The Tillman and Coffey Families

Countless stories have been told and documented about the early pioneers of Kiowa County. Men, women and their families tracked across the Great Plains on foot, horseback, covered wagons or anything they could with virtually nothing but the absolute necessities (some without) with one thing in mind; a new start and perhaps a prosperous one. Some stayed and prospered others didn’t.

There were dismal droughts, fierce storms, hostile Indian bands, outlaws, insensitive cattlemen and hardened cowboys to deal with. Hard work was the main staple in their lives and there was never a shortage of that. But, two things that greatly contributed to broken dreams and extracted such heavy tolls were fire and disease. Fire and epidemics are enveloped within the history of Kiowa County and in particular to the history of Hobart.

Little did Joseph Benjamin Moss dream when he brought his wife Mary and seven children (Prince, James, Dona, Arthur, Fred, Nick, and Eva) from bleak existence in Batesville, Arkansas circa 1905, that fire and disease was to intertwine the Moss’s with two other pioneering families, the Tillman’s and the Coffey’s.

John William Tillman Sr. arrived in Hobart a widower from Florida with his son, John William Jr. (Bill) circa 1908. He set up his farm 9 miles south of town.

Thomas C. Coffey arrived in Hobart circa 1903 with his wife Beulah, their four children from Texas and set up a farm about eight miles south of town near the Babb Switch location. Thus, he neighbored the Eden’s, the Moss’s, the Tillman’s and the Hobbs to name a few.
The Mosses, the Tillmans and the Coffeys farmed their lands and through hard work began to reap the benefits and did prosper for a while.

Then, in 1914, the first of a series of tragedies occurred; little Arthur Moss at the age of twelve injured his hand on bailing wire, contracted blood poisoning, and after one month of suffering, passed away.

Soon after, in the epidemic of 1918, Nora (8), Donald (9), and James Moss (29) contacted measles which developed into pneumonia and died, thus joining little Arthur.

Pretty Dona, who married neighbor Bill Tillman in 1913, had a baby girl named Vinnie in 1917. Vinnie also died in the 1918 epidemic. Dona gave birth to Helen E. Tillman in February of 1918 but Dona contacted appendicitis in 1919, and sadly, did not come through the operation. Thus Helen was the only survivor from the Tillman and Moss marriage.

After two years of mourning, Bill re-married, this time to the lovely and shy Ina Pearl Coffey. Four children were born to Bill and Ina between 1921 and 1927. First Harley, then Gracie and finally the twins John W. Tillman III and Billie Jean.

Tragically Bill unexpectedly passed away in Sept. 1926, before Ina could ever tell him she was expecting twins.

Helen E. Tillman, after her mother Dona’s death, had been taken by her grandparents Joe and Mary Moss. Bill Tillman had intended to bring her back to live with him but his untimely death prevented that.
Two years prior to Bill Tillman’s death, fire dealt the Coffey’s a horrible blow when the infamous Babb-Switch school fire took Ina’s Father, Mother, and two sisters and two brothers. Thus with her husband’s death, there were no men left to run the Tillman or Coffey farms. Ironically, it was fire that had finally bankrupted the Moss’s. Joseph Moss lost his restaurant named the Busy Bee and a rooming house in the 4th St. fire. He had lost his farm to the fire shortly before that.

Thus, Joe Moss took his remaining family (Helen Tillman, Eugene and Eva Moss to Oklahoma City looking for a new start. Lonely Ina (Coffey) Tillman moved to Norman Oklahoma. Ethel (Coffey) Christian moved to South Dakota and Mattie (Coffey) Bills moved to California looking for the same thing.

Within a matter of ten years, disease and fire had taken their toll and the Mosses, the Tillmans and the Coffeys had vanished from Kiowa county.

Although none of their descendents presently live in Kiowa County, they are well represented in Oklahoma, California, Oregon and South Dakota.

To this day they speak of and remember their pioneering ancestors with pride and cherish their heritage.

No, these families did not remain nor prosper in Kiowa County, but they did make their marked in its history and left fourteen of their loved ones to rest in the Hobart Rose Cemetery.

This family history was submitted by Betty Barnard , a great grand daughter of the Coffey family that perished in the Babbs Fire. This information remains the property of Ms. Barnard.

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Web Page October 26, 2006
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