Tuesday, January 27, 2015


In 1867 my great-grandmother, Nancy Corel Dobbins, wrote a letter to her nephew, a 25 year old man named William McGlothlin, and sent it to him in the gold fields near Virginia City, Montana.  In December of this year, that very letter was sent to me by a distant cousin, who didn't know who William was and thought maybe I did.

I'm going to let the documents I have tell the story.  I'm posting the original envelope that it came in because it is interesting and readable.  The rest of the story will be from transcribed documents.  Old letters and old newspaper articles are difficult to read.  And you'll want to read this:

This envelope was addressed to James S. Dobbins, Nancy's husband.  Here's what the letter inside said:

P. O  Virginia City
Montana Territory
Feb. 27th, 1867

Dr. Madam:

I take the liberty of addressing you and returning your letter to your nephew, the late William McGlothlin  To find the address, I was obliged to open the letter.  This I am sure you will excuse under the circumstances. 

Mr. McGlothlin was murdered on Sat. the 16th of Feb'y near this city.  His body was found on Sunday following, and been decently buried.  Every effort is being made to discover the murderers with a present prospect of success, when they will, in a very few hours, pay the forfeit of their own lives.

I can only add that his friends have the hearty sympathy of this entire community in their bereavement.

You can probably best break the sad intelligence to his mother from whom he had, only a short time before his death, received a letter which was found on him.

I am                 Very Respectfully yours,
                                      A. M. S. Carpenter

                                        Depty Post Master

                                                        * * * * * 

Searching the internet via Ancestry.com and professional genealogist I know who is also a Corel turned up these two newspaper articles.



The city was startled yesterday, about 1 p.m. by the information that a man was lying about three-fourths of a mile north of the now, shot through the head, and had been dead some time.  There was an immediate rush of people to the place, and, no doubt, many more would have gone, had it not been conjectured that the report was a "sell."  We joined the throng, and on reaching the place, found it to be true.  Dr. Yager, coroner, immediately empanelled the following named persons as jurors: N. J. Davis, foreman, and Messrrs Culver, Bartlett, Ousterhouser, Pfouts and Shannon.  After a preliminary examination of the deceased man, the body was conveyed to the city, and the jury adjourned to meet in the Probate court-room at half-past four in the afternoon, where the inquest was held in secret.  "The following are the particulars, as far as we are informed:  The deceased was named William McLothlin; was a laboring man, about twenty-five years of age, and unmarried.  He came here from Lawrence, Kansas, where his parents reside, during last autumn, and has since been employed as a common laborer.  In such occupation as he could find.  He, in company with another man, occupied a cabin on Jackson street near the upper end of town.  He was temperate in his habits and had no personal enmity with anyone.  On Thursday last his cabin was closed and no one knew anything of him until he was found today by Mr. McCloskey.  When found, he was lying on his face with a bullet hole in his head, the ball having entered through the back part and lodged in the brain.  The hat was still on his head, and, where the ball passed through, was powder-burned.  On examination of the body, a navy revolver with all the chambers loaded was found upon him.  In his pocket was $3.15 in currency which, it is supposed, is all the money he had.  His pockets had not been disturbed, nor was there any sign of a struggle in the snow.  He lay almost perfectly straight on the ground and had not moved from the position in which he fell.  The suggestion of a suicide is an impossibility.  There were two tracks in the snow to where he lay – but one away from it.  This also explodes the suggestion of him being murdered in the city, and conveyed there.  The entire affair is, as yet, shrouded in almost impenetrable mystery, and it is to be hoped that the coroner's jury will elicit information that may lead to the detection of whoever committed this brutal deed.  The jury is still in session at the present time.

                                                          * * * * *

MONTANA POST 2 March 1867

VERDICT – The Coroners Jury empanelled on the inquest of Wm. B. McLothlin, returned a verdict on Saturday that: "The deceased came to his death from the effects of a pistol shot, fired by some person or persons unknown to the jury."  After the rendering of the verdict, the jury were discharged by the Coroner.  We believe we are correct in saying, that after hearing all the evidence on the matter, the jury were fully justified in the decision they gave.  The numerous reports current about the implication of certain parties and no indubitable evidence of their guilt, could not be sustained when the witnesses were examined under oath.  The murderer of McLothlin is still alive but we hope not at liberty, as the villain, whoever he is, is an adept at murder.  His success in decoying the deceased to the out of the way place where he was killed, and in killing him before he had time to draw the loaded revolver in his suit?, shows that he is treacherous, crafty and had thoroughly planned the "deep damnation of his ____ off."  While a heartless villain remains in our midst, no man's life is safe, and it is nothing more than justice requires that some inducement should be offered to competent persons to ferret him out and bring him to justice.  This thing should not be forgotten until another and another is added to this list of victims, as it seems likely to be from the apathy that is shown in the matter.  Justice to the living and the dead alike requires action – and __ offering a premium to crime to abandon the attempt to discover the perpetrator.

                                                              * * * * *

I am not closely related to William; his mother and my great-grandmother were sisters so I am a distant cousin.  I knew what happened to his brother Henry, and I knew what happened to his brother Shadrick.  I did not know until yesterday what happened to poor William.  The oldest cemetery in Virginia city has many unmarked graves, and though the letter-writer said he was given a decent burial, I'd guess that did not include a headstone.  I've got a few good Corel researchers looking further with me to see if we can put a confident "finis" on his life.  

William did what so many young men of that day did - looked to make their fortune in the gold fields of the west.  James Dobbins himself, before he became Nancy's husband, went for Colorado gold in 1860 but came back home mostly empty handed.  Like William, Tim Madden, brother of my great-great grandmother Ellen Madden went to California from Boston in 1850 and never was seen again. No one knows what happened to Tim.  At least now, we know the story of the short life of William McGlothlin, son of David & Jemima Corel McGlothlin. 

Friday, January 16, 2015


On the Fourth of July, 1865, a prosperous farmer, John Breckenridge Preston McConnell, and Frances Narcissa Wright, daughter of a Church of Christ preacher, married in Barren County, Kentucky.  It was his second marriage, his first wife having died, and her first.  She was 20 years old. John and Fannie, as she was called, ultimately had 8 (or 9) children, but sadly, only three of them lived to maturity.  In the late 1870s the family left Glasgow, Kentucky and settled in Limestone County, Texas.  Later they moved to Colorado.  John died in 1898 and Nannie lived until 1915. These two people were my great-grandparents.

One of them was a Confederate Spy.

In 1905, the Colorado Gazette newspaper had a feature story on page 15 of the Sunday October 22 issue that reads

Get a good look at her in her wedding picture above.  It's 1865 and she's 20.  She obviously was a teenager when she was spying.  Let me share some of the details from the newspaper.

"I was a spy under General Bragg," she said, "and I made more than one visit to General Rosecrans' headquarters on one pretext or another when he invaded Kentucky and I carried information back to General Bragg.  Men could not go anywhere in those days unless they were with an army, and so I, like many other southern women, rendered much service in bearing dispatches.

"When Bragg concluded to send the raider, John H. Morgan, through Kentucky to destroy bridges and railroads in order to cut off Rosecrans' supplies, it was I who carried him the message to report at General Bragg's headquarters.  After that I aided Morgan by bringing him quinine and percussion caps.  These articles were sewed in a quilted skirt which I wore, and the dispatches were sewed between the soles of my shoes.  I made trips across the Ohio river to Indiana towns where a confederate furnished the skirts filled with caps and quinine.

"Often the skirts were loaded so heavily that they became a burden.  I usually went on horseback across the country and had several narrow escapes from being captured by the Yankees.

"I cultivated the acquaintance of Captain George Stone, a Union officer.  He gallantly showed me around his camp.  Then I told him I wanted to see what a fortification looked like and in his innocence he took me over the breastworks and I mentally noted the weak places.  That night I rode 40 miles to inform Magruder and at noon the next day his cavalry dashed in where I told them to and captured the camp, as well as a large quantity of supplies without the loss of life.

"When the Federals were in Glasgow, I was suspected on several occasions of being a spy.  They had my hair searched for dispatches.  One day I got mad and had a barber cut if off and I threw it in a Union Colonel's face who chanced to be present.  He laughed and seemed pleased to get it.  This made me madder still and I took it away from him.

"My duties led me to Shiloh and I shall never forget the horrors of that battle scene.  The dead and dying lay in windows and the wounded were piteously begging for water.  There were so many of them, and so few of us to attend their wants, that I took off a new pair of shoes and carried water to them from the creek to the poor fellows in both the blue and the gray who were only too glad to drink from anything."

There is a bit more to the article, but not about spying.

Did any of this story filter down to my generation?  Not a bit of it.  She died in 1915 when my dad was 7 and his sister was 11.  Nannie's daughter Susan Maud was my grandma and she never told any stories about her mother being a spy.  I found out about it through the kindness of a Kentucky genealogist who saw a reprint of the article in the "Hart County [KY] Historical Society Quarterly and wondered if she might be able to find descendants researching her.  Her curiosity was satisfied when she found my name on the Internet as a descendant of John and Narcissa Frances Wright McConnell and sent me an e-mail.

And I think that while all the people I write about in this blog are truly Immortal Nobodies, my "SPY" is probably as close as I will come to having an Immortal Somebody!

Friday, January 9, 2015


In the scheme of things, this man probably had as much influence on my young life as his best friend, my father, did.  He wasn't a "real" uncle, so I don't have a lot of genealogical data for him.  But he truly was special in my life, and since there is no way of memorializing him on my own Family Tree, I'll do it here.

He was born Wilmer A. Funk, in Beatrice, Nebraska about 1906 ; he was called "Bill."  As I recall, he attended Colorado School of Mines, but when his father died, he dropped out to help his family. Somewhere along the line he met my father in Colorado Springs and they became fast and lifelong friends.

The two fellows set out in 1930 for California, where they headed to Angels Camp to check out a possible gravel mine for some Colorado speculators.  This first venture came to naught, but in the meantime my father met my mother, also a relocated Coloradoan, and they married in 1932.  In those days everyone was trying to survive through the Great Depression.  Dad started his family and Bill brought his whole family to the Los Angeles area, where he felt there was more opportunity for them.

My father did not serve in WWII but Bill did.  He was on the South Pacific island of Pelelieu, and if I remember correctly, he worked on building military bases.  Meanwhile my father bought a house iin Long Beach, California, for a pittance.  It sat on property that was needed for expansion of the City Bus lines, so whoever bought it had to move it somewhere else.  Since my father owned some property a few blocks away, it was a match made in heaven.  The house ended up at 1620 Gardenia Avenue in Long Beach.  There was plenty of space in it, and it was at that time Bill moved into a small back bedroom and lived there with our family for many years.   I must explain for the younger readers that when we kids were little, we could not call people by their given names.  It either was Mr.. So and So or Uncle So and So; my dad's best friend became "Uncle Bill" to my younger sister Ginnie Lou and me - and later we called him "Unc."

It was in 1945 that Unc and my father became partners in a small appliance business in Long Beach. My dad handled the sales department and Uncle Bill the repair department.  That arrangement, in all its various future iterations, worked  and they remained partners until they retired.  In the mentime, Unc married in the mid 1950s, after my sis and I both had gone off to college.

Unclc Bill was a perfect counterbalance to my father in all ways.  Dad was high strung; Bill had a stolid German disposition.  Dad worked with fleeting financial figures; Unc worked with machines that needed repairing.  What dad missed in his schooling, which rendered him somewhat useless in helping us with our school work, Bill, with his training, is the only reason that both my sister and I were able to pass algebra in 9th grade (which was when we were introduced to it in those days.)  Night after night he patiently explained to us - me first and then two years later my sister - how algebra worked.  It was SO difficult for both of us; I don't remember a lot of fussing on our part, but I'm sure we weren't the easiest kids to teach.  Unc methodically sat with us on the couch and went over the problem again and again until we caught on.

My mother was not really well a lot of the time, and to make matters worse she became pregnant again at age 37.  She had terrible morning sickness and could barely get out of bed.  My father had always been the first one up each day; his job was to turn on the floor heater, set the coffee percolating on the stove and the bacon frying.  Uncle Bill took over the duty of making sure Ginnie Lou and I got out of bed each morning.  We would hear him at the door of our bedroom give a fairly substantial knock, then in a sing-song voice say "SADDLE BLANKETS" and then he'd crack open the bedroom door a bit so we could smell the coffee and bacon.  If we ever knew the significance of "Saddle Blankets" it has escaped me in my old age.  But it did the job.  Ginnie Lou and I would be more than half-way dressed before mother would pop out of her bedroom and run into the bathroom quickly.  Poor mother.  She was so sick.

Unc never talked much about his time in the service, but he had foot problems for the rest of his lie.  He called it "Jungle Rot."

Unc was a part of our life.  He was truly a member of our family and wasn't a time that he wasn't with us.  He was an unassuming man who didn't fuss over things.  Although they truly were partners in business, my father drove a Cadillac and Uncle Bill drove one of the store repair trucks. Looks just didn't matter to him.  Through the years we came to know his brother Claude, Claude's wife Lois, and their sons, Ronnie and Davy.  We vaguely remember a sister Betty - and I know we met his mom several times.  But it was only Uncle Bill that we really knew well.

After we went away to college, he met and married a woman with two young children, Barbara and Frank.  I don't believe we kids ever met his stepchildren, but we did know his wife Betty, because they often socialized with my folks.

The marriage didn't last but a few years, but Barbara and Frank had experienced Unc the same way my sister and I did.  They stayed in his life after the divorce, and when he suffered toward the end of his life with a crippling case of arthritis, they were there for him.  He and my father retired from business and both lived long lives, although neither as healthy as they wish they had been.

We were SO lucky to have Unc in our lives.  I have often wondered how I could find a way to immortalize him on the internet and share with everybody about his goodness and kindness to our family.  I finally decided I would put him under "Immortal Nobodies" - who usually are quiet little folks that I've only read about in my never-ending genealogy reserach.  For Unc, I think I'll temporarily change the title to "IMMORTAL SOMEBODY!"