angeles.
One daughter, Anna, remained in Palisade with her husband, Martin Powell Walker, and their family. Samuel and Laura’s six surviving daughters are listed as follows with their married names: Lydia (Daisy) Temple, Carrie Dinwiddie, Anna Walker, Samiella (Nellie) McCaffery, Ella Grace Smith, and Willie Layman. It’s interesting to note that some of the Dowden daughters married into families who fought in the Confederate Army and family reunions were quite lively affairs.
Today, the home where the Dowdens lived on Rood is gone; the shop on Seventh and Main is gone; and the only lasting monuments to the Dowden family are those markers and headstones so beautifully carved by master mason Samuel’s hands in the cemeteries of Mesa County.
As stated, Samuel rests beside his beloved daughter, Laura Della. It must have been comforting to his dear wife, Laura, to know her little girl’s father is close so she will not be alone during the long wait for the blessed reunion day, since they kissed her and placed her there. One would like to think he sometimes plays his fife music for her.
On this Memorial Day 2013, we would like to thank Samuel and all the veterans in times of peace and war, who have served and protected us and our great nation. God bless you all.
Garry Brewer is storyteller of the tribe; finder of odd knowledge and uninteresting items; a bore to his grandchildren; a pain to his wife on spelling; but a locator of golden nuggets, truths and pearls of wisdom. Email Garry at email@example.com.
SOURCES & PHOTOS: Museum of Western Colorado, Loyd Files Room; Michael Menard, Wanda Allen, Grand Junction News, Daily Sentinel files, Snap Photo; Dowden Family members: David Stainbrook, Garry Layman, Chris Johnson; staff of the Mesa County Libraries.
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