Before Jerry Springer, there was the newspaper . . .

celebration christmas cup dogs Photo by Pixabay on

Last week you heard about Patrick Nolan’s (Mike’s great grandfather) death from falling into the Black River in Port Huron, Michigan. The initial article¹ had many other details, not necessarily connected to his death. Let’s back up a bit, first.

Patrick married Alice Needham 4 November 1879, in Kenockee, St. Clair, Michigan. When we saw his 1880 Agricultural Schedule (On the Farm), they were newlyweds. Twenty five years later, they are the parents of ten children (“ages 10 to 25” according to the article—though the youngest was actually only 4, and the oldest born 18 October 1880, so only 24), one already having died (William, age 2). Some time in the 1990s, while interviewing my mother-in-law and her sisters, they mentioned their mother (Elizabeth) said her mother (Alice) “was a saint” as far as what she put up with from her husband. They didn’t elaborate, and I don’t know if it was a case of them not knowing details, or being reluctant to share them with me.

In Where There’s a Will I briefly mentioned looking at Patrick’s probate record. Among the bills submitted to settle up the estate was one from a lawyer, for the paperwork for a divorce filing. Oops. There was trouble in paradise. Or at least Smiths Creek. Ancestry has a “Michigan, Divorce Records, 1897-1952” database, which has images from the county registers. I found an entry dated 17 August 1904 for the two of them, but lined out. Alice had filed, charging cruelty, but apparently changed her mind.

So, back to the article¹ about Patrick’s unfortunate untimely death. We discover that my in-laws probably weren’t exaggerating about him. The subtitle of the article was “Made Round of Saloons Sunday Night and Fell Into Black River While Drunk.” Oh, my! We are also told he’d been in the city for 2 or 3 days, and had been busy on Sunday:

  • he’d been at Dan Conway’s Atlantic house at Quay and Michigan for most of the day, leaving there Sunday night
  • he’s somewhere after that, finally ending up at Pat Cahill’s saloon at 405 Quay Street around 11 pm.
  • he leaves Cahill’s alone (time unspecified), intoxicated, looking for a man named Woods
  • the presumption is he “became muddled and walked off the dock.”¹

I love how the saloons get free advertising, with the address and all! The next paragraph adds other juicy details:

There had been trouble for some time between Nolan and his wife, and not long ago it culminated in their separation. Mrs. Nolan went to live with her mother and it was at that time she would ask the courts for a divorce. About a week ago their differences were patched up and the two started living together again. It is thought that this attempt at reconciliation was not successful, however, as Nolan has been spending most of his time in Port Huron.

That corroborates the probate packet and the register. We get a general description of him that becomes not very flattering:

The place [his farm] was run down, however, as Nolan, in his love for drink, neglected everything.

This whole thing is going from bad to worse! The former justice of the peace (Mr. Frink) was apparently interviewed and painted the following picture:

Nolan’s love for drink, which was his worst fault, and which caused his death, often resulted in his being brought before Mr. Frink. After every drunk Nolan would take a solemn oath not to touch a drop of liquor for six months. At the expiration of that time Nolan would become intoxicated again and then go through the same pledge procedure. Mr. Frink says that Nolan kept this up for several years, always steadfast in his oath, but unable, nevertheless, to break himself altogether of the habit.

I then found a newspaper article (“The Mean Man”²) printed when Alice filed for divorce, containing even more details:

Whenever she left home to purchase supplies, Mrs. Nolan alleges, she would be accused by her husband of having left for the purpose of meeting other men. His insane and jealous disposition, she avers, has deprived her of society and has required her to confine her visits to her mother and brother. Unable to put up with this alleged domestic torture Mrs. Nolan left home on August 7 last. She charges her husband with

  • having lighted a fire in the kitchen stove and removing the lids, causing the smoke therefrom to be carried to the room occupied by herself and children.
  • It is also claimed that he removed articles from the various room in the house and piled them in a heap on the floor.
  • He also removed eatables from the house,
  • dismantled the stove so it could not be used to procure meals,
  • and to cap the climax he overturned a churn she was working at, allowing its contents to spill all over the floor.

I don’t know about you, but I think I’d put attempted asphyxiation above the spilled churn! Hopefully the children went with her when she left—neither article mentions anything about that. While the 3 oldest were out of the house by the 1900 census, 6 were still home in 1904.

Nor do I know if the details above list all of her charges against him. But with the divorce suit withdrawn, would the original paperwork have been destroyed? Maybe I need to check on that. I’m also struggling to figure out why Alice decided to move back home.

Obviously I don’t know exactly what was going on with him or between him and Alice—or how long it had been a problem. Presumably they had good years together, too. It’s all rather sad, though.

Lest you think Patrick and Alice were particularly unusual, not so. I noticed other couples with similar laundry being aired in public. With no TV or social media, the newspaper was the best source of local gossip.

But yeah, based on the descriptions found in the newspaper, it seems Patrick qualifies as naughty.



¹”Paddy Nolan was Drowned,” 14 November 1904, Last Edition, accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4-5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (

²”The Mean Man,” 24 August 1904, Last Edition, accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (


“Now is the winter of our discontent.” —William Shakespeare


Black River, Port Huron, Michigan, 1905. Image posted by u/michaelconfoy on the Reddit site in 2015. Likely not a winter image, but gives a sense of the area.

My husband’s great-grandfather, Patrick Nolan (you met him in On the Farm), died in the winter. Well, not technically winter, but almost. He died 13 November 1904, in Port Huron, St. Clair, Michigan. Born on or before 4 May 1851, he was 53 years old at his death.

Winter doesn’t arrive until 21 December. Even if you go with “meteorological winter,” that doesn’t start until 1 December. However, Port Huron is an hour north of Detroit, so by mid-November, it can start to feel pretty wintry! I’m giving myself little leeway.

Patrick’s death record¹ states his cause of death is “shock by falling in river.” Specifically, it was the Black River, which was listed at the top of the certificate as the place of death. The article in the Port Huron Daily Herald the next day (14 November 1904)² provided more details:

The body . . . was found shortly after seven o’clock this morning floating in Black River in the rear of the Port Huron Light & Power Co’s plant . . . The coroner believes that Nolan’s death by drowning was accidental and the facts of the case all point that way.

The end of the article notes other details from the coroner:

Coroner Falk and Dr. Patrick held a Postmortem over the remains . . . Serious heart trouble was found and Dr. Patrick gave it as his opinion that the man died from the shock of falling into the water as he was dead before the drowning took place. There were no signs whatever of foul play.

The family, however, wasn’t satisfied with that conclusion. In his dealings selling cattle, Patrick frequently carried large amounts of cash with him. His wife, Alice, thought perhaps he’d had cash on him at the time, and had been attacked, robbed, and pushed into the river. According to the 19 November 1904³ paper:

. . . the family has demanded an inquest. This morning Sheriff Davidson, Coroner Falk and Dr. O. H. Patrick went to Smith’s Creek to exhume the body and make an examination.

The results were reported two days later, on 21 November 1904.4 No change to the verdict was made. The three officials mentioned above were

met by Dr. Brock, two sons of the deceased and about 25 friends and neighbors . . . The body was placed on top of the box . . .

Dr. Brock, the local doctor, didn’t want to examine the body, but told them his charges would be $20. The coroner couldn’t authorize an additional expense for the county, so the two sons covered the cost.

Dr. Brock then cut into the scalp and rolled back the flesh, but was unable to find that the bruise on the side of head amounted to anything. He announced himself satisfied without further examination.

WOW! I can’t imagine doing this, in the cemetery, with over two dozen gawkers (not to mention two children of the deceased) watching. The newspaper then gives a detailed description of the entire proceeding! It was a pretty exciting Saturday.

I’m not really sure why the family was so concerned about the cause of death. Was there an insurance policy that would be impacted by those findings? Did they believe law enforcement should investigate and try to recover the cash they felt was stolen? The initial article² reporting his death mentioned he’d been in

. . . Pat Cahill’s saloon at 405 Quay Street. The bartender gave him 30 cents worth of drinks. Nolan had no money but as he was a good customer of the place nothing was said about pay.

When Nolan left Cahill’s he was intoxicated. He went away alone and said that he was looking for a man named Woods.

While he had no money at the bar, if he was transacting business with “Woods,” perhaps money was exchanged then? There are many question that probably will never have satisfactory answers. The person who knew best what happened was the unfortunate victim. 

There is more to Patrick’s story, but that will have to wait until next week . . .


¹; accessed 8 December 2018.

²”Paddy Nolan was Drowned,” 14 November 1904, Last Edition, accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 4-5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (

³”Exhume Body,” 19 November 1904, accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 5, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (

4“Only a Farce,” 21 November 1904, Monday Edition, accessed 24 August 2018, record number: not given; citing original p. 1, col. 6, The Port Huron Times Herald, Port Huron, Michigan, online archive (

On the Farm

After over 100 years, part of the farm is still there!

1985 11 29 NOLAN farm in Smiths Creek_0001
Farmhouse of Patrick Nolan and Alice Needham, in Smiths Creek, St. Clair, Michigan. It is on the north side of Smiths Creek Road, just east of Palms Road. Photo taken 29 November 1985 by Christine Bauman.

Mike’s grandmother, Elizabeth Gertrude Nolan Kukler, grew up in this farmhouse in Smiths Creek, Michigan. And no, there’s no apostrophe! Mike’s mother and her siblings would spend part of their summers with their Aunt Mary when they were young, so this was a familiar place for them.

It’s not the best photo, but by 1985, my mother-in-law had no idea who lived there, so pulling into the driveway for a better one was not possible. The 2-lane road also had no place to pull over and stop. Drive by! But the Google Street View of the Patrick Nolan House shows it was still there in August 2013 at 7890 Smiths Creek Road, looking better than than it did thirty years earlier. The V-shaped tree remains, along with the utility pole. An addition has been built on the side.

It’s now surrounded by the Leaning Tree Golf Club, so I’m not sure if it’s owned by the golf club, or if it’s still in the extended family, as an internet search seems to indicate. This property was not, however, part of the original land acquired by Patrick’s father, John Nolan. That parcel is on Yager Road, between Wales Center Road and Fitz Road:

1855 NOLAN John b 1807 land patent.JPG
“South West quarter of the South East quarter of Section Thirty three in Township Six North of Range Fifteen East in the District of Lands subject to sale at Detroit Michigan containing Forty acres.” 

The 1897 plat map¹ for Wales Township shows the relative locations of various Nolan properties. Patrick’s are outlined in red, (an arrow for the house location) others are outlined in blue. The John Nolan listed on this map is Patrick’s younger brother. Their father passed away in 1886, but his youngest son took over that farm.

Nolan properties, southern Wales Township, St. Clair, Michigan. John Nolan’s original property is in blue along lower boundary. Son Michael is east of him, Patrick has 2 properties north and east. Red arrow identifies location of Patrick’s house (above).

John Nolan was born in Ireland (possibly Clonegal, County Carlow, like his children) around 1807². He married Elizabeth Mary Halpin[e]/Alpin[e] (her spelling is very flexible!) and had their first three children: Mary, Ann, and Patrick; before moving everyone to Michigan in 1855. Michael & John were born in Wales Township in 1856 and 1860.

In 1870, Patrick² was 19 and still in his father’s house. By 1880, he was married³ and living on his own—sort of. His father, John, was still on the original property. Newlyweds Patrick and Alice are living in a house with a slightly older couple. Both men are “farmer,” rather than one being “farm laborer.” The other wife is “House Keeper” instead of the more typical “Keeping House.” The agricultural census4 that year tells us about Patrick’s farm (I don’t see the other man on that schedule):

  • Patrick owned (not rented) it
  • 25 acres were tilled
  • 0 acres were in permanent meadows, pastures, orchards & vineyards
  • 28 acres woodland and forest
  • 0 acres otherwise unimproved
  • The farm land and building were worth $1000
  • His farming implements and machinery were worth $25
  • The livestock was worth $250
  • He spent $0 building and repairing fences in 1879
  • He had no hired labor the previous year
  • The estimated value for his total farm production was $240
  • There were 3 acres mown, and 0 acres not mown grasslands and 3 tons of hay, 0 bushels clover seed, 0 bushels grass seed
  • On 1 June 1880, he had 2 horses, and 0 mules, 0 working oxen, 2 milch cows, and 1 other cattle. Two calves were born.
  • Regarding cattle, in 1879, he purchased 0, sold 0 living, slaughtered 0, and 0 died, strayed, or were stolen and not recovered.
  • Zero gallons of milk or butter were sold or sent to butter or cheese factories in 1879, and 200 lbs butter, 0 lbs cheese, were made on the farm in 1879, with 0 on hand 1 June 1880.
  • In 1879, he had 0 lambs, purchased 0, sold 0 live, slaughtered 0, with 0 killed by dogs, 0 dying of disease, and 0 dying for stress of weather.
  • In spring 1880, he had 0 shorn fleeces weighing 0 lbs.
  • There were 1 swine on hand 1 June 1880, as well as 9 barnyard poultry and 0 others.
  • 40 dozen eggs were produced in 1879.
  • His 1879 crop production was:
Crop Area in Acres Bushels
Indian Corn
Oats 6 214
Wheat 4 60
Canadian Peas
Flax seed Tons of straw Lbs. of fiber
Sorghum Lbs. of sugar Gal. of Molasses
Maple Sugar Lbs. of sugar Gal. of Molasses
Broom corn
Hops Lbs.
Potatoes (Irish)
Potatoes (sweet)
Apples 1 No. of trees Val. Of orchard products sold $0
Peaches No. of trees
Vineyards Lbs. grapes sold Wine made
Value of Market Garden Produce sold
Bees Lbs. honey Lbs. wax
Wood Cords cut Value of products Sold or consumed

That’s a lot of detail for one page! Only 10 farms were reported per page, with it broken into 4 sections to hold the information. Obviously the form was created for farms all over the country, so not everything applied to Michigan. Patrick also had a lot of blank sections. Either he

  • didn’t have anything to report in those areas
  • didn’t have records to know how much to report for those items
  • didn’t trust the government, so played dumb, anyway.

He was a fairly young farmer at the time, just getting started, so any of them are possible. I know from his 1904 obituary that he was considered a livestock dealer. We get a slight foreshadowing of that from this snapshot. While his livestock holdings aren’t huge, this farm is definitely not concentrating on grains or other crops! I think most of what he grew was used for the livestock he did have, with some for their own use.

Some time between 1880 and 1897 Patrick expanded his holdings around the house and acquired the 70 acres farther west. I’d need a road trip to go camp out with the land deeds to figure out when those pieces came together. In the meantime, we get this little glimpse into the early workings of his farm. It’s also nice to see the house still there all these years later.


¹”U.S., Indexed County Land Ownership Maps, 1860-1918″, database, (, citing Standard Atlas of St. Clair County, Michigan (Chicago; Geo. A. Ogle and Co., 1897), plate 49, “Wales Township”. Entry for John NOLAN, accessed 5 March 2018.

²1870 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales Township; Page 33; dwelling number 266; family number 272; line 25; John NOWLAND [NOLAN] household; accessed 30 September 2018. Patrick NOWLAND, age 19; NARA microfilm publication M593, roll 699; digital image, (

³1880 U.S. census, population schedule, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales Township, e.d. 393; Page 32 (written); dwelling number 309; family number 315; line 31; William MATTHEWS household; accessed 22 August 2018. Patrick NOLAN, age 28; NARA microfilm publication T9, roll 605; digital image, (

41880 U.S. census, “Agriculture schedule”, Michigan, St. Clair, Wales, e.d. 393; Page 25 (written); line 10, Patrick NOLAN; accessed 24 August 2018. Population schedule page [ ], line [ ]; NARA publication; T1164, roll 55.