Okay—last branch of my family tree, my mother’s mother’s family. This research has been some of the most rewarding and interesting of all the genealogical searching I have done. And while much has been learned, many questions still remain—and a couple of brick walls that I’m still working at breaking down.
|Thomas J. & Cornelia Bell|
Cora and Clara
My maternal grandmother’s parents were Thomas Jefferson Bell and Cornelia Dee (or Orange??) Roberts. T.J. Bell was born in 1871 in Mississippi, probably in Early Grove, Marshall County, where he was living on the 1880 census. Sometime before 1893 he moved to Woodford, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, where he married Mrs. Cornelia (Roberts) Spurlock on 15 October 1893. I have never found the marriage recorded, but my cousin gave me a copy of the original marriage license, which she possesses.
|Marriage license of Thomas J.|
Bell & Mrs. Cornelia Spurlock
Thomas J. Bell’s father and mother were James W. Bell and Mary Mourning Powell. They married on 4 December 1866 in Marshall County, Mississippi. Apparently, the Powells moved to Mississippi from Tennessee not long after the 1860 census was taken, taking for clues the marriage dates and places of Mary M. Powell and her siblings.
James W. Bell (1841-1883) was the son of Thomas Bell and his wife Elizabeth. Thomas was born in 1806 in North Carolina, married Elizabeth about 1830, lived in Marshall County, Mississippi, and his occupation was listed as Mill Wright on the 1860 census. That’s really all I know about him. James was the youngest child and the only boy; his sisters were Catharine F. (married Swan), Mary J.R. (married Baldwin), Elizabeth G., Martha, and Winifred (married Losee).
In 1883 James W. Bell died, and by 1894 or 1895, Polly remarried. In 1900 she was widowed again and living in Choctaw Nation, Indian Territory, along with Thomas’s siblings, William, Russell, Joseph, and Kitty (Elizabeth.) In 1900 Thomas’s remaining brother, Benjamin Franklin Bell, was living in Chickasaw Nation with his wife, Martha E. (Mattie) Ming. (Yes, my Ming family. Another convoluted relationship. Mattie is sister to Cynthia Ming, my Wheat great-grandmother.) In 1880 the family of James and Polly Bell was in Mississippi, and by 1900 they were all in Oklahoma.
Cornelia Roberts was born on 4 February 1865 in Granville, Jackson County, Tennessee. I have seen her middle name recorded as Dee in several places, including the baby book filled out by my mother. Some descendants have recorded her middle name as Orange, which I would think ridiculous except that her headstone reads “Cornelia O. Bell.” Her parents were Stephen and Elzina (Huff) Roberts.
On the 1870 Jackson County census her siblings were listed as Nancy, Henry, Ellis, Thomas, Caleb, and Nathan. In 1874 her mother filed for divorce from Stephen Roberts by reason of abandonment. On the 1880 census the family, consisting of mother Elzina (enumerated as Elmira), Nancy, James H. (Henry), Thomas J., Cornelia, and Nathan J., were living in Harmony, Caldwell County, Kentucky. I have never found a reason for the move to this area, over 200 miles north of Granville. Another puzzling thing about these two census entries is that Cornelia is listed as “Permelia,” age 14 on the 1870 census, and as Cornelia, age 13, on the 1880 census.
|Roberts family on 1880 census of|
Caldwell County, Kentucky
Apparently, Cornelia married someone named Spurlock sometime before she married T.J. Bell in 1893. Whether that marriage ended in death or divorce, I have never been able to determine. There were several Spurlock families in Jackson County, Tennessee, but I have never been able to figure out who Cornelia married. The Spurlock men of the right age in 1880 appear to still be living in Tennessee in 1900, so how did Cornelia get to Indian Territory? I did find a grave recorded in Woodford, Indian Territory, for Maggie L.V. Spurlock, born 14 February 1887, died 7 December 1892. The 1900 census showed that Cornelia had borne 4 children, but only 3 were living. I have always wondered if Maggie was the child of Cornelia and her Spurlock husband, and whether the child’s death might have caused divorce or abandonment by Mr. Spurlock.
|Maggie L. V. Spurlock headstone|
Woodford Cemetery, Carter County, OK
By 1900 Thomas and Cornelia had three children: Clara Elizabeth, age 5; Cora Lee, age 3; and James Alfred, age 1. Their fourth child, Cornelia Morning, was born in 1903. According to cousins descended from Cornelia Morning Bell, T.J. Bell owned a store and post office in Mill Creek, Indian Territory. Oh, my gosh!! Decided to check this out, since I now know where to go to find postmaster appointments on ancestry.com. Add another name to the list of postmasters in my family—Thomas J. Bell was appointed postmaster of Lester (near Mill Creek) Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory, on 15 September 1899.
|Appointment of T. J. Bell as postmaster|
Lester, Chickasaw Nation, Indian Territory
In 1904 T.J. Bell became a Primitive Baptist minister. In 1906 the Bell family moved to New Mexico Territory to homestead but a snowstorm forced them to move back home. In 1908 they moved to Egan, Texas, to live with Thomas’s aunt Lydia Powell Ray, but then moved to Carson, OK, in 1910 to live in a log cabin owned by Cornelia’s brother Nathan. They built a new house on Middle Creek (Pleasant View) and lived there until 1922.
By all accounts, Thomas J. Bell was the kindest man alive, and Cornelia Bell was the meanest woman. To be fair, she can’t have had an easy early life, since her father was a drinker that abandoned his family, according to the divorce papers filed by her mother. Certainly, if Cornelia lost a child at a young age, that had to have taken an emotional toll. But just look at her photograph as a young girl—she doesn’t look happy even then. Here’s the story I love to tell: One of her husband’s Primitive Baptist minister friends came to visit, and she chased them out of the house with a buggy whip!
In 1922 Thomas filed for divorce from Cornelia, stating that she had ordered him to leave their home, criticized him because of his religious belief, that she was “of a nervous, high-strung temperament, easy to find fault with the plaintiff; continually fault-finding, many times quarreling with him and abusing him and making their home life miserable and making it absolutely impossible for them to maintain a peaceable home.” They both moved into the nearby town of Dustin, where they lived on the same street. T.J. owned the Dustin Harness and Shoe Shop and a chicken hatchery. Until his death in April 1937 he walked by Cornelia’s house every day to check on her. She died the same year in December, and they are buried next to each other in the Fairview Cemetery in Dustin.