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The Givens

My great-grandfather, William Givens, was mayor of the little town of Gallatin, MO and also its doctor. A local mason built the substantial brick home in which he and his family continued to live until the 1920s. No money exchanged hands. In return for the construction of the home, my great-grandfather pledged free medical care for the mason and his family as long as he lived.


William Givens was an admirable man and his wife, Margaret Kirk, more than matched him in rectitude. From the stories I hear of her, her self righteous view of life would not have been to my liking. It is said that she was such a strict sabbatarian that even the old milk horse knew not to stop at her house on a Sunday. Though she prided herself on being at the delivery of every child born in the town and kissing the newborns to welcome them into the world, she was careful to put her apron between the black babies and her lips.[this is an unfortunate historical fact, not an endorsement of this racist act] As a young woman in Kentucky she had sewed an extensive trouseau and was bringing it to the Missouri territory. A cholera epidemic forced her to abandon the trunk at St. Louis and she never saw the products of her girlhood industry again. She set out to replace all the items from memory. I have one sadly deteriorating counterpane, the duplicate of the original. Another souvenir of Givens’ handiwork is an embroidered Easter bonnet worn by my great-grandfather at his first Easter.


William and Margaret had five children, two boys and three girls. My grandfather, Nathaniel Shores Givens, was the youngest. I have letters from him to my grandmother, Martha Hollingsworth, who lived in Colorado Springs. Exactly how and where they met, I do not know, but it was probably in Colorado Springs and may have been through my grandmothers’ sisters. I have one picture taken the summer of 1896, before they were married. It shows the three sisters and their husbands. My grandmother is looking adoringly at Nat.


The story of Nat and Matties’ courtship is recorded in letters they wrote to each other from 1889 to 1896. After Christmas of 1896 the correspondence stops because Mattie goes to Gallatin to become Nat’s wife. The Givens’ siblings agreed that Nat should have the family home in return for providing their parents a refuge until they died. Leaving all family and adjusting to a life devoted to caring for her husband’s parents as well as the children their union produced was my grandmother’s accepted role.


Having a home provided for yourself and wife, Nat, the baby, only had to provide enough to feed and clothe his family. He had taught school as a young man. As a married man, he became an insurance agent. He was personable and as the doctor’s son knew everyone in town. His business no doubt flourished at first. I have only one hint as to a rash streak that may have contributed to his eventual disgrace and breakdown. During the 1896 presidential election my grandmother and he both supported William Jennings Bryan. In one letter he admitted that he had lost $200.00 by betting on Bryan, who lost that and three other elections.


I[Margaret Kirk Bragg]was born and raised in Columbia, MO. I learned of the disaster that befell my mothers’ family many years after the fact. My mother’s brother, Spencer, never married. He took on full responsibility for the support of his parents when he was only 20 years old. His father died in 1936, when I was 3, and his mother lived until 1957. It was when my Uncle died and I took his body back to Gallatin to be buried with his parents that I learned what had had happened. Cousins still lived in Gallatin and offered their home for refreshments and visiting following the burial. These people were older than my Uncle, who was 63 when he died of a stroke. The man, Marion, was one of my Uncle’s first cousins. In the midst of the gathering Marion blurted out what my grandfather had done. He had sold flood insurance; the floods came and he couldn’t pay. I had never heard the story before and obviously I still don’t have the details but it filled in a lot of holes regarding the status of the family.


My grandfather had a nervous breakdown and went to his brother’s in Colorado Springs, leaving his wife and daughter, my mother, to take the heat of what he had done. My Uncle was a freshman at the University of Missouri in Columbia. The older sister, Virginia, was married and may have already moved to California with her husband. My mother was left to finish high school with a cloud over her head and my grandmother had to face people who her husband had cheated.


At some point, they sold the family house and moved to Columbia to enable Spencer to finish his schooling. Once in Columbia my grandfather came back from Colorado. He never worked again. I think they rented a rooming house so that rent from student boarders plus the money from whatever jobs my Uncle took were their only livelihood. My mother, a beautiful black haired blue eyed 20-year old found a job as an assistant to a recently widowed dentist, Harold I. Bragg.




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