Uncle Elvie was a bit of a mystery man in my family. He left Hopkins County, Kentucky, as a young man and rarely returned. His sister Verda’s children knew little about his life. When I first became interested in genealogy nearly twenty years ago, four of Verda’s daughters told me what they knew about him. And that was not much.
They said that Elvie lived in Idaho, worked as an insurance salesman, and married seven times but had no children. They knew the first name of one wife—Harriet. They said he had a heart attack on a plane while returning home to Idaho from a trip. They said the plane landed in Arizona and he died there. Some of that is true, some of it is not, but Elvie and his wives left a trail in newspapers and other records that tells much more. Elvie’s story relies heavily on newspaper articles and “personals” columns, which are not always completely accurate. But in many instances, they are the only window to his life.
Elvie was named for his paternal grandfather, Albert Hankins, who died when his father was a young boy. His full name was Albert Elvie Hankins, but family and friends called him Elvie, Ev, or Al. He was the second of Thomas Leander Hankins and Samantha Angeline Petty’s children, born on 16 October 1882 in Dalton in the western part of Hopkins County.
The family still lived in Dalton in 1900, and seventeen-year-old Elvie worked as a farm laborer. He worked for St. Bernard Coal Company when he married for the first time on 26 June 1901. His bride, Mary Ella Edmonds, lived in Earlington in Hopkins County with her sister and brother-in-law, Clara and Frank Richardson, who hosted the wedding.
Ella was born on 1 January 1879 in Richland County, Illinois, to Joseph Edmonds and Mary Van Meter. In 1900, she worked as a telephone operator but was the bookkeeper for John M. Victory and Company when she married Elvie.
Little blurbs in the Earlington newspaper over the next few years give a glimpse of Elvie’s life. Sometime between the wedding in June 1901 and March 1902, Elvie moved to Kansas City, Missouri, to work for the railroad. Ella advertised their furniture for sale in late March and left Hopkins County on 31 March to join Elvie.
When The Bee reported Elvie was visiting his parents in the summer of 1903, Ella was not mentioned. Between July 1903 and April 1904, Elvie moved to East St. Louis, Illinois, to work for the Louisville and Nashville (L&N) Railroad as a switcher and brakeman. Elvie and Ella may have separated for a time. She apparently returned to Hopkins County and went back to work for J. M. Victory but again resigned her position and moved to St. Louis in April 1904. Whether or not that move was to re-join Elvie is not known, but they appear to be together a few years later.
Elvie resigned from the L&N in March 1905 and returned to Hopkins County. He lived in Nortonville, a community in the southern part of the county, and was reported in The Bee in May, June, and July 1905 as conducting business in Earlington and Madisonville. During this time he worked for a coal mine company in Nortonville. In August 1905, Elvie again accepted a position with the L&N Railroad—this one in the transportation department.
The next mention of Elvie in any of the Hopkins County newspapers was three years later. On 17 July 1908 in The Hustler reported “The one-year-old daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Elvy Hankins, of near Nortonville, died Wednesday morning of summer complaint. The little one was laid to rest at New Salem that afternoon.”
Four days later, on 21 July, The Hustler published this under “Nortonville Items.”
“A large crowd of sorrowing relatives and friends attended the funeral of little Herbert Hankins Wednesday.
Herbert, the little son of Mr. and Mrs. Elvy Hankins, ages 13 months and 15 days, departed this life July 15th. He was a bright child and loved by all who knew him. The funeral services were conducted by Rev. S. B. Presley and interment occurred at New Salem.”
Based on the details from the 21st, the child was a boy, but were Elvie and Ella the parents? That is impossible to say for sure, but they likely were. Hopkins County birth records for 1907, when Herbert was born, and death records for 1908 do not have a Hankins child with a father named Elvie or a mother named Ella. They also do not have a child who died on 15 July 1908 under any name. No other Elvie/Elvy Hankins has been identified in Hopkins County in this period. Ella’s 1910 census record indicates that she had lost a child. The answer to the question “Number of Children Born” was one and “Number of Children Living,” was zero.
If Elvie and Ella were still together in 1908, they soon divorced as she married Edgar Leo Willis in 1909. Ella and Edgar had one child—a son named Lyle who was born in 1916. Ella died of breast cancer on 26 July 1930 at her sister’s home in Greenville, Muhlenberg County, Kentucky. She was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in Greenville.
Elvie left Hopkins County again, this time for good. In 1910 he lived at 16 4th Avenue East in Hutchinson, Reno County, Kansas. He was a roomer in Dick Garrison’s household. Garrison was a conductor and Elvie a brakeman. From Hutchinson, Elvie moved to Anthony in Harper County, Kansas, for a few months. He visited friends in Spivey in nearby Kingman County in February and March 1910 and moved to Spivey by May of that year to work as brakeman on a local train run (probably for the Atchison, Topeka, and Santa Fe Railway Company which had a depot in Spivey). If Elvie resumed visiting his parents in Hopkins County after moving out of state again, it did not make the newspaper over the next ten years.
Elvie married Frances McDavitt on 17 October 1910 in Wichita, Sedgwick County, Kansas. Frances, the daughter of John L. McDavitt and Frances Thompson, of Spivey, was born on 2 December 1892. Elvie and Frances moved to Hutchinson in November 1910 and by March 1911 lived in Thief River Falls in Pennington County, Minnesota. Elvie worked for the railroad in both places.
Frances arrived back in Spivey in November 1912 to spend the winter with her parents. She was pregnant but returned to Thief River Falls in time to give birth to their daughter, Ella Louise, on 24 March 1913. While Ella Louise is the name on their daughter’s birth certificate, her name always appeared as Eloise in newspaper personals.
Elvie, Frances, and Eloise spent a month with Frances’s parents in Spivey starting 9 March 1914. They returned to Thief River Falls around 6 April 1914. Frances and Eloise again visited her parents in Spivey at the end of November that year. It is unclear if they ever returned to Minnesota. By 1 March 1915 when the Kansas state census was taken, Frances and Eloise lived with Frances’s parents in Kingman County without Elvie. Frances soon moved to Hutchinson but left Eloise with her parents. In May, Elvie visited the McDavitt’s, likely to see his daughter, and in July Frances visited her parents and her daughter. Frances’s mother and Eloise visited Frances in Hutchinson in August.
When and where Elvie and Frances divorced is unknown, but she probably married George Roland Clark in 1915, although a marriage record has not been found. When Frances’s mother and daughter visited her in Hutchinson in August 1915, her last name reported in the Kingman newspaper was still Hankins, but she was four months from giving birth to George’s daughter. Frances and George had two children–Beatrice Faye born 14 December 1915 and Jack Roland born 24 February 1919.
Eloise remained with the McDavitt’s, but Frances visited them, and they visited her. Elvie visited Eloise at her grandparents’ home on 26 May 1916. If Elvie ever visited his daughter after that, the Kingman newspapers did not report it.
Frances and George divorced at some point, and by 1930 she married Alfred E. Romine. Frances died on 8 April 1961 in Los Angeles County, California, and was buried in Olivewood Cemetery in Riverside, California.
On 29 May 1916, three days after visiting his daughter, Elvie married Kathryne “Katie” Wilcox Harmon in Winfield, Cowley County, Kansas. Elvie still lived in Thief River Falls, Minnesota, and Katie lived in Wichita. Katie, born 10 March 1891 in Illinois, was the daughter of Joseph Wilcox and Emma Peterson. But she had lived with her mother’s sister Alice Peterson Simmons and her husband, J. F., in Spivey since at least 1900.
Katie was married twice and had two children before she married Elvie. Her first husband was James Earl Van Landingham. They married at her Aunt Alice’s home in Spivey in April 1908 and had a son named Carl. Katie filed for divorce in April 1911 in Kingman County District Court, and it was granted in June. She married George Harmon, who was a dentist, on 20 December 1911, and they had a daughter named Maxine. Katie’s divorce from George, filed in December 1914 in Sedgwick County, Kansas, was granted in May 1915.
Elvie and Katie lived in Thief River Falls until late 1917. They moved to Herington in Dickinson County, Kansas, in December 1917 for Elvie to work for the Rock Island Railway Company. Less than three months later, Spivey was their address when Elvie enlisted in the U.S. Army on 20 March 1918. He joined Company B of the 62nd Engineer’s 4th Railway Division. This unit, which included railroad men from practically every state, trained at Ft. Benjamin Harrison, Indiana, starting in May 1918.
Elvie served in France during World War I. He left New York City on 14 July 1918 aboard the Zeelandia, headed to Europe in a convoy of thirteen vessels. Traveling thirteen knots per hour, the crossing took thirteen days. They arrived in Liverpool, England, on 26 July 1918. Two days later, they boarded the channel boat Antrim and departed for Cherbourg, France. The Regiment disembarked at Cherbourg on the 29th.
On 31 July, they reached the camp at St. Pierre Des Corps, which consisted of only a few barracks. Most of the men stayed in pup tents pending the arrival of barracks. The camp, constructed almost entirely by the 62nd Engineers, included a large Y.M.C.A. While at St. Pierre Des Corps, the Regiment operated the round-house and car repair shops for the P and O Railroad.
Starting in October, detachments were sent to several locations, including the “Advance Section” (to run the Est Railroad communication line), St. Florentine, Chatillon sur Seine, and Connantre. Exactly where Elvie was during this time is unknown but, at some point in 1918, he was with his two youngest brothers, Perry and Jimmy, who were also in France. How or where the brothers were together is not known, but it was at least long enough for a photo.
Members of the Regiment handled railroad operations from several months starting on 8 November 1918. Operations ceased on 31 May 1919 in anticipation of the formal end of the war, and the companies prepared to return to the United States.
After Elvie left for the service, Katie started nursing training at Kingman Hospital in Kingman, Kansas, in August 1918. By January 1919, she again lived in Wichita and continued her training there. Her daughter Maxine lived with her aunt, Alice, in Spivey, while Katie trained to become a nurse. Katie visited them several times over those months, and Alice and Maxine visited her at least once.
Elvie returned to the United States onboard the Aeolus on 17 June 1919 from St. Nazaire, France, and arrived in Hoboken, New Jersey, on the 28th. He was discharged from the army on 11 July 1919.
After his discharge from the army, Elvie returned to Katie in Kansas, and they left at the end of July to live in Denver, Colorado. Less than three months later, they moved to Idaho. By 10 January 1920, Elvie lived in Elmore County, Idaho, and was again single. He worked as a yardmaster for Oregon Short Line Railroad and lived on Idaho Avenue in Glenns Ferry in the home of Effie M. Mesinnell. Elvie and another railroad employee, Edward Masterson, were lodgers in Mrs. Mesinnell’s home. Katie was back in Kansas, working as a nurse in Wichita and lodging with John and Orvetta Henley. She was listed as married.
Katie filed for divorce from Elvie in April 1920 in Butler County, Kansas. She eventually married William Denver Sweet. In 1940, Katie and Denver lived with her daughter Maxine and her husband, Adren Redman, in Los Angeles, California. Katie died on 30 July 1975 in Los Angeles and was buried beside Denver in Fort Rosecrans National Cemetery, San Diego, California.
On 23 December 1921, Elvie married Harriet Edna Ellis Massey in Caldwell, Canyon County, Idaho. He lived in the Canyon County town of Nampa at the time and was still working as a yardmaster for Oregon Short Line Railroad. Harriet also lived in Nampa and taught school. She was born in Illinois about 1890, the daughter of John R. and Mary Ellis. Harriet was a divorced mother of two daughters, Harriett Edna and Maryetta Massey. She married Charles F. Massey on 5 October 1911 in Jerome, Idaho, which was in Lincoln County at that time. They divorced before 1920 after Charles went to prison in 1915.
Elvie and Harriet still lived in Nampa a year after their marriage. They made at least one trip together to Kentucky. According to the 22 December 1922 edition of the Idaho Statesman, they stopped to visit Harriet’s parents “while en route from Kentucky to their home in Nampa.”
In 1929, Elvie and Harriet moved to Livingston in Park County, Montana and lived at 104 N. E. Street, Apartment 1. Elvie had changed careers from the railroad to insurance sales, and Harriet was no longer teaching school. The family moved several times in Livingston living at 118 S. 6th Street in 1931, 215 S. 3rd Street in 1935, and 206 S. Yellowstone in 1937.
Harriet’s daughters lived with them when they moved to Livingston. It is unclear if Elvie adopted the girls, who were seven and nine years old when he married their mother, but they started using Hankins as their last name at some point. In the 1930 census, their last name was Massey and each girl’s relationship to Elvie was step-daughter. However, mentions later in newspaper personals call them Hankins and daughters of Mr. and Mrs. A. E. Hankins. Edna went to work for U.S. Congressman James F. O’Connor as an office assistant and stenographer in December 1936. The article about that published in The Independent-Record identifies her as Edna Hankins. Maryetta gave Hankins as her name for the record when she married Kyle Henry Leveau on 4 October 1936 in Rapid City, South Dakota.
Elvie and Harriet moved to Spokane, Spokane County, Washington, between May 1938 and December 1939. In 1940, they lived in an apartment building at 2216 W. 1st Avenue, and Elvie was a supervisor for Health and Accident Insurance Company.
They moved several times in Spokane. In 1942 they lived at 714 E. 33rd Street and Elvie worked as the northwest supervisor for Continental Casualty Company. They moved to 1311 6th Avenue, Apartment B by 1943 and lived at 618 W. 25th Street in 1945.
Harriet was an active member of the El Karnak temple, Daughters of the Nile, serving as queen of that temple from March 1946 to March 1947. The Daughters of the Nile is an international organization for women related by birth or marriage to a Shriner, Master Mason, a Daughter of the Nile, or a former patient at a Shriners Hospital for Children. Elvie’s membership in the El Katif Shrine in Spokane gave Harriet the eligibility for membership.
After more than twenty-five years together, Harriet filed for divorce in Superior Court in Spokane in April 1947. The court granted their divorce on 9 May. Elvie lived at 514 W. 1st Avenue, which was the Ridpath Hotel, in 1947 and worked for Aetna Life Insurance Company. But Harriet was not with him or elsewhere in that year’s city directory. Harriet’s whereabouts after the divorce are unknown, but she apparently left Spokane or quickly remarried as she is not listed in later city directories.
Elvie married Ethel Mayalvora Alvord Powers on 1 August 1948 in Spokane. Ethel, the daughter of Frank Alvord and Katherine Kleckner, was born on 4 May 1895 in Seattle, and grew up in Montana.
Elvie was Ethel’s fourth husband. She married Ernest P. Williamson on 11 June 1913 in Kootenai County, Idaho. Ernest worked for the railroad and died in a railroad accident on 24 February 1918 in Teton County, Montana. Ethel married James B. Powers on 2 July 1919 in Kootenai County, Idaho. She and James apparently divorced, and she married Arthur Raymond Riefhoff on 18 August 1933 in Powell County, Montana. Ethel’s marriage to Arthur ended by 1940 when she lived alone in Spokane, was listed as divorced, and worked as a saleslady. Her surname was back to Powers, which she was still using when she married Elvie eight years later.
Ethel died less than five months after marrying Elvie. On 30 December 1948, she fell from the 3rd floor window at Sacred Heart Hospital in Spokane. Her injuries were fatal. Detectives were told she felt faint, walked to the window for fresh air, and fell out. Her death was ruled an accident. Her obituary mentioned her parents, a sister Mrs. Frankie Shindle of Whitefish, Montana, and Elvie. Ethel was buried in Greenwood Memorial Terrace in Spokane with a headstone that also has Elvie’s name on it, but he was not buried there.
In 1949, Elvie still lived at the Ridpath Hotel at 514 W. 1st Avenue in Spokane and worked for Aetna Life Insurance Company. A fire started in the hotel’s basement on 28 February 1950 and quickly spread throughout the building. Most residents lost everything. The Spokane Daily Chronicle interviewed Elvie along with other residents. He said, “I don’t mind losing my guns and hunting equipment and things like that, but I hate to lose things I can’t replace, old newspaper clippings about my football days in the 1890s, old photographs and things like that.” Elvie walked out of the hotel with only the clothes on his back. He said the smoke was so thick on the second floor he could hardly get through.
Family lore says that Elvie married seven times. That may or may not be true, but he married at least six times, and Bernice Jackson Gamble was his last wife. Elvie married Bernice on 1 July 1951 in Spokane. She was the daughter of James Jackson and Fannie Sturtevant, born on 28 February 1897 in Mankato, Jewell County, Kansas. She was the widow of Vernon W. Gamble, whom she married on 27 August 1914 in Spokane. Bernice and Vernon had two sons, Vernon Jackson and James Thomas Gamble, and Vernon died in Tacoma, Washington, on 10 January 1940. Their son James died at Iwo Jima during World War II.
At the time of Elvie and Bernice’s marriage, he lived in the Palmerston Hotel in Spokane. She lived at E. 3408 17th Street, and that is where they lived during their marriage.
After a twilight garden ceremony followed by a buffet supper, Elvie and Bernice left for a wedding trip which crossed the country and lasted about three weeks. They drove south along the Pacific coast with plans to visit Bryce Zion and the Grand Canyon. After spending time in San Antonio, Texas and New Orleans, Louisiana, they visited Elvie’s brothers in Birmingham, Alabama, and Louisville, Kentucky. They also visited Bernice’s son Jack in Cleveland, Ohio before heading back to Spokane through Jackson Hole, Wyoming, and Yellowstone National Park.
In thirty years of selling insurance, Elvie received fifteen expense-paid convention trips because of his sales record. He joined the Lincoln National Life Insurance company in 1952 and became one of their top salesmen. In August 1955, he won their nationwide sales contest. In November 1956, he won membership in the company’s top honorary sales organization, the Minute-Men Club.
Bernice taught piano and organ for over 50 years. She traveled in the summers in Europe studying music and languages in France, Italy, and Greece. She also taught French and Italian classes at the local YWCA. In 1953, Bernice spent three months in Europe attending music festivals in Holland, France, Italy, Switzerland, Austria, Germany, and Scotland. In 1955, she studied at the Sorbonne in Paris.
In May 1959, Bernice left for her fourth European trip since 1953. She planned to visit Greece, Turkey, Italy, and Yugoslavia before taking courses in French history and France today at the University of Marseilles and Aix at Nice on the French Riviera. In late May, Bernice and Elvie spent several days in Cleveland with her son Jack and his family. When Bernice left for Europe on 29 May, Elvie went to Birmingham, Alabama, to visit his brother, Dick.
Elvie left Birmingham on 5 June heading to Hollywood, California, no doubt to visit his brother, Jimmy. He ended up in Providence Memorial Hospital in El Paso, Texas, where he died two days later on 7 June of acute pulmonary edema.
Bernice flew home 10 June on Pan American Airlines from London, England, to Seattle. Elvie was buried in Pines Cemetery in Spokane on 12 June after a funeral service at the Hazen and Jaeger Funeral Home.
Bernice died of cancer on 20 February 1972 in Spokane and was buried next to Elvie.
Herbert lived thirteen months and fifteen days. He was likely the son of Elvie and his first wife, Ella. Herbert died on 15 July 1908 in Hopkins County and was buried in New Salem Cemetery. He apparently did not have a marker, or it did not survive until 1970 when the cemetery was documented by the Hopkins County Genealogical Society.
Ella Louise “Eloise” Hankins
Eloise was born on 24 March 1913 in Pennington County, Minnesota. After her parents, Elvie and Frances, divorced when she was about two years old, she lived with her maternal grandparents, John L. and Frances McDavitt, in Spivey, Kansas.
She died of a cardiovascular accident on 18 January 1964 at the Nevada State Hospital in Sparks, Washoe County, Nevada. Eloise had married a Sheldon at some point, as the name on her death certificate is Louise Sheldon. Her death certificate correctly identifies her mother as Frances McDavitt but lists Frances’s third husband, A. E. Romine, as her father.
Eloise was buried in Our Mother of Sorrow Cemetery in Reno, Nevada.