When I saw the prompt for this week, the first ancestor I thought of was John W. Wiggins, who helped found the Holiness Church in Denton, MD in 1898. But, I’ve already written about him and wanted to explore someone new. Around the same time, I’d decided to start exploring some of my lines that I’d sort of been ignoring. One of the shortest line on my paternal grandmother’s side was the Smith/Ellis line.
I set out to learn more about my 4th great grandmother, Nancy E. Ellis, who married John R. Smith around 1865 in Beaverhead County, Montana. At the time, everything I knew about Nancy, that she was born in Missouri around 1849, came from the 1880 Federal Census and her children’s marriage or death records. I didn’t know her parents’ names or when she’d died. I couldn’t find the family in the 1870 census (and still haven’t), so I resorted to the newspapers. Luckily, I found an extensive obituary for her which filled in some blanks.
She was born 1 Aug, 1847 in Missouri. The family came to Bannack, MT in 1863 and she married John R. Smith shortly after that. They had five children, 2 of whom preceded her in death. She was survived by three children and two brothers, Charles Ellis and Thomas Ellis. Her obituary also mentioned that she was a devoted member of the Presbyterian Church, but her funeral was conducted by a Reverend from the M.E. Church due to there being no Presbyterian minister in the city.
Having learned two of Nancy’s sibling’s names, I set out to learn more about them. I hit another jackpot with the obituary of her brother, Thomas H. Ellis. His obituary reads very similarly to hers, with the family starting out in Missouri and crossing the plains to Montana by 1863. His obituary however, also provided the names of their parents, Henry Ellis and Eliza Kingsbury Ellis. Having added another generation to my family tree, I was off to discover what I could about Henry and Eliza.
After some digging, I learned that Eliza was born in Massachusetts. I’m still not sure of Henry’s birth location or date. They had seven children that I could identify, all seemingly born in Missouri. Then Henry died, likely between 1847, when Nancy was born, and 1848, when Eliza married Milton Kinnison. I actually wonder if Henry ever met Nancy or if he passed before her birth.
Eliza and Milton had two children that I’ve identified. Both Nancy and Thomas’ obituaries mentioned that “Mr. and Mrs. Ellis” moved with the family to Iowa for a few years before moving to Montana. However, I suspect this was actually Eliza and her 2nd husband, Milton, with their mixed brood. And Milton likely died in Iowa because Eliza’s obituary mentions that she was widowed before settling in Bannack in 1863. I am also not certain how many of their children moved to Montana with her because I haven’t been able to trace the older children very well. It’s possible some of them remained in Iowa or even in Missouri.
Eliza died in 1910 and her obituary was also enlightening. I don’t know who was writing obituaries for this family, but they did a fabulous job! Hers revealed that she was the mother of 13 children by her two husbands, eight of whom she saw pass away. I’ve been able to only document 10 of those children, so I suspect there were some births and losses between censuses. Her obituary also mentions that “her parents were Presbyterians and she was baptized in the church, but while she lived in Montana, she never had an opportunity of uniting with the church of her youth.” It also mentions that despite this, “her life was a Christian one in every sense of the word.”
I’d noticed both Nancy and Eliza’s obituaries mention their Presbyterian faith but the lack of Presbyterian churches or ministers. So I did a little research about Presbyterianism in Montana.
Thanks to a book on Google Books, I learned that the first Presbyterian missionaries were sent to Montana in June of 1864, one year after the Ellis/Kinnison family arrived in Bannack. Montana Territory has just been formed from part of Idaho Territory and Bannack was its capital. A Mr. George G. Smith (no relation) detailed his experience in the Bannack and Virginia City area in letters he wrote to the Rev. Thomas V. Moore, D.D. Besides chronicling his adventures with ministering to the people, his letters highlighted the area at that time.
He was “assigned to private apartments at the leading hotel in Bannack City, in the office, with bar, gambling table, gamblers, and highwaymen, every man clothes in buckskin and adorned with a pair of navy revolvers and bowie knife in the bootleg and Mexican spurs and dangles on the heel.” The only regular preacher in that day was an M.E. preacher in Virginia City, who came in 1865. Smith organized the first public schools, took a census (where oh where is this census?), opened Sunday Schools, prayer meetings, married and buried people, and helped to close all businesses on the Sabbath.
Though he began his work in Bannack, the territorial capital was later moved to Virginia City, so he moved there, renting a 10×12 log cabin with one window. He “began preaching in an empty storeroom, organized a Sunday School and commenced regular Sabbath services with good and attractive audiences.” Smith left Montana in 1866, apparently leaving “no permanent results” of his labors. It wasn’t until three years later, in 1869, that another Presbyterian reverend, Sheldon Jackson, arrived in Montana, this time in Helena, and organized a Presbyterian church. Jackson is considered the father of organized and permanent Presbyterianism in Montana. Helena is about 150 miles northeast of Bannack, so a minister there was of course not helpful for the Kinnison, Ellis and Smith families. They obviously utilized the M.E. church for their funerals and weddings. After the gold rush, Bannack dwindled until the 1970s, when the last residents left, and it is now a ghost town.
 The Dillon Tribune, Dillon, MT. 28 Jan, 1910 page 2. (montananewspapers.org, accessed 16 Apr 2019).
 The Dillon Tribune, Dillon, MT. 29 Jan, 1929 page 1. (montananewspapers.org, accessed 16 Apr 2019).
 Missouri, Compiled Marriages, 1754-1850 [database on-line, Ancestry.com].
 The Dillon Tribune, Dillon, MT. 22 Jan, 1892 page 1. (montananewspapers.org, accessed 16 Apr 2019).
 Edwards, George. The Pioneer Works of the Presbyterian Church in Montana. Independent Publishing Company, Helena, MT. 1907. pages 15-21.