A Trail of Golden Crumbs

While looking for something else entirely yesterday I happened to find a personal item placed in the December 5, 1859 issue of the Sacramento Bee by one Thomas Lovewell of Shasta, who was hoping to hear news “of his two brothers, Solomon and Alfred Lovewell, who are somewhere in California.”

It was news to me that Thomas Lovewell might have arrived in California without his brothers, or that he was there before the end of 1859, and that he was already in northern California.  

Shasta was a sort of off-ramp to various mining camps scattered across the region.  If Thomas had any hope of hooking up with his brothers again he was going to need a clue as which direction he should head.  Evidently he did get in touch with Alfred because the two brothers would be counted in separate mining shacks at Virginia City in the 1860 census.  At the same moment their  brother Solomon might have been the “S. Lovell,” trying his luck a hundred miles to the west in a gold camp at Grass Valley, California.

The item in the Bee answers some questions, but raises a few more.  As Thomas’s own sparse outline of his first adventure in the West indicates, he did not stick around Pikes Peak for long. But had the Lovewell boys traveled together from Iowa, or was it a younger brother’s letters home to Iowa that drew Thomas westward?  Thomas never provided a clue either way. 

We know that Thomas and Solomon were both taking a breather from unhappy marriages.  Each had left a wife and child in Iowa who would never celebrate his return.  It now turns out that Alfred Lovewell also had a significant reason to make himself scarce in Iowa, one that may have something to do with a later legend that Thomas Lovewell himself had once been a horse thief.

When Orel Jane Lovewell applied for the widow’s portion of her husband's Civil War pension, she opened the door to a full-scale investigation of everyone who might remember her or her late husband.  Thanks to the intrepid sleuthing of the lads from the Bureau of Pensions we can eavesdrop on the reminiscences of Orel Jane Lovewell’s girlhood pal Emeline Twombley Hunt, and the testimony of Nancy Lovewell’s second daughter to reach adulthood, Cora Alice Farrar, Nancy’s love-child with Orion Kennedy.  Cora Alice, by the way, is probably the relative remembered by my grandmother as her “Auntie Sherman”  In addition we have a rumor, provided without attribution, that back in Iowa Thomas Lovewell was “believed to have been in the horse stealing business on a very extensive scale…”

There is even a piece of documentary evidence that a theft ring was indeed operating in south-central Iowa in the 1850’s, connected with the Lovewell name.  However it was not attached to Thomas, who had joined an abolitionist colony in Kansas Territory by this time, but his younger brother, 18-year-old Alfred.  I discovered the story at exactly the same time that I learned of Thomas’s search for his two brothers.

An item reprinted in the October 29, 1856 edition of the Weekly Hawk-Eye and Telegraph reports the following:

Broke Jail. -Three persons, Alfred Lovewell, Thomas Robinson and William Stewart, who were confined in the county prison of this place, on charges of horse stealing and house breaking, committed in Monroe county, broke jail on Tuesday night.  The sheriff and others immediately started in pursuit, and we hope they will succeed in recapturing them.  A reward is offered for their arrest. -Ottumwa Courier.

Alfred and the others may have gotten away scot-free.  At least there seem to be no further mentions of the escapees in the Iowa press.  Aside from Thomas’s plea for information concerning the whereabouts of his brothers, Alfred’s very next press clipping comes from another California paper published on June 7, 1863.

Death of a Soldier. -Alfred Lovewell, a member of Company A, Third Regiment California Volunteers, was buried at Hort Churchill last Saturday.  Company A is now stationed at the Fort, and Lovewell is the first member of the company who has died of disease since it was mustered into service.  Lovewell was 27 years of age and born in Athens county, Ohio.  

© Dale Switzer 2023  dale@lovewellhistory.com