Who was Silas Beebe?
That is a very good question. It’s one I asked myself over and over as I poured through Caroline Pugh Maben Flower’s letters and diary entries. Sprinkled throughout were references to a man, someone with whom she had a romantic relationship before she left for Berlin in 1895.
“I’m staying in tonight to write to Silas”,
“Mr. B left for Portland”,
“…wrote to B telling him I cannot marry him”,
and this revealing nugget that finally tells us his full name…
“I received a very sad letter from Silas Beebe.”
Uncovering information about him was a challenge. Do you know how many Silas Beebes were around in those days?
Was he the Mr. Beebe who vacationed in Sackets Harbor in upstate New York? This was the town where Caroline’s sister Anna Gowing lived. He was wealthy, and we know that Caroline had financial support from someone in, or close to, her family.
We felt he was a good candidate because his name has been passed down through the family lore. The story goes that Mr. Beebe loaned his car to Caroline’s nephew Rudolph so that the young man could impress his girlfriend on their first date. The scheme worked, for they were wed. We even have a postcard, dated 1910.
However, the timing is off. Silas wasn’t in the US in 1910.
There’s a good chance that the gent in the postcard is W.H. Beebe, a wealthy New Yorker who raced speedboats in his spare time.
But no, he was not Caroline’s beau.
Was Silas related to the Beebe clan from Mystic, Connecticut? The one whose descendants started The Beebe Company in 1884 in Portland Oregon that continues today under the leadership of yet another Silas Beebe?
The location fits the story, but otherwise… no.
Was he the Silas Beebe of Stockbridge Michigan, the man who walked from New York to the Midwest to settle and later became the first postmaster of his new hometown?
For the moment, I had reached a dead end. I decided to be content with the mystery. Besides, Caroline was the focus of my research. I did not want to stray too far down the research rabbit hole, chasing after every name that cropped up in the family scrapbook or her diary.
The Diary and a Breakthrough
Caroline’s niece has the original diary and she shared a typewritten transcription – a precise representation of Caroline’s words, spelling and grammar errors included. The transcriber marked the indecipherable bits as “illegible”.
You can imagine my frustration when I came across this entry:
May 13 received a letter from Beebe saying he had placed a house and 15 acres of land in my possession in I(illeg.) city (illeg.) in U.S.A.
Oh, look. A rabbit hole. Did I stick to my promise to be content with the mystery?
I am here to tell you, of the dozen cities in the US Gazetteer that begin with “I” and contain the word “City”, only one was in Michigan. Imlay City.
I asked the niece for her interpretation of the handwritten entry.
“Imlay City,” was her answer.
Well, almost bingo. That narrowed the search to two Silas Beebes who lived within 30 miles of the town in the late 1800s. I focused on the man who owned property. Besides, this Beebe lived in Romeo and when in doubt, I like to go with the ironic, literary clues.
My hunch paid off. Silas “Romeo” Beebe was our man. I have since contacted two of his descendants, and it is for them I write this chapter of Caroline’s story.
Caroline’s Love Life
Maybe it was the crowd she ran with – the artists, the rule breakers, the avante-garde. Maybe it was her personality – vivacious, fiercely independent, indomitable. She was high-spirited, fearless, and adventurous. These attractive features drew men to her in droves. She regularly fended off (or not) their advances.
After her first marriage fell apart and she fled to Portland, Oregon, one fellow proposed to her almost as soon as she arrived. While in Berlin, she received several offers to marry. One poor soul in her circle committed suicide. “In his letter written just before the deed, he declared his love for me, but I was unaware of it.” And that’s all she had to say about that.
To Anna, she wrote, “…young fellows here all want to go with American girls whether they can speak [the language] or not; I do hope none of them will fall in love with me. I have had enough of lovesick men for one lifetime…”
One man, however, Silas Beebe, held a special place in her life. He too had proposed marriage, and this she considered carefully.
Silas Beebe 1849 – 1938
Silas was born, November 11, 1849 to Luman and Elizabeth Beebe in Romeo, Michigan. Father was a wagon maker. After two decades, both father and son held property in Almont Michigan. Dad’s occupation was as a US Deputy Marshall. Silas was a farmer.
Silas’ first marriage was tragically brief. Ruth Sowles died in 1877, just two years wed.
His second marriage was equally ill-fated. In 1879, Silas married Clara Crissman and they lived on a farm in Orion, Michigan. Their first child, Grace, was born in 1881, but she lived only two months. Baby boy Beebe, born in July 1883, died without a name after five days.
We lose track of Silas for a few years, but he surfaces on the west coast in Portland Oregon in 1886, having arrived from Michigan with a splendid racing horse, a trotter named Colonel B. His livery stable, Silas Beebe and Co. was located at East Park and Jefferson. He raced horses and also raised dogs, possibly mastiffs. A brief line in the circuit court news of 1888 showed he filed for divorce from his second wife, Clara.
Meanwhile in Minneapolis
While Silas was setting up a new life in Portland, Carrie Pugh (her maiden name) was in Minneapolis, enjoying a musical career, studying, teaching, and performing.
In February 1892, she attended the annual gathering of the Minneapolis Editors’ Association. It’s possible this was where she met Charles Maben who was a member of the organization. Or, maybe he invited her. While we don’t know how or when they met, we know the couple married in June. She was 23 and he was 41.
These terse entries are from her diary:
- June 18, 1892 married at my sister’s in Elk River, Minnesota lived very unhappily
- June 1, 1893 left my husband began proceedings for divorce
- August 1893 at my husband’s earnest entreaties I returned to him and stopped the proceedings
- September 18, 1893 I left my husband for Portland Oregon
Caroline opened a studio, taught and studied music, and recovered from her unhappy marriage. In 1894, she joined a mountaineering club, and climbed to the top of Mt. Hood in July. There, she and 200 others formed the Mazamas, an organization that is still active today.
An organization, I am happy to say, that has records of the charter members. Yes, listed under the M’s is Caroline Maben.
But what’s this? Under the B’s, is Silas Beebe!
If I were to write fiction, this is where I would have them meet, climbing their way to the summit of Mt Hood, thrown together by chance. However, in reality, it’s possible that they met in the city, even though they traveled in different circles – she in music and he at the racetrack. Her studio was located less than half a mile from his livery business and residence. Caroline’s mother, Thea Pugh was also in Portland and her home was just steps away from Beebe’s.
Regardless of how or where they met, the fact remains that he fell in love with her, but perhaps the feelings were not mutual. Silas proposed. She didn’t say yes, but she didn’t say no. Marriage would have interfered with her plans to study music in Berlin. Besides, she needed to divorce Maben first. This she arranged, and the decree was granted January 25, 1895. The very next day, she left Portland en route to Europe.
We don’t know what Silas thought about her traveling to Europe. We do know he supported her financially. When his father Luman Beebe died in May 1895, Silas went to Michigan to bring his widowed mother back with him to Portland. It was at this point that Silas arranged the transfer of the Imlay City property to Caroline’s name.
In one letter to Anna, Caroline described her various social engagements with suitors and would-be husbands. Almost as an afterthought, she wrote, “If you correspond with [Silas], be very careful what you say of me.”
Obviously, she didn’t want Beebe to know about her active and, for the times, somewhat questionable social life.
Back in Portland, Silas helped Caroline when her mother Thea was sick and could not work. Caroline urged him “to sell the piano or anything to see that she does not go without medicine, food, or wood.”
Writing to her sister, Caroline reveals that Silas was “not as well off as we thought for his father had disposed of his money in some strange way.” Apparently, she had expected an inheritance.
Uh-oh. Now that he was “not as well off” was he still a candidate for marriage?
During the summer and fall of 1895, travel to her family’s home in Norway consumed Caroline’s time, as did touring in and around Berlin. She kept company with her newfound actor and artists friends, some women, but mostly men.
Early in November, she enjoyed spending time with classmate Max Winterfeld. He wrote a piece of music for her. On the title page he declared his feelings in this dedication: “We may communicate the thought through music that we dare not speak.”
Two weeks later, after many evenings in Max’s company, Caroline wrote to Silas and confessed her love for another man. She turned down his marriage proposal. He replied in his “very sad letter.”
In a long chatty letter to Anna, Caroline described plans to support herself by selling her musical compositions. She realized that she must pay her own way “now that B would no longer send me money.”
However, she was still undecided! In her calculating way, she could not let go of him. “Be careful what you write to B – don’t say I will or will not marry him, I don’t know myself yet. There is not a better man on earth than him. In his letter he said he loved me so much that he would like to see me marry the one I did love and he would give me all he has when he dies – is not that most remarkable man you ever heard? He is too good for me.”
Sadly, that was the end of the love story between Caroline and Silas.
Max left Berlin in December. Her diary tells us she missed him very much. That was the end of the Max Winterfeld love story, too.
Life goes on
When Silas first advertised his livery business in the late 1880s, the entry read “Silas Beebe & Co.” By 1890, trade was good enough for Beebe to afford a telephone and to pay for a more prominent listing in the directories, but as an independent driver, not a company.
However, by 1894, the employment numbers in the United States had fallen dramatically. “The livery stable keeper who hires out his teams on Sundays and holidays and for pleasant evening drives is one of the first to feel the effects of hard times so that this business forms an excellent index… At one livery carriage stable in Portland the decrease in its business has been very marked. It employed 300 persons on an average in 1892 only an average of 250 during 1893 and during the first four months of 1894 this business has so dwindled away that it now has only 52 persons on its payroll…”
To add insult to economic injury, the Willamette River flooded the central portion of Portland in June 1894. Photos of the waterlogged city show horse-drawn vehicles alongside canoes. Residents and businesses apparently carried on as usual. It is difficult to know if demand for Beebe’s services increased or decreased because of the flood. If the impact was negative, then this could explain why Silas was climbing Mt. Hood a month later, rather than working.
But in general, the demand for his livery service was a fraction of what it had been. After 1896, his name no longer appeared in the Portland street guides.
He worked as a coachman in Detroit in 1900. His mother passed away early that year, so possibly he had returned to Michigan to be with her during her last days.
Up to this point, based on the slim outline we have of his life, it feels like Silas experienced one heartache after the other. At the risk of oversimplifying and making a wisecrack at his expense, I understand why he ran away to join the circus in 1902. (Which, coincidentally, was the same year that Caroline married her second husband, Frederick Flower.)
Now in his early fifties, Silas devoted his life to the care of Linus II, an Oregon Wonder Horse a mixed breed that originated on the west coast of the USA. The remarkable feature of the animal was its extraordinarily long mane and tail.
Beebe was part owner of the horse when it was sold to the proprietor of Bostock and Wombwell’s Circus. In December 1902, the two departed New York to tour in the UK, and later in Australia in 1906. When the circus arrived in Melbourne, two Harlequin Great Danes accompanied Linus, all under the care of Silas Beebe.
To Oz – Happiness at Last
Looking after the horse was no small job. Linus had a tail that was 17 feet long and a mane that extended for 13 feet on either side, and Mr. Beebe told me that both mane and tail had to be brushed and dressed carefully to keep up their appearance. The mane was dressed in flannel, and it used to take him two hours to put it up at night and four hours to take it down in the morning. The weight of it used to fret the horse at times and make him irritable. For the four and a half years that Mr. Beebe had the care of Linus he never slept in a bed. Linus would not remain in his stable unless his master was there, and so Mr. Beebe had to lie down beside him. In fact, it was a matter of great concern to the horse if Mr. Beebe ever left him day or night. He used to get very fretful in his master’s absence.
Silas lived the rest of his life in Australia, raising dogs and driving horses in the trotting circuit. After Linus left the circus, Silas stayed on in Melbourne. He trained horses for the races, first for J.B. Zander and then W. Whitbourn. Later, he began his own business as a trainer at Northcote.
In 1910 when he was 60, Silas married Alice Ovenden and this time he was blessed with a long marriage and two children. Silas Luman Beebe was born in 1912, and Elizabeth “Libbie” Beebe was born in 1915.
The Sporting Globe profile written on the occasion of his 75th birthday described him as “One of the most remarkable figures in the Victorian trotting world [who] may still be seen driving trotters in races at Richmond. It is a risky business for a man of bis age, but Mr. Beebe is a hardy old salt, as tough as they are made, and he impresses one as being able to take risks for a good many years to come. To see him hopping round a sulky, harnessing up a horse he is about to take out on to the track, you would never think he was as old as he is.”
He continued to work with horses and remained actively involved at the track, though when he was 84, he was peeved that racing authorities barred him from the Novice Handicap.
Silas died on February 10, 1938. He was 88.
**** *** ****
We have many pictures of Caroline. After studying them closely, I wondered if I could pick her out in the Mazamas photo. I know, total folly. Yet, I did anyway. In the lower right hand corner of the shot, I think she sits, gazing languidly at the camera.
 Sackets Harbor Robert E. Brennan, Jeannie I. Brennan
 The Tariff Review, Volumes 13-14 American Tariff League., 1894
 Sporting Globe December 6, 1924 Oldest Trotting Driver, Brought Long-Maned Show Horse to Australia
© Maggie Wilson, mcwilson1956.wordpress.com 2020
Categories: Mining Heritage