John William Wheat is the only one of my grandparents that I didn’t know and the one I know the least about. Practically everything I know about him has been pieced together from documents. The only person I ever talked to that did know him was my mother’s sister, Iona “Marie” Wheat Kerensky, and the main thing she remembered about him was his body arriving at the train station in Dustin, Oklahoma for burial. He died when my mother was only 2.
According to his 1906 Army enlistment papers, John William Wheat was born on 24 January 1880 in Grayson County, Texas. He was 5 months old on the 1880 census, living with his parents J. and Sinthe Wheat, and his brother A.B., age 2, in Precinct 3, Collin County, Texas. They are family #478 living in residence #444 with family #477, Cynthia’s parents and siblings. Cynthia Ming was the daughter of William Frederick Ming and his wife and first cousin, Susanna Wheat. I believe J. Wheat was Joseph Wheat, son of Caroline (Farris) and Henry Clay Wheat. I have not been able to find John William on the 1900 census.
|J.W. Wheat, age 5 months, on 1880 Collin County census|
On 5 March 1906, at age 26, John W. Wheat enlisted in the U.S. Army at Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory. He listed his place of residence as Blackburn, Oklahoma Territory. He stated that his brother, T.J. Wheat, was his next of kin. T.J.’s place of residence was Mill Creek, Indian Territory. John W., 5’7” in height, was described as having blue eyes, dark brown hair, and a fair complexion. His marital status was Single. John was trained at Jefferson Barracks, Missouri; assigned to the 11th Company Coast Artillery at Key West Barracks, Florida; and was discharged from the Army at Ft. Schuyler, New York, in April 1909.
|John W. Wheat, enlistment ledger, 1906|
Since I don’t know much about John William’s life, it’s tempting to try to put together a story based on the details in his enlistment papers. Blackburn is not a locale associated with any other family members and is much farther north in Oklahoma than any other place that John ever lived--about 175 miles north of where his brother was living in Mill Creek. It was a farm community with a nearby oil camp, so my guess is that John was there for a job as a farm hand or oil worker. The town experienced a drought in the early 1900s, and many farms were abandoned, so perhaps the loss of a farm job or the closing of the oil camp caused him to join the Army.
John listed his brother as his next-of-kin, confirming my supposition that their father was dead by this time and that their mother had also died or had lost contact with her sons because of her remarriage in 1890. It’s also possible that John ended up in Blackburn because of a woman, because on the 1910 census he stated that he was widowed. I’ve never been able to find any record of John William’s first wife, but she could have died before 1906, when he listed his brother as next-of-kin. (He also could have married her in another state while in the Army, that being the reason that I’ve never been able to find a record of the marriage.) In 1910 John was living with Thomas in Cottle County, Texas. Both brothers had moved to Oklahoma and back to Texas. Thomas was married in Oklahoma and in 1910 had two daughters, both born in Oklahoma.
|1910 Cottle County, Texas, census|
John W. living with his brother Thomas's family
John W. Wheat, age 37, was living in Pauls Valley, Garvin County, Oklahoma, when he applied for a license to marry Cora Lee Bell, age 20, of Dustin, Hughes County. They were married on 28 January, 1917, at Carson, Hughes County. In September 1918 John William Wheat registered for the World War I draft at age 37 while living at 327 W. Washington, Oklahoma City. He listed his occupation as Deliveryman and his wife as Cora Lee Wheat of the same address.
|John William Wheat WWI draft registration|
On the 1920 census John W. Wheat and his family--wife Cora L., age 24, and daughter Leona, age 2--are living in Dustin, Hughes County. John and Cora had son William Powell in 1921, daughter Iona Marie in 1923, and daughter Ida Belle in 1925. John was working in the oil fields in Seminole, Oklahoma, when he died of heart failure induced by pneumonia on 9 November, 1927, at age 47. John’s body was shipped home by train to be buried at Carson Cemetery.
|John W. Wheat at Seminole Oil Camp, about 1927|
My grandfather is in this picture somewhere
According to my cousin, whose grandmother was my grandmother’s sister, she was once told that John’s death was the result of a beating by a group of men led by my grandmother’s brother Jim Bell, because John Wheat was not taking care of his family. I guess this is completely plausible, as my grandmother and the four Wheat children were living with her father, T.J. Bell, in Dustin, 40 miles away from Seminole where her husband was living. Who knows if any of his paycheck was making it home to her? I have looked for newspaper articles and will continue to look, hoping that I will find some proof of this incident. No matter what I find, I think it’s sad that he died so young and my mother grew up without her father.
|John W. Wheat's headstone|
Carson Cemetery, Hughes County, Oklahoma