From the Fortress of Solitude
I just complete my first three day Space Camp for the summer season. Exhausted is a good descriptive word for my current state. I'm about to head back to the school for another one night camp. Crazy, but this is the time the Center makes much of its operating budget for the year so its "All Hands on Deck!"
I was fortunate to locate a relative of ours, Sara Abramowitz-Hill, a descendant of Levi Dennis and his first wife - Sarah Crippen. She had more information on our Great Great Grandfather and was happy to send it along for our history. Thank you Sara!
First, the relationship chart
This is the new information we have on John Dennis and his family, including John Dennis' work on the Mormon Tabernacle in Salt Lake City.
Dennis Family History
We first fine the Dennis family in Knoxville, Tennessee. Levi Dennis met a young Lady, Sarah Crippen, who had been born in that city in 1816. Sarah was 26 years old when she and Levi were married in 1842. They had two sons, Jon and Edward. In 1846 the Dennis family moved to Sullivan County, Missouri. Levi died three weeks after they arrived in Missouri. In 1847 Sarah remarried Samuel Bingham.
The family lived in Missouri about 18 years. Sarah and Samuel had five more children, Mathew, Tom Jesse, Eliza and Barbara. Samuel served as Justice of the Peace.
In 1864, Edward joined the Confederate Army. After the war he moved to Montana. His descendants were lost to the family until 1957 when a letter was received from an Alic Irwin, a daughter of Edward.
John Dennis met Julia Spurlock in Missouri and he was married to her when he was 18 years old. They had six children, Sarah Martha, Nancy Jane, Minnie, Annie, Allie and John Jr. The oldest was Sarah Martha who was born in Union, Missouri in 1863.
When Sarah Martha was one years old the family left Missouri. They traveled in a covered wagon drawn by oxen and were part of a freight train. They headed for California but ended up in Utah and Wyoming. Nancy Jane and Annie were born at Fr. Bridger, Wyoming. During that time John Dennis worked in Salt Lake City helping to build the Mormon Tabernacle. They lived in the area six years.
The family moved to Ft. Collins, Colorado. John and Julia had three more children born in Colorado, Minnie, Allie and John Jr. On January 10, 1873, their son John Jr. was born. Julia died eleven days later and the little baby, John Jr. died in September of that same year. They were buried there in Bingham Hill Cemetery. Also buried there was Barbara, Samuel and Sarah’s youngest daughter. She died at the age of 19 from a nosebleed just before her planned wedding.
In 1878, John and his three oldest daughters, Mattie, Nancy and Annie left Colorado.. They traveled by train to a tie-camp in Wyoming. John left his two youngest girls, Minnie and Allie with relatives in Colorado.
From Wyoming, John and his three oldest daughters journeyed to Custer or Hill City in the Black Hills of South Dakota. They lived in that area for awhile while John worked in the mines. Then he became interested in Hot Springs and the family moved farther south.
Annie Tallent, who was the first white woman in the Black Hills, mentioned John Dennis in her writings. It seems that Col. Thornby and Professor Jennie, both prominent in the Hill’s History, had explored the area where Hot Springs would soon be. On their way back to Deadwood they stopped in Hill City and met a George Trimmer and a John Dennis who became the first settlers in Hot Springs.
John arrived at Hot Springs in 1880 and is considered to be the third settler in that valley. The 1880 census lists 28 people, among them John, his oldest three daughters and Thomas Bingham, who would be John’s half brother.
In 1883, John married our Great Great Grandmother, Mrs. Belle Helgerson who had a daughter Myra from a previous marriage. John and Belle had five more children, Joseph, Vesta, Raymond, Emma and John. At some time, John also became reunited with his other two younger daughters, Minnie and Allie. Belle was the first school teacher in the Hot Springs area.
John’s mother, Sarah, her husband and their family were also in Hot Springs at that time. Their oldest son, Matthew, played the fiddle and was said to make music for many dances in the town. Matthew’s son Fred, was married to Edna, Sarah and Samuel’s next son Tom, discovered Wind Cave in 1881 when he was out hunting. Their sister, Eliza was married and remained in Colorado.
John and Belle had a wonderful garden in Hot Springs. It was reported that he harvested 24000 pounds of onions and he must have cultivated quite an area ash he also had ten foot high corn and harvested grain. He also promised a July picnic for which he would furnish the watermelon. It was said that it would be for “Everybody and his dog!” During that time he made many trips back to Custer to sell his produce.
In 1880, John, Belle and family moved to a ranch near Cascade. One account said that he traded his property in Hot Springs for the ranch which his son-in-law George Turner, had owned. His third Great Grandson, Alan Hill, now owns that property.
The Dennis family lived at the Cascade ranch for about seven years. During that time they had many tragedies. In 1891, their six year old son, John, died. John’s mother, Sarah Bingham, died at their three year old son, Raymond, drowned in the Cheyenne River. That same year, John’s daughter, Annie, from his first marriage, died - leaving a three month old baby who also died in January of 1892. Then in February of 1892, John and Belle’s little five year old daughter, Emma, also died.
Our Great Great Grandmother Belle died in 1896 after which John just lived a few months over a year. He had pneumonia and Charles Row, his son-in-law, moved him to Hot Springs in a closed carriage to be nearer the doctor but he died in April 1897. He was only 53 years old. He had led such an interesting life and been so many different places in such a short life. It is simply amazing to contemplate. John was a member of the 7th Day Adventist Church.
John wrote a will stating that if he died before his children, James and Vesta, that they should be cared for by his daughter, Nancy Roe.