Thursday, June 4, 2015

Chapter 8: The View from Montrose

In this SCGS Jamboree week, I bring you a shorter than usual progress report on the Fawkner family.

The 1856 Iowa state census found James and Elizabeth Fawkner in Montrose, Iowa, tight on the bank of mid-America's great river. As the sun set, the ruins of the Mormon temple at Nauvoo (abandoned in 1846) glistened in the sun across the river in Illinois. Iowa did not become a state until December 1846 after the Mormon exodus from Nauvoo was underway, but business on the west bank of the Mississippi was brisk that year as  the Mormons provisioned themselves for their long trek west.

Indiana-born Elizabeth T. Falkner was 20; back in Indiana, the 1850 U.S. Census said she was 15). James C. Falkner, 27, was a teamster -- likely work related to river commerce. The Falkners lived next door to William Owens, a steamboat captain. Ida Fawkner, who told us in her family history that she was born in Montrose in 1856, had not yet born. But, Ida also recorded that a first child, a baby boy, died enroute to Iowa.

Why Montrose? The obvious answer would seem to be opportunity.  But James could have chosen any number of places up and down the bustling river. The answer is that someone had gone there before him. That someone was Cornelius Fawkner, a 27-year old "boatsman" who was living in the household of William Owens six years earlier in 1850. According to the census, Cornelius was born in Indiana. Hinting at part of the story yet to come, Cornelius and James were half-brothers. Stay tuned.

The 1860 U.S. Census enumerated "E. Fowkner" in Montrose; she had two apparent daughters: Ida, 4, and Josephine, 2.  Ida was "deaf and dumb." The census said Elizabeth was 50, an obvious error. That's all folks.  That's right, James was not at home when the census-taker visited.

Two questions arise.  Why was James absent? Where was he. We suspect that something went awry with the marriage because we know that by 1862 James was promising to return to marry the girl at the top of the stairs in Boone County, Missouri (see Chapter 2).  You might have the feeling that something not so good is about to happen in Montrose.

Let's leave it at that for now. The next part of the story will unfold back in Montrose. And, it's not so pretty.

LESSON: Just a little lesson this week -- Always look at every available census and, if someone is missing, ask why.

Photo:  Bird’s eye view from Montrose, Iowa, across Mississippi River to Nauvoo, Illinois; digital copy of print from steel engraving, 1855; Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division, reproduction number LC-USZ62-77636.

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