Sunday, May 11, 2014

52 Ancestors - #19 Roscoe Arthur Mitchell – What Can Be Found in Letters and Pieced Together From Records

Roscoe Arthur Mitchell is my paternal grandfather, but I never met him and didn’t even know he was existed until I was 14. My older brother mentioned to my dad Lionell that he had tried to write Roscoe to tell him he had a great grandson but never received a response. My mother’s father had died when she was four and since Roscoe had never been mentioned – I didn’t even know his name – I just assumed that he was dead also.

I later asked my dad about his father and this was when my dad showed me a copy of the family group record that his Mitchell aunts had given him for Roscoe and his siblings. My younger sister shares Roscoe’s birthday but my dad never mentioned that so needless to say I was surprised to find it out.

Roscoe was born on September 2, 1896 in Licking, Texas County, Missouri to Hubbard Philander Mitchell and Effie Luella Harry. His younger sister Veron told me that they both had been born when they were living in a four room house on the hill west of the family home where his grandfather Philander Davis Mitchell was living. When Roscoe was 6 his grandfather died and they moved back into the big house with his grandmother Mary Loucinda Halbert Mitchell. In the 1910 census at almost 14 he is shown as a farm laborer working the family farm. 

Frank Wilson and Roscoe Mitchell
(my dad and brothers look like him)

Roscoe Arthur Mitchell
Age 21

On June 5, 1918 he registered for the draft for World War I. At that time he was in Augusta, Kansas working for the Empire Gas & Fuel Company. On June 19th he sent Ruby Burris (my future grandmother) a postcard in Raymondville, Missouri. Roscoe had written, "How are you! I'm just fine. I'm coming home Monday if I don't get lost. R."   The other side said, "Picture of oil rig in operation - Augusta, KS."

On July 7, 1918, Roscoe’s service in the Navy began. On September 2, 1918 he sent Ruby another postcard which said, "Sept 2 Just arrived in Seattle this eve. Will write you again when I get to camp. Roscoe" Before I started researching Roscoe again today, I thought that perhaps he had given logging a try and was heading to logging camp but instead I discovered that he was in the Navy. He arrived in Seattle on his 22nd birthday. Seattle was the location of the 13th Naval District and the Puget Sound Naval Shipyards and its population had increased by 400,000 because of military facilities and shipbuilding.
Taken by Mac Bain Studio in Seattle

The influenza pandemic of 1918 arrived with a second wave in Boston on August 31, 1918, and made its way to Puget Sound the following month. My grandfather was in the age group which was most at risk. According to article #2090 on, “Because the disease appeared in Seattle six weeks after it was first seen in Eastern cities, local officials had a chance to plan. The Seattle Department of Health and Sanitation and doctors at the Puget Sound Naval Shipyard developed a vaccine and ordered that all shipyard workers be vaccinated. Of the 10,000 persons vaccinated, none developed influenza. Seattle suffered a death rate from the disease approximately half that of San Francisco and a third that of Philadelphia and Baltimore.” I consider myself lucky that he was sent to Seattle. He was discharged from the service on March 1, 1919 – the first month that Seattle had no reported deaths from the flu.

 1919 Ruby and Roscoe
At age 22 Roscoe married my grandmother on May 19, 1919 in Springfield, Greene County, Missouri.  This information is from his sisters because I have never been able to find the marriage records. On June 27th he sent his new mother-in-law a postcard from Dallas, Texas which said, "First arrived in Dallas this evening, will leave for fields in morning. Roscoe" 

 Ruby Burris and Roscoe Mitchell
May 19, 1919

My father was born on January 11, 1920 in Raymondville, Texas County, Missouri. Roscoe was 23 years old. Ruby was staying with her parents when the census was done on January 7, 1920 but I have not been able to find Roscoe on a 1920 census. On May 22nd of that year he was in Fort Worth, Texas and wrote Ruby that "Sunday morning just arrived in Weatherford - will go on down to Mineral Well this morn. Hope you and Lionell is well. Roscoe" On August 14th he sends Ruby a postcard from Necessity, Texas "Dear Ruby, Hope all are well; I am fine will write letter soon. Roscoe"

Ruby is now in Chicago and Roscoe is in Raymondville. "Chicago, Ill Oct 28 -'20   Dear Roscoe: I rec'd your card today and was so glad to get it. I was so worried about Lionell. I will be so glad when I can go home. Ruby" The other side of postcard has boy following man and the caption "Following in Father's Footsteps." In November, Roscoe is back in Fort Worth, Texas and Ruby is still in Chicago, "Dear Ruby Hope you are almost well by this time. I am feeling fine only a little lonesome. Hope I will hear from you soon. Guess Grandma is tickled over election. Roscoe"

Roscoe was living in Los Angeles on May 9, 1923 when he applied for a passport. He is an oil worker and planning to travel to Peru, Chile, and Argentina from the Port of San Pedro in Los Angeles in June. He is described as 5' 10" with blue eyes, a high forehead, a medium straight nose, straight mouth, oval chin, light brown hair, medium fair complexion, and as having an oval face. 
 Passport Photo

His eldest brother Lawrence is also an oil worker who swears to Roscoe birth date and place. I have never been able to find any birth records for Roscoe either. I am not sure when my grandparents were divorced but they always stayed in touch for the rest of their lives. I do know that my grandmother remarried on October 4, 1923.

I am also unable to find Roscoe in the 1930 census but he could have been anywhere since he moved from oil field to oil field in order to find work. My father told me that sometime in the 1930’s Roscoe invented a system of drilling oil wells by putting the casing down at the same time as they drilled. He sold it to the Gilcrease Oil Company which was owned by Thomas Gilcrease.

I know from the 1940 census that in 1935 he was living in Rio Grande City, Starr County, Texas. He was married to Rita Marie Munoz, and they had a daughter Rita Luella (after his mother Effie Luella) on March 9, 1935. The last time my father saw Roscoe was on March 15, 1936 at Effie’s funeral. 

(Pictures from Gwen Mitchell Wiggins) 
"A sad day of Mama's funeral 
Norman, Gwendolyn, Veron, Papa
Lionell, Roscoe and my daughter Bonnie 17 mos"

 "The day of Mama's funeral
Norman, Papa, Roscoe, Lionell
C.D. Keller (neighbor boy)
In front -Gwendolyn, Veron"

Dad said that Roscoe’s wife Rita became very ill and Roscoe spent all the money he had made on doctors and treatments for her. On May 17, 1940, they are living in a rented house in Sandoval, Marion County, Illinois and Roscoe is working as a WPA contractor (Works Progress Administration.) On July 1, 1941 he granted a patent for a combination cable tool and wire line rotary core barrel and assigns half of it to a George B. Bancroft of San Antonio, Texas. He had filed for the patent on July 25, 1939 when he was living in Laredo, Texas. This invention aims to provide novel means for taking a core-sample from the bottom of a well which is being drilled, the construction being such that a core may be obtained either in hard or in soft material, there being no practical chance that the core will be lost, and drilling costs being reduced to a minimum. 

In 1942 he registers for the World War II “Old Man’s” Draft at the age of 46 and is living in Evansville, Vanderburgh County, Indiana still working as a contractor. In 1946 he is still in Evansville when he files for a patent on March 11, 1946 for a bottle cap or jar cover remover. Roscoe is granted the patent on March 15, 1949. This invention relates to domestic hand tools designed for general utility in removing can, jar or bottle caps, or cutting can tops from cans. An important object of the invention is to provide a tool of this type having an adjustable cap remover, whereby the tool may be used in removing crown caps of various sizes.

On May 14, 1946 Roscoe filed for a patent on a "rat hole digger" which was granted on September 19, 1950. "The structure of my invention is especially adapted for use in digging the auxiliary or rat holes commonly provided in conjunction with oil well drillings in order that the well equipment may be inserted in the rat hole during installation or while the equipment is undergoing repairs. The digger of my invention is self-contained and does not require connection with the oil well equipment although it will be understood that the well equipment will be lowered and raised from the rat hole by the conventional well derrick."

At this point Roscoe disappears from the records until September 24, 1963, Roscoe is granted another patent - this one is for drill bit dressing and conditioning apparatus.

I do have a letter that he sent my grandmother on May 5, 1965 from Dover, Tennessee. He regularly wrote or called Ruby over the years. In his letter he says that he was there on a project. (My father said that Roscoe had a fishing resort or business in Tennessee at some point.) Roscoe is 68 years old but says that he had never been in the hospital for any sickness and was stronger now than when he was 30. He also said that he had several inventions for oil well machines and equipment. "I have found that there was more money to be made in just a gadget or a good toy if it is good than you can make on a $100 machine. I have two ready now if I can get time to go to Washington D.C. I have patent attorneys there and I always go there and have their drafting engineers redraft and prepare for patent office and stay with them til have everything thorough and right. I have one that is a very elaborate machine - an indoor Race Track all electric automatic controlled - coin box or lay your money on the line. I am also simplifying same into a plastic toy minus the electric features. I also have a toy carnival, all of the carnival sessions are operated from one single power with features that carnivals don't have and will be a plastic job." My dad told me that Roscoe had sold a number of toy designs to Mattel.

Roscoe goes on to say, "For myself I have been up in the chips and down since the oil business shut down five years ago. I haven't made a single dollar but the way times change yes a person has to change his self business and everything else." His wife Rita has had three heart attacks since last fall that had taken a lot of money to do nothing for her. He also mentions that he had heard that Lionell had been having a rough time (my parents are just gotten divorced.)

 November 1965 - Fay, Roscoe, Wife Rita at Roscoe's

On January 25, 1966 Roscoe applies for a patent on a sound emitting fishing lure which is granted on June 17, 1969.

July 24, 1978 - Norman, Gwen, Veron, Spencer

I started corresponding with Roscoe’s sisters in 1978 and it was from them that I discovered that my father had a half-sister Rita. When I remarked that at least Rita grew up with a father they said that Roscoe really didn’t seem to be that interested in children. On April 15, 1982, my Grand Aunt Veron called me with the news that Roscoe had died at age 85 and asked me to call my father and tell him. When I called Dad and told him, there was dead silence at first on the other end of the line. It had been 46 years and one month since he had last seen his father. I don't believe that he had heard from Roscoe either. My father was gone seven weeks later on June 7th at age 62 from lung cancer which he had suspected that he had for months but had said nothing about until two weeks before his death.

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