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John William Stein – Part 4 – New Religion

September 20, 2011

Back in the USA — A Mystery Child

John W Stein and Lillie Stein returned to the USA with their family in 1898.  In the United States Census for 1900, the Steins are recorded living on N. Washington Avenue in Battle Creek City, Calhoun County, Michigan, where John Stein worked as a Journalist.

The Stein household is listed as: JW Stein and Lillian May Stein, with children Ellsworth Lee Stein, age 7 and Selma Stein, age 5. Both children, born outside the USA in British Columbia, are listed as immigrating in 1898. A third child resided with the Steins—a girl, Ada Marshall, age 16. She is listed as a boarder, and she was born in Indiana, also Lillian’s birthplace.

There is a mystery in the Census data. Lillian declares having given birth to three children— all still living—but who is the third child? Could it refer to John William Stein Junior, who also lived with his father and Lillian in Canada? Or could it refer to Ada Marshall, living with them now? Or another? Press reports following the elopement of John W Stein and Delila Tombaugh in 1881, suggested they had subsequently had a child in the USA, before moving to Canada in 1883. However, this child was not recorded in the Canadian Census when the Steins resided at Brownsville.

1900 US Census Battle Creek Click this thumbnail to open a page from the  US Census 1900, Battle Creek, Michigan and view the record for John William Stein and household on Washington Ave.

Penning and Proselytizing:  Seventh-Day Adventism the New Cause

Resident at Battle Creek, Michigan, John W Stein began submitting work for a number of journals associated with the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, one of which, The Advent Review & Sabbath Herald, was published at Battle Creek.

An example of work below the name “John Wm Stein” is a poem entitled “Everywhere” which appeared on the front page of the Review & Herald for September 17, 1901.

Everywhere” – including the front page of the Review & Herald

JW Stein was  involved in publishing and selling his own work, as he had done some years previous with The Stein – Ray Debate. An ad offers a book of poetry entitled “Crystals of Life, by John William Stein.”

Ad-for-JW-Stein-book-of-poetry Book blurb –“A beautiful new book of poems of rare merit.  Its themes are natural, rational, and religious.””The author, who prefers to handle his own publication, needs three hundred subscribers yet to cover the cost of publication.”Crystals of Life – A book of poems by John William Stein.

Stein gives his address as 282 N. Washington Ave., Battle Creek, Michigan, but it is evident he travelled widely in mission service for the Adventist church. A September 1904 report from Winchester, Kentucky credits Bro John Wm Stein with the organization of a new church there in the fall of 1903 and the summer of 1904. In such a cause, it is likely his preaching prowess, suppressed during his Canadian sojourn, came once again to the fore.

To the North Coast: John William Stein living and dead in Bella Coola Valley

How many years John W Stein lived and worked in the USA has not yet come to light, but what is certain is that by 1907 he had returned to British Columbia and was living in the remote Bella Coola valley, four hundred miles up the coast from Vancouver.

Stein lived nearby to a colony of Norwegian settlers, in a community of Seventh-Day Adventists called Sloan.

Sloan, as described in the BC Directory of towns, was very isolated. There was no road at that time, only a steep winding trail down from the Chilcotin Plateau.  The nearest railway was at Vancouver, 410 miles distant.  The nearest telegraph was at Port Simpson, 250 miles up the coast. Service and supplies came in by boat. Sloan was at the upper end of the Bella Coola Valley, about 20 miles from Bella Coola, which itself lies at the head of a long inlet from the Pacific Ocean.

According to Bella Coola historian Peter Solhjell, John William Stein arrived with John Hober and Ford Dodds in 1906, the founding year of the settlement. There is no mention of other family members accompanying him to Sloan, as far as known by Solhjell —

“He was fondly spoken of as Mr Stein, by the Astleford family. The cabin he lived in is now gone and the property is part of one of the largest cattle farms in the valley. I can remember the cabin still there in the 1950’s.”

A Post Office was opened in Sloan on November 1, 1907 and John William Stein was the first Postmaster there. Running a Post Office brings in your neighbours, and though living alone, Stein would not lack company. Stein had also bought land and established a homestead.

Stein-in-Directory-Sloan Sloan
”A post office on Sec 28, Tp 8, Rg 3, in the Comox-Atlin district, provincial electoral division of Essington. Located in the Bella Coola Valley, 410 miles north of Vancouver. The nearest telegraph is Port Simpson or Fort Frazier, 250 miles distant, and the nearest railway is Vancouver. Has Seventh Day Adventist mission. Mails semi-monthly.
Postmaster — J W Stein”

After just two years here in the upper end of the Bella Coola valley, hemmed in by mountains,  much-travelled John William Stein died on March 13, 1908.

On his death certificate, neighbour Frank A Johnson identifies Stein as a native of Roanoke, Virginia, USA. His age was noted as ‘”66 years and one month.”  Stein is stated to have been sick for about six months from a supposed abdominal tumor or cancer. Peter Solhjell believes Stein died in the home the Johnson family, who lived about a mile from him.

Stein was still in charge of the Post Office at the time of his death, and it closed in April 1908. A Post Office was re-opened at Sloan in January the following year, under John W Hober.

In a truly beautiful setting, it is unfortunately not possible to find Stein’s grave today. According to Peter Solhjell:

“The Seventh Day community had a cemetery of their own just a half mile from Mr. Stein’s place and I am sure he was buried there as he is not in the other local cemetery. There were only about five or six graves there and a flood tore most of it away.”

It is a finely situated resting place for John William Stein.  It seemed he was always abiding beside a winding river, or along a winding road, as indeed his life story has many twists and turns. His one constant strength was his ability to inspire and make a firm foundation.

In the springs, the brooks, the rills,
In the valleys and the hills,
In the incidence of sound,
In the echoes which rebound ”

Excerpt from “Everywhere” by John Wm Stein

The Last Will and Testament of John William Stein of Sloan, BC

There is no date on The Last Will and Testament of John William Stein of Sloan, Bella Coola Valley B.C.  However, as both his handwriting and his signature have evolved, it is likely it was written when he was old and near death.  It  is a curious document.

The will appoints EM Phelps and FA Johnson as Executors. Both were neighbors at Sloan. Phelps, according to Peter Solhjell, was a teacher.

First the will provides for the sale of some twenty acres of land at Sloan to “Bro F Dodds” at a fixed price of $2.50 per acre. (Ford Dodds arrived with Stein in 1906, the year the settlement took root.)  Dodds also signed the will as one of the witnesses.

The rest of his property Stein bequeaths

“to the British Columbia Seventh Day Adventist Conference in fee simple to be used for the purposes of an industrial school for the training of Bible workers.”

In the event the school is not needed by the Conference locally, then it is to be used to fund foreign missions.

Scant attention is given to Stein’s family, to whom he was devoted. Only two children are noticed, and they rather as an afterthought, in that, if the money is used to start a school,

“and the whereabouts of my son Ellsworth Lee & my daughter Selma should ever be discovered by the trustees of the school, that they be extended all the educational privileges connected with that institution that can be considered practical by the school board.”

It is possible John Stein had another will in the USA or had taken care of his family there before leaving for Bella Coola. Still, the wording of the will is rather odd, and one would think Stein could give particulars as to the whereabouts of his family.

Shown below are two exhibits of Stein’s rather distinctive signature from the 1894 registrations of his two children born at Brownsville BC, and below those the signature on his will of 1908.

JW-Stein-signature-1894 Jno-W-Stein-signature-1894
Signature of J W Stein 1894 Signature of Jno W Stein 1894
Signature of Jno Wm Stein 1908

In the summer of 1912, Bella Coola received a visit from the President of the British Columbia Conference of the Seventh-Day Adventist Church, JG Walker, who reported on his trip as “An Eventful Visit.” While in the Valley, Walker determined the Church had no use for Bro Stein’s property as an educational institution.

“Some time ago Brother Stein died leaving his estate of 112 acres to the educational work, subject to the will of the Bella Coola church. While we were there the church turned this estate over to the conference unqualifiedly for educational work, to be place on the market as soon as possible. It is a valuable property, but will be sold at a reasonable price.”                       -Western Canadian Tidings, September 4, 1912

What became of John W Stein’s family from British Columbia

Information as to the later lives of the Steins can only be given here in sketchy detail. Hopefully more information will can be made available, dependent on family concerns.
Lillian May Stein, 49 years of age and widowed, was living at Corning, Tehama County, California in 1910. As recorded by the US Census, the family name was spelled Stine. Living at home were the two children Ellsworth Stine, 17, and Selma Stine, 15, both born at Brownsville, in British Columbia, Canada.

The California Death Index records that Lillian May Stein died December 30, 1941 at Los Angeles, aged 80 years. Her birthdate given as March 11, 1861. What an interesting life was hers.

What became of Stein’s book of poems

It is not known if the book of poems advertised by John William Stein in 1901 is anywhere available. A search of libraries turned up nothing.

And could John William Stein have published a book of poems while living at Brownsville? If any place was conducive to writing poetry, it surely would have been Mud Bay in the 1880’s or Brownsville in the 1890’s — and certainly no man had a mind more tuned to a muse than John William Stein.

An advertisement placed in a religious journal, as late as 1932, suggests such a book of poetry can be found, and perhaps it can . . .

Wanted: A copy of J. W. Stein’s poems, published about 1889.

Keep Thy Heart


The memory may be at fault,
The understanding go astray;
The judgement may be in default,
The will be bankrupt—can not pay;
But if man’s courage still is strong,
If all his purposes are true,
He still may live and labor long,
And to the end at last endure.
Then take good courage and be strong;
Determine to do well thy part;
Gladden thy way with cheerful song,
Move on and upward, —‘keep thy heart.’

Excerpt from Keep Thy Heart by John William Stein



John William Stein — Acknowledgements and References

Many thanks to the Archivist and Manchester College for providing copies of much material from the JW Stein Papers in their collection:   J.W. Stein Papers, MC2003/119, Archives and Brethren Historical Collection, Funderburg Library, Manchester College, North Manchester, Indiana. This is the source of the Stein-Cassel correspondence and material collected by George Heeter, Grover Thomas, and Russell L. Chatham, who diligently researched and assembled material relating to JW Stein and the Tombaugh family.

Article ‘John William Stein’  in The Brethren Encyclopaedia

Mount Morris Past and Present

Memories of Old Sandstone

Brethren Digital Archives

Seventh-Day Adventist Church Online Archives

Thanks to Peter Solhjell for his notes on JW Stein and other pioneers at Sloan,BC  and the settlements in the Bella Coola Valley.  For more on Bella Coola valley history see:

Spuds among the stumps : Norwegian immigrant settlement photos, Bella Coola, 1896-1897 / compiled by Peter Solhjell ; photographs by Simon Oleson Bangen.

Local newspapers relied upon include the British Columbian of New Westminster and the News Advertiser of Vancouver BC.

For more historical information about Brownsville,  JW Stein’s home for the years 1888 to about 1898, please refer to other posts on this blog.

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