This story is about my husband’s, great-aunt, Althera McNeil’s second husband, John Franklin ‘Jack’ Evans. Who was Jack Evans, and where did he really come from? The first mention I ever find where I know it is really him is from an old newspaper article taken from The Argus in Holbrook, Arizona issue dated October 2, 1897. It is talking about how Jack and Miss Belle Brewer had gotten married in Pinedale on September 28th at her parent’s place and says the following: “Mr. Evans shows what a man of thrift and enterprise may do. He struck this place some six month ago with a burro and a corn cob pipe. Now he has a wife and a half interest in a sawmill.”
Other papers dated between 1897 and 1905 mention Jack as farming, moving from Taylor to Pinedale and back. One paper mentions his wife having a son, which would have been their second son, John Franklin Evans, Jr. with Belle Brewer in 1900. In another article in February of 1901 it states that Jack is home from the Gila where he has been since before Christmas.
Then in March 1905 the paper mentions that Jack’s wife Belle has died. I have yet to find any more mention of Jack in the papers anywhere in the state of Arizona after this article. Anna Belle Brewer Evans dies on March 25, 1905 at Taylor in Navajo County, Arizona probably of the diphtheria that their two sons, Arthur Joseph Evans, died December 24, 1904 and Roy Edward Evans, died January 1, 1905 had died of barely three months before Belle’s death. She had also given birth to her last son on December 12, just 12 days before her son Arthur had died, so it could have been complications of the birth that caused her demise too. All three, Belle, Arthur and Roy are buried at the Taylor Cemetery in Taylor, Navajo County, Arizona.
Their tombstones have them all dying in 1904, but the only one who died in 1904 was Arthur and he was born in 1898 not 1897 and Roy was born in 1902 not 1901. It makes me wonder if these tombstones were placed years after their death. The above newspaper clipping is from the Holbrook Argus in Holbrook, Arizona issue dated April 1, 1905 which says that Belle had just died that past Sunday.
Jack and Belle had four sons born to them, Arthur Joseph Evans on June 25, 1898; John Franklin Evans, Jr. on March 20, 1900; Roy Edward Evans on March 15, 1902 and Ira Dewitt Evans on December 12, 1904. John Jr. and Ira ‘Dee’ lived to have families of their own. John Franklin Evans Jr. died April 25, 1977 in San Francisco, California and Ira Dewitt ‘Dee’ Evans died September 15, 1982 in Stockton, California.
A little over a month after Belle’s death, Jack remarried to a widow woman, Althera McNeil Petersen, whose husband, Vigo Petersen had died on August 15, 1904 in Pinedale, Navajo County, Arizona. Althera had one daughter, Mary Frances Petersen, 1900-1967, at the time of her marriage to Jack Evans.
Jack and Althera were married on May 5, 1905 in Pinetop, Navajo County, Arizona. Shortly after their marriage Jack took his two sons, John Jr. and Ira along with his new bride, Althera and her daughter, Mary Frances, and went to Colonia Morelos, Sonora, Mexico where Althera’s parents and some of her siblings had gone to live. Jack’s mother-in-law, Betsey Crandall Brewer McCleve, Belle’s mother, according to family stories was not happy that her two grandsons were being taken so far from her and she prayed every day that she would live to see them again.
The following year Jack and Althera had the first of their three sons born to them. Don Carlos Evans was born on February 9, 1906 in Colonia Morelos, Sonora, Mexico followed by Jesse Walter Evans on December 22, 1908 at San Pedro Mines in Cumpas, Sonora, Mexico and their last son, Logan Daniel Evans on January 11, 1908 at Halstead Ranch in Cos, Sonora, Mexico. Althera’s father, John Corlett McNeil, had died of a stroke in Colonia Morelos, Sonora, Mexico in 1909 and her mother, Mary Ann Smith McNeil had gone back up to Arizona and was living and working in Douglas, Cochise County, Arizona.
The Mexican Revolution was going full swing and so around 1911 or so Jack and Althera and their children came up out of Mexico and back to Arizona and were apparently in Douglas by at least November of 1912. Althera’s mother had gone up to Utah that fall to take care of her aged parents when she received a telegram from her son-in-law, Peter Elmer Thompson, Annie Frances’ husband (my husband, Roy’s grandparents), that said: "Douglas, Ariz. Nov. 23, 1912 to Mrs. Mary A. McNeil, Porterville, Utah Altha is very low may not live. Annie". Seven days later Althera died in Douglas on November 30, 1912 and was buried there in the Douglas City Cemetery. John Evans ‘Jack’ was the informant on the death certificate. Mary Ann Smith McNeil, Althera’s mother, was not able to get back home for the funeral and so she had stayed in Utah with her parents and was up there for at least another year after Althera’s death.
While at the McNeil Family Reunion in Showlow, Arizona in 2013 we started a collection to place tombstones at the graves of some of the McNeil’s and their extended family who did not have one. Althera’s was one of those who did not have a marker. We were able to get enough money to place markers on four graves, three of them in Douglas, Arizona. Althera McNeil Peterson Evans, Alice Smith Gatliff and her husband Charles Gatliff who was Althera’s aunt and uncle and one in Salt Lake City. The one in Salt Lake City was Althera’s great-grandmother, Mary Etchells Smith Dale.
I know that by June 30, 1913 Jack’s mother-in-law, Betsey Crandall Brewer McCleve, had all five of Jack’s sons, Belle’s boys, and Althera’s boys living with her in Taylor, Navajo County, Arizona as I find them listed on the Arizona, School Census Records for that year. Where Jack went after this time is not known. The last official record I have for him is being the informant on Althera’s death certificate and then I don’t pick him up again for certain until the 1930 census when he has apparently remarried to a woman named, Gertrude Agnes Sawyer and they are living in Florence, Pinal County, Arizona.
Where was Jack from November 1912 until I found him again in April of 1930 on the census records? For almost 18 years he is missing from any records that he would normally have been on. Jack’s sons all stay in the Navajo County, Arizona area for the most part until they are old enough to go out on their own. Did he go back down to Mexico; or did he leave Arizona for another state? The 1900 and the 1930 census state he was born in New York and his father was born in England and his mother was born in Scotland. Census, tax records and his death certificate put his birth year anywhere from 1855 to 1865, but his birthplace of New York stays consistent.
His son, Ira Dewitt Evans, was the informant on his death certificate and he said his father was born in New York City in 1855. The two census records, 1900 and 1930, place his birth year in 1857, though. Ira also, says that Jack’s parents were both born in Ireland and that Jack’s fathers name was also John Franklin Evans, but his mother’s name was listed as unknown on the certificate. The death certificate asks how long had the deceased lived in Arizona and the record says for 40 years which would put the year he arrived in the state at 1897 which matches up with the newspaper article in October of 1897 which stated he had first showed up in the area 6 months before.
John Franklin ‘Jack’ Evans died in Williams, Coconino County, Arizona on March 7, 1937. His last wife Gertrude Agnes Sawyer, died the following year on January 1, 1938 and they are both buried in the Williams Cemetery, but there are no tombstones to mark their graves. Jack’s son Ira Dewitt Evans was the informant on Gertrude’s death certificate as well. So far I have not been able to locate a marriage record for Jack and Gertrude, if I could I would at least know a place to look for more records on him.
Jack must have kept in touch with his sons somehow because by 1934, Ira Dewitt Evans, son of Belle and Don Carlos Evans, son of Althera, were both living in Williams, Coconino County, Arizona and Ira was the informant on both his father and step-mother’s death certificates. Ira was still living there in Williams in 1940, but Don Carlos had moved to California sometime after 1935 and was living in Fresno.
The following map shows Navajo County, Arizona and the towns where Jack, his wife Belle and wife Althera, all lived in at different times throughout the years as well as their sons. I have circled the towns where they are mentioned as being in the most. I circled Holbrook since that is where the paper was located that mentioned Jack Evans from 1897 to 1905.
Why am I writing about an in-law and not a blood relative this time? The reason is because I received an email from a man who is friends with one of Althera’s grandsons. This man is helping Althera’s grandson find out more about his family and in particular more about Jack Evans. This grandson had heard a story when he was a young man in Arizona from an older gentleman who had known his grandfather, Jack Evans. This older gentleman told him that Jack Evans was really Jesse Evans, the infamous/notorious bad man from the Lincoln County War in New Mexico in 1878.
From Wikipedia and for those that are not familiar with the Lincoln County War. “It was an Old West conflict between rival factions in 1878 in New Mexico Territory. The feud became famous because of the participation of a number of notable figures of the Old West, including Billy the Kid, sheriffs William Brady and Pat Garrett, cattle rancher John Chisum, lawyer and businessman Alexander McSween, and the organized-crime boss Lawrence Murphy. The conflict arose between two factions over the control of dry goods and cattle interests in the county.
The Murphy-Dolan faction were allied with Lincoln County Sheriff Brady, and supported by the Jesse Evans Gang. The Tunstall-McSween faction organized their own posse of armed men, known as the Regulators, to defend their position, and had their own lawmen, town constable Richard M. Brewer and Deputy US Marshal Robert A. Widenmann. The conflict was marked by back-and-forth revenge killings, starting with the murder of Tunstall by members of the Jesse Evans Gang. Lawrence Murphy and Dolan also enlisted the John Kinney Gang, Seven Rivers Warriors and the Jesse Evans Gang, and their job was mainly to harass and rustle cattle from Tunstall's and Chisum's ranches, as well as being the faction's hired guns. Frank Warner Angel, a special investigator for the Secretary of the Interior, later determined that Tunstall was shot in "cold blood" by Jesse Evans, William Morton, and Tom Hill.” The article on Wikipedia goes on to tell some more about this conflict, but for now I will just stop with this part.
Here is what I have found out about Jesse Evans so far, from an official record and not just hearsay or fictionalized stories. Taken from the Texas, Convict and Conduct Registers, 1875-1945 at Ancestry.com = Jesse Evans, age 27 (1853), born in Missouri, Register #9078, Huntsville Penitentiary, 5 foot 3/8 inches tall, 150 pounds, fair complexion, gray eyes and light hair. He has two large scars on his left thigh, one full scar above his left elbow and another below his left elbow. Not married, doesn't smoke (that seems unusual for the time), habits it says Int. (I am not sure what that means), occupation laborer, conviction date October 16, 1880 for murder & robbery, sentenced to 10 years for murder and 10 years for robbery for a total of 20 years, when arrested he was living in Fort Davis, Presidio County, Texas and his release date was scheduled for October 16, 1900. However, he escaped on May 23, 1882 and he was never found and it is not known whatever happen to him.
The following are copies of the two records found in this resource.
I have ordered a book entitled, Jessie Evans, Lincoln County Badman (The Early West) -1983- by Grady E. McCright. I have heard this book is very well researched and so I am hoping there may be some clues to either prove or disprove that John Franklin Evans was Jesse Evans or he wasn’t. I have also found a three pictures online that are purported to be of Jesse Evans, but none are 100% for certain really him. The first picture is supposed to be Jesse Evans on the left and two of his gang in the 1870’s, but their names are not known. The second picture is supposed to be of Jesse Evans and an unknown woman in about 1870. The last picture is also supposed to be of Jesse Evans, but year is unknown, however I would place it in the 1870’s as well. So far I do not know if a picture of John Franklin Evans exists or not, but I am on the lookout for one.
If our John Franklin Evans, aka Jack Evans, was really Jesse Evans, then he found a good place to hide amongst a bunch of Mormons in Arizona. However, Jesse Evans had escaped from Huntsville Penitentiary in Texas in 1882 and Jack doesn’t show up in Arizona at least not that we know of until 1897. Where was Jack/Jesse for those 15 years between 1882 and 1897? Jack’s first two wives came from Mormon families, so it makes me think he must have been a smooth talker, because he wasn’t a Mormon and Belle was 23 years younger and Althera was 28 years younger than Jack. Jack’s last known wife, Gertrude was 11 years younger than him. If indeed Jack was really born in 1855, but add two more years if he was really Jesse and born in 1853, like the prison records say, either way he was a lot older then the three wives we know about.
What made these women, Belle, Althera and Gertrude, choose a man like Jack? I know times were different back then and you had to do what you had to do to survive. You would think if he had really been Jesse Evans, who from all accounts was one really bad hombre, and who murder was a common theme in his life, that they would not have given him a second look or even been around him to begin with. Was Jack hiding from something or someone, without even being Jesse Evans? He apparently just shows up out of the blue one day and smiles his way into a partnership of a sawmill and a young bride, then a little over seven years later he marries a young widow woman.
Where was he before 1897 and where was he after 1912 and before 1930 and was his name really John Franklin Evans? I know that Jack and Jesse were common nicknames for men named John back in those days, but is that just a coincidence? I have been searching through old journals and life stories looking for any clues I can and if I find out more I will be sure and update this story.
So, what was it about Jack that drew these three women to him? I am sure we will never really know, but I will keep digging to see what else I might find about this mysterious man.