Finding The Mysterious Edgar Fay…Part 3

Charlotta “Lottie” Fay Williams (1873-1945), oldest sister of W. A. Fay

We have all heard a story of a child who has disappeared from a family. If the added information is that the child has been missing several years, the imagined pain of the child and the family is magnified. One wonders immediately how old was the child, what were the circumstances of leaving, and did the child survive? One newspaper account mentioned the youth leaving with “an older companion.” How much older? Male or female? Did the family know this companion? All these questions factor into understanding the circumstances and the outcome of the story.

Thankfully, based upon the current DNA results of living descendants, we are quite sure that Wooster, or W. A., survived the disappearance, because by 1917 he was in Arkadelphia, Arkansas where he married and completed a World War I draft registration card. By then, his name was Edgar Fay, as we described in Part 1 of our series. Now we must examine the circumstances surrounding the disappearance and what the information can tell us about W. A. and his life, and that of his family.

Cynthia Alice York Fay (1855-1945), mother of W. A. Fay

The Fays Press Forward

Older sister Charlotta wrote her 1897 letter from Franklin, Nebraska, desperate to find her younger brother. Clearly, she was very upset about his leaving, and in addition to being fearful about his reported injury, she was hopeful that perhaps he now would be found again. There were only about three years age difference between Charlotta and Edgar, the first and third children in this large family. The Morrison and Cynthia Fay family shared the death of five-year-old daughter/sister Cynthia in 1894, almost immediately followed by the move from the safe comfort of Council Bluffs, Iowa and the proximity and security of grandparents and community to Franklin, Nebraska. Both events were shared family experiences.

Morrison McMillan Fay (1849-1919), father of W. A. Fay

Our recent discovery of Charlotta’s letter to the editor made it necessary to take a road trip to Franklin to find evidence of W. A.’s departure. The trip was a success in providing two pieces of documentation, his joining the church with his younger brother Malcolm in December 1892 and his attendance at the Franklin Academy into the spring of 1893. The rest of the Fay family continued to live in Franklin for a few more years. The older girls graduated from Franklin Academy. Malcolm was enrolled in the academy as late as 1897-1898.

Eleanor emerged following graduation as a professional teacher who continued to work in a variety of settings. Very early in her teaching career Eleanor was employed at Piñon, now Nucla, Colorado, a cooperative community west of Montrose, as their schoolteacher. It is important to note that the commune perspective within the United States at this time in history was a movement influenced by a spirit of cooperation and brotherhood, ideals that appealed to Morrison and Cynthia, and a perspective that arose naturally from their ancestral and religious roots in Massachusetts. Residing on the western slopes of the Colorado Rocky Mountains requires focused and immediate attention to water access, providing for its availability to residents and local farmers. Building water ditches was a major civic topic, and the Piñon commune had a focus upon buying into the cooperative construction of a water supply ditch and to share the resource. It appears that Morrison’s interest in the project and community developed after Eleanor began her teaching assignment there. It does seem that although he bought into the project, he instead moved to Montrose by 1903. Eleanor continued her teaching career by securing jobs in Colorado mining communities over the next few years. She taught in Howard, near Cripple Creek, and Telluride before she began teaching in the schools in Montrose. Eleanor owned the house where her parents and siblings lived in Montrose, even before she worked there full time. When Eleanor worked in different communities, she would return to Montrose for her school breaks.

Oldest sister Charlotta was not quick to move to Colorado. After becoming a teacher, she studied to become a professional photographer. She moved back and forth from Council Bluffs, Iowa where she worked in a studio for awhile and caught the eye of Walter Williams, a Pottawattamie County, Iowa farmer. In preparing to move to Colorado, Charlotta’s parents traded their house for another property and purchased an establishment in the business district in downtown Franklin which they remodeled to become a professional photography studio for Charlotta, Fay Photography. The Fays sold the back of the property, keeping the front for the business. Charlotta and Walter did marry in 1903. By 1906 they moved with their young son to Delta, Colorado, a community just north of Montrose. A history of the Walter Williams family describes one job Charlotta acquired as an express delivery carrier. Express Wagon was a company that hired drivers to collect packages delivered by incoming train to the local depot and deliver along a route to the package recipients. It was an era now hard to imagine in which the gold and silver mines were running heavily on the eastern and western slopes of the Colorado Rocky Mountains and nearby towns were thriving. The train system was the primary mode of transportation among the mines and communities, and Montrose was a crossroads for trains moving east to Gunnison, northwest to Grand Junction, and south to Telluride. Local delivery was by horse and wagon or stagecoach. Even Morrison M. Fay was listed in the 1910 Montrose city directory as working for Express Wagon.

L to R: Ruth, Joyce, Rowena, Eleanor, Charlotta Fay, sisters of W. A. Fay

The siblings of Charlotta and Eleanor who moved to Montrose continued their schooling in the local public schools. Later, as adults, many of them and/or their children mined from Montana to Arizona, moving as jobs became available, but usually staying for awhile after each move. Descendants tell us that the family were expert in horsemanship, and they married into families, such as the Wallis family, that regularly rodeoed and even jockeyed. Justin Brooks and M. M. Fay, Jr. both married Wallis girls who were cousins, Addy May Gertude (1897 – 1962) and Ola Ethel (1892 – 1966), respectively, daughters of brothers James Oliver and Andrew H. Wallis, sons of William Wallis (1848 – 1938) and Mary E. Triplett (1854 – 1920).

Mellie Burns (1890-1973)

Miss Mellie Burns: A Legacy of Adventure

Before we go further, we need to think about the dots we are trying to connect. We know the missing trail of W. A. Fay starts in Franklin, Nebraska where he departed. It ends in Arkadelphia, Clark County, Arkansas in 1917 where he married Miss Mellie Burns.

Mellie was the granddaughter of the missionary and pastor George Washington Burns (1846 – 1932) of Tennessee who came to Logan County, Arkansas, just south of the Arkansas River across from Johnson County, Arkansas, by 1872 at about 25 years of age, bringing his wife and several young sons, including three-year-old James Anderson Burns who would become the father of Mellie. In all Rev. Burns and his wife Mahala Jane Black (1846-1916), would have nine boys. Rev. Burns made excursions into Indian Territory and Texas to minister to the Native Americans.

Mellie’s mother’s side of the family was equally adventurous. Mellie was born in 1890 in Indian Territory at Webbers Falls, also on the Arkansas River, an Old Cherokee settlement where Mellie’s grandparents Lucy Jayne Harles (1853 – 1940) and George W. Craig (1848 – before 1900) were delivered their second child William G. Craig November, 1889, in the same location within a year of Mellie’s birth June, 1890, making infant Mellie an aunt straightaway. Mellie’s Uncle Thomas “Tobe” Henry Harles (1850-1891) was married to Eliza Jane Blackston (1845-1936) who was a member of the Cherokee tribe. Some family stories suggested that Mellie was Cherokee, but the fact seems to be that the family was highly attached to the Cherokee through marriage and association. Martha and David Daniel Harles, parents of Lucy Jayne and Tobe, had been in Indian Territory with Tobe and Eliza. Lucy Jayne and her family had been living in Fort Smith, Arkansas, but traveled to Webbers Falls sometime in the summer due to David Harles’ illness and death August 29, 1889.

After Mellie’s birth, her parents Mary Alice “Etta” Craig and James “Anderson” Burns moved fairly quickly to the relative safety of Clark County, Arkansas where Anderson’s family and his parents Mahala Jane and the Rev. George Washington Burns settled. Meanwhile, maternal grandmother Lucy Jayne, widowed for reasons that now are unclear, and in Oklahoma City by 1900 with her young son George, remained in Oklahoma City until her death in 1940. Lucy Jayne deserves a dedicated blog entry, and later she will get one! For now, know that she was a strong, resourceful, successful woman who maintained her family connections and who very likely, despite her geographic distance from the family, was a major influence upon the family generally and Mellie specifically.

Mellie remained in Arkadelphia and the surrounding area, the oldest child of her parents’ large family. Arkadelphia, a college town by 1886, is in southwest Arkansas, heavily forested in the foothills of the Ouachita (pronounced Wah’ sheh-tah) Mountains and on the south banks of the Ouachita River, a navigable body of water that empties into the Rio Grande, then into the Mississippi. Arkadelphia also is about 30 minutes from Hot Springs, Arkansas, a premiere national destination, known for its healing waters, two competitive horse racing tracks in the early 1900’s, the training camps for national baseball teams and players 1886-1940’s, and a burgeoning location for organized crime. Hot Springs became the United States’ first national park in 1832, so it was well known nationally and highly advertised as a destination by train even before automobiles were widely used.

By all accounts, Mellie was a dutiful daughter who attended school, was an active participant at her Baptist church, and likely helped care for her younger siblings. Arkadelphia had good access to rail service, and there is evidence that travel back and forth to Oklahoma City was accessible. Once cars became available, car travel from Mellie’s home to Hot Springs was not an infrequent occurrence. We have no reason to believe that George Washington Burns did not continue his missionary excursions into Indian Territory, for he was traveling to Texas just prior to his death, but there is no located paper trail giving us details of his travels and missions. Mellie knew of her Indian Territory roots and heard the many stories of her pioneer ancestors and their connections with “Hanging Judge” Issac C. Parker’s marshals, dust-ups with outlaws, and early Arkansas and Oklahoma settlement. Even as a young girl, her family impressed upon Mellie her direct, personal connection to her family’s westward fancies.

Black Canyon of the Gunnison Colorado, near Montrose, CO

The Western Fays

Why did the Fays move to Montrose, Colorado? Whose idea was it? Most likely, it was Eleanor who took a job opportunity at Piñon, Colorado, and the rest of the family joined her in a move to nearby Montrose. But is it possible that W. A. Fay, now perhaps known as Ed Fay, reconnected with the family, and they found that he was involved in Colorado ventures, bringing their attention to the opportunities? (Note: From this point, I will refer to W. A., Ed, Edgar, and more rarely “Wooster” alternately as the same person.)

When we search for “Wooster” or “Ed” Fays in Colorado after 1893, there are a few possible young men to choose. Some we can rule out when the men stay in the location beyond the point that we know Edgar was in Arkansas. There also were some criminals named Ed or Edgar Fay, but they were executed, so clearly they are not our guy!

There are some serious candidates, though. One is a miner who was living in Cripple Creek, Colorado 1900 and 1902. He is listed in 1900 as living in Victor in the Cripple Creek District, working at the Vindicator mine and in 1902 living at the Placer Hotel and working at the Independence mine. It is worth a trip to Victor and Cripple Creek to understand the altitude of the location and how challenging a life it would be to have been a miner in that era. Actually, one of the mines is fully operational, although modernized, so clearly not in the way it would have been in the early 1900’s. Cripple Creek is quite close to Howard, where sister Eleanor became principal of the school Fall, 1903, upon leaving Piñon. Close, in Rocky Mountain terms, during the early years of mining, is a relative term, but Howard and Cripple Creek it appear to be on the same or a connected railroad line used for transportation of workers and the mined minerals being exported by rail.

Another Ed Fay appears in Denver, Colorado in 1907 and 1908. Ed Fay appears to be driving for an express delivery… remember the job held by Charlotta and her father Morrison McMillan Fay in Delta and Montrose Counties, respectively? Another occupation listed for Ed Fay is Driver for Excelsior Stables, when stables were still a thing, prior to being ousted by automobiles.

All of these Ed Fays are listed in city directories. Are they different Ed Fays? Certainly, that is possible. Several of them could be the same fellow. If one takes the dates and locations and puts them on a timeline, one cannot rule out any of these men as being the same person. But if one tries to take any of the men and connect them with a wife and family, we have not been able to do that either. Ed Fay did not seem to stay situated.

I want to reiterate what we know of the sons and sons-in-law of Morrison McMillan and Cynthia Fay– that they were miners and skilled horsemen. In addition to farming skills we already discussed, one would assume that W. A. had the same basic foundational skill set and/or inclinations by the time he left home, and that any contact with his family would have enhanced those career choices.

1893

1893 is the year we last knew of W. A. Fay’s location, living in Franklin, Nebraska. What would cause a teenage boy at that time at age 16 to leave home? One’s imagination can run wild with the possibilities.

If we look at the history of the area, there are three glaring facts.

One is that 1893 was the year of a terrible economic downturn in the United States of America, and Nebraska was hit hard. One of the major compounding issues was an equally devastating drought that made the crops fail and farmers unable to support their herds of cattle. If you have ever tried to sell cattle when everyone else is selling cattle, you know that the bottom drops out of the price, so you get next to nothing for your sale. If cattle were bought on credit with a hope of selling calves or calves grown to heifers, the rancher would not only lose income planned for the year, but still owe the bank.

A second fact of 1893 was the Chicago World’s Fair May – October, 1893, officially called The World’s Columbian Exposition, held in the tradition of London’s 1855 Great Exhibition and meant to surpass the spectacular 1889 Paris Exhibition at which the Eiffel Tower was unveiled. In addition to celebrating Christopher Columbus’ arrival to the new world, the 1893 event showcased and celebrated Chicago’s recovery from the Great Chicago Fire and by many accounts succeeded in surpassing all the exhibitions to that point in time. Twenty-seven million people attended the event from across the United States and around the world.

Related to the second fact is the third fact of 1893. Buffalo Bill, William Cody, reformulated his wild west show to perform for the duration of the Chicago World’s Columbian Exposition. For the event, he changed the name to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Congress of Rough Riders of the World. William Cody had completed a successful European tour, and he saw an opportunity to capitalize upon the promises of the Chicago Exhibition. He arrived in Chicago with his show March 20 with the first performance April 3, almost a full month before the actual opening of the exposition. By locating and securing an adjacent venue location, he was able to quite nearly fill an 18,000 seat arena daily for the duration of the Chicago tenure, selling out some days, without having to share by 50% the door revenue, as he would have been required to do by the exposition director. The show was full of its luster, complete with cowboys, Indians, Cossacks, Annie Oakley, and the riding and sharp-shooting Buffalo Bill. The event was hugely popular and successful, serving to give many the opportunity to witness the event. People of all ages across the land who did not personally attend Buffalo Bill’s wild west spectacular heard about it during that summer and for years to come.

People who live in Nebraska would notice another important point, our third fact. Buffalo Bill, officially William Cody, resided in North Platte, Nebraska. On the Platte River. The distance between Franklin, Nebraska and North Platte is about 145 miles. Today it is driven in 2 hours and 15 minutes. In 1893, in addition to travel by horse, train travel was common, and very common to the Fay family who routinely traveled the region, back home to Council Bluffs/Omaha, to other regional destinations for political conventions and church meetings, and as far as Washington State to visit family. One would have to believe that every child in Nebraska for sure, if not in the United States, knew of Buffalo Bill by 1893. He was the superhero of the era, and his proximity likely added to his allure.

Add to this fact that Buffalo Bill’s very first Wild West extravaganza was presented May 19, 1883 in Omaha, Nebraska. A reminder– Omaha is directly across the river from W. A.’s childhood home prior to the move to Nebraska, Council Bluffs, Iowa. In 1883, W. A. Fay was 7 years of age. Ferry service and a railroad bridge provided people access across the Missouri river that separated the two cities, the first road bridge not completed until 1888. Grandfather Wooster Fay frequented Omaha for political and civic events, staying overnight at a local hotel. Buffalo Bill’s Wild West in Omaha was highly publicized locally for weeks in advance, anticipation surely mounting. The actual show was delayed a day due to weather but proceeded the next day with 10,000 said to be in attendance, launching the Wild West tour in spectacular fashion. One newspaper account stated that a second show was scheduled to occur the following day in Council Bluffs, Iowa. Whether or not the second show occurred I have not been able to verify.

Was seven-year-old Wooster A. Fay one of the lucky children who, along with sisters Charlotte and Eleanor, get to attend that inaugural Wild West exhibition? Perhaps he did, especially if the second show was presented in Council Bluffs. Regardless, it is not unreasonable to think that W. A. experienced all the western glory a young boy could imagine. The show was, in fact, spectacular for the era. While it was a new format, by then William Cody was an expert in showmanship and had assembled an array of expert cowboys and a contingent of Native Americans to tell the story of the west in a compelling and romantic way. You may notice that I am trying to avoid the use of the word “show,” because William Cody preferred not to use the term, but rather an “exhibition.” He wanted to leave the impression of real or historical events portrayed for people to experience the wild west– as he wanted it told. So, despite the fact that yes, William Cody was a very effective showman, to a young child, Buffalo Bill was even better than today’s superheroes. He was a real person. You would hear about him, read about him, and sometimes, just sometimes, you might be lucky enough to see him.

The Departure of W. A.

Let us set the scene. In December of 1892, W. A. and his younger brother Malcolm attended special church services. The Congregational Church is of the Reformed tradition of Christianity. The emphasis is upon individual priesthood, which means that each person develops a connection with God directly… one does not go through a hierarchy of other people, priests, or bishops to get direction or help from God, or to be able to pray to God. So, it is likely that December was a meaningful time for the boys, resulting in their making a commitment before God and the congregation by baptism and acceptance into full membership of the church. As is true in several other Christian traditions, this was an expected transition for the boys to make at this time in their lives, along with their peers, and there may have been encouragement or preparation and classes toward that direction. Still, it is most likely that the event was chosen by them and meaningful to them.

By January, for sure, plans were well underway in North Platte, Nebraska as William Cody prepared his Wild West reformulation for the Chicago Exposition. In addition to the star cowboys, Indians, and sharp shooters, Cody would need other riders, musicians, and workers to help move and organize the transportation of the horses, buffalo, and elk and to care for them during the Chicago stay.

W. A. was a student at Franklin Academy alongside students, teachers, and staff from all over the region. We already know that W. A. was aware of Buffalo Bill and likely held him in high regard. If even one of W. A.’s acquaintances at the esteemed Franklin Academy had a brother, sister, aunt, or uncle who reached out and suggested that William Cody might utilize his service, W. A. would have known that intermediary and was at an age, disposition, and skill set that would lead him to at least strongly consider the tempting offer. What an opportunity!

Add to that, the economic contraction that became the Panic of 1893 began in January. As the year progressed, drought and hot winds assaulted the crops, causing widespread crop failure. As fall began, the economic crisis deepened.

Did W. A. leave to try to join William Cody and was he in Chicago by Cody’s opening in April? Did he, instead, go to Chicago as the crops were failing and decide to try to stay? Did he ever actually join Buffalo Bill’s show?

It seems quite likely that W. A., whose primary job was in the fields, not in the school, would have been put in a difficult spot. The family, by now very large with seven living children, was in financial crisis. Money for school tuition would be short. W. A. really had no work if there was no crop. This was an era when young men generally were expected to go out and find their way, particularly if they perceived they were being a burden to their family. Further, W. A. likely felt an obligation to find employment and make money, not only to support himself, but to send home. Whether or not he was able to accomplish either of these goals is not clear, but leaving was a much more attractive option than staying. In good economic times, staying within the safety of community and home might have been the preferred choice. These were not good times. Unless you were working for a wild west show.

Now is a good time to state that in economic downturns, the showbuisness industry traditionally has provided work for people.* The work was not necessarily stable or constant, but when a paycheck arrived, it often surpassed what was available in other industries. From the 1890’s the wild west shows, and later the moving film industry, provided opportunities for a man or woman, young or old, who possessed skills and the connections to get a gig.

Wild West, Circus, and Oklahoma: Three Clues Converge

One could proclaim that 1893 was the pinnacle of the Wild West performance era and be done with any discussion, but to accept that narrow interpretation would belie the breadth, the nuance, and the profound impact that the movement had upon the participants, the audience, and the culture at large. Several big stars and leaders in the industry got their start with Buffalo Bill and even performed at the Chicago Exposition. Annie Oakley, Mabel Hackney Tompkins, Charles Tompkins, and “Pawnee Bill” Gordon William Lillie are some notable examples. Mabel was an expert trick rider, and William Cody recruited her for his show when she was a very young lady. Charles Tompkins, a bronco rider and trick roper, met Mabel during a period of her recuperation from an injury. They fell in love, married, and started their own show.

The Tompkins were not the only new act in town. There were dozens of wild west shows forming and crossing the country, performing for thrilled audiences. Pawnee Bill started as an interpreter for the Pawnee Indian tribe for William Cody’s show. He met his wife Mary Emma “May” Manning in 1886 when the Wild West show was on tour in Philadelphia. They fell in love, and after a courtship, they convinced her parents to let her marry him. The newlyweds moved to Blue Hawk Peak, Pawnee, Oklahoma where she actively learned to shoot and ride and became the star of the show they created. They managed a ranch which formed the base for their exhibitions where people could come from all over to see their spectacular and the resident buffalo herd.

Buffalo Bill did not create the concept of the wild west show. It started earlier, and P. T. Barnum was one of the first entrepreneurs to capitalize upon the world’s fascination with the American West. In that sense, it is not surprising that the concepts of circus, wild west exhibition, and rodeo began to overlap and blend. Many of the shows became international in their flavor, not only taking the American West on overseas tours, where they were wildly popular, but also to recruit riders and acts from all ends of the earth, including Russia, Europe, Asia, South America, and Mexico. Other traditional circus acts of contortionists, oddities, and exotic animals became commonplace in the touring shows and the shows in residence on ranches.

Historians of the era report that it was not unusual for young people to leave home to “join the circus” and/or wild west show. The terms could be used interchangeably. Circus shows included horse/buffalo/wild west exhibitions, and vice versa. Each show was constructed and billed to be the biggest, best, most spectacular show for your dollar, and the allure of attraction to youth was very real.

Shows toured for a season, then they were off. The season ran roughly April through October, then the show would winter somewhere. Not all workers were carried over through the winter. Those that did often lived at the show’s ranch or whatever location the show chose to “winter.”

The main stars, acts, and owners knew each other, and many were good friends. Stars would work with one show, then contract to work with another. Likewise, other, less well-known and unknown workers would switch from one job to another, sometimes changing during a tour if they crossed paths with a show that was headed to a desired destination.

In today’s jargon, the workers were a part of a gig economy. And as today, when the gigs are coming and paying well, life is good. When a show fails, unable to pay their workders or assemble a show for the next season, the stranded workers must find other jobs. Research of the wild west shows underscores a surprising frequency of failed tours. Even a star cowboy, much less a horse trainer, stagecoach driver, or groomer would not have steady work, but rather would go from one gig to another, and often look for other, unrelated work during the winter months.

101 Wild West– a key that unlocks?

Indian Territory, Oklahoma Territory, and eventually the state of Oklahoma, the name depending upon the decade discussed, was a prominent center for Wild West shows. The Tompkins retired to El Reno, Oklahoma by 1927. Mabel continued to ride competitively, and the pair helped establish the thriving rodeo culture and infrastructure in central Oklahoma, including nearby Oklahoma City. The Tompkins were great friends with Gordon and May Lillie who were operating their show and ranch in Pawnee. As mentioned, Pawnee Bill started as interpreter for the Pawnee Indian of Nebraska and Kansas, removed to Indian Territory now Oklahoma by 1892.

Another Indian Territory ranch of note is the Miller Brothers 101 Wild West Ranch at Bliss, later known as Marland, Oklahoma, just south of Ponca City. The 101 Ranch, established as a very large cattle ranch by Col. George Washington Miller and his wife Molly, was developed further by his three sons Joseph, George Lee., and Zack after G. W.’s death. If you take my earlier description of bigger and better wild west shows, the Miller Brothers 101 was all that, and more. The show hired all the best, 1000 people for one show, and at times more than one touring show simultaneously. Buffalo Bill, Annie Oakley, Geronimo, and many other big names came to work for the show at one time or another. The Miller Brothers developed connections in the new movie industry, and they helped launch the careers of a slew of western actors, including Tom Mix.

In addition to touring, the 101 Ranch developed an arena and stands for training their acts, but also for shows on the premises. Their marketing success resulted in people coming from near and far to see the wonders at the ranch, including watching acts in residence, a trained grizzly bear, and elephants. The 101 was a destination for presidents, kings, millionaires, and the most famous personalities of the day, as well as regular local citizens and tourists.

One of the key facts about the 101 Ranch in particular, and all the wild west shows in general, was the diversity the ranches and shows supported. Cowgirls worked and were paid alongside the cowboys, as were African Americans, Native Americans, Asians, and Mexicans. Visitors were as amazed by the village of performers and workers, either at their home bases or on tours, as they were with anything else, seeing people of all nationalities and origins working, living, and training together.

As one delves into the wild west history, there is a lot that can make people of today shudder, wondering about patronizing Native Americans, or that the white conquest of the west was glorified. In all, though, the wild west shows did promote the Native Americans, largely underscoring their courage, bravery, and nobility. For many performers, the shows also provided needed work and validation. The wild west shows were a shining light of early egalitarianism, showing that people of both sexes, all races, ethnicities, and social classes are equal and of value within a larger community.

While there were other wild west shows in the area and the nation, I am not intending for this to be a comprehensive history of wild west shows, but to to explore what happened to W. A. who became Edgar Fay.

Passing the Fay Farm to the right (east), northbound, NE of Franklin, NE Nov 2019

The Emergence of Edgar Fay: A PROPOSED Scenario

You may recall, from Part 1 of our series, one of the very few clues Edgar Fay’s children remembered as adults that their father told him of his early life was that he had worked in a circus or rodeo. What I mean is that he used the words Circus and Rodeo. The words were passed down, without elaboration, or if there was elaboration, it was not recalled by the children, whose father later left them too soon. Let’s take that clue and go back to Franklin, Nebraska where W. A. was a youth.

In January, 1893, W. A. was a student at Franklin Academy. Of all the things being discussed among his peers, the buzz was that the Buffalo Bill Wild West Exhibition was getting together their crew to take their show to Chicago for the Columbian Exhibition! The thought would have quickened W. A.’s pulse, thinking of the wonder, the glory of getting to be in the company of those cowboys.

Unidentified Franklin Academy Boys, circa 1900, taken by Charlotta Fay, photographer, courtesy Franklin County, Nebraska Historical Society

W. A. was no slacker. He was a hard worker, a habit learned from his father and grandfather, both farmers. In addition to learning about plants, botany, and fruit propagation, he became the one to take the lead in taking care of the farm animals and enjoyed working with his grandfathers’ cattle when he got the chance. After all, he had been working on his horsemanship skills since he got the chance to see Buffalo Bill’s Wild West as a child. The thunder of hooves, the cowboys racing, roping bulls with great speed and deftness were all scenes seared into his memory, and he practiced these skills whenever he had a chance, putting in the extra effort as he went about his chores. If he took the wagon to town to get supplies, he was an expert at making good speed, turning tight corners, avoiding getting stuck in mud, and he had great pride in being trusted with important tasks. If called upon to ride his horse to the next farm to deliver a message or borrow an implement, he learned how to coax the most out of his horse, jumping logs and streams. He could even jump onto his horse and vault to the other side, just to impress the girls.

He did impress the girls. With dark hair and the bluest of eyes, he was medium height and build, tan and fit. He was a dashing figure in public. His doting older sisters saw that he had the right clothes for church, but mostly he was outside.

W. A. was very bright, and he became the person in the family most trusted to figure out a problem when something broke. Even if he knew nothing about the machine, if he had enough time to look at it and tinker, he could get it to work again. It was not that he enjoyed or preferred this sort of work, but it was necessary in order to complete the job at hand, finish the work, and get home for supper. For him, school was okay, but it was a luxury he did not frequently get to enjoy. In his large family, the boys kept the farm going and kept food on the table. Their father Morrison enjoyed farming, but his health was not the best, and each year he relied more on his boys. Because of the pioneer heritage of his father and grandfather, W. A. did learn a lot from them about ranch work, livestock, and farming, knowledge acquired from their hard-learned first-hand experience.

The spring of 1893 started normally. He helped his father with spring planting. Soon enough, it became clear that the growing season would not be normal. When his friends talked of joining Buffalo Bill, at first W. A. resisted. He had responsibilities, and he had the comforts of his home. One of his friends left before school was out, headed north, having obtained a job helping to transport the horses to Chicago. As spring moved into summer, the rains did not come as they should. The wind was hot. There were wells to pump the water, but the water was not enough to save the crops from the incessant heat. W. A. could tell his father was concerned. Businesses in the city were going under, and people were unemployed.

W. A.’s parents and grandparents were very knowledgeable about the world, the economy, and politics. They had opinions about the currency system, civil justice, the importance of education and opportunity for women, and they engaged in civic and church activities that supported their ideology. Their children heard and likely participated in conversations about the ideology and implementation, and W. A. would have a broad perspective of the world and his role in it. He also would have known before the average child his age about the coming storm of economic concerns. As a concerned, dutiful son, the future suddenly would look uncertain. What would happen with failing crops with nothing to sell, little to put by for winter, and nothing to feed livestock? Would there be money to return to school in the fall? With all the children the Fays had to feed, he would have felt guilty about being a hungry teenage boy, continuing to rely on his parents if other opportunities presented themselves. While something of a dreamer, he also was practical. He was, after all, one who could see a problem in all its dimensions and know that he had the power to fix what he could.

Eleanor “Nellie” Fay (1874-1967), sister of W. A. Fay, two years older

It would be with this concern that W. A. would approach his family about his inspired idea to go north to join his friends who by now were in Chicago working for the Wild West show. His parents discouraged the move, likely forbidding him to embark on what they saw as a risky move, taking him far from family love and support. Not being a quarrelsome young man, he would have been respectful, and he would have made his plan. He would go north, work to support himself, and make more than enough money to send home and help the family.

He had a partner, maybe an older brother of a classmate, with whom he traveled to catch a train for Chicago. After making his way to the Wild West location, he met up with his contact to see if he could get employment. In some capacity, he stayed in Chicago, likely in a supportive role in exchange for food. In that setting, care of horses would be the entry job for which he had the most experience. He hoped to prove his mettle and work his way into more trusted and more exciting positions.

When he left Franklin, Nebraska, W. A./Edgar entered the gig economy. Likely, he would never again work in a sustained career across decades. By making this one decision to leave home, the skills Ed acquired led him to his next gigs. Each gig may have provided added opportunity to obtain more skills, but each with a narrow range of employment opportunities, and away from the normal path toward accrual of economic security: retirement, savings, house equity, or job tenure or seniority.

W. A. likely changed his name, possibly more than once. I can imagine the conversation,”Hey, who do we have here, son? What is your name?” “Wooster.” No, I doubt it. Wooster was an old-fashioned name, hard to spell, hard to say. Did W. A. immediately respond with the name “Ed?” Maybe. If you recall, Addison, the name of his grandfather Fay’s beloved brother, might be W. A.’s middle name, a shortened version “Addie” might have been his moniker, and “Eddie” a shortened version by his nickname-loving family. As a teenager, the more grown-up version “Ed” would give him an edge in trying to look older to get a job. The wild west shows were show business, even if they pretended not to be, and using stage names was a normal occurrence. Youngsters leaving home and not wanting family to track them also had a reason to hide their identity. Likely, W. A.’s name and stated age began to swim at this point in time. Ed would have been known, for sure, as Ed, Edgar, and Edward, if for no other reason than confusion on the part of employers, friends, and census takers. Any Edgar will tell you that fact. He also may have used aliases we do not know. His age became what he needed it to be for the situation, if he needed to appear older or younger, again consistent with show business survival.

Ed’s wild west foray was not immediately what he hoped or imagined. There was not enough money to send home. When the Chicago Exhibition was over, the Fay family’s fears of deepening economic crisis became reality across the United States, and Ed would see the papers, hear the talk, and know that going home was not a good option. Other shows were forming, and Ed would continue to find work where he could, going from one job to another.

Historic Vindicator Mine, recent photo. Victor, Colorado near Cripple Creek

When shows went into winter season, his employment might continue with the same show company, caring for and training horses, but most years he had to find other opportunities. Based upon the evidence, likely options for Ed were mining in Colorado, driving express wagon delivery, and working in livery stables. Because the shows would cross the United States, stopping at locations large and small, Ed could get jobs in Colorado with fair regularity, if he desired to do so. By 1900 it appears that Ed did some mining for gold in Cripple Creek. Even though mining provided an opportunity to make a lot of money, it was dangerous and back-breaking work. Mining became more dangerous in 1903 and 1904 with the development and escalation of the Cripple Creek Labor Strike. The risk to miners in the area were very real and violent. The last we see of Ed Fay in Cripple Creek is 1902. Fay was wise enough, especially by his age by now about 26 years, to avoid conflict and unnecessary danger. By 1903 Ed transitioned to delivery and stable work between wild west gigs, as a more secure life. City directories suggest he was in Denver doing delivery and stable work 1907 and 1908.

Here we need to bring in another part of the Fay family, the Yorks. Ed’s mother Cynthia’s parents were Abram Simmons York (1818-1907) and Margaret J. O’Neal York (1821-1904). Both of Ed’s maternal grandparents were born in the state of New York. Abram fought for the Union in the Civil War, apparently sustaining some injury. As they neared age 50, Abram and Margaret moved westward to Iowa City, then to Butler County, Kansas, and finally Kay County, Oklahoma by 1900, prior to statehood, where their son, farmer John A. York, resided. Because they moved west from New York to Iowa, John’s younger sister Cynthia would meet Morrison McMillan Fay. When and where Cynthia and M. M. met is not certain, but by 1870, as Cynthia was a teenage schoolgirl, her father Abram had a job working at the train depot in Iowa City, Iowa.

Ed’s Uncle John’s oldest sister Aunt Mary Hester York (1842-1932) and her husband Uncle Wright Holmes Auchmoody also moved westward from New York. They had a farm in Dixon County, Nebraska by 1870. Dixon is in far northeast Nebraska on the west bank of the Missouri River, upriver from Council Bluffs, Iowa. Mary and W. H. had two children, Eli and Ida Auchmoody (1870-1961), who were older first cousins of Edgar. By 1892 Aunt Mary and her family were in Wichita, Kansas, where Cousin Ida was teaching. Shortly afterward, Ida married another teacher Andrew J. Smith. A biography of Andrew states that for three years Andrew was a school principal in Hot Springs, Arkansas before he returned north to attend medical school. Andrew and Ida both became physicians and prior to 1900, probably by 1894, settled in Ponca City, Oklahoma to practice… just north of the 101 Ranch. Over time, the Doctors Smith acquired a 1500 acre ranch in Osage County, residing in Foraker, then Pawhuska, Oklahoma.

Aunt Mary and Uncle Wright, in the meanwhile, remain a bit of an enigma. They and their son Eli are living in separate residences in Colorado Springs, Colorado in 1900, a city benefiting from the fortunes being made at nearby Cripple Creek mine, before moving on to Los Angeles County before Wright was back in Ponca City, Kay, Oklahoma at his daughter Dr. Smith’s home when he died in 1905.

Telluride, Colorado circa 1905, photo from a Fay family album

Mary and Wright’s movements illustrate a trend in Edgar Fay’s maternal family locations. If one were plotting the locations of residence, one could just start with drawing a circle around southeast Kansas and northeast Oklahoma Territory. More specific locations are Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas; El Dorado and Turkey Creek which is south of El Dorado in adjacent Butler County, Kansas; Indian Territorial areas now known as Ponca City, Kay County and Foraker and Pawhuska, Osage County. From there the trend was for some family members to move farther west, to New Mexico, Colorado and Los Angeles, California. The northern border of Oklahoma counties of Kay and Pawhuska are the southern Kansas state line, and the farthest distance we are talking about for our circled cluster is about 250 miles between Pawhuska to the southeast and Wichita, Kansas to the northwest. There was quite a bit of family activity in this area with 4 generations of Yorks and O’Neals residing, some remaining, but some venturing westward by 1900. Still, Ponca City had become a centering point for the family in the early 1900’s. In addition to the death of Mary’s husband in 1905 described above, in 1904 Mary’s mother Margaret O’Neal York died at the Ponca City home of her youngest daughter Ida York Richardson and her husband Ed D. Richardson, a blacksmith, and it is the location where the Drs. Smith established their first medical practice.

Is it any surprise then to find a 1910 census record of Edward Fay as a single man, farm laborer, residing with an older couple in Chandler, Lincoln County, Oklahoma, a mere 82 miles south of the Ponca City home of Cousin Ida? By this point in his life, even if he still did wild west gigs, his skills as a farmhand would be valuable, and word of mouth in the region, particularly with cousins such as the Dr.’s Smith or one of the wild west shows as references, would serve him well in procuring a position more secure and less risky than living on the road. The Chandler location is 72 miles south of the 101 Ranch at old Bliss, OK and 53 miles south of the Pawnee Bill Gordon Lillie Ranch at Pawnee, both clear shots from Chandler, with few obstacles, and a short distance for a fellow accustomed to traveling across country for the past 13 years.

In a way, the maternal York side of Ed’s family puts some context to the rest of the family and their movements, and therefore to Ed’s. This branch of Yorks were farmers and ranchers. Aunt Mary and Uncle Wright moved to Colorado even before Mary’s sister Cynthia and Morrison moved to Montrose. That so many of the principal maternal relatives were connected to Kay County, Oklahoma lends weight to the theory that Oklahoma-based wild west operations would have appealed to Ed Fay. Another way of putting it, there are two main ways that Cousin Ida connects Ed to his future wife Mellie Burns. One is that Ida’s work and ranch in Oklahoma drew Ed to the region, and his Oklahoma location, readily accessible by train and/or automobile, would have allowed travel by Ed to Oklahoma City where he might have had occasion to meet Mellie, or more likely, she would have taken a trip with her grandmother Lucy Jayne Harles Craig to a 101 Ranch or Pawnee bill exhibition where the Mellie and Ed encountered each other. A second way is through Cousin Ida’s and/or her husband Andrew’s former residence in Hot Springs. With their connections, a trip with Cousin Ed to see friends, or a business venture with Ed to Arkansas to purchase horses, might the Dr.’s Smith have paved the way to Arkansas opportunities for Mellie and Ed to find each other?

There is more to unearth about Aunt Mary York Auchmoody and her family. Even in writing this article, some curious gems emerged that will need more polishing and suggest a need for more digging.

Edgar and Mellie

When Mellie first saw Ed, he was an older man, age 40, and she was about 26. Wherever they met, it was evident that Ed was a man from another planet. Good looking, he wore denim pants, cotton shirt, a vest, fancy belt buckle, and a brimmed hat sitting back on his head of dark hair. His tan made his blue eyes sparkle. His easy, engaging smile captivated her heart. Conversation was easy, but he was a better listener than talker. He was funny, and he was sincere.

The year 1916 was a rough time for Ed and for Mellie. William Cody and Pawnee Bill’s combined grand, glorious show ended prematurely when money ran out. Although the 101 Ranch was still in operation, World War I was the worry of the nation. Mellie’s beloved father died in January at only 46 years of age, and Mellie was devastated at losing him so soon, leaving behind an entire family to grieve. Mellie’s youngest sibling Charlie was only three years of age.

Mellie and Ed were a perfect match. Mellie found Ed’s life history exciting and adventurous. He had been everywhere and experienced events and personalities she could only imagine. She found in Ed a strong protector who knew much of the world, could see things clearly, and had common sense and lots of practical skills.

Ed found in Mellie a lovely, sweet woman who was not a child. She was spiritual, rooted in her faith, something he found comforting and reminded him of his family. Having been from a large family, he was not intimidated by hers. He found the laughter and southern ways of her boisterous family a balm. Her mother and siblings took to him right away, welcoming him, cooking for him, and loving him. The younger siblings climbed on him, and he enjoyed horseplay and making them laugh.

Mellie’s paternal grandparents Rev. George Washington and Mahala Jane Black Burns were pleased with the match. George Washington Burns also may have played a role in introducing Mellie and Ed as he went about his missionary work in his travels to Indian Territory. He was reassured by Ed’s Christian stance and commitment to attend Unity Baptist Church with Mellie and the rest of the family. November, 1916 provided another blow to the family when Mahala Jane fell and died some days later from her injuries.

September 1917 Ed and Mellie began their committed life together, full of love, hope, and excitement for their future. They married in a small service presided over by grandfather Rev. George Washington Burns. Almost simultaneously, Ed registered for the World War I draft, listing Mellie as his closest relative, occupation farmer, working for C. L. Dunlop, Route 2, Arkadelphia, Arkansas.

….and they lived happily ever after. Right? Isn’t that how it ends??

* Showbusiness is not ALWAYS a good industry during economic downturns. I am writing this piece during a once in 100 years pandemic. 1893, bad as it was, did not consist of the added issue of a highly transmissible illness when people are in close quarters. As we are seeing in 2020, the careers are being derailed for musicians, dancers, actors; lighting, sound, and other technical directors; and all affiliated with theatre or arena performance, small venue, and movie and television production. Our hearts go out to all of them and their families.

A note regarding W. A.’s identity: DNA testing (Y-111, Big Y 700, and multiple autosomal DNA tests across several labs), in combination with considerable research and documentation, proves that Edgar Fay, the subject of our series, is a son of Morrison McMillan Fay and Cynthia Alice York Fay. They had 4 sons. We know that Edgar cannot be Morrison McMillan Fay, Jr. or Justin Brooks Fay. The dates, ages, and circumstances correspond most closely with the oldest son Wooster A. Fay.

The proposed scenario of Edgar Fay’s story was compiled using as much actual evidence as possible from records, newspaper articles of family members, historical facts, family stories, and personality traits and skill sets of siblings and descendants. The fact-finding is not complete, but it is time to share what we know and bring Edgar into the light of day!

Acknowledgements:

Deepest thanks to the countless individuals, cousins, family members, related on all sides, and not, who DNA tested and contributed helpful family information, historical context, photos, family histories, family stories to make this journey so successful. This is a very large family that became disconnected over the years due to geography and time. The progress made in reconnecting the dots of this story would NOT have been possible without each one of you, and it the renewed and continued connections are the best surviving legacy of the journey. Linda Forrest is a jewel, and her incessant research, willingness to share, insights, wisdom, and now friendship are worth than words can express.

DNA and Research Labs and Sites:

Family Tree DNA https://www.familytreedna.com Y-DNA, Big Y, FamilyFinder, mtDNA

Ancestry.com https://ancestry.com

FamilySearch http://familysearch.org/

Newspapers.com https://www.newspapers.com/

Colorado Historic Newspapers Collection https://www.coloradohistoricnewspapers.org/

Organizations:

101 Ranch Old Timers Association, 1609 Donald Avenue, Ponca City, OK 74604 https://www.101ranchota.com/

First Congregational United Church of Christ (current name), Franklin, Nebraska 601 14th Ave, Franklin, NE 68939-1505 https://www.facebook.com/Franklin.UCC.Church/

Franklin County, NE Historical Society, Hwy 136 & Hwy 10 Intersection, Franklin, NE 68939 https://www.facebook.com/pages/Franklin-County-Historical-Society/1179868558695621

Johnson County, Arkansas Historical Society and Heritage Center, 131 West Main Street, Clarksville, Arkansas 72830 https://www.facebook.com/groups/JohnsonCountyHeritageCenter/

Montrose County Historical Museum, 21 N. Rio Grande St., Montrose, CO 81401-3467 https://www.montrosehistory.org/

Oklahoma Historical Society, Oklahoma History Center, and Research Center, 800 Nazih Zuhdi Drive, Oklahoma City, OK 73105 https://www.okhistory.org/index.php

Pawnee Bill Ranch and Museum, P. O. Box 493, Pawnee, OK 74058 https://www.okhistory.org/sites/pawneebill

Books and Films:

Foley, Larry, The First Boys of Spring, a film narrated by Billy Bob Thornton, University of Arkansas Press, 2015

Wallis, Michael, The Real Wild West: The 101 Ranch and the Creation of the American West, St. Martin’s Press, New York, 1999.

Woodard, Colin, American Nations: A History of the Eleven Rival Regional Cultures of North America, Penguin Publishing Group, 2012.

Finding the Mysterious Edgar Fay Part 2

Early Years and Forebears

One winter’s day in 1888, a phenomenal winter weather event paralyzed the Midwest and northern plains of the United States. Now the event is known as the Children’s Blizzard. On that day, January 12, historians tell us that the morning started with mild temperatures, even relatively warm. When at mid-day the weather took a turn for the worse, everyone was caught off guard. There was a sudden, steep drop in temperature, and as it started to snow, the weather quickly changed to extreme blizzard conditions. Children perished on their way home. Farmers died when they could not find their way from barn to house, just yards away.

Fortunately for the family of Morrison McMillan and Cynthia Alice York Fay, the worst of the winter weather was just to the north of Franklin County, Nebraska, where they had moved just three years before about 1855. The extreme weather is an example of the harsh conditions that early settlers of the plains encountered, challenging their resolve and efforts to established a civilized life.

Unlike new immigrants who came to the Midwest in the 1800’s with promises of fertile lands and moderate climate, only to be shocked by the harshness, the Fay family were a line of several generations of westward-moving families. The Fays were the sort of folk who thrived on the novelty and challenges that they sought.

At the time of the 1888 blizzard, Morrison and Cynthia’s children were Charlotte “Lottie” at years of age, Eleanor “Nellie” 14, Wooster A. 12, Malcolm 7, Morrison McMillan, Jr. 3 and Rowena 2. Little Cynthia had died at 5 years of age in 1884 in Pottawattamie County, Iowa, right before the move to Franklin. Three more children would be born to the family in Franklin, Justin Brooks in 1890, Joyce in 1892, and Ruth Ellsworth in 1898. Descendants tell us that the family was so big, the boys lived in the barn and the girls in the house.

Our focus in this story is upon the first son of the family, the third child. It was 1876, possibly April 8, in Council Bluffs, Iowa when Wooster A. Fay came into the world. His birth year was the 100th anniversary of the United States of America, and the year that Colorado became a state and Wild Bill Hickock was killed in a poker game in South Dakota. W. A. was born just prior to birth certificates being required in Iowa, and the subsequent records we have for him record a range of birthdates, for reasons we are not quite sure.

Wooster’s parents Morrison McMillan and Cynthia were ages 26 and 20 years old, respectively, at the time of his birth. Morrison McMillan Fay often went by M. M. He was born in Perrysburg, Ohio August 27, 1849. Cynthia was born February 25, 1855 in the state of New York, USA. By all indications, Morrison was a farmer, as was his father Wooster Fay, who was born in Vermont in 1819, married to Charlotte McMillan, born in 1826 in Ohio. Clearly, M. M. named his first son for his father. For now, we will refer to little Wooster as W. A. and to his grandfather as Wooster.

Detail of antique map, Boston Public Library

We do not know how much young W. A., as he grew up within his family, knew about his paternal line history, but today, especially in the world of digitized, online records, it is easily traced. The immigrant Fay was John Fay, who at eight years of age traveled from Gravesend, England aboard a ship called the Speedwell (not the most famous Speedwell– there were several ships by the name), arriving in Boston Harbor in 1656, accompanied by adults who were not his parents but seemed to be serving as kind guardians. The exact circumstances of John’s departure and the identities of his parents remain unclear, amidst the English Civil War and a period of political and religious upheaval.

Surprise sundog in downtown Boston.
Modern-day Boston Harbor: The coastline has changed so much,
the actual landing place of the Speedwell in 1656 is not known.

Fortunately for us, most of John Fay’s descendants remained in Massachusetts for several generations, since the early institutions of government and church were good at keeping records of marriages, births, and deaths, and most have been preserved. Wooster came from a long line of Congregationalists. The name Wooster very likely was a throw-back to Worcester pronounced “Wooster,” Massachusetts, a residence of his ancestors, but spelling of names was pretty fluid prior to 1900, so it is easy to see why Wooster would be a preferred spelling for the grandfather and his grandson.

Immigrant John Fay first married Mary Brigham, then Susannah Shattuck after Mary died. He had children with each wife, and Wooster was a descendant of John and Susannah’s son David Fay (1679 Marlboro, Middletown County, Massachusetts – 1738 Southborough, Worcester County, Massachusetts). A study of the descendants of John Fay is interesting. With some exceptions, they could read and write. Many were farmers, but also engineers or surveyors. They fought in wars. They were leaders in their communities, and some were pastors or church leaders. Wooster’s 2nd great uncle Elijah Fay (1781-1862) was the earliest winemaker and planter of grapevines in the Chautauqua region of New York, which by the way was “moving west” at one point in our early history. Several Fays were patriots during the American Revolution, including Stephen Fay (1715 Worcester, Worcester County, Massachusetts – 1781 Bennington County, Vermont) who owned Catamount Tavern where the Green Mountain Boys, which included his son Jonas Fay (1737 Worcester, Worcester County, Massachusetts – 1818 Bennington County, Vermont), met to discuss their next moves. Jonas would be, by my calculation, Wooster’s 2nd cousin four times removed.

Excellent background read about Vermont in the American Revolution

Wooster also was from one of the few Fay lines interested in moving west as land opened for settlement. Wooster’s father Jonathan Fay (1780 – 1839) was the older brother of the grape-planter Elijah. They were sons of Nathan Fay (1747/48 – 1831) and Ruth Rice (1755-1812) and grandsons of Aaron Fay (1719 – 1798) and Thankful Newton (1719 – 1755). Aaron was a son of Sarah Larkin (1677 – 1755) and David Fay (1679 – 1738) the oldest son of immigrant John Fay and his second wife Susannah Shattuck. So, Jonathan and Elijah were immigrant John Fay’s 2nd great grandsons. As a young man, Jonathan moved to Vermont where he married Ruth Ellsworth (Abt. 1788 – 1865), whose family had been earlier settlers of the New Hampshire Grants. It is worth mentioning that land inheritance in New England generally was split among heirs, rather than going to the first-born, as was the law in the southern colonies and states. Large families meant smaller portions of land to farm, so when land became available, a desire for a better life motivated claiming land newly opened for settlement.

While Jonathan’s younger brother Elijah remained in New York, Jonathan pressed onward, continuing to move westward from Vermont. As they established their family in Vermont, Jonathan and Ruth lost their infant Cephas, less than two years old, in 1816, and their daughter Betsey died as a teenager in 1829, but shortly after, Jonathan in his 50’s and Ruth in her 40’s the family made the move to Franklin, Ohio, with Addison 23 years old, Wooster about 13, and Hollis eight. Jonathan received a grant for acreage in Franklin County, Ohio. He died just a few years later when Wooster was 19 years of age.

At age 26 Wooster married Charlotte McMillan, just two years younger than he, in Perrysburg, Ohio in 1846. Their first daughter Emma was born in 1847 in Ohio, followed by a son and daughter in two year intervals. Then the young family moved to Iowa, eventually landing in Council Bluffs, Pottawattamie County, Iowa by 1860 where Wooster and Charlotte remained until Wooster’s death in 1897 at age 77. They were farmers, members of the Congregational Church, and political leaders in the area. They reared four children, Emma (1847 Ohio – 1928 Washington) Morrison McMillan (1849 Ohio – 1919 California), Jane (1851 Ohio – 1891 Washington), and Isoletta (1860 Iowa – 1892 Washington). The sisters have theirs stories, reserved for another day. Our story today is about the oldest grandson of Wooster and Charlotte and the oldest son of Morrison McMillan Fay who continued the westward-moving pattern of this Fay family line.

The westward-moving Fays were what historians typically refer to as builders. These Fays were early settlers, but not the earliest. They were not the explorers, the mountain men and women, or the machete-wielding first settlers of a location. They were among the first to enter a region when it became open for settlement, farming, or business. In that sense, they were adventurous and looking for new opportunities and a new life, a little risky, but not a lot risky in their moves.

Now back to little Wooster “W. A.” Briefly, let’s talk about his name. What did the “A” stand for? The Fay family at least for the first five or so generations re-used family given names, particularly biblical names when naming their children. The frequency of duplicate names certainly makes Fay historical research quite tricky and confusing, and one reason I included dates and spouses of W. A.’s ancestors in this piece. The best guess is that “A” is for Wooster’s brother Addison, the older brother of Wooster who had remained in Ohio, and who was very likely admired by Wooster. Since we know that by 1917 Wooster A. Fay was known as Edgar or Ed Fay, was there any family reason or impetus for the switch, the same way Charlotte was Charlotta and Lottie and Eleanor was Nellie? The family used nicknames. Lots of them, some with no evident relevance to the original name. If W. A. was Wooster Addison, and he grew up in the same community as his grandfather Wooster Fay, did they call W. A. “Addison,” and did they shorten it to Eddie, that later he took as a first name, converting it to Ed or Edgar? The issue is not a trivial one, as our story develops. We will leave him as W. A. for now…

By age seven, Morrison moved with his family to Illyria, Fayette County, Iowa, and by the time he was 11 years old, they had moved to Silver Creek Township, Pottawattamie County, Iowa, an area about 25 miles to the southeast of Council Bluffs, Iowa, which is on the Missouri River directly across from Omaha, Nebraska. At the time, the land where the Fays settled was prairie, and the family probably were the first white people to farm it. Morrison’s father Wooster was a farmer, who later became a breeder of cattle. While he was farming, he was actively involved in politics as a Republican, was in the state legislature for three years, and represented Pottawattamie County on the Board of Supervisors 1874-1880. Wooster and Charlotte eventually moved into Council Bluffs on a three-acre plot of land.

Morrison grew to adulthood with a palette of family gifts and attributes. He knew first-hand the experience of a family moving to a new location, making the move a success, and building something from nothing. He was gifted with education, interest in learning, civic duty and civic-mindedness, community involvement, leadership skills, and a spiritual bent. As his parents’ only son, one imagines he worked with his father directly and learned skills in farming, crop and plant propagation, and animal breeding and farm management.

Platte River in Nebraska, about an hour north of Franklin, NE which is on the Republican River.

Franklin County, Nebraska was opening as a new spot on the southern border of the central Nebraska/Kansas line, as a prime place for farming, and the railroad arrived in 1879. Franklin, NE was considered fertile and moderate in climate, and interestingly had a hilly area that was beneficial for fruit farming, an area of interest for the Fays, as we have seen previously of Wooster and Uncle Elijah of vineyard fame. As a matter of fact, as the Fays moved to Franklin the area evolved into a center of peach orchards, with several farmers involved in the industry. The Fays first owned a house east of downtown and acquired farmland the north then later traded with the John J. and Helen M. Chitwood family for a farm at the north edge of town.

Based upon location, lot placement, and names in deeds, this probably was the Fay house in Franklin, NE. Notice expanse toward back of house for likely fruit trees.

To be clear, there is Franklin County, then there is Franklin the town, which now is the county seat since 1920. There was an early struggle between Franklin and Bloomington regarding who would be the ultimate county seat with Franklin the first holder of the honor in 1871, then losing to Bloomington in 1874, but Franklin was the ultimate victor. People studying the history would be wise to consider that their records or history could reside in either location, including the newspapers of each.

Model of the Franklin Congregational Church the Fay family attended. The congregation later moved to a new, larger building and now is the Franklin Congregational United Church of Christ, Franklin, Nebraska

Franklin was a very progressive new community, located just north of the Republican River, and about 45 miles south of the Platte River. In addition to the farming, arguably the crown jewel of the city was the Franklin Academy, a coeducational boarding school established in 1881, started and supported by the Congregational Church. Did I mention that the Fays were Congregationalists? The Congregationalists as a denomination saw education of the public and the young as a mission that they took very seriously, and the Congregational Church of Franklin took their responsibilities to Franklin Academy very seriously. They actively supported the students and interacted with them. They allowed the academy to use their facilities for activities such as recitals and graduation. The school was very prestigious, and the boarding school housed students from across the region and other states. It was the only high school between the Missouri River and Denver. Franklin Academy offered the full range of academics, math, science, engineering, and the arts. It is highly possible that the existence of the Academy was a factor in the Fays’ move to Franklin. All the Fay children of age went to school at the academy at one time or another, and Charlotte (pronounced, and eventually spelled, Charlotta) became one of the instructors after she graduated.

Last surviving building of Franklin Academy, relocated to property east of Franklin, NE

One of the great sources of information about the Fays has been the local Franklin, Nebraska newspaper of the era, the Sentinel. Newspaper accounts describe Charlotta and Eleanor as social, hosting and attending events with their classmates and church groups. Their mother Cynthia also hosted events in the Fay home. Cynthia and Morrison were involved in church leadership, representing their local congregation at regional meetings.

In researching the Fays, it became clear that the parents’ support of the daughters in their education and activities was remarkable. By all evidence, the girls were afforded every opportunity to attend school and pursue their interests, and the girls responded by becoming active participants and leaders in church, school, and their community. The two older daughters pursued education that prepared them to become teachers.

The papers we have researched so far give less information about the sons. The current conclusion is that although the boys did receive basic education, they likely were heavily involved in the farm work with their father, not attending soirees or teas. In that regard, they would have learned about horticulture, planting, particularly fruit production, and they were exposed to plant grafting and breeding. They became adept at riding, training and breaking horses; driving wagons; maintaining and repairing farm machinery; and the raising and breeding of cattle and hogs. By later years, it became evident that Morrison had some health problems. The nature of the problem is not clear, and we do not know if Morrison developed any issues in his earlier years. If so, there would have been more work burden shifted to his sons.

Church records also give some insight into the family activities. Records of the Congregational Church in Franklin show that W. A. and his brother Malcolm attended a church revival with the family late in 1992. Both boys committed to join the church and were affirmed December, 1992. It must have been a joyful time for the family as they joined to celebrate Christmas.

There are wonderful records of the Franklin Academy housed at the Franklin County Historical Society, current president Angie Blank. While the records are incomplete, we can see evidence of all the Fay children who attended and their course of studies.

Unexplained Disappearance

Charlotta “Lottie” Fay listed as teacher at Franklin Academy, 1897.

An article appeared in the Daily Times of Davenport, Iowa, November 20, 1897. The article described Miss Lottie Fay of Franklin, Nebraska who wrote a letter to Davenport Mayor Smith, pleading with him to search the local hospitals to locate her younger brother Wooster Fay. Someone gave her a clipping of a Davenport paper in which a man by the name Wooster Fay was described as badly injured. Miss Fay, clearly our Charlotte/Charlotta Fay, explained in the letter that her brother Wooster had been enticed away from Franklin by an older companion when a lad and had not been heard from since, but by now would be about 21 years old. In addition to the Daily Times, the Quad-City Times and the Davenport Weekly Republican ran articles the same week, citing the concerning letter. The newspaper editors, the police, and the mayor made every effort to inquire of local physicians and hospitals to help Lottie find Wooster Fay. No Wooster was found, and evidently none of the papers originated the story about which Charlotta inquired. The recommendation to Lottie was that she contact other Davenports in other states for leads to locate her brother.

… but wait! What? W. A. Fay disappeared? As a lad? With an older companion enticing him? What happened? What sort of fate did he meet? Lottie ever succeed in re-establishing contact with him? What kind of agony was experienced by his parents and his siblings, his community, his friends at Franklin Academy, and his church?

Acknowledgements–

Boston Public Library

Fay Family Members

Franklin County Historical Society, Franklin, Nebraska, Angie Blank, President

Franklin Congregational Church, United Church of Christ, Franklin, Nebraska

ancestry.com

familysearch.com

newspapers.com

familytreedna.com

Laskin, David, The Children’s Blizzard, HarperCollins, 2004.

Wren, Christopher S., Those Turbulent Sons of Freedom: Ethan Allen’s Green Mountain Boys and the American Revolution, Simon Schuster, 2018.

Finding the Mysterious Edgar Fay…an evolving story. Part 1

Coming into focus…

Prologue

I look through a foggy window, peering to see the man on the other side. His last name was Fay. His wife knew him as Edgar Fay. None of the people who knew Edgar directly are alive today. Walter Dempsey Fay was the third child of Edgar and his wife Mellie. When Walter grew to adulthood and related family stories to his children, he described his father as a kind, loving man who was very fond of family. He also remembered him as a man who worked hard, even leaving home to find work during the depression, never to return home, presumed dead, though no body was ever found. Walter, his sister Rose, his brother James, and their mother were devastated. Walter and his siblings, all children when he disappeared, were convinced that surely their father was still alive. They all continued to look for clues about him, his heritage, and his fate, throughout their lives.

The clues for Edgar were few. They came from a few things told by Walter, prior to Walter’s death, and from the adult children of James. Here were the clues: Edgar Fay was born in Council Bluffs, Iowa, a fact he told his children over the years and that the children remembered. Prior to his marriage in Arkansas at 43 years of age to Mellie Burns, he did circus and rodeo work. The children, and later the grandchildren, avoided asking Mellie about Edgar over the years, not wanting to upset her. She died in 1973, taking her knowledge of Edgar, his past, the beginnings of their relationship, and his family with her. Among Mellie’s belongings left behind, there were no photographs, letters, diary, or writings by or about Edgar to give us guidance.

The path to find Edgar Fay has been long and adventurous. It involved interviewing family members for their memories as clues, DNA testing, and intensive traditional research and genealogy techniques. Eventually, I will write about the discovery process. But first, it is time to write about Edgar and his life. The desire to write has been strong, but until recently, the foggy window made it hard to see Edgar’s face, to understand him as a person. Recently, the window came ajar. As we gradually open the window further, we see Edgar as he begins to come into view. We still cannot see him fully, yet he is ready for us begin telling his story.

Over the next weeks, you will hear about Edgar’s heritage and youth, his young adulthood, and his married life and what may have been his demise. Thank you for coming along for the journey!

The Amazing Mabel Hackney Tompkins: Wild West Sensation and Oklahoma Connection

A sixteen-year-old boy in Franklin, Nebraska left home in 1893. He left with “an older companion,” leaving his parents and siblings upset and concerned. He was not heard from for years. His family moved to Montrose, Colorado by the turn of the century. The boy, as a grown man now known as Edgar Fay, was in Arkansas by 1917, where he married a much younger Miss Mellie Burns from Arkadelphia, and he registered for the World War I draft. Where was Edgar between 1893 and 1917? Edgar’s son Walter Dempsey Fay, who only had childhood memories of his father, later would tell his children the couple of facts that he knew knew about Edgar. One was that Edgar was born, “in Council Bluffs, Iowa.” The other was that Edgar had traveled with a circus or rodeo at some point before he married.

Soon I will write more about Edgar (aka Wooster A. Fay) and the search for him to locate his original family. Today I delve into the time between 1893 and 1917 and the world into which Edgar “Ed” might have stepped.

Why would a boy leave home in Nebraska in 1893? A Google search identified a very clear possibility: In 1893, Buffalo Bill regenerated his Wild West Show in order to perform during the Chicago World’s Fair! …and Buffalo Bill and his family had a home where they resided in Nebraska, just upstream on the Platte River, which passed not far north of Franklin.

I am not from Nebraska, so the presence of Buffalo Bill in Nebraska lexicon was news to me, and quite exciting. Edgar was a student at the Franklin Academy, which was a prestigious high school, the only one in Nebraska at the time, and the only one between Missouri and Denver. It was a boarding school, so students from many locations resided at the school. Ed was a day student, living nearby with his family, but would have known all the other students. Any of the older students or their family members may have had connections with Wild West recruiting. Ed, the oldest son of the family, lived on a farm at the edge of town, and we know that his father, whose career was listed as “farmer,” depended upon Ed’s hard work. Due to his work, age, and location, Ed would have been an accomplished rider and horseman. We also are told by descendants of his youngest brother Justin Brooks Fay that the boys were worked quite hard; there were lots of children, too many to fit into the house, and the boys lived in the barn. What if this teenage boy had an opportunity to join a Wild West show and to be paid for the work? How could that not be alluring?!

As additional information that could contribute to the allure, Ed Fay would have heard about , and might have attended, Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show’s inaugural performance in Omaha, Nebraska, May 19, 1883. That year, Ed, his family, and his grandparents were living across the river from Omaha in Council Bluffs, Iowa, and little Ed would have been about six years of age.

I confess that the first time I heard about the term “circus,” as the past work for Ed Fay, I thought of circuses that were prominent, touring the United States during the 1960’s – 1980’s. I initially did not know the identity of Ed’s family or where he grew up, other than the Iowa reference. I also never contemplated what a “circus” of his era might have been, even when I discovered his Nebraska/Colorado connection. As I researched Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows, it became clear to me that several terms were used somewhat interchangeably, including “extravaganza,” “circus,” “amusement,” carnival,” and “Rough Riders.”

Mabel Hackney and Skyrocket Jumping a Table, from Mabel Tompkins Collection,
courtesy of Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

The name and photograph of Mabel Hackney appeared last week as a historical photo as I perused social media (Did you know there are great historical and genealogical finds on social media?!) In the photo, Mable was mesmerizing, side-saddled on a lovely horse jumping deftly, as Mabel showed grace and confidence. It happens that Mabel was a cowgirl who performed with Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, then married cowboy and showman Charles Tompkins and retired in El Reno, Oklahoma. El Reno is about 30 miles west of Oklahoma City, a significant key to Ed Fay’s story. Ed’s future wire Mellie’s grandmother Lucy Jayne Harles Craig was a widow living in Oklahoma City by 1900, and Mellie was born in Indian Territory in 1890. Because of the potential for Oklahoma City to be the bridge between Ed Fay’s Nebraska and Mellie’s Arkansas location, it made sense to research Mabel and Charles.

There are several photos of Mable Hackney Tompkins online. The photos are from the Mabel Tompkins Collection at the Oklahoma History Center in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma. I arranged to view the collection, giving me a view into the world of the Wild West shows of the late 19th and early 20th centuries.

Mabel was a young woman who grew up in Kansas and became proficient in riding and horsemanship. She came to the attention of Buffalo Bill William Cody who offered her an opportunity to join his show in 1898, her first job! She continued to perform with the Wild West Show until she became injured and took time off to recover.

Mabel’s riding included expert jumping, later developing an act in which she would jump a horse over a table at which a group of gentlemen were leisurely enjoying their beverages. Her horses also were trained to race chariots, cakewalk, dance, and engage in tight maneuvers and tricks, like knocking down chairs and setting them back into place. Mabel won many awards for her horsemanship.

Charles Tompkins from the Mabel Tompkins Collection,
courtesy of Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Meanwhile, Charles Tompkins was a young man from Texas who began working with cattle as a pre-adolescent and joined a couple of the major cattle drives to Montana. Charles learned to break and train horses, and he became a skilled bucking bronco rider and roper.

Through Buffalo Bill, Charles met Mabel while she was rehabilitating from her injury, and they married about a year later in 1904. As a couple, they started their own Wild West shows. They formed different iterations of their shows across the years. In most cases, Mabel and Charles were the premier solo acts. They also hired other acts to round out the offerings, going from one town to another during their touring season. On a couple of occasions, they joined other shows, and they toured in Europe extensively. In 1918 the couple moved to El Reno and retired from their traveling shows.

Mabel Hackney and Darmon, from the Mabel Tompkins Collection,
courtesy of Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Newspaper clippings show consistent work across the years. The shows traversed the United States, including the 1904 St. Louis World’s Fair, Philadelphia, New Jersey, New York, Cincinnati, and Florida. Most cities were met with return engagements in subsequent years.

Mabel and “Dorman” in Maine, 1908, from Mabel Tompkins Collection,
courtesy of Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

Some of the touring acts they assembled, especially the early shows, focused upon western bronco riding, lasso and lariat tricks, knife throwing, and sharp shooting. The Wild West show included native Americans with reenactments of Indian/white conflicts. There were some shows that included riders from Europe and Russia performing riding and tricks from their traditions. On at least one occasion, Charles and Mabel were involved in projects Charles directed that combined four different shows, with hundreds of horses and many riders and entertainers.

While the riding and western skills were a large component of these shows, the term “circus” often was used, and that what later came to be considered more common circus acts were included more and more as well. Exotic animals, exotic people, trapeze, and knife throwing were included in some of these shows.

from the Helen Tompkins Collection,
courtesy of Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

On at least one occasion, they traveled to Europe for extended tours. There is an interesting account of Charles’ getting his Indian participants to the location they were supposed to perform.

There were mishaps. Injuries and falls were common. The shows met with some crooks and foul weather. There was an instance of a show having to close in Europe when the impresario went bankrupt, leaving performers stranded.

Charles must have been a master entrepreneur, skilled in management and organization, as well as marketing and promotion. He and Mabel had clear rules for their employees. Their contracts were quite specific. They communicated well with those venues where they performed. Their were heavily involved in the advance work, and they managed the travel from location to location and getting their people from one event tot he next. To be fair, from the materials left by Charles and Mabel, it is not entirely clear which of the two was responsible for which managerial work. There is one document from their first show that is attributed to Mabel, with her list of the acts employed for that season. She is described as being very sensitive to the employees and concerned for them as individuals and for their well-being. There clearly is writing we can attribute to Charles, including letters and historical summaries that he signed. By the way, his excellent written, and presumably spoken, communication skills are a boon to us today, since we have such lovely summaries and documentation of the Tompkins’ lives.

Mabel and Charles maintained good connections with the people they met… and oh, the people they met! Will Rogers worked for their show in their early years. Mabel performed in the Buffalo Bill show with cowgirls Annie Oakley and Lucille Mulhall. With many of the people they met and with whom they worked, even from the days Mabel worked with Buffalo Bill, the Tompkins maintained firm and fast connections and friendships.

Christmas Card and Note from horsewoman Lucille Mulhall, from Mabel Tompkins Collection,
courtesy of Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

We must highlight Gordon William Lillie (1860-1942), otherwise known as Pawnee Bill, and his wife May Manning Lillie who as an equestrian and sharpshooter. Pawnee Bill worked as Pawnee Indian interpreter for the Buffalo Bill show. May Manning Lillie was a Philadelphia Quaker student at Smith College. Lillie met May by happenstance when she was 15 and the show was touring in Philadelphia. The couple married a couple of years later, following an intense effort by Bill to earn her parents’ approval, and upon May’s graduation from school. May embraced the western way of life, and her business acumen added greatly to their partnership. In 1888 the Lillies started their wild west show, with May the star. Their shows evolved to include acts from other continents. After some mis-steps, their shows had very successful European tours, and they became a major competitor for Buffalo Bill’s Wild West shows.

Buffalo Bill and Pawnee Bill joined forces in 1908 and established “Buffalo Bill’s Wild West and Pawnee Bill’s Great Far East,” also known as “The Two Bill’s.” The show was quite an extravaganza, but heartily opposed by May, who was concerned that William Cody’s poor financial management and his wild ways would be the downfall of the venture. Evidently she was correct. The show went bankrupt and ended in Denver, Colorado in 1913. The couple went on to do shows and showcases on their 5000 acre ranch in Pawnee, Oklahoma, and they were very involved in promotion of Oklahoma, conservation of buffalo, and other civic endeavors.

The Tompkins’ retirement to El Reno provided opportunities for continued connection and friendship with the Lillies. Charles became a businessman, owning an automobile dealership, and he and Mabel continued involvement in the Oklahoma State Fair and establishment and support of rodeos. Charles and G. W. Lillie both were involved in improvements of Route 66/64. Charles became a regional W. P. A. supervisor during the Great Depression. The Tompkins and Lillies had much in common. It is easy to imagine a visit between Mabel and May; how much in common they shared in skills, experiences, and as trail blazers; and how much potential mutual support and camaraderie they might have enjoyed.

Newspaper clipping of European tour of Wild West show, featuring Mabel Hackney “Queen of the Prairie” and Charles Tompkins “King of the Texas Cowboys,” from Mabel Tompkins Collection,
courtesy of Oklahoma History Center, Oklahoma City, Oklahoma

In reading the articles about the Tompkins’ shows as they toured to towns across the United States, the excitement of the events is palpable. While some of the news articles included staple advance material regarding the acts, most were written by local reporters who gushed about the impending excitement in the town as they anticipated the event. Also evident were the reporters’ and audience reaction to the expertise, and I daresay the showmanship, of the riders and performers. It is hard to find a modern equivalent to the western riders engaged in masterful feats, showcasing prize horses and expert horsemanship with cowboys, cowgirls, and Indians in all their allure and magnificence.

It is hard to read now, today, some of the accounts, laying bare the minimization of the Indian plight and misrepresentation of events like Wounded Knee. Our mission here, though, today is to look at what might have led a boy to leave home and school What might have captured his heart and attention. In addition to Buffalo Bill’s Wild West Show, there were many other touring shows, including those of the Tompkins and Pawnee Bill. Across the period of several decades, the various acts and performers seemed to join with the various shows, depending upon schedule, opportunity, and probably the pay. Promoters, especially into the early 1900’s, also developed movies and plays that employed ensembles of skilled and trick riders and ropers.

Will we ever locate Ed Fay during this era? So far, we have not. Buffalo Bill’s employee records are sparse. Among the papers of Mabel Hackney and Charles Tompkins, there are no formal employee records. I saw the one early list of names of some of the riders the Tompkins employed in one early show. Newspaper articles occasionally list principal riders, then indicate “cowboys,” without naming them. In addition, one would think that there were other unnamed employees who helped train and break horses, transport and care for the animals, do advance work, set up and take down living quarters, drive wagons, or engage in any number of functions. These workers would not normally be listed in any newspaper article. It is daunting to think of tracking down every show to see if there are any surviving records, much less any lists of employees.

Thanks so much to the lovely Mabel Hackney for bringing the world of cowgirls and cowboys to light, showing me that a kid growing up in the late 1800’s in the Midwest might see heroes in a world that showcased skills that could be learned in the course of rural life. Without a doubt, the timing, location, and allure of the Wild West Show for a teenage boy in Nebraska in 1893 make Buffalo Bill and appealing hero in the year of the 1893 Chicago World’s Fair– a dream to pursue!

Acknowledgements: Thank you to the Oklahoma History Center, their archivist, and their staff. The article would not be possible without access to the 1988.007 Mabel Tompkins Collection. All photos are from the Mabel Tompkins Collection. http://www.okhistory.org

Thank you, also, to Angie Blank and the Franklin County (Nebraska) Museum which provided great resources and support in locating documents about and from the Franklin Academy, and for facilitating contact with the First Congregational Church of Franklin and location of land and other supporting documents. Their insights into western shows and local legends also helped contextualize our research. https://www.facebook.com/pages/Franklin-County-Museum/279155045580328

Jefferson Thomas Williams: Where There’s a Will… #52Ancestors #3

Sometimes, wills are, arguably, as valuable to history and genealogy researchers as they were for the immediate survivors of the deceased whose will is probated.  Here is an example of bringing to life a gentleman and his wife through the deaths of 4 individuals and their respective wills and/or administrative testimony.

At first glance, Jefferson Thomas Williams (1805-1870) emerges from the pages of federal census and land records as a prosperous farmer in 19th century Fayette County, Tennessee,  with a fair amount of land and many slaves, and not a lot more to say about him.  In the 1860 slave schedule, he showed ownership of 71 slaves.  The 1840 census indicates that he and his wife are the only white people in the household, so at first read, one would assume he had no children, since the couple were about 35 years old at the time.  There is no cemetery record or obituary where children might have claimed Jefferson or his wife Nancy as their parents.

Will Number 1:

In my last post featuring Rebecca Williams, I referenced Jefferson Thomas Williams, because I found her as his sister in his will, indirectly, by connecting her with her sons Joseph and Francis Drake, who were named as heirs.  Jefferson’s will, along with associated documents and ledgers, yield a bounty of knowledge that start to give us a more rounded and full view of Jefferson Thomas Williams.

Before we delve into his will, we should review the other records more readily available.  In searching, one finds that Jefferson Thomas is listed alternately as Jefferson T., J. T., and Jeff, and one should avoid mistaking him for James, John, or Joseph when the initial J. is used, since all are common given names in the area.   In my narrative, I will alternate among the various names for him, as suits my fancy, to clarify, for emphasis, or for expediency.

Census records list Jefferson’s  birthplace as North Carolina, about 1805, which appears to be true, although the date may be suspect, as later we will see.  J. T. and Nancy Daughtry signed their marriage bond in Northampton County, North Carolina, North Carolina  December 26, 1828 when they were about 23 and 22 years of age, respectively.  By 1840 the couple were in Fayette County, Tennessee where they continued to be listed in the same county in the 1850, and 1860 census records.

My original search for Jefferson T. Williams was in searching for the 1850 whereabouts of  the 1860 census Dancyville, Haywood County, TN thirty-year-old resident James L. Williams, married to Elizabeth and father of Silas and “Bud” Leonard Williams.  You will recall that Silas Williams is the name of the person in the first blog of my series, and whether or not he is the same Silas as the one in the 1850 Dancyville census is one focus of my research.  IMG_1783

Sure enough, in the Fayette County, TN 1850 Federal Census there is a James Williams, age 20, listed in the household of Jefferson T. and Nancy Williams.  There also are Rebecca age 11, Thomas age 8, and Jennet age 5.  As mentioned earlier, there are no children listed in 1840 in the Williams household.  Rebecca would have been an infant, so might not have been listed, as I understand sometimes happened in the era.  But where was James in 1840? Was he really a son of J. T. and Nancy?  Or a nephew?  An orphan?  The 1850 census does not specify familial relationships.

It took a lot of charting and examining the names and ages of the children in the household each census year to start to see a pattern.  The first clue was Joseph N. Williams, named as heir and executor of J. T.’s 1870 will.  In the 1860 census, Joseph is listed with an abbreviated name, “Jos,” which looks a bit like “Jas,” so easily mistaken.  Joseph also should have been in the 1840 census, since he was born about 1837, according to his first appearance to us, in the 1860 census at age 23.  His absence in 1850 from the family is notable.

There is a pattern of children who are perhaps ranging generally from 9 to 17 years of age being gone from the household, only to return again.  The dates of birth of some of the family’s children, particularly Thomas (J. T., Jr.), Rebecca, and Jennet would have resulted in their presence at home for the census.  An example is Thomas, who was eight years old in 1850 and 18 years old in 1860 where he is listed as “J. T.,” one presumes Jefferson Thomas Williams, Jr.  His years of middle-to high-school attendance would have fit between the census years.

Were the children sent for apprenticeships in another household?  Census records in Fayette and Haywood Counties in Tennessee are consistent with that practice.  Alternatively, were the children sent to boarding school?  We will have an opportunity to revisit the household absence issue when it is addressed in an upcoming document!

Will (referenced– still searching for the complete will) Number 2:

In 1869, the year before he died, J. T.. appeared in Fayette County Court to state that his son James had died, leaving no property and no debt.  J. T. was speaking as administrator of his son’s estate.  As you recall, we were even wondering if any of the youngsters listed in the census records were biological children of J. T. and Nancy.  The affirmation of a son named James, as well as the naming of the 2nd boy Joseph Williams as executor of J. T.’s 1870 will and naming his daughter Rebecca in the will (Will Number 1), increases the likelihood that all of the children in the household are biological children.  In all, it appears that Jefferson Thomas and Nancy Williams had 5 children who lived beyond infancy, at least until 1860, and that Joseph and Rebecca lived beyond 1870:  James; Joseph N.; Rebecca; Jefferson Thomas, Jr.; and Jennet or Jennett.

Some have speculated that forty-year-old James R. Williams, living nearly adjacent to James L. Williams in 1860 might be James L.’s older brother.  While possible, it seems unlikely that J. T. and Nancy would have named two living sons James.  Additionally, J. T. would have had to be 15 years old when he fathered James R., if we believe J. T.’s birth date.  There could have been a prior marriage, along with the very early onset fatherhood, and that is a theory that could be further tested.

The 1860 census listed James R. as a wagon maker and James L. a shingle maker, not dissimilar occupations.  James R. and his wife Mary Albright were from North Carolina, as were James L., J. T., and Nancy, suggesting that cousin kinship is a possibility, particularly with the similar woodworking trade, which seemed a common occupation for Williams who inhabited Fayette and Haywood Counties in the mid-1800s.  It is possible that James L. apprenticed with James R., particularly if they were related, although not necessarily so.  As a sad note, both men evidently died prior to the 1870 census, leaving their wives and children.

Another remarkable comment that J. T. made to the Fayette County Court in his role as administrator for his deceased son James is that James was guardian of the heirs of Samuel C. Williams, deceased.  Well.  Who was Samuel C. Williams?

Will Number 3:

Searching for Samuel C. Williams led us to Shelby County, Tennessee where we found a treasure trove of a will and associated administrative papers, about 90 or so!  J. T. Williams was appointed executor of the will of his brother Samuel C. Williams.  In addition to the actual will and probate documents, attached are papers reflecting the work of J. T. in administering the affairs of his brother Samuel, his widow Rebecca, and his children Thomas J. and Ann R. Williams, both of whom were underage.  There are ledgers of expenses and reimbursements for the everyday, probably mundane, but to us, quite remarkable.  There is a payment to an obstetrician for taking care of Mollie.  After a pause, it dawns on one that Mollie is a slave who has given birth.

There are payments up through 1852 to William F. Dupree at the Macon Institute in Macon, Tennessee for tuition, board, and “washing.”  The payments are made for Thomas, and, evidently, “Miss Rebecca A. Williams,” who must be Thomas’ sister Ann R. … she must be Rebecca Ann.  The name is confusing, because their mother is the widowed Rebecca Williams, but surely “Miss” Williams would be the unmarried daughter.  These payments, and there are several, along with other payments for school-related materials and books, are confirmation that the family did send children to a boarding school.  If J. T. was seeing to the sending of his niece and nephew to school, it is very likely that he also sent his children to the same school.

I must make a comment here about the geography of the area.  Macon, Tennessee is in the southwestern quarter of Fayette County.  While Macon is no longer an incorporated city, it was a town in the mid- 1800’s.  It probably was in or just to the east of District 9, which is the same district where J. T. and Nancy owned their plantation and reared their children.  Unfortunately, the map of boundaries and land plats for the original District 9  no longer exists, and the method of land description and designation also changed, making it difficult for us to determine the exact location of the Williams farm.

Driving the roads in 2018, the far southwestern corner of Fayette County appears to be very boggy in the wintertime.  Slightly to the east and north there are rolling, low hills with fence rows filled with hardwoods.  Much of the area currently is described as bedroom communities for Memphis.

Shelby, Fayette, and Haywood Counties are in the far southwest corner of Tennessee and considered part of the Mississippi Delta.  Memphis is the county seat of Shelby County, with Fayette directly east, and Haywood County north of Fayette.  Dancyville is a community, formerly a town, in very southern Haywood County on the Fayette County border.  By car, it’s about a 30 minute drive from District 9 of Fayette County to the county seat Somerville, and about 40 minutes to Dancyville.  In the 1860’s it would have been a day’s trip from District 9 to Dancyville, depending upon river road conditions and the level of intervening creeks and rivers.

Three rivers run through Fayette and Haywood Counties and pass between the southern Tennessee border and Brownsville, the county seat of Haywood County.  The rivers, from north to south, are the Hatchie, the Loosahatchie, and the Wolf.  J. T. and Nancy’s plantation was probably North of the Wolf River, possibly south of the Loosahatchie.  His will states that he left funds to the Collierville Methodist Episcopal Church, which suggests a more southern location for his farm, if he actually attended the church regularly.  We are seeking information to confirm his church affiliations, which might give more insight regarding his property location.

Looking more closely at the recipient of the tuition money for Macon Institute for the Williams children’s education, Mr. Dupree is listed in the 1850 census as 22 years of age, living with an older family member and identified as a teacher.   It is sad to find that Mr. Dupree passed away in 1852 and is buried in a local cemetery in Macon.  There is no evidence that he married… although we are crippled by the fact that the marriage records from about 1829 until 1858 were destroyed by a fire in the Fayette County Court House, so he certainly could have married.

A sneak peak at our next will #4 shows that the guardianship for Samuel C. Williams’ son Thomas was probated again in North Carolina after 1852 with respect to guardianship, suggesting that Thomas, his sister, and his mother moved to North Carolina.  One wonders if the death of their school master, especially so soon after the death of the children’s father in 1849, had any impact upon the decision to move.  The picture for the fate of Thomas, his sister, and their mother remains unclear, as does the exact role of Thomas and Rebecca Ann’s uncle James Williams as their guardian, and when he might have been appointed guardian prior to J. T.’s 1869 testimony about the death James as guardian.  Hopefully, uncovering more records will help us fill in the gaps of missing data.

Another feature of the Samuel C. Williams will is a statement identifying the father of Samuel and J. T. as Thomas Williams of Northampton County, North Carolina.  Thomas had passed away, and some sale of property, evidently slave sale, had led to distribution of funds which were reallocated, taking ito consideration the death of Samuel, based upon terms of the will.

The naming of their father!  And another will!

Will Number 4:

The next will to examine is that of Thomas Williams, whose will was probated in 1815 in Northampton County, North Carolina.  Thomas appears to have written his will and rewritten it a couple of times over enough span of time that daughters married, yielding new surnames.  Clearly, Thomas owned property and slaves and was thoughtful in how he dispersed his estate and belongings.  His wife was Jennet, sometimes spelled Jinnet.  His son Samuel Curle Williams, discussed in Will #3, was finally identified by his full name.  Thomas mentioned his children Jefferson Thomas and Rebecca, referencing Rebecca with surnames that suggest that Rebecca’s later marriage to Edwin Drake was her third marriage, which supports the established timeline that we have for her.  The will also gives a list of Thomas’ children and some grandchildren.

Another finding from Thomas’ will is the name of a guardian for Samuel Curle Williams  It is heartbreaking to think that Samuel’s father died when Samuel was still young, and Samuel died before his two children were of age, probably dying before he turned 40.

Note that in this American era prior to the late 1880’s, if a child’s father died, the child was considered an orphan, even if his/her mother was living.  The child may very well have continued to live in the mother’s household, but a designated guardian would make determinations and seek needed funds from the estate.  The guardian may be a different appointee from the executor and/or administrator of the will and its terms of settlement.

Knowing this information about guardians, if Jefferson Thomas Williams was born in 1805,  he was ten years old when his father Thomas died in 1815.   Was he appointed a guardian too?  If not, why not?  So far, documents to address the questions have not been located.  An alternative is that Jefferson was born earlier than 1805.  Again, so far, we do not know.

At the time of his father’s death, Jefferson Thomas Williams, evidently, was the eldest living son of Thomas Williams.   He and his bothers Anthony R. and Samuel Curle Williams had sisters Rebecca (born in 1797), Lucy, Charity, Mary “Polly,” Julietta T., Caroline M., Euclina S. T., and Miriam, eleven children, all evidently born in Northampton County, North Carolina.  Of all the sisters, we know that J. T. was close to Rebecca, for sure.

After his father’s death, J. T. married Nancy Daughtry, and just over a year later his first son James was born.  After the birth of James, the family moved to Fayette County, TN by 1840.  J. T owned a lot of property.  He sold a 788 acre parcel fairly early on, yet still had a functioning plantation.  More land record research should yield more details regarding his arrival in the county and the nature and extent of his land holdings.

Jefferson Thomas Williams the person:

Clearly, the information from the cited documents has given us a lot of information that add to Jefferson Thomas and Nancy Williams’ family tree.  In addition, we have a much more clear picture of Jefferson Thomas, a primary actor in each of the documents.

J. T. was an educated man who was proficient in business, documentation, keeping accounts, and dealing with family business concerns.  Above that, he was willing and able to be responsible for family affairs when he was called upon to do so and seemed to take great care to be sure that the needs of others were addressed.

He valued education, even for girls.  He appears to have made sure that his children and his niece and nephew obtained their education.

He was spiritually oriented, leaving some of his wealth to the Collierville Methodist Episcopal Church.   In the decade before he died, J. T. had experienced the Civil War, the death of his son, and the death of his wife, who died prior to 1870.

His will illuminates a few more surprises.  The will probated in 1870 is fairly detailed, listing the recipients of money, support, and property.  The will was contested by his daughter Rebecca Polk and her husband James K. Polk.  The will was not settled for 18 years, partly because appointed executors would die and replacements had to be appointed.  The first executor,Joseph N Williams, second son of J. T., died in 1872.

We know that the first son James had died prior to 1869.  The person we believe is the widow of J. T.’s son James Williams remarried by 1867 in Fayette County, TN to John Hicks, an older man who was a miller.  in 1870 the Williams children were living in the household with their mother and stepfather.  By 1870 the oldest son Silas was 19 years old and would have been capable of helping assume care for his younger siblings, if needed.  We do not know if the minor children were appointed a guardian upon the death of their father, which likely was in the thick of the Civil War, so may have just been overlooked.  Since James’ family is not mentioned in J. T.’s will, we can only assume that for some reason, J. T. did not feel they were in need of his support.

We also do not know the status of J. T.’s remaining children J. T., Jr. and Jennett in 1870.  They are not mentioned in the will, suggesting that they both may have died by that point.

Much of the will’s focus is upon “colored” individuals, designated “col’d” or “col’rd,” some of whom apparently are young or minors, with a request that funds be used to see to the youngsters’ sustenance over  period of time, with J. T.’s son Joseph N. Williams being the trustee of oversight.  Conversely, J. T.’s daughter Rebecca is given “two hundred dollars, a feather bed and two milch cows.”  One suspects that Rebecca or her husband felt slighted, specially since her brother was given fairly broad financial authority, although as the oldest surviving son, his role would not be unusual in that era.* (See the updated information below)

While from our perspective in the 21st century, there is, of course, no justification for slavery, and viewing evidence of its existence is rightfully cringe-worthy, one is struck in reading Jefferson’s will that he is particular and generous in the disbursement of his wealth to several individuals likely to have been or descended from his slaves.  In 1870, as the dust started to settle from the Civil War, what were Jefferson’s thoughts and feelings as he approached the end of his life?  Certainly, compassion is evident.  Was there guilt, as well?  Did he seek to make amends, to right his wrongs as he approached the end of his life?  Or did he merely feel responsibility for those he had cared for during his lifetime? It is a window into an era that is hard to understand from this perspective. It is wonderful that there are names of African Americans mentioned in the will, and those names point the way to further research that could give clues for current Americans seeking slave ancestors and cousins, particularly since these four Tennessee and North Carolina documents we have examined have Slave names scattered throughout as individuals, couples or families are designated to particular heirs with evident particular care, by name, to each heir in the next generation. generation to the next, in North Carolina and Tennessee.

In a final thought, J. T. and Nancy Williams appear to have had very few heirs.  If James L. Williams of Haywood County in 1860 is the same James, son of J. T. and Nancy, there are some heirs who survived.  None of the other children appear to have had surviving children.

A good friend said, “By uncovering this, you are doing someone a favor.”  I sigh.  I do not know if Jefferson and Nancy are ancestors.  Perhaps DNA eventually can prove whether this line is a valid one for our family ancestry.

Still, these are ancestors worthy the note.  Even if they died with no heirs.  They certainly were important to their community; to those whose lives they touched; to their parents, siblings, nieces and nephews; and we hope to those who were were their emancipated slaves.

Jefferson Thomas Williams and his wife Nancy Daughtry are highlighted as people with loving souls, compassionate and faithful, looking out for the interest of others, in a harsh era.

…and we have all learned that mining probate records can be gold in putting together elements of a human story.

William Williams

*Note:  I am editing this biography to update that two children attributed to Jefferson Thomas Williams and Nancy Daughtry Williams are, instead, J. T.’s niece and nephew.  Research of yet another will, that of J. T.’s brother Samuel Curle Williams (1810-1849) probated in Shelby County, Tennessee identifies the children as his heirs, with their surviving mother Rebecca, maiden name unknown.  The children are named as Thomas Jefferson Williams and Rebecca Williams.   J. T. was named as an administrator of the will, and J. T.’s son James was named guardian of the minor children.  Both of Samuel and Rebecca’s children were sent to a boarding school and appear to have been counted in the 1850 census in their uncle Jefferson Thomas Williams’ and wife Nancy’s household.  It still is possible that there was a son of Jefferson Thomas Williams and  Nancy named Jefferson Thomas or J. S. Williams, based upon the 1860 census, who was born about 1842, because Thomas J. is not J. T. or J. S, which the census seems to indicate, but seems more likely that the three children of Jefferson Thomas Williams and Nancy were James, Jennet, and Joseph, although  Joseph is never expressly identified as his son, although he was named the executor and administrator of his will.

#52Ancestors

#Williams #Tennessee #North Carolina #Slavery #Haywood #Fayette

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Rebecca M. Williams (1797-1869)

One of the biggest obstacles to genealogical research is finding the names of the women in our ancestry.  In the 1800’s, and early 1900’s women were referred to by their married surnames, or as “Mrs.” preceding the husband’s full name, even in newspapers and church records.  In 1840 and before, tax records often listed only the husband’s name as the property owner or head of household, with only the suggestion of a wife as female in the household near the man’s age, or old enough to be a wife.

Sometimes we get lucky and find a document that locates an otherwise *hidden* woman in history.  That happened last week.  My last blog inspired a road trip to western Tennessee, specifically Haywood, Fayette, and Shelby Counties, which are adjacent to each other in the far southwestern corner of Tennessee, on the Mississippi border.  It was clear that to find information about William Silas Walker Williams, it would be important to access documents that are not available online.  Over the course of three days, a cousin and I experienced Southwestern Tennessee—well, at least the inside of two courthouses, one library, a historical church (Dancyville First United Methodist Church), and the Benjamin J. Hooks Central Library in Memphis, as well as a number of very welcoming, helpful staff.

IMG_1761

We found the Somerville-Fayette County Public Library to be particularly helpful, along with their director Laura Winfrey and county historian Joy Rosser who is a walking encyclopedia and resource.  Based upon their tips, a large part of our last day was spent digging through documents in the Fayette County Courthouse, focusing upon Probate and Circuit Court Minute Books, which is a pretty good way to get exercise, I might add.

The lady I would like to highlight today is based upon information we obtained related to a will of Jefferson Thomas Williams (1805-1870), who also mentioned in the last blog.  The will was a contested will, and it took a while to interpret the document, and in fact, we are still working to sort through the people mentioned in the document.  It appears that at the time of Jefferson’s death, his wife had passed away.  Ms. Rosser indicated that the entire family had been hard to trace due to no evident obituaries and no cemetary interments.  Likely, family members were buried at home, and their graves have been lost to posterity.

Jefferson Thomas sometimes appears as J. T. Williams in the handwritten minute books and records.  His will was contested by Rebecca Polk and her husband James K. Polk.  It seems evident that Rebecca is the daughter of Nancy and J. T. in the 1860 census.  Joseph N. Williams is named as executor of the will, and he appears to be the other living child, until his death indicated in an 1874 entry that notes the death and names a replacement as will administrator.  By the way, the 2nd administrator died in 1883, and the final entry and settlement of the will was not until 1888!

J. T. and Nancy’s son James Williams was represented in court in 1869 by his father Jefferson Thomas Williams as his administrator, the year prior to Jefferson’s death. Jefferson stipulated that his son James owned nothing and owed nothing at the time of his death, but that James was the guardian of the children of Samuel C. Williams. So, James (is this James L. Williams mentioned also in the last blog?) had passed away prior to the writing of the will, quite possibly even before 1869, and James is not mentioned in this will of his father.

The will, in addition to mentioning Joseph and Rebecca, mentions two nephews,  “Joseph and _____ Drake” of Warrenton, North Carolina.  The blank in the document was not filled in with the first name.  Nephews? With a different last name from the writer?  Sounds like J. T. had a sister!  With this snippet of information, I spent all of 45 minutes on a smart phone deciphering who this mysterious sister might be.

The sister is Rebecca M. Williams, who luckily had lived most of her adult life in Warrenton, Warren County, North Carolina.  She was born about 1797 in Northampton County, North Carolina.  Rebecca evidently married twice.  The first time she must have been fairly young and married man whose last name was Edwards.  She bore the name Rebecca Edwards when she married Edwin Drake, who was born in 1805, in 1829 in Northampton, North Carolina when Rebecca was 32 and Edwin was 24.  Rebecca and Edwin had two sons, Joseph Edwin Drake (born 1835) and Frances J. Drake, M.D. (born 1839).

One could go on about the Drake boys and their lives.  Joseph was a farmer.  Frances was a physician.  It appears that that their uncle Frances A. Drake was a physician, as well.  The Drake line yields a lot of historical possibilities of great research interest.  The boys’ wives’ lines, and their children’s spouses and lives also appear to have rich resource for mining.

But for our purposes, it is important to crystallize what we learned from the Drake reference in Jefferson Thomas Williams’s will.  Thank you, J. T. for including your dear, adult nephews in your will.  You must have been fond of your older sister Rebecca, who had died about the time your son James and your wife Nancy died.  What a rough time was 1861-1869 for the Williams family, with the Civil War and aftermath.  Soon also would come the Yellow Fever epidemic in Western Tennessee that took many lives very rapidly (1870’s).

Rebecca was born in Northampton County, North Carolina, so it is likely that Jefferson Thomas Williams was born there, as well.  This is the first time we have had a specific target location for the family, other than the general state of North Carolina.  In researching the Williams line, as with other early families with common names, location is extremely important in identifying the family of origin for each generation.

Another new finding we have now is another cousin surname for Jefferson Williams’ line—Drake.  In looking at the family trees that show Rebecca Williams Drake’s lineage, none of them show her parents or siblings.  Virtually no research appears to have been done on Rebecca  successfully.  Who would have known to look in the court house in Fayette, Tennessee to find the names of her children, with no specific reference to her?  No one knew that Rebecca had a brother, much less one who had moved to Fayette County, Tennessee by 1840 with his wife Nancy Daughtry Williams!  In addition to being important to any of Rebecca’s direct descendants, the finding will help many other nieces and nephews’ descendants.  Often folks who find DNA-related cousins through the testing services are unable to identify HOW they are related.  The more ancestral lines that can be filled in with siblings of ancestors and their married names, the more breadcrumbs can be spread to identify the relationships.

While it is easy to get off-track in research, it definitely can be worth pursuing the lines that will give helpful data and hints for more research!

William Williams

#52Ancestors #Williams #Drake #Fayette #Haywood #Tennessee #Northampton #North Carolina

William Silas Walker Williams (1851-1909) Ancestor #1

There is one known photo of Silas Walker Williams.  I would say that he was quite dashing, with bright eyes; dark hair; and a pleasant face.  In the photo, he is seated.  He looks well-dressed.  How I would love to be seated beside  him right now to converse about his life, his family, and his adventures.

Where would I even begin the questions?  I would ask Silas, “Who were your parents?  Tell me about them.  What was your mother’s name?  Where did your name ‘Walker’ come from?  Which of your great-grandfather  Williams came to the new world, and when, and from where?  And why did they come to America?”  I would continue, “As long as I have you sitting here, tell me about your wife’s family history and about their personalities, interests, and endeavors.”  I would ask, “Please tell me about your childhood.  How in the world did you survive the Civil War, and how and why did you find your way to Arkansas, and what was that trip like?”  Of course, I would do a lot of listening…. And listening.  And note-taking, if I could keep from looking into his engaging eyes, trying to understand his life experiences and perspectives.

What we do know about Silas is he was born in Tennessee on Feb. 11, 1851, so prior to the Civil War.  Silas’ grandchildren knew that he had a younger brother named Lenard or Leonard, born April 3, 1860.  Lenard stayed in Tennessee after Silas married and headed to Arkansas.  His grandchildren, in their ancestral research, visited descendants of Lenard who were still living in Tennessee, and unfortunately, their knowledge of the family history did not shed any more light on the brother’s story than what was already known.  The story held by both families was that after the Civil War, the boys were traveling together on horseback.  Lenard decided to stay in Tennessee, while Silas traveled on, coming to Arkansas.

By July 17, 1873, Silas was in Tippah County, Mississippi.  On that date, at age 22, Silas married Mary Elizabeth Watts (1849-1916), 23-year-old daughter of Vincent (1805-1879) and Nancy Lunicey Watts (1818-1894).  On the marriage license, Silas’ name was listed as William Williams.  His brother Lenard would have been 13 years old.  Why was Silas in Mississippi?  Was Lenard with him at that time?  Was Lenard living with Silas?  Where were their parents?

The addition of Williams as a given name on his marriage license is interesting, for sure.  William Williams.  William Silas Walker Williams.  It is the only time, so far, we have seen the “William” given name used for Silas, but bears acknowledgement for our research.

Now we turn to the family of Silas’ wife Mary Elizabeth Watts, for Silas apparently was all-in with her family as he moved forward with his life.  Mary Elizabeth was the granddaughter of Garrett Zachariah Watts (1736-1838) and his wife Anna Self (1766-1855), who have many, many descendants.  Garrett Z. is documented as a Revolutionary War pensioner, with a record of his pension enrollment interview transcript available as a historical document.  Many researchers wish that the interview had been a little bit longer with more specific documentation of his ancestry, which would have saved many headaches over the years.  A significant element in the Garrett Zachariah Watts story is his connection with the Cherokee people, and more documentation in his pension inverview would have clarified the extent and nature of his Cherokee connection.

For our story members of the Watts family had gradually moved westward, from Virginia to Anson County, North Carolina; Georgia; and Perry County, Alabama where Garrett Z. died.  As noted, his son Vincent was in Tippah, Mississippi in the 1870’s, but married in 1841 in Obion County,  Tennessee and lived several years in Pontotoc County, Mississippi.

By 1860 Vincent Watts’ older brother Malachi Watts had moved to Johnson County, Arkansas.  From there, several of Malachi’s children and other family members went to Indian Territory, now the state of Oklahoma, seeking land ownership promised to tribal members under a particular Cherokee regulation that later was overturned.

On December 16, 1873, Malachi Watts, older brother of Silas’ father-in-law, died in Johnson County, Arkansas, where he happily resided.  We know that at some point between July, 1873 when they married and 1879, Silas and Mary Elizabeth moved to Arkansas with parents-in-law Vincent and Nancy Lunicey Watts.  The evidence that they  moved sooner rather than later is that the first child of Silas and Mary Elizabeth, Silas Vincent Williams, was born in 1874.  Some sources suggest a date in March or April of 1874.  Perhaps they left immediately after the wedding?  Perhaps after uncle Malachi passed away in December?  Surely sooner, in order to avoid the winter months of travel?

And what was the route they took to get to Arkansas?  A main thoroughfare across the Mississippi has been through the bootheel of Missouri from the northwestern corner of Tennessee.  If, in fact, Silas and Lenard were born in Tennessee, they may still have had contacts in Tennessee.  If Lenard was with Silas in Mississippi and not keen on uprooting to go to Arkansas, perhaps the family decided to go by way of western Tennessee and make the northern crossing, leaving Lenard with friends and family.  There may have been family connections in Western Tennesse, not only from the Williams, but from the Watts, since Vincent and Lunicey married in Tennessee and Vincent’s mother Anna Self had died in Gibson, Tennessee in 1855.

After the move to Arkansas, we do not know the exact movements or timeframe of the family.  It is entirely likely that the family stopped by Johnson County, Arkansas to see Malachi, if he was still alive when they arrived, or to visit the family.  We know the Watts family was very close, based upon the frequent  family reunions through the years.  But we do know that by the 1880 census, Silas and his young family were in Jasper Township, Crawford County, Arkansas.  The children born and listed in the census were Silas Vincent, Lunicey Matilada Ann, and Ben (Benjamin Leonardlee).  Lunicy was living with them as a widow.

Yes, a widow.  By 1880.  You see, Vincent had been shot and killed in 1879 in or near Crawford County, Arkansas.  The assailant is unknown.  Some believe the incident was related to a dispute about land  when Vincent was inquiring about the land available to Cherokee, which is the story that has been passed down in the family.  Or was he on his way to visit his Watts relatives who were living in Muldrow?  As yet, no documentation or newspaper account has been located to verify the account or reveal specific information.

Can you imagine the shock of Vincent’s sudden death?  One thing we do know about Arkansas in that era was that it was on the edge of lawlessness and injustice.  Judge Isaac Parker had just been on the bench since 1875, trying to regain control of the area and the disputes between the Native American tribes and the criminals hiding in the hills.  The James gang is documented to have been in the area.  It was an ugly time, and losing a beloved husband, father, and grandfather in such a violent way had to have been painful and unnerving.

By the 1900 census, Silas and his family had moved back eastward about 60 miles to Spadra Township, Johnson County, Arkansas.  Living with the family were sons Solon and Alfred.  We do not have the benefit of the 1890 census, but we know that son Solon Ethel Williams (1884-1947) was born in Ludwig, Johnson County, Arkansas, so it appears that the family was in Crawford County for no longer than 10 years, moving to Johnson County between 1880 to 1884.  Ludwig was the area was near the home place of Silas’s uncle Malachi, where many of his children had married and established homes.  Also by 1900 Mary Elizabeth’s sister also had moved to the area.  By the 1910 census, Silas had died, and we do not know the circumstances of his death.  He is buried at Mt. Airy Cemetery, not far from Ludwig.

For a moment, please picture beautiful Ludwig, Arkansas. It is north of Clarksville, north of the Arkansas River.  Ludwig is a pretty plateau in the very southern reaches of the Ozark Mountains.  The road to Ludwig winds over and around several hills, increasing more and more in elevation with each hill.  It became known for farming, especially fruit farming and Arkansas peaches.  It would be hard to find a prettier place anywhere.  Silas and Mary Elizabeth certainly picked a beautiful and bountiful area to relocate their family.

In each of the census records, Silas’s occupation is listed as a farmer.  Based upon the skills of his children, it would be likely that Silas was a very skilled and curious agrarian, learning as much as he could from  family and knowedgeable neighbors over the years and sharing the information generously with others.  It also is likely that he was a good problem-solver who worked with wood, at least as a carpenter.  Silas likely was musical and liked to sing and may have played instruments like fiddle or guitar.  His children certainly were musical in all ways.  He was Christian, Protestant, and would have attended church.  He could read and write.  He valued education and taught his children to enjoy music, taking them to touring musical shows.  He was interested in new inventions and would have been eager to have them in his home as he could afford them.  He was kind and loving.  He enjoyed his wife and his children, and he valued family.  He encouraged and supported family members.  He was soft spoken, but firm and determined and not to be crossed.

It would be interesting to know how much of this described personal dynamic is attributable more to his wife Mary Elizabeth Watts Williams than to Silas.  I believe she shared many of his interests and passions, and likely personality traits as well.

So, back to the first question:  Who were Silas’ parents?

DNA testing and significant research have not shown any definite answers, although there are some clues.  There is a very interesting family with a Silas Williams, with approximate date of birth similar to our Silas, in the 1860 and 1870 census in Haywood County, Tennessee that suggest a father and mother for a Silas Williams.  By 1870 census there is a Lenard in the family as well, as you would expect, but by 1870 the boys’ father is gone and mother has remarried a Mr. Hicks.  Is this Haywood County family that same as our Silas Walker Williams and brother Lenard’s family?  In addition to the names and ages matching, another curious aspect of the census is that the father James L Williams is listed as a shingle maker in 1860, living next door to J. R. Williams who is married, has a family, and is a wagon maker.  It seems very likely the two Williams men are either brothers or cousins.  Both have died by 1870.  The woodworking occupation of the men is consistent with the skill sets of Silas’ son Solon who became a skilled carpenter who built and remodeled houses.  Future research needs to find documentation to determine if James L. and J. R Williams fought and/or died in the Civil War and if there are any documents substantiating their identity and heirs.  That James and J. Williams are common names in Tennessee and surrounding states during the Civil War complicates the research efforts.  The death of the James L. Williams during the time frame of the Civil War is consistent with the family story about Silas Walker Williams and his brother Leonard, whose described wanderings were consistent with a family broken by the war.

Deep ancestry discoveries with Silas’ Y-DNA line have been very fascinating, suggesting a British Isles lineage, very likely Welsh, which helps explain the surnames found during research.  Eventually, as more firm research becomes available, results of this line of the Williams deep ancestry will be published.  The line is Williams Group 8 in the Williams Surname Project of Family Tree DNA.  Williams men who take the FTDNA Y-DNA test can register for the Williams Surname Project and commence the journey of discovery to see which Williams line may be theirs, helping all Williams families sort their lines, both in terms of deep ancestry and more recent heritage and kinship.

Back to our man in the photo.  I have a message for you, Mr. William Silas Walker Williams:  Thank you for doing your best to protect your family, your little brother, your pregnant wife, and your childrenSilas Walker Williams jpeg-1.  Thank you for allowing your wife to be close to her family when she felt they needed her.  Thank you for providing your family and mother-in-law a safe, warm home and food, nurturance, intellectual support, and spiritual and emotional stability.  I would love to meet you in person and hear your story in your words.  I remain your great admirer.

If you want to know more about William Silas Walker Williams or his wife Mary Elizabeth Watts and her heritage, read Watts, Williams, Vaughn, and Taylor:  Pioneer Families of Johnson County, Arkansas, by Drs. Clarence R. and Katala A. Williams, available through Lulu Publishing.

William Williams

#52ancestors #genealogy

First blog post

Welcome!  Thank you to Shakespeare for the title inspiration.  Worthy, indeed, are our ancestors.  Worthy of remembering, worthy of research, worthy of sharing with others.  Each ancestor is worthy, for each played a role in our story.  Who we are and how we got to our current place in our lives are thanks to our collective ancestors for many, many generations across time.  We also recognize their contributions to the inspiration and drive for creating our own life stories.

I am a fan of history and genealogy, and I am eager for a place to share some of the souls who amaze and inspire me.  Some of the individuals featured are my ancestors; some are ancestors or collateral family members of my relatives and my friends.  Some that I will feature are folks I have run across in my research and are a part of the community or time period I was studying.

It is my goal to find the truth, as best I can.  If you do not seek the truth, it would be better for you to not read my blog.  In fact, it would be better for you to not engage in genealogy research or study at all.  When you start the process of family research,  you do not know what you might find.  It might rock your world.  You might discover that family legends are more nuanced than you supposed.  People are complicated.  Lives are complicated.  The truth is not a soundbite and does not fit into a brief paragraph.  The truth can be surprising, but I believe the truth ultimately is redemptive and leads to our personal growth.

What you will find here, primarily, are stories of remarkable people, inspired by #52ancestors.  If you find a topic or person featured here that you have researched, I welcome your discussion and insights.  If you think I have published an error, I welcome your thoughts and input.  I also will feature guest contributors, friends and family members who are dedicated, enthusiastic genealogists and family  historians with interesting stories to tell.

One more caveat, for now:   Do not assume that my posting of a person is totally researched and totally accurate.  I will do my best to present what I know to be true, to specify what are family stories and legends, and to identify speculative thoughts and the basis for them.  I invite being fact-checked and cross-referenced.  I consider all of my research to be a work-in-progress.

Thanks so much for joining me on my journey!  I look forward to our time together!