Uncertain Times


The uncertain times that we are currently living through led me to examine the life of my 2nd great-grandparents. I wondered what economic downturns, epidemics, and wars they experienced in their lifetime.

Abraham Bates Tower grew up in Southern Indiana during its pioneer era. Before his birth, his family traveled by land and by flatboat on the Ohio River from New York state to Kentucky and later to Indiana. Crawford County was first settled 19 years before Abraham’s birth in 1837.  The area was heavily wooded with plenty of wildlife when his family arrived and they would have built a log cabin. 

This was past the time of Indian attacks on this part of the frontier, but families had to be hardy to carve out fields to grow food and pasture land for their livestock. Children helped their parents in the home and fields. I’d assume that during this time in their lives they were self-sufficient and isolated from national economic trends.

Abraham was the 4th of their 11 children. His 7-month-old sister, Harriet, died when Abraham was 5-years-old and an infant brother, James, died the next year after only two weeks of life. I’m sure these losses brought sadness to the whole family. His grandfather Matthew Tower died at age 87 when Abraham was just 8.

Abraham married Nancy Angeline Long in October of 1858. He farmed and also worked as a cooper making barrels for the Ohio River trade. The couple would have a daughter and a son before war disrupted their lives. 

1861 – 1865 – The American Civil War – You can read more about its impact on Abraham Tower in this Timeline of his life. He was captured at the Battle of Brice’s Crossroads and spent six hellish months as a prisoner of war at Andersonville Prison weighing only 73 pounds when paroled. He lost his older brother, Matthew, in the war.

Abraham returned to Indiana from the war to find that his wife and children had moved to Missouri to be with her sister. She thought he had been killed in the war. After the Civil War, there was a period of economic expansion in the U.S. called the Second Industrial Revolution. Abraham’s health was impaired by the starvation in Andersonville and recovery from that took years.

He filed a claim for an invalid pension in 1868. “Andersonville Prison, Georgia, Contracted a disease, (blotches on chest and bowels inflamed and itching). Continues to reappear and itch whenever he is the least heated. Entire loss of labor except when weather is very cold. Also experiences a choking sensation at the throat and loss of voice, and is then sick at the stomach. Long under surgeon’s care and gets no better.” 

Abraham’s younger brother, Jonathan age 21, came to live with them and help with the farming.


1873 – 1870 The Long Depression – From 1873 to 1879, 18,000 businesses went bankrupt, including 89 railroads and 10 states, while hundreds of banks failed. The Tower family was in Missouri in 1873 and my great-grandmother, Viola Matilda Tower was born.

That year or the next, the family moved to Arkansas where Abraham Tower was able to get 80 acres of homestead land. They moved from Harrison to Hilltop in Arkansas when Viola Matilda was a baby (according to granddaughter, Bertha McGhee). It took a week to travel there in a wagon. They lived in the wagon until the house was built. Abraham Tower was hired to herd cattle. They lived there until 1879.

Reuben Tower's home place cabin on Gaither Mountain at Harrison AR. (2)

Photo courtesy of 2nd cousin Mike Tower. This is the Tower family home place on Gaither Mountain in Harrison, Arkansas.

The family shifted from Arkansas to Indiana to Missouri again, going back and forth before settling in Tyro, Kansas in 1890. There were several panics and mild recessions in the intervening years, but the family seemed to prosper in Kansas. Then in 1909, Nancy Angeline Tower died of a stroke.

Her daughters had rallied around to take care of her during her illness. Abraham Tower lived another 21 years which included the upheaval of World War I and also the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918.

There was one more milestone in his long life. The stock market crash of 1929 happened the year before his death. I have no idea if the elderly man even owned any stock. By that time, in his nineties, he was living at various times with his children by turns.

  • “The Long Depression”. 2018. En.Wikipedia.Org. Accessed May 28 2020. https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Long_Depression.

  • Arkansas, Homestead and Cash Entry Patents, Pre-1908 – It is described as 1 NWNE 5TH PM No 18N 22W 25; 2 NENW 5TH PM No 18N 22W 25 (which I need an interpreter to figure out).
  • Pension application # 134884, certificate# 275540

4 thoughts on “Uncertain Times

  1. Wow. That man really went through a lot. You can tell how the prison experience affected him in that photograph. It’s amazing he lived as long as he did given the toll on his health.


  2. Life sure was tough. Abraham must have had a tough spirit to have come back from imprisonment in Andersonville weighing just 73 pounds yet going on to live into his nineties!


  3. Abraham Bates Tower’ father, Jonathan Warren Tower:
    BIRTH 8 DEC 1809 • Milford, Ostego, New York, United States
    DEATH 4 SEP 1884 • Alton, Crawford, Indiana, United States
    3rd great-grandfather
    Jonathan had a sister born in Hardin County KY in 1821 so assuming that was where they lived between NY and Indiana. I should look further to see if I can find any more about their time there.


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