Saturday, February 4, 2012

Owen Bruce, Where For Art Thou?

For nearly 20 years I have been actively searching for my Great-Great Grandfather, Owen Bruce. My Grandmother never knew her Grandpa, in fact, his own children never knew what happened to him. At the start of my search, I wasn't even sure what his first name was! After two decades, I can follow his chaotic life until he is in his mid 50's, at which point he disappears... again.

Owen Rutherford Bruce was born Oct 21, 1876, in Troy Mills, Iowa, the son of Marshall & Caroline "Carrie" (Risdon) Bruce. Marshall's mystery lineage is another story of its own!
Owen's early life was spent in Linn County, Iowa with his parents and older sister, Maggie, which is documented with the 1880 Federal Census & 1885 Iowa State Census. Just prior to Owen's birth, his family had moved from Illinois, to Iowa. Family members of his Mother had already made the trip, and this must be what spurred the Bruce family to move as well.

Records show that Owen completed three or four years of High School! Which is interesting as his family moved often, renting farms while his Father worked as a carpenter. It's difficult to know for certain, if he was actually a High School graduate, or if this is one of many inaccurate records that exist for Owen!

On September 25, 1899, Owen was married to Ida Hoagland. According to their marriage record, both were aged 16. I'm not sure if that was an error on the part of the registrar, or if Owen shaved off 6 years from his age... later in life, he would be very creative with the facts involving his life.... This marriage would be quite short lived, as on Feb 15, 1900, Owen was convicted of felony forgery and sentenced to the Iowa State Penitentiary in Anamosa. Ida petitioned for a divorce... which was granted on March 20, and she was restored to her maiden name.

Owen was to have a pretty short stint in prison, he was still there during the Iowa State Census in June of 1900... but by August he had to be a free man again... because it was then that he married my Great-Great Grandmother, Sally Estella "Essie"George on Aug 20, 1900.

I have often wondered how short their courtship must have been!? They were both Linn County residents, near Central City... but they obviously didn't 'date' for long... Essie did have a very unhappy home (another seperate story someday), so she may have just jumped at any chance... Owen would turn out to be a complicated chance, at best.

In 1901, Owen & Essie had a son, Marshall.... born Maynard Preston Bruce, family lore has it, that Owen's Father didn't like the name and insisted that he be called Marshall... Which he was. There was no legal name change, and even Marshall's own siblings didn't believe that his real name was Maynard. Twin girls, Ruth & Ruby would follow in 1903... one twin was my Great-Grandma (another story), the final child Erwin was born in 1909. Some records, such as the 1910 Federal Census, have Owen going by "Roy"... it seems he liked different names as well as ages?!

According to Essie's Sister, life with Owen was not easy. He spent frequent stints in jail... he had an alcohol problem, and it seems liked to fight.... When he worked, he was a barber... but Essie was said to have done odd jobs of her own to make extra money... taking in laundry, selling vegetables, and relying on her Father who lived in town as well.

Owen at the left, in a barber shop. Possibly Hotel Pattee
On Feb 4, 1916, Owen was convicted of malicious threats with the intent to extort... In May, Essie filed for divorce... which was granted on Oct 2, 1916. Essie would remarry two weeks later....  It is unclear just how long Owen resided at Fort Madison Penitentiary.... It does appear that throughout the 1910s, he did keep in contact with his children, to a point. A few postcards he sent, still exist today. Eventually though, contact was lost.

The next record for Owen is his World War I draft registration... at this time he was working as a barber at the Pattee Hotel in Perry, Iowa. A well known hotel that is still in operation today.  His registration was dated Sept 12, 1918. I'd be curious to know what took him all the way over to Dallas County, as he always stayed close to Central City? 

Hotel Pattee as it looks today
I have been unable to locate him anywhere in the 1920 census... I'm not sure if he was living somewhere or in jail/prison? By the 1925 Iowa State Census, he is back in the Fort Madison Penitentiary.

He was released from Prison by Sept 1, 1925, because on that date he is married to Lola Mary (Meis) Mosley in Kansas City, Missouri.... At this point he is going by 'Rutherford Bruce'.... Either they knew one another prior to his incarceration, or it was a whirlwind courtship?!  Who knows.   It would also be interesting to know what brought him to Kansas City?

In 1926, 'Rutherford' & Lola were living in Lawton, Oklahoma and had a daughter, Gloria. He does manage to give his correct age, of 49... but his name is 'Roy' again and he lists his birthplace as Arizona! A far cry from Troy Mills, Iowa.

After this point in time, it becomes unclear what happened to Owen. By April 1, 1930, Lola & Gloria are living in Kansas City again... Lola is listed as "divorced", but later the next year she has a son, Leo. Leo's paternity has been a source of much confusion over the years, a project that Leo's son has worked on extensively. At one point in time with DNA testing, it appeared very likely, if not certain, that Leo is the son of Owen. Further DNA testing has cast some doubt on the likelihood, at least from my point of research.

Owen doesn't appear anywhere in the 1930 Federal Census, that I have been able to find. Family lore has said that in the 1930's he went to Texas?! But I really have no idea?!

For years, I assumed that Owen remarried after he and Essie were divorced, and probably had more children... which I later found out was true! I suppose it is possible at about 54 years old, he could have remarried to a younger wife and had yet another family?!?

I just want to find out where Owen Bruce went and what finally came of this man, who has for over 80 years, been a mystery to his family!

Owen Bruce, Where For Art Thou?


  1. Welcome to the blogging community. I hope someday soon you will be able to find your Owen Bruce.

  2. welcome to Geneabloggers. I love these stories you are writing. Like you, I am also a dead relative collector