100 Years Ago Today

William Mitchell Watson
William Mitchell Watson

My great-great-grandfather was William Mitchell Watson. His death certificate, Civil War Pension file and obituary all confirm his birth date was 17 Mar 1842, in Neshannock, Lawrence (formerly Mercer), Pennsylvania. He died 12 July 1915 in Trinidad, Las Animas, Colorado. His parents were Alexander Johnston Watson and Susannah Mitchell; he had four younger brothers and two younger sisters. He was raised as a Presbyterian on the Watson farm/orchard/pottery factory. His Scotch-Irish family was active in the church.

He enrolled into Company H of the 100th PA Infantry (aka the Roundheads) on 28 Aug 1861 in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. The Roundheads were ordered to Port Royal Harbor on the coast of South Carolina. After a storm-tossed voyage they arrived on November 5th of 1861. Following fighting in such battles as Secessionville and Bull Run, William’s military career was unceremoniously ended at Chantilly, Virginia on September 1st, 18621 when he was shot in the backside by either a musket or mini ball. He was taken to the Emory hospital in Washington DC, and discharged honorably from there on December 23rd, 1862.

He returned to the New Castle, Pennsylvania area and began 51 years of marriage to Miss Anna Belle Gibson on 28 April 1864.

Anna Belle Gibson Watson
Anna Belle Gibson Watson

They remained in the New Castle area until at least 1876 where they had six daughters and one son who all survived to adulthood.

I haven’t sorted out all the places that William lived yet. The Civil War pension has details about his whereabouts that conflict from one telling to the next. They seem to have gone back and forth between New Castle, Pennsylvania, Wilson, Kansas and various points in Colorado. All this migration will probably warrant its own post, but that’s for another time. It seems clear what made all this movement possible: the railroad. Wilson, Kansas was a favored destination of Texas cattle drovers wanting to get their beef to market by train, free of harassment by settlers complaining about their crops being trampled.2 The Watsons settled north of the Kansas Pacific railway tracks in Highland Township, Lincoln, Kansas. They were farmers, but William is also listed in the 1885 Kansas State Census as an engineer. I’m going to guess that meant on the railroad. His brother Cornelius was an engineer, too.

In addition to working for the railroad and being a farmer, I’ve found listings for his employment as a stationery engraver, a silver miner and he worked in a laundry, probably the laundry my great-grandmother ended up owning. It’s been fun reading the list of Colorado mining towns he worked in: Carbondale, Caribou, Red Cliff, Leadville, Freedland and Cripple Creek. Some are ghost towns now, which is kinda cool.

I admire him and his wife for keeping their family together the entire time, no matter what was going on in the world, or where they were in it, they remained close. Respectability was important to him. So was patriotism. He was one of the charter members of the Grand Army of the Republic Post #25 in Trinidad, Colorado. His military service was a great source of pride for him.

1913 Trinidad, Colorado. William is the man walking between the rail tracks.
1913 Trinidad, Colorado. William is the man walking between the rail tracks.

Anna Belle was the author of his obituary. She was proud of him, and about him she wrote:

On the fourth of this month, though scarcely able to stand he placed a number of large flags about the Hindman home and spent the greater part of the day under their tri-colored folds.

You see that bullet was never removed from its place next to his tailbone. He lived with it and the pain (from the resulting rheumatism) his entire married life. A few days after the Fourth of July he was released from that pain and buried with military honors in the Masonic cemetery. Six months later Anna Belle joined him there. I visited the cemetery a few years ago. It is still lovingly maintained by the community.

Thank you for your service to our Union, great-great grandfather William. May you rest in peace.


1 http://pa-roots.com/pacw/infantry/100th/100thorg.html

2 Guide Map of the Best and Shortest Cattle Trail to the Kansas Pacific Railway: with a concise and accurate description of the route: showing distances, streams, crossings, camping grounds, wood and water, supply stores, etc. from the Red River Crossing. Kansas Pacific Railway Company. Ramsey Millett & Hudson printers, Kansas City, Mo. (Date unknown) http://babel.hathitrust.org/cgi/pt?id=njp.32101074863513;view=1up;seq=4

(I’ll come back later to fill in the rest of the citations. This post is time-sensitive.)


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