A Cougar and Her Cubs: the children of Martha Altic Aitkens
One of my ancestors I find particularly intriguing and tragic is my great-great-great grandmother, Martha Marie Altic Aitkens Mullins (Feb 17, 1850- March 20, 1937).Martha Marie Altic was born on February 17, 1850 near Mulberry, Indiana to Joel Altic and Sarah Sink Altic. I met a distant relative on findagrave.com who claimed Martha was a “full-blooded Indian,” but I have no documentation of this. She married John Calvin Aitkens (1847-1905) in Clinton County, Indiana on April 7, 1870. Around 1889, they settled in Jackson County, Arkansas. After her husband’s death, she married Samuel Mullins in 1908. He was 34 years old and she was a day shy of 58. While a 24-year age gap may not turn many heads today, I have not seen many women in that time period who marry much younger men. Thus, I affectionately call her The Cougar. (I have seen plenty of men in their 60s and 70s who marry 18 year old girls in my research, but that’s a blog post for another day.)
The tragedy lies mostly in the demise of her children. She raised ten children of which she outlived six of them. None of those six even lived to age 50. Grab a tissue box, and I’ll give you a sketch on each of them.
1) Joseph Hugh Aitkens (June 2, 1871- January 9, 1938) is my great-great grandfather. From various sources, he was a land surveyor, farmer, womanizer, Mason, Woodsman, Klansman, and devout member of the Baptist church. Somewhere in there, he found the time to have 4 children with his wife, Susan Koller Aitkens (1878-1956).
2) Sarah Bell Aitkens (abt 1873- May 5, 1921) was the oldest daughter. She married five times. Sarah Bell Aitkens Abbey Reagan Long Casteel Land had six known children, two of which died in infancy. Her third husband was previously married to his first cousin, and he later died of influenza. After she divorced her fourth husband, Hiriam Casteel, he had some difficulty letting go. According to the newspaper account, Casteel became “insane on the subject.” She lived 200 yards away, but moved after he shot at her one day. The court let him go, and he vowed to kill her the next time she came back to the neighborhood. He made good on the threat, shooting her in front of her 12 year old daughter with a revolver. He then shot himself in the heart, crawled to her body, and shot her three more times. (Newspapers provided a lot of details back then). Sarah Bell is buried between her murderer and her third husband in an unmarked grave.
3) Hattie Mae Aitkens died at age 37 and is interred in an unmarked grave.
4) Jessie Pearl Aitkens (1878-1965) probably beat the bad luck of the family because she moved back to Indiana.
5) Mary Ann Aitkens (1880-1960) also moved away, but I did find a great picture of her on ancestry.com.
6) Manton Marble Aitkens (August 24, 1882- Septmeber 16, 1896). Shortly after turning 14, he was shot in the head by a friend while coon hunting. Another unmarked grave.
7) Nettie Cleveland Aitkens (December 1, 1884- November 8, 1905) died at age 20 just five days before her father. I’m sure there’s a great story there, but Arkansas didn’t begin keeping death certificates until 1914.
8) Joel Henry Aitkens (February 24, 1886-January 1969) is the youngest son. Known as Dock, he was disabled and unable to work or care for himself. His mother tended to him until her death. He then went to live with his sister in Indiana, and after outliving her, he was placed in a residential facility in Indianapolis. While smoking one day, Dock caught his clothing on fire and died from the burns. A happier day is pictured below.
9) Edna Blanch Aitkens (August 9, 1888- September 28, 1916) married and had two children before dying at age 28. Also known as Daisy, she is buried in an unmarked grave.
10) Roxie Charlotte Aitkens (July 25, 1890- September 7, 1890) was the final child born to Martha Altic Aitkens Mullins. She lived about 6 weeks and is buried in an unknown grave.
My relatives had it pretty tough in rural Arkansas in the late 1800s and early 1900s. I like to imagine this sadness and misfortune is why my great-grandmother was sent to a boarding school in Indiana as a young girl in the 1920s and 1930s. I am sure her parents worked hard to pay for her education because they wanted her to have a better life and more opportunities than many of their kinfolk. She received a high school education and later a college degree.