Mistakes Were Made

I like to set the record straight whenever I get things quite obviously wrong.  For instance, I said Rhoda Lovewell’s hair was silver  when I saw her at the family reunion ten days ago.  I’ve just examined a few photos taken at the event, and either my eyesight is seriously on the fritz or my camera is.  More people evidently showed up for the reunion than I recalled being there.  My camera and I least agree that the White Rock valley was as beautifully emerald-green as I’ve ever seen it.  So, at least there’s that.  While the old railroad depot continues to moulder, it was good to see shiny new rails and fresh ballast along the tracks running through the former site of the village of Lovewell.  Dave Lovewell had told me about a new industry sprouting up there, and apparently they’re transporting raw materials and shipping finished products the old-fashioned way.*

Emerald Hills

If there actually were more attendees this year than two years back, the credit should go to Dawn Lovewell Gabel, who used social media to promote the 2015 reunion.  I can vouch that her postings have a dramatically measurable effect.  Dawn put links to this site on her Facebook page, and a day after sharing them with her friends my traffic went up from twenty sessions a day to a hundred and twenty.

Mistakes about hair color have a long heritage in the Lovewell family, by the way.  Thomas’s grandson James Franklin Lovewell declared that his grandfather’s hair had been black before slowly going gray late in life.  James Franklin was still in his teens when his grandfather died, and his report about what the old man looked like in his youth must have seemed a logical assumption.  Family members thought Thomas’s son Stephen Lovewell looked remarkably similar to his father as he aged, and photographs reveal young Stephen’s hair to have been dark.  However, Thomas’s Army records describe the 35-year-old enlistee's complexion as fair with light hair.  James Franklin also thought his grandfather stood "well over six feet tall” in his prime, and that his heavily-muscled frame must have weighed about 180 pounds.  According to his enlistment papers Thomas was precisely six feet tall and tipped the scales at 135.

James Franklin Lovewell was also the descendant who insisted that the two women his grandfather married, Nancy Davis and Orel Jane Davis, were sisters.  The irony here is that his own father had known better.  I have a copy of William Frank Lovewell’s letter to the Bureau of Pensions in which he states that the family was well aware that Nancy was Orel Jane’s aunt, that after separating from Thomas, Nancy married a man named Turnbull and died in Topeka in the 1880’s.  William Frank Lovewell was Orel Jane’s youngest boy, the confidant she entrusted with family secrets, perhaps believing that he would keep them under lock and key until the time was right.  Ironically, he was the first of Thomas and Orel Jane’s sons to die, surviving his mother by only eleven years, and seemed to pass on without sharing anything she had told him, with another living soul.  The next generation of Lovewells were free to rewrite the family story as they pleased.

Fortunately for historians and the merely curious, in 1920 Orel Jane Lovewell filled out an application for the widow’s share of her late husband’s Civil War pension.  Her eventual testimony in the case not only sets the record straight, but contains some surprisingly candid details.  For instance, we learn approximately when and where on their travels together she began to view her former uncle as a prospective husband, as well as exactly what she thought of her former husband, the thoroughgoing scoundrel Alfred W. Moore.

Although Orel Jane never really started legal proceedings against the drunken, lying lout, she claimed on her pension form that she divorced him on November 8, 1865.  In Gloria Lovewell’s “The Lovewell Family,” this date was shifted one year earlier, perhaps to accommodate a family rumor that he had died in the Civil War.  Death in battle was a convenient way to write someone out of the family story and preclude further questions, and it made no sense to have her divorce a man who had died in a war that had ended eight months earlier.  The only actual rumor concerning Alfred W. Moore that circulated among gossips at the Pension Bureau in the 1920’s, was that he may have fought on both sides in the Civil War, an idea that seems to have originated at Clifton, Kansas, among the Haynes family, whom Alfred Moore visited in 1879.  He stopped first at the Lovewell farm near White Rock to see if Orel Jane still carried a torch for him.  She most certainly didn’t, but she directed him to Clifton where he could find their son Vinson Perry Moore living with Sylvester and Diantha Haynes.

For those playing along at home, Alfred W. Moore did not die in the war, and Orel Jane did not divorce him, but did not divorce him a year later than family history says she did.  Orel Jane and Nancy were not sisters.  Thomas Lovewell was no more than six feet tall and rather slender, and his hair was light, not a mass of black curls.  The 2015 family reunion was rather well attended.  The hills around Lovewell Lake are a deep emerald green this summer.  And Rhoda’s hair is not silver.

There.  That much is all true.


*What Dave actually told me is that a hay broker had begun operating at Lovewell.  My mistake.

© Dale Switzer 2016  dale@lovewellhistory.com