• Brigette Cook Jones

Little Orphant Annie's Siblings


Mary Alice Smith was the little girl who came to live at the Riley Home and inspired the Hoosier Poet, James Whitcomb Riley, to write the poem, "Little Orphant Annie." When Mary Alice came to the Riley home she was presented to the family as being 14, and being an orphan - - both her parents being dead.

Through my research, I have determined that there was a little bit of "stretching of the truth" here - as she really wasn't an orphan and wasn't 14. However, even in pioneer times it was better to appear "politically correct"- to use a modern term - and be presented as an orphan rather than the alternative ( a father who "lightly set her adrift" - as Riley puts it in his "Where is Mary Alice Smith?" poem). To clarify the situation, I can tell you with certainty that Mary Alice Smith was only 11 when she came to the Riley Home in the early winter of 1861. This is based on the fact that her birth year is 1850. Also, I can confirm that Mary Alice was NOT an ORPHAN. While I am fairly certain at this point that her mother had passed away by the time of her arrival at the Riley Home, her father was very much alive. By this time he was serving in the Civil War, had remarried and had other children by his second wife.

Thomas Smith, Mary Alice's father, would marry a Melvina Pruner in Putnam County, Indiana in 1855. By the 1860 census, the family has three children: Ellen Smith born in 1856; John W. Smith born in 1857, and Susan A. Smith born in 1860. These birth dates are all based on census records - so they may be off by a year or two.

So yes - - Mary Alice Smith had a half brother and two half sisters!

I often wondered why Thomas Smith never brought Mary Alice to live with him and his second wife? I may never know the answer to that question. However, I do know that Mary Alice maintained contact with her father's other family, and there is some evidence that they interacted quite often. This makes her situation of being brought to the Riley Home a little more perplexing? However, I find it interesting that Mary Alice did maintain contact with her other family, and there seems to have been some regular interaction with some siblings. For this reason, this blog will focus on Mary Alice's half relatives.

One of my first assumptions about the reason WHY Mary Alice never came to live with her father and his new wife was because Melvina didn't want her for some reason. I have nothing to support this theory other than the fact that it seems like Mary Alice is passed from relative to relative - and never goes to live with her father and step-mother that I have been able to uncover. However, in the 1900 census Melvina Smith, a widow, is living with Mary Alice (Smith) Gray and her husband in Hancock County. I find it hard to imagine this scenario: Your step-mother did not take you in her home when you were a child and motherless. Then when the same step-mother, now an elderly individual, needed a place to stay, you would take her in your home. In my opinion, a person who would do that - would truly have to be a saint - to give someone a place to live - when they wouldn't do the same to you. I don't know the circumstances of Melvina coming to live with Mary Alice and John Wesley Gray - and I don't even know how long Melvina lived with them. However, I find this situation fascinating. Furthermore, I cannot find any death records for Melvina in Hancock County (where Mary Alice and John Wesley were living). While there is a Melvina Smith in the Veteran's Home in Lafayette in the 1910 census (which is where Thomas ended up in the late 1890's) - according to records from State Archives - this is NOT the right Melvina Smith. So a mystery here:

Where and when did Melvina Smith die?

Why did she come to live with Mary Alice?

Thomas and Melvina's oldest daughter, Ellen Smith Rittenhouse (1856-1882) is the only one of Mary Alice's half siblings that I have been able to document very well. Ellen Smith marries Peter Rittenhouse in 1874 when she was 18. **Now if you have read any of my other blog entries - that last name should ring a bell. "Rittenhouse" is the name of the Uncle who brought Mary Alice to the Riley Home. It is also the maiden name (or so I believe) of her mother. In fact, Uncle 'John' Rittenhouse was the one who brought Mary Alice to the Riley Home - and Peter Rittenhouse is his son. John Rittenhouse was married to Malinda Smith - a sister to Thomas and therefore, Mary Alice's Aunt. This means that Peter Rittenhouse and Ellen Smith - are first cousins. Peter would also be a first cousin to Mary Alice, and Ellen is Mary Alice's half sister.

Ellen Smith grew up in Putnam and Clay counties on the west side of Indianapolis. Peter Rittenhouse lived in Hancock and Shelby counties on the east side of Indianapolis. For the two of them to court and meet - speaks that the two families - the Smiths and the Rittenhouses - saw quite a lot of one another. Peter and Ellen Rittenhouse are found in the 1880 census in Hamilton County near Noblesville. Hamilton County seems to play an important location for many of the descendants of the Smiths and Rittenhouses - and I am not sure why? However, they and other family members are found there. They have two children: William and Minnie. Then, I find the Rittenhouse family in Tippecanoe County in Lafayette. In 1882 at the age of 26, Ellen Smith Rittenhouse dies. Peter would remarry - this time to a Lucinda Foster and would have another son, James Berton Rittenhouse.

I have been able to find documentation that supports all of those events regarding Ellen and Peter Rittenhouse and their children. William would marry Goldie Reed in Indianapolis and would have one child. Minnie would marry Edward Padelford and would be in Indianapolis by the 1900 census. That is as far as I have been able to purue this line.

Thomas and Melvina's only son, John William Smith (1857-?), is a bit of a mystery. He too is in Hamilton County near Noblesville in the 1880 census - and he is still living with Mom and Dad. He marries Elizabeth Alice Lunsford in Hamilton County in 1881. I know they have one child, William Harvey Smith who is born in 1882. I was very lucky in that when I was researching this branch of the family - I contacted the Hamilton County Library - and they found some info on William Harvey Smith. They gave me two newspaper articles. One was dated 1924, and commented that William Harvey Smith was the nephew of Little Orphant Annie, and he was making plans to attend her funeral. It said that he saw his aunt often, and she was a favorite. So this really sheds some light on the relationship between Mary Alice and the son of her brother. The second article is William Harvey Smith's obituary - which really helped out in trying to suss out what exactly happened to his family.

The obituary clearly states that William Harvey Smith was "left an orphan at an early age," and he was raised by his grandparents. He marries Rose Kiste and would have two sons: Dr. Roscoe Smith of Bloomington and Arthur Smith of Noblesville. He would also have two daughters: Augusta Melving Stewart of Ohio, and Betty Lavonne Castor. It also says he has a half brother - "K Frost" of Westfield who was still living.

I have spent a good bit of time, focusing on this branch of the family today - - trying to find out more about John William Smith. Luckily - I was able to get much of the information through some of the children's records and his wife - - as he seems to dissappear shortly after his marriage to Elizabeth Alice Lunsford. Based on the obituary of William Harvey Smith - - it states he was an orphan. Of course, knowing how this family seems to like to "stretch the truth" - was this a true orphan situation or was there a divorce or abandonment on the part of John William Smith???

What I do know is that William Harvey Smith was born in 1882 and by 1900, he was listed as living with his grandparents, William and Mary Lunsford. Based upon the fact that he had a half brother at the time of death - this means his mother remarried. The article is a bit off with the information for "K. Frost" as being William Harvey Smith's half brother. His real name is "Causa Ossie Frost," and he was born in 1887. Thank goodness for unusal names - as Causa was very easy to track. He was the son of William Frost and Elizabeth Alice Lunsford Smith Frost. William and Elizabeth Frost would marry in 1883. **So this means that Elizabeth and John William Smith were only married two years.

William Frost would remarry to a Berta (unknow maiden name) in 1893. So evidently, Elizabeth Alice Lunsford Smith Frost would have died previous to this - and as such William Harvey Smith - having no parents was sent to live with his grandparents - where we find him in the 1900 census. However, there are still two very important questions that need to be answered:

Did John William Smith really die or was there a divorce?

When did John William Smith and Elizabeth Lunsford Smith Frost die?

The answers to those questions most definitely lie in Hamilton County - as this family has stayed there for many years.

The last child of Thomas and Melvina Smith is Susan A. Smith, and she is the one that I know the least about. She was only four months old when the census was taken in Putnam County, and she was recorded with her older sister and brother. She appears with the entire family in the 1870 census in Clay County, Indiana. But then she disappears. It is very possible that she married - but to this point I have been unable to confirm a marriage. Usually a marriage will take place in the county of the Bride - and I have been unable to locate a marriage for her in either Putnam or Clay. She is not with the family when they show up in Hamilton County in 1880 - only John is with his parents. Without knowing her husband's name - she is impossible to track. There is also the possibility that she died before the family moved to Hamilton County. This I have been unable to confirm either. So I do not know if she has any descendants or not. The questions that need to be answered about her are:

Did she die or did she marry?

If she died where is she?

If she married - where and when and who are her descendants?

Based on this information, it is very likely that when Thomas Smith entered in the Veteran's Home in Lafayette in 1896 that he was partially telling the truth when he was asked: "How many children have you living? If any, give name, age and postoffice address of each:" His reply was None living. Technically, this is incorrect because Mary Alice - his first child was still living. But, based on this information here, it is very likely he lost Ellen in 1882; John between (1881-83); and Susan somewhere between 1870 - 1880 with Ellen being the only confirmed loss at this point in my research. Another interesting question pops up on Thomas' Veteran's Home application - "Does you wife wish to enter the home?" He remarked, Yes. However, there is only one Melvina Smith listed as an inmate at the home - and she is there in 1900. However, according to State Archives she was married to a different Smith. Furthermore, if Melvina did enter the home - - why would she end up at Mary Alice's home in 1910? Where was she in 1900? Thomas Smith would die at the Veteran's Home in Lafayette in 1898, and is buried in their cemetery. If all of the rest of the siblings were gone - then this would be why Melvina would be with Mary Alice. However, I cannot find where Melvina died and where she is buried. If all of her children are gone - - then the next kin would be her grandchildren: William Rittenhouse; Minnie Paddleford; James Rittenhouse; and William Harvey Smith - and any children of Susan Smith - if she had any.

By 1900 - William Rittenhouse would be 22, married and living in Indianapolis. Minnie Rittenhouse Padelford would be 20, married and living in Indianapolis. William Harvey Smith would be 18, single and living in Noblesville, and James Berton Rittenhouse would be 15 single and living in Lafayette. Would any of these grandchildren have been capable of taking care of Melvina Smith? What finally happened to her is still a mystery. However, I do believe I know what happened to Mary Alice's siblings - at least for the most part. I would still like to get some definitive answers to those questions posted here - because right now - I only know for certain what happened to one of her siblings - and am guessing on what happened to the other two.

As always - - if anyone would like to help out with these challenges of tracking down the info that is needed, or if some of this info is from your own family tree and you would like to share - - that would be GREATLY APPRECIATED!


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