29 May 2010

Keep Calm!

Keep Calm!

27 May 2010

California Quotes: The Dangers of California Gold

A spade in California is now worth its weight in gold; a blanket is almost as dear as so much gold lace; a frieze jacket is worth cloth of gold. Imagine this depreciation extending to Europe with the arrival of ships from Francisco [sic], ballasted with gold, and the sovereign brought to the level of a dump. Fancy gold so fallen in the world as to play the part now performed by lead or pewter, serving for workhouse platters, for common coal-scuttles, for porter pots, for pipes, and cisterns ...
"Too much of a good thing is good for nothing," says the adage, and so it may be with poor gold, brought to poverty by abundance.

From Littells Living Age, Vol. XX, p. 371. E. Littell, ed; Boston: E. Littell & Co., 1849.

26 May 2010

Topics in Research-The Veteran Who Never Served

Richard Rowe May's Civil War Pension file tells the story of his fight with the government to prove his Civil War service, retain his pension and save his status as Commander of San Jose's G. A. R. Post. The problem? Despite Richard's protestations to the contrary, the War Department insisted his service consisted of only one day. An examination of pension files, contemporary newspapers and reference books helps piece together the story of Richard Rowe and Illinois' "Old" 56th Infantry-- the Mechanic Fusileers.

The Rise and Fall of 56th IL Infantry
Raised by Colonel James W. Wilson, the "regiment of Illinois Fusileers" was accepted by the War Department on 25 July 18611.  The men were recruited primarily from Illinois and the Great Lake states, and by late September were in the Chicago area where they began work on the construction of Camp Douglas. The camp, seen left in an 1862 Harper's Magazine illustration, was originally a training arena for Union troops, but by the end of the war was a notorious prison for captured Confederates. Construction went well and fast, and hopes were high for the specialized regiment.

In January of 1862, however, it came to light that Col. Wilson had used the suggestion of elite treatment and the lure of extra pay to swell the regiment. The authority for the regiment as filed at camp, however, provided that the troops be mustered in as a standard Illinois infantry volunteers--not elite or specialized in nature--and at normal pay2. Once the men found out that Wilson had lied, and the promises of extra bounty and specialized work were not to materialize, dissension broke out in the ranks, and a great deal of agitation began:
[T]he members of the 56th Illinois Infantry (Mechanic Fusileers) were enlisted upon fraudulent promises that they would receive more than the usual compensation and were to perform only a special kind of service, as skilled laborers, mechanics, carpenters, etc., and ... the members of the organization, upon learning of the deception and fraud practiced in their enlistment, became dissatisfied and refused to be mustered in. Upon the consideration of all the facts in the case ... the companies of the regiment were mustered in and mustered out of service as infantry on various dates between January 28 and February 5, 1862.3
The contracted power struggle between the Army and the Fusileers regiment--including court martials for some members of the regiment who had attempted to escape from camp--resulted in the Army mustering the regiment out of service across the span of a week or so (most on the same day), and discharging the men (honorably), "rather than trust its members with loaded weapons"4. The Chicago Tribune reported on 06 February 1862:
Yesterday morning, a battalion of the late organization, known as the Mechanic Fusileers, under command of Major Wood, made their appearance in town with drum and fife, the regimental colors, and halted in front of a lager beer saloon on Randolph street. Having refreshed themselves, they formed in line, and escorted the late Col. Wilson to their late quarters at Camp Douglas, where they went through the show of reorganizing--having been mustered out of service, and were honorably discharged.5
The suggestion that the regiment was somewhat irreverent was in tune with the coverage the men had received from local press in the prior weeks. Contrary to the press' views, and the stance of the War Department, the men of the regiment felt that they had been wronged--first by the deceit of Wilson, then by the actions of the War Department--and insisted that they were only out to procure what they had been promised for the work that had been done6. Indeed the press itself, at least initially, seemed prone to praise the regiment for the matter of its makeup and the strength of its work. In a review of the regiments at Camp Douglas in a 16 November 1861 article, The Chicago Tribune noted the presence of the Mechanic Fusiliers:
The Mechanic Fusiliers, Col. Wilson commanding, number 653 men. They commenced organizing Sept. 1st and went into camp at Wright's Grove. Their title explains their peculiar duties. The regiment is composed of mechanics, engineers, and artizans of all kinds, and will form one of the  most efficient in the service. Their utility may be inferred from the fact that the fine barracks at Camp Douglas are attributable to their excellent and rapid handiwork [emphasis added].7
The praise was a far cry from the charge leveled by the Department of the Interior in 1907 (via the press), as it was seeking to explain the withdrawal of pensions from previously paid "veterans", accusing the regiment of "never having left their camp of rendezvous and never having performed any actual service in the Civil War, but, on the contrary, having refused to be mustered in as soldiers.8

"No Pension for Shirkers"
Which begs the ultimate question: did the Mechanic Fusileers actually serve in the Civil War?  Richard Rowe, who was 19 at the time of his enlistment, surely felt he had served, in due faith, the regiment in which he had enlisted.  His pension file shows that he began receiving a pension as early as 1892, and had received an increase as late as 1901. He had been granted a pension under the Disability Pension Act of 1890, which represented a major expansion of the Civil War pension program; from the end of the war, pensions had only been available to those who had been permanently injured in the course of their service. The 1890 Act  changed all that by granting pensionable status to veterans who had served at least 90 days and could claim any disability--whether incurred in the line of service or not--as long as it was not the result of "vicious habits"9. In February of 1907, another pension act was passed, this time granting pensions based on the age of the veteran and the length of his time of service (i.e., the longer the service time, and older the veteran, the higher the pension payments)--without the necessity of proving disability at all.

It was after the passage of this latter act, on 22 May 1907, that Richard May (along with many others) was notified that he was being dropped from the pension rolls. To Richard's horror, the government was not recognizing his service. In reply to the pension cessation letter he wrote: 
You base your rejection of my claim on the ground, that my service as Mechanic Fusileer was not authorized by the Government as Military service, and consequently did not render the Government Ninety days service, we were properly enlisted and the Government so decided when they paid our transportation to camp gave us our uniforms, furnished our rations, assigned us our duties as guards guarding the camp, and if one failed to perform the duties assigned he was punished the same as other soldiers, Our Colonel was deposed for drunkinness (sic), and if my memory serves me right Major Arthur of the 112 regiment, of Illinois Inft was sent to take command and so served until we were discharged. Why? was he assigned to our command and we not in the service? I performed my part of the contract to the letter.10
Richard's frustration is tangible, and it is evident that he felt that he had performed the duties requested of him, in the manner and disciplined way of a solider. The fact that he had not seen any action in battle was not an issue in terms of pension, as decisions had been rendered that those who served even in supportive capacities, and had not seen battle, were eligible indeed for pensions. J. L. Davenport, a former Commissioner of Pensions wrote to Richard in 1913,
Members of other Organizations were dropped at the same time [as you] under the same decision of the Asst Secretary of the Interior[.] Among those dropped were the California Mountaineers and Organizations that performed service West of the Mississippi. Having never served at the seat of active hostilities. [sic] When I became Commissioner was [sic] successful in getting the decision barring the Western troops removed on the ground that they were enrolled for the War of the Rebellion but held for service on the Plains thereby relieving Regulars for service at the front.12
In 1917 Richard filed another affidavit seeking to have his pension reinstated. He continued his claim that he not only served a function as a soldier of the Federal forces, but became ill from that service as well:
The plea of the Department that we were not in service is wrong. We were properly enlisted, I on October 18, 1861, and thereafter helped to build the barrack at Camp Douglas, Chicago, did guard duty, drilled and were under orders of the Commandant of the camp, and acted my part faithfully. Our sewer pits were behind the barracks and the drinking water was taken from wells which were only holes in the ground near the sewer pits. This caused me to have fever and running sores and I was confined in the hospital at Chicago Illinois when we were discharged Feb. 1, 1862. 11
Thus while the government and the records of the War Department recognized that Richard May had enlisted 18 October 1861 and was discharged 01 February 1862, they still failed to accord his time served as technical service during the War. The issue even reverberated in his service to the G. A.R. at his local San Jose post, No. 7 Sheridan Dix, having been charged in 1908 by members of the post that his military service not being recognized, he was not eligible to serve in the organization13. While his pension was never reinstated, Richard may have felt some justice served when his status as a veteran and eligible G. A. R. member was confirmed by a unanimous vote at the 1910 National G. A. R. encampment in Atlantic City14.

Richard continued to appeal the decision to drop his pension--and continued to receive rejections--through 1917, when correspondence ceases.


1. See "Copy of the history of the Mechanic Fusileers Illinois Regiment", Pension File of Richard R. May, Soldier's Certificate 731508, Private, Co F., 56th Ills Vol Inft, Can No. 15320. The "history" includes typewritten copies of various War Department communications, along with a third-party commentary as to their relevance to Richard Rowe's service claim. It is unclear who the author of the third-party commentary is. The item cited is a copy of an order from the Secretary of War to Colonel James W. Wilson, which begins "Sir: The regiment of Illinois Fusileers you offer is accepted providing you have it ready for marching orders in twenty days."

2. The Chicago Tribune, "The Trouble in Col. Wilson's Mechanic Fusileer Regiment", 18 December 1861, page 4.

3. Letter from Adjutant General Ainsworth to Richard R. May, San Jose California, dated 12 June 1907, from the Civil War Pension file of Richard R. May. The letter goes on to state that although it appears May was enrolled in October 1861 and mustered out on 01 February 1862, there was nothing to show that he had ever been "armed or equipped, or... performed any military service whatever." Therefore, under the law passed February 1907, he was to be dropped from the pension rolls.

4. See Karamanski, TJ. Rally Round the Flag: Chicago and the Civil War; Rowman & Littlefield, 2006. Page 84.

5. The Chicago Tribune, "The Last of the Mechanic Fusileers", 06 February 1862, page 4.

6. Ibid. The article includes a letter to the Chicago Tribune from the Fusileers.

7. The Chicago Tribune, "The State Camp of Instruction", 16 November 1861, page 4.

8. St. Albans Daily Messenger, "A Pension Explanation", 15 June 1907.

9. "The Dependent Pension Act" was passed 27 June 1890. For information, see History of Military Pension in the United States, at Google Books. For a fascinating and detailed account of Civil War pension history and process, see the Civil War Pension Law Working Paper by Claudia Linares, available in PDF form here.

10. Letter from Richard R. May to Commissioner of Pensions, dated 10 April 1908, Richard R. May Civil War Pension File. See note 1 for information.

11. General Affidavit, Richard R. May, dated 08 October 1917, Richard R. May Civil War Pension File. See note 1 for information.

12. Letter from J. L. Davenport to Richard R. May, dated 13 August 1913, Richard R. May Civil War Pension File. See note 1 for information.

13. San Jose Mercury News, "Commander May to be Re-Instated", 03 November 1909.

14. San Jose Mercury News, "Richard R. May Vindicated", 25 September 1910.

25 May 2010

Tribune Tuesday: A Family Quarrel

From: The Oakland Tribune, 03 January 1889, p. 1

A Sister Who Is Not Satisfied With the Deeds of Her Father

It is asserted in a complaint filed today in Superior Court that on December 31, 1886 and long prior thereto and until the date of his death, Origin Mowry was of unsound mind and wholly incapacitated from attending to business or managing his estate. That is the reason Abbie Ann Graybill has commenced suit against Frederick W. Mowry, to set aside a deed given him by the deceased, conveying a certain valuable land in Washington township. It is alleged that Delia Mowry, Marion L. Mowry, and Joseph C. Mowry, taking an unfair advantage of the unsoundness of mind of Origin Mowry, procured him to sign and acknowledge a deed whereby he gave to the defendant the real estate in question.

On November 7, 1888, Mowry died instestate, leaving surviving him his wife, Delia Mowry, and four children, Marion C. Mowry, J. C. Mowry, and the defendant and the plaintiff. The latter claims to be an heir and asks that the deed be declared void and invalid, and that it be decreed that she is entitled to an undivided one sixth of the estate. The plaintiff has also sued her sister, Marion L. Mowry, to set aside a certain deed given her by her father prior to his death on the same grounds as in the other suit.

24 May 2010

SepiaTown [Resource Shelf]

Here's another one for the "potential" pile: SepiaTown, a grand mash up of photos and Google Maps, provides an historical look into the past, searchable and browseable by location:

The number of photos is slim, at the moment, but this resource could be a fascinating browse and a great resource if it takes off and we see more content added by everyday users.

Especially cool is the "Then/Now" feature, which will juxtapose the historic image with a modern-day photo:

If genealogists got into this project, we could have a seriously useful resource on our hands!

(Link via ResearchBuzz.)

21 May 2010

The Burning of the Tubbs Hotel, Oakland, CA

I decided to research a bit more on the Tubbs Hotel, mentioned in Tuesday's post. The hotel was a major landmark of its time, and its owner, Hiram Tubbs, even played a major role in early transit lines in Oakland, funding a streetcar line that would shuttle visitors to his hotel from their disembarkation at the train depot down on Broadway. Tubbs had made his money in the cordage business, providing rope and line to the myriad ships that sailed into and around San Francisco Bay; his company manufactured the rope in San Francisco. Michael Colbruno's fascinating Lives of the Dead blog (covering Oakland's Mountain View Cemetery), has a great post with a biography of Tubbs here.

An online search at Google Books yielded the following photo of the smoldering remains of the Tubbs Hotel, from a book on Oakland's Fire Department:

And from the San Francisco Morning Call, the day after the fire, there was this account, clearly written on a paid-per-word basis:

From: "The San Francisco Morning Call", 15 August 1893, p. 3
Oakland's Fine Landmark Destroyed
Loss Estimated at $83,000 With only $25,000 Insurance-The Origin Unknown
Tubbs' Hotel on Twelfth street, between Fourth and Fifth avenues, was burned to the ground last night.
The building and furniture were valued at $85,000. The insurance is something over $25,000.
A general alarm of fire was rung in from box 45 at 9:30 o'clock. The entire department turned out and a vigorous fight was instituted against the flames, but with little success. The entire hotel building was burned to the ground, and the greater part of the furniture was also lost.

There were twenty guests staying at the house, but fortunately all escaped uninjured.
All efforts to fix the origin of the fire are futile, as the flames broke out in the upper part of the southeast tower in an unoccupied room. From this vantage point the fire ran rapidly around the entire roof until the upper part of the building was a circle of blazing rafters. The building occupied an entire 300-foot block. Its side extension was about 260 feet and its frton 225 feet. The hotel was leased by Paul Marony about two years ago, and at that time it was largely refurnished at an expense of $20,000. Mr. Marony was living with his family at the hotel.
WIth the destruction of the Tubbs Hotel there disappears one of the most noteworthy landmarks of Oakland. It was built in 1870 by Hiram Tubbs of the Tubbs Cordage Company of San Francisco. It cost originally $210,000, the building alone being erected at an expense of $110,000. At that time it was considered one of the most imposing structures in this part of California. Its 200 rooms were filled with travelers and mining men. When the great mining booms of the '70's were at their height the Tubbs' was the favorite rendezvous of speculators and mining men.
Many reminiscences were heard among the prominent men who crowded about last night and watched the big building sink into ruins. For some time it has not been a paying investment, and the few guests who stayed there were fearful of the very fate that overtook it last night.
Mr. Tubbs, who owned the building at the time of its destruction, was an eye-witness of the fire from his house, directly across the avenue. He spoke very nervously when interviewed by a CALL reporter, shifting his inevitable cigar in his mouth and recalling regretfully the good old days of gold when his hotel had been the scene fo gayety and animation.
The entire insurance was carried by Mr. Dingee of Oakland.
After its completion the hotel was opened by Michael Tubbs, the father of Hiram Tubbs, the owner, and a man named Patten, and in the years succeeding it was run by various men. After Tubbs and Patten came Kellogg, who was running the house during the memorable visit of Grant to this coast.
In those days and the flush times of the stock excitement the house was the scene of many brilliant gatherings of notable people, Jim Keene of stock fame and Fillmore, the railroad man, and numerous others being located beneath its roof. Following the Kellogg reign was that of Lawlor, then came in rapid succession Stevenson, who skipped out with his chambermaid to the north. Then came Merideth Davis, a man who furnished many good stories for the newspapers and gossips, who hied him to Chicago.
The place had ceased paying long since, but the beautiful grounds about the place and the house itself were well kept up and it was a decided ornament to East Oakland, and was pointed to with pride by residents in the neighborhood.
The owner, Hiram Tubbs, a smooth-faced old gentleman, stood in his handsome residence opposite and looked longingly toward the building as the angry flames that lit up the skies for miles licked up the towers of the building and ate their way into the ornamental woodwork that crumbled before it fell to the ground in blazing fagots.
"Will you rebuild the house?" Mr. Tubbs was asked by the reporter.
"Oh, no no," said the old man as he shook his head.
Some small part of furniture on the lower floor was saved, but that in the upper part of the building is all lost. The alarm was turned in by W. J. Melvin, a druggist across the street, who saw first a tiny blaze licking its way out of the southeast tower near the very roof, and it is not known exactly how it did start. A defective flue was mentioned, but Mr. Tubbs shook his head.
When asked if he though it was incendiary, he said: "I do not know; the flues were in good condition through the entire house, and we never had any trouble from that source."
The flames as they shot upward lit up the surrounding country all about, and the crowds of people flocking to the fire from every conceivable point were enormous.
Every streetcar and vehicle obtainable was pressed into service, but still very many had to walk.
At midnight the fire was still burning, and innumerable black chimneys of the building reared high above all and looked down on a mass of embers, all that is left of an historical landmark.

20 May 2010

New Posting Topics and A New Series

Anyone wondering where on earth this blog has been for the past year would be entitled to know that I have, indeed, been working on projects near and dear to my heart, specifically that of carrying then babying the newest addition to the family (seen stage right), as well as trying to maintain my sanity while raising a toddler while tending to a newborn.

Time, though, as any good genealogist knows, marches on inexorably, and the strains of a new baby and a tired toddler are starting to wear away, leaving me more energy to fight the good genea-blog fight and attempt to resurrect the wilting powers of my own literary merit.

As I have had ample time to consider the time-worthiness of this blog, there will be some changes coming, as far as focus and content; changes which, I hope, will improve my posts dramatically, while realigning my blog with my own set of developing interests. Most markedly, the blog will no longer focus solely on internet-tools and research-techniques, though I do plan to cover these topics as they pertain to research I do personally on the web. When I discover a great site, a useful shareware app, or a new and particularly well-aligned search engine, I plan to share it with my readers. But as far as general coverage of the internet through the proverbial genealogy lens--no more. I find that other bloggers cover the most germane developments faster, better and more efficiently than I tend to (I'm looking at you, Randy Seaver!), so I see no sense in trying to re-post the wheel, as it were.

Instead, this blog will take on a new angle, reflecting my own research interests in the Great and Golden State of California. Particular emphasis will be given to research in the Bay Area (since that is where I live, and where I come in contact with the most primary sources). Look for reports on access and usage of records in nearby repositories, as well as items of historical interest  in various communities throughout the state. Trends and events affecting California residents will be discussed, often in-depth, and every effort will be made to present cohesive, annotated discussions which would be of use to anyone researching in this state.

I also recently began an in-depth research project on a gaggle of ancestors who made their way from New York to California in the first half of the 19th century, meandering lazily and across the decades from upstate New York, to Illinois, to Minnesota, through the Dakota Territory and various mining towns, to the citrus belt of California, until coming to a final halt in the San Francisco Bay Area. Since the family is interesting and had their hands in a myriad of different historical cookie jars, I've decided to expand upon different aspects of this family research in this blog. The series should cover, geographically, the Midwest and Western states, with an emphasis on migratory trends and early settlements along the way.

In the end, I want to realign this blog as a showcase of real research being done by one individual in a specific time and place. I want to discuss the largesse and limitations of research on the internet, and I want to track the actual research process as it unfolds... whenever that process holds interesting nuggets of research technique or historical significance of interest to readers. I hope you'll find the newer incarnation of RDGR to be a useful one, and I welcome any comments on the blog!

18 May 2010

Tribune Tuesday: The Tubbs Hotel

Originally built in 1870, the Tubbs hotel was a center of society in Oakland for years. Located between 4th and 5th Avenues, and E. 12th and E. 14th Streets (in the township of Brooklyn), the hotel burned down in August of 1893. The photo to the left, from the Online Archives of California, shows the hotel in 1889, the year of the following article:

From The Oakland Tribune, 02 January 1889:

The Flag Flying on the First Day of the Year

Without any ceremony save the display of an American flag at the masthead Tubbs Hotel was yesterday formally declared opened for business. It has been fitted up magnificently and at great expense. J. M. Davies, the lessee of the hotel, has worked long and with untiring energy to make the place comfortable and inviting and he certainly has been successful. 
This morning a TRIBUNE reporter was shown through the immense building by F. M. Black, who will assume the management of the hotel. The large dining room has been refitted and even the silverware has been changed. It is the largest dining hall in the city. The kitchen has been entirely rebuilt, and two of the largest size ranges put in. The parlor and billiard rooms are large and airy and are handsomely fitted up and like all the other rooms in the house, are warmed by hot air. Gas and electricity illuminate the building by night and electric bells and speaking tubes give easy communication with the office. Mr. Black, the manager is an experience hotel man and understands his business perfectly.
Among the permanent guests of the house are: General Sheehan and family; Mr. C[?] and family, Dr. and Mrs. E. H. Cool, C. J. Rawlins, Mr. and Mrs. Bumiller and family, H. H. Nagle and family, and E. H. Spooner, superintendant of the Dexter mines of Virginia, Nev., who, with his family, will reside in Oakland during the winter.