• Brigette Cook Jones

Little Orphant Annie's Children


Mary Alice Smith was the person who inspired James Whitcomb Riley to write his Little Orphant Annie poem. Even though she had a broken home herself, and lived with a variety of family members over the years, she herself had a stable marriage with several children. I have been priviledged to talk with several of Mary Alice's descendants - almost one from each of her chlldren that survived to adulthood. They all say that from the stories of their ancestors, Mary Alice was a good mother, and even helped to raise some of her grandchildren. Mary Alice married her husband, John Wesley Gray on October 2, 1869 in Hancock County, Indiana. John Wesley was 26 and Mary Alice was 19. John Wesley had been married once before to an Isabelle Smith, who I believe may have been a cousin to Mary Alice. Isabelle died young and was buried in the McNamee Cemetery in Hancock County.

The photo is of three of the Gray children: Ethiel, Cordelia and Dollie.

John Wesley and Mary Alice would purchase a small farm in Sugar Creek Township, Hancock County, Indiana, and there John Wesley would build a tiny two room cabin for his family. It was in this home that Mary Alice and John Wesley would bring seven children into the world:

William 1870

Lulla 1872

Cordelia 1875

Daisy 1877

Dollie 1880

Cornelius 1883

Ethiel 1885

All of the children would be born in the cabin and would work on the farm. They would attend the schools in Sugar Creek Township - and most of the chidlren would marry and have children of their own. William

Is a bit of a mystery. When I first talked to the Gray family descendants they told me that "Uncle Whidge" got into an argument with John Wesley, and ran away from home. Nobody knows what happend to him, and so far I have been unable to uncover any definitive evidence of his whereabouts. Lulla Is the one that I know the least about. She died in infancy. The only records that I have uncovered about her is a mention in a list in a family Bible, and the fact that she was counted as a child of Mary Alice's in a census record. I have no idea where she is buried. Cordelia

Married Clinton Colestock in 1892. They had four children: Gertrude, Walter, Clarence and Herman. This family would come to live in the Gray cabin after Mary Alice left to live in Indianapolis. In fact, a branch of the Colestock family lives in that home today. Unfortunately, Cordelia caught consumption and gave it to her youngest son, Herman. Both would die in 1903 and are buried in the Philadelphia Cemetery in Hancock County. From these family members, I have learned that Mary Alice spent a considerable amount of time with the Colestocks - and may have even helped to raise her grandson Clarence. Daisy

Married John W. Spilker in 1896. She had one child: Nona. Daisy died a very tragic death in 1902. While Mary Alice was visting Daisy and John's home in Indianapolis, Daisy decided to start a fire in the stove. Since the coal stove was not catching fire quickly, she decided to throw a cup of gasoline on the fire with disasterous results. The flames exploded and caught Daisy on fire. Mary Alice witnessed the whole event, and tried to extinguish the flames with a rug, but Daisy threw it off and ran outside. Daisy finally fell to the ground, and a pail of water put out the fire. However, it was too late, and she died. As a result, Nona Spilker would come to live with Mary Alice and John Wesley. Since Nona spent so much time with the Grays, and was so much younger - I have received much of the family information from this branch. Dollie

She was the only one to marry more than once. Her first marriage was to a William Smith in 1901, I am not sure if this ended in divorce or death. Her second mariage was to an L. D. Marsh in 1922, and they would live in Indianapolis. Mary Alice would come to live with Dollie and her husband shortly after their marriage. Mary Alice would pass away at their home in 1924. Dollie would be widowed and marry a third time to a Charlie Young. Even though Dollie married three times - she had no children of her own, but did have some step children with Charlie. Cornelius

Lived only 18 months, and like Lulla - I do not know where he is buried. He does pop up in the death index records for Hancock County. Ethiel

The youngest Gray child married a preacher by the name of Aaron Hickok in 1917. They lived in Ohio and had a young son, named Paul. Unfortunately, Ethiel became ill. There are letters that Mary Alice wrote that refernce Ethiel's illness and the fact that she was taken to Cleveland, OH for treatment. Unfortunately, she did not survive the illness, and died in 1921. Her body was brought back to her childhood home for buriel. Ethiel's husband would remarry, and have other children by his second wife. There are descendants of Aaron and Ethiel's son, Paul Hickok - but I have not been able to make a direct connection with any of them. I have made some contact with a cousin to this line - and he provided me with some interesting newspaper articles. This branch of the family moved out to Iowa and then further west. The sad thing about Mary Alice's life is that she outlived all of her children - except one - and that was Dollie. All of her adult children are buried in the Philadelphia Cemetery not far from her little log cabin that John Wesley built for her. John Wesley and Mary Alice - both sleep in the same cemetery along with most of their children and many of their grandchildren, and great grandchildren. There are a few small genealogy questions that I need to firm up with Mary Alice's children, but I don't know if I will ever find the location of the burial of her two babies. I would hope that if any of these descendants would have some interesting stories to share about Mary Alice herself - that is what I would most like to hear. I have also found some nieces and nephews who may have some stories and information to share about Mary Alice's life. She surely was a strong women to have 7 children in a small wilderness cabin, to help raise some of her grandchildren, and to survive the tragedy that she had in her life.


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