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MEMORIES IN FOCUS: Forgotten settler almost owned a quarter of Marion years ago

MARION HISTORICAL MUSEUM PHOTO

Original settler Samuel H. Shreve (1852-1937) in an undated photo

Life on the untamed prairie had been a hardscrabble existence for original settler Sam Shreve until he almost struck it rich by never lifting a finger.

At age 7, Sam had been among a handful of pioneers who arrived in the summer of 1860 at what’s now Marion’s Central Park.

Traveling in five covered wagons from New Paris, Indiana, with his parents, William and Charity Shreve, and six other children, Sam and his fellow pioneers bypassed a planned settlement in Coffey County because of a lack of timber.

Along with members of the Griffith and Billings families, they chose instead to push on to Marion, initially camping at the Central Park springs before setting out to stake claims to nearby land.

The Shreves’ homestead was a quarter-section, the southeast corner of which is at the present intersection of 1st and Main Sts. in Marion.

The claim never amounted to much during Sam’s life in Marion.

His father died just five years into his family’s new life here.

Five years after that, his mother sold the claim — which Sam recalled as being little more than a forgotten cow pasture — to developer Walter Beebe.

Only a few structures were erected on the land as Sam grew to adulthood.

Twenty years after arriving, he had managed to purchase his own small home, but the cruelty of prairie winds wiped it away.

A storm lifted his house off its foundation in April 1880, turning it 90 degrees from its original orientation.

Rebuilding being one challenge too many, Sam packed his belongings six weeks later and headed out with four other Marion men for Leadville, Colorado, where the first in a series of major silver strikes had occurred a year earlier.

For the next 35 years, Sam wandered the Colorado mountains in vain search for his own vein of an estimated $82 million in silver.

Penniless, he returned to Marion in 1915 only to learn that the old cow pasture his family once owned now constituted nearly a quarter of the land in the city and that a pending court case to quiet title to the land opened the door for him to claim ownership.

Finally he had struck what appeared to be the mother lode.

When his widowed mother had sold the property, she owned only half of it.

The other half belonged to her seven children.

Under probate law at the time, guardianship deeds were executed on the children’s behalf.

Eventually, each child grew to adulthood, he or she also signed a quitclaim deed — each of them, that is, except Sam.

Quickly hiring an attorney, Sam claimed a one-fourteenth interest in the land — an interest worth an estimated $20,000, the equivalent in buying power today of half a million dollars.

As with Sam’s prospecting, however, things never panned out.

Working against him were the guardianship deeds and the fact that 35 years had elapsed before he made his claim.

While it’s unclear whether any money ever changed hands, over the next several years, case after case to quiet title on the land was settled, and Sam, by now in ill health, relocated to Lost Springs, where he died in 1937 at age 84.

He did return to Marion one last time, for burial alongside several family members in Marion’s Highland Cemetery.

Last modified Feb. 26, 2020

 

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