Luke McMurry’s journey to the Washington Territory

Luke cased image, small detailI’ve written about my more recent immigrant ancestors’ migrations from Norway in 1850 (and I’ve got an upcoming post on the Askew migration from England in 1875), but most of my ancestors have been on this continent for 300+ years, and as of yet I know little, if anything, about most of their journeys to the New World.

During the same time period (mid-to-late-1800s) that my more recent immigrant ancestors were sailing to the U.S., many of my longer-established ancestors were forging their way across the continent in search of new homes in the West. Today’s post gives some details of my research into the story of one such journey across the continent—that of my 3rd-great-grandfather Luke R. McMurry and his family.

Closeup of Luke McMurryLuke was born on December 10th, 1825, in Allen County, Kentucky, as the eighth of eleven children born to Kentucky natives James Benton McMurry (1788–1838) and Mary “Polly” Goodnight (1792–1855). Luke’s grandparents either migrated to Kentucky or were born there in the latter half of the 1700s:

  • Thomas McMurry (1765–1829) and Catherine “Kitty” Robinson (ca. 1768–bef. 1792) made their separate ways to Kentucky from Virginia around 1780–1784 (Thomas and Kitty were married in Cook, KY, in 1784).
  • Jacob Goodnight (1767–1841) made his way to Kentucky from North Carolina before 1792 (Jacob married Elizabeth Hoover [1772–1820] in Stanford, Lincoln co., KY, on March 15, 1792). Elizabeth Hoover was born in Stanford, KY.

Closeup of Elizabeth MillerLuke’s future wife Elizabeth Miller (1828–1876) was born in South Bend, Indiana, as the twelfth of twelve children born to Virginia immigrant Aaron Miller (1785–1839) and Pennsylvania immigrant Elizabeth Hardman (1786–1846). All four of Elizabeth’s grandparents were born in Pennsylvania.

Luke’s journey from Kentucky

Looking at the birthplaces of Luke’s siblings, we can get an idea of movements of his parents (and Luke, once he was born). His parents lived in Allen County, KY (probably around Scottsville), between 1811 and 1816, and they lived 100 miles to the northeast in Lincoln County, KY, between 1817 and 1823. They were back in Allen County in 1825, when Luke was born, then in Franklin, KY, about 20 miles to the west, in 1828, then back to Scottsville in 1831. But then at some point in the next four years, they migrated 230 miles north, to Montgomery County, Indiana. The family was in Montgomery County by January, 1835, when Luke was only 9 years old.

According to his May 4th, 1913, obituary, Luke “was born in Kentucky in 1825, and with his parents moved to Indiana while still a boy. Here he grew to manhood.”

On Sunday, September 9th, 1838, when Luke was only 12½ years old, his father James Benton died in Montgomery, Indiana, at the age of 50. Luke’s mother Polly McMurry was left as the sole parent in the family. Thankfully for her, most of her children were already adults or on the verge of becoming adults:

Child Birthdate Age at father’s death
Elizabeth 3 Oct 1811 26.95
Isaac 24 Jul 1814 24.15
John 29 May 1816 22.30
Mary 6 Dec 1817 20.77
James Benton Jr. 6 Dec 1817 20.77
James Shelton 7 Oct 1820 17.93
Henry Goodnight 21 Nov 1823 14.81
Luke Robinson 10 Dec 1825 12.76
Franklin Morton 2 Sep 1828 10.02
Thomas Hisher 4 Mar 1831 7.52
Sarah Margaret 22 Jan 1835 3.63

In fact, by the time of her father’s death, daughter Elizabeth had married Alexander Doak Billingsley (on November 18, 1831), and she already had three young children of her own. Son Isaac had also gotten married before his father’s death, to Jane Semple Downing on October 3, 1837, and they had just had their first child a month before his father’s death. Thus, Polly would have been able to count on the support of older children to help raise and/or provide for her youngest children.

1850 census Luke R McMurryThe next we see of Luke is when he’s enumerated on the 1850 census in Portage Township, St. Joseph County, Indiana. Luke is 24 years old, working as a merchant, and living with the family of William Patterson, also a merchant. Despite his living with the Patterson family, Luke is noted as having real estate worth $3,000 (by comparison, this is more than half of the amount of real estate—$5,000—that William Patterson owned).

Just one year later, on September 17, 1851, when Luke was 25 years old, he married Elizabeth Miller in St. Joseph County. Elizabeth Miller was born in that county, in the town of South Bend. The two images below, possibly daguerrotypes that were perhaps taken to commemorate their wedding:

Luke cased image, lighter

Elizabeth cased image

These images are scans of color photocopies I made over twenty years ago of the originals that were in the possession of a now-deceased cousin. I hope to track down the originals once more so that I can take high-resolution images of these wonderful early photographs.

By the time of his wedding, Luke had travelled across the length of two states and was about 350 miles from where he was born. Three years later, on May 11, 1854, Luke and Elizabeth’s first child, Arthur Webster McMurry (my great-great-grandfather) was born 220 miles to the southwest in Effingham, Illinois. Luke and Elizabeth appear to have remained in Effingham for about two decades. All four of the couple’s children were born in Effingham.

Luke was made part of the Executive Committee of the Effingham Agricultural Society in July, 1857, according to page 74 of William Henry Perrin’s 1883 History of Effingham County (also in full color here).

In 1861, Luke and Elizabeth were founding members of the Baptist Church in Effingham, according to page 161 of William Henry Perrin’s 1883 History of Effingham County.

In addition to being devoutly religious, Luke was also apparently a supporter of the abolitionist movement in Illinois, as his May 3rd, 1913, obituary recounts this anecdote:

Rev. E. Hopkins, of Tumwater officiated. Mr. Hopkins was an old friend of the deceased and had been regaled with many reminiscences of Mr. McMurray’s early life, some of which he incorporated in his remarks at the services. He told that Mr. McMurry was an old friend of General John A. Logan in southern Illinois during the war period when feeling ran high among partisans of both sides in that disturbed territory. Once when Mr. Logan, in a political campaign, had been threatened with mob violence as an abolitionist speaker, Mr. Murry escorted him to the stage, arm in arm. Again when Mr. McMurry had been warned that an attack was to be made on his own home, he declared that some of the mob would be unable to report the next morning, and the attack failed to materialize.

His May 4th, 1913, obituary also noted that “he was an intimate friend of General John A. Logan, having known the latter when he was living in Southern Illinois.”

In the 1869–1870 Edward’s Annual Directory of Chicago (volume 12), Luke (noted as living in Effingham) is listed along with two other men, C. J. True (of Racine, Wisconsin) and Adam S. Bainter (presumably of Chicago), as part of a business called “True, Bainter & McMurry.” I suspect that this Adam S. Bainter is the same person as the Adam Bainter listed underneath Luke on the 1850 census, with both of them being boarders in the William Patterson house).

Bainter, p.61

Chicago 1869 McMurry, p.577

Chicago 1869  True p.894

Chicago 1869  True Bainter McMurry

Chicago 1869

True, Bainter & McMurry are listed as being wholesale dealers in millinery and straw goods. Today there are a few possibilities for this address:

  1. 79 E. Lake St., Chicago, IL
  2. 79 Glenlake Ave., Chicago, IL
  3. 79 Lake St., Maywood, IL
  4. 79 Lake St., Oak Park, IL

79 Lake Street, Chicago, todayThe last three possibilities are 12½ miles, 10½ miles, and 7½ miles from downtown Chicago, respectively, while the first is in downtown Chicago proper (see 1868 Chicago above for a contemporary view of the city). On that basis, I suspect that True, Bainter & McMurry operated out of the first address. Today this address is a 20th century high-rise building that gives no hint of its earlier life, at least from the street (see image at right).

Below is a bird’s-eye view of Chicago from 1868, with their business location of 79 Lake Street highlighted. As theirs was a wholesale operation, presumably the location was a warehouse with perhaps a display room in front. It was just two blocks from the junction of the two forks of the Chicago River:

Chicago 1868 birdseye, enlarged with location

To give you an idea of what Lakeside Chicago looked like in 1869–1870, two years before the Great Chicago Fire of 1871, here’s a photo of Chicago’s lakefront from 1869:

Chicago lakeside 1869

Luke apparently led an active civic life in Effingham. According to William Henry Perrin’s 1883 History of Effingham County, page 122, Luke was active in the founding of a narrow-gauge railroad in Effingham in 1867:

The Narrow Gauge—The Springfield Effingham & South Eastern Railroad was chartered in 1867, with J. P. M. Howard, S. W. Little, W. B. Cooper, L. R. McMurry, John F. Barnard, Anderson Webster and Thomas Martin, incorporators. J. P. M. Howard was elected first President, and Van Valkenburg, Secretary. A partial survey of the line was made in 1868. At the June meeting in 1878, Howard resigned and quit the organization, and L. R. McMurry, President, and H. C. Bradsby, Secretary, T. D. Craddock, Treasurer; and another survey of the line was made. There were $163,000 in donations voted from Effingham to the Wabash River. Effingham voted $50,000 of this.

The legal status of the railroad company was affirmed by a act of the General Assembly of the Illinois State Legislature, put in force on March 10, 1869. The full text of this act, mentioning Luke by name in the third line, can be seen here.

The Springfield Effingham and South Eastern (S.E. & S.E.) Railroad appears to have indeed been built, and can be seen on this 1883 map of Effingham County, running from Effingham, through Evarsham, Bishop, and Dieterich, before running off the map to the east:

1883 map of Effingham County

According to the History of Effingham County Railroads website (by Kevin E. Perkins, 2000),

The Springfield, Effingham & Southeastern was started 1876 and passed through several construction firms until it was completed in 1881. The Springfield, Effingham & Southeastern begins at Effingham and heads East and Southeast to the community of Dieterich. This railroad was a narrow gauge railroad in 1893. The road was completed and trains began to run between Effingham and Robinson in January 1881. Later the line was acquired by the Illinois & Indiana Southern and still later by the Illinois Central Railroad. There are 11 miles of track in Effingham County.

The railroad indicated by the map above is indeed still visible and operating today, running 54.2 miles from Effingham through Jasper and Crawford Counties to edge of the Wabash River floodplain:

SE and SE railroad today

Despite their having laid down strong roots in the Effingham community, Luke and his family pulled up stakes and set off once again when their youngest child was about 10 years old. They headed southwest again, this time travelling about 350 miles southwest to Lonoke County, Arkansas.

I don’t yet know why they travelled to Arkansas, but it may have been related to the availability of cheap land there. Arkansas had been giving free or cheap land to settlers for a couple of decades before the Federal Homestead Act did the same in many western states.

Another possible contributing factor to their departure was a cholera outbreak in Effingham County from 1872 to 1873 (according to the Illinois GenWeb page). There were three terrible plagues of cholera in Effingham county: 1832–1833; 1854–1855 (when Luke arrived); and 1872–1873 (when Luke left).

While there were railroads to carry people into Arkansas, the majority of migrants to Arkansas came via wagons according to Walz’ (1958) Migration into Arkansas, 1820-1880: Incentives and Means of Travel. Indeed, when I spoke with Arthur McMurry (the grandson of Luke’s son Arthur Webster McMurry), he described how Luke and Elizabeth travelled by wagon, including the detail that she used to paint with supplies and canvases that they carried in their wagon.

The earliest indication I have that Luke and Elizabeth and their family had arrived in Arkansas is Elizabeth’s death near Carlisle, Lonoke County, Arkansas, on February 6, 1876. Just seven months after losing his wife, Luke’s youngest child, Nettie McMurry, died before her eleventh birthday. Nettie and her mother share a twin headstone in the Carlisle Cemetery.

Nettie and Eliza McMurry, Carlisle AR

Despite the death of his wife, or perhaps because of it, Luke and his family stayed in Arkansas for several years. Luke’s son Arthur Webster McMurry married Harriet Hoyt Chilson in Lonoke County on November 18, 1879. Arthur and Harriet’s first child, Oscar McMurry, was born in Carlisle, AR, on August 15, 1882.  Luke’s daughter Lou Ella “Adelia” McMurry married James Calvin Waddle on December 27, 1882. Adelia and James’ first child, Walter Newton Waddle, was born in Carlisle, AR, on September 29, 1884.

1883 Washington censusAt some point prior to 1883, Luke left for the Washington Territory with his unmarried son James Miller McMurry. The two men are found on the Washington Territorial census in 1883, Luke as a 57-year-old farmer, and James as a 26-year-old man with no specified profession. Family lore relates that James was the official photographer of the Washington Territory. Did he and his father come out on a scouting expedition, and he later became the Territorial photographer, or was he appointed the Territorial photographer, and his father travelled with him to Washington? More research will need to be done on James’ career to ascertain that sequence of events.

At some point between the Fall of 1884 and the Spring of 1885—between the birth of his grandson Walter Newton Waddle on September 29, 1884, and being enumerated on the Washington Territorial Census on May 4, 1885—the rest of Luke’s extended family appears to have travelled to the Washington Territory, settling in Thurston County, at the southern end of Puget Sound.

I don’t yet know whether Luke travelled back to Arkansas to fetch his family, or whether he merely sent word for them to join him. I presume it’s the former. I would imagine that he and his son took Luke’s merchant’s wagon to the Washington Territory by themselves, and then Luke (and perhaps James) travelled back to Arkansas by railroad, and that the whole family then traveled to Washington by rail.

If he or his family made the trip to Washington in 1884 by railroad, they would have had to have ridden one of the rail lines shown on this contemporary (1884) rail map (below).

Railroad map of 1884According to his May 3rd, 1913, obituary, Luke settled at Ward’s Lake when he came to Washington. His obituary gives some details of his journey to Washington:

Mr. McMurry came here from Arkansas and after travelling through Oregon and Washington, selling notions and goods from a wagon, he finally settled here on Ward’s Lake, and was the means of bringing many other families out from that section.

Sadly, it is the last and longest portion of his journey for which we have the least information. The obituary cited above summarizes just about everything I know so far about his journey from Arkansas to Ward Lake.

Because this post concerns Luke’s journey to Washington, in this post I won’t discuss the last thirty years of his life that he spent in Washington.

Here’s an overview of Luke’s known (or probable) residences, years of residence, and travels. The red lines indicating his travels are just coarse, straight-line approximations which I hope to one day be able to refine as more evidence comes to light:

LR McMurry's journey from KY to WA

(Editor’s note: for a revised and much more detailed description of Luke’s migration from Kentucky to Indiana with his family—around 1831, it turns out—see these subsequent posts:


Luke R. McMurry had three obituaries printed in three different newspapers, each of which contained information about his migrations. The first obituary was on page one of the Thursday, May 1, 1913, Morning Olympian:

Luke McMurry obituary 1913-05-01The second obituary was printed on page six of the Saturday, May 3, 1913, Olympia Daily Recorder:


Luke McMurry obituary 1913-05-03

The third obituary was printed on page one of the Sunday, May 4, 1913, Morning Olympian:

Luke McMurry obituary 1913-05-04

5 thoughts on “Luke McMurry’s journey to the Washington Territory

  1. “Thomas McMurry (1765–1829) and Catherine “Kitty” Robinson (ca. 1768–bef. 1792) made their way to Kentucky from Virginia around 1780–1784 (Thomas and Kitty were married in Cook, KY, in 1784).”

    This makes it sound as though Thomas McMurry and Catherine Robinson traveled from Augusta County, VA to Kentucky together. This is unlikely. Catherine’s family was in Lincoln County, KY by 1780, and in all likelihood she came with them. Her mother had to give permission for her to marry in 1784, meaning she was under age when she married Thomas. In 1780 she REALLY would have been underage!

    • Sarah—excellent point, and great info about Catherine needing to get her mother’s permission to marry in 1784. Thank you!

      Would you be interested in discussing McMurry family history further? It sound like you’ve got a fair amount of research under your belt and I’d love to hear about it. I’ll send you an email so we can talk outside the comments section.

      Thanks again!


  2. I have the original land grant to Arron Miller of Wayne County, Indiana, signed by Andrew Jackson, dated the 24th day of April, 1820, if you would like a copy, please email me at

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