Monday, July 13, 2015

Mystery Monday: What Happened to John Fordham?

The Dick Smith Library (where I work) serves as a Regional Historical Resources Depository for original and microfilmed records for a number of Texas counties, including Coleman.  Two years ago, another library transferred to us a fascinating Coleman County Sheriff's ledger from 1887 to 1892 that contained notices about stolen and stray animals, and wanted and missing persons.  This one caught my eye:

John Fordham's mother apparently hired a Wichita, Kansas, detective agency to look for him when John left home just before turning 15.  Since John had "a fancy for horses" and "may be found around cattle ranches," it makes sense that the detective agency might have sent this notice to sheriffs in Texas counties.

This missing person notice had a good clue about the missing boy - John Fordham was or would be age 15 on May 9, 1890, meaning he was born on May 9, 1875.  I conducted a search in FindAGrave.com for a John Fordham born in 1875, and found a record with a matching date of birth for a burial in a Wichita, Kansas, cemetery for a John Chafin Fordham.  That young man died on June 2, 1896, at just 21 years of age, which made me wonder - what happened between the 1890 missing person notice, and his death just six years later?

A search in the Library of Congress Chronicling America website for "John Fordham" between 1875 and 1896 brought up some results from June 1896 issues of the Wichita Daily Eagle.  The first article ("Killed by a Train:  John Fordham Leaves Home to Return a Corpse") was from June 3:
from The Wichita Daily Eagle, June 3, 1896, Page 5, via Chronicling America

John's mangled body had been found near the train tracks in White City, Kansas, which is about 100 miles northeast of Wichita.  He'd been traveling with another young man named T. T. Kell (who does not appear in any later articles) to the Dakotas, and they'd decided to hop the train rather than buy tickets (even though John certainly had the money).  Speculation in the article was that John fell asleep and fell out of the train and was run over.

More detail appeared in a article in the next day's Daily Eagle:
from The Wichita Daily Eagle, June 4, 1896, Page 5, via Chronicling America

John's body had letters addressed to a J. C. Fordham of 522 S. Lawrence Avenue in Wichita, a note for $350 from a Helen Fordham, and a March 12, 1896, deposit slip for a bank in Wichita, all of which helped identify him.

John's father Charles R. Fordham, his mother Helen Nancy Chafin Fordham, John, and a younger brother, Reigh, can be found in an 1880 U.S. Census record in Caldwell, Sumner County, Kansas.  By the 1885 Kansas State Census, the family is living in Wichita.

John's parents were active socially, based on articles in earlier Wichita newspapers, with his mother particularly active in the Degree of Honor, which was originally organized as a female auxiliary to the Ancient Order of United Workmen.  That group, as well as the Daily Eagle reporter, were full of praise for young John:

from The Wichita Daily Eagle, June 5, 1896, Page 5,


But just what happened in 1890?  Young John apparently had some wanderlust - the letters found on his body indicated he owned mines in the Cripple Creek, Colorado area, and he was on his way to Dakota when he died.  He appeared to have a mind of his own, even at a young age, and was rather successful financially, based on his clothing, the contents of his pockets, and the references in the articles.  Obviously, he came back home to Wichita sometime between the early 1890 "missing" poster and his death in 1896.  So far I haven't been able to determine what he was doing all those years.

© Amanda Pape - 2015 - click here to e-mail me.

2 comments:

  1. What a great (though tragic) story! It is wonderful that you were about to find out so much about him.

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