IN RETROSPECT PATERNAL ANCESTORS - Alexander and Sarah
By Eorantha McGavock Thompson
My father’s youngest brother, William John, traced the family – McGavock – lineage carefully and found more evidence of Scottish ancestry than Irish and always spelled his named MacGavock. The Chicago cousins, Rev. James and Bishop Alexander of LaCrosse, Wisconsin, spelled it “Mc” as did my father and his brothers. Country of birth probably Ireland.
Alexander McGavock Sarah Ann Devlin
In order of birth
Hugh, Charlotte, Sarah Ellen, Patrick, Alexander, William John
Alexander, Hugh, Charlotte, Mary, Tom, John, Joseph, Edward, Patrick
Uncle Hugh, the oldest brother, about ten years older than my father, was in later years a cripple having lost both legs, frozen during a snowstorm. He used to say the legs were buried with the boots on, and he could feel, at times, the boots hurt his feet.
I do not know when the father died or of what cause, but Uncle Hugh and grandmother McGavock operated the fine big farm outside Squaw Creek, Illinois.
When his mother died, Hugh bought the shares of his brothers and sisters interest in the farm, paying each one dollar. With that money he started a horse drawn freight line serving points west from Omaha to Boise, Idaho. He took my father and Pat out of school to work with him. My father was about 14 or 15 then. He was 14 when his mother died.
He <Hugh> must have made money as he located in Beloit, Wisconsin, married, lived on a large farm, on which all his sons worked at one time or another. He branched out into a sand and gravel business and had other interests all around there. He probably has descendants still there. He was a hard taskmaster.
Alex <Hugh’s son?> married a girl named Valereie, she died in childbirth, leaving son John (whom I remember). He married again, Kate Eagan, and had son, Steve. His son <Steve’s son?> lived in San Diego and when Dad had business down there, contacted his wife and it is the same family (Alex’s grandson).
Charlotte married William Buckley, and lived in Fort Scott, Kansas. Cousin Will used to visit us in Omaha, his sister, Charlotte <children of Charlotte McGavock and William Buckley – apparently parents with no imagination when it comes to naming their children> and my sister Sally (same age) visited back and forth, but I do not recall her. Will died in Fort Scott in 1912. He never married. Mother and Lila went to the funeral. Sally and I stayed at home. Alice was then in Pasadena (teaching) and Frances was in Seattle with Marie England, visiting.
Sarah Ellen married William Brady, lived in Omaha and had one son, Willie who was a cripple from birth. I seem to recall he had a clubfoot.
Patrick married Mary Ann and had two daughters, Mary and Sarah (may have been, but I don’t know). They lived in Omaha. My mother was very fond of Mary Ann. After mother’s death, I think we did not see much of the daughters. Mame (as she <Mary> was called) married and used to bring her sons to see us once in a while. Sarah was wild and I don’t know what became of her.
William John, father’s youngest brother, was a great favorite of all of us. He must have been well educated; being the youngest, the elder sisters and my father may have helped him. My mother and father loved him dearly. He was tall, nice looking and every inch an aristocrat. He was later a mining engineer in Mexico.
Uncle Will married a beautiful (I was told) girl in Omaha, Frances Arnold (for whom my sister was named). Mother and father loved her. She died in childbirth, as did the baby. Some years later he married a southern girl, in Memphis, Tennessee, Marian Semmes. They had a baby girl and Uncle Will named her for his first love, Frances, but called her Fanita (little Fanny). Aunt Marian was, they said, a sweet quiet girl, and shortly after the baby was born, her mind became vague. Her family and the priest who married them knew of her condition, but mother told us that is those days if a woman had a baby it would cure all ills. It did not and she was in a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri for many years, like Rose Mary Kennedy.
When Dad <now referring to her husband, George Thompson> and I flew to Memphis, I called Fanita and she met us at the hotel and we took her to lunch. Uncle Will, when he had mining interests in Denver, had Fanita with him. She had a colored nurse (Miss Katie) and a housekeeper. My sisters Sally and Mary (Sister Alexander order of the mercy nuns, later) used to visit Uncle Will in Denver often as girls. He gave them a royal time.
The home he lived in in Denver on Pearl and Colfax was right near the first apartment Dad <again referring to her husband> and I had in Denver ‘Pearl Apts.’ Next door to him lived the Fishers of Memphis, Tom and his three sisters. Tom was a general passenger agent for the Union Pacific railroad and took two of his sisters all over the world. Once sister married, Mrs. Mahoney, she and her son lived out here <California?>. We used to see them when we first cam here. Tom supported his sisters, who never married. Nell was very much in love with Uncle Will and he may have been with her also, but could not marry with Marian alive.
Fanita told us that her father died at 82. She was in bed with her youngest child and could not go to Mexico for the funeral. He is buried there as at that time, they did not embalm a body and the U.S., did not allow a corpse that was not embalmed to be brought into the states. Fanita married Graham Smithwick. They had five children, one son (divorced) lives in Phoenix.
She <Fanita?> was very very much of a southern girl (woman). I can’t describe how different she seemed from people we knew, rather affected and artificial. Her husband was a cotton broker. Some times they had to sell rugs and furniture to eat. She did not invite us to her home. The aunt who raised her (the mother’s sister) was the one for who I was named, by Uncle Will. She was at that time a bed ridden invalid. That night Dad <George> and I took a trolley ride out past the house, it was very small. As we were then in the Mt. Angelus home and going to Corona Del Mar, I neglected to keep in touch with Fanita, though I intended to do so. She was Alice’s age, 5 ½ years older than me.
Mother told us how they used to look forward to Will’s visits. He would say “now Ann, get on your best ‘bill and tucker’, we are going to ‘so and so’ tonight” (whatever good show was being given in Omaha that night). Although he had much property in Omaha, which father looked after for him, he never liked Omaha. I remember well the large brick building across from the two depots that he owned. Stations were side by side on 10th street. He liked Mexico, worked for a mining company there.
Uncle Will gave the folks many nice gifts. They only one that has been handed down, the feather pictures “Stage Coach Robbery” and “Mexican Dance” <which my Uncle Phil ‘stole’ from my Grandma Eorantha as she was becoming forgetful>. It is now a lost art, the creating of pictures from the beautiful feathers of native birds. He was a very devout person, Papa said he would drop off to sleep before Will was half finished with his night prayers.
The McGavocks seemed to have a very strong religious strain. Three cousins in Chicago, Alec, James and Joe studied for the priesthood, but Joe’s eyes were so poor, he was unable to continue to study. He did not marry.
On grandmother Devlin’s side there were several religious family members. Mother Devlin of “Sisters of the Sacred Heart,” the then fashionable girls convent where Sally finished school, was Papa’s <or Mama’s?> cousin and they said, a lovely person. It was then a day and boarding school. Sally attended the latter and Mother Devlin would slip her choice tid-bits to eat that the rest of the girls were not served. Another cousin from another Devlin family, Mary, lived in Omaha and married a French man, John Finault. They had two children, Will and Gertrude. The latter as a small child could whistle like a bird. They were at our home often until Mary died of TB. John and his son stayed in Omaha. When Lila came to California in 1912, she brought Gertrude out on the train with her, as the latter was to live with John’s sister here.
While living up on Mt. Angelus, William Finault came out from Omaha, called Lila and Phil took us all over some place in West L.A. to see Gertrude who was then married. We were not much impressed, though we like Will. He may still live back there.
Alexander McGavock Ann Tobin
Alexander and Ann were married in Beloit, Wisconsin, February 6, 1870. After they married, they went to live in West Point, Nebraska, about forty miles north of Omaha. I do not know if father was in business there, but rather think we was looking after the several pieces of land that he had acquired. I know that he would buy up land, small farms, here and there that had been abandoned by settlers. At one time, he had twelve such farms in Nebraska, northern and western. At the time of his death, July 9th, 1902, there were three left outside Wisner in the northwestern part of the state. Mother sold one but had two when she died, on Tommy’s fifth birthday, January 30th, 1923.
My father was not a large man; his height was 5’7”. He was always very slim of build, the smallest and most delicate of health of his family, though he out-lived all but Will.
Going back to the Christmas of 1869, Papa (as we girls always called him) went to Beloit to spend the holidays with Hugh and his family. Mama and her family were friends of the McGavocks, and had heard from Hugh and Kate about papa. When Alec and Ann met, it was love at first sight and he would not go back to Nebraska without her.
Mama was 5’5” tall and like a lot of young girls said she would never marry a short man, but she did and never regretted it.
What my father lacked in height, he made up for in energy, and was a moneymaker. Sally was born in West Point, November 30, 1870. Shortly after her birth, they moved to Omaha and papa went into the grocery business. I do not know how he accumulated the money he had to invest before he was married. Hugh must have paid his brothers something when they worked for him after grandma died, but it was not much (from what we were told of Hugh).
West Point was a real “frontier town” with Indians around – the whole bit – mama was scared still to be alone, even in the daytime as there were constant “Indian scares,” ringing the town bell to alert them of trouble. Sally was never very strong and robust, very tiny and frail, and mama always thought that before Sally was born, mama being in fear most of the time, it had a bad affect on the baby. Also mama was so homesick, the doctor told papa that if he didn’t send her back home for a visit to Beloit (after Sally was born), that he would not have any wife, which of course he did. I suppose that is why they moved to the city.
Next I recall Papa opened a store (grocery) on Fifth St. in Omaha and they lived over the store. I have a picture of the store and Papa with Sally behind a pole. <No idea what happened to this picture>
He sold supplies to folks “going west” in wagon trains. Some of the jewelry (chains, etc., I was left were traded for food stuffs if people did not have money, Papa would never refuse people in need. Mama used to make apple butter from apples that could not be sold and would sell it to folks going through. Nothing sold in the stores today could ever touch my mother’s apple butter, or wonderful homemade pies and fruitcake.
Although they had children fast, mother worked “hand in glove” with Papa. He would have to be in the store very late at night and she sat up and sewed for the little girls. When Papa bought her one of the first sewing machines on the market (I think he sent to Chicago for it), Mama was in her glory. She sewed beautifully (I often wished I had her talent). Frances was the only one of us who had it, the rest of us sewed “by guess and by gosh.”
There was nothing too good for Mama in Papa’s eyes and Mama would recall with such pride his successes. One thing I recall being told (it was before my time), Papa loved horses and had many in his time. They used to ride together and Papa had a beautiful blue velvet riding habit made as a surprise for Mama (strange things a child will remember). The two large diamonds I had were earrings that Papa gifted Mama with. They had gold cups that fastened around them for nightwear (I suppose like now days to prevent theft), but I do not know what became of them. The lovely diamond pin (also a gift) Mama had made into a ring for Alice (before she married) is now held in the security bank vault as part of Elmer’s estate. Bob Colwell did not know they had taken his mother’s jewelry, and I do not know if Leita Hagman, his guardian, knows.
While they lived above the store (father owned the property and rented on half the store next to his grocery to Mr. Bell who had a drug store there), they had six more daughters: Mary, Charlotte, Genevieve, Frances, Lucinda (Ludy) and Lila. Charlotte and Genevieve died in infancy.
When Lila was a tiny baby, the building burned in the night and the family escaped with nothing but their nightclothes.
Arson was strongly suspected and in those days, there was much bigotry against Catholics. The next home was 322 North 21st Street where Alice and I were born. When Ludy was four, she died of blood poisoning (they thought). A colt they had in the barn got loose in the yard and as Ludy had a bruise they discovered on her abdomen, they thought she might have had a slight kick by the colt, but they were never sure. She was ailing only a couple of days. Lila was three years then. Alice was born the next year and I was born five years and seven months later, October 11, 1890.
That was our home until 1913 when Mother, Sally and I came to California to join Alice and Lila who had come to California in 1912 and were teaching school in Pasadena. Later, Lila taught (Kg) in the L.A. schools for many years in the Highland Park district.
Mother and Sally took many trips back to Omaha to look after the farms. They sold the home about 1922. The price, I think about $4,000.
One farm was in Sally’s name. After Mother’s death, Lila looked after the farms. We all shared the income from them, which was not very much, as we knew the tenants took advantage of the situation.