John Henry Dunn, Son of William Edward Dunn...

And Uncle of William Edward (Bill) Dunn

John Henry Dunn was born in June, 1894, and was known as Jack. His wife’s name was Ruth and they had one child, an adopted daughter, Phyllis Ann. From the perspective of those who emigrated to the U.S. he epitomized the American dream. Consider:

■ His grandparents: Michael and Bridget Grace Dunn were illiterate immigrant Irish-Catholics who arrived here in 1858 during a period of much anti-immigrant and anti-Catholic prejudice. When they married in 1853 he was a "labourer" and she was a lowly washerwoman.

■ His father: In the pioneering railroad industry in the years following the Civil War, Michael and Bridget's son, John’s father William, rose from being a railroad hand - basically a laborer - to become a highly respected officer of the Illinois Southern Railrway Company. He also held other high-level roles in the railroad industry;

■ John subsequently became the president of a far-flung, publicly-held lumber company employing thousands of people - and was a major leader in his community.

It’s a genuine rags-to-riches American success story, one that fascinates me.

John’s obituary provides most of what we know about him. In it, connections to the following names may need clarification: John’s sister, Mrs. Ray Wolf (Helen Dunn Green Wolf) was cousin Mary Green Starasinic’s mother. Francis Dunn was cousin Colleen Dunn Becker’s father and Eugene was my generation’s grandfather.


His Obituary

Chicago Heights Star


Requiem Mass for John Henry (Jack) Dunn, a former resident of Steger, was held August 26 in St. Mary’s Catholic Church, Helena, Ark. Burial was in the church cemetery.

Mr. Dunn, a retired president of the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, died August 24 after suffering a heart attack at his home in suburban Helena.

Mr. Dunn was born in St. Genevieve, Mo., and moved to Steger with his family when he was 3. He lived in Steger until 1917, when he left to work in Chicago. He had lived in Helena since 1934.

Mr. Dunn was president of the Helena Country club, chairman of the board of advisors for the Sacred Heart academy, a member of the Helena hospital board and of the West Helena Chamber of Commerce board.

Survivors include his wife, Ruth; a daughter, Mrs. John Stiefel of Chicago; a sister, Mrs. Ray Wolf of Steger; three brothers, Francis Dunn of Chicago Heights, Edward of Steger and Eugene of Brinkley, Ark.

He was preceded in death by a brother, Stephen, in 1938.”


A couple of things I’ve learned about him from our long-lost cousins:

■ First, it’s interesting to know that his wife, Ruth, was Jewish, and I’m told that his marriage outside the Catholic tradition of the family was a major heartbreak for John’s mother, Josephine.

■ Second, when John’s brother, Eugene, went into a coma and was institutionalized for several years as a result, John paid for Eugene’s care. That lasted until John’s death, and Ruth didn’t continue the payments. Because the rest of the family either couldn’t or wouldn’t pick up the expense, a decision was made to, in effect, “pull the plug”. Even so, Eugene lived for five years after John's death. It's unclear who paid the bills for Eugene's care during that period.


Another little piece of John's history was sent to me by cousin Colleen Dunn Becker. It’s a copy of a postcard, and here’s what Colleen said about it.

“This is a picture, going from left to right, of John Henry Dunn, his wife Ruth Dunn, Louise Seiter Dunn, and her husband Stephen Dunn (John and Stephen were William Edward Dunn’s children). I don’t know where or when this picture was taken except that it is a Christmas card of sorts.”

When I was researching the maternal side of our family tree I saw several examples of photos from this era that were made into postcards. What we have here are the front and back of one such postcard, addressed to “Mrs. J. [Josephine] Dunn". This one has no stamp on it, so it was never mailed.

From the looks of it, these two couples were on a cruise sometime just before Christmas on a ship called the S. S. Dellwood, so I researched it and came up with this:

S. S. Dellwood
Collection Name:
Alaska Steamship Company Collection
Title: SS Dellwood
Description: Title from verso. Verso reads: "one of four ships lost in World War II."
Dudley, Roger
Corporate Name: Dellwood (Ship)
Holding Institution: Alaska and Polar Regions Collections, Elmer E. Rasmuson Library, University of Alaska Fairbanks.; mailto:fyapr@uaf.edu --(907) 474-6594--PO Box 756808, Fairbanks, AK 99775-6808.

That led me to search further, and I found this:

Chronological List of U.S. Ships Sunk or Damaged during 1943
Date: 07/19/43
Ship: Dellwood (USAT)

Type: Cable ship
Cause: Grounded
Result: Sunk
Location: Alaska
Deaths: None

Which in turn led me to search for “cable ship” + 1943, and I found this:

Army Cable Ships
The Army operated a considerable fleet of cable ships. One type supported the Coast Artillery Corps controlled mine fields and was a small, coastal design under the Coast Artillery. Another type, associated with the Signal Corps, was generally larger and supported communications. The Pacific areas had fewer commercial cables and military pages cables were more common than in the Atlantic. In the Pacific these ships were engaged in linking the islands sprinkled between the West Coast and the Philippines.

The Dellwood was originally a cable ship, for I found this: “CS [Cable Ship] Dellwood undertook the laying of a new cable in 1924 between Seattle and Alaska with a landing at Ketchikan…”. The Dellwood was apparently converted into a pleasure ship during the period when the photo on the postcard was taken - and later converted back again, for I also found this:

“Following Pearl Harbor, CS Dellwood was repurchased and fitted out for cable repair work; after her sinking, maintenance work was undertaken by CS Silverado, Brico (a barge), and CS's Glassford and Basil O. Lenoir.”

To summarize, it appears that this is the sequence of events involved:

■ Sometime prior to Christmas of 1937, John and Ruth Dunn were on an Alaskan cruise on the ship S.S. Dellwood with Stephen and Louise Dunn. John could have been no older than 43 at that time, Stephen no older than 45. (In the picture they appear to be in their 30s.)

■ They had a photo taken of themselves that was made into this postcard. Since Stephen died in August of 1938, the cruise and photo had to have been taken prior to that year.

■ Sometime after WW II began, the S.S. Dellwood was converted to military use and became a cable ship. These ships were involved in physically laying cable for communications to aid the war effort.

■ In July, 1943, the Dellwood was grounded and sunk.

One result of our having this photo is that we have, literally, a snapshot of two young members of our ancestral family and their wives who – in the midst of the Great Depression – were prosperous enough to afford an Alaskan pleasure cruise.

Why is that of interest? Because the Great Depression was a massive global economic recession (or "depresssion") that ran from 1929 to 1941. It led to a stock market crash, massive bank failures, breadlines and unemployment that reached as high as 33% - so their prosperity seems very unusual in view of where the overall economy was at the time.


Chicago Mill and Lumber Company

From his obituary I realized John was an important leader in his community, for he was on several boards and such, but I had no knowledge of his business or how large and significant the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company was.

I turned to the internet to see what I could learn about the company - and wow, was I surprised at what I was able to find! Following is some of the info I gleaned when searching for the company name.

As you read on, understand that we have no information as to when he began his role as president of the company. But we do know that the company's annual report to stockholders contained a letter from him as president in 1962. Therefore
, we don’t know how many of the events described below or how much of the decision-making regarding those events occurred on his watch.

Bottom line: Our uncle/great uncle Jack was president of a large company (it owned hundreds of thousands of acres of timberland) and he was a “big shot” in his community - but his company was controversial, as you'll see below.


Here's a link to a photo of one of the company's locomotives - presumably at one of its facilities - taken in Louisiana in 1962.


"Once the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company began operations at the Singer Tract [in the early 1940s], the site was quickly cleared of old-growth timber."
Story and photos here.


"The small city of Caraway was one of the last to incorporate in northeast Arkansas. Initially known as White Switch, it began as a lumber camp about 1912. The abundance of timber attracted the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company to buy vast tracts of land. The huge northern company drew large numbers of workers to cut the timber and ship it to the main mill at Blytheville (Mississippi County)."


"On June 16, 1941, a fire broke out at the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, a manufacturer of wooden boxes on North Ogden Avenue [in Chicago]. The fire started in bales of paper located on the first floor of the two story brick building. The shooting embers then ignited a fire on the second floor by sparking a mill dust explosion. With the rush from the blast, the flames spread quickly throughout the rest of the building and caused the roof to collapse. Three Chicago firefighters, Norris Coulombe (Engine 42), George Michalski (Engine 3), and Henry Bodenlos (Engine 4), were trapped by the collapse in the burning rubble.

A 5-11 alarm and subsequent special alarm calls had brought 45 pieces of fire apparatus and equipment to the scene on Ogden Avenue. Firefighters had just started hose operations when the roof collapsed, so the firefighter presence within the building was still somewhat limited. Unfortunately, the severity of the explosion prevented firefighters from rescuing their trapped colleagues, and the three trapped firefighters asphyxiated in the burning rubble. Five other firefighters were injured by the explosion.

The total damage of the fire was estimated to be about $75,000. The widows of the fallen firefighters were given support from Mayor Edward Kelly and the Firemen’s Mutual Benefit Association. The three firemen, along with other victims, were later recognized for their heroic efforts in the annual police and fire thrill show held at Soldier’s Field on July 13, 1941."


"To this day, the land recently added to the Tensas River National Wildlife Refuge is known as "the Singer Tract," for the Singer Sewing Machine Company, which in the 1930s thought it might harvest the old-growth forests to make sewing machine cabinets. But conservationists were already calling attention to the value of these soggy bottomlands as wildlife habitat, particularly for the fast-disappearing ivory-billed woodpecker, a showy but reclusive swamp-lover that nested only in the southeastern U.S. and Cuba. Under pressure from conservation groups to preserve the land, the company sidestepped the controversy by selling it to the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, which soon began harvesting the precious hardwoods for World War II shipping crates. In the 1940s, even as the cut raged across the Singer Tract, ornithologists and conservationists begged in vain for Chicago Mill to preserve the ivorybill's last known nesting trees." Source


"At first some of us didn't know how to react to the rediscovery of an ivory-billed woodpecker in the Cache River National Wildlife Refuge in Arkansas. After all, we environmentalists aren't used to such good news.

I thought about former Audubon president John Baker, and wished he were still alive to see this miraculous event. In 1942 he led a desperate effort to stop the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company from cutting down the bottomland forest in Louisiana where the last ivory-bill had been seen. Chicago Mill and Lumber refused, the trees were cut, and Baker watched what everyone thought was the last bird isappear." Source


"In the three decades between the 1890s and 1920s, our southern states' bottomland swamp forests were logged into oblivion. By 1920, ivory-billed woodpeckers, dependent on these forests, were thought to be extinct. But in 1924, the founder of Cornell University's famed bird laboratory found a pair in Florida. Two local collectors heard of the woodpeckers' presence and shot them. Again, extinction seemed to have occurred.

Then in 1935, a bird expedition found several pairs in an 81,000-acre Louisiana swamp forest owned by the Singer Sewing Machine Company. But then Singer sold the tract of bottomland to the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company for logging. Four federal agencies, including the Audubon Society and the governors of four Southern states, appealed to Chicago Mill to sell their timber rights so an ivory-bill sanctuary could be formed. Chicago Mill's chairman rebuffed the coalition, cheerfully announcing, "We are just money grubbers." The Lord God Bird (as the woodpecker was sometimes called because of its startling size and coloration) was last seen there in 1944 as the last of those trees fell." Source


"This is a perfect example of how nonfiction should be written. Every school and public library should have a copy of this book. It is a valuable addition to the study of man, nature, and the environment. Phillip Hoose's wonderful book captures the reader's attention and doesn't let it go till the very end of a beautifully written account of one of the most magnificent birds ever to grace this land. The cover of the book, not to mention the title, immediately attracts attention and after reading it the reader clearly understands why this bird was referred to as the Lord God Bird.

Hoose introduces us to collectors like Brewster and Wayne who helped lead to the bird's demise. There are the corporate villains in the form of the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company and the Singer Manufacturing Company who could have saved the last real refuge of the Lord God Bird but who chose profit over conservation when the Singer Tract was not spared from the woodcutter's ax. There are heroes to this story. You will meet Jim Tanner, "Doc" Allen, and J. J. Kuhn who worked tirelessly to save the species. Having read this book I felt that Jim Tanner was definitely someone I wished that I had known personally. Educators will find countless lessons on environmental awareness, extinction of species, and the recklessness with which man has 'civilized' the wilderness." Source


Racism Affected the Company

From a book titled, "A Different Day, African American Struggles for Justice in Rural Louisiana, 1900-1970" comes the following excerpt:

“Louisiana’s predominately black lumber industry became the target of intense organizing efforts by the CIO-affiliated International Woodworkers of America (IWA) in the early 1940s. Although many workers supported unionization, organizers encountered strong opposition from company owners and local officials. After spending three weeks in Tallulah working with employees at the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company, Morton Hobbs Davis was run out of town at gunpoint by three men who claimed to speak for the entire community when they told him: “We are not going to have the C.I.O. here. Understand? You come in here trying to stir up these ni●●ers, and we’re not going to have you organizing those damn ni●●ers.”


History of the Company

The roots of the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company date back to the 1890s, and a description of its history can be found here. In part, it says:

"Wilford H. Gonyea, a West Coast lumberman, tendered an offer to buy the company on June 29, 1965, and after the stockholders accepted, the Chicago Mill and Lumber Company ceased to exist as a corporation and continued operations as a partnership under the same name. The general offices were moved from Chicago to Greenville [Mississippi] in September of 1965. The Chicago Mill and Lumber Company operated three sawmills and two box factories, and it owned over two hundred thousand acres of timberland primarily in Louisiana and Mississippi by 1980."

Last updated 5/3/09


  1. I thought to google Chicago Mill after taking pictures of my hometown, Tallulah, LA. It was so nice to read the information you have collected about the place that I hear was once a staple of our small community!

    They have recently built a new high school near "The Compress" where the Chicago Mill used to be. There are also pictures of structures that have still been left standing since the Chicago Mill left town. You can view my pictures here:

  2. John H. Dunn was my father-in-law and one of the finest men I've ever met. He was brilliant, self taught (daily), honorable, ethical, a great teacher and mentor to everyone, funny, the embodiment of the constitutional mandate that "all men are created equal", quietly holy (attended church every day), stoic and generous.

    Omitted from your biography is that when Jack's father died, Jack was approximately 16 years old, had to quit high school to support his mother and several younger brothers, went to work in a piano factory, eventually took correspondence courses to get an accounting degree, and then quit the piano factory where he had worked for many years to take a job in the accounting department of Chicago Mill and Lumber for ONE-HALF the pay he was then getting, because he knew there was a better future for him as an accountant. This man, who didn't attend college, and may not have graduated from high school, became the President of a public company.

    I was with him when he died, and miss him to this day.

    John Stiefel, October, 2010

  3. Hi, Mr. Stiefel;
    I'm delighted to hear from you; thanks so much for your comments about John Dunn. Although he lived until I was age 24, I never knew he even existed until I began the process of assembling our family history about three years ago. As you can see from what I wrote about him above, I've come to admire him and his achievments - and I'd be honored to dialogue with you about him, wife Ruth and daughter Phyliss. Please feel free to email me at: patdunn1899(at)gmail.com and I'll follow up with you ASAP.