The Folklore of Uncle Will’s Satchel
Susan L. Pentlin, Ph.D.
uncertain days, I think we are all reflecting on how short and fragile human
life seems and are wondering how we can leave a mark on time to remind future
generations that we were here and who we were. I am sure my Uncle Will could
never have known that his satchel would provide a future generation with some
sense of his life and accomplishments. Depending how you look at it, Will’s
satchel contains, on one hand, very little to signify a life. On the other, it
provides a glimpse into the life of a young dandy on the prairie in post-Civil
passed away last January and I have now inherited Uncle Will’s satchel. This
satchel belonged to William Henry Gillum who, I now
know, was my great-great-great uncle, the brother of John T. Gillum, my great-great grandfather. The son of Henry Gillum, John T. was born in
How the satchel came to my Mother is a story in itself. My grandmother Addie Gillum Flanery was a teacher in the Warrensburg schools. One day ( in the 1940s I think. There are calendar pages from 1946 in the satchel)someone at school, learning her maiden name was Gillum, asked if she could be kin to a William Gillum? She said “yes,” she had an Uncle Will, and then they explained that an old man by that name had lived and been a boarder in their home in Schell City, Vernon County, Missouri, and had died there many years ago. They had kept his satchel, in case, they ever found his family. Thus the old leather satchel came to Warrensburg and from Grandmother’s house to Mother’s to mine.
this interesting is that, first of all,
February 6 In Warrensburg. Rained all day. Ma & Pa here.
February 7 Shipped cattle. Uncle Will G here.
February 8 Uncle Will came.[iii]
And Mother remembered her uncle, Grover Gillum, telling about Will visiting him later at the county courthouse, so Uncle Will knew family was close.
Uncle Grover also said that when Uncle
Will had visited with him, he told high tales of travel to
Of course we may never know why he died
alone, out of contact with Warrensburg, perhaps in an unmarked grave. Had Uncle
Will not told people in
The old leather satchel, tied with a hemp rope, is filled with memorabilia of Uncle Will’s life. There are many amusing, amorous love notes, a Valentine, several letters from his brother George in Russellville, one from John T. Gillum and one from his father Henry, a pair of glasses, a poker chip with his father’s initials H.G., a metal plate to ink his name, possibly from the Civil War era, two old photos, one daguerreotype faded beyond recognition, various newspaper clippings, including a poem on “The Ballad of Chickamauga,” a small tintype, Civil War bonds, an almanac of the 70 Wonders of the World from l882, a booklet on Carter’s liver pills, his brother George’s calling, card, several business cards, a watch and business papers.
Uncle Will was born in Russellville. The 1860 census for Russellville records in the Gillum home a William, age 19; he had two older siblings in Logan County and two younger ones (John T. Gillum is not listed as he had left for Missouri in 1853).We know little of his life in Kentucky, although his later correspondence indicates he must have received a solid education as a young man. His brother George wrote him in1l882, mentioning how he cherished “with delight the same pleasing recollections of former boyhood, and manhood.[iv] Unfortunately, there is no photo of William, but perhaps he looked like his older brother John T. Gillum as pictured in about 1865.
The only clues in the satchel that
Uncle Will supported the Confederate side in the Civil War is a small bundle of
fifteen Confederate States of America bond coupon, dating to August 1, 1861 to
l863. The bonds valued $7500 and, ironically, the bearer was to collect $20 for
The North and South stood face to face, with
war’s dread work to do.
O lion-strong, unselfish, brave, twin athletes
Brothers, yet enemies, the fire of conflict in their eyes,
All banner-led and bugle-stirred, they set
them to the fight,
Hearing the god of slaughter laugh from mountain
height to height…..”[v]
Considering his age, it made me wonder if he might have fought for the Confederate Army.
Luckily, through a recent Web search, I
found that at the age of 20, Will had enlisted in “A” Company of the 9th
Infantry of the Kentucky Volunteer Army
of the Confederate States of
The Brigade fought across their way
across the South, fighting at the
Uncle Will apparently remained with the Brigade to the last battle. The clue to this is in a letter from Kate Gerald Gaillard which he kept the rest of his life. The letter is undated, but in the first lines she writes:
Your letter dated Jan 15th has just reached me, its delay being occasioned by its being directed to Slatesbury instead of Sumter, which is our P. Office….I am very sorry that you should suppose, that you had been forgotten by us, and though our acquaintance was short, and we have not met for years, you have always been high esteemed by us, and remembered as a Friend. I received your letter written just after the war, I know now that I did very wrong in not answering it and returning your ring….[viii]
Kate also wrote that her sister remembered Will from seven years ago, so this letter was probably posted in about 1872.
The Orphan Brigade was paroled on
By December 1867, Will is in Warrensburg where he was employed by the attorney practice of Cruse & Bell. Henry’s letter is a reply to two recent letters from his son. From the letter, we gain a picture of a young man seeking his way to monetary success, but who may already have a reputation for quarreling with his family and being a bit “difficult to manage” Henry begins his letter diplomatically, writing his son:
….you also stated you were in Warrensburg & you were getting better wages though I heard that before, and here let me say that I do not in the least set up or claim any wright directly or indirectly to trying to control you in any way whatever. For you are old enough to be at least your own Guardian…..
Before offering fatherly advice, he reassures Will of his faith in him, explaining,
.. and just then I will say that I have no fears of your doing well for you are fully capable and competent & qualified.”
However, he then adds, a stern remainder, somewhat in contradiction, “…and should fail the fact will rest upon some[one] do let [it] fall upon you for that would be a painfull reflection to me. ” His final advice, with a note of affection, is: “And William my son let a close application to business, Fidelity and the interest of your employers be your motto, let others do as they may.”
Before closing, he also hinted that Will had had some problems with his family, because he adds: “I would like to hear from you often and if it is the will of the Lord that we should not meet again on earth let us covenant as an unbroken family and meet your sainte mother and sister where I expect ere long to meet them high up in mansions of rest….” The letter is signed “Accept the assurance of a fathers Love. [x]
also kept a document from the pastor of the ME (Methodist) Church South in
Clearly, Will also knew Wanderlust.. The date of the pastor’s letter
and an i.o.u. for $26.20 from
I also found, to my surprise, a
apparently remained in
early 1881 or 1882, Uncle Will had arrived in
of the family letters and of the love letters Will kept confirm Uncle Grover’s
impression that while Uncle Will apparently bragged about travels far and wide,
he was a confabulator of adventures and not an adventurer. Perhaps his
experiences in the war had left him tired and cautious. While he kept in some
contact with his
In 1882, his brother George wrote
I think it so strange that so long a time has elapsed since you wrote me a letter; and were it not that I received a pair of horns a short time ago would not know how to address you in order to find out.
Perhaps Will had sent the horns as a means of bragging about his travels, because George adds, “I have heard several times that you had gone farther west.”[xvii] Will seems to have enjoyed giving the impression that he was always underway.
was also Will’s way of avoiding a return home, without the worldly success he
had hoped for. In a letter dated
…in spirit, entirely alone, as at the hour of might, when no mortal eye can behold you, and ask yourself this question. Have you been as truthful in your communications oral and written in telling just what was true to me, as you ought to have been to a brother.
In a final conciliatory note, George wrote that he hoped “when the responsibilities incident to life in this world are over, for a happy meeting in peace…where no misunderstand[ing] can come and where brother
can never extract pain from a brother.”[xviii]
From the evidence,
it is doubtful that Will ever returned to
I think you might have written before and told us of a balmy and beautiful south for we have often wondered where you had gone. Like the migratory bird you have followed the retiring Summers heat and [when]the pleasant days of spring are approaching you fold the tent of pleasure and as quietly move again to the clime of better acquaintance and familiar seans [scenes] Such is life, fickle, fleeting, gone. [xx]
This is the last of the letters from his family that Will kept. Perhaps he grew weary of explaining himself, of inventing new adventures and worrying that they might find out that his life after the Civil War had not been adventurous at all.
In fact, Will probably never put down roots in
had met Will at
In a note on January 6th Nellie writes that it is snowing and talks about the joys of sleigh riding. Teasingly, she adds:
“Sleigh riding…a pleasant privilege of which you will be deprived when you make the sea west your home yet one I presume which might well be exchanges for a home in view of that broad expanse of blue where each idly moving breeze “makes low music in the ocean caves.”
and she thanks him for his Christmas gift.[xxii] By January 30th
Will has changed his plans to travel to
Nellie, who is also a Methodist, wants to have fun and get married. She admits they are two different personalities, though both are “willful.” Like George, she is critical of Will’s ambitiousness and interest in money. She explained:
You certainly have some ideas very different from mine. Those in regard to friendship for instance. Why you seem to view men not as made in gods own image and after his own heart but rather as a being caring for nothing, striving for nothing save money—and that is gold which wins us friends.[xxiv]
She accused him of being deceptive about his ideas of love as well as his travels. She had also read a letter he had written to a friend and commented on “its tone of murmuring sadness.”[xxv] Perhaps his war experiences set Will apart and, from her point of view he was too serious and not spontaneous enough in love.
Nellie writes him a few days later,
I often wonder if the great part of earths happiness is not found in dreams…if such be the case with our earthly mortals, happy is he who dreams bright dreams in life and I sorrow for those who have so little heart and imagination as to bring every thing down to a philosophical point of view. It does very well for man to philosophize on gravitation but those higher emotions of the soul I do not think were give man to moralize on.[xxvi]
From the early letters, it is hard to distinguish, if it is a friendship or a courtship between Nellie and Will. However, she replied to a letter from him about a year later where she indicates that Will had written to “know just the ground on which we stand.”
Then Nellie adds, with equivocation:
I know that it would be the silliest of coquetry for one to say I do not understand and appreciate the delicately implied sentiment underlying your letters for the past twelve months. You planted the germ of love in my heart when you first told me it was growing in yours and the gentle culture you have bestowed there has refined the perfect flower. You have had in your keeping the rose bud of friendship for some time and when you care to claim it, the full blown rose of affection is yours.[xxvii]
This is the last of Nellie’s letters in Will’s satchel, so it seems Will did not care to claim her attention.
Will also kept three letters from
Mary Pancake which she sent to him in
I cannot write as I would to one for whom I do not entertain feelings of sincere respect and friendship, nor can I answer as you seem to hope for. If I were disposed to marry now, I have but a withered heart to offer. You could be happier with one who could give you the heart’s first and best offering.[xxviii]
must not have discouraged Will unduly. Very likely, he enjoyed
the flirtations and pursuit more than the conquest. The most humorous item in his satchel,
for a reader, is the letter he got from Loulamine in
You are so vain. I know you think all
of us girls are in love with you. We know you are in your dotage, this accounts
the winning smiles you get in
There is no correspondence, in the satchel, from any women
he met in
There are also three amorous letters
If you thought yourself ridiculous that day at the church how on earth did you think I appeared. I never felt so foolish and could think of nothing to say in the right place. I wanted to pinch myself for acting so silly. I am sure it would have been very pleasant if we could have become acquainted with each other at the beginning of your protracted visit instead of this last day.
hastily sought to assure him that the ring on her finger was one her brother had given her and not an engagement ring. She was younger than him, because she explained:
If I had not been looking at you so much perhaps I would never have seen you looking at me. The admiration seems to have been mutual. I remember you when I was a child and have always considered you my “Bean Ideal.” I did not deem it a weakness on your part at all to write me an apology or to confess your fascination, for it made me regard you more highly (if possible) and confirmed my opinion that you are a perfect gentleman. I am very sorry you neglected God to worship me….nothing would give me more pleasure than to renew the short acquaintance of sweet long ago, and hope the time not far in the distance.[xxx]
Later in the fall of 1884, she confessed that she had refused two offers of marriage because she cared too much for him.
She pours out her heart, writing:
I could not love any one as I have you and I would rather die than marry a man whom I could not give my whole heart. I have highly esteemed many gentlemen before but never loved, but I met you. I always advocated the idea that there was no such thing. [xxxi]
It comes as no surprise, however, that Dora had just learned that Will was going away and that this was the last letter from Dora in his satchel.
further research will undercover records that answer questions remaining about
Uncle Will, in particular where and when he died. In his satchel, there is also a receipt for
two pieces of luggage he had left in
[i] Jean Marie Flanery
Riddle, was born
Gillum family history see John Thomas Gillum, Through the Years ,
[iii] Robert F Gillum’s day book, 1892-1898. In this author’s possession.
Letter from George to William,
[v] Maurice Thompson, “The Ballad of Chickamauga,” from Century Magazine, newsaper clipping, undated.
[vi] Post Civil War roster of Company A, 9th’ Infantry of
Kentucky Volunteer Army available at www. rootsweb. com/
[x] Letter from Henry Lee Gillum,
Russellville, Kt to
[xi] Letter from Kate Gerald Gaillard to W.H. Gillum. He had apparently told her that a book she had had led him “in the path of truth.”
[xii] Document signed by John D. Parkinson. On the
reverse William H. Gillum signed his pledge to “support
the constitution of the
[xiii] Handwritten page about meeting on July 12th ; Trust Deed to W.H. Gillum, filed June 12th, 1873, County of Vernon Recorder’s office, book “G”, folio 58.
[xiv] Handwritten copy of contract, signed by
W.H. Gillum for the J.K. & T Stockyards,
[xvi] Envelope addressed to Mr. W.H. Gillum,
[xviii] Letter from G. L. Gillum to W.H. Gillum, from
Letter from Nellie
[xxiii] Letter from Nellie
[xxxi] Letter from Dora E. Campbell,