You Only Die Twice

I generally have little to say about William Lovewell, not only because I know so little about him, but also because the biographical bits already floating around on the Internet add up to one confusing mess.  Discovering that he may have lived at Lawrence and once pulled a 117 pound catfish from the Kaw adds about 15% to my knowledge base.

It should have come as no surprise when I heard from Dave Lovewell that in my last posting, “The Way It’s Supposed to Be," I puzzlingly seemed to kill William twice, once at Natchez in 1850, and again at Pleasanton in 1875.  I would have tried harder to make it clear that these were two different William Lovewells, if I had been absolutely certain that they were.  After doing a little more digging, I’m now reasonably sure.*  

The first record I’ve seen regarding William is the 1850 census, in which he’s a carpenter living in his younger brother Thomas’s cabin at Swan Creek, Illinois, along with another brother, Christopher, the one who would die in a hail of bullets at Vicksburg in 1863.  William and Christopher may have been laboring to put together a place for William to bring his new bride, once he tied the knot with Martha Morris that December.

William, Thomas and  their younger brother Solomon all descended on Ringgold County, Iowa, in the early 1850’s, to take advantage of a sudden surge in the price of rich bottom land brought on by the Crimean War.  Probably in addition to some other purchases, they bought land patents from the U.S. Government at $1.25 an acre, carved up their holdings, and sold small farms to newcomers at a nice profit.  By the end of the decade, Thomas, Solomon, and their youngest brother Alfred were ready to try their luck in the West, setting out for Pikes Peak, Virginia City, California and the Pacific Northwest.

Thomas was recently estranged from his wife Nancy, Solomon had not yet met his future bride, Lucinda Clanton** (In case you’re wondering, yes, she was a cousin of those Clantons), and Alfred would die a bachelor at Fort Churchill.  William and Christopher may have stayed behind in Iowa because they were the Lovewell brothers who were currently tied down.  When war broke out William joined the 5th Missouri Militia Cavalry.  The first page of his service record seems to declare him AWOL, having made a clean getaway on a stolen horse.  This information was later declared to have been a mistake, but even then the record has less to say about William than the value of his horse.  One has to wonder if William galloped away to be at the bedside of an ailing Martha, because his son William Wallace Lovewell was born to his second wife, the much-younger Matilda Wise, in 1864.

Some sources say William married three times, the first wife being Charlotte Bohall.  Several others limit him to two wives but also insist that the first was named Charlotte Bohall.  Gloria Lovewell’s “The Lovewell Family” allows him two wives and wisely refuses to name the first.  A girl from Indiana named Charlotte Bohall did marry William Lovewell, but apparently a completely different William Lovewell, a contractor from New York who may have been a son of one of Moody Bedel Lovewell’s half-brothers.  Confusion is perfectly understandable, since both Williams were born within the same year, they were engaged in roughly similar lines of work, both had sons who settled in Arkansas, and the William from New York gave one of his sons the middle name Alfred (It may have been his own middle name, since his middle initial was “A”).

Why was I somewhat suspicious that the two Williams might have been the same man?   Who knows - perhaps he faked his death at Natchez to wriggle out of an unhappy marriage.  If not suspicious, I’ve learned to be cautious when reporting 19th century deaths.  Have you kept track of the number of people in the story I’m piecing together who were supposed to have died young, but didn’t really?  A statement on a pension form declared Nancy Lovewell dead in Illinois in 1853.  Instead, she succumbed to "inflammation of the bowel" in Topeka in 1888.  Orel Jane Lovewell’s first husband, Alfred W. Moore, said to have perished in the Civil War, still had the stamina to trudge up the path to White Rock in 1879.  Even the “widow” Setzer, a victim of the Jewell County Massacre, might have been surprised to learn that her husband Uriah was not only alive and kicking, but setting up house with a second wife back in Indiana in 1865.

“We all owe God a death,” according to Falstaff.  Apparently, William A. Lovewell’s debt came due in Natchez in 1850.  Thomas Lovewell’s brother, William B. Lovewell, did not settle his accounts until 1875.

There.  I’m pretty sure about all that.

*  ”Pretty sure" was not sure enough.  See “Rethinking Charlotte” for an update on William, who apparently was the same man who married Charlotte Bohall.

** When writing this I had not yet learned that Solomon Lovewell also left behind a bride to pine for his return.  See “Solomon’s Travels” for a few details about Eliza Lovewell.

© Dale Switzer 2023