Wednesday, July 24, 2013


© Kathy Duncan, 2013

I know, I know. In the midst of my Holcomb project, I have let myself be distracted by Annie Kells and her pet "Polly." To make matters worse, I am not even related to Annie.

Last week my friend Caitlin and I went on a mini-quilt shop hop to Arlington and Ft Worth, and afterward she took me on a tour of historic Ft. Worth. Knowing that I love old cemeteries, her tour included the Woodland Cemetery. We rounded a turn, and Caitlin spotted the tombstone of Annie Moyston Kells and her pet "Polly." It is a showstopper. We piled out of the car for a closer look. Polly's marker is damaged. Once upon a time, it was topped with the sculpture of a bird that faced Annie's tombstone. Today, the bird's tail feathers and feet can still be seen, but at some point, the bird was broken off. Annie's stone is a Victorian masterpiece of elaborate three-dimensional flowers that are slowly eroding so that they have a gently melted appearance. Annie was just 21 years old at the time of her death. Her tombstone included the information that she was the daughter of Mrs. M.C. Fox. We looked around and quickly realized that Annie and Polly are there all alone with no Kells or Fox family members near her. That seemed odd since she was obviously someone's darling.

Anne Moyston Kells
Daughter of Mrs. M C. Fox
Nov. 25, 1862
Oct. 21, 1884

At her foot is the memorial for
Annie's Pet "Polly"

Caitlin took photographs and said, "This is going to stay with me for a while." I said, "I'm going to have to find out more." I spent the next couple of days obsessively researching Annie M. Kells. Ultimately, this is more the story of Mrs. M.C. Fox, the grief-stricken mother who erected the tombstone, than it is the story of Annie and Polly. Mary's story is, to say the least, an odd one with lots of twists and turns. And it does not end well.

The beginning, however, was promising enough. Annie's parents were Dr. Louis John Kells and Mary Caldwell Moysten.  Lewis Kells and Mary Moysten married on 12 December 1850 in Wheeling, Ohio County, West Virginia. Dr. Louis Kells biography, which is suspiciously brief, appeared in two different period texts: A Contribution to the History of Medicine: with a Biography of the Deceased Physicians in the City of Wheeling, West Virginia for the Last 100 Years by Eugenius Augustus Heath (1876) and History of the Panhandle: Being Historic Collections of the Counties of Ohio, Brooke, Marshall, and Hancock West Virginia by J. H. Newton (1879). Both books contain identical information--Dr. Louis Kells graduated from Jefferson Medical College in Philadelphia in 1849 and settled shortly in Wheeling. In about three years he returned to Steubenville, Ohio where he had been born. No mention is made of a wife or family. The biography gives the erroneous impression that he remained in Steubenville until his death in 1873. Documentation clearly reveals that Dr. Louis Kells did not return to Steubenville by 1853 and remain there until his death. It is as if someone wanted to erase the intervening years and deny the existence of his family.

Please note that Wheeling, West Virginia and Steubenville, Ohio are less than thirty miles apart.

In 1860, Louis and Mary were living in a hotel or boarding house in Memphis, Shelby County, Tennessee:

5 June 1860, p. 92:
John Kell 30 M Doctor b. VA
Martha Kell 25 F b. VA
Lewis Kell 8 M b. VA

Annie Moyston Kells was born in Tennessee on 25 Nov 1862.

By 1864, Dr. Louis Kells and family were in New Orleans. Louis Kells paid federal taxes in Louisiana in 1864 and 1865 as a physician. Dr. Louis Kells took out an advertisement throughout 1865 reassuring the citizens of New Orleans that he was a highly educated physician and specialized in female complaints. His offices were located across the street from the St. Charles hotel.

Shortly afterward, in 1866, Dr. Louis Kells, was not listed in the New Orleans City directory. However, Mary C. Kells was, and she was operating a boarding house.

Mary C. Kells was still operating a boarding house in New Orleans when the 1870 census was taken, but Dr. Louis Kells was nowhere to be found.

20 June 1870, 2nd Ward, New Orleans, Orleans County, Louisiana:
Kells, Mary 31 F W Boarding house 0 - $2,000 b. VA
----, Louis 17 M W Law Student b. VA
----, Anna 8 F W b. TN

Dr. Louis Kells, did, however, turn up that year in a hotel in Steubenville, Ohio with another woman.

13 June 1870, Steubenville, Jefferson County, Ohio:
Kells, Louis 41 M W Physician 0 - $2000 b. OH
----, Emma J. 26 F W Keeping house b. OH
----, Ida May 9 F W b. PA

I have not located a divorce record for Louis and Mary C. Kells, nor have I located a marriage record for Louis and Emma Kells. This raises several questions. Did Louis divorce Mary? Where? Was Louis a bigamist instead? Did he simply take up with another woman and pass her off as a wife? Was Ida a daughter of Louis and Mary's? Or, was Ida Emma's daughter and the surname recorded was a mistake? Did Louis and Mary split their assets or were they claiming the same set of assets?

Dr. Louis Kells died dramatically from an abscess in 1872:

In 1872 and 1873, Mary C. Kells appeared in the New Orleans City Directory with the notation that she was the widow of Lewis. Dr. Louis John Kells was buried in Union Cemetery in Steubenville, Ohio. The findagrave memorial erroneously gives his date of death as 1873, which may, in fact, be what is on his tombstone. He was about 44 years old.

Before the end of the year, Mary C. Kells had remarried. She married Frank W. Fox on 14 October 1873 in Galveston, Texas. The following advertisement ran in the Cincinnati Daily Gazette on 27 Oct 1873:

FOX - KELLS -- At Galveston, Texas on Tues. Oct. 14, 1873, by the Rev. Dr. Bird Rector Trinity Episcopal Church, Capt. Frank W. Fox and Mrs. Mary Caldwell Kells, widow of the late Dr. Louis Kells, of Steubenville, Ohio. No cards.
[Wheeling, W Va. and Steubenville, Ohio papers please copy.]

Clearly, Mary used this advertisement to announce to Louis's family in Steubenville and her own family and friends in Wheeling,  W Va. that she had remarried. She also seems to be positioning herself as Louis Kell's rightful widow. Did she also make a claim against his estate?

In 1880, Emma J. Kells was alone on the Steubenville census and indicated that she, too, was a widow.

Perhaps this is why Dr. Louis Kell's biography makes no mention of a family and pretends that he was never in New Orleans.

Frank W. Fox served as a captain in Company I, 14th Infantry Regiment Illinois and went by the title Capt. Frank W. Fox for the rest of his life. It was a pretension that no doubt attracted Mary to him as well as the financial security that he provided.

On 27 Nov 1878, the Dallas Morning News ran in its "Fifty Years Ago" a birthday party notice that ran in a Galveston newspaper:

"There was a very pleasant party last night at the residence of Mrs. Captain Fox in celebration of the birthday of Miss Annie M. Kells."

The Foxes made their home in Galveston, Texas and must have been relatively happy. Mary seemed to be reveling in her role as Capt. Frank W. Fox's wife. This would have been Annie's 16th birthday.

In 1880, the Fox family was living in a boarding house in Galveston, Texas.

15 June 1880, Galveston, Galveston County, Texas, p. 80A:
Fox, W. Frank W M 45 Boarder Lumber ? b. Mass fb. Mass mb. Mass
----, C. Mary W F 42 Wife b. WV fb. Scotland mb. VA
Kells, M. Annie W F 17 Stepdau b. TN fb. OH mb. VA
crossed out but still readable is Louis Kells:
----, Louis W M 26 Stepson
Tempee, Bernard W M 35 Boarder b. VA

Meanwhile, Louis Kells Jr. can be found on the census in St. Louis, Missouri:
10 Nov 1880, St. Louis, St. Louis Co., Missouri:
Kells, Louis W M 27 Boarder Reporter b. W VA fb. OH mb. NY

This was the earliest record I have found of Louis Kells Jr's career as a journalist. By 1882, he was listed in the Kansas City, Missouri City Directory as a reporter.

In 1881, Mary C. Fox, Frank W. Fox, and Miss Annie M. Kells can all be found in the Galveston City Directory, living together.

By 24 June 1882, there was trouble in the Fox household. The Dallas Weekly Herald of 29 July 1882 reprinted a story that had appeared in the Galveston papers of a nearly deadly assault on Annie. William M. Edwardy, a reporter for the Houston Post and Austin Statesman, who was boarding with the Fox family owed them rent. Mary was refusing to allow him to remove his furniture and trunks from the house until he paid what he owed. In return, he became angry and abusive. When Annie attempted to intervene, he punched her in the face, knocking her senseless and drawing blood from both her mouth and nose. He then loaded his pistol and threatened to shoot Mary if she continued to try to stop him. Mary fled to her room screaming. Her cries were heard, and when Special Officer Rainey arrived, he found Edwardy standing over Annie with a gun. Edwardy was arrested and Captain Frank W. Fox swore out a complaint against him.

Annie Moyston Kells died suddenly on 25 Oct 1884. The Galveston Daily News ran the following death notice on 28 Oct 1884:

"KELLS - At Ennis, Tex., Thursday night at [? ] o'clock, Miss Annie Moyston Kells, daughter of Mrs. Mary C. Fox and sister of Louis Kells, of the Fort Worth Gazette."

The Fort Worth Gazette announced on 24 Oct 1884 that Annie’s funeral was held on 24 Oct at 10:30 a.m. from 408 Belknap St. in Ft Worth. Today Oakwood Cemetery, which is on a hill, overlooks that location.

In 1885, Mrs. Mary C. Fox can be found living in the Vance Hotel in San Antonio. While her son Louis Kells was listed in the Fort Worth City Directory. Period newspapers in 1885 and 1886 state that he was a newspaper correspondent living in San Antonio.

On 16 Feb 1886, the Galveston Daily News reported that Frank W. Fox had filed a petition of divorce from Mary Culver Fox in Galveston County. His petition stated that Mary left him in 1884. He accused her of being "guilty of excesses, cruel treatment and outrages" toward him. On his part, he was always "indulgent." He stated in 1883, "when they were living in Galveston, [Mary] on one occasion drove him from the house by her violence, and that he was obliged to go to a hotel; that she followed him to the hotel, and there conducted herself in such a boisterous and violent manner, endeavoring to break a door of said hotel, and doing other acts of such a violent nature that the proprietors were obliged to interfere, which acts greatly mortified him and caused him great humiliation; that afterward he bought a large amount of furniture to be used for her comfort, and in all things endeavored to induce her to perform the part of a dutiful wife, but that she continually mortified and hurt his feelings by slandering him to her neighbors and to strangers, and defaming his character." He then recounted that "she on one occasion engaged in a personal fight with a tenant of plaintiff, and though plaintiff endeavored to protect her, she abused and maltreated him." Frank stated that this happened in the spring of 1884. According to the petition, shortly afterward Mary "boxed and packed up all the furniture expressing an intention never to return." This action caused "great scandal among the friends and acquaintances" of Frank, and "his pride [was] greatly humiliated." Frank also provided the information that Mary was currently a resident of Bexar County, Texas.

Frank's statements throw some light on the events of 1884, the year Annie died suddenly. After many heated arguments that spring Mary was willing to abandon economic security to leave Frank. Is it possible that Mary and Annie were living in Ennis at the time of Annie's death? Or were they in Fort Worth? Louis Kells was probably working for a newspaper in Fort Worth in 1884. In Frank's statement, Mary is portrayed as a forceful, aggressive person. Not the same woman who hid in her room when a tenant attacked her daughter. Then there is the question of what provoked Mary's great anger against Frank.

Admittedly, Annie and her pet Polly's tombstone in Oakwood Cemetery is lasting, visible proof of Mary's financial excesses. One imagines that she sent the bill to Frank.

Their divorce drug on throughout 1886. On 3 Sept 1886, according to the records of Oakwood Cemetery, Annie's body was moved from Oakwood Cemetery in Fort Worth to San Antonio, where Mary was currently residing. Annie and Polly's tombstones were left behind at Oakwood. Again, one imagines that a woman living in a hotel would not have the financial resources for such an extravagance. The bill, no doubt, went to her husband Frank. Did Mary leave Annie's tombstone in Ft. Worth because she planned to have another stone made for Annie San Antonio? Was Mary trying to punish Frank financially before the divorce was final? So far, I have not found a tombstone for Annie in San Antonio, so I do not know if she is resting under another opulent stone or if she is in an unmarked grave. It seems most likely that Polly died shortly after Annie, so that Polly's memorial was created while Frank could still foot the bill for it. Did Polly die of grief for Annie? Or did the frequent moves take a toll on the bird's health? Or did an angry, aggressive Mary wring the bird's neck?

On 18 December 1886, the Galveston Daily News reported that a final divorce decree had been granted in Frank W. Fox vs. Mary Culver Fox.

Less than a month later, Frank W. Fox married Mrs. Phebie Emma Hodge on 16 January 1887 in Harris County, Texas. The Galveston newspapers took Captain Frank W. Fox to task for marrying Mrs. Hodge in secret.

Another woman would be the most obvious reason for Mary to rage at her husband. One can understand that after her experience with Dr. Louis Kells, a second philandering husband would have been too much for Mary. She could have easily become the angry, raging woman who made scenes outside Frank's hotel room, slandering him to anyone who would listen, and spending his money as quickly as possible. Annie's tombstone may be as much about Mary's doting love for her daughter as it was about her anger toward her husband.

Removing Annie's body to San Antonio, however, was short-sighted. By 1888, Louis Kells was working as a reporter in Dallas. By 1889, he gave up his work in newspapers and became a traveling insurance agent. By 1889 Mary C. Fox, wife of Frank W. Fox, was also living in Dallas. Louis was living with his mother Mary C. Fox in 1891 and 1893 in Dallas.

From this point on, Louis Kells worked as an insurance agent, and Mary C. Fox either lived with him or in the same town. They are usually found in boarding houses or hotels.

On 24 May 1893, the Denver Rocky Mountain News ran the odd notice that "Louis Kells, formerly of Dallas, Tex. and once a traveling agent of the Mutual Life Insurance, is reported missing from his home." The notice does not reveal where his home was, and there is no follow up information.

By 1898, Louis Kells was working in St. Louis, Missouri, and he was in trouble. He had been arrested on June 9 in Bloomington, IL for forging an insurance premium, and his case was going to be tried soon. Shortly before the start of the trial, Louis committed suicide in Forest Park in St. Louis on 7 September 1896. He had overdosed on morphine. Three letters were found on his body along with a request for the finder to mail them. Louis Kells had been a resident of St. Louis for about one year, having moved there from Bloomington, IL.

On 9 September 1898, the St. Louis Republic, reported that Louis's mother "Mrs. Nellie Fox" was heartbroken over the death. She was crippled with rheumatism but had managed to make her way to the Morgue to view his body, where she exclaimed, "I have nothing to live for" and fainted. In the coroner's office, she told the sad story of her life, and the tale was so pathetic that some of the listeners had to leave the room. "Her troubles began, she said, 12 years ago, with the death of her daughter, a beautiful girl of 17 years. Mrs. Fox said that her daughter had gone on a visit to friends. One morning they found her dead in bed. She was to have been married two weeks later. Heart disease was the cause ascribed by the Coroner. Mrs. Fox was been married twice, but both husbands are now dead. For a time she lived in Dallas, Tex. She came here for treatment of rheumatism. The Knights of Pythias, of which Kells was a member, will see the remains receive proper burial."

This account is so at odds with all the other evidence of Mary C. (Moysten) Kells Fox's life, that it is hard to know where to begin. Annie was 21 not 17 at the time of her death. Was she really engaged to be married? Not only is Mary not Frank's widow, but he was also still living at this point.

On 8 September 1898, an article about Louis Kells in the St. Louis Republic, added yet another layer of misinformation to the story: “It is said he was born in New Orleans, La, where prior to the war, his family was among the wealthiest and most influential in that section. His mother survives him. She is a widow and is living in St. Louis with some of her relatives. Her name is Fox, she had married again after the death of her first husband, father of the deceased.”

Louis was born in West Virginia, probably Wheeling, not New Orleans. There is no evidence that Mary was from a wealthy, influential family in New Orleans although some of her family members were living in New Orleans in the mid-1860s. If Mary was living with relatives in 1898, she was no longer with them in 1899. Instead, she was living alone in St. Louis. Curiously, she was listed in the St. Louis, Missouri City Directory as Mary C. Fox, widow of Frank W., and as Mary C. Kells, widow of Louis, both of whom resided at 907 S. 8th.

Louis Kells was buried in St. Peters Cemetery, Normandy, St. Louis County, Missouri. His tombstone only provides his place of birth, West Virginia, and his death date-7 Sept. 1898. Like his father, he died at the age of 44.

In 1900, Mary C. Fox was living by herself:

7 June 1900, St. Louis, St. Louis County, Missouri:
1302 St. Auge Ave.
Fox, Mary C. Head W F b. Dec 1843 56 Widow b. WV fb. Scotland mb. WV - sewing paper flowers

In 1902, four years after Louis's death, his estate was still unsettled and was in the St. Louis, Missouri Court of Appeals. Those documents reveal that two weeks prior to his death, Louis sent his will and other important personal documents to his nephew A.D. Craddock. His will made provisions for his debts to be paid and for his mother to receive a legacy of $1,000. The balance of his estate was to go to his sister for her support and the support of A.D. Craddock. Sister? The only other possible sister seems to be Ida May Kells. I have not been able to find out anything further about A.D. Craddock and his mother.

Mary C. Fox died 31 May 1903 of Bright’s disease at her residence, 2315 Chouteau Ave., in St Louis. No informant provided reliable information about her. By her appearance, she was estimated to be 70 years old. She was actually between 64 and 70 years old. Her death certificate stated that her occupation was a “maker of paper flowers.”

Mary C. Fox is buried in St. Peters Cemetery, Normandy, St. Louis County. Missouri as is her son, Louis Kells. Her tombstone incorrectly dates her death as Sept. 1903.

Capt. Frank W. Fox had two sons with Phebie. He died in 1912 and is buried near Phebie in Glenwood Cemetery in Houston, Harris County, Texas.


  1. Mary was born abt 1834, rather than 1843. She was married to Kells on December 12, 1850 in Wheeling, Ohio, Virginia. Her brother, John Hugon Moyston, (with another fascinating life story) a confederate prisoner of war, eventually fld to Mexico and became a superintendent of a silver mine. After the war, he moved to New Orleans, then to Memphis and became a relatively well-known photographer. Perhaps this is the New Orleans "wealth" mentioned, plus the inherited family wealth in WV.

    Each of her siblings have quite interesting life stories.

    1. You are correct that Mary was not born in 1843 as indicated on the 1900 census; however, that is what was reported on the census. Either Mary did not want to admit to being older, or a neighbor provided the information. This is why the census is more of a secondary source that a primary source. It's information is always to be taken with a grain of salt. Her findagrave memorial reports her birth date as 1833. I do not know yet if she had a tombstone.


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