|E. P. Mills|
Just who are these Mills men, anyhow? Edward Payson Mills was my husband's 2nd great-grandfather. I know as much as anyone can know about the life of this man down to the two sons who died in infancy and were buried in obscurity in the cemetery for which he served on its inaugural council. I can tell you how many times he purchased the mill property in Elk River, how he met his New York wife in St. Anthony, Minnesota and on how many church boards he served. I know where he was born, every place he lived, who his parents were, where his children went and where each of his siblings is buried.
Except. J. B. He was the generation's wandering black sheep.
|James B. Mills|
Whether or not J. B. liked beer despite the family abstinence, can't be confirmed. Black sheep are not always immoral; sometimes they are just less successful than other family members.
The eldest of the Mills quartet of this generation was Susan Mills. She married George Albee before the family removed from the Vermont/New Hampshire border to Beloit, Wisconsin in 1846. She and George started a family in what would become Madison, WI. In Beloit, E. P. and his younger sister, Octavia graduated from the brand-spanking new Beloit College, founded by men from Luneberg, VT. E. P. left Beloit in 1852 to teach school in St. Anthony, Minnesota Territory.
St. Anthony and its magnificent river falls of the upper Mississippi, choked with white pine logs, was just getting started as a community. Youthful and enterprising, E. P. was brought into the progressive fold of other New England businessmen and he partnered with Zebiron Eugene Beauharnois Nash (yeah, let's just call him Z. E. B.). The two men founded a mercantile store, and got involved in bringing culture (sans alcohol) to the territory of Minnesota. Politically they aligned with sharp-tongued newspaper editor, Isaac Atwater and got involved in buying land. Atwater, by the way, bought the land that would one day be called Minneapolis and he would one day be called Judge Atwater.
E. P. bought land in Faribault and Z. E. B. bought a boat. Not just any boat, but the Northern Star: a state-of-the-art steamer built above the falls. It traveled upriver to a place where Ard Godfrey built one of his early mills, lumbering on the west side of the Elk River and flouring on the east. He sold it to E. P. Mills who then sold it to George Albee, his brother-in-law.
|Stata Mehitable Mills|
It's not always easy to be the baby of any family. We can only wonder what was going on in the mind of 17-year old James B. His siblings were caught up in the whirlwind of the advancing communities of Minnesota (soon to be a state), marrying into proper families, starting more businesses. Did he feel left out? Was he ready to be grown up before his time? Or was it all boring to him?
Next we see James B. in a fireman's hat and coat with a buttoned-up collar. While his hat reads Excelsior, the town by such name didn't exist yet. It could have been a private company. His eyebrows are much bushier than his brother's and while they have a similar dented chin, James B. looks more intense.
|Congregational Church of Faribault|
And James B.? He was fitting into the family portrait at that time. He's north in the Red River Valley, 22-years old and farming a huge swath of land and also employed a driver to take goods to market. What those goods were we don't know--it could have been hay, lumber or cash crops. It was dangerous to live that far out and the Dakota Conflict started in 1862, a year after the Civil War began.
Only Z. E. B. served in the War. He did so as a blockade runner, having rebuilt the Northern Star south of the falls and ran it to supply Union forces down the Mississippi. With war raging on the prairie, Z. E. B. running blockade, and James B. out on the prairie, everyone else holed up in Faribault. Between 1863-1866, the married siblings of James B. collectively lost five children to illnesses such as diphtheria.
By 1863 James B. was contracting to haul goods and by 1865 he had a store in Stearns County, a freight business, a wife and son, Jas. B. Jr. He was bright and able like the rest of his family. Other than pushing out into the prairie, he didn't seem a black sheep at all. But things go down in James B.'s life after 1865.
|Elk River Flour Mill|
James B. responded and went down to Elk River and helped his sister run the business. J.H. moved to Elk River to be closer to Susan. He started the Elk River mercantile. In the meantime, James B. and his wife Martha, had another son--Harry Lee Mills was born in 1867. That had to have been hard on his wife, Martha, to be left home alone while James B. was taking care of family. Why didn't he take her with him?
Now what confounded me for years as a tracker was the age difference between Harry Lee and Jas. B. Jr. First Jas. B. Jr. was older in the Territorial Census records, then younger. After 1870 the brothers disappeared altogether. In 1880, James B. was living with his parents in Elk River, helping with the store. He's listed as divorced. Several documents between 1870-1880 list James B. as a wild card, roaming all over. He went to Texas where the Nashes went to open up another hardware store. He pushed cattle, learned to make saddles, and returned to Elk River on short visits.
James B. was in Elk River long enough to complete a biography for an 1880 publication that recounts area pioneers. He mentioned his life on the prairie, his business efforts in Minnesota, helping with the family mill and his travels around the state of Texas. Not once did he mention a wife or children. James B. ran his saddle and harness shop only a few years in Minnesota. After that, his trail grows faint.
|A Photo E. P. Sent to Friends From Texas|
Octavia passed in 1922 after Susan and E. P. and it's the final mention of James B.--the sole surviving sibling residing in Billings, MT. That's it. The trail ran cold. I've looked at Billings, Montana inside and out for a grave marker, obituary, even the 1920 Census. Nothing. Where do you go when you are the last of your siblings and you've not set down roots anywhere?
Fast forward to last year. A genealogist named Betty reached out to me, asking what I knew of Martha J. Wyman. She had been James B.'s wife. Particularly, she wanted to know when they divorced because Martha remarried and she was trying to determine if the second marriage was before or after the birth of Frank James Lyon. I didn't know about Frank James Lyon. I didn't know about the second marriage. New tracks emerged!
Betty sent me an 1881 Census record for Canada. I never thought to look in Canada, but there on the Census record was Martha, her second husband, Harry Lee "Lyon" and Frank J. "Lyon." Remember that birth order that had puzzled me? Well, this census record matched the 1870 census record exactly--Harry was listed as the older brother. I did some more digging and a 1900 census record which asks mothers to list the number of children born and number of children living. Martha listed three born, two living. A-ha!
Jas. B. Mills Jr. born in 1865, died in 1868. Harry Lee Mills was born in 1867 and the second Jas. B. Mills Jr. was born in 1869. James B. had three sons, not two. I can't imagine the pain of losing a child and I question who had the bright idea to name the third son after the first when the pain of his death still had to be raw. According to 1870 documents, James B. was already out of the household, but according to the 1870 Census he was still listed as head of house with Martha and two young sons.
Faribault County Court House does not hold a divorce decree, but it does have a quit claim document that turns over property in Faribault from James B. Mills to Martha Mills. It's dated 1873. James B. had been in Texas over two years by then. Next, I found an April 1874 marriage record for Mrs. M. J. Mills to Wm. Henry Lyon. Betty then found the will of William Lyon, leaving sums and property to his two "step-sons" in 1897.
From there I was able to match up my research to Betty's research and we could prove that Frank J. Lyon was actually James B.'s third son, born in 1869 as Jas. B. Mills Jr. I learned that Martha married another merchant, one from Canada, and that they lived in Canada for a short time before opening a merchant block in Salt Lake City, Utah in the 1880s (known as the Lyon Block, today). Like the Millses, the Lyons operated several businesses. They had interests in a gold mine in Marysvale, as well as a store.
Betty also told me a wild story that is well-documented in the history of Marysvale, Utah. In 1897 Harry Mills shot and killed a fellow townsmen over a dispute, in a saloon. Oh, Harry, your grandfather would have warned you of the evils of saloons! After a long and tedious trial, covered by the sensational journalism of the day with judges quoting Shakespeare and Mrs. Harry Mills swooning in court, Harry was declared "not guilty." They hastened out of Utah and resettled in Wyoming to ranch and run a restaurant.
Wyoming? That's close to Montana...the Scout is on the trail, maybe. Eureka! There he is in the Wyoming 1920 Census record: J. B. Mills, living in the same county as his son. But not with his son. J. B. Mills is an inmate in the Fremont County Poor Farm. He is listed as born in Vermont, but his birth year is off by 5 years. This man who covered the west as a firefighter, teamster, merchant, farmer, cowboy, saddle-maker and gold-miner lists his occupational skills as "none."
In 1920 his sister Octavia was still alive. When she died in 1922, her family thought him living in Billings, MT. Was that his location the last they heard from him? When J. B. Mills died, no one knew much about him. His death certificate is reported by a "Mrs. Holt" who got the facts screwed up: he was born in 1830 (1837), in Elk River, MN (Vermont), widowed (maybe, if he took another wife or counts Martha's 1903 death as such). He died of "senility" so doubtful he had the facts straight, himself.
|Mount Hope in WY courtesy of Find A Grave|
And now I know where the black sheep of E. P.'s siblings is buried. The trail is complete...but not quite.
The reason that genealogist, Betty, contacted me in the first place was on behalf of her friend, Bobbie Bailey. Bobbie's grown children wanted to know more about their Lyon heritage. Bobbie's father, who died in California in 1956, when she was barely 20, knew little about her father. He had served in both WWI and WWII and was a mechanic on airplanes. His mother had married a doctor who died in 1916 at the age of 47.
Bobbie was born Roberta Lyon to Frank J. Lyon, the son of Jas. B. Mills, Jr. Except he had gone by Frank J. Lyon for most of his short life. He was the doctor who featured in the trial of Harry Lee Mills. He was the brother of Harry Lee Mills. He was the son of James B. Bobbie is the great-granddaughter of James B. Mills. By all rights, she should have been born Roberta Mills.
What a shocker! Can you imagine, your children ask you for more information on your paternal line and the genealogist comes back with the news that you're not even descended from the family that you thought you were. That your family surname was changed after an 1873 divorce. You are a Mills, not a Lyon.
Bobbie took the news in stride and the genealogist promised to pass my information on to Bobbie. I at least wanted to say, welcome to the Mills family! Bobbie did contact me and turns out that she's a wonderful story-teller and loves history as much as I do. She didn't know her dad well and is open to learning about the Millses.
My big surprise came last week when she sent me a note that she was headed my way! Turns out that one of her and her husband's favorite camping places is along the Clark Fork River just 11 miles past the Idaho border. That's only an hour away from my house! You bet I got in the car with my Mills man and binders full of research and the old E. P. Mills 1863 photo album with the picture of James B. in his fireman's uniform.
Meeting Bobbie yesterday was beyond delightful. To hug a woman who's great-grandfather was one of my biggest black sheep to hunt down was awesome. She was worried I was going to be sophisticated and I was worried she'd not like that I was not sophisticated. We hit it off! We're both married to rascals so we had plenty to laugh about. You'd think our husbands were the cousins. She and I also share an Alexander line, but I'll have to dig deeper to find our common ancestor.
Bobbie's first question after we hugged and sat down to share photos and stories was, "Do you think my father loved me?" I cannot help but think that it was the same question that haunted the sons of James B. Mills.
Dedicated to Bobbie Bailey who helped solve a black sheep mystery and returned the lost Mills line back into the fold.