Chapter 19 - Great-Uncle Henry, Showman


The Charter-Hemphill Story


Chapter 19

"Doc" Fountain on his cart pulling pony

Great-Aunt Louisa “Toots” Charter, thirty-three-years-old and possibly afraid of spending her life alone, or just as likely, bored with farm-life in a dull, small rural town, married the flamboyant showman and snake-oil salesman, forty-eight-year-old “Doc” Fountain. They were married in Forest City, Winnebago, Iowa in 1895. He was decidedly different and entertaining.

He was born Henry Jacob Fountain in Rochester, New York in 1844. (Coincidently, John and Frances lived in the same area until 1818, the first record of the Fountians in there is 1844).

Golden Ghost Show. H. J. Fountain and his first wife, Marie pictured in front his ensamble and audience

Doc’s father, Levi Fountain was a civil war veteran who served in the Wisconsin 33rd Infantry Regiment. He and his family relocated to Iowa after being mustered out of the army in 1863 when his son Henry was sixteen. His mother Elizabeth “Eliza” Moore Riker, born in New York City and baptised in the Northwest Dutch Church (Madison Avenue Reformed Church). She was a descendant of the Dutch Rykers (Rycken), one-time owners of Rikers Island.

Elizabeth Riker, ran a saloon in Mitchell, Iowa.

At some point, Henry Fountian became the elixer seller. Traveling from town to town in the mid-West, first mainly Iowa, he attracted potential customers with an entertaining medicine show, which included trained dog performing tricks, ponies, and piano players. In 1870, at twenty-five years of age, Henry Fountain married Marie Jane Etchison, a twenty-year-old from Indiana. They had four children and together they operate d the medicine show, billed as “Doc Fountain’s Golden Ghost Show.” In 1988 Marie and Henry Fountain separated. Henry left Iowa for Minnesota where he continue his medicne show without Marie. He met Louisa Charter while performing in Redwood Falls and in 1895 they married. Louisa was the sixth of the seven daughters of George and Susan Charter and an older sister to Henry Charter. Five months later, The Redwood Gazette mildly ridiculed Fountain for portraying himself as a Shaker after viewing marriage announcments, declaring “Shakers are not supposed to marry.”

Henry and Marie de la Fountain

My second cousin, Kenneth Charter, whose father knew Fountain, had this to say about “Doc” Fountain in his book on the Charters,

He sold patent medicines and soap in southern Minnesota and in South Dakota. Ever the showman, he often wore a top hat and a long black cape. Sometimes he had long flowing hair, I believe my father [Francis Percy Charter, son of Levi Charter and brother of Louisa] said it was white hair. . . His medicine sales were made from a special small wagon that was drawn by a small pony. His sales efforts were enlivened by a show that he put on with trained dogs. It was a real ‘Dog and Pony Show.’ He often performed in Redwood Falls. My father, F.P. Charter, told me they were given a lot of attention because of Dr. Fountain’s unique appearance. “Toot” Fountain was a nickname for Doc Fountain’s wife Louisa Charter Fountain. It was brought on by her constant talking or tooting.

It is unclear if Henry J. Fountain divorced his first wife before marrying Louisa. It didn’t seem to bother his first wife Maria, as she remarried as well, although it appears her life was not as smooth.

Fig. 1 Letter to the editor

Apparently, the marriage of Louisa to Fountain generated talk among the citizens of Redwood Falls, which distressed Louisa. The result of her distress was a bitter letter to the editor of The Redwood Gazette by Louisa and her brother Henry.(See Fig. 1 from July 4, 1895 issue of The Redwood Gazette.)

“An Oct 20, 1930 newspaper: Mrs. Louisa [Charter] Fountain died on Sunday. She had married Dr. H.J. Fountain in 1896. He had died in 1917. She was survived by a sister Mrs. Emma Thompson of Seattle, Wash. And 2 brothers Levi and Henry D. Charter of Van Nuys, Calif. Louisa had come to Van Nuys in 1921. “Obituary of Louisa [Charter] Fountain, born in 1861 in Minnesota and lived there until her marriage in 1895 to Dr. H.J. Fountain a Shaker doctor and showman. She was left a widow in 1919 and came to Van Nuys in 1921. She is survived . . . [same as above].”

The photos of Doc H. J. Fountain came from an member’s profile of Marie Jane Etchison, his first wife and the woman with him in the photos. They had four children, one being Fred, born 1875 and according to the 1910 U.S. Census, who at thirty-five-years-of-age, is living in the household of Louisa Charter Fountain and H. J. Fountain in Douglas, Minnesota.

Claude Fountain in better days

The real casualty of Fountain’s first marriage appears to be their youngest child, Claude. Born in 1881, he was their youngest child who was first put in foster care and then institutions while both his parents were still alive. His parents separated in 1888 when he was seven. Was he acting-out due to the separation and was unmanageable? We can only speculate. On the 4th of July, 1908, after escaping from jail, drunk and walking on the railroad tracks, Claude was killed after being struck by a locomotive. Was it intentional? Again, we can only speculate.

Minnie Van Horn, the sister who identified Claude's body

Some of the family history, such as his parents separation was most likely provided by Minnie Fountain Van Horn, Claude’s sister, who was seventeen-years-old when her parents separated. She and her husband Walter came to Ames and identified the body. It was shipped to Marshalltown, Iowa and taken from there to northwest Iowa for burial in the family lot. Their grandmother, Eliza Riker Fountain, was operating a saloon in Davenport, Iowa at the time of their separation.

On far right is Fred Fountain, next to him is H. J. Fountain

It appears that when Doc Fountain and his first wife split up, he took Fred with him. He began using H. J. Fountain rather than Henry J. Fountain. What is suspicious about his former wife is that she did not die until 1928 and no record of a divorce has been found. Ten subscribers to list him as an ancestor, eight of those ten show him as having died in 1895, the year he married Louisa Charter./p>

Marie’s last name is listed as, “Atchison” in the 1910 U.S. Census (it should be Etchison, most likely a census-taker’s error). Her marital status is “widow” and head of household; most puzzling, she states having only two children, both living, actually, the question is: 1) number of children, her answer, 2; 2) number of children living, her answer 2. Her father was from Tennessee, the surname Etchison is Scottish, from Berwickshire in the Border Region. Her mother was from North Carolina. They were probably hillbillies.

The following is a time-line for Claude:

Year Where
1880 U.S. Census shows family intact, 2 parents, 3 children, 2 paternal grandparents
1881 Claude is born in Mitchell County, Iowa
1885 Iowa State Census show family intact, 2 parents, 4 children
1888 His parents separate
1890 U.S. Census lost in fire
1895 Henry J. Fountain and Louisa Charter wed
1895 Claude Fountain in foster care setting, age 13
1895 Claude Fountain listed as inmate at Industrial School for Boys, age 13
1900 Claude Fountain listed as inmate at Industrial School for Boys, age 18
1905 No record but it can be assumed he aged out of institutional care
1908 Iowa Death and Burials: Claude died July 4 in Ames, Iowa after escaping jail by “licking” the sheriff.
1910 U.S. Census shows Henry J. Fountain, Louisa Charter Fountain and Fred Fountain as household


CLICK on an image to see it full size

Item 19.1
Henry J. Fountain's marriage to Maria Etchison, 1870, Madison Co., Iowa
Item 19.2
Henry J. Fountain's marriage to Louisa Charter, 1895, Winnebago Co., Iowa. This is a cut and paste of the original due to its large size .

Primary Sources