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Elizabeth Houston Hanley
Homesteader's Wife Louisa's Sister
by Karen Mazzeo
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Elizabeth    Although she never walked down Allen Street, had a portrait taken at Molly Fly's Gallery, bought an ice cream cone from Frank Yaple's or admired Amelia Adamson's Lady Banksia rose, her family's lineage was precisely intertwined into Tombstone's colorful history. The sister-in-law of Morgan Earp, a man she never met, this woman led a happy life as a homesteader's wife in western Idaho, hundreds of miles away and twenty years after the ill-fated shootout at the OK Corral.

   Elizabeth Houston, born on November 5, 1875 in Mason City, Iowa, was the youngest of twelve children born to Samuel and Elizabeth Waughtal Houston. This slim, blue-eyed, brown haired beauty who stood tall and elegant at 5 foot 10 inches was the sister of Louisa Houston Earp. At the time of Elizabeth's birth, Louisa, already twenty years old, left home much to her father's dismay along with her sister Catherine to tame the gun slinging Wild West. After working as a Harvey Girl, Louisa later met and married Morgan Earp. It's been told that Elizabeth's father Samuel was disappointed with Louisa and upon finding she was married to the brother of Wyatt Earp, refused to speak to her until his dying day.

   While Louisa was living in Tombstone, Elizabeth was busy running amongst the sweet bluestem and switch grass of Iowa as she picked sweet fragrant bouquets of blooming columbines, sunflowers, black-eyed Susan's and blazing stars to take home to mother who placed them in a glass vase of cool clear water to adorn the supper table.

   Elizabeth's father was a farmer, and although it's not known as to which crop he grew, its speculated it was wheat. A vital commodity on Wisconsin farmlands in the 1840's and 1850's, many soon discovered this easy cash crop was harsh on the soil; drastically depleting it of the element nitrogen. As a result, the harvest yield varied from year to year. In addition, competition from neighboring Iowa and Minnesota in the 1850's forced the bottom to drop out of the wheat market. If that wasn't enough for the struggling Wisconsin farmers, the chinch bug completely decimated wheat crops during the 1860's which tested the faith of many struggling farmers.

   With his sons there to help, Samuel and his boys worked from before sun up until after dusk six days a week, but on Sunday, the day of rest, they attended church services. Devoted Protestants, religion played a vital importance in the Houston family. Along with religion, education was equally important. For 12 years, Elizabeth studied the basics of reading, writing and arithmetic in various little red school houses and after homework and chores at home, there were organ lessons. Elizabeth played beautifully and many times volunteered her services for church socials and events.

   The setbacks that Samuel must have faced during his farming years did not dishearten his spirit. Sometime in the 1880's he moved the family to Minnesota in attempt to make a better life for them. For Elizabeth, the move was merely a new adventure to a strange new land. Strong willed and very happy, she always looked toward the bright side of life, but regrettably her outlook was tested when her father was killed in 1890 after being kicked in the head by a horse. Although shocked and saddened by his unexpected death, she knew her family needed all the comfort and love to get through the incredible torment they were all facing.

   On Christmas Day, December 25, 1901, she married Lyman Beecher Hanley and soon after they headed to homestead in Idaho. First enacted in 1862 the Homestead Act, signed into law by Abraham Lincoln, allowed any man or woman 21 years or older to file for a nominal fee,160 acres of land to which they were required to cultivate and make improvements over a five year duration. Among the thousands of acres of land available in Idaho, Lyman filed a claim in the Caldwell Valley, a region surrounded by the Owyhee, Weiser and Boise mountain ranges. The rich, fertile land was ideal for farming. After building his home, he was busy planting crops while Elizabeth kept house and raised their family. In 1903 their first child Norma was born followed by her son Houston in 1906. Although she was happy and busy with her new role of mother, Elizabeth missed her family and longed for them to be with her. Her wish came true; in 1909 her brother Frederick and his wife Ida moved to Caldwell as well as her mother who moved in with them after arriving from Minnesota. In 1910 Elizabeth had another baby named Eunice and with the new baby, it was nice to have her mother around to help. Mrs. Houston loved living with Elizabeth and the family but in 1913 when her son Robert moved to Caldwell, she decided to move in with him. Even though Elizabeth was unhappy to see her go, Mrs. Houston was close enough to visit as well as have Sunday suppers whenever she pleased.

   During the next four years, Elizabeth expanded her family with two more sons; Stewart in 1915 and her last child, Lyman in 1919. With two more children, her hands were very busy. Along with her regular chores of cleaning and laundry, there was the daily cooking. She loved to cook and in the morning, as Lyman came in for breakfast from the fields, he could smell fresh loaves of bread, fried eggs and strongly brewed coffee penetrating from the house. Nothing could get better than except of course, a fresh apple pie cooling on the window sill.

   Elizabeth also loved to garden. During the spring and summer months, her home was bursting with vibrant color. She took every opportunity as soon as the last frost was over to plant her flowers. Columbines, asters, marguerite daisies, million bells and balloon flowers were just a few that glorified her seasonal garden and attracted the many birds that called Caldwell Valley their home. Like she did as a child, she took every opportunity to pick flowers to place on her supper table. Beautiful and aromatic, wildflowers always made her smile. In the evening after the supper dishes were washed and put away and the children sent to bed, Lyman and Elizabeth sat down to their quiet time. While Lyman read the daily event in the newspaper, Elizabeth caught up on her never ending sewing and mending.

   Time flew by and all too soon, as the children married and left home one by one, Lyman and Elizabeth found their home shrinking. On April 18, 1932, Elizabeth received news that her sister Catherine Houston Robinson, the daughter who left in 1875 with Louisa to tame the Wild West as a Harvey Girl, passed away at the age of 76 in Nampa, Idaho after a long illness. The news devastated her mother who, as a result, suffered a debilitating stroke which left her paralyzed. She died on May 17, 1932 one month from her 101st birthday.

   Three years later, Elizabeth's faith was tested once more after Lyman developed cancer in his left cheek. Caring for him 24 hours a day seven days a week, her life was completely devoted to making him well. She propped up his pillows, covered him with warm blankets and served him hot bowls of chicken soup but her attempts were unfortunately in vain. Admitted into the hospital he passed away on September 3, 1935. Elizabeth was heartbroken without her Lyman; her love and best friend of 35 years had parted from her. The next days, weeks and months were arduous, but it was the comfort of her children and brother, Robert, who helped her through a most difficult time. Elizabeth lived for nine more years until New Year's Day, January 1, 1944 when she passed away. "Mrs. Elizabeth Hanley passed away at a local hospital yesterday afternoon . . . She is survived by two daughters Mrs. Norma Donnelly of Caldwell and Eunice Lee of Fremont, Iowa; two sons Stewart Haley of Boise and Lyman Hanley of Caldwell . . . and a brother Robert Houston of Caldwell . . . Mrs. Hanley is a member of the Baptist Church."

   With her radiant blue eyes, Elizabeth continues to gaze upon the seasonal beauty that made Caldwell Valley the place she loved so dearly. Although she never knew her sister Louisa or her brother-in-law Morgan Earp, her Houston family ancestry was profoundly embedded into Tombstone's window of rich history, the little settlement in Cochise County known to all as the town too tough to die.

This article would not have been possible without the generous contribution provided by Mr. Lyman Hanley, 2012.

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