by David Johnson
The sons of Charles Wilson, grandson of John Wilder Wilson and great-grandson of John Willson, Jr., Wellington, or “W.D.” as he was usually referred to in later life, is the first of the Wilson line whose photograph has made its way down to us through the generations. For a great many years the only photograph I had ever seen of Wellington was that from approximately 1894 showing W.D., his wife Lucinda and their infant son, William David “Bill” Wilson. The only notable features of the man were his close-cropped hair and trimmed, but droopy mustache. In all respects, a very average looking individual, exactly what one might have expected. Then several years ago I obtained another photo, this one from around 1910 or so, showing a much altered W.D. Wilson. With his son Jerry standing beside him, W.D. has long, wavy dark hair reaching his shoulders, a broad sweep of a mustache and the slightest beard beneath his lower lip. He certainly looks like a Wild Bill Hickock character from an old western movie! Maybe the rough and tumble nature of turn of the century South Dakota had something to do with his much changed physical appearance. Whatever the case… this remains one of my favorite ancestral photographs to this day.
W.D. Wilson was born in Louisville, New York on 27 November 1859. However, beyond that not much else can be stated about his early life as there is no further major documentation until his August 31, 1879 marriage to Lucinda Blanche Davis in West Union, Iowa. The following year’s 1880 federal census found the newlywed couple living in nearby Eden, Iowa. He was listed as a “mail carrier” in the census though the enumerator identified him as “William D. Wilson” and his wife as “Blanche L.” Wilson We know these are our ancestors though as their ages and places of birth match correctly.
We are best able to follow W.D. in his several relocations by the various dates and places of birth for his children. The eldest child, Maud Ethel Wilson, was born in 1881 in West Union. However, by 1884 the family had moved to Knox county, Nebraska where Jerry, Carl, Caroline, Pearl and Bill were born between 1884-1893. Perhaps W.D. and family were still struggling to establish themselves financially by 1885 as the Nebraska state census of that year lists him as a “servant.” Also enumerated in his household was a 19 year old female named Lizzie Davis whose occupation was also listed as “servant.” This may very well be a sister or cousin of W.D.’s wife, Lucinda.
It also may very well be that W.D. had financial help at times from his father-in-law John Davis as well as his own father, Charles. There are a number of land transactions on file in the Knox county courthouse from the 1880’s involving a John Davis, usually accompanied by a Lucy Wilson. Pending further study of the transactions I’m not sure who was garnering the lion’s share of the profits from these land deals. Also, is it merely coincidence that W.D.’s father-in-law lived in the same county (same precinct in fact) and was listed as running a livery barn? This is the same occupation that W.D.Wilson held for many years after his wife’s death and his subsequent move to Sisseton, South Dakota. Perhaps his father-in-law offered W.D. financial help to establish himself in his own business after first working for him in his livery business?
As for Lucinda, there is very little that can be offered to enlighten the early years of her life. She was born in or near Allenville, Missouri in1859 to John Davis and his wife Celia Murphy Davis. However, by the next year her parents had moved to West Union, Iowa where she ultimately met and wed W.D..
With the death of his wife in 1894, W.D. found himself remarried to Betsey Olsen and in Sisseton, South Dakota by the next year. Together they had three children, all girls. W.D. continued to run a livery barn (or garage/livery barn as noted in the 1920 census) for the remainder of his life. Whether out of financial necessity or simply a custom they had grown comfortable with, the Wilsons had a boarder in the home with them in each of the censuses from 1900 through 1920.
W.D.Wilson died in 1923 and it is interesting to note that all of his children attended the funeral except for a son, Carl Wilson, who lived further south in the state near the Rosebud Indian Reservation. The newspaper obituary noted W.D.’s close ties with his family. Still, I cannot help but wonder just how much the death of Lucinda loosened some of the familial ties here. Of W.D.’s six children by Lucinda, only one (Caroline) is living with him by the time of the 1900 census! Granted, Maud married H.B.Carter in March of that year and would no longer be living in her father’s household. But what of the others? Pearl, at age eleven, is living with her grandfather, John Davis in Iowa. Bill was living with his aunt Anna Davis Hubbard and her husband Irwin. To this point, I have been unable to locate the residences of 16 year old Jerry and 15 year old Carl for that year. Jerry ultimately settled in Sisseton but Carl resided in Nebraska for a number of years before moving to the Witten, South Dakota area. So… did financial considerations keep Carl Wilson away from his father’s funeral or was there another, perhaps more painfully personal, reason for his absence? The latter may well be the case as Carl’s son, Ozzie, recalled many years later that neither his father nor his Uncle Bill Hubbard ever really understood the necessity of breaking up the family in this manner. Perhaps W.D.’s new wife, Bessie, played a role in this decision to split up the children? Unfortunately, it seems unlikely that we will ever know the truth of the matter.