Zeroing In

Finding a personal advertisement which Thomas Lovewell placed in the December 5, 1859 edition of the Sacramento Bee, nearly doubles the amount of information we have concerning his time in the West before joining the Army.

It might be more accurate to say that it helps make twice as many guesses that have a higher-than-average probability of being correct.  Since the ad puts Thomas in Shasta as he attempts to locate his brothers “somewhere in California,” it seems likely that he arrived late in November of that year, and that Solomon and Alfred Lovewell had crossed the Continental Divide ahead of him.  Whether they had all set out together from Iowa or Kansas, is still up in the air.  

As revealed by an item reprinted in numerous Iowa newspapers in 1856, Alfred and two other suspects broke out of jail at Dubuque where they were being held on charges of stealing horses and breaking into houses in Monroe County.  Monroe lies in south-central Iowa, not far from Ringgold County, where three Lovewell brothers and their spouses had invested heavily in farmland at the start of the Crimean War, and where Solomon Lovewell and his wife Eliza Jane still resided when Alfred was nabbed.

Solomon and Alfred may have journeyed into the Far West together to escape individual problems.  Alfred no doubt needed to put some distance between himself and the long arm of the law, while Solomon may have been ready to bail out of an unhappy marriage.  The former Eliza Jane Hatley, who had been about 13 when she married Solomon and was still childless at 19, either held out little hope that her absent husband would return, or didn’t care either way.  Sheltering with the Shafer family in 1860, she would marry Myron Barton in Missouri the following year, giving birth three years later to the first of their thirteen children.

We still have no real clues as to exactly when Thomas departed for the Pikes Peak gold fields, but we may be able to make a pretty good guess as to when he set out from the vicinity of Denver, bound for California.

Interviewed by a reporter on the occasion of his 89th birthday in 1915, Thomas recalled first venturing into the Far West in 1859, “a trip  by way of Pikes Peak from St. Joe to the gold regions of California by ox team.” 

The quote must have been forgotten by the time Thomas’s son Stephen began assembling an outline of his late father’s life in 1945.  Stephen Lovewell believed his father had been a 49’er who happened to stop at “Denver Colo., then only a prospector’s town … spent a few days looking around; if (he) had not been… determined to go to California, he would have stayed and done some prospecting for it did show prospects but no find as yet had been reported.  Ten years later a strike was found on Cherry creek and Denver became a boom town.”

Of course it was ten years after the California Gold Rush when Thomas first saw Denver, and the town was only then beginning to gain a foothold.  But even if Stephen’s recollection of his father’s tale is off by an entire  decade, the upshot remains the same - Thomas Lovewell did not hang around Denver for very long.

I speculated a few weeks back that instead of welcoming new arrivals, the “Pikes Peak or Bust” photo that I’ve mined mercilessly could be a record of imminent departures.  Rediscovering a few forgotten clues and finding one or two new ones, reinforced the idea.  Spotty mail service between Iowa and Pikes Peak turns out to play a key role.

Although Oakes’s favorite daughter Cleora Alice, or “Allie,” died on June 1, 1859, according to Oakes biographer LaVonne J. Perkins this news did not catch up to D. C. Oakes until the first of August.  The black armband Oakes is wearing in the photograph* suggests that the scene was likely to have been staged during the month of August, after D. C. received the heartbreaking news, but before he made his final trip to Iowa at the end of the month.

We learn from the travel diary kept by Daniel Jenks** that a journey from the Pikes Peak region to northern California by wagon could take the better part of three months.  If Thomas Lovewell had posed for a photograph near Denver in late August, just as he was about to set out for California, he would have had just enough time to arrive at Shasta late in November before putting out feelers in regional newspapers regarding the whereabouts of his brothers.  When he did make contact Thomas seemed to pair off with Alfred while Solomon went his own way. 

No record of nuptials has surfaced for Solomon and his second wife Lucinda Clanton, whose union, like the later marriage of Thomas and Orel Jane Lovewell, may have been an informal arrangement.  Given the birth of their firstborn Martha Jane Lovewell in 1863, a marriage in 1862 has been assumed.  A notable difference between the brothers’ marriages is that Thomas Lovewell’s second wife was 15 years younger than his first, while both of Solomon’s wives were born the same year, 1840.  

Of  the seven girls eventually born to Solomon and Lucinda Lovewell, three would nearly reach the age of 90, while both of their boys died young.  Alfred, born in 1869 and named for the younger brother who went West with Solomon and died at Fort Churchill in 1863, was only in his mid-teens.  James Alfred, born in 1877, was in his mid-thirties when he died at Tillamook in 1812, which was also the year Solomon died.

There was a third related death that year.  Solomon’s first wife died 300 miles away in Walla Walla, Washington, where Myron and Eliza Jane Barton had relocated decades earlier.  Solomon passed away the day after Eliza Jane’s 72nd birthday.  Her husband Myron would hang on until 1935, when he was 104.

* For newcomers, the picture can be found here.

** A link to the tale of Daniel Jenks

© Dale Switzer 2023