Parl’s wife Estella Benner, daughter Dora, Mother-in-law Alice Harvey and baby Evelyn
Where on earth did Parl Benner go on that night in 1935 after he stopped at his granddaughter’s house located next to Decatur, Nebraska’s only grocery store? According to his granddaughter, Evelyn, “I heard a commotion when papa opened the door. I hid under my bed covers, but could still hear Grandpa stomping inside. Then I heard Stanley, his oldest brother, talking soft. I was scared. Stanley was the sheriff of Sioux City. And momma, she started crying when Grandpa said he had to leave town right away. I heard Grandpa ask papa for money. I couldn’t understand anything else, cause mamma started crying hard and papa started yelling. Someone slammed the door, and then it got quiet. The only thing I heard after that was the sound of a truck driving down the gravel road and disappearing into the silence.”
The year was 1935 when Parl left town, give or take a few years. Forty years after he disappeared, my mother told me this story and couldn’t remember how old she was when it happened. And, after he left, no one in the family ever confessed to seeing or hearing from him again.
Eventually, I gathered more clues when my mother talked about growing up in Decatur. She said the town had been a stop for Missouri River boats traveling between Sioux City and St. Louis. In those days, there wasn’t a bridge across the river, so they used a ferry to to cross into Iowa.
“Luckily we had a ferry to use instead of those gambling boats that grandpa frequented. Indeed, he was a gambler. He was in a shoot out over a poker game that night he fled. Not sure if anyone died and not sure he was on a gambling boat either. Could have been in Walt Hill for all I know. He once owned a creamery there.”
I was stunned. Could this story be true? After thirty years of genealogical research, I have uncovered census, birth and marriage records that verify some facts. Parl was born on October 5, 1888 in Tabor, Iowa, the son of Francis and Millicent Benner. The family moved north to Sloan, Iowa where Parl married Estella Harvey on July 25, 1907. They had eight children. In the early years of their marriage, they moved to Walt Hill, Nebraska where they owned a creamery. But they moved back to Sloan in 1914 and lived with Parl’s parents.
Then, in 1997 after I posted a notice on Ancestry, I received an email from Stanley Benner’s granddaughter that said: I think you are looking for Parley. I will try to get some info from my dad… he would be old enough to remember this, however he has Alzheimers. His sister says Parl came to my Grandfather’s house after either shooting someone or getting in a fight and thinking he killed someone. My grandfather couldn’t stand to arrest his brother and so took Parl somewhere in his car and let him out. My mother says their mother and Stanley looked for Parl the rest of their lives.
And so the story still continues, which leads me to the point of this story – never underestimate the value of talking with your family, no matter how far removed. Researching facts is important, but the real stories are in the hearts and minds of your ancestors. I hope you, too, can bring them to life.
Ms. Kay Wimsey