Wednesday, December 18, 2013

On Forgiveness and Remembrance

Can you even begin to imagine how you would feel if your son shot five innocent little girls and injured permanently five others, then shot himself? Recently, I read a newspaper article about the mother of the man who tied up ten little girls inside an Amish schoolhouse in Pennsylvania several years ago, shot to death five of them, and wounded five others. This woman goes once a week to the home of one of those girls to bathe her, feed her through a tube, sing to her, and read to her. Despite the agony, she has found a way to forgive her son. Along with members of the Amish community, she has moved beyond the horror and grief to a place of peace and forgiveness. Her other son is making a documentary film about her “journey from heartbroken mother in inspirational speaker.” He wants to make sure the subject does not become “one of those dark family secrets that nobody talks about.”[1]

Reading this story evoked thoughts of Aunt Mandy's daughter, Geneva, and her killer, James Lammers. What if I were James Lammers’ mother? Could I forgive him for murdering my grandchildren and my daughter-in-law? For hurting me so deeply? My hunch is that if his family forgave him, it didn’t happen very soon. One of the newspaper articles noted that the last time his parents and his brother visited him in prison was in May 1951, eight months before he was executed. Did his deed become a “dark family secret” that no one mentioned?

If I were Geneva’s mother, her siblings, her aunts, uncles, and cousins, could I forgive him? When it happened, I was too young to remember, and in later years, I never took the time to talk to my father or my aunts and uncles about it. My father showed me the magazine that told the story, but I don’t recall any malice from him toward James Lammers, only sadness.

When I began to investigate this story, my aim was to learn more about Geneva and her children and to memorialize them, but I didn’t know the names of the children. I created a memorial to Geneva on Find A Grave web site. Then a volunteer added a photo of Geneva’s tombstone, which did not name the children. What were their names? Fortunately, the newspaper articles named them, so I created memorials for them, too. Later while searching the Internet, I found the story of James Lammers’ execution. It included the name of the cemetery where James was buried, so I created a memorial for him, too, linked in my previous blog. Another volunteer added a photo of his tombstone showing bright red flowers on his grave. Who had placed the flowers?

Unfortunately, when someone is murdered, the killer gets all the media attention for months, even years afterward. His name becomes notorious while the names of the victims are nearly forgotten. Geneva, Laura, Melva, LaVerne and a little one unborn must be cherished in the family’s memory. Hopefully, forgiveness can be offered their killer.

[1] Michael Rubinkam, “Amish School Shooter’s Family Seeks Healing,” The [Anderson, Indiana] Herald Bulletin, 10 December 2013, p. C2, col. 1-6.

Wednesday, December 4, 2013

Murder of Aunt Mandy's Daughter, Part 4

The trial of James Lammers, accused of murdering his wife Geneva Orr Lammers and their three children, commenced on Monday, February 26, 1951, in Doniphan County, Kansas, district court. In a detailed account of the jury selection, one newspaper named not only the defendant, the judge, John C. Gernon, the prosecutor, Robert A. Reeder, and the defense attorney, A. O. Delaney, Jr., but also all the reporters and the newspapers they represented, along with every single person interviewed for jury duty, and whether they were seated or excused—mostly because they had “already formed an opinion.” At 11:30 a.m., the regular panel was exhausted and another 100 men—yes, all men—were called in. The interviews continued throughout the  afternoon, until twelve men were finally selected.[1] It must have been a grueling day.
The [Troy] Kansas Chief included the entire charge to the jury and a thorough paraphrase of the prosecutor's case, brought by the State of Kansas, against Lammers.[2]
The reporter noted that there was standing room only in the courtroom from the start. James Lammers’ parents, Mr. and Mrs. Fred W. Lammers, and his brother Francis, had come from Fordyce, Nebraska. On Tuesday, Geneva’s brother James and her mother Amanda Orr also came, along with James Orr’s father-in-law.  Several others from Nebraska were named.[3] My mother told me that she and my dad took Aunt Mandy to the trial, but in a letter to me several years ago, James Orr's wife corrected that James took her. Maybe Mom’s memory was faulty, or maybe they took Mandy another time. I don’t know. If my parents went that day, The Chief reporter did not include their names.
Thursday’s newspapers reported that the trial “came to a dramatic climax . . . when Miss Zada Spencer, 25 years old, of Manhattan, Kansas came to the stand and testified that the defendant was the father of a son born to her . . . on February 5, 1951.” She went on to testify that she had been seeing James Lammers off and on for about a year, whenever he was in Kansas working on construction. He never told her he was married, she said. After learning she was pregnant, he had told her that a friend of his, who had lost his wife, had offered him his trailer home if he would care for the man’s three children. Lammers asked Miss Spencer if she would marry him on those conditions, and she declined. Another witness, a friend of Miss Spencer with whom she had been living, corroborated her story.[4]
What an absurd story! Makes one wonder about Lammers’ mentality. Apparently, that’s exactly the case the defense tried to make. They brought five witnesses who tesified that James Lammers’ mental capacity was limited to a range from 9 to 15 years old.[5] The prosecutor then requested Lammers be examined by a team of doctors to determine “whether he is an insane person and unable to comprehend his position and make his defense.”[6] The doctors found Lammers competent and sane.[7]
On the final day of the trial, March 7, 1951, 275 people were in the courtroom. The state presented its rebuttal against the defense’s arguments that Lammers “did not fully realize the enormity of his act” and requested the death penalty.[8]  After deliberating for 1 hour and 47 minutes, the jury returned a guilty verdict on two murder counts and approved the death penalty.  When the judge asked Lammers if there was any “legal reason that sentence should not be pronounced,” Lammers said, “I don’t know what you mean.”[9]
The execution date was set for May 18. The defense attorney moved for a new trial;[10] a stay of execution was granted;[11] and an appeal from a death sentence was made[12] and refused by the Kansas supreme court.[13] On January 5, 1952, James Lammers was hanged by the State of Kansas. His parents declined to claim his body, and he was buried in Mt. Calvary Cemetery in Leavenworth, Kansas, a sad ending for a tragic tale. 
This link will take you to his memorial on

[1] “Selection of the Lammers Jury,” newspaper unknown (probably The [Troy] Kansas Chief], date unknown, p. 2, col. 1-6.
[2] “Lammers Murder Trial at Dramatic Climax in the Court,” The [Troy] Kansas Chief, 1 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1-3.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.  “Woman to Light in Troy Trial,” Atchison Daily Globe, 1 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1; digital archives of the Atchison Daily Globe ( : accessed 4 December 2013).
[5] “Check on Lammers Mentality,” Atchison [Kansas] Daily Globe, 2 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1 and p. 3, col. 1; digital archives.
[6] “Lammers Murder Trial at Dramatic Climax.”
[7] “Rules Lammers Not Insane,” Atchison Daily Globe, 4 March 1951, p. 1, col. 2; digital archives.
[8] “Make Final Pleas in Troy Trial,” Atchison Daily Globe, 7 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1; digital archives.
[9] “Lammers to Hang for Killings,” Atchison Daily Globe, 8 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1, digital archives.
[10] “In Move For New Trial,” Atchison Daily Globe, 9 March 1951, p. 1, col. 2, digital archives.
[11] “Stay of Execution Granted Lammers,” Atchison Daily Globe, 19 March 1951, p. 1, col. 1.
[12] “Hear Plea in Troy Slaying,” Atchison Daily Globe, 2 October 1951, p. 1, col. 2; digital archives.
[13] “Lammers Loses Appeal to Escape Execution,” Atchison Daily Globe, 11 November 1951, p. 1, col. 2-3, digital archives.

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

Murder of Aunt Mandy's Daughter, Part 3

On Friday, December 15, four days after the fire that killed 23-year-old Geneva Orr Lammers and her children—Laura Mae, age 3; Melba Jean, age 2; LaVerne Francis, age 11 months, and an unborn baby—newspapers were still pondering the mystery surrounding the cause of the fire. Parts of the bodies had been sent to Washington, D. C. for analysis in FBI labs. No arrests nor warrants had been issued.[1]

Nonetheless, Sheriff Carter and his officers thought they knew who did it, but they wanted a confession. They insisted Lammers take them on the route he had traveled when he left Troy the previous Monday morning supposedly in search of work. He first took them to Independence, Missouri, then to Kansas City where he tried to provide an alibi by showing a receipt for gasoline purchased on December 12, but the actual date, December 13, was smudged and over it was written the number 12. Then he took them to Topeka, Kansas, where he had spent the night in a hotel and mailed a post card home to Geneva.[2]

            “Dec. 14, 1950
            Dear Gen:

            I made it do(wn) here O.K. . . . I didn’t get my work. I am goting to Topeka see if I can             get work there. I’e seeing you sune.
            I am goting now to Topeka.


Addressed to “Miss James Lammers, Tory, Kansas,” this card had arrived in Troy on Friday, December 15, 1950.[3] Spelling errors belong to Lammers.

He said he had overheard people in Topeka talking about a terrible trailer fire in Troy, so he hurried home. The group returned to Troy late Friday, and at 12:30 a.m. Saturday, the sheriff woke Lammers to announce that he was serving a first degree murder warrant on him.[4] “Does it have to be as bad as that?” Lammers said.[5]

Photo of James and Geneva Lammers found in ruins of trailer.

On Saturday, the story in The Hiawatha Daily World announced that Lammers had confessed! Showing no remorse, he admitted that he had returned to Troy after midnight on December 12 and set the blaze outside the trailer. Evidence had already convinced the fire marshal of this, and he had used his knowledge to pressure Lammers into confessing. Lammers claimed to have poured kerosene under the trailer while his family slept. He said he had walked to his truck and watched until he was sure the fire was blazing and then he drove to Missouri. Although tests showed that Geneva’s body had been drenched in kerosene, he denied entering the trailer. [6]

After his confession, Lammers was moved to an undisclosed location for his safety.[7] Anger in the community must have been raging.

A few days later, The Hiawatha Daily World reported that Lammers had changed his story. He claimed to have choked his wife to death and poured kerosene on her body before setting the fire. This new confession contradicted the coroner’s report that all the victims had died of carbon monoxide poisoning.[8] It also changed the charges against him to two counts of murder: one for killing his wife by choking and the other for killing his children by fire.

Meanwhile, Geneva's brother, James Orr, sadly took the responsibility of accompanying the bodies of his sister and her children home to Hartington, Nebraska, where their heartbroken mother, my dad's Aunt Mandy, waited. They were buried together in a single grave at St. John the Baptist Cemetery, Fordyce, Cedar County, Nebraska.

What possible reason could James Lammers have had for such a terrible deed? He claimed that his children drove him crazy, and he was dreading the arrival of a 4th child.[9] He had taken his wife to St. Joseph, Missouri to a doctor where they thought she could get an abortion, but the doctor had refused.[10] Yet another motive would surface during his trial.

[1] “Husband Returned to the Fire’s Scene As Probe Goes On,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 15 December 1950, p. 1, col. 3.
[2] “Lammers Confesses!” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 16 December 1950, p. 1, col. 3. “Confesses to Trailer House Murder,” The [Troy] Kansas Chief, 21 December 1950, p. 1, col. 1-3. Note: The Chief was a weekly, so its story was a summary of the week’s findings.
[3] “Confesses to Trailer House Murder.”
[4] Ibid. “Troy Killer Shows No Regret Over a Slaughter of Five,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 18 December 1950, p. 1, col. 2.
[5] “Troy Killer Shows No Regret Over a Slaughter of Five.”
[6] Ibid.
[7] “Lammers Confesses!” “Confesses to Trailer House Murder.” “Troy Killer Shows No Regret.”
[8] “Lammers Makes a New Confession In Troy Murder Case,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 28 December 1950, p. 1, col. 3.
[9] Raymond Harley, “Flames For Four,” Real Detective, April 1951, p. 31.
[10] “Confesses to Trailer House Murder.”

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

Murder of Aunt Mandy's Daughter, Part 2

Reading through the news reports about the murder of Aunt Mandy’s daughter, Geneva Orr Lammers and her children, I felt as though I were watching the events unfold. The Hiawatha (Kansas) Daily World headlines on Wednesday, December 13, 1950, read, “Four Die In a Trailer Blaze on Troy Night.” The mystery was the husband’s whereabouts.[1]

The [Troy] Kansas Chief, reported that “Troy was visited early Tuesday morning with one of its worst catastrophes when a mother and three small children . . . burned to death in a trailer house fire, the lot back of the Fred Worman home in west Troy.” A neighbor woman had been awakened by a “bright light shining through her window,” and peering out her window, she saw fire in the Lammers’ trailer. Trying to rescue Geneva and the children, the neighbor’s husband burned his hands and face when he opened the trailer door. Other neighbors were waking, too, and several called the police and fire department.[2]

By the time the blaze was extinguished, not much remained of the Lammers’ home. Authorities found Geneva’s charred body lying on her back on the floor near the rear door; the little girls, Lora Mae, age 3, and Melba, age 2, lying on their stomachs in their beds; the baby boy, LaVern, age 11 months, in his crib wrapped in blankets. According to reports, the Lammers family had moved to Troy from Manhattan, Kansas, in July. The husband, James Lammers, 26, “had gone in search of work sometime Monday.” He had been employed by Clarkson Construction Company as a bulldozer operator, but he had been laid off two weeks prior to the fire.[3]

A coroner’s jury was convened, and Coroner E. L. Karr reported that all four victims showed signs of carbon monoxide poisoning, indicating they were “alive when the fire started,” and that Mrs. Lammers was “an expectant mother.” The bodies were so badly burned, he said, that further tests were necessary.[4]

The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World reported similar events in the case on Thursday. In addition, this newspaper noted that a Dr. Lattimer from Topeka had come to Troy to make “exhaustive examinations of the bodies of the four victims.” He confirmed reports that the mother’s body was so badly burned that all that was left was the torso. The state fire marshall, Charles Reed, speculated that the cause of the fire may have been two butane tanks or a small oil stove in the trailer, and “it is obvious that the presence of this inflammable material contributed to the fierceness of the blaze.”[5]

Karr had telephoned the Lammers and Orr families in Fordyce and Hartington, Nebraska, respectively, and several family members had arrived in Troy: Geneva’s brother James Orr, James Lammers’ brother Frances [sic], and a Lammers cousin, Gene Wieseler.[6]

Police had broadcast a call for James on the radio, and state police were alerted to look for “a Ford 1947 pickup truck, color black with yellow trimming . . . with Kansas license T 58-66.”[7] About 12:30 p.m. Thursday, James arrived in Troy claiming someone in Topeka, Kansas, had recognized his truck and informed him about the fire, so he raced home. He was being questioned at press time.[8]

[1] “Four Die in a Trailer Blaze on Troy Night,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World, 12 December 1950, p. 1, col. 1.
[2] “Trailer House Tragedy Kills 4,” The [Troy] Kansas Chief, 13 December 1950, p. 1, col. 1-2.
[3] Ibid.
[4] Ibid.
[5] “No Trace Found as Yet of Husband of Victim of Tragedy,” The Hiawatha [Kansas] Daily World,  14 December 1950, p. 1, col. 6.
[6] “Trailer House Tragedy Kills 4,” p. 1, col. 1-2.
[7] Ibid. “No Trace Found as Yet of Husband of Victim of Tragedy,” p. 1, col. 6.
[8] “Trailer House Tragedy Kills 4,” p. 1, col. 1-2.

Thursday, November 14, 2013

Murder of Aunt Mandy's Daughter

When I was a girl my dad had one of those crime magazines popular in the 1950s that mostly told sordid murder stories. Real Detective, this one was called: “10 Stories 10c.” Dad didn’t regularly fill his mind with these stories, but he bought this one because one of those 10 stories told the tale of the murder of his cousin, Geneva Orr Lammers, daughter of Amanda Waggoner Orr, my grandmother’s sister, and her husband Dallas Orr.

Geneva and James Lammers in happier days, photo in Real Detective, April 1951, p. 19.
I was only four years old when Geneva was murdered, and I don't remember hearing people talking about it. I don’t suppose my parents discussed such a horrible thing in the presence of their youngest children. Geneva had been murdered by her husband, James “Jim” Lammers. Jim had killed Geneva, seven months pregnant, and burned their trailer with her and their three children inside. Mostly, I remember the magazine article. Dad showed it to us a few years later. I was awed that the story about a family member was featured in the magazine. Maybe the horror of it was too much for my young mind.

Years later, my mother told me more. Geneva and her three children had stayed at our home in Stanton, Nebraska, for about two weeks while Jim went to Kansas to find work and a place for them to live. “Geneva seemed to like me,” Mom said, “probably because I as closer to her age than her cousins.” Geneva was 23, Mom was 28, and Geneva's youngest female cousin was 34 in 1950. My younger sister and I were close in age to Geneva’s children, so I’m sure we played together.

When my mother passed away in 2008, and we were going through her papers, I found the magazine Dad had saved. As an adult reading the article, I began to realize the enormity of the tragedy and its impact on the family. As I read, I was puzzled that Geneva’s name had been changed to Mae and her name had been applied to a neighbor. I wondered what else was different from reality.

Pages 16 and 17 in Real Detective, April 1951 showing photo of Jim standing in the ruins of his trailer.
 The photo of Jim standing in the midst of the ashes and rubble of the burned out trailer struck me. What was he thinking? What was he feeling? How could he stand there and fake shock and grief? How could he pretend not to know what happened? According to the article, Jim’s neighbors had seen him leave the morning before the fire and not return, but the singed hair on his hand was the evidence that implicated him in the crime.[1]

Pages 18 and 19 showing photo of singed hair on Jim's hand and the young couple in happier days.
 The next time my husband, Myron, and I drove from Indiana to a family reunion in Nebraska we went to Blue Springs, Missouri, first to see my sister. As we headed north on I-29 toward Nebraska, I talked him into detouring through Troy, Kansas, to see what we could learn about the murder of Geneva Orr Lammers. Troy is located in Doniphan County, the farthest northeast county of the state, bordering Nebraska on the north and Missouri on the east. Troy’s population is barely 1000, which hasn’t changed much since 1950. Driving down the wide main street, we spotted a small library, so we parked the car and went in. I asked a fresh faced librarian if she had newspapers from 1950, and I told her what I was seeking.

“As a matter of fact,” she said, “I was looking through old newspapers, recently, and I found that story. I was so fascinated that I took the papers home to read them.” She promptly hurried home, retrieved them, and brought them back to make copies for me.

After leaving the library, we walked down the street and around the corner to the lot where the Lammers’ trailer had stood. We figured out which house was the one where the neighbor lived who had reported the fire. We speculated on the approximate place where James had parked his truck that night. We even drove to the next county and visited the jail where James had been held. I started reading the newspaper articles to Myron as we drove on to Nebraska.

[1] Raymond Harley, “Flames for Four,” Real Detective, April 1951, p. 18.

Wednesday, November 6, 2013

Grandma Mary's siblings: Affable Amanda

What I remember most about my dad’s Aunt Mandy is that she was—well, fat. That’s the word we used in the 1950s. Today, that word seems to be out. The word obese is in. It’s somehow more polite.

But Mandy wasn’t always obese. The eighth child of Eli and Rachel Waggoner was born in Smyth County Virginia on March 20, 1895, and named Amanda.[1] At age 5 in 1900, Mandy, a happy little girl, we hope, was living with her family at Broadford, Virginia. When the family moved to Mexico, Missouri, in 1909, she was included in that grand adventure. She had attended school there in 1910[2] most likely her first year of high school, which was the extent of her formal education.[3]

The picture below was taken in Missouri when Mandy was about 16 or 17. The family lived there from 1909 until sometime during 1912 when, according to her mother’s obituary, they moved to Nebraska. The two children with her in the picture are her nephew and niece, James Gordon Troutman, born in 1911 and named for his mother’s favorite brother, and Neville America Troutman, born in 1910 and named America for her paternal grandmother. They were the two oldest children of Mary and Clint Troutman, my grandparents. The  first three of the Troutman children were born in Missouri. The third, Carl Justin, was not included in this photo, so he was either not yet born or very young.

James Troutman, age 1, Amanda Waggoner, age 17, Neville Troutman, age 2.

In 1920, Mandy was living with her parents and her brother Jake on a farm in Brenna precinct, Wayne County, Nebraska.[4]

Mandy is on the right with two unidentified friends. Comparing to the picture below, I'd say the man could be Dallas Orr, Mandy's future husband.
This was probably taken in Nebraska in about 1920.

 About 1922, Mandy married Moses Dallas Orr (1883-1946), son of Moses and Mahala Love (Cline) Orr.[5] This family had also migrated from Smyth County, Virginia, to Nebraska sometime during the first decade of the 20th Century. In the 1900 census, Dallas, as he was commonly called, was enumerated twice, once with his family at Broadford, Virginia, the same town where the Waggoner family lived at that time, where his occupation was recorded as “Office boy,”[6] and once living on his own in Rich Valley, where his occupation was recorded as “Salesman, General Store.”[7] By the 1910 census, the Moses Orr family was living in Dodge County, Nebraska; however, Dallas was not with them,[8] and I haven’t found him in the 1910 census. When he registered for the World War 1 draft in 1918, he was living in Thurston County, Nebraska.[9]

By 1930, Dallas and Mandy were living on a rented farm near Winnebago, Thurston County, Nebraska. They had four children: May, age 7; Reba L., age 6; James, age 5; and Geneva, age 2.[10] In 1940, they were still living on the same rented farm, and they had a fifth child, Charles, age 3.[11]

Dallas and Mandy Orr about 1940 with four of their children:
l. to r. Geneva, James, and Reba, with little Charles in front.
Mandy’s life surely took a difficult turn when Dallas died in 1946, at age 62, leaving her with young Charles, age 9, still at home. What did widowed women do who had never been employed outside the home, never owned land, and had little education? Many of them relied on older children for their support. Or perhaps there was a pension of some sort. One can only guess how Mandy supported herself and her son during the ensuing years. By this time, Mandy’s older children were out of the home and married, even her youngest daughter, Geneva, who married at about age 18.

The loss of Dallas was not the worst blow to Mandy, however. In 1950, Geneva’s husband murdered her and their three children. Next week’s story. 

Click to find Dallas Orr’s memorial and Amanda Orr’s memorial on

[1] Bland County, Virginia, Record of Births, 1861-96: 333, database, ( : accessed 25 June 2013), entry for Amanda Waggoner, 20 March 1895.
[2] 1910 U. S. census, Salt River, Audrain County, Missouri, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 11, p. 7-B, dwelling 140, family 140, Manda Creelman [Waggoner]; digital image ( : accessed 5 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 767.
[3] 1940 U. S. census, Winnebago, Thurston County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district 82-17, sheet 16-A, visit no. 278, Amanda Orr; digital image ( ; accessed 15 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T-627, roll 2082.
[4] 1920 U. S. census, Brenna Precinct, Wayne County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 218, p. 5-A, dwelling 87, Amanda Waggoner; digital image ( : accessed 15 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 1003.
[5] Smyth County Virginia Births, 1879-1884, database, ( : accessed 03 November 2013), entry for Moses Orr, 21 May 1883.
[6] 1900 U. S. census, Broadford, Smyth County, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 84, sheet no. 3-B, dwelling 45, family 45, Dallas Orr; digital image ( : accessed 6 November 2013); NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1728.
[7] 1900 U. S. census, Rich Valley, Smyth County, Virginia, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 85, sheet no. 2-B, dwelling 28, family 28, Dallas M. Orr; digital image ( : accessed 6 November 2013); NARA microfilm publication T623, roll 1728.
[8] 1910 U. S. census, Ridgely township, Dodge County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 109, p. 2-B, dwelling 32, family 32, Moses Orr family; digital image ( : accessed 6 November 2013); NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 842.
[9] “U. S. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918,” images (http://www., accessed 13 August 2013), card for Moses Dallas Orr, serial number (blank), Local Draft Board, Pender, Thurston County, Nebraska.
[10] 1930 U. S. census, Winnebago, Thurston County, Nebraska, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 87-17, p. 4-B, dwelling 83, family 83, Amanda Orr; digital image ( : accessed 15 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T626, roll 1294.
[11] 1940 U. S. census, Winnebago, Thurston County, Nebraska,  population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 82-17, sheet 16-A, visit no. 278, Dallas Orr family; digital image ( ; accessed 6 November 2013); NARA microfilm publication T-627, roll 2267.

Wednesday, October 30, 2013

A Matter of Mistaken Identification

When Dad’s cousin, Harold Mitchell’s wife, Jacquie, sent me a photo in 1998 of the Waggoner family, she identified them as follows, left to right: Eli and Rachel in front; the four daughters are Mary, Alice, Ida, and Amanda; the four sons, she said, are Emery, Gordon, Jacob, and Leo. I'm afraid I perpetuated what I've come to believe is mistaken identification of Leo and Emery. After studying other photos and learning more about the family, I began to realize that something was wrong. 

First, Emery was the eldest (born in 1884), and would have been around age 25+ when this photo was taken. The boy on the left does not look to be over 20. Leo would have been about 15, and this son looks more that age to me. 
My revised identification: Eli and Rachel in front; girls l. to r: Mary Alice, Ida, Amanda; boys l. to r. Leo, Gordon, Jacob, Emery.
Second, when the family moved to Missouri, Emery and Gordon went farther west, and they were not present when the family portrait was taken. Their pictures were added later. When Jacquie sent me the above photo, she said, “Two of the son’s pictures were added to the photo later, but I do not know which two.” I sent her a copy of the photo my dad had given me of the family (below), and wrote, “This photo will tell you which two.” My guess is that this photo was taken, possibly in Missouri, after Gordon and Emery had already gone west. So it is likely that the two missing photos added later were Gordon and Emery, not Gordon and Leo.
My identifiers: Eli and Rachel in front; girls l to r, Mary, Alice, Ida, Amanda; boys, Leo and Jacob.
Third, looking at pictures known to be Leo and Emery when they were older, I just think the boy on the left in the family portrait looks more like pictures of Leo, and the man on the right looks more like pictures of Emery.

In the photos below, compare the lower known portrait of Leo at about age 25 to the boy above from the family portrait that I believe is Leo.
Leo, age 15
Leo, age 25
Now in the photos below, compare the lower known photo of Emery at about age 40 to the one from family portrait that I believe is Emery.
Emery, age about 20.

Emery, age about 40
What do you think?

(c) 2013 Z. T. Noble

Wednesday, October 23, 2013

Grandma Mary's siblings: Leo's Legend

About fourteen months after Alice, another baby boy was born to Eli and Rachel in December 1891, but he was apparently either stillborn or died shortly, for he was not named, and other than birth,[1] no other record of him exists, that I’ve found, anyway. The 1910 census records that Rachel had 9 children of whom 8 are living.

Then along came Leo. On Oct. 8, 1893, almost three years younger than Alice, he was the seventh child of Eli and Rachel Waggoner. In family records, his name is Leo Cleveland, but that middle name does not appear in any other records, thus far in my research. The middle initial C does, however.

Leo C. Waggoner

Being one of the three youngest children in the family, Leo was about 15 years old when the family left Rich Valley, Smyth County Virginia and moved to Mexico, Missouri. Leo is with the family in 1910.[2] Eventually, his two older brothers, Emery and Gordon, must have influenced his decision to go elsewhere, however. When he registered for the World War I draft, he was farming in Lyon County, Minnesota, where his brother Emery lived. The card says he had brown hair, brown eyes, medium height, and stout build. Interestingly, he gave his birth date as born Oct. 11, 1894, instead of the date on the birth record, Oct. 8, 1893.

Leo C. Waggoner's World War I registration card.

Leo has eluded me in the 1920 census, but I found evidence that corroborates a story my dad told me that Leo lived in California. He seems to have been a hell raiser, at least in his early days. I remember my dad telling us that Leo got in a fight with someone in California and bit off his finger. Or was it nose. I couldn’t remember for sure. Dad laughed as if it were a joke to shock us kids. Years later, I wondered about the truth of it. Surely not, I hoped! A few weeks ago, I decided to search  California newspapers on GenealogyBank, thinking it would be a long shot and nothing would turn up. I was wrong. I found the story in the just a few minutes:

Associated Press
                        FRESNO. Aug. 28 [1925].—Charged with biting off the thumb of Thomas Spano, a ranch superintendent near Clovis, Leo Waggoner, packing plant worker, is being sought by officers on a charge of mayhem.”[3]

Never would I doubt Dad’s stories again.
Just five years later, Leo was living in Lakeshore, Kootenai County, Idaho, where Gordon had lived and had been buried a few years earlier. He shared a place on Yellowstone Trail with two other men: Levi G. Childers, widowed, age 56, and Guy A. House, single, age 31. They were all unemployed.[4] The depression must have hit them hard.
Leo never married, but he had at least one female friend whom he admired enough to have this picture taken with her. They both look dressed to the nine--for cold weather.
On the back of this photo is written, "Leo Wagner and his girlfriend."
 By 1936, evidence shows that Leo was back in California where the city directory of Stockton, shows the name Leo C. Wagner, gardener, living at 838 E. Channel.[5] The picture below shows Leo (on right) and friend in California.
Leo Waggoner and friend in California
 I have not been able to find Leo in the 1940 census, so from 1936 until he died at age 73, his life is a mystery. He passed away in Sanger, Fresno County, California on 6 January 1967, and he is buried in the Sanger Cemetery. Someone on Find A Grave created a memorial for him and added a photo of his tombstone. The beautiful outdoor scene on his grave marker seems to me to reflect a deep feeling he must have held for the mountains. 
Leo C. Waggoner is buried in Sanger Cemetery, Sanger, California. Photo used by permission from a. dot of Ca., findagrave contributor.
(c) 2013 Z. T. Noble

[1] Bland County, Virginia Births: 1861-96, p. 287, No Name Waggoner, Dec 1891; database ( : accessed 23 July 2013), extracted from Fridley, Beth, comp.. Bland County, Virginia Births: 1861-96 [database on-line]. Provo, UT, USA: The Generations Network, Inc., 2000; original records, Richmond, Virginia, USA: Library of Virginia, 1861.
[2] 1910 U. S. census, Salt River, Audrain County, Missouri, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 11, p. 7-B, dwelling 140, family 140, Leo Creelman [Waggoner]; digital image ( : accessed 5 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T624, roll 767. Note: Due to a transcription error, all of Eli and Rachel’s children’s names are indexed in this census as Creelman. This is not only a misreading of Mary’s last name, Troutman, but also a misinterpretation (or misuse) of ditto marks for the last names of all the children listed under Mary’s name.
[3] “Bites Thumb Off,” Evening Tribune (San Diego, California), 28 August 1925, p. 5; digital image Genealogy Bank ( : accessed 12 August 2013).
[4] 1930 U. S. census, Lakeshore, Kootenai County, Idaho, population schedule, enumeration district [ED] 8, p. 3-A, dwelling 50, family 50, Loco [Leo] C Wagner; digital image ( : accessed 15 October 2013); NARA microfilm publication T625, roll 903.
[5] Stockton [California] City Directory (1936), Spokane, Washington: R. L. Polk and Company, 1936, U. S. City Directories, 1821-1989; digital image (, accessed 27 August 2013), "Wagner, Leo C."