This is a story written by Colleen Hummel Cooney and was published in The Jefferson Journal Volume 6, Fall 2019, for the Jefferson County History Center
Andrew Washington Baker was born in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania on July 4, 1862, the son of former slaves. According to a Brookville American newspaper story, dated August 30, 1956, Andrew Baker came to Summerville, Jefferson County, Pennsylvania in 1929 at the age of sixty-seven. Andrew accompanied a large group of black road workers, many from various southern states. They worked for the Hagedorn Construction Company, out of Georgia, who had been contracted to help build State Route 28. Andrew, along with some of the other road workers remained in Summerville after the road was completed.
I met Andrew around 1955 as best I can remember, since I was only five years old in July of that summer. My family had a small general store along Redbank Creek on Water Street in Summerville that was started by my grandparents, Otto and Elizabeth Hummel. By the summer of 1955 my dad, Bill Hummel, was working there and he and my mother, Janet, had built a house behind the store. One of my favorite past-times was going into the store and listening to the conversations of the customers and my dad, this is how I met Andrew Baker. Andrew would walk about a mile, from his home just outside of Summerville several times a week to come to our store for supplies.
Our store had a large porch, and, in those days, there was a wide swing at each end and a bench against the front wall. This porch was welcoming for any one such as Andrew who needed to rest or wanted to visit before heading home. I always knew he would be resting a bit before he started home, after all he was 93 years old that year. As I peeked around the corner of the doorway out onto the porch, there was Andrew, with a twinkle in his eye, as he said, “You’re a little lazy bones.” Of course, I didn’t think I was lazy, so I would answer back, “No, you’re a lazy bones.” I’m not sure how many times we had this happy back and forth exchange. I learned later that Andrew played this game with all the children and many adults in town. Consequently, Andrew earned the nickname “Lazy Bones”.
Andrew’s birthday was reported in the Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper article from July 12, 1956. “Andrew Washington Baker, a resident of Summerville for the last twenty-seven years celebrated his ninety-fourth birthday on Independence Day, July 4, 1956. He resides alone in a cottage on the Dock Harris farm, just outside of Summerville.”
Sadly, just one month and 17 days past his ninety-fourth birthday, the Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper of August 30, 1956 reported Andrew’s death on Tuesday August 21, 1956. Andrew lived on in the memories of those of us who had known him, but it took a Summerville history group to give new life and add much more to his story. The Summerville, Pennsylvania Story Project, organized to bring together anyone interested in helping to write a book on the history of Summerville, drew many of the residents, including myself. Many subjects were discussed and numerous times our memories of Andrew were brought up.
One serendipitous day, Ray Ohl said, “Did you know that Andrew was in the army?” This sparked my interest, since I was working on the book’s chapter on the military. I am a member of Ancestry.com, so as soon as I got a chance I went to the site and typed in Andrew’s name. I was very excited when I found his death certificate. All the pertinent information was new to me that day: where and when he was born and his occupation. In addition, there was an amazing discovery on the back of the certificate personally filled out and signed by Dock Harris, a Summerville resident and friend of Andrew’s. Andrew Baker was in the 9th Calvary Regiment, U.S. Army, from November 20, 1886 – November 19, 1891.
The discovery of Andrew’s death certificate answered many questions, but raised many more questions and a desire to know more. Peggy Ohl, another member of the Summerville Story Project, searched through old newspapers and found several articles that gave us some insight into Andrew’s interests as well as dates and other important facts.
A Brookville American newspaper article from July 11th, 1940 stated, “Andy Baker, a colored man of Summerville, is thanking fortune he had on a straw hat at the Brookville – Summerville game in “Troy” (original name of Summerville) the morning of the 4th of July. His straw hat was knocked off and badly crushed in from the foul tip, shot from the bat of a Summerville player, but Andy’s skull was saved, much to the relief of the crowd. A character in the stands, known as a Dutchman shouted, ‘People should stand away closer.’
Naturally, we wondered, where was Andrew buried? Since we knew he had lived on the Dock Harris farm which linked him with their family, and I knew where the Harris family’s grave lots were, snice they are very close to my family’s grave lots. A Jeffersonian Democrat newspaper article, dated July 12, 1956 stated that he was in the Spanish American War (though mistakenly, since the Spanish American War was in 1898, seven years after Andrew was discharged from the Army), so, we went looking for a bronze military flag marker from that war. The only marker for the Spanish American War was next to an unreadable primitive headstone next to Dock Harris’s grave and headstone. Coincidence? I think not. A call to Dock Harris’s wife Alice confirmed, yes, Andrew was a good friend of the family and Dock graciously had him buried in one of their lots.
My husband, Tim, and I thought it was a good idea to see if we could get Andrew a new headstone. We knew that the Veteran’s Administration would provide a headstone to any veteran that didn’t have a proper headstone. The process began through Brookville’s Veteran’s Affair’s office. I shared Andrew’s story with Cheryl Furlong, wife of our local funeral director, Greg Furlong. Cheryl had experience working with the Veteran’s Affairs office to acquire headstones for veterans who had passed away. The first try at getting a headstone was turned down as they needed more proof of Andrew’s service.
I went back to Ancestry.com, searching page after page until I found Andrew’s enlistment and discharge information from the National Archives. I took this additional information to the new Jefferson County Veteran’s Affairs Director, Krupa Steele. This time we were successful, thanks in no small part to Krupa and her expertise and interest in our quest.
After I found Andrew’s enlistment and discharge information, I had much more to go on to learn more about Andrew’s life. According to the document, Andrew enlisted in the army in Caroline County, Virginia on November 20, 1886 at the age of 23 and he listed his occupation as a stevedore. A stevedore is one who works at or is responsible for loading and unloading ships in port.
So, then I wondered what port he might have worked at? Port Royal Virginia is in Caroline County, Virginia and it is a shopping port on the Rappahannock River. In the 1880’s it was a very busy port for the transportation of people and goods. It certainly is a possibility that Port Royal Virginia is the town Andrew lived in and worked as a stevedore.
At the end of the U.S. Civil War the U.S. Army reorganized and authorized the formation of two segregated regiments of black cavalry (the 9th and 10th US Cavalry).
No one knows for certain why, but the soldiers of the all black 9th and 10th Cavalry Regiments were dubbed “buffalo soldiers” by the Native Americans they encountered. One theory claims the nickname arose because the soldiers’ dark curly hair resembled the fur of a buffalo. Another assumption is the soldiers fought so valiantly and fiercely that the Indians revered them as they did the mighty buffalo. Whatever the reason, the name stuck, and African American regiments formed in 1866, became know as buffalo soldiers.
The buffalo soldiers were known for their courage and discipline. Drunkenness, especially widespread in the army, was rare among them. In a period when nearly a third of white enlistees deserted, the black soldiers had the U.S. Army’s lowest desertion and court martial rates. In nearly thirty years of frontier service, buffalo soldiers took part in almost two hundred major and minor engagements.
When Andrew Baker arrived at Fort Robinson, Nebraska the fort had been enlarged and military training was a major activity. The 9th Calvary’s main tasks were to help control the Native American of the Plains, capture cattle rustlers and thieves and protect settlers, stagecoaches, wagon trains and railroad work crews building the ever-expanding railroads along the western front.
The years that Andrew Baker was stationed at Fort Robinson, Nebraska, were near the end of the Indian Wars. The 9th Calvary’s troops were sent out on regular patrols during his time there. This was the period when the Ghost Dance religion had spread among the Sioux and raiser their hopes that the ghosts of their ancestors would return and bring with them the buffalo that had disappeared because of the white man’s hunting them to near extinction. The newly appointed agent at the Pine Ridge Indian Reservation over-reacted to the unrest among the Sioux and called for the army to provide protection for himself and his staff. On December 29, 1890, troops were sent to the reservation to disarm the Indians. A series of unfortunate misunderstandings on both sides ended in a bloody massacre of the Indians at Wounded Knee Creek, including women and children. The 9th Calvary reportedly wasn’t involved in the massacre, but their troops were patrolling the area during the tragedy and were stationed there afterward, until March 1891.
Tensions were high and the next day after the Wounded Knee Massacre on December 30, a 9th Calvary supply wagon train was attached by fifty Sioux; they were rescued by another 9th Calvary troop. That same day a troop from the 7th Calvary was ambushed and pinned down by Lakota Sioux warriors and it seemed they would meet the same fate as the 7th Calvary and George Custer at the Little Big Horn fourteen years earlier. A battalion of 9th Cavalry Troopers was scouting near the White River, and after hearing the news of the Wounded Knee incident, they rode all night in the cold of winter and arrived just in time to drive out the Lakota. The 9th Calvary was given high praise by newspapers across the country for saving the 7th Calvary from certain defeat.
These were the final clashes with the Sioux, and the Indian Wars finally came to an end. A truce was agreed upon on January 15, 1891.
On November 19, 1891, Andrew Baker was honorably discharged from the U.S. Army at Fort Robinson, Nebraska as a private; with good character. Little is known about his life after his discharge from the army until he showed up in Summerville in 1929. Andrew’s death notice in the Brookville American newspaper, dated August 30, 1956, said he was married once; he had no survivors. His occupation listed on his death certificate is day laborer, at age ninety-four. I’d say he was anything but a “Lazy Bones”. Maybe someday we’ll learn more about this remarkable man that has amazed us with his adventurous life.
After we received the beautiful headstone for Andrew from the Veterans Administration, the Furlong Funeral Home installed it at the Vandervort Cemetery just outside of Summerville. On Memorial Day, May 27, 2019 we held a memorial service at Andrew’s gravesite. Mark Harris, son of Dock Harris, spoke a few words about Andrew and his friendship with the Harris family. Mark Harris gave the benediction and the Honor Guard from the American Legion from Brookville performed a 21-gun salute.
In closing, I offer a tribute to Summerville and to Andrew Washington Baker, posted on Facebook, by Leon Davis:
I want to thank the residents of Summerville, the little town I grew up in, for honoring our veterans. I especially like what you did for Andrew Baker. I would like to share a story concerning Mr. Baker. When I was little (I was 11 when Mr. Baker passed away) I used to play in our back yard which was located next to the Pennsylvania RR tracks. Many times, I watched Mr. Baker walking along the tracks with a nap sack attached to a pole. I suppose this is how he did his shopping. I had no idea what his name was at the time. As he walked by, I would yell to him ‘Hello Lazy Bones’ (never knew where that name came from). He would respond in a very deep voice ‘Hello Lazy Bones.’ We would both laugh and wave. Through your efforts, I now know the history of Trooper Baker and am glad I knew him, even though I knew nothing about him when I was so young. The next time I visit Summerville, I have all intentions of visiting his grave and say a loving prayer for my friend ‘Lazy Bones.’
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