Early Citizens of Council Bluffs ~ Henry Allen

Early Citizens of Council Bluffs – Part one of an ongoing series. By Mary Carpenter, Support Services Librarian

So I figured I would do a nice column for our newsletter on the Early Citizens of Council Bluffs. Pull a picture and research our local archives and databases and see what I could find. I started with Henry Allen.

Henry Allen was born in Maryland around 1815. He was a private in the U.S. Army and served in Puebla City, Mexico from August of 1844 to April 1845. Henry married Susan Benner and they had two daughters, Lydia and Kate.

The family arrived in Council Bluffs around 1854. Henry had some prominence in the city and was appointed Postmaster on December 9, 1857. In 1858 he headed west to Denver, which was then part of Kansas Territory, to try his luck at gold prospecting.

In 1859 he wrote to the Council Bluffs Bugle, dispelling the rumor that he had been murdered and also discounting the stories that there wasn’t any money to be made in Auraria, Kansas Territory.

“A great many calculated that they could make a fortune in a few days, and when they came out, finding that it was going to take work to do it — they were in a wild county — no female society — no provisions but wild game — they began to think of their happy home in the States, and commenced singing “Do they miss me at home” and at once started off to see if they were missed.”
Council Bluffs Bugle May 18, 1859

According to his obituary in the Daily Nonpareil, his mining efforts weren’t always successful:

“The last time we saw him — three years ago this summer — he was at the head of a large mining company in Montana, and was returning to the mines with a hundred thousand dollars worth of machinery, and his pockets full of greenbacks. His expectations were not realized, and he removed to Los Angeles for the benefit of his heath.”
Council Bluffs Daily Nonpareil March 10, 1871.

Henry Allen died February 18, 1871 in Los Angeles, California of stomach cancer.

Lydia Allen married J. B. Atkins in Denver. They returned to Council Bluffs where J.B. had a successful business. She died September 9, 1927.

Kate Allen married William Kruse. Kate passed away at the age of 86 on August 16, 1930 in Fairfield, Idaho. Her husband, who was 96, died the next day.

All of the above information was easy enough to find, but it took some digging to find out what happened to Henry’s Widow, Susan. I finally found her obituary in the March 1908 edition of the Billings Gazette. “Oldest Resident of Montana Dies! Mrs. Susan Allen, aged 99, dies of old age at Laurin”. Trouble is, I’m pretty sure Susan was not 99, more like 88. In the 1850, 1860 and 1870 census data her birth year is around 1819. By the 1900 census, it’s been pushed back to 1815. In 1908, a mere 8 years later, her birth year has now been pushed back to 1809.

I don’t blame Mrs. Allen a little notoriety in her later years. She spent most of her 30’s and 40’s in wild mining towns in Colorado, Idaho and Montana. She spent two years in sunny southern California, then when Henry died, she headed back to her daughter’s family in Montana.

I noticed one other thing in Susan’s obituary. She was listed as the widow of Colonel Henry Allen. When Henry was discharged in 1847 he was a private. Did he serve in the Civil War? In Henry’s obituary in the Council Bluffs Nonpareil there was no mention of him being a colonel. And to confuse matters even more in the July 1, 1865 edition of the Idaho World, Henry was referred to as Major Henry Allen.

I’m still researching to see if Henry served in the Civil War or perhaps he took on the title of Colonel to help promote his mining interests, perhaps we’ll never know.

“An energetic, driving business man, yet fickle fortune served him many shabby tricks. His life in the “western countrie” was a succession of ups and downs. Today he boasted his thousands – tomorrow a nipping frost of impecuniosity.”
Daily Nonpareil, March 10, 1871


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