Eddie We Hardly Knew Ye

I remember quite clearly the sentence that formed in my mind when I first read the name of the young Irishman who married Thomas Lovewell’s daughter Julanay in 1871.  I thought, “I will never know anything at all about this man.”  Being much younger then, I evidently regarded the past as some sort of black hole where information gets trapped by gravity or a thick layer of dust, never to escape.  

Through the years since then, I’ve been surprised at the number of sources containing little nuggets of information about Mr. Edward McCaul.  I’ve winnowed bits between the record of his arrival in America with his mother Mary c. 1860 to his last gasp in the Missouri Southern Railroad Hospital at St. Louis in 1894, filling in gaps with census returns, newspaper clippings, and a family tree shared by his descendants on Ancestry.  Lately, however, I came across a brief item in the Carbondale Independent from 1882 that casts doubt on much of what I thought I knew about Edward.

Ed. McCaul returned from a trip to Canada on Thursday, bringing his mother, who had just arrived from Ireland, with him.

I’ve recently gone back over the evidence for the accepted outline of Edward’s story, and have to admit that much of it is pretty thin, and is sometimes contradicted by recent discoveries, such as the statement printed above.  

Was Julanay’s* husband really the same young man who had laid track for the Kansas Pacific Railroad in Arapahoe County, Colorado, in 1870?  While I once thought so, I was probably mistaken.  There was still an Edward McCall in the region ten years later, a man who by then was making his living as a miner.  Did the Edward McCaul who was a fixture on Main St. in Carbondale, Kansas, also open a billiards parlor in St. Louis in 1883, as another record suggests?  It once seemed plausible, since Edward disappeared from Kansas around that time and St. Louis was his last known address - but within the last year we've learned that Julanay McCaul’s husband tried to strike it rich in Califonia and Washington Territory after leaving Carbondale in a big hurry in 1884.

Basically, I’m back very near my starting point, with few solid biographical facts about Edward McCaul.  Even the names of his parents remain a mystery.  Obviously, his mother was still living in 1882, the year she sailed to Canada from Ireland, although we don’t know what became of her after she was brought to Kansas.  The woman who came ashore in New York Harbor two decades earlier with her children in tow, including a boy named Edward, may have been some unrelated McCall or McCaul.  It’s quite possible that Edward himself left few footprints in America before 1871 because he had arrived from Ireland alone shortly before marrying Thomas Lovewell’s 14-year-old daughter at Richmond, Missouri, in November of that year.

In the past I’ve lamented the lack of records for Julanay’s second husband, John Robinson, who can be pinpointed only once in the federal census, in 1880, when he was a railroad engineer working out of North Platte, Nebraska.  Two other Kansas State Census records for him from 1885 and 1895 exist because a pair of his brief stopovers in the Sunflower State coincided with statewide head-counts.  The only time a U. S. census-taker ever collared Edward McCaul may have been in 1880, about three years after he opened his restaurant in Carbondale.  In 1885 he was living apart from his wife somewhere in the West, and by 1895 he was dead.  If the 1890 census had not been consumed by fire, we might be forced to make fewer guesses about both men.

The manner of Edward’s death remains a family legend with fragile provenance.  He supposedly died from falling off the roof of the railroad depot he was working on, though the official cause was pneumonia.  A fall that left him bedridden could have contributed to his death on April 9, 1894 in the Missouri Pacific Railroad Hospital, but at the moment we have to accept this explanation on faith.  If we find evidence that it’s true, we’ll surely also learn the name of the depot where the mishap occurred.  I used to eye the Missouri Pacific Depot at Kirkwood as a likely site, because it was built in 1893, while the more ornate (and taller) depot on Market Street in St. Louis proper did not open until very late in 1894.  However, construction on Market Street got underway in the spring of 1893, and an unfinished building with a vertiginous tower sounds like an accident waiting to happen - so, take your pick.

What little we do know about Edward McCaul should pique our interest.  He arrived in Kansas with his wife in 1877, a young go-getter with money to invest.  The restaurant and billiards parlor he opened on Main seems to have been a front for a brisk liquor operation involving his wife’s stepfather, Michael Turnbull, and Turnbull’s son, Michael, Jr.  When Kansas went dry in 1881, the extended family’s prospects seemed to dry up with it.  After cashing  in his real estate investments Edward high-tailed it out of Carbondale, while Michael Turnbull, Sr., moved to Topeka where he was jailed for selling whiskey out of the little shop he operated on Quincy Street, and died a pauper.

Although I’ve seen no direct evidence yet that Edward McCaul was ever prosecuted for liquor sales (or any other crime), a couple of news items in 1882 Osage County newspapers seem to point in that direction.  The first was printed on August 23 in Kansas People, published at Osage City.

In the case of the State vs. Ed. McClure and Michael Turnbull, jr., for alledged violation of the liquor law, at Carbondale, three jury trials have been had with disagreement.  Another jury trial has been set in the same case for September 4.

Besides misspelling “alleged,” the paper may have substituted a prominent local citizen’s name for that of one of the accused men.  There was an  Ed McClure in the area, a farmer and township trustee who lived near Valley Brook, fifteen miles south of Carbondale.  A terse statement in the next day’s Carbondale Independent concerning the oratorical prowess of some local attorneys, may give us a clue as to the real identity of young Michael Turnbull’s partner in crime.

The 'boys,' Gregory and Callen, rather got away with Hendrix, on speech making in the McCaul case.

Although Kansas juries seldom convicted purveyors of illegal booze in the early years of prohibition, the justice system could drive bootleggers out of business by forcing them to keep attorneys on retainer.  As I first speculated a few weeks ago (See “Drying Up In Kansas”) Edward McCaul probably put his house up for sale the following February to pay his mounting legal bills.  Soon afterward he converted his restaurant into a candy store and then headed west in search of fresh opportunities, eventually resorting to honest carpentry to support his family.

Ironically, going straight would be the death of him.

* This was the spelling used the only time the name seems to have appeared in print during her lifetime.

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com