Monday, February 4, 2013

Jesse and Relma Tansil, Brothers Bound for Utah


A few days ago I wrote about some of our Tansil kin because I had come across a postcard dated 1935 from Rebecca C. Tansil to James and Virginia Moran.  At that time I was under the impression that William Emerson Tansil and his wife Alice "Allie" Elizabeth Cathey had three children: William Cathey Tansil, Blanche Allen Tansil, and Rebecca C. Tansil.  But I now believe that William and Allie were married prior to 1886 rather than in 1893 as I've seen on some family trees based on the existence of Relma "Rel" Dowell Tansil  and Jesse Bell "Tex" Tansil.

Relma, also known as Rel, was born April 1, 1886 in Sharon, Weakley County Tennessee which would make him the oldest of William Emerson and Allie Tansil's children..  According to a report in the Dresden Enterprise, August 2 1907, "Relma Tansil, son of cashier Will Tansil, and Mr. Robert Durham left this week for Ogden, Utah, where they will remain indefinitely."  In the case of Relma, his "indefinite" stay was permanent.

Jesse Bell Tansil, who acquired the nickname "Tex", was born Oct 18, 1889 in Sharon, Weakley County Tennessee.  I wasn't able to locate a similar report about his leaving in the Dresden Enterprise but that isn't surprising as there is no complete run of the newspaper in existence.  However, Jesse Tansil appears in the 1907 Ogden Utah City Directory as a student and boarding at 227 22d.  His brother Relma shows up in the 1908 Ogden Utah City Directory as a high school student and boarding at 227 22d, while his brother boards elsewhere! By 1910 the brothers are both listed in the directory as Jess Tansil, student, b 227 22d and Relma Tansil, student, b 1965 2907 Lincoln Av.  

In 1917 the boys are no longer students.  Relma D Tansil appears as a brakeman on the OSL and Jesse is listed as "lab". At no time do the boys seem to have ever shared a room together.  Is this an indicator of discord?

1917 Ogden Utah City Directory

When next we find the brothers it's in regards to World War I.  Relma's World War I Registration Card says he is living at the Arlington Hotel in Ogden Utah.  He's white, a United States citizen, of medium height and build with brown eyes and light hair.  He was a freight Brakeman in the Salt Lake Division of the Southern Pacific Railroad Company.  He lists his nearest relative as Blanche Tansil of Sharon, Weakley, Tenn.  It's easy to make the assumption that Relma and Jesse were not close.  If they had been wouldn't Relma have listed Jesse as his nearest relative rather than a sister back in Tennessee?  Food for thought!



Jesse's World War I registration card says he is living at 2961 Grant Ave in Ogden.  He is a natural born citizen having been born in Sharon Tennessee.  He is an Electrician working at Ogden Motion Pictures.  He also indicates he is married and that his wife is solely dependent on him.  He is tall, medium build with brown hair and brown eyes.  I have yet to find any information regarding his wife.  This is where the trail for Jesse grows cold for about 20 years.



The story is different for Relma.  He appears in the 1920 Census for Ogden Utah as a single man.  He is a lodger in the home of Leonard B. Dout and family.  Relma is still a brakeman on the railroad.  At some point after the 1920 census but before 1925  he meets and marries May L. Simmons, the daughter of William Simmons and Elizabeth Woodhouse of Chicago Illinois.  On September 20, 1925, their son Raymond William Tansil is born.  He dies a few days later on September 26, 1925.  I don't believe they had any other children because in the 1930 Census it's just the two of them at home.

In the 1940 Census Walter L. Underwood Jr is residing with Relma and May.  His relationship to Relma is listed as cousin.  Walter Jr was the son of Walter Lewis Underwood Sr and Mabel Jessie Lucas.   Sadly it appears that Mabel died from child bed fever because she dies a few days after the birth of Walter Jr in 1922.  Walter Sr dies in 1934 leaving his son Walter, just 12 years old, alone. Walter Jr goes to live with the Tansil cousins, Relma and May.

Just a bit of Underwood and Tansil backstory:  Walter Sr was the son of Mary Ann "Mollie" Tansil and Charles Lewis Underwood both from Sharon Tennessee.  Mollie and Charles had moved out to Utah around the same time as Relma and Jesse but after the death of her husband in 1915 Mollie returned to Tennessee. Mollie and Charles had two other children: Blanche Underwood, born in 1877 and died in 1890 in Sharon.  The other child is William Irvin Underwood which opens up a whole other can of worms.  The Irvine family was closely related to the Morans and it is very possible that William Irvin is a mispelling of Irvine.  Anyway, he was born in 1880 in Sharon and died in 1921 in Medford Oregon.

1940 is the last year census information is available but Relma continues to appear in Ogden City Directories until the time of his death on October 21, 1967.  His wife May lives on til December 29, 1988.

Jesse's story is a blank from 1917 until 1937.  He doesn't appear in census records, city directories or newspaper articles.  His existence has a huge black hole for 20 years.  Where did he get the nickname Tex? If he spent time in Texas he did so off the radar.  In truth I think it's possible that he was itinerant during this period and living where ever he could, even on the streets.  One thing is certain he left Ogden Utah and ended up in Ontario, Oregon.

The next time we encounter Jesse he has been arrested in Oregon.   He was found guilty of Interstate Theft and was incarcerated at McNeil Island, Washington, U.S. Penitentiary, November 17, 1937.  His prisoner number was 13214.   He was 48 years old, 5 foot 9 and quarter inches tall, 134 lbs with black hair and grey, his complexion dark, with dark brown eyes.  He listed Memphis Tenn as his birthplace on Oct 19, 1889.  His full term was set to expire on November 17, 1938, good behavior release date would be on September 6, 1938.  He was arrested in Ontario, Portland, Oregon on Oct 4 1937.   Given the option of check marking living or dead for parents it simply says "none."  The record says he was not married.  He could read and write and his occupation was construction worker.  He was incarcerated from the time of his arrest in Oregon and he was discharged on September 6, 1938 as a conditional release due to good behavior.

I think Jesse was a man who didn't want to be found.  He listed his birthplace as Memphis when we know he was born in Sharon TN.  His parents were dead but instead of marking them as such he simply wrote "none".  Perhaps he had been disowned by his parents and he felt that he had none whether they were dead or not.  There was also a column to list the names of parents, he left his blank.  On his WWI card he indicated he was married but here he says he's single.  Did they divorce?  Did she die?  Who was she?
McNeil Island Washington U.S. Penitentiary
Incarceration Record for Jesse Bell Tansil

McNeil Island Washington U.S. Penitentiary
Incarceration Record for Jesse Bell Tansil


As usual, Jesse doesn't appear in the 1940 Census but it seems that he did return to Ontario Oregon after his time in prison. He completed a World War II registration Card giving no specific address.  He simply listed "general delivery Ontario Malheur Ore."  He listed Sharon Tennessee as his place of birth.  For contact information he listed David F. Graham of Vale, Oregon and the Van Petten Lbr. Co. as his place of employment.




And that is the last we hear of Jesse for about another 17 years. Then in 1959 the following obituary appears in the Ontario Argus Observer dated October 23, 1959:


Tex Tansil Dies, Rites Are Set
Jess Bel (Tex) Tansil, 59 died Tuesday.  He was found Tuesday night outside of his cabin behind the Ontario dump grounds, according to the Oregon State Police.  He was born in Sharon, Tenn., Oct. 19, 1889.  He had resided in Ontario since 1912.  He is survived by a brother, Cathey Tansil of Sharon.  Services will be conducted at 11 a.m. Friday in Evergreen Cemetery under the direction of the Geo. C. Beechler Funeral Home.

Jesse died in what appears to be a very sad condition. He was living behind the city dumping grounds in a cabin and was found dead outside the cabin one night.  Was he a victim of violence?  Did he have a heart attack?  Was he sickly?  The only surviving relative was listed as Cathey Tansil, his brother, of Sharon Tennessee.  In reality, all of his siblings were alive.  Relma didn't die until 1967, Blanche died in 1991 and Rebecca was the last to pass on in 1996.  There was no mention of a wife as there had been on his WWI registration card.  It's also interesting to note that the obituary said he had resided in Ontario since 1912 when in truth he didn't leave Ogden, Utah until sometime after 1917 because that's where he was residing when he filled out his WWI card.

Speculation on my part leads me to believe that Jesse was the black sheep of the family and to a certain extent possibly even Relma was painted with the black sheep brush as well. They came from a family where their father was a cashier and Banker.  Their younger brother Cathey Tansil was the farmer in the family and worked the Tansil land.  Their two sisters Rebecca and Blanche were the stars of the family both pursuing degrees in higher education and ultimately making their mark at the University of Mississippi and Towson State University.

And then we have Relma and Jesse.  Relma was about 20 and Jesse about 17 when they left Tennessee headed for Utah.  In Utah they are listed in City Directories as high school students yet they seem a bit old to be in high school.  So perhaps they didn't excel in education as did their sisters.  Indeed, Relma is a brakeman on the railroad and Jesse ends up working at a movie house as an electrician.  They aren't bad jobs but they would have been considered as common or lower class jobs when you consider that their father was a banker.

The Tansil's, though very distant leaves on the Moran family tree, are none the less an important part of the family history and obviously the two families kept in touch at least into the 1930's.  If it hadn't been for the postcard from Rebecca Tansil, we would never have known about this interesting part of the Moran tree.


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