William Jones Cowan – My Texas Hero

My 2nd great-grandmother, Martha Cowan Christy Robbins (1836-1926) was named after her maternal grandmother, my 4th great-grandmother, Martha Cowan(1778-1857).

In researching my Cowan ancestry I came across two family histories – The Cowans of County Down by John Kerr Fleming and A Cowan Lineage of 400 Years by John Kerr Fleming. I requested both books through my local library.

In these family histories, I found Martha Cowan (1778-1857) was the daughter of Matthias “Matthew” Cowan (1734-1819) and the granddaughter of Hugh Cowan . Hugh Cowan (1700?-1782) was one of four brothers (John, David, Hugh and William) that sailed from County Down, Ireland to the American Colonies in 1720.

William Cowan, married Susannah Fleming in 1732 . Susannah died about 1755 . William moved to North Carolina. He purchased property in Rowan County, North Carolina in February 1759 . William married Sarah Stewart in December 1759 .

As I read of William and his descendants, I came across William Jones Cowan.

In reading each book, they both refer to William Jones Cowan. However, A Cowan Lineage of 400 Years, lists him as a descendant and refers the reader to The Cowans of County Down for a more information.

William Jones Cowan, the son of Benjamin Cowan (1773-1828) and Jane Locke (1775-1816), was born 25 March 1808 . In 1835, William left North Carolina to visit cousins in Jackson County, Georgia. On 17 November 1835 he signed on with W.A.O. Wadsworth and joined the Columbus Company . From there he sailed to New Orleans. On December 9, 1835, William J. Cowan signed a declaration stating he was bound to Texas to “relieve our oppressed brethren who have emigrated thither…”

William Jones Cowan was a private in Captain Wadsworth’s First Company, Georgia Battalion, First Regiment, Texas Volunteers. He was stationed at Fort Defiance under Col. James W. Fannin, Jr. He participated in The Battle of Coleto Plains . William Jones Cowan is not listed in any surviving documentation indicating he was wounded or killed prior to the surrender of troops by Col. Fannin .

25 March 1835 William Jones Cowan celebrated his 28th birthday as a prisoner of war inside Fort Defiance. Along with his other captives, he was anticipating being taken to port and shipped back to the United States . Unknown to the prisoners, General Santa Anna had ignored the conditions of surrender and ordered all prisoners to be shot as pirates .

William Jones Cowan was murdered along with his fellow soldiers on Palm Sunday, 27 March 1836 . Their bodies are buried under the Goliad Massacre Memorial.

Various Occupations in the Family Tree

Have you ever taken the time to really look at the various occupations in your family Tree?

I was thinking of my own career progression – 20-year career soldier, 10 years in telecommunications, and currently 18 years in public service in the city library.

My father was a salesman, realtor, house parent at a church orphanage and on staff in the Missouri State Prison system. My mother was a school library assistant, bank keypunch operator, and realtor. She worked for the F.B.I. in the fingerprint division between high school and college.

Grandfather Glenn Coleman worked in his father-in-law’s (great-grandfather Henry S. Smiley) general store prior to running his own Coleman Plumbing and Heating business. Grandfather Glen Fugate worked in a chicken hatchery before owning his own Fugate’s Grocery store. His brother, Bill Fugate owned and operated Fugate’s Hatchery all his working life. Uncle (James) Ora Fugate was at various times a schoolteacher, postmaster, and then ran his own home repair shop.

Great-grandfather Will Coleman was a third generation well-digger. Uncle Lloyd Coleman continued the business. Great-grandfather Robert Fugate worked on the railroad, as did one of his brothers (Uncle Will Fugate).

I find that I have a banker, a barber, a carpet layer, a medical doctor, an innkeeper, a jeweler, several lawyers, a funeral director, and a Congressman – Speaker of the House of Representatives – Galusha Aaron Grow, in my family tree.

I traced various lines for my grandson, and he has two distant cousins that were West Point graduates – General U.S. Grant and General Robert E. Lee.

I was not surprised to find several farmers turned soldier during American conflicts – American Revolution, War of 1812, Texas Independence, both Union and Confederate soldiers during the War Between the States, World Wars I & II.

I was a bit surprised in the number of preachers in my tree. I find, Baptist, Methodist, Presbyterian, Church of Christ, and The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints scattered throughout the tree. More than a few changed careers to become Ministers of the Gospel.

There are seamstresses, wheelwrights, bartenders, blacksmiths, waggoneers, boatmen, nurses, sheriffs, tax collectors, and cabinetmakers.

The vast majority of my ancestors were farmers. Today I find only two cousins working their respective family farms.

As you seek out your kindred dead, take a few minutes and review / discover what they did as an occupation. You may find that some of your family trades (or traits or hobbies) coincide with occupations of your ancestors.

William and Martha Cowan Christy Robbins

My 2 great-grandfather, William Robbins, was born in Westmoreland County, Pennsylvania on 24 June 1834 to William Robbins and Mary Agnes (Nancy) Sloan. He traveled across the United States as a young man. According to family history, he signed on, herded cattle across the plains to California and then sailed back to Pennsylvania. During this trip to California, as the story goes, Will was so taken by Linn County, Missouri that he vowed to settle there and raise his family.

Martha Cowan Christy was born in McKeesport, Allegheny County, Pennsylvania on 17 June 1836 to Andrew Christy and Eliza Elizabeth Ekin . When Martha first heard of the idea to move to Missouri, she said she would not move west until the railroad was built.
Will Robbins married Martha Christy on 4 February 1858 in McKeesport, Allegheny, Pennsylvania.
Will and Martha took off for Missouri shortly after their wedding. They traveled by barge down the Ohio river and up the Mississippi to St. Louis. They then traveled by wagon to Linn County, Missouri. Their first child, Elizabeth, was born 17 November 1858 near Meadville, Linn County, Missouri. Will and Martha had eight children – Elizabeth E., Nancy, Charles Francis, a son who died shortly after birth, Margaret Christy, William Christy, Ida M. (Bird), and Willetta.

When war broke out Will signed on to serve with the Union forces. William Robbins served as a 2nd Lt. in Company F, 62nd Regt. E.M.M. from 28 July 1862 to 7 November 1862 under Captain Forman. He served again from 25 August 1864 to 1 October 1864 under Captain E.J. Crandall. On 6 October 1864, he again served in Captain Forman’s company. During Will’s absence, Martha ran the farm while raising four infant children. Upon his release from duty on 20 December 1864, Will returned home.

In October 1868 he was tending to a horse when the horse kicked him in the head. On 31 October 1868 He died from this injury. He was buried in the Meadville Cemetery. Their daughter, Willetta, was born barely six weeks later on 11 December 1868. Willetta died three months shy of her fifth birthday. The headstone now reflects William, his wife Martha, and their daughter Willetta.

Following Will’s death, Martha’s parents encouraged her to sell the farm and move back to Pennsylvania with them. Martha chose to stay in Missouri. Martha C. Robbins was the administratrix of William Robbins estate. She saw six of her children grow to adults, marry, and raise their own families.
Martha Cowan Christy Robbins never remarried. She suffered the loss of two children, one when she was a recent widow. William Christy Robbins, her youngest son, died in April of 1914.

Martha enjoyed her family of six children and over a dozen grandchildren. During her life, the nation grew from 13 states in 1838 to 48 states and several territories. Horse and buggy transportation had given way to the automobile and aircraft. Telephones, tractors, and mechanical machinery had made life much easier. She witnessed and experienced, The War Between the States, the 1904 World’s Fair in St. Louis, and World War I. With the passage of the 19th Amendment to the U.S. Constitution, Martha was able to vote for presidential candidates in 1920 and 1924.

Martha Cowan Christy Robbins died 20 October 1926 at the age of 90 years, 4 months and 3 days.
The farm that Will and Martha started, grew and remained in the family. The farm passed from their son William Christy to their granddaughter’s (Martha Christy Robbins Taylor) family and on to their great-grandson Jay Robert Taylor. The Taylors were working and residing on the homestead as late as June 1976.

My references:
1) The History of Linn County, Missouri: An Encyclopedia of Useful Information http://books.google.com/books?id=B30UAAAAYAAJ&pg=PA734&lpg=PA734&dq=John+Smiley+and+Nancy+Cornelius&source=bl&ots=ezxec4v, pg 732.
2)Headstone, Meadville Cemetery, Meadville, Linn, Missouri
3) “The Robbins Came by Barge,” Brookfield, Missouri Daily News-Bulletin, 17 June 1976, story on pages 1 & 3. history of Will and Martha Christy Cowan Robbins.
4) 1850 Federal Census, PA, Allegheny County, Versailles Twnshp, Pg 223.
5) History of Allegheny County, Pennsylvania : Including its early settlement and progress to the present time…also, portr Bowie, Md: Heritage Books, Inc., 1993, Volume II, Part Two, pages 700-701 – Bio of John R. Christy
6) 1860 Federal Census, MO, Linn County, pg 132, family #874
Chillicothe Constitution Tribune, Tuesday, November 16, 1948, page 1
7) Kenneth E. Weant, Civil War Records – Missouri State Officers: Enrolled Missouri Militia, Home Guard, Provisional, Volunteer, Etc. (Jefferson City, Missouri: Missouri State Archives, 2013), Vol. 1, pg 148.
8) Kenneth E. Weant, compiler, Civil War Records – Union Troops: Enrolled Missouri Militia (6951 Names), 8 Volumes (Jefferson City, Missouri: Missouri State Archives, 2007), volume 2, page 83.
9) Linn County, Missouri State Archives, Certificate of War Service, file: “Crandall’s E. M.M., Co.,” , Robbins, William, 2nd Lt., Comd’g Capt. E. J. Crandall, 1 October 1864; Union Army Militia, Missouri State Archives, Jefferson City, Missouri.
10) Find-A-Grave.com http://www.find-a-grave.com, 42802014.
11) Judy Jacobson, History for Genealogists: Using Chronological Time Lines to Find and Understand Your Ancestors (Baltimore, Maryland: Genealogical Publishing Company, 2009), pages 14 & 180.
12) Death Certificate, Missouri, 13101.
13) Death Certificate, Missouri, 32145.

Murder in Memphis Missouri

I walk through cemeteries. I view headstones, markers, and read the various inscriptions. Occasionally I will pause and wonder, “Why did he/she have such a short life?” or “Is this area a family plot?”

My mother’s grave is in the Pleasant Hill Presbyterian Church Cemetery. It is located just north of Memphis, Scotland County, Missouri. Walking through the cemetery one day, I saw a stone that indicated a male and female, yet nothing about the stone indicated they were husband and wife. The headstone read:


BARNETT                      ELIZA M.

Nov. 16, 1896                Jan. 29, 1887

Aug.  18, 1930               July 26, 1942

I started searching for information on Barnett Baxter. I found his death certificate on the Missouri Archives website.

Barnett Baxter, male, white divorced, Date of Death: August 18, 1930. The cause of death is stated as “Gunshot .22 by persons unknown[i].”

I began my search.

Barnett was born on the family farm in Scotland County, Missouri in 1896 to David and Sarah Baxter. The 1900 Federal Census indicated that Eliza M. was the older sister of Barnett[ii].

Barnett was working on the farm in 1910[iii]. He registered for the WWI draft[iv]. On January 20, 1919 Barnett married Lila (last name unknown) in Scotland County, Missouri[v]. They were living with his father and Barnett was working on the farm on January 10, 1920[vi].

However, on May 3, 1930 Barnett is divorced, living in Chicago, Illinois and employed as a locomotive fireman on the railroad[vii].

I searched for information on his death. Oh did I hit the jackpot!

Numerous newspaper accounts from August 19, 1930 to July 7, 1932 tell the story[viii].

Barnett was visiting his mother in Scotland County. While sitting at the table he suddenly slumped forward. When his mother raised his head she noticed he had been shot. His sister attempted to call police and found the telephone line dead. No one in the room heard the shot due to the wind and rain at the time.

The immediate thought was someone from Chicago had trailed Barnett to Missouri and then shot him for reasons unknown. An investigation was undertaken.

No shell casings were located. The telephone line to the mother’s home had been cut.

W.J. Shawley, a neighbor, was one of the first to respond to the calls for assistance following the shooting. The autopsy report determined death by a .22-caliber bullet. Examination of the bullet determined it had been fired from W.J. Shawley’s gun. Shawley stated he was at home at the time of the shooting and denied having a reason for Baxter’s death.

The investigation determined that Barnett had been seeing W.J. Shawley’s young daughter, Pauline. Pauline testified that she and Barnett were friends and not engaged to be married. During the trial, the State evidence showed Barnett and Pauline had been engaged to be married. The engagement had been broken. The engagement being broken off had angered W.J. Shawley.

W.J. Shawley was tried twice for the murder of Barnett Baxter. The first trial in 1931 resulted in a hung jury – six for acquittal and six for conviction. The second trial, June of 1932, resulted in W.J. Shawley being convicted and sentenced to life in prison.

Barnett’s sister, Eliza M. was known as Minerva. She died on 25 July 1942 at her home at 402 N. Franklin, in Kirksville, Adair County, Missouri. She died of metastatic carcinoma[ix]. (I have not found any evidence she ever married.)

The headstone is for the brother and sister.

Every person has a story. We all are born, live and die. Often the gravestone, headstone or marker only states the name, birth and death dates. Searching for the life between the dates provides stories of joy and sadness; failure and accomplishment for celebrities, historical figures and relative unknown individuals.

Take the time to seek out your ancestors, their stories, accomplishments and failures. You will be amazed at the lives they led.

Good Hunting!

[i] Baxter, Barnett – Missouri State Death Certificate #28819, Date of Death 18 Aug 1930; https://s1.sos.mo.gov/records/archives/archivesmvc/deathcertificates

[ii] 1900 Federal Census, MO, Scotland County, Sheet 7B, SD 142, ED 145, family #149

[iii] 1910 Federal Census, MO, Scotland County, Sheet 7A, SD 1, ED 153, family #140

[iv] WWI Draft Registration Card, Registration #32, Baxter, Barnett, dated 6,5,18 Local Board, County of Scotland, State of MO., Memphis, MO.

[v] Missouri, Marriages, Scotland County, page 331, 20 January 1919

[vi] 1920 Federal Census, MO, Scotland County, Sheet 2B, SD 1, ED 153, family #61

[vii] 1930 Federal Census, IL, Cook County, Chicago, Sheet 20B, SD 7, ED 16-637, family #389

[viii] The following newspapers (dates indicated) reflect a partial list available. These are the ones from which I obtained my information:

Jefferson City Post Tribune (Jefferson City, MO) Aug 19 & 21, 1930; June 16 & 19, 1931

La Plata Home Press (La Plata, MO) Aug 21, 1930; July 7, 1932

Macon Chronicle Herald (Macon, MO) Aug 21, 1930; June 16 & 17, 1931; June 29 & July 2, 1932

Moberly Monitor Index (Moberly, MO) Oct 29, 1930

The Daily Capital News (Jefferson City, MO) June 19, 1931

The Leadwood Press (Leadwood, MO) Aug 29, 1930

[ix] Baxter, Minerva – Missouri State Death Certificate #23691 Date of Death 25 July 1942; https://www.sos.mo.gov/images/archives/deathcerts/1942/1942_00023690.PDF



My wife and I adopted my daughter shortly after her birth. We have always answered her questions and she has known from a very early age that she has two mommies and two daddies. She is now in her late twenties and has children of her own.
My daughter took a DNA test. She has been more interested in the science aspect than the genealogy aspect of DNA testing. That may have changed.
An individual, who said they are possibly related, contacted her this past week. The individual had recently received the results of their DNA test. The DNA company evaluation show them as “close relatives.”
The two of them have now communicated by text, cell phone and social media.
Comparing their family histories, their DNA, and their limited knowledge of their birth parents, they have determined they are half-brother and half-sister.
My daughter now has another relation that neither she (nor I) knew about.
Have you tested with a DNA company? Are you seeking other currently unknown relations?
You may have success similar to my daughter.

*** CAUTION – Privacy is a real concern.  When considering testing with any company Read the Terms and Conditions so that you are fully aware of their policies and your rights. ***

Good Hunting!

They Are the Reason

Four people are Primarily responsible for my introduction and subsequent enthusiasm for family history.

Grace Smiley Coleman (1904-1997)

My grandmother Coleman rocked me to sleep as a small boy telling tales of my Coleman / Smiley / Robbins ancestry. As I grew, she would show me landmarks, cemeteries and take me to meet my living relatives who were part of her youth and early marriage.

John (Jack) Huggans

Cousin Jack started family history research well before I became interested in recording my family tree. His research was instrumental in providing the enthusiasm I now enjoy.

Vesta Louise Huggans Fugate (1906-1991)

I wrote to my grandmothers in the spring of 1976 for my family tree information. I had every confidence that my grandmother Coleman would provide generations to start my Coleman branch. My grandmother Fugate had always replied to my inquiries, “What do you want to know about them for? They are dead.” So with a strong hope and lots of prayers, I sought any information she might provide. I hoped I could receive her parents’ information at least.

My letter to Gram Fugate arrived just before she was to leave to visit Aunt Martha.

Mary Margaret Young Huggans (1910-1984)

She took the letter with her and showed it to Aunt Martha.

Jack Huggans was moving and had asked his mother to care for his family history. Aunt Martha drew out the two family pedigrees – Fugate and Huggans. I cried tears of joy as I opened the letter from Gram Fugate. I now had a wonderful guide to begin my own research.

From these individuals I owe my enthusiasm and desire to seek out my kindred dead.

May you have success in your search and research.

Good Hunting!

The Journey Begins

Actually the journey has transferred.  I am now concentrating on publishing my family history stories and research successes and failures. I hope that my blogs will both 1) bring in additional cousins and 2) assist friends, fellow family historians and genealogists in their own research.  May we all work together in a friendly exchange of material and research as we seek out our ancestors.

Good Hunting!