Martha Susannah Alberty: A Turbulent Life

Martha Susannah Alberty

Martha Susannah Alberty was one of my husband’s maternal great grandmothers. She was born on 15 June 1858, the last of two sons and six daughters born to John Alberty and Susannah Douthit of Newton County, Missouri. Both the Alberty and the Douthit families had migrated from North Carolina.

Martha likely had no memory of her father, as he died on 28 August 1861 when she was barely three years old. I have found no evidence of the cause of death of John Alberty so am unsure whether he fell ill or died from a cause related to the Civil War, such as bushwhackers, which were common in southwest Missouri.

In any case, Martha lived with her mother, siblings and perhaps some extended family members until 30 September 1867, when her mother married (2) Isaac Sturgell in Newton County. How Isaac came to meet Susan, as she was called, is unknown as Isaac lived in Barry County, which partially borders Newton. The Alberty and Douthit clans lived in Van Buren Township while Isaac lived southeast of Cassville, in White River, well over 55 miles away.

Isaac was the only father that Martha ever knew, but it was not a happy home by any account. The Alberty children still at home moved with their mother to Barry County, so they were uprooted from friends and neighbors. The newly blended household consisted of the three youngest Alberty children, along with Isaac’s three sons by his first wife, Mary Bandy. Mary left Isaac sometime between 1861, when she gave birth to her youngest child, George, and 1867, when Isaac remarried. However, when Mary left and removed to Peoria County, Illinois, she took their three daughters with her. As far as I can determine, the brothers and sisters – Isaac’s and Mary’s children – never saw each other again. In addition, the girls never again saw their father nor the boys their mother. A sad situation all the way around.

By the summer of 1875, Susan sued Isaac for divorce, stating that he squandered the small amount of estate she had inherited from John Alberty, he didn’t provide care or food for her or the children and he brought “lewd women” into their home. It doesn’t quite sound like an idyllic marriage and, based on the records that Isaac has left behind, he wasn’t an easy man with whom to get along.

One positive event came from the Sturgell-Alberty marriage. Susan returned to Newton County, likely to be near her own family, and it was there that Martha Susannah married Abijah Houston Sturgell, her former step-brother, less than a year after their parents divorced, on 5 June 1876.

Abijah Houston Sturgell

It’s difficult to try to explain situations that happened long ago, but Abijah, or Byge as he was called, seemed to be somewhat cut off from his father and his brothers, George W. and Andrew J. (Jack or Jackson). I say that because Isaac, George and Jack migrated all through the southwest corner of Missouri and the northwest corner of Arkansas, appearing on tax rolls and land records together. Byge’s name never appeared on the same document as one of his father’s, including the final papers for Isaac’s Homestead Act application in Barry County, Missouri. Both of his brothers deposed for it.

Isaac seemed to appear and then disappear in and out of Barry County, where Byge and Martha were living, every few years. It is hard to say how much contact they had with him, but I think he lived with them for at least a short time in the early 1900s as one of their children remembered Isaac poking her with a broomstick as she hid from him under a bed. By 1902, Isaac’s home was the County Farm – the local poorhouse – so he was out of their house.

Through the years, Byge and Martha had eleven children born to them, sadly lost three of their daughters at young ages, including their first born, named for each of their mothers:

Mary Susannah, born 18 October 1877; died 27 November 1878
Julia Ann, born 5 January 1879; died 5 March 1968; married Columbus (Lum) Taylor, 7 March 1895.

Julia and Lum Taylor

Maggie Clementine, born 8 November 1880; died 18 October 1921; married William “Al” Periman, 25 February 1897.

Maggie and Al Periman

John Houston, born 15 April 1882; died 1941, Chickasha, Grady County, Oklahoma; married Della Brooks, 12 November 1902.

John Houston Sturgell

Lee Rue, born 3 December 1884; died 16 August 1947; married Gertrude Shirley, 8 August 1906.

Lee Rue and Gertrude Sturgell

Nora Bell, born 5 November 1886; died 28 July 1960, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma; married John D. Periman, 18 August 1901

John and Nora Periman with son Elzee

Gertie Mae, born 6 December 1888; died 8 December 1900
Amy Cora, born 21 August 1891; died 19 May 1964, Castroville, Medina County, Texas; married Frank Richard Slemp, 22 August 1910, Chickasha, Grady County, Oklahoma

Frank and Amy Slemp with son Homer

Oscar Eldon, born 13 September 1893; died 15 June 1968, Anadarko, Caddo County, Oklahoma; married (1) Ethel Anne Nation, 16 September 1915, Anadarko, Caddo County, Oklahoma (2) Martha Henderson, 11 September 1943, Caddo County, Oklahoma

Oscar and Ethel Sturgell

Glena Agnes, born 29 February 1896; died 16 December 1907
Andrew Herman (Bud), born 6 October 1898; died 27 January 1989, Blanchard, McClain County, Oklahoma; married Jessie Lee Ellen Nixon, 22 October 1921, probably in Oklahoma.

Andrew Herman “Bud” Sturgell

Of the three children who died in childhood, two predeceased their father, Mary Susannah and Gertie Mae. The third I will mention in a minute.

One might think that as the 20th century began and Isaac, the source of a good part of the family’s stresses, was living at the County Farm, that life was on the upswing for Byge and Martha. A couple of newspaper clippings told a different story. From the 12 January 1905 Cassville Republican newspaper:

B. Sturgle is in bad health and has been for some time.

Next, on 30 March 1905, also in the Cassville Republican:

Bige Sturgle who has been sick so long is reported worse.

Finally, on 8 June 1905, Abijah’s death was announced:

Bigey Sturgle died Saturday and was buried Sunday at the Snider cemetery. He left a wife and several children to mourn his departure.

Nothing is mentioned about the reason for Abijah’s poor health, but through the family has come the story that he was working in the barn and an oil lamp fell over and started a fire. Abijah was badly burned and he never recovered. What a horrible, painful way to die!

Martha, left, with Bud, Amy, Frank and Nora Slemp and Oscar

I’ve been to the Snider Cemetery in Barry County and Abijah’s and Martha’s graves are in a wooded area like this picture. Everyone is looking so somber and from the ages of the children, it looks as if this picture might have been taken after Abijah’s funeral when the family was still at the cemetery.

Martha buried her husband on 6 June 1905. Four months later, on 29 October 1905, she married Benjamin Wagner in Barry County. He is probably the Ben Wagner living in Mineral Spring Township in the 1900 census, born July 1843 with wife Martha F., born April 1842.

A year and a half after her father died, Glena Agnes passed away on 16 December 1907, aged just eleven years old.

Martha Alberty Sturgell Wagner was enumerated as married with Oscar and Bud Sturgell in the home in 1910, but no sign of husband Ben Wagner. Whether Ben died or they separated and/or divorced, I don’t know as no records have been found.

However, on 19 July 1911, Martha married for the third and last time to J.A. Clevenger, again in Barry County, Missouri. J.A. Clevenger was likely Joseph A. Clevenger, who also lived in Mineral Spring Township. He was born about 1868 and listed as married in 1910, but there was no wife in the home, just his 70 year old mother and three children.

If this is J.A. Clevenger, then he outlived Martha by many years, as he died in 1939.

Abijah’s and Martha’s oldest son, John Houston, moved to Oklahoma. Martha and Bud made at least one trip to Chickasha, where Houston, as he was known, made his home. They stood outside for a photograph – the second of the only two pictures known to exist of her.

Home of John Houston Sturgell in Oklahoma

Martha died on 10 July 1916 in Barry County at the relatively young age of 58. She was buried next to Abijah in the Snider Cemetery.

Gravestone of “Abigah Huston” and Martha “Susanah” Sturgell








One thought on “Martha Susannah Alberty: A Turbulent Life”

  1. Martha was my great grandmother. New Year day my sister in law said Martha hung herself because my grandpa went to a dance she did not want him to go to. My grandpa, Andrew Herman Sturgell (Bud), told my sister in law he found his Mom after the dance. My grandpa told this later in his life, I am thinking his mind/memory must have been confused at the time. Grandpa had always told my Dad, Thurman Gene Sturgell, that his Mom was very sick and when he got home from the dance she had passed away. Do you have any information on her death?

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