“Dear Lucy, Oh how I wish to see you. Seems an age since you left. . . you are so good it is not any wonder that you write good letters. . . I must stop writing to you and write to your Father. . . I send you my love and good wishes and may God Bless and keep you safe will be the Prayer of one who loves & adores you.”–Phil J. Cotton ( a square with the word “Kiss” in the left corner) dated February 7, 1892.
So begins the first of eleven letters written by Philip Cotton of Parker, South Dakota to Lucy Dresbach of Mt. Carroll, Illinois. The first letter is dated 7 February 1892, the last letter is dated 21 November 1892.
Several years ago I purchased the twelve Cotton letters from a California man through eBay. I was interested in these letters because my husband’s family lived in Parker from the early 1880's to the 1930's. I regularly seek out and purchase materials contemporary to the time that the family lived in the Parker area.
I found the letters by using the “My favorite searches” option on eBay. (If you are not familiar with this option on eBay this is how it works. You choose keywords and the eBay system alerts you when items that include that word or phrase in the description go up for sale). I purchased the Cotton letters hoping to find information on the Miller family members in the letters. Unfortunately, they were not mentioned.
Phil also wrote a letter to Lucy’s father, John Dresbach, gracefully seeking permission to marry her.
Dear Mr. Dresbach, I am about to ask a very great favor of you and earnestly trust that you will not refuse me. I love Lucy and she has consented to be my wife if you will give her to me as a wife I will Pledge to my Honor as Gentlemen that Lucy or you & your wife will never regret it. . .”
–Letter from Philip Cotton, Parker, Dakota to Mr. John Dresbach, Mt. Carroll, Illinois
Phil must have convinced Mr. Dresbeck that he was worthy of Lucy’s hand. According to an Illinois marriage record, the story had a happy ending. Phil J. Cotton married Lucy Dresbach in Carroll County, Illinois on 15 January 1893, two months after the last letter in the collection. Phil and Lucy Cotton had six children: Ross, Henry, Kathryn, Alcinda, John, and Phillip, all born in Turner County. Between 1905 and 1910, the family moved to Hand County, South Dakota.
I wanted to return this family legacy to descendants of Phil and Lucy so I contacted two newspapers, the Miller Press in Hand County and the New Era in Parker, South Dakota. I sent a short article with the information and asked them to publish it.
Within a week, I received a call from Nancy who is the wife of Phil and Lucy’s grandson, Jerry. Nancy and Jerry live in Oklahoma and were visiting South Dakota when Nancy dropped in at the Miller Press office on business. Imagine her surprise when the clerk showed her the article and asked her if she was a member of “this Cotton family.” Nancy is the Cotton family historian and she told me that she “cried with happiness more than once” after hearing about the letters. She said “what a find for our family,” they did not know the letters even existed before Nancy walked into the newspaper office. I mailed her the letters immediately.
According to Nancy, Lucy was a cousin of Phil’s sister-in-law, Annette Quigley. Lucy had been visiting her cousin when she met Phil in Parker. The letters began when she returned home to Illinois.
When the story ran in the New Era in Parker, I was contacted by Colleen, a descendant of Phil’s brother John Cotton. Nancy and Colleen didn’t know about each other, but are now working together on the Cotton family history.
I kept those letters almost two years before I tried to find the family. In early September, I had a nagging feeling that I needed to return those letters to the Cotton family. Guess everything happens for a reason. Nancy wouldn’t have been in South Dakota if I would have done it earlier. It’s nice to know that those priceless treasures have found a home where they will be loved and cherished.
Hope you all have a Merry Christmas!