The Fascinating Facts, Fiction, and Frustrations of Family History and My Obsessive Desire to Possess Them All.

Thursday, October 27, 2016

(Train) Tracking William Taylor Slaughter

My great-grandfather, George B Slaughter, was a railroad man.  His father, William Taylor Slaughter, was a railroad man and his son likely would have been one too had George not died when his son was only 2 months old.

Frisco Watch Inspection Card for
G B Slaughter
(in possession of author)

 William Taylor “WT” Slaughter (1848-1927) has been a difficult ancestor to track.  I know he was married in 1876 in Obion County, Tennessee.  He was in the 1880 Federal census in Weakley County, Tennessee.  By 1900 he had moved to Southeast Missouri where he lived the remainder of his years.  Much circumstantial evidence puts him as born in Meriwether County, Georgia in 1848 and living in Tallapoosa County, Alabama in 1860.  However, he is not with his family in Gadsden, Etowah County, Alabama in 1870 and I have not been able to locate him anywhere in the federal census for that year.

Save for one instance WT declares his occupation as railroad related:
1880 (Federal Census, Weakley TN) – Engineer
1900 (Federal Census, Dunklin MO) – Farmer
1910 (Federal Census, Cape Girardeau MO) – Hostler RR (someone who moves
                                                                    trains around in the train yard)
1912 (City Directory, Cape Girardeau MO) – Fireman
1920 (Federal Census, Scott Co MO) – Engineer, retired

Frisco Rail Yard
Chaffee, MO
c 1914

The Slaughters were employed by the St Louis – San Francisco (Frisco) Railway which ran through southeast Missouri in the early 1900s.  Frisco had a roundhouse in Chaffee, Missouri where the Slaughters lived in 1920 and thereafter.  Though it had lofty goals, the railroad never actually made it to San Francisco concentrating more in Missouri, Oklahoma, and Texas. 

However, Frisco did not run in Western Tennessee where WT lived before 1900.  So what railroad employed him?  Would that help me find him in 1870?

In 1876 WT married Margaret Neoma Ellis in Obion County, Tennessee.  The Ellis family lived just outside of Union City.  According to Obion History books, Union City was a crossroads of railroads.  The East to West railroad was Nashville, Memphis and St Louis (NC&StL) and North to South the Gulf, Mobile and Ohio (M&O).  WT lived in Greenfield, TN in 1880.  The M&O railroad ran through that town.  So it’s likely WT worked for the M&O railroad as an engineer in 1880.  He could have worked for either line in 1876.  According to the History of Greenfield, the railroad didn’t come through until 1873, the first dwellings built there in 1875 so WT couldn’t have been there in 1870. So where was he?

Railroading has a colored history in the United States.  Many fortunes were made and lost over the years building and operating rail companies.  When our country was first settled by Europeans, rivers were the best means of transport of goods.  The frontier had paths not roads.  It was not until the 1830’s that the railroad industry began to grow.  A small group of investors (usually the community leaders) could pool their resources and build a small rail line to connect with a main system for the sole purpose of moving their own goods to market.  These small companies were often bought by a large railroad or sometimes failed to make a profit and went defunct.  Companies came and went with alarming frequency.

Daily Ohio Statesman
Columbus OH
23 Aug 1867
The Civil War brought havoc to the railroads in the south.  Lines were damaged by both sides in an effort to keep the enemy from shipping supplies.  The M&O was no exception.  After the war, the executives reported the entire line across Tennessee was in need of repair.  However, this also brought opportunity.  Gadsden became an industrial center of Alabama.  A young man, like WT, with some mechanical skills would likely be drawn to the town for work.  Many workers were needed to repair rail lines and this could have taken WT across several states in the 1870’s. One of the railroads thru Gadsden connected with the M&O in Mississippi.   It’s entirely plausible that a migrant worker like this would have been not enumerated at all in the 1870 census.

Memphis (TN) Daily Appeal
23 Oct 1871
Railroad work was difficult and dangerous.  Most people identify train robberies with the Wild West, but they happened in Tennessee as well.  Workers would strike over poor working conditions and this could lead to violence in the railyard.  It’s possible WT moved from company to company, state to state, as jobs started and ended.  Railroad employment records could help me find WT, however not many from the 1870’s still exist.  So discovering which railroad(s) he worked for may be impossible.  

But I haven’t yet given up on finding WT in 1870.  I’m obsessive after all.  

William T Slaughter
M Neoma Slaughter
Fairmount Cemetery, Cape Girardeau MO

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