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Minnie Brewer Bird and Orange Bird of Put-in-Bay

posted April 9, 2010

(If you have any additional information about the Bird family, please let us know)

In the summer of 2009 I was contacted by Walter Wagner of Fairfax, Virginia, whose paternal grandparents were Nellie Dodge Wagner and Hugo William Wagner of Put-in-Bay. He had found several interesting references to the Dodge families of Put-in-Bay and Middle Bass in one of my books and was looking for information about his maternal grandparents, Minnie Brewer Bird and Orange Bird who moved to Put-in-Bay in 1926. Orange Bird was half Cherokee Indian and had obtained a job at the fish hatchery in Put-in-Bay, working there until sometime in the early 1940s.

Orange and Minnie (Brewer) Bird

Walter was born on Put-in-Bay and moved to his paternal grandparents’ home when he was 3 or 4 and lived with them until his grandfather died when he was 13.

Orange Bird’s exact date of birth is unknown but he died in 1955 in Paris, Illinois at the age of 87, so he was born around 1868. He and his wife are also known to have been living in Lawrenceville, IL in 1948.

Minnie’s exact date of birth is also unknown but she was born around 1883, had a blind mother and six siblings and grew up in Muscatine, Iowa.  She married Orange Bird at the age of 19 or earlier. We know this because in the probate papers of her father, Stephen Brewer, who died in 1902, he lists one of his children as “Minnie Brewer Bird, 19, residence Andalusia, Rock Island County, IL”.

The Bird family was considered to be somewhat unfriendly and for the most part minimized contact with many others on the island.  However, Orange and Minnie Bird might simply have been trying to avoid telling the story of the very difficult time that Minnie had around 1912-13. That story, from the Muscatine Journal in Muscatine, Iowa, is printed below. If you have any additional information about Orange and Minnie Bird, please let us know.

STORY OF SLAVERY IS TOLD BY LOCAL WOMAN
The Muscatine Journal
April 10, 1913
MINNIE BREWER TELLS OF FORCED DETENTION IN HOME
Deep Plot is Revealed When Young Woman Offers Testimony
Which Sends Procurer to Jail.

A sensational story, which contained sufficient testimony to send one man to jail for forty days, was recited in the Rock Island police court yesterday by Minnie Brewer, a Muscatine woman, who claims to have been ensnared by white slavers while at Rock Island. The young woman told of being forcibly detained in a house of ill-fame after she had been made a victim of a plot which was revealed yesterday.

With reference to her startling experience, the Rock Island Union of last night printed the following:

"The story of a lone girl in a strange city, her futile efforts to find employment, and her capture by white slavers, was revealed in police court this morning, when Minnie Brewer, of Muscatine, gave such damaging evidence as to send William Connelly to the county jail for forty days on a charge of maintaining a disorderly house. The police officials stated this morning that similar outrages had been perpetrated in the city, and it is likely that sensational developments will follow.

"Minnie Brewer came to Rock Island from Muscatine last January in an effort to secure work. She had left her husband because of domestic infelicity, and hoped to earn enough money here to keep her in comfort. Day after day she walked the streets, going from place to place in an effort to get work. She was met everywhere with repulses. Her slender supply of money dwindled at an alarming rate. She had secured lodging in a cheap, ill-ventilated and undesirable hall room. Many days she had scarcely a crust of bread. Finally, with her money gone, and no room, she faced certain starvation. Just when things were darkest she obtained the long-sought-for job. The work was not clean and not exactly desirable. The wages were not large, but she would be enabled to obtain food and lodging.

Grabs Tempting Bait.

"Then she met a Mrs. William Connelly. According to the girl’s story, the older woman offered her a good home, good food and large wages, with no actual labor. She decided to take the "easiest way,” and accepted this offer.

"Her story, as told in the police court this morning, was a revelation of methods employed here. ‘Mrs. Connelly and I went to the European hotel that night,’ she began. ‘Mrs. Connelly had separated from her husband. Two days later we met Connelly and he asked his wife to go back to him. She consented on his promise to permit me to go, also. The Connelly home was located at 215 Twenty-first Street. Mrs. Connelly told me I must pay $4 a week for my room and must give her one-half of the earnings from my shame. Connelly loafed about the place, but I never knew of his working. He would bring beer into the house and that was about all.’

Is Deported.

"Connelly, when charged with maintaining a disorderly house, steadfastly maintained his innocence, but after the Brewer girl had testified, he had not a prop upon which to lean. Shortly afterward, according to the girl’s story, Mr. and Mrs. Connelly again parted. The woman took the Brewer girl first to Keithsburg, then Oquawka, then Galesburg, and finally back to Rock Island. The Brewer woman testified that at all these places she was compelled to leave an immoral life. When she finally sickened of the life and made her escape, she claims Mrs. Connelly kept all of her clothing. Connelly denied the girl’s statement, but was adjudged guilty, his fine being fixed at $200 and costs. He was unable to pay and was remanded to the county jail.”

 

 

 

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Revised: April 9, 2010