Wednesday, January 29, 2014

William Jefferson Box alias William Smith

William Jefferson Box was a 1st cousin to our great-grandmother, Caldona Jane Box Leffel.
And, he is definitely one of the more intriguing and difficult individuals that I have researched.  Researching someone who changed their name makes the research much more challenging, and especially someone who changed their surname to SMITH, which is the most common surname in America.  Add to that the very common given name of WILLIAM and a major genealogical headache was created!:)

Here is the story of William Jefferson Box who was also known as William Smith.

William Jefferson Box was born on 16 Sep 1846 in Henderson County, Texas.  He was the son of Thomas Box and Clarkey Carpenter.  His parents had moved to Texas from Mississippi around 1845.  William's father, Thomas Box was following the footsteps of his brother, James Francis Box, who had previously moved to Texas. Some of the Box relatives (uncles and cousins) had lived in Texas since the Texas Independence from Mexico. 

In 1850, the Thomas Box family was living in Henderson County, Texas.  The family consisted of the  parents, Thomas and Clarkey and their three children: Thomas, William, and Josephine.  Two older siblings had died prior to that time. Three year old William was the middle child of the three Box children.  In 1850, his older brother, Thomas was eleven years old and his younger sister, Josephine was one year old.

1850 US Census, Henderson County, TX, pg 127, family #77
William and his family lived in Henderson County until about 1854, when they then moved to Ellis County, Texas.  Sometime in the early part of 1856, Thomas and Clarkey Box became acquainted with missionaries from the Mormon Church. On 10 April 1856, William’s parents were baptized as members of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints Church.  There is no record of William being baptized at the same time.
A year later in 1857, William and his family migrated to Utah with other members of the Mormon faith who lived in Texas.  The Box family most likely traveled to Utah with the Homer Duncan Company.  They arrived in Salt Lake Valley in September 1857.  Once in Utah, the Box family became actively involved in their new religion and in their community.  William’s father, Thomas Box, married a second wife (as in polygamy), Belinda Marden Pratt.  She was the widow of Parley P. Pratt.  

In the 1860 Federal Census Salt Lake City 13th Ward, “William Jeff” was included in his father’s household.  In addition to his parents, Thomas and  Clarkey, and his siblings (Thomas and Josephine), the household also included the Pratt family.   Belinda (Marden Pratt) Box and her five children by her marriage to Parley P. Pratt were living with the Thomas Box family.  One has to wonder what all the Pratt children thought of their newly acquired step-family from Texas and vise-versa.

1860 US Census, Salt Lake, Utah Territory, pg 1, family #3
In 1865, William was arrested for stealing a horse in Salt Lake County.   In 1869, he was found guilty of larceny and sentenced to one year in the State Penitentiary.  William received a Governor's Pardon after only three months, most likely with the help of his father's connections.

Governor' Pardon for William J. Box 
Court Record, 1865, Salt Lake County (Utah). Probate Court, Salt Lake County (Utah). Probate Court, 1852-1887 Civil and criminal case files (Series 373) Entry 3697--BOX, WILLIAM JEFFERSON

William was found living with his family when the 1870 Census was taken in Salt Lake City.  Both, William and his brother, Thomas, listed their occupation as "day laborers."  The Pratt family was no longer living with the family.  Something caused a split in the families and the Pratt's had moved out.

On 26 Apr 1875, William married Alice Odd in the Endowment House in Salt Lake City.  The marriage was performed by President D. H. Wells.  Alice Odd was a recent Mormon convert from England.  Just a short six months later, William was called on a LDS Mission to the Southern States Mission and was assigned to serve in Texas.  William was set apart as a missionary on 11 October 1875 by George Q Cannon.  He left his new bride at home in Utah and traveled to Texas to serve as a missionary for the Mormon Church.
The following image is of a letter (or report) from the Southern States Mission that was printed in the Deseret News in April 1876.  There were two letters published in the Deseret News that told of experiences of William Box while on his mission.  Abstracts of the letters are below the image.
 Deseret News, 1876-04-12, page 11, Utah Digital Newspapers,

Deseret News 1876-04-12, page 11
Letter sent to Deseret News by E. W. East (Kimball, Bosque, Texas) of the Southern States Mission.  Written 8 Mar 1876 by Elder W. East.
"Elder W.J. Box was in Paris, Lamar Co., (Texas) some 10 days ago. Bro. Box passed through a spell of typhoid fever and then while assisting in erecting a large house. He and two others being on the house it fell and killed the other 2 men and fractured his left arm and bruised his left leg badly, but he writes me he is getting well and will be with me in a few days." 

A week later, another letter published in the Deseret News gave a follow-up report of Elder Box: 
Deseret News 1876-04-19, page 7
Letter sent to Deseret News by E. W. East (Kimball, Bosque, Texas) of the Southern States Mission.  Written 21 Mar 1876 by Elder W. East.
NEAR Bosque Co., Texas, March 21, 1876
"President Brigham Young
Dear Brother -- About the 15th inst. brother W J Box arrived here, having walked from Paris a distance of about two hundred miles. Brother Box thinks his wife and friends were more alarmed than they should have been. He has now recovered from the injuries received from the fall of the house, except the fracture of the bone of his arm. Even that he can use for ordinary purposes, though it is weak. Brother Box seems to feel very well and manifests a desire to fulfill his mission by doing whatever good may be in his power." 

It is not known if Elder William J. Box ever returned to Utah, although his card in the old Missionary File Index in the Church History Library has "returned" written on it.   His wife Alice testified that her husband never returned.  In May 1877, Alice filed for divorce in Salt Lake City on grounds of abandonment.  She stated that her husband left for Texas and never returned.  Alice never once mentioned that the reason for her husband leaving her and going to Texas was to serve as a missionary for the Mormon Church.  She stated in May 1877 that she had not heard from him for a year.

Abstract of the petition for divorce by Alice Odd Box:
Plaintiff (Alice) "joined in marriage with the said defendant by President H. D. Wells (26th day of April 1875) ... on the 8th day of November 1875 at which time the said husband left her in said city where she resided ... to go on a trip to the State of Texas where some of his kindred resided to be gone some six months ... said defendant ... proceeded to the state of Texas and remained there with his friends and acquaintances till sometime about the first of May 1876 and ... started from there to return home but has not come and were he went to this Plaintiff does not know. As she has received no correspondence from him since he left Texas to come back to his friends and family in Salt Lake City about one year since...."
Alice was granted a divorce on 2 May 1877.  Below is a copy of the court document granting the divorce.
William & Alice Box Divorce 1877
Salt Lake County (Utah). Probate Court (Divorce) Entry 7254--BOX, WILLIAM J; Date: 5/2/1877

I thought that perhaps William had died -- that perhaps his injuries from the fall in March 1876 mentioned in the above Deseret News article had been more severe than first thought or perhaps he had been bushwhacked on his way home to Utah.  His wife in Utah said in 1877 that she did not know where he was and she had not heard from him for a year.  After much searching, I could not find him in any records, anywhere -- He seemed to have completely disappeared by 1877.
BUT... 20 YEARS later William resurfaced!  
While I was searching for information on his former wife, Alice Odd Box, I ran across a 1899 Deseret newspaper article titled, "FORMER UTAH COUPLE'S STRIFE -- Legal Conflict for the Possession of Children."

Salt Lake Tribune, 19 Sep 1899
"The St. Louis Star of the 13th has a story about the wife of one W. H. Box, alias W. Smith, who, it is stated, formerly lived in Utah, suing him for the custody of her four children. Box lives at 813 Walnut street and says he was compelled to take the children into his care because of Mrs. Box's immoral actions. Mrs. Box alleges that her husband was sealed to a Miss Alice Odd of this city (Salt Lake City, UT) before she married him and that the ceremony took place at the command of Brigham Young."
Source: Salt Lake Tribune, 19 Sep 1899, Utah Digital Newspapers, 
The story of William Box was now starting to get really interesting!  The reason that I could not find William was because he had moved and he had changed his name from Box to Smith.

The above Deseret newspaper article led to finding of the original St Louis newspaper article referred to -- the St. Louis Star dated 13 Sep 1899.  A transcript of the complete newspaper article is given below the image from the first page.  What a story!!  Note of caution: I think any news of Mormons and Brigham Young during that time period became a little exaggerated, especially in Missouri.  In fact, everything about William and Ella seems a little exaggerated, with lots and lots of drama going on.
The St. Louis Star, St. Louis, Missouri, Wed. 13 September 1899
Transcript of complete news article:
Brigham Young, the Prophet, Picked Out the Wife for Him and Sent Him on a propagandist Mission—Box Family Were All Mormons—He Fell Away From the Church—Claims She Kidnaped the Children From New Orleans.
W.H. Box, alias W.J. Smith, an Apostate Mormon elder, who claims that he has been fleeing from the wrath of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints since 1874, is defendant in a writ of habeas corpus issued by Circuit Judge Zachrits Wednesday at the instance of Ella May Embree, who asks for the possession of her four children whom she charged, Box kidnapped thirteen days ago.  The writ is made returnable at 10 a.m. September 18.
Back of this legal bit of paper is a romance that brings Brigham Young from his grave and revives the cruel tenet of the Mormon church dooming all apostates to the shedding of their blood for the remission of their sins, the same awful fate that overtook 145 Missourians in Arkansas at the Mountain Meadow massacre where the Danites destroyed angels of the Lord and carried out the secret command of Prophet Young.
Ella May Embree is the second wife of Box, whom he married at Baton Rouge in 1879, and with whom he lived until 1894.
It is the law of the Mormon Church that no elder can be sent upon a propaganda mission until he shall have been joined and sealed to some woman.  Box says that Brigham young selected a wife for him in the person of Miss Alice Odd of Salt Lake City, a member of the Mormon Church, whom he married in 1872.
The ceremony, according to the rites of the church, occurred in the Temple before he left Utah, then a Territory.  This woman is still living, and in the petition for habeas corpus Ella May Embree charges that her husband’s wife is still living, and that therefore his is a bigamist and not the proper person to have the custody of their children.
Box explains his alias of W.J. Smith by saying that when he married Miss Embree in New Orleans that he was still under the ban of the Mormon Church and was in danger of his life, that he explained this dilemma to Miss Embree and that it was agreed between them that he should marry her under the assumed name of W.J. Smith.
Out of this marriage eight children were born, five of whom are living, Josie Smith, one of them, known as Josie Embree, figured in a sensational story some time ago.
The children for whose custody she asks in her petition are Thomas J. Smith, aged 11 years; Albert Dennis Smith, aged 7 years; Gertrude Beatrice, aged 9 years, and Clarence, aged 5 years.  These children are now in possession of Box at 813 Walnut street.
Miss Embree, as she styles herself, is living at 1506 Olive street.  Box claims that her actions have been so unworthy of a mother that he was forced to kidnap the children from her in order that they should not be subjected to scenes which, in his opinion, children of tender age should not witness.
Box was found earning $1.50 by an odd job of shoveling coal into a house on Walnut steet, a few doors from the one in which he and his children live.
All of the children for whom the writ of habeas corpus has been issued were playing around their father.
“My God,” said Box when informed that the writ had been  issued, “Is it possible that this woman is going to persist in hounding me to my death?  This is infamous.  I did take the children from her and I cannot see how any court in the land could give them to her after it has heard from my lips and from the lips of these children the sort of a life she has been leading in their presence ever since they were babies.”
“I married this woman in New Orleans.  When I married her it was understood between us why I assumed the name of W. J. Smith and after our marriage had taken place and several of our children had been born we thought it better that I shoulc take my real name.  This was done by application to the courts.  I have been living ever since as W. H. Box.  She has used this former alias as she pleases to style it, in order to make it appear that I am a criminal, or have something which I desire to hide.
“I was working at my trade as a carpenter in New Orleans, when she kidnapped all five of her children and brought them to St. Louis several months ago.  I followed her and could not obtain a trace of her for a long time, but lately I found that she was living on Olive street, and that my daughter Josie had taken a husband so that she might not live with her mother and witness what the young children were compelled to do.  I got the four children on September 4 and brought them here.  You may hear for yourself what they have to say.”
Box called three of the children to him, Tom, Albert, and Gertude, and the reporter questioned them.
“Who would you rather live with?” was asked, “your father or your mother”  “Papa,” each of them replied.  Little Gertude and her brothers then  (cont. page 7)
Continued from Page One.
told a story that reflects strongly on their mother.  Box says that he is poor and has been struggling to support his children and has no money to employ an attorney.  All the testimony that he can offer is that of himself, his married daughter and his four children, he states.
“Mrs.” Embree was seen by a Star reporter at 1506 Olive street, and made an emphatic denial of the charges made against her by Box and his children.
“Ever since I left him, Box has endeavored to defame my character,” she said.  “My brother, Rev. Albert Embree, compelled him once in New Orleans to make affidavit that he had lied in charging improper conduct against me.”
The oldest daughter of Mrs. Embree-Box, who is known as Josie Embree, was married four months ago in this city.  A year ago Cornelius Weise, who was then engaged to marry Josie, came here from New Orleans and committed suicide in a fit of jealously, aggravated by the loss of his place, which made it impossible for him to marry the girl at the time set for the wedding.
“I first discovered seven years ago that my husband was a Mormon and had another wife living in Salt Lake City,” said “Mrs.” Embree.  “I found a letter to him from his first wife, who signed herself Mrs. Alice Smith.  I left him with my children, and he kept on giving us trouble until we came to St. Louis.  Lately he followed us here and has succeeded in getting hold of the children, whom he frightened into staying with him.”

The St. Louis Star, Wed., Sep 13, 1899.  Vol. XVII. No. 134. Page 1, 7.

Judge Zachritz granted the habeas corpus petition of Ella Embree and awarded her the possission of her four children.
St Louis Post Dispatch, 21 Sep 1899, page 9
I have NOT been able to obtain a copy of the actual court case referred to in the above news articles.  After many calls and emails to the court clerk and even hiring a local historian/genealogist to go and request the documents in person...still NO documents.:(  

WHY did William Jefferson Box change his name to William Smith?  
I really doubt it was because the Mormons were chasing him - they could probably have cared less, so that was most likely just an excuse.  It appears that he did not know that he was divorced from his first wife, because Alice stated in the divorce papers that she did not know where he was (and had not heard from him for a year) when the divorce was granted in 1877 and his second wife, Ella, accused him of still being married to the first wife in 1899.  Committing bigamy, which was a crime, was probably the main reason he changed his name.  Or, he could have been hiding from the law -- perhaps for some crime he committed while he was in Texas.  Or maybe, he just wanted to make a new start in life and so moved to Louisiana and changed his name?  We may never know the "Why?"

What I do know is that William Jefferson Box changed his name to William J. Smith and by 1879 was living in Baton Rouge, Louisiana.  A newspaper article states that W. J. Smith married Ella Mae Embree at the home of her widowed mother, "Mrs. Dr. Embree," on 1 August 1879.  William would have been 32 years old and Ella was only 15 years old when they were married.  William was referred to as "our handsome friend" and Ella "his beautiful bride."

16 Aug 1879, Louisiana Capitolian (Baton Rouge, LA) 
Less than a year later in 1880, newlyweds William and Ella were living in West Feliciana, Louisiana.  Ella's 15 year old brother, Albert, was living with them.  The census has William's occupation listed as a farmer.

1880 US Federal Census, West Feliciana, Louisiana,  ED 201, pg 8
William and Ella Smith apparently moved to New Orleans soon afterwards.  They lived in New Orleans over the next 15 years, and had eight children with 5 still living in 1899.  William and Ella separated in 1894, according to the newspaper account.  William stated he was a carpenter by trade and that he had changed his name back to Box after several children had been born.  But, all the children must have thought their surname was "Smith" because that is what they went by during their lifetime.  William's daughter, Josephine, stated on her Social Security Application in 1938 that her father's name was William Jefferson Smith and her mother's maiden name was Ella May Embree. 

In the above St Louis newspaper article about the child custody case, William accused his wife, Ella, of immoral acts and felt she was a bad influence on the children.  William even accused his former wife of kidnapping the children and taking them to St Louis.  According to the newspaper reporter, the children apparently were living with their father in 1899 and wanted to continue to live with him.  But, just a year later in the 1900 Census, they are living with their mother.  Ella is using her maiden name of Embree but the children are using the Smith surname.

US 1900 Census, St Louis Ward 22, St Louis, Missouri, ED 332, sheet 5,  line 90
William cannot be found anywhere  in the 1900 Census -- I tried searching both names with no luck.  William had disappeared again!  Perhaps he died, or changed his name again, or just decided to take off to points unknown.  I have found no further records for William in St Louis or New Orleans or Texas or anywhere else, and would love to know what happened to him.  
So, that's my story about William Jefferson Box-Smith.  It still needs an ending, so any help would be appreciated!

P.S.  I will post a continuing story about William's wife, Ella Embree Smith and their children.   In researching the Box-Smith children and Ella's family, I have found the suicide of his daughter's fiancĂ©, espionage charges against a son-in-law, a train robbery, a court clerk in St Louis who continues to refuse to help find a court record,  etc.  And then there are more SMITH names – William's daughter marries a SMITH and widowed mother-in-law marries a SMITH.  Stayed tuned for the continuing drama!  
Contact me for scans of the complete set of divorce papers or the complete  St. Louis newspaper article (which was on multiple pages).


Anonymous said...

Great story! Have you ever found out what happened to Box (alias Smith) after the divorce? Where did he die?

clm said...

The last record I have of William Jefferson Box Smith is the 1899 newspaper reports in St Louis. Perhaps he moved back West? Or, moved back to New Orleans? Or, died?
What happened to him after 1899 is a complete mystery!

Anonymous said...

Great research and great story!! Gives me hope of finding some of my lost relatives. I know of one other person who changed their name to Smith so they could disappear. I think it is because there are so many other people with the Smith name and a person can just blend in and become anonymous. Has any descendants gotten in touch with you? I wonder if any of them have changed their name back to Box?
You said their would be more info about the wife....