Betty (Beeson) Miller

At the risk of being dramatic, this story involves the second generation of dark times so you might want to bail after the photo from 1954. I’m not enjoying this portion of the family archives.

Ida Elizabeth Beeson was born on May 28, 1907 to Merritt and Mary (Douthitt) Beeson. She was named after her grandmothers, Ida (Gause) Beeson and Elizabeth (Fetterman) Douthitt, and always went by Betty. I covered a lot of Betty’s early childhood in the post about Mary linked above and the one about her stepmother, Beth (Schaetzel) Beeson.

Betty’s mother left her for the first time when she was not quite three years old. This unstable sort of limbo continued for more than two years so she became very close with her extended family. Everyone pitched in to make Betty’s life as normal as possible. Although she had women in her life who regularly dressed her in ruffles, Betty was a tomboy. She went hunting and fishing and loved riding horses.

Betty was very involved socially. She entertained the children of performers at the Chalk Beeson Theater and introduced them to her friends. Even as a very young child, she was included in the grown-up dinner parties and traveled with her grandmother and Uncle Ote. Ida had a cottage near Evergreen, Colorado and Betty loved spending time there during the summers.

Her half-sister (and my grandmother), Irene, was born in March of 1921 when Betty was fourteen. Because of the significant age difference and their very different personalities, Betty and Irene weren’t close.

Betty was as outgoing as Irene was reserved. She was involved in everything and really seemed comfortable with the family’s role in the community. If there was a parade, Betty was probably leading it on this horse. He actually looks pretty chill here. Most of the photos show him with his ears back and Betty in mid-kick.

Here they are (far left) with the Dodge City Cowboy Band in October of 1922 when Betty led the Santa Fe Trail Parade of Progress. Ote (just to the right of the horse holding the trombone) led the band that day. Merritt is holding the band sign.

Betty was an honor student who participated in the French Club, Chorus, Glee Club, and “Gypsy Rover” (operetta). She won several typing contests. Her yearbook caption one year said, “Her wit is the spice of conversation.”

Betty dated Nevin Lyon in high school and they were married (the first time) at his parents’ home on July 20, 1925, shortly after her eighteenth birthday. The house was at 1102 West Chestnut Street (Wyatt Earp Boulevard) and I think they were living with Nevin’s parents. For context, there is currently a Love’s with a Godfather’s Pizza at that address.

In the 1920s, Betty worked at the Harvey House restaurant and Ford County Courthouse. I’m not completely clear on the dates but Betty was listed in the paper as Mrs. Nevin Lyon on Oct 9, 1930. They divorced not long after that and then she married him again on September 29, 1932, this time at St. Cornelius’ Episcopal Church.

Betty moved to McPherson around 1934, after divorcing Nevin the second time, and that’s where she met Marvin “Red” Miller. Red was working for his uncle’s road construction company at the time.

They were married in Wichita on October 8, 1936. Betty followed Red around to job sites all over Kansas and all the way down into Texas.

Betty completed a cosmetology course in about 1932 and that is how she met her close friend, Nelle Ramsey. Nelle was President of the Kansas Cosmetologists Association and survived some extremely trying circumstances.

Nelle Ramsey and Betty – Photo by Otero Beeson

I believe that car in the background is a 1935 Hudson Terraplane. Here’s a better image:

This is probably my favorite photo of Betty. Stylish but also potentially lethal! Also, she loved her Hudsons!

A son, Michael Beeson Miller, was born on January 3, 1942. Not long after, the family relocated to Dodge and Red was working on road and runway construction at the Army Air Field. They lived in a house on Merritt’s property behind the Big House during this time. After the air field was finished, Merritt gave Red and Betty a big chunk of land that included the sand pit located on Marshall Way east of South 14th Avenue.

Dodge City’s Diamond Jubilee Souvenir, 1947, published by the Dodge City Chamber of Commerce

Betty gave birth to a stillborn son in November of 1945 and then daughter Vee Ann was born on August 31, 1946. When Merritt built the new museum and residence on South Second Avenue in 1950, Betty and her family moved into the Big House.

This was an extremely busy time for Betty. She helped with the business, was raising children, and apparently cleaned that gigantic house herself while restoring furniture and participating in all of the things. In this post about the Big House, I included a newspaper story from December of 1952 that featured the house and all of the activities.

This photo is really amazing to me. C. E. Haterius joined Ote’s military band during WWI and wrote a book about his experiences. So here he is with Nelle and Betty nearly a decade after Ote’s death. They were all extremely tight.

Betty always had dogs and she didn’t seem to have a type. Sometimes, they were larger like these two and others were little snack-sized dogs.

Back porch of the Big House, 1954

Merritt died in January of 1956 and then the family was dealt another blow later that year. Betty died by suicide on July 8, 1956 at the age of 49.

Nevin’s parents attended the funeral. Sadly, Nevin had passed away in February of 1956 at the age of 50.

I’m not really sure how far to go with this. It’s not entirely true that Betty was alone in the house. Nine-year-old Vee Ann had been sent outside to hang the laundry on the line. She ran back inside to ask her mom a question and never recovered from that decision.

Vee Ann was extremely diligent in her search for answers. The obituary indicated Betty had been ill for some time and Vee Ann requested her medical records in the early 1990s to get more information. I quizzed Irene about all of this for decades and she mentioned the word “cancer” in one of her letters. I’ve reviewed the entire file Vee Ann received from the Dodge City Medical Center and I found no reference to cancer at all.

What I did find were numerous appointments for pain management and a diagnosis of lumbar myositis. This can be brought on by pneumonia and indeed, Betty was diagnosed about three weeks after being hospitalized with pneumonia. She had fallen several times and lack of coordination is a common symptom.

Based on her complaints, I can tell you she had been suffering from anxiety for years and was having regular panic attacks with the customary physical symptoms including vomiting and dizziness. They said she had “acute tension syndrome.” Clinical notes included the phrase “nervous as a cat.” I guess she was lucky they didn’t diagnose her with “hysteria.”

You’re probably wondering if Betty left a note and yes, she did. It didn’t explain her choice and based on the subtext, I can only assume Red understood. I am absolutely certain her children did not.

This is how Vee Ann recorded the family’s first Christmas without Betty.

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4 thoughts on “Betty (Beeson) Miller

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  1. Red managed my grandmother’s farm after my grandad died (Condy and Edna McDowell). He was one of the nicest men that I ever met. He was very patient with me and spent time with me after my dad died.


    1. Red was my mom’s favorite person in the whole world. I was born a couple weeks before he died and she still regrets not getting around to taking me by his house. Thanks so much for reading!


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