Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Miss Libbie

I’ve often wondered what her thoughts were as she sprinkled water on the floor and swept it out with a sagebrush broom. It was her first home with her husband - a sod house that must have been a very different experience for her after a relatively easy life with her parents. The year was 1889, and the place was Sheridan County, Kansas.
The person I’m referring to is Elizabeth Dorothy Zeigler, who was born in June of 1872 in Novinger, Adair County, MO and was my great grandmother. Her family and friends called her “Libbie.” My Mother called her “her grandma with the big lap!” My Mother often talked about her grandmother with such love and affection that I’ve wanted to know more about her and have so often wished that she had still been alive when I was born.

'Miss Libbie' Zeigler, sometime before 1889

My great aunt, Marguerite Tickell Sanford, was the person who told me the story of her mother-in-law’s first home. According to Aunt Marguerite, the newly-married couple burned buffalo chips for warmth and fuel. I cannot even imagine how primitive that must have seemed to Miss Libbie, as I often think of her.

Libbie married a "traveling sign painter," Alonzo Orlando Sanford, on February 17, 1889, in Hill City, Graham Co., KS, which was near her parent’s home in Hoxie, Sheridan Co., KS. Her parents were James Lawson Zeigler (1840 – 1920) and Margaret Elizabeth Turner Zeigler (1841 – 1911). They married in Novinger, MO, on December 29, 1861. Although James Zeigler was born in Ohio, his father, Harrison Ziegler (1813 – 1893), moved his family to Novinger before 1860, where the family was shown in the 1860 census as living two houses away from the Turner family. I don’t think I even need to ‘speculate’ as to how James and Margaret met!

After serving as a corporal in the 27th Missouri Infantry during the Civil War, James returned to his wife and three children and became the first postmaster at Zig, Missouri, which was named for the Zeigler family. He also owned and operated a general store that he named very simply “James L. Zeigler’s.”

James and Margaret would ultimately have nine children, all of whom were born in Adair County. Libbie was the sixth child born to the couple. I believe that they had a good and fairly prosperous life in Adair County. In fact, all of James’ brothers and sisters remained there until their deaths. However, sometime between 1886 and 1888, James moved his family to 160 acres of land in the flat plains of Sheridan County, KS. That must have been quite an emotional and cultural shock for the young teenaged Libbie.

The “family story” about Libbie’s marriage to Lon Sanford was passed along to me by my Mother’s first cousin, Carl, for whom I was named. Keeping in mind that “family stories” are not always accurate, I was saddened to learn that Libbie was not really in love with Lon when she first met him. She had been in love with someone else. But her father didn’t approve of that young man, and since she was still under the age of consent at the time, she had to break off the relationship. Not too long afterwards, she met Lon Sanford (that "traveling sign painter") who was very taken with her. She agreed to run off with him, mainly because she was mad at her father, but also because she had turned sixteen (the age of consent in Kansas at that time) the previous June.

Since she was only sixteen years old when she married my great grandfather, I have to question if she truly understood what ‘love’ really meant.  I’ve also wondered if she might have been just a tad spoiled and was truly furious that she hadn’t gotten her way regarding her first suitor. Add to that notion the fact that she had so recently been uprooted from the only home she had ever known, and you just might have a highly volatile teenager who didn’t really know what she wanted. Those are all theoretical thoughts, of course, but I can truly envision the two ideas as realities.

Although I’ll never really know the truth about her marriage, I do know that the couple remained steadfastly together until Lon’s death in 1925. They raised a family of five children, and the family was a very close-knit and loving group. Libbie and Lon had the first of their children, Ruby Beulah Sanford, in January of 1890 in Sheridan County, KS, so I know that they remained in Kansas for at least a year or more before moving to the South, which was Lon’s home.

After referring to Polk’s City Directory of 1893, I learned that Lon had at some point before that year moved his young family to Memphis, Shelby Co., TN. He and his brother, Charles Sanford, were listed as ‘painters’ in that directory. His mother and sisters were in Memphis as well.

Evidently Libbie encountered another ‘culture shock’ when they moved to Memphis. Aunt Marguerite informed me that Libbie had never before seen a non-white person and had never seen anyone use snuff before moving to the South! She was probably even more surprised at life in the South when they moved to Coldwater, Tate Co., MS, which they did sometime before their second child (my Grandmother, Lorena Grace Sanford) was born there on August 3, 1896. Coldwater is a small (then mostly rural) town located about 35 miles south of Memphis.

The family must have moved back to Memphis by 1898, since their third child, Emile Francis Sanford, was born in Memphis that year and Polk’s City Directory of 1899/1900 confirmed that Lon was working there during that time period.

But that term ‘traveling sign painter’ must have accurately described my great grandfather because the family was back in Coldwater, MS for the 1900 federal census. The fourth child, James Alonzo “Lonnie” Sanford, was born in Memphis in 1902, and the ‘baby’ of the family, Elizabeth Virginia “Bobbie” Sanford, was born in 1907 in Meridian, Lauderdale Co., MS. By the time the 1910 and 1920 census records were taken, Libbie and Lon had ‘settled’ in St. Frances Township (near Helena), in Phillips Co., AR. But the travels didn’t end for Libbie and Lon because they were living in Vicksburg, Warren Co., MS when Alonzo Orlando Sanford succumbed to an illness and passed away. I have no idea why they were there except that it was probably due to his profession as a painter.

Libbie may not have truly loved Lon when she married him, but the “family story” goes on to say that she grew to love him very much, and I think that her unwavering devotion to him was proven by her willingness to move so often and make a loving home wherever they landed. I know that she carefully passed along a number of skills that she had learned growing up to her daughters, including the art of cooking delicious German foods, a few ‘select’ German phrases (which I remember hearing my Grandmother use when I was a child!), and the delightful practice of ‘hiding a coin’ in every birthday cake, making sure that the ‘birthday child’ got that exact piece of cake with the coin in it. The coin was a dime when I was a child, and it took me many years to figure out how my Grandmother made sure that I always got the right piece of cake. (I’ve always been a little slow!)

Most of their children were already adults and living elsewhere by the time Libbie and Lon had moved to Vicksburg.  I believe that probably the only child still with them in Vicksburg might have been Aunt Bobbie, since she was only 18 at the time. I have no proof of that, however. But I do know that Libbie moved back to Memphis after the death of her husband. She and three of her children, Bobbie, Lonnie, and my own Grandmother (along with her daughter, my Mother), were all living together at 805 Adams Avenue in Memphis at the time of the 1930 census.  

Libbie was living at 45 S. Diana St. in Memphis at the time of her death on March 11, 1938, at age 65. She had been the ‘rock’ of the family, keeping her children close to her, as well as her sisters and parents Even though she had eloped, her relationship with her parents and siblings remained loving, as evidenced by copies of letters and postcards I have between them and photos I have of them taken long after that rather reckless act.

A lifelong Christian, her faith must have kept her strong as she experienced the death of her oldest daughter, Ruby Sanford Cunningham, in 1931. I cannot even begin to conceive of the anguish she must have gone through at that time. Although I know that she had been raised as a Christian, I don’t yet know what denomination she belonged to over the years. That is something that I still need to research – as are so many other facts about her that I want to learn. I do know that she was eventually baptized in February of 1936 at Bellevue Baptist Church in Memphis. Quite naturally, her two remaining daughters and both of her sons and their children (including me) all became and/or were raised as members of the Southern Baptist Church. I raised my two oldest sons in that church and remained a Baptist until my late 30s. Libbie had indeed been a powerful influence on her family.

Did Libbie really ‘run away’ to marry?  I honestly don’t know. I do know that I have in my possession the very fragile (and sadly falling apart) copy of their exquisite marriage certificate that actually has photos of them both on the cardboard-type material and also includes a flawless and beautiful handwriting that fills in the formation on them both. The two witnesses were not members of the Zeigler family, so the “family story” could very well be true. (And, yes, I do plan to have that document restored!)

Having gathered all of this information about my great grandmother, I can say without question that I know that the lovely young teenager, Miss Libbie, became a loving wife, mother and grandmother – the “grandma with the big lap.” And I know that the relationship she had with her children was so close that her youngest daughter, my precious Aunt Bobbie, arranged to be buried in the same grave with her at Elmwood Cemetery in Memphis.


Libbie Zeigler Sanford, sometime
around 1900.

Oh, how I wish I could have sat in that lap and experienced the tremendous love of Miss Libbie.

@2013 Copyright by Carla Love Maitland 




  1. This was an AWESOME story. Thank you for sharing. Almost wish there was a part 2, or is there?

    Great job.


    1. Thank you, Tina! I think there may be a part 2 at some point - when I learn more about her. I'm planning on writing about her husband, Lon, next. They were such an interesting family.

  2. She has such an adorable face. I can see why Lon was taken by her. Hope there is a part two too.

    1. I agree about her face! She appears to be the cutest thing. :) My 'part 2' is going to be about Lon - which will also include her. I hope to get it done soon. Thanks!