Using Family Stories in Our Research

Prison

Family stories, lore, myths or legends. It doesn’t matter what you call them. Every family has one, or many.  Don’t we all want to know if they are true or not? Use a family story as a beginning point in your research and locate additional records to determine just how true (or false!) it may be.

A family story, passed down through the years, paints Lyman Perry Fuller in a good light, as a hero, trying to save his sister’s cattle from thieves.  There was a gunfight and a bystander was shot.  Lyman Perry Fuller was convicted of the crime and sentenced to 18 years in prison.  That’s how the story goes but is it really what happened?  Eighteen years in prison seems a particularly harsh sentence if Lyman were simply defending the cattle from being stolen.  Could there be more to this story?  There usually is.  Using the family story as a starting point, can we determine whether the events leading up to Lyman’s incarceration are a tall tale or whether they may have a kernel of truth in them?

Through further research there appears to be 3 versions of the events that led up to Lyman Perry Fuller’s imprisonment:

Version 1:  The Family Story

In 1870 Lyman Perry Fuller’s sister, Lisania Fuller Judd and her husband Hyrum Judd, were living in Eagle Valley, Nevada where they had established a dairy business.  Lyman travelled to Eagle Valley around 1872 to visit his sister and stopped at a bar in town to ask directions to the ranch. He overheard men talking about stealing cattle from the Mormons (Lisania and Hyrum Judd were members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints and had been sent to settle the area of Eagle Valley).  When Lyman got to Lisania’s home he repeated what he had heard, and the sheriff was notified. Upon returning to town, Lyman was met by the cattle thieves and a gun fight ensued.  A spectator was killed and Lyman was arrested. He spent the next 18 years in the Nevada State Prison accused of murder in the second degree.[1]

Version 2:  The Newspaper accounts

In 1872, just a few weeks after the crime, the Ely Record[2] wrote a short article stating that Lyman P. Fuller was indicted for murder ‘of a woman of the town’.   No mention is made of cattle thieves just the intriguing reference to a woman being the one murdered.

On October 24, 1872, the New Daily Appeal of Carson City had the following article[3].

LymanPFuller1832_15yearsentence

The woman was named as Fanny Peterson.  Lyman pled guilty to the crime and was sentenced to 15 years in the State Prison. It would appear that there was more to the story than cattle thieves, at least in what was reported by the newspapers of the day.

In early 1881 Lyman Perry Fuller had served almost 10 years in prison.  He began to seek a full pardon based on the grounds that he had served almost two-thirds of his sentence and had shown exemplary conduct during imprisonment.  Lyman also noted that there were extenuating circumstances connected with the case, that his attorney had not done a good job and that his health was poor[4].

nevada-state-prison-carson-city

Nevada State Prison, Carson City, Nevada. Photo in public domain.

Newspapers carried the story on 26 February 1881 and were not favorable towards Lyman Fuller.  They called the murder ‘a cruel and wanton act’ and gave an account of the crime as follows:

“Fuller had been living with a Spanish courtesan knows as ‘Panama Jack’, alias Fannie Paterson, and several months previous to the killing they had quarreled and separated.  At 9 o’clock on the morning of July 11, 1872, Fuller issued from his lodging-house, having seen the woman passing to her residence and, without warning, fired upon her, the ball taking effect in the right forearm, badly shattering the radius. The woman attempted to run, but fell, whereupon he deliberately walked to where she was lying, and standing almost over her prostrate form, fired two more shots at her, one of which took effect in the left hip and passed through the ilium into the abdominal cavity.  The other shot passed through her clothing without harming her. … The woman died from the effects of her wounds four days after the shooting.  Fuller, sometime previous to the murder, set fire to and attempted to burn the building occupied by this woman.  Perry Fuller, in Pioche, was one of the lowest characters of men, gaining a livelihood by following the profession of what is called a “check guerilla’, and compelling this poor, fallen wretch of a woman to give him what little money she could gather, beating and abusing her if she refused to obey him.” [5]

Again, no mention of the cattle thieves as described in the family story.  The newspaper article further stated that Mr. Fuller did not deserve to be pardoned and that he should have hung for his crime instead of being imprisoned.  His pardon was denied.

Two years later, in July 1883, Lyman Fuller again appealed to the Board of Pardons and this time his parole was approved.

Version 3:  Lyman Perry Fuller’s own words

In a statement given in 1881 Lyman Fuller describes in his own words what happened:

“On the 25th of Nov 1875 I arrived in Pioche.  One of the first men I met was Jack Harris, and during our conversation informed him of the intention to proceed to Eagle Valley the following day to visit a sister I had not seen for twenty years. Harris said he would introduce me to a friend of his, a butcher, who went to Eagle Valley every day with his wagon, and I could ride out with him, that the butcher went there to see one of the boys.  I asked him what he meant by ‘one of the boys’ and he replied that he meant of the Spanish George’s pale. Harris gave me the name of the man as Woods, with the information he (Woods) was acting as agent for George and his gang; that Woods disposed of stolen cattle to the Pioche butchers, and that George and Woods were the leaders of the d_____dest gang of cattle thieves ever known on the coast; that they were furnishing all the butchers in Pioche with stolen cattle at a very low figure.

I had not been two hours in my sisters company before she informed me they (her and her husband) had settled in Eagle Valley six years previous with a number of head of stock but since the mining excitement broke out at Pioche they had lost all their stock.  I asked my sister if there was a man named Woods living in the valley, and she told me he was their nearest neighbor. I there and then informed her that Woods and his gang were stealing their cattle, etc. My brother-in-law immediately took steps to ascertain the truth of my statements and in so doing told some neighbors what he had learned from me.  Woods hearing of the investigation being made left the country. On the next visit paid my sister, I turned a fine horse into the pasture and he was stolen the first night.  A few nights after one of George’s gang, a Mexican, rode up to a house I was visiting on a horse resembling the one I lost and I detained him over night, when daylight came I seen my mistake and allowed him to leave.  This of course made George my bitter and active enemy and then my troubles commenced, for George was not alone in persecuting me for doing my duty, but was aided by several men and one woman doing business in Pioche.  The house of the Negro woman, Lize Lawson was the rendezvous of the worst gang of thieves in the country’ she was running two butcher-shops in the town and doubtless interested in others elsewhere; there the plot was concocted to put me out of the way in some manner the least liable to excite public suspicion, and if matters had not taken a turn to afford them the opportunity to prosecute me under the cloak of the law I would have met death in some form at their hands, for at this time I was privately visiting a Spanish woman and the game was theirs whenever wanted. I left the woman and then George and Lize influenced her to circulate the story that I had threatened to burn the town, Lize, of course, being most industrious to its circulation. Some of the gang went so far as to place sharings saturated in oil under   several houses and claiming that I did it, creating such a feeling that my life was in danger. Had it not been for a night-watchman named Hickey, who came to me one night and (after stating he had been watching my actions for sometime and became convinced of the falseness of the stories) warned me to be on my guard, that these women for some reason unknown to him wanted me killed and if I was not very careful they would accomplish their object, I would have fallen a victim to their revenge. Hickey gave me the names of several men who were laying for me, but they have escaped my memory; one of them killed John Monahan in Pioche.

A moderate drinker for twenty years previous to this time, the traps laid to prejudice the community and compass my assassination, conscious of never committing any crime against person or property, so harassed and preyed upon my mind that I foolishly sought relief where it got the better of me and my mind gave completely away under the pressure of worriment and drink.  No thought ever entered my mind to injure any one of enemies, for I concluded everyone would, sooner or later, become satisfied that I was the victim and not the criminal, if I was not killed. My intellect at last gave way under the constant pressure and the taking of human life the result, an act I deeply deplore and have suffered for mentally and physically for the last eight and a half years”.[6]

Lyman Perry Fuller’s version of events includes the cattle thieves and his attempt to do a good deed in stopping them.  Here lie the seeds for the origin of the family story.  The truth of what really happened that day is unclear.  Lyman Perry Fuller never denies that he did take a human life but attributes it to a mental breakdown. The events leading up to the crime differ depending on whether you believe the family story, the newspaper accounts or Lyman’s own words.

These stories are part of our family history, they aren’t always true but many times may contain a kernel of truth.   Use a family story as a beginning point in your research.  Find other information to corroborate or disprove it, but never ignore it. Research will help determine which family stories are true, somewhat true or completely false.  Whatever the outcome they give our factual research great color.

[1] Judd Family Traditions. Hilga Judd Frier, compiler. Pleasant Grove, Utah.
[2] “Criminal Matters”, The Ely Record, Pioche City, Lincoln, Nevada, 6 Sep 1872; digital images, Genealogybank.com (www.genealogybank.com : accessed Feb 2017).
[3] “Prisoners and Insane”, The New Daily Appeal, Carson City, Nevada, 24 Oct 1872, digital images, Genealogybank.com (www.genealogybank.com : accessed Feb 2017).
[4] Nevada State Prison, Carson City, Nevada, Inmate file for Lyman Perry Fuller, Nevada State Archives; photocopy, (http://nsla.nv.gov/Archives/Archival_Records/).
[5] “Local Intelligence”, Pioche Weekly Record, Pioche, Nevada, 26 Feb 1881, digital images,  Chroniclingamerica.loc.gov (http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/ : accessed Feb 2017).
[6] Nevada State Prison, Carson City, Nevada, Inmate file for Lyman Perry Fuller, Nevada State Archives; photocopy, (http://nsla.nv.gov/Archives/Archival_Records/).

Save

Three Craft Brothers and a Pebble

While doing my research for a previous post on George Albert Craft (find it here) I contacted the Paradise Genealogical Society in Butte County with a request to see if they could find the obituaries for George Craft and his wife, Amy Patty (Gaylord) Craft.  Imagine how thrilled I was to receive a reply a few days later that they not only had the obituaries for me but another 11 pages of newspaper articles related to the Craft family.  This has been a valuable lesson to me of the implementation of  part of the Genealogical Proof Standard in my research.  In order to conduct a reasonably exhaustive search we should be careful not to overlook resources like local genealogical and historical societies. I’m certainly glad I reached out to them or I would never have known about the ‘unusual romance’ or the ‘ chapter from a book of fairy tales’ connected with George A. Craft’s father.

On August 10, 1910 the Chico Daily Enterprise ran a story detailing the death of George Craft and the ‘unusual romance’ associated with James Craft, George Craft’s father.   The newspaper image is difficult to read, a transcription is provided below.

GeorgeAlbertCraft1852_newspaper4

Transcription:     Burns Prove Fatal to Craft

“George Craft, one of the five men injured in the Diamond Match company explosion Saturday, died at midnight last night at the Sister’s hospital where he had been since the accident.  Only yesterday afternoon nurses in attendance announced that an improvement was to be noted in the condition of Craft, and it was believed he was out of danger.  The swellings about the face and neck, due to the burns, had decreased and his general condition seemed to be better. There was a sudden turn for the worse last night.
Manual Freitas, who was at first supposed to be the worst injured of the five, is pronounced out of danger.  His skull was fractured. A delicate operation performed on the man Saturday night, by which a portion of the bone pressing against the brain was removed, saved the man’s life.  Dr. Stansbury performed the operation.  The other three men injured have not been in danger at any time.
Mrs. Craft, the widow, arrived here last evening from Oregon after a journey of three days. The inquest will be held this evening at the Engle undertaking parlors and the funeral will be held tomorrow afternoon under the auspices of the Woodmen of the World.  Mr. Craft was also a member of the United Workingmen.  He came to Oregon 16 years ago.  Besides his widow he leaves eleven children. Mr. Craft was born in Illinois and at an early age came to the Pacific coast with his father.  He was 58 years of age.
An unusual romance is connected with the life of the deceased. His father was one of three brothers who, at an early age, were left orphans.  They clung together for a time, but later, after becoming young men, they decided to separate. At this time they had migrated to Georgia, and before leaving each other they each chose a small stone from the bank of the river near the place where they lived. These stones were in later years to identify the brothers should they ever meet again.  Craft’s father never heard of his brothers after leaving them and when he died he gave to his son, George Craft, the deceased, the stone which he had kept in his possession, telling him that some day he might find some of his long lost relatives. So far, however, none of them have ever been located”

roller-1478579_1280

The next day, Thursday, Aug 11, 1910 the Chico Record also ran an article about George’s death and the family story about the stone.

GeorgeAlbertCraft1852_newspaper_snip1
Chico Record, Thursday August 11, 1910.  Pg 4. Col. 5

Transcribed, the article reads:    Geo. Craft Funeral Will Take Place Today
Victim of Explosion Leaves Large Family – His Career

       “The funeral of George Craft, who died Tuesday night as the result of burns sustained in the boiler-house explosion at The Diamond Match Company’s factory last Saturday afternoon, will be held this afternoon at 2 o’clock from the Engle Undertaking Company’s parlor on Broadway.  The funeral will be under the auspices of Great Oak Camp, Woodmen of the World, of which Craft was a member. Rev. W. G. White will preach the sermon and interment will be in the Chico cemetery.
The deceased was born near Freeport, Illinois, in 1852. In 1882 he married, at Ida Grove, Iowa, Miss Amy Gayler, and together in 1894 they came to California, where they settled at the Maywood Colony, near Corning. After ten years at Maywood, Mr. and Mrs. Craft came to Chico, where they since resided.  Three years ago Mr. Craft entered the employ of The Diamond Match Company and until the time of his death was a faithful employee of that institution.
Several months ago he was struck by a Butte County Railroad train, while going to work at the factory.  As the result of that accident he was laid up for several weeks with a broken arm and injured hip.
George Craft is survived by his wife, ten children, three sisters, two half-brothers and a half-sister.  The children are all living in Chico.  They are:  Mrs R.M. Jones, Hattie, Carrie, Harry, Leonard, Ray, Allien, Basil, Junice and George Craft. His sisters are Mrs Arlein Beaver of Iowa, Mrs. Lamison of Kansas and Mrs May Wiley of South Dakota. His half-brothers are Thomas and William Shortreal of South Dakota and his half-sister is Mrs. Belle Reid of Iowa.
Of his father’s relations George Craft knew little. There is a story in the family that reads like a chapter from a book of fairy tales. Among the Craft family possessions is a little, round stone, polished and worn with age, and about this stone is the story of the parentage of George Craft’s father.
               According to the story told to the son by his father, over eighty years ago the elder Craft and his brothers were left orphans in one of the Southern States. The eldest of the brothers was thirteen and neither could read nor write.  They went to the beach near their home and each picked up a round pebble. It was decided that the brothers should separate, each seeking his fortune in a different direction.  One went north, another west and the other south.  Since the parting on the beach the brothers never met again.
               When George Craft was but eight years old, word came to his father that there was a Craft traveling through Illinois seeking for a Craft family.  It was about the time of the gold rush to California, and men and women were hurrying westward in great excitement. Little was then thought of the man who was seeking his relatives, and not until many years later did the father of George Craft give it serious thought.
               Prior to his death he gave the stone into the keeping of his son, with the instructions to keep it until such time as he should meet another with the same name carrying a similar stone.
               Throughout his life the victim of Saturday’s explosion had the greatest confidence that some day he would meet some of his relatives and identify himself by means of the stone. Mrs. Craft suggested that they advertise throughout the East and South, but the deceased always objected to such means of finding his long-separated relatives.
               Now that he is dead, Mrs. Craft stated yesterday that she may advertise for her missing relatives.
               The decedent was a member of the United Workmen lodge of Iowa and also a member of the Woodmen of the World.  He carried insurance in both lodges.”

What a great family story!  I wonder what happened to that little stone? I’ll be following up on all the clues given in these articles as I do further research on George Craft’s father and siblings.  Whether or not the story is true it leaves a sense that family was important to George Craft’s father and that he perhaps spent much of his life wondering what had happened to his brothers. I hope to find that out.