Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Tormented by the Thought:
What If?

Reading the 1894 newspaper report from Montana, that June when the Reverend Peachy T. Wilson was supposed to meet up with his son William in Helena, it did seem as if William had likely died, lost in the wilderness during the harsh winter conditions there. Nobody had reported seeing him, or even knowing anything about his whereabouts.

Still, that didn't keep his father from looking for him. Nor did it keep us, either. We couldn't escape that nagging "What If?" which keeps genealogists pressing on. Perhaps he had been stalled, due to bad weather. After all, as reader Far Side had mentioned, maybe he had fallen ill and was unable to head back into town. While the area in Chouteau County—where William had been working after the winter months had passed—was considered to have cold, dry winters, temperatures even in April averaged a low of thirty two degrees. Once things warmed up—and what little snow there might have been started melting—the rivers of the area could have overflowed their banks, causing flooding which would make travel difficult.

Of course, the sad realization is that any of these hazards which could have prevented William's return to Helena to meet his father in June could also have caused his own death.

That didn't stop me from searching for him, though. I tried looking through census records—though results of an Ancestry.com search didn't bring up anything promising, even for the closest subsequent enumeration.

Searching for William Wilson among the obituaries of the time in Montana didn't yield much, either—tempting not only me but also Intense Guy to look in later issues for the possibilities that William had lived to see another day after his 1894 disappearance. One possibility—a William Wilson born in approximately the same year of 1868, who died in 1950—turned out not to be our man, when his obituary revealed he had been born in Pennsylvania. (Indiana I can explain away, but I'd be hard pressed to excuse a detail like that.)

Desperate for any clues, I even pursued the newspapers for information on C. Wallace Taylor, William Wilson's most recent employer. Though I found nothing that would add to William's story, I did find out a few interesting things about Mr. Taylor. As the original newspaper article on William's father had mentioned in 1894, C. Wallace Taylor was indeed a businessman dealing in livestock, but he wasn't only operating in Choteau County. Several newspaper mentions of the man surfaced.
  • In October, 1888, he was "paying his friends in Helena a visit"
  • In February, 1894—the same year as the article on the missing William—it was "one of the commisioners of Teton County" who was in town again
  • At the end of March, 1898, The Helena Independent mentioned he was in town from Teton County to receive "a shipment of 150 Rambaulett [Rambouillet?] French rams from Ohio"
  • In May of 1898, he was "attending to some business in Great Falls"
  • According to "Choteau Notes" in the Anaconda Standard, in March, 1899, he had just bought a pack of "eight well bred hounds" to be used in "clearing the pests from the range" of the Sands Cattle Company.

By 1900, it was interesting to see C. Wallace Taylor was now mentioned as manager of the Sands-Taylor Cattle Company. But even more interesting than that was stumbling upon a mention of Sheriff C. Wallace Taylor, in town to investigate an "alleged robbery."

The mention of sheriff was for the man identified as C. Wallace Taylor of Teton County, while several other articles mentioned him as being from Choteau County. Either this was a case of father and son—or possibly even unrelated men coincidentally bearing the exact same name—or C. Wallace Taylor had considerable land holdings, since the two counties were adjacent to each other.

No matter who he was or how successful he had been—even discounting his investigative skills as sheriff—nothing about the man seemed to lead me to any mention of his former employee, William H. Wilson, the young man who had disappeared only a few months before his scheduled reunion with his long-absent father. Perhaps someday, there will be another way to unearth the records which could give us clues as to William's demise, but for now, it looks like it will have to be one of those genealogical puzzles we reluctantly give up on and set aside.


  1. A mystery for sure, perhaps when you research his sister some more another clue will surface:)

    1. Perhaps something about his sister will reveal the answer, but if not, remember there were more children in the Wilson family. Hopefully, someone will provide a clue!

  2. William seems to be a truly lost orphan.

    1. Finding those other William possibilities isn't helping, either...


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