Another Face In the Crowd

A few days ago I published Civil War veteran Jesse Helfer’s age in 1884 as 73.  I quietly changed it when I realized that the undated roster of names, ages, and military affiliations I was looking at could not be the 1884 organizational charter of the Billy Hughes G.A.R. Post at Republic City, Kansas, but had to be the one prepared a decade later when the organization tried to reboot.  If Helfer was one of the veterans photographed at Republic in 1885, the group picture shows him at 64, not 74.  He seems much less likely to be the very elderly, slightly befogged gentleman standing between Thomas Lovewell and Richard T. Stanfield.  

Old Veteran

The fact that no one listed as a member of the G.A.R. Post at Republic was nearly as old as this figure seems to be, led me to wonder if what we have is a photographic record of a membership drive with several invited guests.  By the way, was everyone who showed up for the meeting promised a new military-style coat?  Or were the pristine garments which some attendees wore, nothing more than costumes handed out for the photo-shoot and collected at the end of the afternoon?

I suddenly recalled reading in the pages of the Republic City News some years ago about the death in the 1880’s of a  veteran of the War of 1812.  I always assumed that the item was written by the paper’s proprietor, Gomer T. Davies, because I remembered finding it amusing.  Now that I can look up items from the News at my leisure, I've discovered that the story was embedded within a column of White Rock news provided by that town’s correspondent.

A soldier of 1812 died at this place April 21, 1888.  Absolem Slagle by name, age 94 years.  The town buried him.  The Grand Army Post did not turn out for the very good reason that it is the deadest of the two.  One has some show for resurrection, the other none.


By the time the little news item about Absalom Slagle appeared in 1888, the White Rock Valley G.A.R. Post had moldered in the grave for three years and was clearly never going to bounce back, unlike the post at Republic, which also went down in flames but rose from the ashes in 1894.  Who was the contributor of White Rock news who called himself “Aaron?”  Since Aaron was the brother of Moses the Lawgiver, I toyed with the idea that the man behind the pen name might be Gomer Davies's half-brother Tom Charles (who, unfortunately for my theory, never lived at White Rock), before quickly shoving that mystery to the back burner.

However, I do still wonder if that long-bearded old man wearing his nice, new blue coat buttoned all the way down, could be the superannuated Absalom Slagle.  I’ve never found a record of Absalom Slagle serving in the Civil War, though there is a War of 1812 pension application on file for him.  Like the man in the photograph, Absalom would have been much too old to play an active role in the more recent conflict, but about right for the earlier one.  There are at least three other citizens of White Rock in the photograph, and dragging along one more old veteran and giving him an interesting afternoon (and possibly a new coat), sounds like something the prankish Thomas Lovewell might have done.  


It’s just a notion.  There’s no way to make a positive identification of any figure in the photograph without a known photo for comparison.  Happily, there are a number of likenesses online for James Calvin McPherren, the stout Billy Hughes Post officer seated at the left end of the front row, opposite Richard Stanfield.  McPherren becomes the fourth man properly tagged among the group of 27 veterans of one war or another.  

One of my favorites among the keepsakes provided by McPherren descendants is a postcard-size novelty item showing James and his Wife Elizabeth suspended from an early-day airship.  Minus its deliberately wacky misspellings the message fixed to the gondola hanging beneath the craft is, “I don’t know where I’m going, but I’m on my way.”

Aside from census returns which track him from Daviess, Missouri, to Holt, Missouri, to Appanoose, Iowa, and on to his final stop at White Rock, there are few solid records yet for Absalom, and no known photographs.  There are, however, many variant spellings of his Biblical name.  A stonecutter found a new one for his headstone in White Rock Cemetery, shared here from

Absolom Slagle at White Rock

White Rock headstone photograph added to by Diane Slagle Sheridan

Details from 1885 group photo at Republic City provided by Richard A. Davis CPA     

© Dale Switzer 2023