John T. Dibble

John T. Dibble was born October 9, 1836, in Schoharie County, New York, the son of Harry and Mary (Wood, b. 1814).

John’s parents were probably married sometime before 1831 and probably in New York. In any case, by 1850 John was working as a laborer and living with his mother and siblings in Gilboa, Schoharie County, New York.

John eventually left New York and moved to Muskegon, Muskegon County, Michigan, in 1857, coming, he said in 1887, “over from Grand Haven to Ferrysburg and from there in J.D.’s stage to Muskegon. The stage consisted of a lumber wagon with boards across for seats and without any springs. The road lay through the swamp between [Muskegon] and Grand Haven. We plunged along through the swamp until we had got very near Black Creek, there we went into a water hole 2-3 feet deep, which was too much fore iron and wood to stand and our axle tree broke and we went down into the water and from there we walked to Muskegon.”

While in Muskegon Dibble worked at a variety of occupations in the late 1850s including running a stage line between Muskegon and Grand Haven, and by 1860 he was a sawyer living and working the Muskegon area.

John stood 5’10” with blue eyes, sandy hair and a fair complexion and was 24 years old and still living in Muskegon County when he enlisted at the age of 24 in Company H on May 10, 1861 -- he may also have been related to either Austin Dibble of Company K or James Dibble of Company H. (Company H, formerly the “Muskegon Rangers”, was made up largely of men from the vicinity of Muskegon and Newaygo counties.)

In early February of 1862 John was wounded. According to Captain Emery Bryant of Company H, Dibble “was wounded in the arm while on picket duty near Pohick Church, Virginia,” on February 4, 1862, and he was discharged on March 6, 1862, at Camp Michigan, Virginia, due to the “amputation of his left arm at the middle of the humerus, made necessary in consequence of . . . the accidental discharge of a fire-lock in the hands of a comrade while on picket duty. . . .” Dan Crotty of Company F wrote some years after the war that Dibble had lost his arm “from an accidental shot fired by one of our own men.”

After being discharged from the army, on his way back to Michigan John stopped off at Rome, New York to apply for a pension. He then went on to Chicago where he married New York native Alida “Lida” A. Boyles (1845-1892) on October 23, 1862 or 1864, and they had at least two children: Orin E. (b. 1867) and Claude H. (b. 1869).

They returned to Muskegon where John and his wife boarded with Burnett Ripley, a prewar friend of Dibble’s, through the winter of 1862-63. By 1870 they were living in the First Ward in Muskegon where John worked as a jobber.

John worked for many years as an independent contractor, house mover, builder and salvage worker in the Muskegon area. It is possible that he was the same John Dibble who in 1868-69 was working as a blacksmith -- with one arm -- for Chubb, Stewart and Luther Co., in Grand Rapids and residing near Water Street. In any case, he was working as a jobber and living with his wife and two sons in Muskegon’s First Ward. In 1880 he was employed as a building mover and was living with his wife and children in Muskegon’s First Ward, Muskegon County; also living with them was John’s brother Daniel. Indeed, he probably lived his entire life in the Muskegon area, excepting the years he served in the army. He was appointed a deputy sheriff for Muskegon County in 1881.

John was a member of Old Third Michigan Infantry Association as well as Grand Army of the Republic Kearny Post No. 7 in Muskegon, a charter member of Grand Army of the Republic Dix Post No. 9 in Hesperia, Oceana County, and he received pension no. 10,085, drawing $24.00 per month in 1883 for the loss of his arm.

On November 30, 1882, John was drowned in Lake Michigan off Grand Haven by the capsizing of the Schooner J. T. Martin. According to one contemporary report, Dibble

The particulars of the sad affair are as follows: Mr. Dibble had the job of getting the schooner off the beach, and on the last day of work, which was Thursday, the men began work at 2 a.m., and had so far succeeded that by 9 o'clock the vessel was pulled off by a tug. In order to avoid the piers, or to be again washed on the beach, the tug took the schooner in a semi-circular cruise out about a mile and half outside the channel. In this the tug succeeded all right, but in attempting to pull the schooner round to head her into the channel, a heavy sea struck her and threw her clear over on her side.

The capsizing is attributed to two causes: 1st, The fact that the schooner was leaking badly and was water-logged, and 2nd to the lurch given to her by the tug in making too quick a turn; but the fact that the Martin lay broadside to a heavy sea in a badly demoralized condition had probably as much to do with the disaster as either of the other causes given. When she went over there were seven men on board as follows: John Dibble, F. D. Demmings, and Hoyt (Martin's agent) of Muskegon, the two Shine brothers, and two Holland sailors, of Grand Haven.

F. K. Demmings, of Muskegon, who narrowly escaped drowning, gave our reporter the following: After relating how they had pitched up the holes in the Martin with canvass, and how she was towed out into the lake as given above,

Mr. Demmings said: “John Dibble stood at the after cable steering, and when she tipped over he slid out into the lake. When the vessel sunk [sic], a sea washed him close to where I was clinging to the rigging and he reached out his hand which I seized. I drew him up so that he got hold of the signal halyards, but he had scarcely been there a moment when a big sea came and washed him off. A second time he came and I caught him again by the hand and drew him up to the main rigging, and while there I think he had the presence of mind to tie himself with a line, as his body was afterward found at the end of this line. I saw him all the time and he never said a word, but as he held up his hand, he looked me in the face with a look that I will never forget. It is a wonder that any of us escaped. The sea was very heavy, and the wrecked vessel was at its mercy -- at one time raised high up and the next moment down deep into the water, but almost every sea would wash over the half-frozen men clinging to the rigging. “When she capsized I pulled off my overcoat and threw it into the lake; as did Hoyt. The last I remember before becoming unconscious, I was lying with my breast on the rigging clinging by my arms, with the unknown Hollander hanging onto my legs. It was the Hollander and myself, as I afterwards learned, who were the nearest drowned of any on the vessel who escaped. I must have been dragged off the wreck with a hook thrown by the life-saving crew, as my clothes show where the hook caught me. We were in the water three hours, owing to the high sea the Life Saving Crew could not get near us. My Holland neighbor on the wreck and myself were taken to the station, and when I came to, I found them slapping and rubbing me. My Holland friend they pumped out, and of course we would both have been dead long before this if the men at the Life Saving Station had not worked with us. My hands were badly frozen to the rigging, and I am now suffering from them.”

Mr. Demmings lost all the money he had and his clothes and he is now hard up and unable to work. His family needs assistance.

John’s body was returned to Muskegon and the funeral services took place at 2:00 p.m. on Sunday at the Universalist Church. The pallbearers were his old Third Michigan comrades William L. Ryan, Daniel G. Crotty, Thomas J. Waters, Samuel D. Murray, George Hubbard and Christian Schmidt.

His obituary described Dibble as “a well-known builder and a straightforward and energetic citizen, who was highly respected by all who knew him.” John was buried on December 3 in Evergreen cemetery, Muskegon: 3-4-2.

Shortly after John’s death Lida applied for a pension (no. 302693), but the certificate was never granted. She was still living in Muskegon in 1883 and in 1890 at 37 E. Muskegon Street.