Sunday, September 6, 2020

Uncle Henry's "scholarship"

It is said that if you dig deep enough into the history of any God-fearing family you will find a horse thief. Most of us experienced family historians know that families with only horse thieves to talk about are the boring ones.  

This tale started when Douglas Morris, a 2nd cousin, shared an old family picture: 

I immediately thought I recognized two of the elderly gentlemen in the picture. The one with the bent walking stick appeared to be my sometimes cantankerous great-grandfather Lindsia Dowell (1849-1930). In the middle of the picture was his older brother known as "Uncle John" (1848-1936) by everyone in the family. Technically he was the uncle of my paternal grandfather. But who were the other three siblings? The two ladies were Anna and Mary but which was which? If I really had to guess I would opt for Anna (1855-abt 1935) to be the one on the left and Mary (1859-1941) to be the one on the right. But this is just speculation because the one helping to prop up my great-grandfather appears to me to be slightly older. Do you agree?

This leaves us to identify the third male in the picture. Candidates include Henry (1851-aft 1918), Isaac (1857-1943) and Joel (1861-1943). Two half-brothers also deserve some consideration. Obviously there is more research calling me here. But back to the picture above.

In January 2003 I took this picture with me on a visit to my soon to be nonagenarian dad. He quickly verified what I had already surmised about his grandfather and "Uncle John." However, he could not ID the other three. As snow was being whipped horizontally past his window at the Baptist Home in Northwest Missouri, I tried to prompt his memory. The third man could not be Henry I opined because Henry died in 1902. (Beeler, Flora Maye, A Dowell Family History, 1972.) My dad was then pacing around his room as he racked his brain. He whirled around with a combination of a "struck by lightening" and a "deer caught in the headlights" expression on his face. "Henry didn't die in 1902!" he forcefully asserted. "I've seen Henry and I hadn't been born in 1902." My dad who was not born until 1913 continued, "The reason I'm so sure about this is I still remember the angry expression on my dad's face when Henry came around. He didn't think Henry was a fit influence to be around us children." This was an indelible memory my dad had carried for more than eight decades.

So what is the real story about Henry? It turns out that Henry was a gifted writer -- so gifted that the State of Kansas had awarded him a "scholarship" that covered room and board at its fine institution in Leavenworth. This was the state prison not the federal one about which most of us are more familiar. Henry was a creative writer. OK, forger if you insist.    

My first documentary confirmation of my dad's recollection came in the 1910 US census for Delaware, Leavenworth, Kansas: "Dowell, Henry C., age 59, M, W, MO, NC, NC, inmate in Kansas State Penitentiary." Further research in the Kansas State Archives revealed that this was not his first "scholarship". According to the Kansas Department of Corrections, Henry first came to visit September, 1893: 
H. C. Dowell #6641, "P.L.G. P342 SERIES -1
Rec 9/31/93 (2) -- Wilson Co., Breaking from Jail. Pleads guilty, sentence 2 years, farmer, born Sept 14 51 MO NC NC, parents not living, married to Mahala Dowell, Parsons, KS, 2 children, resided in state 10, reads & writes, 1 year in school, first time in prison.
He was further described as "age 42, 5' 11½", complexion fair, greyish brown hair, brown eyes."

By the 1900 US census Henry was back living with Mahala:
Dowell, Henry Head W M Sept 1851 48 M 16     MO TN TN farmer owned mortgaged 40
        Mahaley Wife W F Mch 1858 42 M 16 3 2 OH VA KY
        Claud     Son  W M April 1886 14 S           KS TN OH
        Flossie  Daut  W F Jan   1893   7 S           KS TN OH

OK you eagle eyed genealogists have already noted a couple of things wrong with the documentation. First September only has 30 days and probably that was true even back in 1893. Also the birth location for Henry's parents migrated from North Carolina to Tennessee between 1893 and 1900. I think Mahala was taking charge of the family and is possibly the one giving out this 1900 information.

Wait, there is more. On April Fools Day 1904 Henry returned to Leavenworth:
Dowell, Henry C. #1076, alias Jacob Johnson
SPR 4/04, PL-I, p. 179
Rec. 4/1/04 -- Barton -- Forgery 1st-2nd-14th D  Sentenced Mar 24th, 1904 1-57 yrs, 1-7
                                  Breaking Jail   1-2
did not plead guilty age 52 farmer Sep 14 1851 MO parents born NC OH not living; married to Mahala Dowell, RR 4 Morehead KS, 3 children, owned no property, 30 yrs in state, reads writes, 1 yr. school 2nd time in prison here, this name
  photo #1940
  previous term as prisoner #6641
His description had not changed that much. He was reported to have lost a 1/2 inch of height and his hair was greying further: "5' 11", Light complexion, white hair, brown eyes."

After Henry's first visit to Leavenworth, Mahala took Henry back. But the second time was too much for her. She started telling everyone he died in 1902. That is the source of the incorrect death information in Beeler's book above.

If you didn't catch it the first time, please note that the second intake record above mentions a photo. I had noticed that and contacted the Kansas State Archives about it. The Archives staff found it and we started negotiating. The staff there said they would have to take a picture of the glass images, process them and then decide what kind and size of paper on which they should be printed. Apparently they were not used to getting requests like mine. I decided to cut to the chase and told them to just photograph the glass plates and send me the images electronically. And voile: 

Both my wife and her sister Michele think I'm almost a dead ringer for one of these mugshots. After all Henry is my great granduncle according to my RootsMagic software. According to the Shared Centimorgan table, Henry would be called my great-great-uncle and would be expected to share an average of 420 cM of atDNA with me with a range of 186-713 cM. I knew we shared a yDNA signature but I would not have expected so much atDNA. No wonder we look so much alike.😉

Can you guess which mug they IDed?

Spoiler: My wife of more than 37 years has never seen my bare face and threatens that she would divorce me if she were subjected to that experience.

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