The Trials and Tribulations of Bartholomew Ellett’s Two Marriages

Post by Randi Richardson

On December 8, 1852, Bartholomew “Bartley” Ellett took Mary Ann Stimson (consider Stimpson a spelling variant) for his lawfully wedded wife in Monroe County, Indiana.  Mary Ann was 33 at the time of her marriage, quite a bit older than the average bride.  Soon after the marriage, or even before that time, she became pregnant and gave birth to a baby girl subsequently named Mary Josephine.  According to Mary Josephine’s death record, she was born October 8, 1854; according to a document prepared by an attorney on behalf of Mary Josephine’s father in August 1854, Mary Josephine was born about May 1853.

elletsIn March 1854, when Mary Josephine was ten months old, her mother took off with her from Bartholomew’s household aided by three of Mary Ann’s brothers, Henry, Jr., John and Francis Stimson.  About the first of July, Mary Ann returned Mary Josephine to the care of her father, but on the sixth of August she took her back.  On August 8, 1854, Bartholomew asked the Monroe County court for custody of Mary Josephine and said he was willing to accept Mary Ann back as his wife.

Apparently Mary Ann acquiesced to Bartholomew’s proposal and returned home.  According to the 1860 census record, three more children were subsequently born to Bartholomew and Mary Ann.  Luella came along about 1856, Jane about 1858 and John Henry in March 1859.  Unfortunately, however, the status of the marriage was not one of wedded bliss.

In 1870, Mary Josephine, Luella and Jane were all noted in the home of their paternal grandparents, John and Amelia Ellett, in Bean Blossom Twp., Monroe County, Indiana.  The whereabouts of Bartholomew, Mary Ann and the youngest child, John Henry, are not known.  Census records of 1880, however, suggest Bartholomew had a new love interest, that of Nancy C. (Jackson) Gilland, a woman more than 20 years younger than himself.    Bartholomew fathered two children with Nancy—Edward Ellett in 1877 and Lou Beadie in 1879.  If the couple was legally married, there is no evidence of a marriage record.

In 1880, Mary [Ann] Ellett, age 60 and reportedly single, was enumerated with her widowed sister-in-law, Elizabeth Ellett, in Bean Blossom Township, Monroe County.  Elizabeth was the widow of James Ellett, the brother of Bartholomew.  There is no indication in the Monroe County Divorce Index, that Mary Ann was ever divorced from Bartholomew.

Mary Ann died on March 29, 1884, at the age of 65.  According to her obituary in the Monroe County Citizen, she professed religion some 30 years earlier but did not belong to any denomination because she was never where she could connect with the Christian Church.  All who knew her were said to love her.  No survivors were noted and burial was in the Ellettsville Presbyterian Cemetery.

Nancy, Bartholomew’s second wife, disappeared sometime between 1880 when they appeared together in the census and 1900 when the enumerator noted that Bartholomew was a widow and head of a household that included his two children by Nancy.   Perhaps Nancy, too, had died, but there is no record of her death among records from the health department or burials.  Neither is there evidence of a divorce or remarriage.

At the age of 81, Bartholomew Ellett died near Ellettsville in March 1911 having been a resident of Richland Township almost 80 years.  According to his obituary, he was a veteran of the Civil War and a widow who had been married twice—first to Mary Ann Stimson and second to Mrs. Nancy Gilliland (sic).  He was survived by six children:  Mary Cornman, Luella Brown, Jane Parker and John Ellett by his first wife; and Beada Holsapple and Edward Ellett by his second wife.  He was buried at the Ellettsville Presbyterian Cemetery where members of his family had been interred earlier and some would be later.


  • Bartholomew Ellett Monroe County (IN) Civil Court Record, Box 109, Monroe County History Center, Bloomington, Indiana.
  • Census records
  • Obituaries for Bartholomew and Mary Ann Ellett



Blog post by Randi Richardson

Oral Histories are a rich source of information but an underutilized resource at the Research Library, Monroe County History Center.  Consequently, from time to time, an oral history will be highlighted here in order that Monroe County historians and genealogists might have a better idea of what they’re missing by overlooking oral histories.

One of the many oral history transcripts on file at History Center is that of Robert Tucker compiled in 1979.  Robert, a person of color with both black and Indian roots, was born in Monroe County on November 26, 1912, to Samuel Dunn and Nellie Mae (Chandler) Tucker.

bannekerRobert attended the Banneker School for colored children and Bloomington High School.  At the latter place he discovered that his educational experience at Banneker had left a lot to be desired.  After graduation, he enlisted in the Air Force, eventually completed two years of classes at Indiana University and, lastly, went to work at Indiana Bell Telephone where he was employed for 25 years.

During the course of the interview with Robert, he mentioned Harold Mumby, Samuel Dargon, Hoagy Carmichael Tony Chapman, his brother, Klondike Tucker, and his maternal grandfather, David Chandler.  He recalled memories of the KKK trying to lynch a black man for his behavior at a baseball game and another instance where a black man was convicted of murdering a couple in an abandoned quarry.

Other records indicate that Robert married briefly twice, both marriages ending in divorce. He lived at 931 W. 6th Street in Bloomington for 15 years preceding the interview and continued to live at that address until the time of his death on March 20, 1984. His sister, Cleopatra Burress (variously spelled Buress) was noted at the same address. Burial, according to the death record, was at Rose Hill Cemetery, but he is not listed among the cemetery’s burial records.

A listing of some of the transcribed oral histories at the History Center are available online.  Scroll down the page until you see a green link for “downloadable file.”  Click on the link and then look for the list access at the bottom left of the page as an xlsx file.





Blog post by Randi Richardson

A century ago, in May 1919, racing fans throughout the world eagerly awaited the upcoming 500-mile race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  The race at that time was still in its infancy.indy500

Carl G. Fisher, an ex-race car driver and one of the first car dealers in Indianapolis, conceived the idea of the track sometime before 1908 when he and his partners, James Allison, Frank Wheeler and Arthur Newby purchased a 328-acre tract of farmland northwest of Indianapolis.  His dream became a reality in 1909.

The first auto race at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, not yet 500 miles in length, was staged in August 1909 on a crushed stone-and-tar track that quickly proved to be disastrous.   One driver, two mechanics and two spectators lost their lives at that event.

By May 1911, the surface of the track had been replaced with 3.2 million street-paving bricks and a decision had been made to hold a single, long race each year as opposed to several smaller races.  The inaugural Indianapolis 500-mile race took place on Memorial Day that year with 40 cars at the starting line and a purse of $14,250 for the winner who clocked average speed of 74.59 mph during his run time of 6 hours and 42 minutes.

Foreign drivers first entered the race in 1913 and events at the Indy Motor Speedway proceeded as usual until 1916.  American was then at war.  As a consequence, in support of the war effort, the 500-mile race was reduced to only 300 miles, the first and only time that ever happened.  Additionally, a decision was made to eliminate the race during 1917 and 1918.  After the Armistice was signed in November 1918, plans immediately were made to go forward with 500-mile race in 1919.

At Bloomington, in the two months leading up to the 1919 event, community interest in the race seemed minimal as evidenced by the lack of mention in local newspapers.  There were five brief articles in the Bloomington Evening World during that period and none mentioned the winner.  University students seemed a bit more enthusiastic.  Eleven articles pertaining to the race, some a bit lengthier than those noted in Bloomington newspapers, appeared in the Indiana Daily Student. 

Howard S. “Howdy” Wilcox was one of the participants in the upcoming race.  He was a native born Hoosier born in Crawfordsville in 1889 one week after the death of his father.  Given his love of racing, he had run in every 500-mile race since the very first one.  In spite of his repeated efforts, however, he had never won.

He had good reason to be optimistic about his chances in 1919.  During the time trials he qualified with a speed of 100.0 mph and was assigned to Row 1, inside center on the starting grid.  Rene Thomas, a French racing-car champion, shattered the track record with a lap of 104.7 to secure the pole position.

This picture of Howdy was attached to his passport application in 1919 in which he stated he wished to visit Cuba “to investigate auto racing conditions.”

On the day of the race, May 31, Howdy was among the top five contenders during the first 65 laps.  On lap 45, one of the drivers crashed and was thrown 25 feet from his car.  He died 10 minutes later as he was being taken to the hospital.  Another driver lost control of his car on the 96th lap.  It turned over rupturing the fuel tank.  The car burst into flame and both the driver and his riding mechanic were burned to death.  Howdy took the lead on lap 103 and led the rest of the way to become not only the first Indiana native, but first American to win when competing against European cars and drivers.  His average speed was 88.05 mph.  His portion of the $55,275 winner’s purse was $20,000.  (In 2019, a century later, the winner’s purse is $363,008,779 and $65,006,997 will go to the first-place winner.)

Howdy continued to compete on race tracks throughout the country.  After his win at the Indianapolis 500 in 1919, he ran there again at least twice, once coming in next to last and another time dead last.

In 1923, Howdy entered a 200-mile race in Altoona, Pennsylvania.  At the time he was 35 years of age, widowed and considered one of the best known drivers in the game.  On the Lap 117, while in second place, his car crashed and he died almost instantly.  His death was front-page news in a number of Pennsylvania and Indiana papers including Bloomington’s Daily Student on September 5.  It was reported that he was survived by his mother and two toddlers, Howard and Marian.

First Little 500.  Driver of the car is Wilbur Shaw, 3-time winner of the Indianapolis 500 and president of the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.  Herman B Wells is the passenger in the front see.  Courtesy of the IU Photo Archives

Howdy’s son, Howard, enrolled as a student at IU-Bloomington in the fall of 1938.  After graduating with his bachelor’s in 1942, he took over as executive director of the Indiana University Foundation in 1949.  In the fall of 1950, he conceived the idea of a unique bicycle event to be put on by the Student Foundation Committee as a means of raising money for working students and building Foundation followers.  The idea was easily sold to the committee, and the first Little 500 was held at Memorial Stadium in May 1951.  It is known today the largest collegiate bike race in the United States and billed as “The World’s Greatest College Weekend.”


People of Color Residing in Bloomington in 1913 and Earlier

Blog post by Randi Richardson


In 1913 Byron K. Armstrong, an individual of color and founder of the Kappa Alpha Psi fraternity, wrote a thesis titled “Colored Population of Bloomington.  It was written under the direction of Dr. U. G. Weatherly in compliance with the requirements of the Department of Economics and Sociology of Indiana University for the Bachelor of Arts degree.  The 56-page paper covers many aspects of the local Afro American race as well as racial relations in Bloomington at the time. The document is available online at

Dr. Byron K. Armstrong

Based upon a review of the appendix, it appears that Armstrong either did some extensive surveys of people of color in the Bloomington community or had someone do the work for him.  Unfortunately, his thesis includes only a statistical analysis of the surveys.

A portion of Armstrong’s thesis, pages 19-20, provided information pertaining to the size the of Bloomington’s “negro” population.  However, the paper is not footnoted and, consequently, the reader must question how some of the information was obtained and its credibility.  A small portion of the paper has been transcribed below exactly how it was written:

The colored population was 25 in 1860.  Hence from this fact we may conclude that before this date there were no negroes in Bloomington.  This is due to the fact that the negro population of Bloomington is made up of ex-slaves.  In 1870 the population had jumped to 259.  This enormous rate of increase is due to the coming in of the freedmen.  From this time on the population has increased very slowly which proves that the source of the negro population of Bloomington was the southland.  The growth of the negro population 1860-1910 is as follows:

1860 – 25

1870 –259

1880 –345

1890 –408

1900 –428

1910 –438

From this table we can see that since the influx of the freedmen from the South has ceased, the population is now at a standstill.  Bloomington is like many other small towns in the North, the negro population is slowly decreasing.  The causes for settlement in such districts are no longer active.  The negro is no longer attracted to these districts as were the old slaves.  He is now rather attracted to the larger cities where there is more social utilities and economic advantages.

Comparing the white population with that of the colored population we see that there are 8,838 people in Bloomington.  Of these 438 are negroes, or about one twenty-second.  Increase of negroes and whites since 1900:

White                           Negroes


1900                6034                            428

1910                8400                            438

It is to be noticed that while the negro population has remained stationary that the whites have increased very fast.  First there has been no increase of the birth rate of negroes over the death rate.  Second, it is probable that some of the younger negroes have migrated to the larger cities.  Third, the economic and commercial activities of Bloomington have developed wonderfully and have reacted on the size of the white population by increasing it.

Two years prior to the completion of Byron’s thesis, in 1911, he founded the first chapter of Kappa Alpha Psi, a fraternity for young men of color, at Indiana University.




Bundy’s Nickelodeon

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Ticket booth for nickelodeon at an unknown location.

According to a column titled “Looking Back on Old Bloomington,” written by Seymour E. Francis and published in the Bloomington Telephone on March 24, 1930, p. 4, Bloomington’s first moving picture show, a nickelodeon, was established in 1906.  That was just one year after the opening day of the world’s first nickelodeon in Pittsburg, Pennsylvania.

Arthur Bundy, whose family was living in Monroe County at the time, reportedly introduced the nickelodeon to a less than enthusiastic Bloomington crowd in a room located above the Monroe County Bank.  It is said that he advertised extensively in an effort to get people to risk a nickel to see what the movies were all about.  Some asked him what sort of a show he was operating.  Some thought it was a magic lantern affair like those of the stereopticons.  Others were more skeptical, they wondered if it would afford any entertainment at all.

Bundy returned to Bloomington in 1908 and opened the Family Park Theatre with seating for 500 on the corner of Fourth and Walnut streets.  The Family Park was the first open-air theatre in Bloomington.  A little later William Brissenden opened an airdome on Sixth Street seating 750 people.  Bigger yet was the open-air theatre opened by Nat Hill, Jr., Louie Howe and Jim Lefler/Leffler at the present site of the Monroe County Health Department.  That particular airdome had seating for 2,500.  Lida Robison Carmichael often improvised piano accompaniments to the silent movies.

Theatres today, more than a century later, are very different from the airdomes and theatres of the past.  And given the many different types of electronic devices a on which movies can now be viewed, it seems likely that the existing theatres will need to change or eventually fade into the past.

For more information about the early history of Bloomington theatres and the use of nickelodeons, check out the oral interview conducted with Robert Leffler in 1998.  Or read about the management of the Bloomington airdome in 1909.  And some of the movies scheduled to be shown in 1906 are mentioned at NewspaperArchive, a paid subscription website.


Blog post by Randi Richardson

Sometimes the line between “vigilante justice” and just downright meanness is quite thin and poorly defined.  Such is the 1854 case in which Harrison Spear, variously spelled Speer, was a victim and Hugh Butler, one of several perpetrators, died.  The assault was allegedly triggered by Spear’s immoral behavior.  Newspapers in various states carried the story which often differed in detail.  It is believed, but not proven, that the Harrison Spear in question was a resident of Indian Creek Twp., Lawrence County.

knifeOn April 15, 1854, the Bloomington Newsletter published information pertaining to a vicious assault on Harrison Spear of Ellettsville by Hugh Butler, Jacob Young and Jeff Raper who were all well into their cups at the time. Spear was described by the Newsletter as a “peaceable but unfortunately a poor man.” It was alleged that Spear was living with a woman of ill repute. The young men lobbed bricks and rocks toward Spear’s home. At one end of the house they exploded a keg of powder and sand putting the inhabitants in fear for their lives.

In the midst of the chaos, someone fired a gun.  Some accounts noted that it was Raper; in other accounts it was Spear. Regardless of who fired it, it struck Butler.  Butler’s companions took him to a physician who declared that the wound was not serious whereupon Butler and the others took up their pursuit of Spear.

Here, too, the story differs.  According to one, Spear quickly fled for his life with his assailants, joined by Hugh’s brother, Frederick, Jr., in hot pursuit.  They overtook him and were beating him terribly with rocks and, it is believed, an axe, when Spear managed to draw a bowie knife and stabbed Hugh in the right side killing him almost immediately.  According to another account, the ruffians managed to get the “old man” out of doors and had him on the ground beating him over the head with a stone when he drew a knife and stabbed Butler.

Whichever of the stories is accurate, covered with blood, both his own and that of Hugh, Spear escaped and fled to the home of his neighbor, Henry Shook who turned him away, perhaps fearing for his own safety.  Next Spear took refuge at some distance in Worley’s tavern.  He ran upstairs and fastened the door with the assailants close behind.  It was there that Worley found Spear covered with blood, still clutching the bloody knife and terrified almost to death.  He convinced Spear to give himself up with the assurance that he would not be hurt by his pursuers.

While Young and Raper made a hasty retreat, Spear was lodged in jail.  On Friday morning, the case was brought for trial before Jno. M. Sluss, a justice of the peace. Because Young and Rader, witnesses for the prosecution, had not yet been found, the trial was continued until the next Friday.  Paris Dunning was one of the lawyers appointed to prosecute Spears.

On May 6, 1854, the Bloomington Newsletter reported that “no bill” was found against Spear for killing Hugh Butler.  Thus ended Harrison Spear’s brief sojourn in Monroe County.

First Open Meeting of the Ku Klux Klan in Bloomington

Blog post by Randi Richardson

Not much has been written about the Ku Klux Klan in Monroe County.  So one must wonder if it was ever here at all.  A review of the Fiery Cross, a Klan newspaper published in Indianapolis, Indiana, sheds some light on the subject.  Copies are available online through NewspaperArchive, a subscription website. KKK

On August 17, 1921, the Bloomington Evening World noted that the Ku Klux Klan, described as a “fraternal and beneficial” organization, incorporated in Indiana on August 15.  In response, the Indiana Colored Masonic Convention adopted resolutions opposing the Klan and sent them to Gov. McCray with a request that he promote legislation in the next session of the general assembly that would curb the society in Indiana.

A year or so later, on February 23, 1923, The Fiery Cross published news of the first open meeting of the Ku Klux Klan in Bloomington on February 20.  Two masked horsemen in full regalia went up and down the streets around the square early in the day promoting the meeting.  That night 300 people or more, of various classes, assembled at the Carpenters and Joiners Union Hall to hear a speech given by  Rev. V. C. Blair.

Blair read from the Klan constitution which stated that members that must be white, male, gentile, above 18, native born, good Christian gentlemen and must owe allegiance to no foreign prince or potentate.  He then went on to defend the various sections of the constitution declaring that “the Klan is not against the negro but against social equality, against the Jews only who are trying to gain control of the world; also the Klan is against the idea that the Jews are chosen people.  The Klan is not against Catholics but opposed to their system which is against our idea of American ideals…It is time for the scum to be thrown from the melting pot and the Klan is here to stay, and the Invisible Empire will do the skimming.”

On May 11, 1923, the Fiery Cross reported that 2,000 people gathered on the courthouse square on May 7 to hear an “eloquent appeal” for the Klan that was received with much enthusiasm.  Apparently the Klan’s recruitment efforts met with some degree of success for a few months later, on October 15, an all-day gala in downtown Bloomington attracted a crowd of 10,000.

The Fiery Cross was not in the business of outing members.  Unless they were dead.  When George Sellars, a U. S. Marine and Bloomington native, was accidentally killed at Paris Island, South Carolina, in August 1923, his body was returned to Bloomington for burial.  After the funeral service, his body was carried under military escort to Rose Hill Cemetery where 74 Klansmen in full regalia carried a floral cross to the grave of their departed brother.  With head bared, the leader of the Klansmen led others in singing “Nearer My God to Thee” after which the procession filed silently by the grave and departed.

Joseph Stine of Ellettsville was another individual for whom the Klan provided last rites.  They accompanied his body to the Chambersville Cemetery in September 1923 and provided a floral tribute of red roses in the form of a fiery cross.

Indiana’s Klan organization reached its peak of power in the early 1920s with an estimated membership of 250,000, about 30 percent of the native-born, Indiana male population.  It was all but dismantled, however, in 1925 with the conviction of Grand Dragon D. C. Stephenson of Evansville for the rape and murder of a young school teacher.

By the end of the 1920s, the Indiana Klan was all but dismantled following the conviction of Grand Dragon D. C. Stephenson for the rape and murder of a young school teacher.