Catching Up

September of 2023 will mark the 10th anniversary for this website, which was launched only because Apple insisted that I needed one if I wanted to offer a small ebook about the life of Thomas Lovewell in their virtual bookstore.  I’ll have to update that book one of these days.  I’ve been saying that since 2019.

Both the book and this site began with research into a family mystery involving my great-grandmother. Tugging on the loose end of a tangled string led to large percentage of what now populates  I wrote all about the mystery itself almost a decade ago in a little essay on coincidence called “Life, Destiny and Calculating Cats.”

Most of the questions I asked in the beginning have been answered, although new ones have continued to pop up along the way.  I now have a more complete understanding of the early history of Thomas Lovewell and the circumstances of his daughter Julia’s birth in Kansas Territory in 1856 (Yes, her headstone says 1857, but I can prove that it’s off by a year).  

I know more details of her life after she married Edward McCaul at the age of fourteen, such as the shady goings-on that led to the family’s hasty departure from Carbondale, Kansas, in the 1880’s.  Julia’s mother, the former Mrs. Thomas Lovewell, had married a bootlegger, and Julia’s young husband Edward joined his father-in-law in the business while it was still lucrative.  Unfortunately for the McCauls and Turnbulls, Kansas became a dry state in 1880.  When authorities began to crack down on malefactors a few years later, cracks began to appear in the McCaul marriage.

The story of Julia’s second husband (my great-grandfather) remains largely a sheaf of blank pages.  I know that his name was John William Robinson, that he arrived in the West from Pennsylvania or Delaware, and that he was at various times a miner, locomotive engineer and building contractor. After marrying Julia McCaul’s stepsister Susan Turnbull in Carbondale, Kansas, in 1879, the couple moved to Nebraska where John worked for the railroad and where their two daughters were born.  They returned to Carbondale shortly before parting company in the mid 1880’s.

As his marriage disintegrated John W. Robinson hooked up with Julia McCaul, whose husband Edward had remained in the Far West with one of their young sons.  Julia cared for the rest of their children, two boys and a girl, as well as the two girls born to John and Susan Robinson.  Julia gave birth to her final child, John Robinson’s daughter Lily (my grandmother) at Portland in 1887.

Although I’ve taken to calling my great-grandmother “Julia,” which is what she called herself when speaking to to census-takers and the Justice of the Peace who presided at her wedding, her headstone is inscribed with the name “Julany,” while a promissory note and a published legal notice regarding the note refers to her as “Julanay.”

Over the past few years I’ve run across enough information about all of Thomas Lovewell’s daughters to give me a jaded view of life in the 19th century.  Three of the girls died young, including Julia, who passed away from cancer at the age of 37. An earlier daughter born to Thomas and Nancy Lovewell in Iowa in 1849, Lydia, barely survived her first year of life.  The third child to die too soon was Adaline, who succumbed to quinsy at 30 in 1903.

Several of the Lovewell girls married men who ran afoul of the law.  In addition to that  bootlegging husband, there was a spouse who embezzled from a freight depot and received a year’s stay in Leavenworth.  Another tried to kill a man and spent the rest of his days looking over his shoulder.  One Lovewell son-in-law who was otherwise considered beyond reproach, was prosecuted for cattle rustling, but acquitted.

Even two of Thomas Lovewell’s own sons were dragged off to Junction City for a preliminary hearing on a charge of attempted burglary, though the case was dropped as soon their lawyer arrived.

Most of the shady activity occurred in the 1890’s, when the country was mired in depression, railroads were going into receivership, and bankers absconded with deposits.  These may not have been the good old days, but they make for interesting reading.

As it has for the past several years, “The Bible, the Beatles, and the Board of Trade” retains the honor of most-viewed page.  “Board of Trade Bloodbath” again comes in second, leading me to wonder whether visitors show up expecting stock tips.  Even though I’ve added very little to the blog in the past year, traffic has been fairly brisk for a website with such a narrow focus.  Over 6,000 pages were viewed last month, brisk business, but not a record.  We’ve flirted with 10,000 a time or two.  Not that it matters, but I earn the same amount, zero dollars, no matter how many or how few visitors pass this way.  I am handsomely rewarded, on the other hand, with I've learned in the process and the acquaintances I’ve made along the way.

Sadly, a few of the site’s mainstays have passed on during the last nine years.  Barb Gray, Dave Lovewell, Dr. Elwyn Simons, and Jack Felt are gone now, but their contributions to the Lovewell story continue to entertain and fuel further research.  

A descendant of Philander Bump recently got in touch with me to ask for any further leads Dr. Simons might have mentioned besides what had already been reported here.  I couldn’t think of anything at first, since I’ve published most of the interesting bits from Ark Bump’s letters to his sister, the documents that led me into Dr. Simons’ orbit.  Then I remembered the chatty, fact-filled email which accompanied the Ark Bump photocopies.  There was even a genealogical joke which surely elicited a groan from the young lady at the very least.  

The most energetic history sleuth to hit the trail in the last few years may be Phil Thornton, who has visited many of Thomas Lovewell’s old stomping grounds but tends to concentrate these days on his great-grandfather’s mining activity in Wyoming.  I’m confident we’ll have fresh discoveries from Phil before long.

© Dale Switzer 2023