24 March 2014

#12--52 Ancestors: Nancy Pruitt Hensley

#12 52 Ancestors

Nancy Catherine Pruitt Hensley (ca 1850-1871)

Cats are not the only creatures consumed by curiosity. We genealogists often find our inquisitiveness leading us down strange winding paths in the endless quest to learn more about an ancestor. How else can I explain why I spent more hours than I care to confess trying to determine how and why one of my Georgia-born ancestors wound up in a dugout near a river on the Kansas prairie?

Kansas Dugout
The latest search didn’t begin that way. I began looking again for the burial place of my grandmother’s favorite brother. He died in Indian Territory — of snake bite — if memory of the story grandmother told me is accurate. I narrowed the time frame to 1894-1900 and the locality to the Muscogee (Creek) Nation. I checked old notes and files and re-examined the cemetery records where the rest of the family was buried. Nothing.

Perhaps he went back to Alabama or Georgia (where his parents and grandparents had lived prior to family’s removal to Indian Territory) and died back there. And, so began the backward tracking that took me to a dugout in Kansas and then to Alabama and finally back to where I had started.

Lee R. Hensley (also rendered as R. Lee) was the older half-brother of my grandmother and she adored him — even named her first-born for him. They had the same father, but Lee’s mother died between 1869 (birth of her second son, William) and 1872 — the date of his father’s second marriage.

Because Lee’s father’s name [Marion] was misread in the 1870 census, it took dogged determination to find them. Francis Marion Hensley [called Marion] and Nancy Catherine Pruitt were from Cherokee County, Georgia. They had married there soon after the Civil War. She was only about 16 years old. I had no reason to look for them in Kansas in 1870, but that’s where they show up. I found them near her Pruitt family, and his sister, Minerva Hensley, and her husband, William John Evans. What were those Georgians doing in Lincoln County, Kansas?

Thank goodness for other family historians who are willing to share. An online tree led me to some oral histories of this Pruitt family, which say that Samuel Pruitt and his wife Elizabeth (Merk) left Cherokee County, Georgia, in the spring of 1870 with other fellow Georgians and travelled by train to Kansas. That must have been some trip — from Georgia to Tennessee and then to Missouri and finally to Kansas.


“Sam Pruitt, like many other Southerners of the post-Civil War period, probably found life uncertain and hard. Thus, when promoters came to northern Georgia singing the praises of new farm lands in Kansas, many people including the Samuel J. Pruitt family decided to migrate. Enough people were involved so that an emigrant train was formed . . . After traveling by train from Georgia to Kansas, a trip of many days, they probably disembarked at the town of Solomon, Kansas, then called Solomon City. The railroad continued on west to Colorado, but there were no branch lines northwest to Lindsey or Minneapolis in Ottawa County, Kansas. There was a stage that ran from Solomon to Beloit and made an overnight stop at Lindsey. This could have been the family’s mode of transportation, but more likely Sam purchased a wagon and team, loaded their possessions and made their way along the Solomon River to Lindsey with other emigrants,” according to one Pruitt family story.


Another version: “When the Samuel J. Pruitt family moved to Kansas in 1870, Nancy Hensley, their married daughter, her husband [Francis Marion Hensley], and their two children accompanied them. The Pruitts lived in a dugout on the banks of the Solomon River. In 1870 this must have been near the town of Lindsey in Concord Township. Since most settlers lived in dugouts it is probable that the Hensleys did, too. Sometime after the families settled in Ottawa County, Nancy and one of her children [William, born in 1869] died of a fever. After Nancy's death her husband, Francis Marion Hensley, and the other son [Lee] disappeared.”


Another version of the story says that “Nancy and Francis Hensley had two boys, R. Lee and William. Nancy and the younger boy died of typhoid shortly after settling in Kansas. Francis took the remaining boy and left without ever saying ‘Goodbye’ to anyone.


Where the Pruitt’s oral family history ends, mine takes up — thanks to my grandmother, the half-sister of Lee Hensley. Francis Marion Hensley and his sister, Minerva Hensley Evans, and her family left Kansas and went to Etowah County, Alabama where their parents and some of their brothers had moved to from their Cherokee County, Georgia home. If Francis Marion Hensley left Kansas without saying “goodbye” to his in-laws, it was not mentioned in our family tales.


In Alabama Francis Marion Hensley met the dark and feisty Araminta Awtrey. They married, over her parents’ objections (because he had been married previously and already had a son). Why this was an obstacle was never clear to me, but regardless, they married on 31 March 1872 in Saint Clair County, Alabama and spent 51 years together. In 1894 they and several of Francis Marion Hensley’s brothers made another long trip. This time to Indian Territory, bringing my grandmother and her beloved half-brother, Lee.


I still haven’t found Lee Hensley’s final resting place. However, now I know when, why and how his parents went to Kansas. If I follow enough of these cookie crumb trails maybe I’ll find it someday.



If you desire sources and genealogical information, please contact me. I am happy to provide and share. myravgormley@gmail.com



  1. I found your post while searching for 1870 and 1871 maps of Kansas. The small map you include that is centered on Minneapolis must be from after 1875. In research on my family's settling Tipton KS, I have found this to be true:

    The impatient Kansas legislature convened and enacted a five-point plan for rail development. In fits of work, the rail system expanded to Lawrence, Kansas in 1864 (40 miles), to Topeka in 1865 (another 27 miles), and nearly 100 miles further west in 1866. Finally in 1869, the governor could announce that rail had been laid to within 35 miles of the state’s western boundary. The whole 400- by 200-mile area of Kansas was served by 1,283 miles of track in 1870. However, the lines were operated by a large number of independent companies, making connections difficult, if they existed at all. Blackmar reports that The Kansas Monthly of November 1879 listed a Union Pacific branch that served Osborne City, Kansas and a Kansas Pacific branch that served Beloit, Kansas. Likely it was only then that settlers could begin using rail transport to Osborne county and Mitchell county.

    The Solomon Valley Railway routing was built over the Solomon Valley Trail, which was a dirt road leading from Solomon on the Smoky Hill River up to Beloit and on to Cawker City.

  2. Tom, thank you for sharing this information. My primary interest was in determine what railroads, if any, had been laid by 1870, when my ancestor went there (by rail, according to his in-laws' family story). I found some helpful information at Kansas History website, including some old time tables for the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe RR.

    1. P.S. I believe the map was ca 1885 -- I couldn't find an earlier one that pinpointed where Minneapolis was.

  3. Hi Myra, again!

    Could you tell me the source of the 'Pruitt family story' paragraph that mentions the Solomon Valley Trail? "Enough people were involved so that an emigrant train was formed ... They probably disembarked at the town of Solomon, Kansas, then called Solomon City. ... There was a stage that ran from Solomon to Beloit and made an overnight stop at Lindsey. ... Likely Sam purchased a wagon and team, loaded their possessions and made their way along the Solomon River to Lindsey with other emigrants.”

    I've added a few notes to my blog post [https://tgkohn.blogspot.com/2014/05/research-trip-journal-day-7.html] about the trail.