Sarah Martin and Joe Cook

Written By: nppladmin - Jan• 13•22
Originally published on Facebook October 29, 2021.

All during the month of October, North Platte History Fridays featured the people who were impacted by Annie Cook. Our last story this month will be Sarah Martin and Joe Cook. Thank you for reading our Facebook Friday History Posts. Consider borrowing the book “Evil Obsession” by Nellie Snyder Yost from the North Platte Public Library! Read on!

Sarah Martin was born on March 1885 in South Dakota. At age 15, she is listed as a student at the Institute for the Deaf and Dumb in Omaha Nebraska. Sadly, Sarah was orphaned before she had completed her schooling, and went into housekeeping to support herself. Researchers believe that she was a housekeeper until she became pregnant by the married man in the house in which she was working. The unknown married man sent her to a home for unwed mothers in Omaha until her son, Joe Martin, was born. Eventually, Sarah and baby Joe ended up in the North Platte probably around 1921-1922. Because Sarah could not support herself and her son, they lived in the County Poor House. At that time, the County Poor House at that time was being run by Mrs. Emma Pulver. Sarah was a good housekeeper and able to help care for some of the physically challenged Poor House inmates. Then, in 1923, Mrs. Pulver lost the County Contract to Clara Cook. And, Sarah and Joe’s lives became one of misery and torture by Annie’s hand.

Two years later, in 1925, Ada Kelly arranged to take Sarah and Joe away from Annie. You may remember that Ada Kelly was the wife of AP Kelly, North Platte Telegraph editor, who helped Mary escape the Cook Farm. Ada was a kind Christian woman who did everything she could to rehabilitate and help individuals in bad situations.

But the night before Sarah was to leave to go live at Ada Kelly’s house, Sarah Martin mysteriously died. She was forty years old. <see newspaper death announcement>. According to the book Evil Obsession, Sarah mistakenly drank carbolic acid instead of her headache medicine. It is unknown where she is buried, but researchers believe it may be in the Potter’s Field part of the North Platte Cemetery (section of unnamed and unmarked graves). There was nothing printed in the newspapers; no obituary, no coroner’s inquest, just a single sentence: “Mrs. Sarah Martin, aged forty, passed away yesterday at the County Hospital.”

Researchers believe that Sarah’s son, Joseph Martin Cook, was born July 13, 1919 in Omaha, Nebraska. Joe was five years old when his mother died. Annie Cook convinced Joe that Sarah was nothing but a poor deaf dumb woman, and definitely not his mother. Annie did her best to convince Joe that she was his mother. According to Joe’s obituary, he was born to Frank and Annie Cook.

Joe broke free of Annie’s grip, by enlisting in the Army in 1944. He was 24 years old. Of note, on his WWII draft card, he stated under “Employer’s Name: “At home with foster mother on farm, Mrs. Cook, widow. North Platte, Lincoln County Nebraska.” Annie tried her best to keep Joe working for her on the farm. But he finally made his escape, by enlisting in the US Army and serving in the military during World War II.

Much of the book Evil Obsession is based on his interviews with Nellie Snyder Yost. Below is the Joe’s accounting of Sarah’s death.

“The next morning was a Tuesday. I (Joe) went to school as usual. Mom scrubbed my face, neck and ears and combed my hair. I liked school. I’d only been going a week, but it was nice. I got to play with other kids and best of all, Annie wasn’t there whipping me. But that afternoon Clara came and took me out of school. Something was wrong. I asked Clara, but she told me I would find out when I got home. As we drove, I got more and more scared that something really bad had happened. I figured I had done something wrong and that Annie was going to whip me.

When we got there, Annie took me to our room. The blind was down and the room was dark and shadowy. Annie pulled back the sheet and my mom was laying there. Her face was white as a ghost. I was scared to cry because Annie whipped me when I cried. So I asked “What’s the matter with her?”

Annie told me she was dead and pulled the sheet back over her face. Then some men came and took her away in a long wicker basket. I watched as they drove away. I was 5 years old.”

Evil Obsession (1991) by Nellie Snyder Yost, page 105.

Joe was treated like a slave by Annie Cook. She mentally and physically abused him. The book also alludes to sexual abuse as well.

Despite their dysfunctional relationship, Joe did stay in touch with Annie as an adult. Although he didn’t like to stop by the farm to see Annie (as Annie immediately put him to work), she could manipulate him into dropping by.

Joe was a member of the Berean Fundamental Church and worked for the Union Pacific Railroad for forty years. He was a member in the Brotherhood of Locomotive and Engineers as well as the American Legion. Joe married and had several children (both biological and adopted). He died on October 21, 1991 in Kansas City, Missouri at the age of 72. Joseph Martin Cook is buried at Floral Lawns Cemetery.

See you next week for another North Platte History post!

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