Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Becoming Officer McClellan, the Farcical Moon Affair, and a Bribery Scandal in Denver



George R. McClellan left Hanson, Mass. for Denver in the fall of 1879 without a particular business venture in mind. He had burned his bridges with former partner F.W. Gromm, whose trunk business had become successful in McClellan’s absence. He was not invited to rejoin Gromm’s company, and so he went looking for work in Denver. In December 1879, George R. McClellan, a trained brick mason and former trunk shop owner, was hired as a Denver police officer, with no particular experience in policing.


George R. McClellan in Hanson, Mass., circa 1870s

McClellan joined the force at the height of tensions between Denver politicians and the police force. In 1877, Republican Baxter Stiles was elected mayor, and chose Robert Y. Force as new police chief. Denver’s city council refused to confirm him, and “got even” by reducing the number of police officers to a dangerous low of two men, Officers Samuel How and H.C. Sherman who were to split the patrol of the city – one by day and one by night. Denver’s population of 25,000 was far too large for two officers, and as a result Police Chief Force resigned and soon was elected as alderman on the city council. Ironically, alderman and former police chief Robert Y.  Force would demand a bribe from George McClellan in order for McClellan to join the police force, which would later become a public scandal.

 In 1878, the police department was expanded and included the newly appointed Police Chief C.B. Stone, (Chief from Oct 1877-Oct 1878); Police judge O. A. Whittemore; and six policemen: Samuel Howe, H. C. Sherman, John Holland, George M. Hopkins, David Ellsworth, and W. R. Hickey – still a very low number of officers for such a large city. In October 1878 policeman W. R. Hickey was appointed chief of police, and it was under his rule that George McClellan joined the force.

At alderman’s meeting held 29 December 1879, “a resolution was passed to increase the police force from 12 to 16, beginning 1 January 1880, and set a policeman’s salary at $85 per month. John Holland was appointed assistant chief. Alexander McLain was nominated to fill his vacancy but not approved, Edward McCarthy was instead selected. The mayor presented a number of names for positions upon the increased force, and the following were confirmed: George McClelland and James Ryan.” Thus George R. McClellan became Officer McClellan.


The Denver newspapers often published interesting arrests, and Officer George R. McClellan was soon making news for arrests both large and small. On 4 February 1880 Officer McClellan “threatened arrest” of Mrs. Jackson. Papers reported on 4 April 1880 “John O’Rourke was arrested by Officer McClelland last evening for assaulting an inoffensive German on Blake and Sixteenth streets. O’Rourke, after being knocked down by the officer once or twice, succeeded in getting a good hold on the officer’s knee with his teeth. After a rough-and-tumble fight the officer took the bad man to the cooler, much the worse for showing his fighting qualities”.


On 1 June 1880 Geo. R. McClellan (32, bricklayer, b. Nova Scotia to parents b. Nova Scotia [sic, Scotland]) was enumerated in Hanson, Mass. with his wife Imogene L. (28, at home), daughter Lillian (4), father-in-law Barnabas Everson (55, mason) and mother-in-law Deborah B. Everson (60, keeping house). It is uncertain if George was in Hanson on a visit or if this was inaccurate and simply listed George as a member of the household despite his absence, since seven days later he was also enumerated in Denver. On 8 June 1880, Geo. R. Mc Clellan (32, married, policeman, b. Massachusetts to parents b. Scotland) was enumerated 8 June 1880 in 310 Seventeenth St, Denver, Arapahoe County, Colorado, residing as a boarder in the household of Lathrop Mussetter (25, single, drugstore clerk, b. Virginia) with fellow boarders Melville Stratton (22, single, drugstore clerk, b. Vermont), Edgar Lake (22, single, music teacher, b. Illinois), John Holland (34, single, chief of police, b. Ohio). Officer George McClellan was on record in October 1880 as having just returned a several week vacation to visit his family in Massachusetts and New York.


1880 Census, Hanson, Mass. George R. McClellan was enumerated in the household of Barnabas Everson. Uncertain if he was home for a visit, or if this was a mistake, perhaps indicating that he typically lived in that household, despite living in Denver at the time.


1880 Census, Denver, Colorado. Policeman George R. McClellan was living with Assistant Chief of Police John Holland.

On 5 August 1880, Officer McClellan found a lost dog. On 29 August 1880, it was reported that “Thursday night a gentleman, a stranger in the city, was steered into a Holladay street palace by a hardened citizen of Chicago, who goes under the name of Gaynor. This Gaynor arranged with a certain women of the house that the man was to be robbed of all his money that night. As the sum was considerable it would pay. Accordingly the work was done, but only partially, and yesterday Officer McClelland, of the police force, searched the house before Gaynor quitted it, and recovered $170 of the stolen funds. The operator escaped through a rear door, but was captured soon afterward. In this case there is no necessity for secrecy, because the victim need not be known. There are witnesses to the robbery, he himself being asleep when it was committed.”


On 10 October 1880, the Rocky Mountain News reported that “Police Officer McClellan, who has been to New York and Boston for some weeks on a leave of absence, has returned and taken his old place on the police force”. He probably visited his wife Imogene and four year old daughter Lillian in Hanson, Mass. and his sister Annie Sherman in New York. Perhaps his mother Christiana McClellan came up from Providence, R.I. to see him in New York.


In October 1880, George McClellan returned to the Denver police force during one of the most intense months the force had ever experienced. Just as George returned to the city, an 18 year old boy named William McClellan (no relation) died and the newspapers blamed an opium overdose, stirring up outrage against the Chinese opium dens. Headlines on 12 October 1880 read “Celestials Corraled” in a series of arrests made by Denver police officers (likely including Officer George McClellan back on the job) of opium den owners and participants. Racist newspaper reportage throughout the rest of the month of October put the city of Denver on edge, with outbursts of violence occurring throughout the month.

In the early hours of 15 October 1880, a fight broke out at the Ocean Oyster saloon, owned by the notorious gambler and violent drunk Jim Moon. When two police officers (assistant police chief Holland and patrolman Merrill) arrived to break up the fight, it only escalated. Assistant Police Chief Holland (George McClellan’s roommate) had earlier raided Moon’s business, and when a drunken Moon realized Holland was on his property, he and his associates threw glasses and dishes at Holland, which injured Holland in the head. Officer Merrill left with Holland to tend to his head injury, and Moon locked down his saloon, threatening to assault any who dared enter his establishment with a small Civil War howitzer he kept in the saloon.


A “small” 12 pounder Civil War era howitzer located in Denver at the Colorado State Capitol Building. Jim Moon aimed his personal howitzer (similar to this pictured howitzer) at the entrance to his saloon, daring any to enter after his drunken assault of another saloon owner and several Denver police officers.

Then Moon, his romantic partner Emma, his business partner/gunfighter John Bull and Bull’s girlfriend exited the saloon armed and aiming at the crowd of citizens and police officers who had gathered outside, and escaped in a carriage [Think of Deadwood’s Al Swearengen, Dan Dority and Trixie]. Officer Dorsey was sent in pursuit of the carriage. The newspapers criticized the police force for not stopping the Moon party. Rocky Mountain News reported:

  • “A Midnight Muss”. About one o’clock this morning a man named Lamar, who keeps a saloon on Fifteenth street near the Bon Ton saloon, went to the saloon and restaurant kept by James Moon, on the alley between Larimer and Holladay, near Sixteenth. He ordered some oysters and while waiting for his supper, Moon, who it is said was considerably under the influence of liquor, interfered in some way and struck Lamar, who hastily left the place in search of an officer. He did not even take his overcoat with him. He saw clearly that there was a big row in prospective, and wanted to nip it in the bud. In a moment or two he met Assistant Chief Holland and Patrolman Merrill. These two then went to the place. They advised Lamar not to go, as he might be in danger. When the officers entered Moon was in a terrible rage. He recalled the circumstances of Holland’s raiding the place when he was acting chief, and said as much to him. Holland did not deny this. Within an instant Moon and Holland were struggling in the middle of the floor for possession of Holland’s revolver. While this struggle was progressing, Moon’s woman, Emma, who was in the room, and another woman and John Bull all simultaneously engaged in a promiscuous free fight. Glasses and dishes were freely thrown. They were aimed at Holland and did not miss him. He shouted to the officer accompanying him for assistance, but there was no response, and when the crowd of customers at the lunch counter were called on they all ran away too. One man, however, had more nerve than the others, and had it not been for his efforts the ugly crowd would certainly have killed Holland. As it was, however, the officer was dragged out bleeding profusely about the head from the deep wounds and taken to Comfort’s on the opposite corner, where he was put to bed seriously injured. This cleared the house and Moon ordered all rooms closed. Peeping in at a side window it was seen that Moon was being nursed very carefully by John Bull with a wet towel. Some of the chinaware had struck him. During this time the police were scattered. Whistles were blowing on every street and finally a majority of the night force was assembled at Moon’s. They could not get in, however, and Moon was armed with a small howitzer; so there was no effort to take him. In a few moments, however, the door opened, and Moon, his woman and her companion, John Bull, emerged into the storm then raging violently. Moon had his revolver at full cock and the whole crowd passed through the alley, where the police were, and to a hack at the street on Sixteenth. Bull and the woman clambered inside the vehicle and Moon got upon the box, with his gun ready for use. The driver whipped up his horses and the party were off, having defied fifty citizens and a whole platoon of police! Another hack was speedily pressed into service by Officer Dorsey and at last accounts the chase was being continued in the direction of the Golden. The nerve (?) displayed by the police, with one or two exceptions, is worthy of comment.”

“The Moon Affair” occurred at Jim Moon’s Ocean Oyster Saloon, described in newspaper accounts as located on the alleyway between Holladay and Larimer Streets near 16th St. Map from Robinson’s 1887 map of Denver. Courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

The following morning, police chief Hickey visited Moon and Bull and came to an agreement that Moon would turn himself into the police station later that day, post bail and pay the required fines for his conduct – which had occurred numerous times previously since Moon and Bull were frequently in trouble for drunken violence. Moon agreed to the terms but delayed his arrival. The press was outraged that Moon was not punished more severely, and that Moon taunted the police by his late arrival. As a result of the press coverage of the “Moon Affair”, the Denver aldermen assembled a meeting to investigate the possibility that the police had mishandled the affair, hoping to fire negligible officers. Of considerable note is the fact that the meeting was hastily called and led by Alderman Force. Privately, Force had recently been confronted with the fact that it was known that he had required a bribe from Officer George R. McClellan to join the force, and that it was rumored that various other aldermen required bribes from other current police officers. Since the majority of Denver alderman had in fact required bribes from the police force, it was definitely a threat to be taken seriously.

  • “At the conclusion of the taking of this [Moon affair] testimony, various matters connected with the police service were discussed. The uprightness, general efficiency and conduct of Chief Hickey were discussed at considerable length; individual cases cited where his conduct had been impugned both at the time and afterward. The conduct of other officers on the force were also reviewed at great length. Some got terribly scored and others were lauded to the skies. The conduct of some of the officers concerned in the Moon affair was contrasted with the nerve shown by Dorsey, and then the McClellan case came up. It was stated by some members that they had investigated the one hundred dollar business, and that they thought that while the thing was being done it might as well be all done together. Then Mr. Davis, of the Fourth, read a list of names as follows: Hickey, Minart, McCarthy, Merrill and McClellan, and moved that they be discharged from further duty on the police force. This was strenuously opposed by Mr. Cook, who said that Mr. McClellan’s case then was an altogether different sort of ill doing and he wanted the name omitted. This met with a stern rebuff from Mr. McLaughlin, who said he was determined not to have such a man on the force. Further discussion ensued; when to expedite matters Mr. Morris offered a resolution discharging McClellan “for insubordination unbecoming an officer.” This was adopted; and then Mr. Davis, of the Fourth renewed his motion to discharge Hickey, Minart, McCarthy and Merrill. After a host of entanglements, all, however, meant to the same end, the motion was carried by a vote of seven to four, Anstee not being present. The next question was, who shall be chief of police? John Holland, assistant chief, was laid up with injuries, and could not act. Then Mr. McLaughlin moved the appointment of Samuel C. Dorsey to fill the vacancy made in the chiefship. The mention of Dorsey’s name brought out many expressions of goodwill from members, and the motion would doubtless have prevailed had not some member suggested it was the mayor’s duty to appoint a chief. This was agreed to and the mayor was then, by vote, made chief of police pro tem until an appointment was made and confirmed. This business having been concluded, the doors were thrown open and the fresh air allowed to circulate.”


In one fell swoop, the Denver aldermen fired the Police Chief and all the major police officers involved in the farcical Moon Affair, as well as fired George McClellan for “insubordination” [the details not yet publically revealed] – almost one third of the police force, a dangerous situation in a month already filled with racial tension and violence as well as common city crime. The press, who the day before had been calling for action regarding the police force, now turned against the aldermen on City Council. The headline on 19 October 1880 ran: “Exposed! The Rottenness of the City Council. Laid Bare In All Of Its Deformity. Fifty Dollars Is the Very Trifling Sum For Which Aldermanic Influence Can Be Bought. Interviews With Decapitated Police Officers, And the Little Stories They Have To Tell. What the Mayor Has To Say About The Situation. The Chief Likewise Rises to Explain, And Reveals Some Very Interesting Secrets of His Office.” The recently fired officer George McClellan also spoke with a reporter in the article in which he confirmed that he had been required to pay a bribe to Alderman Force in order to join the Denver police force.

  • “What about the police business?” was the first inquiries yesterday morning on the street. “I don’t know,” was the general reply. “The city council seems to have discharged about one-third of the police force, without ‘rhyme or reason’, just to appease public indignation aroused by the Moon affair, and to take away attention from their own crookedness by laying the blame upon their subordinates – Hickey, Minart, Merrill, McCarthy and McClellan – just to make the citizens believe the council were acting on the square, when there are bigger scoundrels in that body than there are among the men who walk around the streets for the purpose of keeping the peace.” A man who has held high positions in eastern cities in connection with the police and detective work, was questioned as to the general efficiency, or rather inefficiency, of the Denver Police force. He said: “It is the worst, most loose and corrupt that ever came under my observation. I am conversant with the police system of all the large cities of the Union, but I have never met with anything so careless and reckless as the police system of Denver.” “In what way? Let the public know some of the particulars…” “Well, to begin with, it is supposed that the police, or a certain portion of them, are on duty all night. This is a mistake. I know a case where a certain officer has gone to bed every night at a certain hotel, instead of remaining on his beat. The man who is supposed to relieve him at six o’clock in the morning reports the matter all right at the headquarters, and gets some consideration for his lying, but he never sees the man he is supposed to relieve. Did you ever see a police officer around in the early hours of the morning? You may search a long time before you find them. They are either in their own or somebody else’s bed. Although I don’t know that it matters whose bed they are in, their crime is being off their duty as watchman of the night. Denver would be the very paradise of thieves if they only knew it. Under the present system they could ransack the town while the paid preservers of the peace are quietly snoozing in their beds or indulging in some debauchery.” “Do you consider the city police force efficient when they are on duty?” “Oh, I would guess they would make ordinarily good policemen if they acted straight. But they don’t.” “In what way?” “Well, if they see a row brewing, or anything that is likely to make a breach of the peace, instead of stepping up to prevent it they get around a corner and wait until a breach of peace is made, then they step up and arrest the men.” “And ledge them in the calaboose of course?” “Nothing of the sort. They find a constable if they can and hand the prisoner over to that functionary. And if it is too late to find a constable they take the offender over to the city jail and then go and wake up the constable, bring him down to the jail and let him make the charge.” “What is the object in doing all this?” “Why the police officer gets two dollars and a half on each arrest. If he runs them in himself he gets nothing, but if he hands the case over to the constable, the constable gets five dollars or more for the arrest and divides with the police officer. The majority of the officers on the force receive a large amount from the constables for their division offers, some of them collecting as much as $40 monthly from the constables. Thus by the connivance between the two officials the county is put to a heavy expence and the proceeds of the robbery is divided between the police officers and the constable because if the officer did his duty the crime might be prevented, and if committed the culprit would be run in without any cost to the county. This system of robbery has been pursued here for years and costs the county thousands of dollars a year. There is no check upon the officers doing their duty when they start out for their night watch. There is no check to show that they are on duty and very few of them are.”
  • HIS HONOR, THE MAYOR [Richard Sopris]. “Who is going to be the new chief, Mr. Mayor?” asked the interviewer. “Oh, I don’t know yet. We’ll get around to that bye and bye.” “I suppose you will make choice of a man who will save you all such troubles as you’ve had lately?” “Well, I should think so – I have had enough trouble with the police department to satisfy most men.” “Who are the candidates?” “You know as well as I do.” “Dave Cook, Sam Dorsey, Tom Foulks, John Phillips?” “I guess so.” “Who will be appointed?” “I am anxious to get a men who will suit the people, but have not yet decided who it shall be.” “Where is John Holland in this business?” “Laid up, I hear.” “I heard you were going to appoint him?” “What! John Holland – no – I’ll never appoint him.” “Why not?” “Because there is too much feeling against him.” “You have not decided whether to take a man from the force or from the outside?” “No; I would like to have a man from the force if it is possible to get the right one. I want a man that I can trust – a man that can control his officers.” “Who is in charge now?” “Phillips has charge of the day men and Dorsey of the night force.” “Are you going to leave these men on?” “Yes, for the present. I don’t think any appointment will be made until after the new council comes in.” There seems to be an idea to get rid of John Cook’s influence in the matter, who will stick to John Holland, but the mayor seemed determined to say nothing more and the subject was dropped.
  • CHIEF HICKEY complained bitterly of the way in which he had been used. In his own language, “The God d-m mob didn’t know what they were doing.” The mob referred to was the twelve illustrious members of the city council whom Chief Hickey considers as corrupt as they are stupid On being questioned as to whether he had tried to do his duty as head of the police force, he said: “I have been between two fires all the time; have asked the old man [Mayor Sopris] over and over again if I should close up the dens around town and he wouldn’t give me permission, therefore I couldn’t do it, and the next thing I was blamed for not doing it. There are eight or ten men on the force I wanted to discharge long ago for being corrupt. I knew they were getting money from bunko-men and acting crooked all through, but he wouldn’t let me discharge them, each one of them was the pet of some particular alderman and had to be protected. The lies that have been told about this Moon affair are enormous,” said the chief. “The story has been told that I took Jim Moon’s pistol and then gave it back to him. That afterwards Moon’s girl had been arrested, that he came out to the carriage with his loaded revolver and took her out of the vehicle and back into the house. It was also stated that officer Dorsey knocked Bull down in the parlor with his club. All these and a pile more of the statements made before the council are lies, manufactured for a purpose. I was called up from my bed by Dorsey and Robinson, and simply told there had been a muss at Moon’s and that Holland was hurt. We went to the Villa; when I reached there I went into the parlor and found Moon and his woman there. I said “Jim I’ll have to arrest you.” (Neither of the officers came into the room, they merely looked in and went out.) The two women, Moon’s woman and Mrs. Bull, commenced making a row and said he should not be taken away. I told them I had nothing to do with them and proceeded to talk to Moon, who was very quiet. I felt around his clothes but found no weapon, then when I turned around I saw him with a pistol in his hand which he had drawn from inside his vest where I had not thought to look for it.” “Did you take the weapon?” “No, I did not, and he put it back again. He said he did not want to be locked up, and handed me $1,000 in bills as security for his appearance in the morning. I took the bills, and, considering that sufficient, made no further attempt to arrest him then. There was a row outside between officers Dorsey and Robinson and the women and Bull, who had come down from upstairs. I told the officers that Moon had put up security for himself and his woman, and that it was all right. The whole story about my giving the pistol back to Moon and his coming down to the hack and rescuing his woman is all a fabrication, without a particle of truth in it. The next day Moon did not come at the time named in the afternoon. I found out where he was living, and sent him word that if he did not surrender his money would be forfeited. He then came, gave himself up, was sent to jail and afterwards liberated on a bond by Justice Whittemore. That is all I know about the matter.” “Did you know anything about the origin of the trouble?” “No, only what I have heard. I think Holland acted unwisely in going there and drawing his pistol on Moon when he knew the bad feeling there was between him and Moon. As I hear, when he commenced to pull his pistol Moon jumped right on to him before he could get it out, and as Moon is a heavy, powerful man, Holland got the worst of it.” “What do you think of the present system of police in Denver?” “I think it is d-d bad,” said the chief, “and the sooner it is altered the better. The chief ought to have some control. Now he has none, and he is between two fires all the time, and can’t tell which is the hottest.”
  • WHAT MERRILL SAYS. “Who is running this police force, anyhow?” was asked. “What do you mean?” “Why, who runs the machine? Does Sopris or did Hickey?” “Neither of them. The sporting fraternity had the most to say about what should be done.” “How is that?” “Well, Bill Hickey belonged to the prostitutes and gamblers and he had to do about what they wanted him to do. That accounts for his action in not arresting Moon the other day. Why, when Hickey went up to him, Moon says: “Why [God] [damn] you, I made you what you are.” “Who is at fault, the mayor or Hickey?” “I don’t know. I have heard that the ‘old man’ [Mayor Sopris] was the chief party at fault!” “Was he paid for it?” “So they say. He gets twenty percent of the bunko and gambling profits.” “How do you know that?” “I was told by a bunko steerer himself.” “How does this money reach the mayor? Has it been going through the hands of the chief of police?” “A gambler pays it over.” “They say that some of you officers have been paying for your appointments? How is it?” “There is one man who paid for his.” “Who is the officer?” “McClellan.” “How much did he pay for his appointment?” “Fifty dollars.” “Who did he pay the fifty dollars to?” “Bob Force.” “How do you know?” “McClellan said so to me himself. He told me that he could ‘down’ Bob Force and the mayor, too.” “What does he know about the mayor?” “I don’t know. He won’t tell me. He is keeping it dark.”
  • OFFICER MINART was asked concerning the crookedness of the force. “I don’t know anything about it,” was the reply. “Do you think that the men still remaining on the police force are straight?” “I have no doubt but that some of them are not.” “Who are they?” “I can’t tell you that.” “Why not?” “I’ll tell you all about it in a day or two.”
  • OFFICER M’CARTHY, who was visited at his home of Lawrence street, claimed to know nothing concerning the matter in question. He was very reticent regarding the whole business, asserting that he knew, of his own knowledge, absolutely nothing regarding the crookedness of police affairs. “There seems to have been little or no cause for your removal?” was inquired. “Well, it is true that I was bounced from the force very unjustly. It was, in fact, as an alderman told me today, simply a sacrifice. I was not to blame for the action at the Moon affair, and if I were allowed to be heard in my own behalf, I could show that to be the case. But this whole matter is premature – with me – and I must refuse to say anything to you regarding it at this time.” “But why is it premature?” The gentleman hesitated, and it was discovered soon afterward that he expected to be reinstated again in his old position. “You see around you,” said he, “my large family, of seven persons, who have all to be fed. I have got to feed them and while my position on the force was a humble one at best, it was a living for my little ones, and it would be only simple justice for the council to put me back again.”
  • OFFICER M’CLELLAN was accosted on the street yesterday: “Well what do you know about police matters?” “I know things are getting mixed up awkwardly.” “Do you know of anything “crooked” going on?” “Yes, I know that Alderman R.Y. Force offered to get me on the force if I would give him $50.” “Did you promise to give him that amount?” “I did.” “Of course he succeeded in getting you on the force.” “Well, I got appointed and I suppose it was through his instrumentality that I made it.” “Did you pay Alderman Force the $50 promised?” “I hadn’t the money to pay him at once and it was agreed, when the bargain was made between me and him, that I should pay him as I could spare the money out of my salary.” “Did you pay Alderman Force this bribe?” “No, not all of it.” “Well, what part of it did you pay, and how were the payments made?” “After I began to receive my salary from the city I went on two or three occasions (I am not certain which) to his office and gave him each time a $10 bill. Then I saw that he was not working for my interest and I closed the subscription.” “Can you prove this by evidence other than your own assertion?” “Yes; I will make an affidavit before a notary public as to the statement I have made to you, and, more than that, I can prove it by a witness.” “Is this system of selling places on the police force in general practice?” “If you look around you can see it is a common practice.” “Wasn’t the figure you paid low?” “Yes; a good many men have paid more. I got in cheap.” “Were you not charged with receiving a bribe from a man who was doorkeeper at the Palace theater, for the purpose of aiding him in getting on the police force?” “The man you speak of forced $100 on me to use among the aldermen or in any other way in which influence could be brought to bear to give him the position. I did not want to receive the money, but the applicant was urgent; at last I took it and used some of it in the best way I could for the man’s interest.” “But you did not get him appointed?” “No. I told him $100 was no good among the four or five avaricious aldermen it was necessary to get hold of to pass him.” “He wanted his money back, didn’t he?” “Yes, he kicked, and I paid him back the balance, some fifty-odd dollars, the difference having been spent in his interest.”…
  • THE REMEDY. The only way of getting an efficient police force is to adopt the metropolitan plan. This cannot be done until the legislature meets, but in the meantime some provision must be made for the effective working of the system under the present circumstances. The general feeling is that the best chief that can be obtained, if he will accept the position, is General David J. Cook. All classes of the community seem to have confidence in both his integrity and ability. The present systems can only be redeemed from uselessness by having a strong and able man at its head. There is a general feeling that as soon as the legislature meets a statute should be passed authorizing the system of metropolitan police. Denver has outgrown the principles of a village government. It has grown to be a large city with a vast amount of property to protect, and its police system should be as perfect as possible, instead of being carried on in the loose system that is at present in the force. The plan to adopt, would be to appoint two commissioners, the mayor being ex-officio a third. The three to have full authority over the police force, appoint the chief and other officers, and attend to all of the details of the department. A city of the size of Denver, according to the ratio of other cities, should have a chief, one caption, two sergeants, and about twenty-four patrolmen. Under proper management this number of men would cost less to the city than the present ineffective and defective system. The captain would be on duty at night, taking the chief’s place when he was off duty. The two sergeants, one by day and one by night, would see the men were on their beats and attending to their duty. When the change came, instead of one officer lounging around to his beat to relieve his brother officer, who is very unlikely to be there, the sergeant would take out twelve men, march them around the city, and whenever a man was to be relieved one would drop out of the ranks and the other drop in, and so he would return to the station with the same number of men that he took out, when, after handing in their reports, they would be at liberty to take their rest, the sergeants, during day and night, going to every beat to see that the men were attending to their duty. As long as the police force is under the control of the [city] council, it will be like its controlling power, corrupt. As it is in this city, the whole system is rotten to the core. A majority of the council are no better than thieves. When one makes a haul, the others have to wink at it or be exposed themselves. They are like a lot of school boys. One says if you tell on me I’ll tell on you, and so to preserve peace in the family and plenty in the pocket they are blind to each other’s offences. The only struggle they have is to see who can make the most. Such is a truthful but not flattering estimate of Denver’s city fathers. If a few of them are honest, they must accept the penalty of being in bad company.

On 20 October 1880, George McClellan issued a public statement officially documenting an additional bribery scandal:

  • OFFICER M’CLELLAN’S STATEMENT. The following, said Mr. McClellan, is a complete statement of the matter connected with Mr. [Andrew] Quirk and myself, wherein I am charged with receiving a bribe of $100 to aid him in getting a position on the police force: Mr. Quirk came to John Holland and myself and asked if we would help get him on the police. He was a special officer at the time. We said we would do what we could for him, and we went to what we thought were our friends in the council and asked them to look the man Quirk over and see if they could support him. Two or three weeks after we had worked in his interest all we could, Mr. Quirk came to John Holland and offered him $100 to be used towards getting on the force, who refused to accept it as he had done all he could without it. He then came to me and offered the money. I told him that I had done all I could, and that your hundred dollars will not help your case any better. There is only one man in the council that I can approach with money. He then said, “Well Mac, take it anyway and spend some of it anyway you see fit.” I did so, and spent $49 of it. When he failed to get the appointment on the force he demanded the one hundred dollars, and I tendered him the balance, $51, and told him to go to h-ll for the balance. He went to the mayor and told his story. The mayor called in John Holland and asked him in regard to it. The mayor told Holland to tell Mac to give back the money as it was a swindle. I did not give back the money that day but in a few days met Mayor Sopris on the street and in the presence of Alderman Fairchild told me to give back the money and it would all be settled. I took Mayor Sopris’ word for that, which I would not do again. Sopris sent for me a few days afterwards and told me that The News reporter was after him about the hundred dollar business, and told me that I had better resign before going east as I would loose my position anyway. I told him that I would resign nothing and told him that if he would suspend me on this charge, that I would show up the heads of the police department. That is the abusive language I have Mayor Sopris that he told the council at their secret session, and upon which I was dismissed without a statement from me whatever. This is the truth of the whole matter and which I am prepared to swear to. G. R. McClellan. The council will hold its regular semi-monthly meeting tomorrow evening, when some interesting revelations may be expected.


With public outcry over the corruption of the City Council, it appeared likely that the police officers would soon be re-instated. On 26 Oct 1880 “It is rumored that the police committee will advise the reinstatement of some of the police officers recently discharged. It is stated that McClellan will certainly be put back on the force. The offence for which he was discharged had nothing to do with the Moon affair.” The following day Assistant Police Chief John Holland, recently recovered from his head injuries, ordered a midnight raid on all of Jim Moon’s property. On 29 October 1880, “The mayor has made John Holland chief of police pro tem, or until the election of a successor to W. R. Hickey. Officer Dorsey is in charge of the force after midnight”. Things appeared to be back on track for both Officer George R. McClellan and the Denver Police Force.


But the erosion of public trust in Denver’s City Council and police, combined with Denver’s newspapers fanning the flames of racial violence against the Chinese would have deadly consequences on 31 October 1880.


Up Next: Denver’s Anti-Chinese Riot and Officer McClellan’s Prostitution Scandal and Resignation from the Denver Police Force

Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Previously: Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

Previously: Part Three: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke

Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke

1874-DenverMap - Closeup - Copy.jpg



George McClellan left his new bride Imogene and infant son George in Hanson, Mass. and arrived in Denver, Colorado by early December 1873. He probably traveled by railroad, including the Old Colony Railroad from Hanson, The New York, New Haven and Hartford Railroad to New York City, the  Baltimore and Ohio Railroad from New York City to St. Louis, and the Missouri Pacific Railroad from St. Louis to Kansas City and on to Denver.


The first identified record of George R. McClellan in Denver is from an announcement published in Daily Rocky Mountain News on 6 December 1873  stating that Frederick William Gromm formed a business partnership with George R. McClellan for the Denver Trunk Factory.


1873-12-06 Gromm McClellan Ad

Advertisement of the Denver Trunk Factory, announcing the new partnership of Frederick W. Gromm and George R. McClellan. Daily Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colo.) 6 Dec. 1873, p. 1.


1873-12-06 Denver Trunk Factory Ad

Earlier in 1873, German immigrant F. W. Gromm formed a trunk company with J.J. Miller. However, Gromm and Miller’s partnership ended in October 1873, perhaps due to financial or personal troubles. Gromm then advertised that he would continue the trunk manufacturing business alone at the “old stand” on Planter’s house block, 223 16th St. By December 1873, Gromm had found a new partner for the trunk business – the newly arrived George R. McClellan. Since George McClellan had previously worked as a mason, it seems unlikely he brought any particular trunk manufacturing expertise to the partnership. Instead, McClellan primarily brought a financial investment to the partnership, assuming an equal share in the risks and rewards of the business. It is possible that Barnabas Everson provided his son-in-law George R. McClellan with some of this capital. From December 1873 – March 1874 and August 1874-November 1874, Gromm and McClellan bought daily and weekly ads in newspaper Daily Rocky Mountain News to advertise their Denver Trunk factory.

1874-08-16 Denver Trunk Ad

Gromm & McClellan Denver Trunk Factory ad. Daily Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colo.) 16 Aug. 1874, p. 1.

The Denver Trunk Factory, Gromm & McClellan and George R. McClellan all had entries in the 1874 and 1875 Denver City Directories:

1874-DenverTrunkFactoryAd - Copy

Denver Trunk Factory in 1874 Denver City Directory, p. 101.

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Gromm & McClellan in 1874 Denver City Directory, p. 122.

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George R. McClellan in 1874 Denver City Directory, p. 156.


By the spring of 1874, McClellan had some confidence in the success of the Denver Trunk Factory, and he made several purchases of investment properties. However, throughout his time in Denver he lived in a rented apartment on the second floor of the Planters House at 223 Sixteenth Street above the Denver Trunk Factory.



1864 image of Planters House (white hotel mid-right) and intersection of Blake and Sixteenth Streets. In 1873, Gromm & McClellan’s Denver Trunk factory was based in the “old stand” at Planters House, and George R. McClellan rented a room in Planters House, whose address at the time was 223 Sixteenth Street at the corner of Blake Street. Photograph courtesy of the Denver Public Library.

1868 Planters House Map.jpg

1868 Map of Denver showing Planters House at the intersection of Blake and Sixteenth Streets. Map courtesy of the Denver Public Library. Planters House was listed in this map on Block 41, buildings 1 [two and a half stories] and 1a [two stories].

1874DenverMap-Blake and 16th St

1874 Denver Map. Intersection of Blake and Sixteenth Streets in center, including Planters House. Map courtesy of the Denver Public Library.


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1875 Denver City Directory, p. 132.

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1875 Denver City Directory, p. 290.

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1875 Denver Directory, p. 168.


But George McClellan’s success soon went up in smoke. Just before midnight on 23 February 1875, George McClellan had to flee his rented room as the Planters House caught fire. McClellan rushed below to his factory on the lower level to pull out of the building as many trunks and pieces of luggage and he could. Some pieces were saved, but the entire building quickly burned. The following morning the Daily Rocky Mountain News reported the fire:

A Big Blaze. A Fire Licks Up the Top Portion of the Old Planter’s House. A Great Hub-bub and a Lively Tumbling of Things – The Losers and Their Losses. The ancient Planter’s House, at the corner of Blake and Sixteenth streets, is a roofless shell this morning. It is one of the old landmarks, and, as contrasted with its stately neighbors, the Inter-Ocean and American, has simply encumbered the corner for years, instead of giving place to a structure in keeping with its surroundings, and the metropolitan character of the Denver of to-day. At 11 o’clock last night a fire burst out through the roof on the Blake street front. R. L. Hatten, of the American House, discovered the flames, and gave the alarm. By the time the first stream, which was remarkable only for its weakness, got to playing friskily against the window panes, the flames were whipping over the entire north end of the roof, and working rapidly down into the second story. The other hose companies came up promptly, and turned loose their streams, but the fire crowded steadily along the whole length of the building, until a portion of the roof tumbled in. The firemen, however, by well-directed efforts, succeeded in confining the flames to the top floor, and bringing them under control. In the meantime the wildest excitement prevailed. The two streets were crowded with spectators. Heads protruded from every window in the neighboring buildings. The blinding storm and rush of smoke and sparks made sight-seeing anything but a pleasure and well nigh an impossibility in the streets. The stores and shops and wash-houses under the burning building were emptied of their contents in short order. The show cases, medicine jars, and perfumeries in Dingle’s drug store, on the corner, were jerked out and dumped on the opposite sidewalk, but were afterwards removed into the office of the American House. The trunks, valises, and the like, big and little, in F. W. Gromm’s manufactury, on the Sixteenth street side, were rolled end over end to the Inter Ocean side, while the costly fabrics, sewing machines, etc., in Bell’s merchant tailoring shop were lugged to places of safety. A few cases and boxes of minerals and fossils were carried out of Hamilton’s museum. Wing Lee’s wash-house was gutted in a twinkling, and an up-town merchant, who had run six blocks, and was panting for breath, was heard, above the din and racket, to accost the frightened Celestial with – “Where the h-ll’s my wife’s washing?” The chairs, shaving cups, and like appurtenances of Julius Pearse’s barber shop were carried to the American House steps, as also were moveables in Weiner’s tobacco store. The losses may be approximately summed up as follows: Wm. Dingle, druggist, $3,500 – $1,200 insurance on fixtures, none on stock; H. Bell, merchant tailor, $200 – including the value of two silk dresses undergoing cleansing; Julius Pearse, barber, $1,500 – no insurance; A. Weiner, tobacco dealer, $2,000 – uninsured; Professor Hamilton, owner of museum, $500 – no insurance; F. W. Gromms, trunk manufacturer, $500 – insured for that amount; Ludwig Schrader, shoemaker, probably $25; Dr. Whitehead, furniture, instruments, fixtures, etc., $100. The building is owned by Major Bradford, and is leased to John W. Smith, renting for $166 per month. There is no insurance on the building, and the loss to its owner cannot be much. Two or three of the second story apartments were occupied, but most of the rooms were vacant. It is thought that the fire caught from a defective flue leading from one of the occupied rooms. [“A Big Blaze”, Daily Rocky Mountain News (Denver, Colo.) 24 Feb. 1875, p. 1.]

George McClellan himself was one of the “two or three” tenants renting an apartment on the second story of the Planters House, so in the course of one evening he lost both his residence and a good portion of his business. The destruction of Gromm and McClellan’s company was a devastating financial blow to the partners. Although they were able to salvage some of the materials, McClellan did not have enough spare capital to re-invest in the efforts to rebuild. Gromm recovered the $500 he had insured on the business, and was determined to begin again. But McClellan called it quits, and returned home to Hanson, Massachusetts empty-handed.

Gromm continued his business alone, and went on to grow the Denver Trunk company into a major producer, eventually becoming one of Denver’s leading businessmen. A biography  later reflected that Gromm “has been continously in business in Denver since 1873. He started in a small way, but has built up a business that makes him the leading trunk manufacturer of Denver.” [The City of Denver and the State of Colorado (1890) p. 124.] George R. McClellan’s role as Gromm’s partner from 1873-1875 was forgotten in local Denver histories.

While George was away in Denver from 1873-1875, his wife Imogene was raising their son George Cameron McClellan with the support of her parents, Barnabas and Deborah Everson. During this time Imogene joined the Marshfield Agricultural and Horticultural Society and during subsequent years submitted entries for various categories at their annual fair (known today as the Marshfield Fair). In February 1874, the infamous Sturtevant murders occurred, and Barnabas Everson’s sawmill was a landmark in the murder trial, since William Sturtevant had cut through Everson’s cedar swamp and mill along the old Native American footpath called “Tunk” to visit his uncles in Halifax, Mass. William Sturtevant murdered his uncles and their housekeeper and stole money from their house. On his return along Tunk behind Everson’s sawmill, Sturtevant dropped bloody coins along the same path on his way back to his home in South Hanson that were later used as evidence against him during his murder trial.

George McClellan returned to Hanson in the spring of 1875. He had left for Denver in the fall of 1873, and had been away from his family for almost two years. By July of 1875 Imogene was pregnant with their first daughter, who was born 3 April 1876 and named Lillian in honor of Imogene’s middle name.

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Birth record of Lillian McClellan, born Hanson 3 April 1876. George McClellan was listed as a resident of California, and his occupation was brick mason.

Curiously, on Lillian’s birth record it states that George R. McClellan was residing at the time of her birth in California. Nothing else is known about George’s time in California, but it appears that he therefore returned to Hanson for only a short time following the burning of Gromm & McClellan’s trunk factory in 1875 before he tried his luck in California.

George returned to Hanson before 20 February 1879 when he petitioned the U.S. Circuit Court for naturalization, stating that he was born at Pictou, Nova Scotia on 8 May 1848, and that he arrived at Portland, Maine on 8 September 1869. He declared that he was  a bricklayer residing in Hanson.

Tragedy struck the McClellan family one month later. On 25 March 1879, their 6 year old son George Cameron McClellan died of diphtheria, which he caught at the #4 schoolhouse in Hanson where several children were sick with the disease. His 19 year old teacher Bertha Alice Hood died 26 February 1879 of diphtheria. In 1881, the death of another #4 student and several sick schoolchildren caused a “diphtheria scare” in Hanson and parents kept their children out of school for an entire term [see my article on the history of teachers of Schoolhouse #4, now the Hanson Historical Society headquarters].

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Death record of George Cameron McClellan, aged 6

George Jr.’s death devastated his parents and caused additional tension in their marriage. Shortly after burying his son and namesake at Fern Hill Cemetery in Hanson, George R. McClellan determined to return to Denver in an attempt to make his fortunes yet again, leaving his grieving wife Imogene and their 3 year old daughter Lillian behind.


Would George McClellan be successful his second time in Denver?


Up Next: George McClellan Fights Against and Participates in Denver’s Corrupt Political Scene

Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Previously: Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

1903 (possibly) McClellan Genealogy by Imogene McClellan-002.jpg

Imogene (Everson) McClellan was an avid genealogist. About 1903, several years after her husband George Roderic McClellan disappeared, Imogene began compiling her own genealogy. While doing so, she wrote on a small slip of paper all that she could remember about George McClellan’s immediate family, and gave it to her daughter Lillian McClellan. Lillian’s grandniece Maria McClellan discovered it years later, when she inherited Lillian’s papers. It was the first clue to discovering the origins of George Roderic McClellan.

It reads: McClellan Family

Dougal McClellan, son of Dougal McClellan and Mary Scott, born in Edinburg, Scotland married Christina Cameron, b. I[n]verness, Scotland Oct. 12 1817.Married 1834. Came to Nova Scotia soon after their marriage. Their children: Ellen Cameron McClellan, Mary Catherine McClellan, Annie McClellan (Sherman) born March 23 1840, John Duncan McClellan, William Murdock McClellan, George Roderic McClellan, James McClellan, Alexander Cameron McClellan.


1903 (possibly) McClellan Genealogy by Imogene McClellan-001.jpg

McClellan Family Genealogy, written by Imogene (Everson) McClellan for her daughter Lillian McClellan, circa 1903. Image courtesy of the author.


George Roderic McClellan was born 8 May 1848 in Pictou County, Nova Scotia, the youngest of eight children born to Dougal McClellan and his wife Christina Anne Cameron, who was also called Christiana Cameron. Dougal died when George was young and the widowed Christina, unable to support all of her children, had to place them in local homes, working as domestic servants or learning trades. While the specifics of George’s childhood are still elusive, he was likely placed in a home where he apprenticed as a mason. By the age of 12 his mother had left Nova Scotia entirely and was working as a domestic servant in the household of Dr. Charles W. Fabyan of Providence, Rhode Island, a wealthy Methodist physician originally from Maine. George’s eldest sister Mary Catherine followed their mother, where she soon found work as a governess in Providence. George’s second eldest sister, Christina Anne “Annie” McClellan, found work in Portland, Maine, where she met merchant John Doane Wells Sherman. They identified themselves as husband and wife in the 1860 Census in Portland, but their wedding was performed 14 January 1863 in Providence, Rhode Island. When George turned 21 he decided to move from Nova Scotia to seek work in New England, arriving in Portland, Maine in September 1869 and then making his way to Boston, Massachusetts. He may have gone to meet up with his sister Annie (McClellan) Sherman, whose husband John worked in Boston. John D. W. and Annie Sherman boarded at Adams House when they stayed in Boston. Together John and brother Thomas B. Sherman operated the trading company Sherman Bros. & Co. at 234 State Street from at least 1867-1870. As of the 1870 census, ‘Geo R. McClellan’ was working as a mason and boarding in Boston, Massachusetts with grocer Martin Godrin (29, b. Ireland).

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George Roderic McClellan in the 1870 U.S. Federal Census,  a 25 [sic, 22] year old bricklayer residing as a boarder in Boston, Massachusetts on 14 July 1870

In the spring of 1872 Barnabas Everson hired George McClellan to help with construction at his South Hanson saw-mill, including a tall brick chimney stack to help reduce the threat of fire from the wood-scrap-drive fires which help fueled the saws. George likely took the Old Colony train from South Station in Boston to the South Hanson train station, located right next to Everson’s mill on Main Street. The train station is still in use today. By 1888 Barnabas Everson had become the fifth-richest man in Hanson, MA, through income derived from his sawmill and from his agricultural produce on his 300+ acres of farmland.  [See my article about Barnabas Everson’s safe, which is held by the Hanson Historical Society]. Everson invited the 24 year old George McClellan home for dinner, where he met Barnabas’s 20 year old daughter Imogene.




Possibly tintype of George R. McClellan? Tintypes common ca 1860s-70s.

Undated tintype of George Roderic McClellan. Probably late 1860s or early 1870s. Courtesy of the author.

Imogene Everson say 1870s?

Undated image of Imogene Lillian Everson.  Photographer A[mos] H. Locke, 16 Main St., Plymouth, Mass. Possibly near the time of her marriage, Locke was a photographer in Plymouth in 1872. Courtesy of the author.

They courted and were quickly married in Barnabas Everson’s home on Indian Head Street in Hanson, 3 June 1872, by East Bridgewater Methodist minister Rev. William Freeman Farrington. The choice of a Methodist minister probably reflected George McClellan’s faith with his Scottish-Canadian roots rather than the Everson family’s religion. Barnabas Everson joined several faith groups throughout his life, as did his children Richard and Imogene Everson. As a child, Imogene was briefly raised in the South Hanson Baptist Church. By the mid-1850s, however, the Eversons became captivated by the Spiritualist movement and remained Spiritualists until the 1890s. In the 1890s Imogene began taking Christian Science courses from Mary Baker Eddy. She remained a member of Church of Christ Scientist until her death.


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Marriage record of George R. McClellan and Imogene L. Everson in Hanson, Mass. on 3 June 1872

Imogene became pregnant immediately following her marriage. Their first child, George Cameron McClellan, was born 5 March 1873 – 9 months and 2 days following their wedding day. His first name honored his father and his middle name was in honor of George’s mother’s surname Cameron.

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Birth record of George Cameron McClellan, the first child of George Roderic McClellan and Imogene Lillian Everson, born in Hanson, Mass. 5 March 1873

Having no property and little cash to his name, George and his new wife Imogene McClellan moved into a rent-free house on the east side of Indian Head Street near Maquan Pond in South Hanson owned by Imogene’s mother, Deborah (Bates) Howland Everson. Deborah had lived there with her first husband, Warren Howland, until he died of consumption in 1846, followed shortly thereafter by the death of their infant son and only child Warren Howland Jr. After the 1848 marriage of the widowed Deborah (Bates) Howland to Barnabas Everson they rented out the Howland house for extra income, and Barnabas and Deborah  Everson moved into a newly built house across the road on the west side of Indian Head Street, where they raised their family, including daughter Imogene. In 1873 new father George McClellan was seemingly well situated to step into the family businesses which his father-in-law Barnabas had founded.

Barnabas Everson, like George McClellan, had trained as a mason and trained as a shoemaker, which he worked at when construction opportunities were unavailable or off-season. Barnabas was a talented businessman and soon began acquiring tracts of farmland, woodlots, and cedar swampland in South Hanson, turning his talents to market gardening and selling his agricultural products to larger towns on the South Shore and Boston. He built a sawmill by the South Hanson train station, using lumber from his woodlots and swampland in the cedar swamp in South Hanson, which manufactured box boards and shingles. Everson later sold the sawmill to John Foster and continued to farm until his death.

Everson’s eldest son, Richard A. Everson, two years older than his sister Imogene, followed in his father’s footsteps but also went his own way in business. In his teens, Richard apprenticed and worked as a shoemaker for several years before going to work in Barnabas’s sawmill. Richard then took an interest in cranberry farming and began acquiring a large number of cranberry bogs in Hanson. He invented the “Cape Cod Champion Cranberry Picker” and eventually became the director of the New England Cranberry Sales Company. Richard’s “varied interests are indicative of his enterprise and versatile mind, and the success he has made in his different undertakings shows his executive force,” according to a biography.

Perhaps the career of Richard A. Everson can provide some insight into his brother-in-law George R. McClellan’s next steps. Family stories, you may recall, suggested that George McClellan may have moved to Denver after leaving his family in Hanson, Mass. behind in the 1890s. But it turns out that George went to Denver much earlier than that, and not only once, but two times during his marriage to Imogene.

Hoping to strike it rich in the pioneer town, George McClellan first left for Denver in late 1873, leaving behind his wife Imogene and their infant son George. Gold and silver were mined in Colorado and then filtered through the city of Denver, where business and real estate opportunities abounded in the rough-and-tumble city. After a childhood spent apart from his family, and his adolescence and young adulthood spent moving from place to place in search of employment, he had finally formed roots in Hanson, Massachusetts with his new family. But after one year he was itching to move again, and this time -West.

But what led to such a huge move? A handsome and cocky young man, George likely bumped heads with his father-in-law Barnabas Everson. Although the two men seemingly had much in common, it appears that George McClellan was unwilling to step into his father-in-law’s business and wanted to come into wealth on his own. Barnabas Everson may have been a hard man to work under, since even his own son Richard A. Everson only spent a few years working in Barnabas’ saw mill before starting his own cranberry company in Hanson and building his own success in tandem with his father. However, if Barnabas and his son Richard had disagreements, they nevertheless worked closely together, both on a personal level and physically within the same town. For some reason, however, George McClellan wanted to put 2,000 miles between them. Barnabas himself had an appreciation for risk-taking, having successfully grown his own businesses from small start-ups into large, successful operations. Perhaps George heard about business opportunities from his brother-in-law John D. W. Sherman, whose trading company was also booming in the 1870s. And perhaps at first George even received seed money from Barnabas Everson to support his endeavors in Denver.

But would George McClellan strike it rich in Denver?


Up Next: Part Three: George McClellan’s First Adventures in Denver, Colorado

Previously: Part One: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

Mystery Monday: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan


Part One: Family Traditions: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan

My grandmother’s house, the childhood home of my father, has been in the family for several generations. It holds countless memories and stories, and the story of its origin looms large in family lore. My grandmother is a McClellan from Hanson, Mass., but the introduction of the family surname to Hanson was surrounded in a century-old scandal. Built in 1903 for my great-grandmother Imogene Lillian (Everson) McClellan, the house was intended to be a fresh start for Imogene and her three children. Her husband, Nova Scotian-born (with Scottish roots) George Roderic McClellan, had abandoned the family several years previously, and by 1903 Imogene determined to file for divorce in absentia. She sold their house on Main Street in Hanson and built a new one on Phillips Street.


The story goes that one day during the 1890s, George said he was taking the train to Boston to purchase a rug for their house, and he never returned. Imogene hired a private investigator who reported a lead that George may have gone to Denver, but the trail ran cold and no further details could be determined. George was an itinerant bricklayer who had been hired by Imogene’s father, Barnabas Everson, one of the wealthiest men in Hanson, to help build a tall brick chimney for Everson’s sawmill. There he met Barnabas’ daughter Imogene, and they married in 1872. They had four children: George Cameron, born the following year who died young, Lillian, born 1876 who never married, Roderic Cameron b. 1882 and Sherman Barnabas b. 1886 who married the Ramsdell sisters Edith and Bessie, respectively. But sometime after Sherman’s birth, the McClellan marriage crumbled, and when Imogene built her new house in 1903, it was on land inherited from her recently deceased father Barnabas Everson, and thus stood in the shadow of the brick chimney that George McClellan had built years ago.


The Barnabas Everson sawmill chimney stack, built by Barnabas Everson and George R. McClellan ca. 1871-1872, Main Street, South Hanson. Photograph courtesy Mary Blauss Edwards, taken 2010.



My grandfather sitting on the roof of the family house, with the Everson chimney in the background. Photograph courtesy Don Blauss.

And that was that, so far as the memories of George McClellan lingered in family stories.  A bit of Scottish pride from the surname itself, but mysteries surrounding the man who introduced it to the family. Many stories are preserved about Imogene, a tiny woman with a big legacy, but George always remained a question mark in the eyes of her grandchildren.


Over the past decade I have been trying to unravel the story of George McClellan, his origins, his time in Hanson, and his disappearance. The digitization of records from Canada to New England to Denver have been vital in this research process, and over the years I have pieced together incredible details about his life. It’s a tale filled with broken dreams of striking-it-rich turned to literal smoke, small and large family drama, and public scandals of political corruption involving bribery, gambling and prostitution leading to a tragic and deadly race riot. There were many twists in the process of uncovering the complicated life of George Roderic McClellan and his family left behind in Hanson – as well as discovering that following his disappearance, he went on to have a second family, entirely unknown to his first.


But let’s start at the beginning, shall we?


Up Next: Before arriving in Hanson, Mass. in 1872, where did George McClellan come from? Part Two: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: His Roots

Part Three: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: Success In Denver Turns To Smoke

Part Four: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan:Becoming Officer McClellan, the Farcical Moon Affair, and a Bribery Scandal in Denver

Part Five: The Disappearance of George McClellan: Anti-Chinese Riot and Officer McClellan’s Prostitution Scandal and Resignation from the Denver Police

Part Six: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: George and Imogene’s Life in Hanson

Part Seven: The Disappearance of George Roderic McClellan: Life and Death in Boston

New England’s Dark Day, as later told by Jane Austin

Richard Miller Devens, Our First Century (Springfield, Mass: C.A. Nichols & Co.) p. 88.

Richard Miller Devens, Our First Century (Springfield, Mass: C.A. Nichols & Co.) p. 88.

235 days ago today, on 19 May 1780, New England experienced a mysterious “Dark Day”. The sky was reported as dark or yellow, and the sun was reported as red or completely obscured. Ash filled rain fell from the sky in some areas, and some reported the smell of smoke in the air. For many it was taken as a possible sign of the coming apocalypse. Today it is believed that massive forest fires in and near present-day Algonquin Provincial Park in Ontario were the cause of New England’s Dark Day. Tales from that day were passed down for generations.

Over one hundred years later, Plymouth writer Jane Goodwin Austin [not THE Jane Austen] included a chapter about New England’s Dark Day in her 1890 novel Dr. LeBaron and His Daughters: A Story of the Old Colony. Austin’s book is both a delight and a challenge to interpret today, as a modern Plymouth historian. Austin was fascinated by local history and genealogy, and enjoyed reading old records and letters, parts of which often make their way into her work. But she also loved gathering supernatural tales from Plymouth’s “old folks” – which often had a least a kernel of truth to them. Austin then often re-interpreted or further exaggerated these tales as well, so attempting to get to the original “truth” of these superstitious tales, if ever there was truth to the matter, can be tricky.

The chapters of Dr. LeBaron and His Daughters are woven throughout with the fictional tale of Plymouth witch “Mother Crewe” (although she was probably a much-exaggerated composite of several women of Plymouth who were called witches in the 18th century – a blog post for another day!). Austin’s “Dark Day” chapter culminates in Mother Crewe’s death, in which her reputation was in part restored by rescuing a lost boy (a fictional Butler child), before she died in the Plympton graveyard, atop the grave of her (fictional) daughter Bathsheba.

Beyond the fictional tale of Mother Crewe, Austin’s chapter “The Dark Day” is a good example of her walking the line between truth and fiction or exaggeration. Much of her physical description of the day surely had some basis in tales passed down.

“The strange yellow light and sultry murk of the air, so oppressive in its earlier hours, steadily increased as the day drew toward night… Darkness had now fully fallen, a darkness so intense that it seemed ponderous and palpable rather than the mere absence of light… The Day of Judgment has come! was the cry of those who believed, and non-believers no longer scoffed at such possibilities, but gazed upon each other with bewildered and anguished doubt”.

Austin portrays a humorous anecdote in which Plymouth’s minister Chandler Robbins chides Deacon Foster on the Dark Day – which while perhaps had some original basis in truth, is made impossible by the fact that Deacon Thomas Foster had died of smallpox several years prior to the Dark Day. At Deacon Thomas Foster’s death, however, he was in the midst of a scandal, in which the majority of the parishioners were determined to sever his appointment as deacon due to his Loyalist beliefs during the Revolutionary War.

Parson Robbins, whose wide reading and correspondence told him that such phenomena had occurred before, and were attributed to natural causes, whether those might be astral, or volcanic, or atmospheric, or merely the effect of vast forest fires, went busily from house to house, imparting this information to his people… finally… he desisted, and when [Deacon Foster] interrupted him with, “No use kicking against the pricks, Parson, nor in denyin’ the power of an angry God to destroy a wicked world,” [Robbins] suddenly changed his based, and exclaimed, “You are right, Brother Foster, and since the Day of Doom is at hand, it behooves us sinners to hasten our repentance, and bring forth works meet for acceptance. Have you ever paid Widow Doten for that cow?”

“It died on my hands, Parson!” expostulated the deacon in a whine of mingled wrath and terror.

“You had owned it a week, and if you are about to be called into judgment-”

“I’ll pay her, Parson, I’ll pay her! Here, I’ll get out the money now. There, there’s twenty good silver dollars, and if you’ll come along with me I’ll give it to her this minute. It won’t make any difference to either of us by this time tomorrow.”

“Yes, it will make a great difference to your soul, brother”

“Oh yes, yes. Well, come along, and ye – don’t it look a little mite clearer than it did?”

“It is a little lighter for you,” replied the parson, significantly; and the Widow Doten received her money…[once] the peril was over… the widow bestowed her dollars in the old teapot on the top shelf of the china-closet, and the deacon mediated how he should regain possession of them either as a loan, an investment, or by the sale of some unseasoned swamp-wood, which might, by a little “deaconing”, be made to pass for sound oak.

Apparently Plymoutheans could hold grudges for more than a century!

Wishful Wednesday: Seeking the Bible of Rev. Thomas Smith of Pembroke MA

Putting this request out:

I am hoping to locate the Rev. Thomas Smith Bible. The bible of Rev. Thomas Smith (1706-1788) of Pembroke, Massachusetts was mentioned in A Memorial of Rev. Thomas Smith (Second Minister of Pembroke, Mass.) And His Descendants , Compiled by Susan Augusta Smith (Plymouth, MA: Avery & Doten, 1895).

There are many references in the Smith Memorial to this bible, such as:

In the bible of his son, Rev. Thomas Smith, occurs this quaint record, in his own handwriting, now dim with age and almost illegible: “My father died March 4th, 1746, it being on Saturday about Sun Setting in the 80th year of his age, and was buried on Monday – Our Fathers, where are they?”

The bible also records the birth dates and times of his children, which are all included in the book.

However, I am interested in the reference to the two slaves of Rev. Thomas Smith: Joan and her daughter Margaret alias “Peg”. Susan Augusta Smith notes that the deaths of Peg and Joan “are recorded in the family Bible”, however she does not include a transcription of these records.

It seems that as of 1895, the bible was in the possession of Susan Augusta Smith (daughter of Nathaniel Smith, granddaughter of Nathaniel Smith, great-great granddaughter of Rev. Thomas Smith). Susan was born 19 Oct 1843 and had only one brother, Moses Bass Smith, who had died in 1861. In the 1900 Census, Susan Smith’s occupation is listed as “genealogist”. But since she never married nor had children, it is unclear to whom the bible passed down to, or where it is located today.

NEHGS has a bible titled “Bible record for the Rev. Thomas Smith family, 1706-1855. [manuscript]”  however, this is not the same bible referred to in the Smith Memorial. The family records in this bible are all in one hand and detail Rev. Smith’s family with a focus on the families of his son Joseph Smith,  grandson Joshua Smith and wife Saba Drew and great grandson Joseph Smith and wife Helen Estes. The bible therefore may have been written by Joseph Smith or Helen Estes Smith in the 1850s or later (NEHGS’s copy is missing the title page of the bible and therefore does not include a publication date). According to NEHGS’s notes, this bible was found at Clay Eldridge’s Antique shop on Plympton Green, Mass. and was donated by NEHGS member Mrs. Don. Whiston of Upland Meadows, Kingston, Mass on 12 May 1958.

If anyone has details about the whereabouts of Rev. Thomas Smith’s bible today, please let me know!

Surname Saturday: John Everson of Plymouth, Massachusetts

Everson Title Image

As NEHGS celebrates its 170th anniversary, this week the New England Historical and Genealogical Register launched a beautiful new format and style. This Register features my article “Descendants of John Everson of Plymouth, Massachusetts” which identifies and untangles the early Everson family of Plymouth Colony. In the 17th century, John Everson was an unwelcome transient in both Massachusetts Bay Colony and Plymouth Colony, and he ultimately gave up custody of his three young children, who were each taken in and raised by separate Plymouth families. Very little has been published on the family up until now, and the few publications that have included references to them have often confused the early generations – a significantly repeated error being the division of Richard2 Everson into two men, one who married Elizabeth (_) and another who married Penelope Bumpas. However, my research shows that they were in fact the same man.

The article is part of my larger Everson project, a book which documents John Everson’s descendants through to the sixth generation (as yet unpublished). While many Eversons remained in Plymouth County, some lines were a part of the westward migration through New York and beyond, and others to Northern New England and into Canada.

Below is a copy of the article, which can be cited as: Mary Blauss Edwards, “Descendants of John Everson of Plymouth, Massachusetts,” New England Historical and Genealogical Register 169 [2015]:35-50.