Katie Dewitt James – Our Family’s Ghost

I’m not sure if every family can lay claim to a ghost but my family does. I didn’t know about our ghost until a few years ago when I was told by a distant cousin, but since then I have collected just about everything I can about our ghost: who she was, how she died, who were the other characters in the story.

Our ghost was a young mother named Katie DeWitt James; Katie was the daughter of Lucy Slack and Henry DeWitt; Lucy Slack was the sister to my 2nd Great Grandfather Jesse Slack.

Katie was born in Iowa in 1874 and was an only child from all I’ve been able to learn. Throughout her life she had a very close relationship with her parents.  Katie and her parents moved to Kansas sometime 1885 and 1895. When Katie was of age she worked as school teacher. Lucy Slack died about 1895 while the family lived in Kansas.

In 1900 Henry and Katie moved to Dewey county Oklahoma where they both began to homestead in the newly opened territory. By all accounts Katie was a model member of society; she was popular and well liked. In 1901 Katie married Martin Luther James. In May of 1904 Katie gave birth to their only child, a daughter named Lulu Blanche.

It’s difficult to tell what kind of relationship Martin Luther and Katie had; I haven’t been able to find anything to document the early days of their courtship or marriage. What I do know is that by 1904 the marriage had become stormy with the couple frequently engaged in arguments that at times may have become physical.

On the 29th of May 1905 the James’ were engaged in an argument when, according to Katie’s divorce pleading, Martin Luther “brandished a chair” and told Katie “You ought to die; I have a notion to brain you with this chair.” On the first of July Martin Luther went into town, telling Katie he would get drunk and come back and “Show who was running things around there” and give Katie something to remember. While Martin Luther was in town Katie arranged for a friend to stay with her. The two women were in bed when Martin Luther came home late that night, drunk and shouting for them to “get out of there.” A physical altercation took place between the two women and Martin Luther. Martin Luther was struck in the head and received a large gash that required medical attention. Martin Luther’s divorce pleading gives a slightly different account, but the basic facts remain that a rather violent fight occurred on the night of July 1, 1905.

After the fight Katie fled to her father’s homestead with her young daughter. On July 6th Katie formally filed for divorce from Martin Luther. The following day Henry Dewitt took Katie and her daughter to train station in Custer City and placed them on the train; Katie was to stay in Ripley with her Aunt and Uncle until the situation cooled down.

Here is where the mystery begins. When the train arrived in the town of Weatherford Oklahoma Katie got off the train with a woman by the name of Fanny Bray Ham Norton. Why Katie got off the train in Weatherford with Mrs. Norton, and whether or not Katie and Mrs. Norton knew each other prior to that day is unknown. All we know is Katie got off the train and the two women stayed at a hotel operated by Mrs. Norton’s sister America and her husband William Moore.

When they checked in Mrs. Norton introduced Katie as Mrs. Smith. Prior to going up to their room Katie purchased some writing paper; in the process she displayed to both Mrs. Norton and her sister the contents of her wallet – $23, a sizable amount in 1905.

The following morning Katie and Mrs. Norton rose early. Mrs. Norton hired a buggy, telling people the two women were heading for Hydro and would be back in three hours. The only description we have of what happened on the trip comes from Mrs. Norton who claimed that while they were out the women were met by a man and two women in a covered wagon and that Katie and her daughter left with these other people.

Katie’s body was found a few months later. Custody of Lulu Blanche was eventually given to her father Martin Luther, though Katie’s father fought vigorously for custody of Katie and for control of her estate. Lulu Blanche died in 1913 – it’s unlikely she ever really know what happened to her mother.

Katie’s ghost is said to haunt the area of Dear Creek near the place where she died. Perhaps she’s still out there trying to protect her daughter from whatever really happened that day.  A search for “Dead Woman’s Crossing” will bring up several sites with information on the murder of Katie James. Maybe one day I’ll finally come across that one piece of information that will clear up the mystery that surrounds Katie’s murder but until then my family and I still have our ghost.

New Family Members

My family tree has grown a few more leaves recently.

A few weeks ago I noticed a family tree on Ancestry.com that contained people in my own tree. I contacted the owner even though it had been a while since they had last logged in; I really didn’t expect to hear back from them but I was actually surprised when they got right back to me. After a little bit of probing to see how we might be related, it turned out that the owner of the other tree was the daughter of someone I had been looking for!

Later than night I received a call from a woman named Myrtle who graciously spent over an hour giving me little updates to my tree and filling in some leaves. Myrtle is in her 70’s but still sharp as a tack; she has personal knowledge of many of the people in my tree and is helping me bring them back to life.

Just this week I received an e-mail from someone who provided me with a brief history of my family; a couple of days ago I called the individual who sent me the e-mail. His name is Mike and he is the grandson of someone in my tree. We spent some time talking about family history and just getting to know one another.

These past few weeks have really energized me to keep working on my family history project. Who knows what gems these two contact hold, or what new family members I might discover next.

Update to a Surprising Find

Not too long ago I posted a story about how I had come across letters from the civil war in some of my mother’s old things and how I had no idea how my family connected to the author of the letters. In researching this little mystery I’ve discovered that what I have are not copies of the letters themselves, but copies of the letters made by the person who holds the actual letters.
Mike found the letters in a manner similar to me except that his mother was alive when he found the letters. Unfortunately he never got around to asking his mother why the family had the letters. The letters are, as you might expect, fragile and Mike is reluctant to do anything with them except keep them in an acid free environment and away from light so that the writing doesn’t fade any further than it has.
Since talking to Mike I’ve made some progress in tracking down the family of Joseph Thompson. Joseph joined the Illinois 38th Infantry with his brother John in 1861. Joseph was wounded severely early on in the war and spent most of it in a hospital. Most of the letters we have are from John, but John didn’t survive the war. I’ve made significant progress in tracking down Joseph’s descendants and finally found someone who is a living descendant. I sent them a note via Ancestry.com last night and I hope to hear from them soon, and maybe then I can put to rest the mystery of how Mike and I connect to these letters.

The Old Family Homestead in Iowa

Not long ago I sent a letter to the people who currently own the farm my 3rd great grandfather purchased in the 1850’s. Part of me expected to never hear back from them, part of me expected a polite “we don’t have anything for you”. What I never expected is that they would not only be interested in the history of the farm but would go to the local library and dig up information without my every asking!

They have provided me with so much information I don’t know where to begin, and they have more coming in the next couple of days. I can never thank them enough for the help they have provided me.

The Old Family Farm

Sometime Between 1846 and 1852 my 3rd Great Grandfather packed up his family and migrated from Canada to the new American state of Iowa. It wasn’t an easy trip; travel by horse drawn wagon would have been slow; wagon’s had no supsension making the ride over what were really nothing more than dirt paths rough on anyone riding in them. But the lure of good farm land was too good to pass up.

Daniel settled his family in what is now New Providence on 80 acres of land he obtained from the US Government under the land act of 1820. He put his $100 and paid $1.25 per acre. Daniel finished paying off the land in 1855. The land stayed in family until 1911 when it was sold to pay off debts associated with Rebecca’s estate.

The land consisted of the West 1/2 of the South East Quarter of Section 5, in township 86 North, Range 20 West. The land is still used for farming to day.

A Surprising Find

You hit a lot of brick walls when you try to dig into your families past. There were secrets they never spoke about and in the grind of daily life most didn’t leave diaries or personal histories; unless you’re into genealogy most of us don’t have diaries or personal journals. Every once in while though you find something you didn’t expect to find and renews your excitement in genealogy.

This happened to me a few days ago. I was going through a drawer in a cabinet in my late mother’s place and found a large manila envelope. There wasn’t anything written on it but I opened it anyway. Inside I found several copies of a newspaper from 1801 and copies of letters written during the civil war.

The letters are written by two brothers, 19 year old John and 18 year old brother Joseph Thompson, who joined the Illinois 38th Infantry, company B in 1861. The first letters are written from Camp Butler. The letters are all written by John; all but one letter from Joseph are written while he is at a hospital recovering from wounds to his arm and chest – prior to that it is always John who writes on behalf of both the brothers.

The letters from John contain the expected descriptions of battles he’s been in, he talks about beating the secessionist back and how he believes the war will end soon. He seems to enjoy army life for the most part; he doesn’t really complain about anything except the mail and how he isn’t getting regular letters from home. Perhaps my favorite letter is one dated August 28, 1863, just few months before he is killed in the battle of Chickamauga. In it he plays the role of protective big brother telling his sister, “I want  you to quit writing to William Pearson for he don’t think anything of you and he burns every that he gets from you as quick as he gets them and then says that he wouldn’t give a dam for no such letters.”  

I have no idea yet exactly why we have these letters; I suspect they used to belong to my great grandmother whose married name was Thompson. It something I will have trying to determine.

My Family’s Beginings

Growing up I never really knew anything about my family history. My mother never talked about her family and I really had no contact with my father. The only family I knew was my step-father’s mother and grandmother, and my mother’s parents – and I was okay with that until one day in the late 1990’s my sone came to me and asked about our family because he needed to make up a family tree. So began my journey to discover who my ancestors were.

I started by looking for my Father’s side of the family. I had recently made contact with his sisters who provided with enough information to get started. I used whatever limited resources I could find for free on the internet though eventually I did sign up for Ancestry.com.

I was able to trace my father’s side of the family back to 1821. My 3rd Great Grandfather was a man named Daniel Slack who was born in Leeds Ontario. I later found a diary written by a woman who was his granddather; I made contact with the person who posted it and he provided me with the only photographs I have of Daniel, his wife Rebecca Benedict and their son Philip. I learned that my own connect is through the 8th of the 10 children, Jesse Slack.

Jesse was born in 1856, not long after the family had moved to an 80-acre farm in Iowa. Jesse eventually moved to Oregon with his wife Emma Hobson. Jesse and Emma had four children, 2 boys and 2 girls. My great grandfather was the second child, Dale Slack. Dale married a girl from Kentucy, Mattie Belle Taylor. My grandfather Glen was their first child.

Glen was born in Wellington Kansas in 1906. He eventually made his way to California where he met and married my grandmother, Deloras Myatt. My own father was their only son, Robert Lee Slack.

My mother’s side of the family was originally from Germany. My maternal 2nd Great Grandfather was a man named Ignatius Winterhalter who came to America in 1822. My grandfather, Lonnie Winterhalter, was born in 1914 in Kansas City, Kansas. My grandmother was Elsie Westphal. Lonnie and Elsie had 3 daughters. Their first child I have found no record of other than on my mother’s birth certificate where she is listed as Elsie’s second child. My Mother was born in 1941; Lona Winterhalter.

Robert Slack and Lona Winterhalter ran off to Las Vegas to get married in October 1959. On the trip back their car broke down and they had to call my mom’s grandfather to come get them. I was born in 1960, the day after my mother’s 19th birthday.