Thursday, September 22, 2011

Of Wagons, Indians and Gold – Part II

Continuing Alan McAdam's story of his mysterious uncle, James McAdams. You can read the first part here.

One of two scenarios takes place here.  Either James had told something of a tall tale to his brother, with respect to this Indian story, or Gum and Robert were attempting to pull a fast one, as I found out later on (keep reading), that James was just a hired driver for this trek – the losses were not his, personally.
Then I found a probate report from Madison County, Montana.  This record makes for some pretty good reading.  The court appointed administrator determined that James owed quite a bit of money and his assets were not worth that much.  He had stake in two different gold mines, but the administrator could not get bids on either holding.  There are genealogical goodies in this report though.  At one point the administrator writes:  “Refusing to retire from the contest bootless, I contacted a cousin of the deceased, Robert Renshaw of Deer Lodge, MT.”  This would be Robert McAdams Renshaw, son of Hosea Renshaw and James’ aunt, Nancy.
What little personal property James had went to his landlord. Charges of the newspaper were settled with an old buffalo robe belonging to James. 
Again, I wonder if James inflated his gold mining success to his brothers.  Newspaper articles at the time said that Gum and Robert T. went to Montana to settle his estate.  Surely they would not have made that trip had they known that their brother had no estate worth exploring.  Maybe James had borrowed money from them after inflating his own wealth?  There were unpaid doctor bills and a claim against the estate by Robert McAdams for $245.00.
Here comes the good part in my research on old James:  I was just doing some idle “Googling” on the internet, and had plugged in James McAdams, Mules, and Freight.  I came up with excerpts from an autobiography written by a Utah pioneer named L. H. Kennard.  This man was a Civil War veteran from Ohio.  After the War he came west, first to Missouri.  Along the way, he became friends with our James McAdams, and together they made a trek from Sonora MO., via Brownsville and Omaha, NE to Salt Lake City.  Our James went from Salt Lake on to Montana.  Mr. Kennard at first intended to follow him, but ended up staying in Salt Lake, marrying a Mormon woman and converting to that faith.
Mr. Kennard’s story tells of when he and James McAdams shared travel time together.  His arrival in St. Joseph makes some good reading. He walked from St. Joe to Atchison County to save travel expense, spent some time teaching school, and made a foolhardy trek across the Missouri River on thin ice! 
What I love about this story is that it comes close to bringing our James to life!  When Mr. Kennard decided to go west, he had no idea how he was going, he just took off.  He took a steamboat from Sonora up the river.  At the Nebraska City wharf, he found James McAdams, the only familiar face in sight.  James had been in Nebraska City a few days boarding.  One gets the sense that if you weren’t working a steamboat whistle would draw all the locals to the wharf to see who was getting off the boat.  You can almost hear James speak as he invites L. H. Kennard to come west with him and share expenses.
I sometimes wonder why James stayed so long in Montana. According to what I’ve studied, the gold rush began playing out in the 1870s.  James is found in the 1870 census.  There are long lists of Chinese people.  The census taker evidently gave up understanding them, because there are pages where all that is written is “Chinaman”, no age, no names, followed by endless ditto marks. Many other trades are in Virginia City, Stage coach drivers, watch makers, wagon makers, and wheel makers.  The sheriff, jailers are listed as well as the inmate population.
By the 1880 census, the population had pared down quite a bit.   The census taker has even started recording some of the Chinese names. Several women are recorded with their trade; prostitute.  James is here, in a cabin in a residential neighborhood, families around him, still listed as a placer miner.
I suspect one of those life experiences where James manages to eke out enough gold to make a meager living, and just becomes too comfortable with neighbors to try moving on.  He must have stayed in contact with relatives, however.  In the early 1880s, I found a brief blurb in a Rock Port, MO newspaper.  It details how Thomas McAdams and Frank Shaver are leaving town for Virginia City, Montana.  Thomas would be Gum’s oldest son, the one who would go get his body in St. Joe in another 10 yrs.  Later on the same paper announces a letter from Thomas:  The boys have arrived in Virginia City, find work to be plentiful and high paying.  Their spirits are “way up yonder!”  In a few more weeks though, the boys are back home.  Maybe they did not like the Montana winters?
Wish I had a picture of James.  I have a couple copies of unidentified photos I’ve received from fellow researchers that may well be James; but they are not identified – just found with other McAdams photos.
Hope you enjoy these stories of a man that used to be largely forgotten – his only memento being an “old buffalo robe”. 

Note - Alan refers to an autobiography written by L. H. Kennard. The book, Leonidas Hamlin Kennard - his family : a selection of narrative histories, is available through the Family History Library. It has also been microfilmed.


  1. Wow! From snippets your relative made genealogical gold! Great story! ~~ Kay

  2. I love the way the James was brought to life by the various sources.

  3. Are you listening Hollywood? If you can't think of anything new to write, just look on the genealogy/family history blogs. Love this.

  4. Oh wow, I just love this.

    There are more questions than answers, but everyone reading this can use their own imagination and picture James - maybe kicked back in a wooden straight backed chair one evening after he's been mining...just looking out at the town that became his home.

  5. Intriguing story! The fact that Mr. Kennard left a first-hand report of their adventures is pure gold (ok, pun intended). Wonderful of Alan McAdams to share his discoveries with you!

  6. Count me among your readers who enjoyed following along.

  7. This was worth waiting for! It's funny how some of those relatives we were never even aware of before end up having such interesting stories.


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