Mina May Wheeler Cone Fischer was my grandmother. She died when my father was nine months old, so I don’t know much about her. I thought my dad’s mother was my Grandma Fischer – the one I had known all my life. And to me, she was my Grandma.
When I was about 16 years old someone told me Grandma Fischer was my dad’s stepmother. Thus starting my desire to find out who my father’s mother was. My father told me her name had been Nina Whittier. It turned out that for some reason she like Grandpa to call her Nina (pronounced Nie-nah) and Whittier was her father’s mother’s maiden name.
Almost everything I do know about her comes from vital records, census records and newspapers. Dad didn’t know her maiden name, my grandpa told me, “her family was not nice”. And, indeed, they did seem to have problems.
Her sister, Helen Harriet Wheeler Baber Hoevet Saul, got herself into lots of trouble and seems to disappear after 1942. Her brother, Edward died young in 1924, all my searches for a death certificate have been fruitless. Her mother, Mercelena, had her own share of problems.
Mina was born to Bernie and Lena Wheeler in Case, Colorado 12 November 1898. This is a town that has disappeared into what is now Irving in Douglas County, Colorado. She had an older brother Edward (or Edmund) Robert Wheeler and an older sister Helen Harriet Wheeler, as well as an older half-sister Anna Bertha Snyder (Bishop).
The family is enumerated on the 1900 census, Sedalia, Douglas County, Colorado with Lena’s daughter Bertha Schneider (Snyder) and Bernie’s cousin Ulric Sturtevant. The enumerator was Bernie’s uncle – Washington Irving Whittier.
Between 1900 and August 1905 the family apparently moved to Lamar, Prowers County, Colorado where Bernie died of typhoid 24 Aug 1905. He is buried there in Riverside Cemetery.
Sometime before 1910 Mina and her half or full brother Leroy were adopted by Bernie’s uncle Oscar H. Whittier, they are enumerated with him in the 1910 census in Husted, El Paso County, Colorado.
By 1913 Mina had moved to Denver to live with her mother Lena Wheeler. And this is where she seems to have gotten into trouble. A young man who had met her in El Paso County followed her to Denver. According to newspaper reports she may not have wanted to be involved with him, or she did. Anyway, her mother apparently sent her to the Industrial School for Girls to get her away from him.
He arrived in Denver because Mina was being returned from the school to her mother’s care. While waiting, he and a friend attacked a man, stole his money and his shoes and returned to Lena’s home where the police found them in the kitchen with Mina’s sister, Helen and her friend Nina. All were arrested. The girls were apparently arrested as witnesses and were released within a few days. Mina had not arrived home yet so was not involved, other than the robber was interested in her romantically.
Searching for information about the Industrial School for Girls I find that it was apparently a reform school and Mina was apparently sent there for the crime of having a bad boyfriend. This information comes from the newspaper articles about the young man who was arrested for robbery and I don’t know how accurate that was. There are two articles from two days after the event and I can find no other mention of her after that.
Mina subsequently got pregnant by a neighbor, Ernest Cone and then married him. Ernest was 27 years old and Mina was just turned 18. She had a daughter by Ernest and then filed for divorce on the grounds of physical cruelty and drinking.
By the 1920 census Mina was living with her young daughter, Gwen in her mother, Lena’s house as a divorcee. Also living with them was Helen Baber (her sister), also divorced, Helen’s daughter, Leona Baber, Edward or Edmund Wheeler (her brother) and Roy Whittier, her half brother.
Shortly after the divorce in 1920, she married my grandfather William Fischer and lived with him and his widowed mother, Barbara. According to my Grandpa, Barbara apparently did not like or approve of Mina and spoke only German in the house even though she could speak English. Barbara died in 1922.
By 1930 William and Mina had my father, born that year, and were listed in the 1930 census living in Echo City, Utah where my grandfather was working on the building of Echo Dam. They lived in a tent in an encampment of workers. When my Grandpa told me about her death he mentioned the tent. Since she died in December I was astounded that they could be living in a tent in Utah during the winter. He explained that it was built of half wood walls with an a-line tent roof, there was a wood burning stove inside. My dad was apparently born in that tent the previous March.
On my father’s birth certificate it asked how many children Mina had given birth to and how many were still living. Her answer was, two living (my father and Gwen – his half-sister) and one born alive but now dead.
So, by the time my father was born in March 1930 Mina’s mother, father, brother and one child had all died. She had been adopted, returned to her mother. She had been sent to the state school for girls. She had been married, abused, divorced once, married again and lived with a mother-in-law who did not like her. She had a child who was born alive and then died.
Mina died during a flu epidemic, my Grandpa said it was like the 1917 flu epidemic, only not nearly as bad. I have not found any record of 1930/1931 being a flu epidemic year, perhaps it was more localized. Her death certificate cites asthma as the cause of death, she was only 32 years old.
My grandfather was left with a 9 month old son and a 13 year old stepdaughter. For a while Gwen tried to take care of the baby and the household chores but it was too difficult and eventually my father was sent to live with his Aunt Bertha Bishop, Mina’s older half sister.
So, I know several facts about my grandmother but not much about her. What did she like to do, what did she like to think about? I don’t know and the people who did know her all died before I was born or old enough to think to ask questions other than that one day when Grandpa told me they lived in a tent, she died of the flu and her family were not nice people. He was very reluctant to talk about any of it, but my impression was that he didn’t want to tell me my ancestors were drunks and bad guys. Keep in mind that I was seventeen years old when this conversation happened.
The only photo I have (above) was sent to me recently by my Aunt Pat, Dad’s stepsister. Aunt Pat found it in my grandfather’s papers. Mina looks like she is about 14-16 years old, but I can definitely see the family resemblance to some of my siblings.