Charles W. Fancher (left) and his family take a break from their restaurant and adjoining gas station garage in Mars Hill, Indianapolis.
Daughter Sadie Goldie Fancher (second from left) was 11 in this 1923 photo.
"The first one was a millionaire", my grandmother Goldie Fancher said proudly. "He was French. He was murdered along the riverbank." She didn't know a lot about her Fancher ancestors, and this was the only story passed down to her. "Who told you this? Was he your great-grandfather? Are you a direct descendant?" She was as sharp as a tack at age 90. She just didn't know. This information crossed her path long ago, or she would have recalled the source. She didn't realize her grandpa, John J. Fancher, was a Civil War Veteran until she was old. This didn't seem to impress her much, but she smiled just the same. The War wasn't historic or long ago in her eyes. A lot of locals were in the Rebellion; soldier's homes to care for them weren't uncommon, and pensions were the only income a lot of widows had.
She did know her mother's dad, Joseph Lewis Catt, was a Civil War veteran, but he lived to know her. He also wore his Union medal every day after he came home from the war as a constant reminder. Dora Alma Catt Fancher gave birth to Goldie and Charles late in life, forming an age gap between her older children and the two. "I only knew my mother as an old woman", she said. "When I was a little girl, I mentioned to her other children had young mothers, and I still feel bad about that." Dora's great-grandchildren called her old kind of grandma when they were toddlers. When her hair thinned in old age, she attached artificial braids. "My mother moved to Indianapolis when Washington Street was still a dirt road." All of Dora's children were born at home with small birth weights. Goldie weighed close to two pounds, and "my brother was smaller than I was." A neighbor placed a tea cup on her tiny head. Her sisters dressed her in doll clothes.
John J. Fancher died in 1896 at 62 years of age. His widow, Mary Anne Holderman Fancher, had him buried him in Crown Hill Cemetery in Indianapolis. She chose to let him rest with his loved ones instead of in the soldier's section and purchased nine plots during the 1890's. They cost eleven dollars apiece. Three remained empty for over a hundred years. Goldie's nephew Bob Long discovered this oversight and requested he be buried there, where he now lies with a stone that says teacher, scholar, and friend. Goldie went into the cemetery's office with her birth certificate in hand and laid claim to the remaining two plots during her old age. It was said that it is quite an honor to be buried in the old section at Crown Hill in this day and age. There aren't many flowers in the old section, with so many generations having gone by. "I'm going to be buried with my sister Helen, in Washington Park", Goldie declared, as if her sister's being there sealed her decision.
While visiting us for the weekend, a salesman came to the door selling burial plots. Grandma asked him in and he stayed for dinner. He didn't seem to mind when she asked how much money he made and he boasted accordingly, perhaps hoping an older granddaughter might emerge. Snuggling into a softer chair for another after dinner smoke, it became apparent he just wasn't going to leave without her buying one. Noticing her dilemma, her son-in-law suggested she buy a transistor radio and spend a night in the strongly suggested crypt to see if she was going to like it or not. Reminding her about the radio never ceased to make her laugh, even after it was a decades-old joke.Goldie and her sister Helen made quite a pair, choosing to live next to each other in their later days. Aunt Helen's outdated car with the wings on the back was a welcome sight when they pulled up to the house, partly because we were relieved that they had made it there alive. Dad always backed her car out when they left because Aunt Helen didn't drive backwards. She wore a toothy smile, a white wig, and loads of costume jewelry, bringing toys and candy from the Kresge's drugstore downtown where she worked. While out one time she asked a young man to back her car up, stating she couldn't drive backwards. He said he was a police officer and pondered on it a moment, deciding he'd be happy to oblige. Visiting family on weekends was an unwritten rule in those days. Aunts, uncles, and cousins came in and out and we made our weekly rounds as well. Goldie packed her little bag almost every Friday night, sometimes to go to the cabin at Lake Hart her family passed down to us. We children got loud swimming in the lake and we stayed up late, but the oldsters in the other cabins treated us nice anyway. The lake was drained and the cabin was sold, but it has since been allowed to fill back up. We drove Goldie there shortly before she died to see the old place. The cabin was gone but we weren't disappointed. It felt good to be back in the seventies, if only in our minds.
I mentioned to Grandma that I was reading old slave stories. "My cousin told me stories when she visited; some about slaves. Her family had slaves. She was a lot older than I was. I just loved her stories." Taken by surprise, she was bombarded with questions. "Which cousin? Where did she live? What was her name?" She looked at me longer than a moment and said "I forget." I groaned. "They lived down south, just down south." So out of all of the questions, she chose to tell where her cousin lived. The answer was vague and obvious, but it was an answer. Grandma couldn't remember or she was protecting their privacy. I don't think gossip bothers the dead, but maybe she just didn't see it that way. A glance in the past offers some understanding. She was raised during segregation and in those days, young ladies were discouraged from discussing such subjects. Goldie was named after a "colored" woman called Sadie. She carried this woman's name without knowing it for a long time. It was Sadie's secret. She was a cleaning lady next door in Johnson County, where Goldie was born. She either offered or the neighbor sent her to give some assistance when Dora was giving birth. "The doctor must have been filling out papers when she told him they had chosen the name Sadie and he wrote it on the record." The newborn had blonde locks and blue eyes. "My dad picked out the name Goldie." When she was sixteen and needed papers to work during the depressed era, she requested a birth certificate copy and saw the name. "It cost me TWO dollars to add Goldie." So Sadie Goldie Fancher she was.
Whether it was displaced aggression or a simple desire for a namesake, Sadie succeeded in getting her way. "The state wouldn't remove it. I tried to tell them it wasn't my name." Although she kept some information to herself, or really couldn't remember, Goldie came up with a small treasure to ease my disappointment. She must have searched a long time, but nonchalantly handed me a note her nephew wrote long ago concerning her genealogy. I sensed some effort had taken place. Her drawers, closets, and bookshelves were stuffed with old memories and I'm sure finding this small piece of paper was not easy. Bob searched the old fashioned way, with bibles and questions. The note doesn't say who John J.'s father was, but it is still precious.
Research produced an old newspaper article about a French man named Fancher who was murdered. It was undoubtedly the same incident Goldie spoke of. Dr. J.W. Fancher, born in 1838, was one of the oldest and best known of the pioneer physicians of Sheridan, Indiana when he was interviewed for the piece. "John Fancher, grandfather of the Doctor, was born in France, the son of wealthy parents. He settled in New York in an early day, and was engaged as a trader. He came in pioneer days to Indiana to invest in land, bringing with him some 40,000 dollars. He disappeared on the banks of the Wabash river at the crossing at Attica, and it is believed that he was waylaid, murdered, and robbed, although his body was never found, nor was he ever heard of afterward. So far as is known, from him are descended all of the American Fanchers. William, son of John, was born in New York, and came when a young man, to Fountain county, Ind. and then as early as 1830 settled in Rush county." The doctor served in the Civil War and afterward went to Boone County where his father was living, eventually settling a few miles west of Sheridan. Goldie's grandfather, John J. Fancher, was about this doctor's age; having been three years older. It is possible one of Goldie's relatives read the article and mentioned it in passing, but the story endured generations. This is a good indication the murder had a stronger impact on her descendants than that.
"Dad had blue eyes, and they were as blue as ever when he died." Charles William "Buck" Fancher worked as a carpenter, and later managed construction jobs in Indiana. Posing next to his crew in photos, he's a head taller than the other men, a muscular man of large stature. "His brother Frances was so big they couldn't get him through the door when he died. They took him out the window." He moved the family often because "He had to go where his work took him", settling down in Maywood during his later days. The family lived in a thirteen room house with an adjoining restaurant and auto garage, across from the railroad tracks that are seldom used today. Their son Carl and son-in-law Bob Long were proprietors of the garage, while Dora did the restaurant cooking with some help from her older daughters Helen, Grace, and Isa May. Charles was "a kind man who never took a drink" and a fella his size didn't need to use his fists. "A customer insulted my mother, and Dad showed him the door all right. He picked him up and carried him outside."
In spite of their ample accommodations and even with a steady income from regular customers, "We were poor. We didn't notice, every one else was poor too." Americans were struggling; only one third of all children attended grade school, and many Americans suffered from malnutrition the year Goldie was born. Loss was not uncommon. Two of Goldie's brothers died in infancy. John C. choked and suffocated on a piece of food at the dinner table. "It was lodged, they were desperate and tried everything they could to get it loose." Raymond was four months old when he passed away soon after they moved into a different house. "The doctor thought a mouse or small animal might have fallen in the well and tainted the water, but they called it summer complaint in those days." The boys were buried near Haughville in a small "grave yard." Seldom did she forget to mention this when passing the small historic looking cemetery. World War I raged until she was seven years old, putting a damper on spending money. "Sometimes we had fireworks on the fourth of July. We didn't get a lot for Christmas back in those days but we didn't ask for much. I wanted a little sewing machine, and Dad made sure I got it." Others were worse off. Banks foreclosed on farmers and lost favor with the public.
Maywood was a small community close to Mooresville and that is how Goldie came to know the Dillinger family. Goldie was hesitant to speak about the bandit, and there is undoubtedly more to her story than she was willing to share. She and John Dillinger's sister were the best of friends. Goldie referred to her as Mary, but the older sister was Audrey and there is no mention of the younger sister's name in publishings. John's half brother took notice when his sister introduced him to her. Goldie started dating Hubert Dillinger and he took her to movies and ball games in his car. He brought his brother John to her family's restaurant and Goldie said he was "Real nice and polite." "We didn't believe a lot of the stories they wrote about him."
The large brick garage proved to be a safe haven. Older cousins say John hid his automobiles there sometimes when he came to town, probably in part because "We all loved his father." "Their father was a nice man, everyone thought so and treated him with respect." At some point, Hubert understood the attraction wasn't two sided and asked her mother, "Why doesn't she like me?" Goldie remembers but didn't attend John's funeral at his sister's home in Maywood after it was postponed to control the crowd. There were no photos of Hubert in her collection, but there is a photo of Goldie and a young lady standing in front of an antique automobile with a well dressed man in gangster era attire. The young lady bears a striking resemblance to Mary Longnaker, John Dillinger's girlfriend. Many Maywood, Mars Hill, Mooresville, and other residents knew the Dillingers and it is a shame their stories were buried with them. Torn between breaking the law and extending a man's life a bit longer, even strangers gave John a small boost now and then. Another relative grew up with Audrey's children and said "You can't believe half of what they said about him. There's no way he could have gotten around like that." A noted researcher agrees, and has recently published a book contradicting inaccuracies the press printed about John Dillinger.
Joseph Lewis Catt stands tall, dark, and lean in a worn old photograph that refused to be destroyed. Goldie's home burned, but the fireman came out holding her box of photos and an ironing board. Joseph wore a suit and hat in the photo, and if you're not looking for it, his Civil War medal could easily go unnoticed; just a small shiny spot on his coat lapel. It is only one of two photos of him known to exist. He was with the 148th Indiana regiment. Joseph lived with his daughter Dora's family during his old age and spent his days alongside them in the restaurant. A doctor came in for a home cooked meal and noticed a sore on the elderly Joseph's arm. "He told him to get to the hospital right away. They amputated his arm midway. He couldn't fire his rifle anymore, and he wasn't pleased about that. That was the only time he complained about it." His great-granddaughter was visiting at the old house when a cousin teased her, saying there was an arm in the upstairs bedroom. She was too young to remember Joseph and was afraid to go upstairs after that.
His wife, Sarah Chowning Catt, "died at her cookstove from a heart attack." "Clarence and Classie were their twins, but Classie died with heart trouble in the city hospital at a young age." This family is well researched and Joseph is noted in "The Catt Family of America" written by Dr. Anderson. It traces their descendancy to Revolutionary War veteran Michael Katz. Joseph died a widower. "I always wanted a Grandma and hoped some day he would get married so I could have one", Goldie said. "When they laid him out for the funeral, it just didn't look like him. Something didn't seem right. My cousin and I ran all the way home to get his Civil War medal. I put it on his coat and it looked just like him again." He was buried at Crown Hill amongst the other Union soldiers. "The military gave him a send off with a gun salute. Someone in the family requested it."
John J. Fancher served under Captain John M. Lindley in the 19th Regiment of Indiana Volunteers. His discharge certificate states he was a farmer, born in Hendricks County, Indiana. He was five feet ten and a half inches tall, with light brown hair and blue eyes. He served from December, 28, 1861 to April 16, 1862. Several acquaintances stated he was a stout, healthy man prior to the war, and that he came home in poor health. Breathing difficulties, smothering spells, rheumatism, disease of the liver, stiffness, enlargement of the heart, yellow skin, and fever during bad spells were noted by doctors. Finally, one physician probably summed it up correctly, writing "Affected by what I think to be the effects of Malaria." A soldier's statement mentions exposure on guard duty in Virginia, but the handwriting is hard to cipher. A doctor stated he was John's mother's physician before the war, and that he had know him about thirty years but he didn't mention her name. Addresses of those who gave statements for his widow's pension request continuously give Fountain Square addresses, stating they had known John for long periods of time. William H. Carle, for example, was 72 years old and living at 271 Virginia Avenue when he stated he knew both John and Mary prior to their marriage and until John's death. It is confusing that he requested his military paperwork procedures be conducted in Danville. Fountain Square was apparently their home prior to their marriage and the couple had a small nine acre farm there when John died. Fountain Square is on the south side of Indianapolis and is a historical section of town with a Victorian look about it. Long after John's time, Kentuckians poured into the area and they didn't change much during their reign, thus preserving it.
Goldie's son first mentioned the ill fated wagon train of Fanchers that were massacred at Mountain Meadows. Shortly after, I noticed a now rare book called "The Fancher Train" under my mother's coffee table with some other old books. She said Goldie gave it to her years ago and she forgot all about it. Goldie's nephew Bob's name was stamped inside, with a note stating he found the book at a flea market. Tucked inside were aged vintage newspaper clippings about Mormons. Goldie seemed to be unaware of this sad day that so many historians still disagree about, over a hundred years later. If she was distantly related to these victims, she didn't know it. So many siblings are blank spaces on family trees. One child manages to get documented while a sister or brother doesn't and is sadly referred to as "unknown". As well documented as this family is, there is surely a published tree with a missing generation and some day an unknown will be changed to John J. Fancher. It may even state what the J stands for. We sure don't know.
Six of the family served during World War II. An aged newspaper article Goldie was especially proud of told their story. "When Mrs. Dora Fancher's son and five grandsons entered military service they made her promise she would not get old during their absence and she has done just that. Now that all except one grandson are back she intends to resume activities by attending dances with them at home town parties in Maywood. The boys are Charles R. Fancher, the son, who served three years as carpenter's mate in the South Pacific, and five grandsons, Pvt. Glen Rund, Stones Crossing, son of Mr. and Mrs. Francis Rund, who served three years overseas and is now post commander of Veterans of Foreign Wars, Franklin; S-Sgt. Robert William Long, who served thirty two months in Africa, Sicily, Sardinia, and Italy as a "mule skinner" with the fifth army, and his brother, Pvt. John C. Long, who served at Camp Wolters, Texas, sons of Mr. and Mrs. Robert Long; Seaman 1-C Lee Turner, who served as a gunner on the S. S. Brooklyn and his brother, Cpl. Earl Turner, with the infantry, now serving in Manila. Lee and Earl are the sons of Mrs. Grace Robinette. Mrs. Fancher, 75, says her family includes seven children and eleven grandchildren. With the exception of Glen and his family, they all have lived at the home in Maywood the last twenty-three years. Mr. Fancher died nine years ago. Since the boys' return Mrs. Fancher has had to learn to cook all over again, she says. She is a member of the Maywood Chapter of the Daughters of America and one of its most active workers. The family, with friends of the community numbering forty, celebrated Christmas this year with a dinner in the Fancher home, and Mrs. Fancher said she cooked the dinner, including two huge turkeys." Goldie said her nephew carted bodies down a hill with a mule cart. "He couldn't stand the sight of a mule after that." Charles brought a small monkey when he came home and took it with stride when his doting companion picked at his hair in public.
Goldie married Charles Connette, nicknamed "Chub" . His grandfather, John Lee Bradley Connette, was a fireman and a policeman in Indianapolis. His great-grandfather, Charles Soanke, carried his regiment's flag during the Civil War. The flag was displayed in a glass case in the State House for a period of time, according to his 91 year old cousin. She remembered her mother taking her to see it on the wall when she was a little girl and inquired about it decades later. They contacted her and asked her to identify it amongst others at Monument Circle, where it was eventually stored and suffered damage. A textile expert was called in to assess the situation, but it was probably beyond repair, as they did not contact her again. Chub was one of the last to use a horse and wagon in town. In spite of city ordinances, he brought a horse home and often took it on errands. "The horse usually came back alone. He headed back for home as soon as Chub left his sight." Chub looks like a real cowboy wearing his hat and boots while sitting on his horse in a vintage photo, save for the Chevy parked behind him. His uncle Charles spent his adult life in the military and was in what they called special ops. He contracted malaria and suffered liver damage from quinine, which was considered a cure at the time. Accompanied by a doctor on his last mission, he died on his way home. As Charles' cousin recalls, "His letters home didn't contain information about his whereabouts. We received short notes stating he was all right." Charles baked at the Ayres bakery downtown where his father was also employed as a cake decorator. Chub's uncle, the proprietor of the bakery, came from New York to promote a cake pan. Mr. Ayres appreciated his personality and work ethic, and he leased a portion of the store to him. There is an old photo of the bakery display window in the Indiana Historical Society's archives depicting decorated Christmas cakes.
Goldie liked to have coffee in one particular fast food restaurant. It stood right about where her family's old house and restaurant was, before they tore them down. She liked to look out the window and watch the rain; she always wanted to stay a long time on rainy days. I'm sure her old eyes could still see her mother wearing an apron made out of pretty hankies, her sisters slicing watermelon on a hot summer day, her nephews sipping bottled soda in their sailor suits, her big brothers reaching down to give her a pat on the head, and her father's reassuring smile. Her old bible had a note with the names of all of her siblings neatly written, and next to each one was a D. Only her name had an L next to it. We'll leave the bible as is. Looking at her great-grandchild's gold hair and blue eyes is a daily reminder that in a sense, she still lives.
When we were walking away from the cemetery the day of her funeral, I suddenly stopped and said, "We forgot her radio."