The Folklore of Uncle Will’s Satchel
Susan L. Pentlin, Ph.D.
Central Missouri State University
In these 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 War Missouri, a sense of the era and a feeling of continuity for his descendants.
My mother[i] 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 Albermarle County, Virginia and moved, as an infant, with his parents Henry Lee and Nancy Gillum and his grandparents John and ElizabethGillum to Russellville, Logan Co, Kentucky in l826. There Henry was a successful tobacco dealer and farmer. John T Gillum came to Johnson County, Missouri in 1853, settling nearMontserrat, between Knob Noster and Warrensburg.[ii]
How the satchel came to my Mother is a story in itself. My grandmother AddieGillum 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.
What makes this interesting is that, first of all, Schell City is not very far from Warrensburg. John T. Gillum lived to the age of 80 and Will’s younger brother George L. lived to 82. Assuming Will also lived to the age of 80, he would have died shortly after the First World War. He had visited Warrensburg as late as l892. Robert F. Gillum, my great grandfather kept a day book, indicating with a few words the important event(s) of life on his Montserrat farm. I have found two entries about Uncle Will visiting him that year. He recorded:
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 Australia and other faraway places and made it clear he was only passing through, before he was soon off once again for other great adventures. However, sometime thereafter, Uncle Grover was on the Missouri Pacific Railway near Sedalia, and he saw Uncle Will who acted like he did not recognize his great-nephew. He thought that Uncle Will was embarrassed to be “caught” so near by, making his earlier tales only “stories.”
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 Schell City anything about his family? Did he suffer “post-traumatic stress”(to use modern terminology) from his war experiences? Had a lack of worldly success embarrassed him? Had “words been exchanged between brothers”? Did he just lose interest in Warrensburg after his brother died in 1906? Or did the family in Schell City simply forget what he had told them about his family and descendants? Taken together, family folklore, the contents of his satchel and the historical record offer some clues to Uncle Will’s life and some surprises.
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 theGillum 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 each on January 1, 1865. He had also kept a newspaper clipping reprint of “The Ballad of Chickamauga,” The poem vividly underscored the nature of the War, beginning with the first lines:
By Chickamauga’s crooked stream the martial trumpets blew.
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 America on September 22, 1861. The soldiers in this company came from Russellville and their captain was John W. Gillum, probably a relative of Will’s. The roster of the Company indicates that Will was “usually employed in various detail services of the Regiment.” [vi] The company belonged to the lst Kentucky Brigade, known as the “Orphan Brigade.” The Brigade got this name from the fact that the soldiers in the Brigade were “orphaned” from their home state as Kentucky had remained loyal to the Union. The men were not allowed to go back to Kentucky which was “behind enemy lines,” to go on furlough or to receive mail regularly, so the Confederate Army became their only home.
The Brigade fought across their way across the South, fighting at the Shiloh,Vicksburg and Murfreesboro, the bridge was part of the siege of Jackson, Chickamauga, the Atlanta Campaign and the battle of Stockbridge. The end of the war found the men in the South Carolina Campaign, fighting to cut off Shermann’s march to the Sea. In April 1865, they were encamped at Sumter where they were ordered to move back toWashington, Georgia where they surrendered their arms. The last Confederate soldier killed was in the 9th Kentucky Infantry of the Orphan Brigade.[vii]
Uncle Will apparently remained with the Brigade to the last battle. The clue to thisis 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 May 6, 1865. The Brigade which had initially enlisted 4500 had lost, at least three fourths of its men. Each man apparently received two dollars in silver money (so Uncle Will got a poor return on his $7500, to say the least.) Then they began the long walk home to Kentucky. [ix] Will probably returned to the family farm in Russellville, but as other Confederate veterans in border states, he faced an uncertain future. His father was still living, though in failing health. His younger brother George stayed on the farm for the rest of his life. Perhaps Will’s father suggested he join his brother John T. in Missouri and seek his own fortune there.
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 apainfull 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 yoursainte 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]
Uncle Will also kept a document from the pastor of the ME (Methodist) Church South in Warrensburg, dated October 25, 1869. The letter certifies that W.H. Gillum “has been an acceptable member of the ME Church South, Warrensburg station” and “recommended him to the Christian care and kindness of any society with which he may desire connection,” indicating that Will had moved from Warrensburg and was probably wanting to join another congregation. Could his choice of faith also have been an act of rebellion from the Gillum family? He had apparently learned about the Methodist faith from Kate Gaillard in South Carolina, [xi] .rather than from home and John T. Gillumand family became founding members of the Cumberland Presbyterian Church atMontserrat.
Clearly, Will also knew Wanderlust.. The date of the pastor’s letter and an i.o.u. for $26.20 from Belvoir, Missouri in Vernon County also dated that fall are an indication that he had left Johnson County and moved to southern Missouri by late 1869. The satchel contains letters and business papers from 1870 and 1871 addressed to him in other southwestern Missouri towns, including Prairie City, Nevada, Belvoir, andSchell City. The satchel contains the copy of a petition in Will Gillum’s hand to the County court of VernonCounty to incorporate Schell City, so Will may have played a hand in establishing this community.
I also found, to my surprise, a document dated June 12, 1872, from the fifth Judicial Circuit and the Circuit Court of Vernon County. This was a year after Will’s father Henry passed away in Kentucky. He would have been proud of his son. The document attests thatW.H. Gillum “produced satisfactory testimonial of his good moral character and having been duly examined and regularly admitted as an Attorney and Councellor of the Several Circuit Courts of the State of Missouri” had received his licence to practice as an attorney.[xii] He purchased a piece of property and joined the A.F. and Am Lodge, no. 448, in Schell City,.[xiii]
Will apparently remained in Schell City for at least six years, practicing as an attorney, for the satchel contains several deeds and correspondence about estates he handled. One contract is particularly interesting, it is a contract between the M.K. and T Stock Yards of Vinita in Indian territory and James Skinner, dated May 4, 1878. Skinner was contracting to deliver three tons of priaire hay to the Stock Yards, “said hay to not be cut from ground that was not burned over during the spring or winter. Said hay to be well cured and not bleached or burned by the sun.” [xiv] Perhaps this is where he got interested in working for the railways.
By early 1881 or 1882, Uncle Will had arrived in Hannibal, Missouri. He kept his identification card as Supt. of the Hannibal Stock Yards on the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy Railway valid until December 31, 1882. The satchel also had two receipts fromHannibal, for shipping sixteen cars of ice on the M & K division of the Missouri Pacific Railway.[xv] But he did not stay in Hannibal long; several letters indicated that he was back in Johnson County in 1884 and 1886, but it is not clear whether he was staying with his brother John T. or just visiting. By 1887, he had moved to Boonville,.[xvi] but, unfortunately, the satchel offers no clues what he was doing there.
Several 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 Missourirelatives for many years, he seems to have remained at odds with his brother in Kentucky.
In 1882, his brother George wrote him at Hannibal:
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.
Perhaps it was also Will’s way of avoiding a return home, without the worldly success he had hoped for. In a letter dated December 14, 1883, George wrote “the last time I ever heard from you directly or indirectly was when you wrote me that you were going to some place in Indiana or Illinois.” Will seems to had have a chip on his shoulder in previous correspondence, because George adds “your opinion of my relationship and fidelity hinging upon your being ‘endowed with gold and silver’ is exceedingly cutting and unkind a reflection I am sorry you make.” He also suggests, perhaps honestly, perhaps unkindly, that Will should withdraw himself:
…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 Kentucky. A girl friend, Nellie Findlay, wrote him in 1874, expressing her regret that “you were deprived of the pleasure of your visit to Ky.”[xix] He had a letter from his older brother John T. in the summer of 1886, saying that he had received Will’s letter promising that he would be soon be in Kansas City on his way to Kentucky, but George wrote him again in March 5, 1887 and commented on Will’s recent “assurance of an anticipated visit and the social pleasure of renewed association,” so he had apparently never arrived. George concludes in the letter that his brother is one who always restless and underway and he will probably never come for a visit, commenting, almost enviously:
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 Missouri either. Though he must have been clever, dashing and eligible and had many “lady friends,” he apparently never married. Going through the satchel, one begins to wonder, if he moved so often because he had “a fear of commitment” and was seeking a way to free himself from love entanglements. During the War he had given Kate Gerald a ring, but then wrote her seven years later. At that same time, he began a correspondence with Nellie Findlay of Napoleon in Lafayette County which is interesting.
Nellie had met Will at Montserrat where she was visiting her Grandfather in the fall of l872. She was only recently out of school, so younger than Will, had just broken off an engagement and was ready for a romance and marriage. From the beginning, Will enjoyed her friendship, but must have tried to keep her at a distance too, because he told her he was “leaving Nevada for the Pacific coast.” Nellie replied, flirtatiously, that she would not try to dissuade him, she just wanted to know, “and what part of the Pacific coast pray do you propose lighting with the smile of your radiant countenance.”[xxi]
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 Texas. Perhaps Nellie who had lived in California knew too much about the state. She knew less about Texas, obviously, because she worries that Will may “be devoured by Aligators and yellow fever there,” neither of which, of course, was common there.[xxiii]
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 tofriendship 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 Nevada,Missouri in l879. He apparently had proposed marriage to her, because she replied:
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]
But this 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 Schell City that year. She wrote, feistily, to Will, as follows in its entirety:
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 Schell City. Girls have great reverence for old age.
There is no correspondence, in the satchel, from any women he met in Hannibal, but there is a photo portrait of one woman, taken by a photographer, in his red account wallet, and a tintype of her too, so she must have played a role in Will’s life. He had also kept a baby picture from Corder, Missouri, but, disappointingly the satchel provides no clues of its importance to Uncle Will.
There are also three amorous letters from a Montserrat school teacher named Dora Campbell whom he met when he was visiting his brother John T. in 1884. They met at church, because Dora writes:
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.
Hopefully, 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 Harrisonville, Missouri, dated 1886. One of them was a valise, perhaps the satchel we are talking about today. There is a ticket stub from a Logan College performance in 1895 and two receipts dated 1901, so Uncle Will lived into the Twentieth Century. Finding his burial site in Vernon County might begin to provide further insight into his life of confabulation and loneliness in post-Civil WarMissouri.
Warrensburg, Missouri November 7, 2001
[vii] Orphan Brigade page at www.rootwsweb.com/~orphanhm/faqs.htm.
6 November 2001.
[viii] Letter from Kate Gerald Gaillard to W.H. Gillum, no date, c. 1872.
[ix] Orphan Brigade page at www.rootwsweb.com/~orphanhm/faqs.htm.
6 November 2001.
[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 United States and the State ofMissouri,” June 12, 1872.
[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.
[xv] Two unsigned receipt or accounting pages, April 24, 1882.
[xvi] Envelope addressed to Mr. W.H. Gillum, Boonville, Mo, March 9, 1887; letter from George L. Gillum, addressed to W.H. Gillum, March 5, 1887.
[xvii] Letter from George Gillum to W.H. Gillum, from Russellville, October 21, 1882.
[xix] Letter from Nellie Findlay to W.H. Gillum. July 6, 1874.
[xx] Letter from Geo L. Gillum to Will H Gillum, from Russellville, March 5, 1887.
[xxii] Letter from Nellie Findlay to W.H. Gillum, January 6, 1873.
[xxiv] Letter from Nellie Findlay to W.H. Gillum, March 4, 1873.
[xxv] Letter from Nellie Findlay to W.H. Gillum, July 28, 1873
[xxvi] Letter from Nellie Findlay to W.H. Gillum, August 21, 1873.
[xxvii] Letter from Nellie Findlay to W.H. Gillum, July 6, 1874.
[xxviii] Letter from Mary Pancake to W.H. Gillum, March 9, 1879.
[xxix] Half page note from Loulamine, Schell City, 1879.
[xxx] Letter from Dora E. Campbell, Mont Serrat, February 10, 1884.
[xxxi] Letter from Dora E. Campbell, Mont Serrat, October 15, 1884.