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John J. Poill (1835 - 1928)

J. J. Poill (1836 - 1928)

Purpose: 

The purpose of this website is to present my theory that my great-grandfather John J. Poill was in fact John H. Pyle and that my great-grandfather was attempting to hide his identity for crimes he had committed—he had murdered a man in 1870 in California and had fled to Oregon to escape prosecution. 

In effect, I must prove that two different people in the genealogical record are in fact the same person.  Since my great-grandfather went to great lengths to hide his true identity, I must depend on considerable circumstantial evidence, speculations, and indirect proof.  The purpose of this website is to present my chain of reasoning to prove my theory.

Who was John J. Poill? 

John J. Poill (1837 - 1928),  was the father of my Grand-mother Lulu Poill Miller (1878—1953) who was my mother’s (1911—2006) mother.  I affectionately refer to him as “JJ.”  JJ married my Great-grandmother Mila Ann Eaton (1857 - 1937) in Springfield, OR on August 29, 1872 when she was 15 years old and he was around 36 years old.  They had four children including my Grandmother Lulu Bell Poill.  JJ and my Great-grandmother Mila Ann were truck farmers in Springfield, OR growing vegetables, berries, and hops.  Later, they moved across the Willamette river to Eugene, OR.  In Eugene, JJ was a gardener at the University of Oregon in Eugene for twenty years (around 1885 - 1905) and my Great-grand mother Mila Ann kept a boarding house for students of the University.  My Grandfather Leslie Miller was a student at the University of Oregon 1898—1902 and was a resident in the boarding house where he met my Grandmother Lulu Bell Poill and they were later married in 1909.

Not all was marital bliss for JJ and Mila Ann.  They were originally married on 24 Aug 1872 then divorced 31 Oct 1891 then remarried on 6 Mar 1895. The deposition that Mila Ann gave for divorcing JJ makes fascinating reading. He abused her mentally and physically and was given to flashes of anger, whipping her with a buggy whip or threatening her with a revolver.  In 1882 he deserted his family for 2 years. 

An interesting point from a genealogist’s standpoint is that their marriage in 1872 is the first reference in the genealogical record of him (John J. Poill) and the first reference of the last name “Poill” anywhere on the west coast.  In effect, John J. Poill suddenly appears with absolutely no previous record.

Who was John H. Pyle?

It is my theory that JJ was actually John H. Pyle who committed murder in California in 1870 and fled to Oregon to escape from the law hiding his identity.  John H. Pyle was the son of Nicholas E. Pyle and Mary Ann Westbrook.  Nicholas Pyle was the son of Samuel Pyle and Charity Eason.  As a young man, John H. Pyle had a troubled youth.  He was involved in an assault and battery case in Alabama when he was about 17 in which he had stabbed a man.  He drifted down to Texas then out west to California.

John H. Pyle married Amanda Barnes in 1859 in Tucson Arizona Territory.  The couple first lived in El Monte, Los Angeles Co, CA and are found there in the 1860 census.  Later they lived in Tulare Co, CA where they are found in the 1870 census living with their 4 children.  Amanda divorced John in 1874 because John deserted his family in 1870.  According to the divorce papers, he had stabbed a man and killed him and then fled deserting his family without further support.  They never heard of him again.  At that point, John H. Pyle disappears from the genealogical record.  There is no further information on him.

 

Fleeing to San Francisco After the Murder and Meeting Thomas and Catherine Eaton

It is my theory that, after the murder in 1870, John H. Pyle fled from Tulare Co, California to San Francisco (about 450 miles) where he hid for about 10—15 months.  At the time San Francisco was the major metropolis on the west coast with a population of 150,000 and a good place to disappear.  At that point, it is my theory that he changed his name from “John H. Pyle” to “John J. Poill.” 

In a 1924 newspaper article recounting his life, John J. Poill told a story of how he as a young man had, in fact, stayed in San Francisco while being treated by a doctor there.  In the article, he recounted how he had lived at a boarding house (the “What Cheer”) during his stay  The boarding house happened to be in the exact same neighborhood where Thomas Eaton, the uncle of my Great-grandmother Mila Ann Eaton, was living in 1870-71.  It is my theory that John J. Poill (a.k.a. John H. Pyle) could have easily met Thomas Eaton in the 10—15 months when the two were living in the same neighborhood.  While John Poill (or John H. Pyle) does not appear in the San Francisco city directories of that era, Thomas Eaton and his wife Catherine do in the time frame 1865—1871. 

Migration from San Francisco to Lane Co, Oregon with Thomas and Catherine Eaton

In 1872, Thomas and Catherine Eaton suddenly disappear from the San Francisco city directories.  It is my theory that this is the point in time when they migrated to Lane Co, Oregon (they are verified there in the 1880 census).  It is also my theory that John J. Poill (i.e., John H. Pyle) migrated with his new friends to Oregon.  Actually, John H. Pyle (i.e., John Poill) was already familiar with Oregon and had lived there for two years after arriving on the west coast (described in Amanda Barnes Pyle’s divorce deposition). Thomas Eaton and Catherine were heading for Pleasant Hill, Oregon, a small village south of Eugene where his brothers and mother had settled in about 1870.  Once there, it is my theory that John J. Poill stayed on in the vicinity near his friends Thomas and Catherine.  This is where John Poill met my great-grand mother Mila Ann Eaton who was the daughter of Joseph Eaton, a brother of Thomas.

On August 29 1872, JJ married the fifteen year old girl Mila Ann Eaton (thus, in my theory, committing bigamy). They were married the week that Mila Ann turned 15 - that is, JJ and Mila Ann were "dating" when she was 14!  We think there may have been a child born early to them that died.  I think this alleged child may have been the reason for their hurried marriage.  In the old family bible that Mila Ann kept there is a very provocative entry of the death of a child named something like "Niphisten Poill" (the first name is difficult to decipher) on “September 11, 1877.”  I think that this child that died was their first child and was born shortly after they were married (i.e., less than 9 months after) and died in 1877 at about the age of 5.  Also, John J. Poill’s obituary supports the contention that there was a first son born that died.  The obituary published in the Eugene Register Guard on December 25, 1928 states that there were 2 sons born to John J. Poill and Mila Ann (as well as three daughters).  The known son was Eddie who later died of Tuberculosis in 1902. 

 

Thus we have Thomas and Catherine Eaton arriving on the Joseph Eaton farm in 1872 accompanied by a friend named John J. Poill.  JJ stayed on or near the Eatons in Pleasant Hill, OR and impregnated the 14 year old daughter Mila Ann and a hurried marriage ceremony was conducted the week she turned 15 years old.  Since JJ was escaping from the authorities in California, he had to go along with it.

 

The Pyle Connection

The major evidence that John J. Poill is actually John H. Pyle is because in a 1924 newspaper interview he stated that he was a Southerner born in Mississippi.  In the interview he stated that “ I was born … in Mississippi.  My father’s name was Nick Poil (sic).  He married Mary Ann Westbrook.”  We were able to find a  "Nicholas Pyle" and "Mary Ann Westbrook" in the genealogical record who were married in 1831 and lived in Georgia, Mississippi, and Alabama.  Nicholas Pyle (1804 – 1867) was the son of Samuel and Charity Pyle who are well-known in the genealogical record (click ).  Nicholas and Mary Ann Pyle had about ten children, the first three being Everett Pyle (1832, GA), Nicholas H Pyle (1833, GA), and my John H. Pyle who was born in Mississippi sometime after 1834 (my theory is in 1835).

 

This John H. Pyle was a violent person.  In 1853 at the age of about 18 he and his brother Nicholas H. Pyle were involved in an assault and battery case for nearly killing a man in Shelby Co, AL.  In the trial evidence, the older brother Nicholas H. Pyle had been the ring leader and was found guilty.  His brother John H. Pyle was found innocent.  Their father Nicholas E. Pyle and their brother Everett Pyle arranged to pay Nicholas H Pyle's $15 fine but there was a lot of evidence presented in the trial that John H. Pyle had participated in the fight and had stabbed the guy.

 

Kaufman Co, Texas Connection

John H. Pyle’s father, Nicholas Pyle, appears to have left his wife Mary Ann Westbrook and his children sometime around 1859 then living in Shelby Co, AL (family desertion seems to run in this family.)  Nicholas had a brother, John Pyle, a farmer living in Kaufman Co, TX. Nicholas appears in the 1860 census living with his brother John in Kaufman Co.  So Nicholas E. Pyle, the father of our John H. Pyle,  deserted his family and went out to Texas to live near his brother. 

 

John H. Pyle in Tarrant Co, Texas

There is a “John Pile” on the 1855 Assessment Role of Tarrant Co as well as working in Tarrant Co as a surveyor in 1855, and 1857.   My theory is that this “John Pile” is actually John H. Pyle and that after the conclusion of the assault and battery charge mentioned above, the 20 year old John H. Pyle drifted down to Texas.  Notice that Kaufman Co, TX is near Tarrant Co, TX.  Tarrant Co is on the west side of Dallas Co (location of Dallas, TX) and Kaufman is on the east side of Dallas Co.  A reasonable explanation of how John H. Pyle ended up in Tarrant Co, TX in the 1855 - 1859 time frame is that when he drifted down to Texas, he was heading for Kaufman Co, TX to visit his uncle John Pyle.  Then he drifted over to Tarrant Co (about 60 miles north-east) where he got a job as a surveyor there. 

 

An interesting side-light is that John J. Poill off and on throughout his life went by the name of “Jonathan Jackson Poill” (in addition to the name “John J Poill”).  Where did this name come from?  Here’s a far-out theory:  When John H. Pyle was in Tarrant Co, TX in 1855-59 , he must have visited his uncle’s family over in Kaufman Co from time to time.  John H. Pyle’s uncle John had several children, among them a son named “Jonathan Jackson Pyle” and hence the first-cousin of John H. Pyle.  John H. Pyle would have met and known his cousin Jonathan Jackson Pyle when visiting there in 1855—1859.  Later, when John H. Pyle committed murder in California and fled to Oregon, to hide his identity he changed his name to “Jonathan Jackson Poill”, a name he knew, namely that of his cousin “Jonathan Jackson Pyle.”

 

The Barnes’ of Tarrant Co, Texas

Where did Amanda Barnes, the wife of John H. Pyle, come from?  She was the daughter of James Barnes and Mary Ann Sportsman.  The family was in Linn Co, MO in the 1850 census where Amanda was born in about 1843.  Amanda Barnes’ family moved to Tarrant Co, TX sometime in the 1850’s. There they joined several other families of the Barnes clan including Larken Barnes a well-known person in the genealogy record (see, for example).  Larken Barnes was probably Amanda’s uncle (unproven). 

 

Westward Ho

In 1859, Larken Barnes migrated along with several other Barnes families to El Monte, CA on a wagon train.  At that time, El Monte, CA was the destination of many Texans migrating to California. The wagon train took the route of the so-called Butterfield Trail,  the name now associated with the southern migration route from Missouri via Texas to California.  There are several Barnes families found in the 1860 census of El Monte, Los Angeles Co, CA. with names identical to the Barnes in the Tax Assessment Lists of Tarrant Co, TX in the 1850’s.

 

Also, by the 1860 Census of El Monte, Los Angeles Co, CA, Amanda Barnes and John H. Pyle were married.  While there is no actual evidence that they knew each other back in Tarrant Co, TX, it’s reasonable that two young people of the opposite sex living in a sparsely populated area would know each other.  According to Amanda’s deposition when she divorced John H. Pyle for desertion in 1870, they were married in Tucson, Arizona Territory on August 17, 1859.  This is strong evidence that both Amanda Barnes and John H. Pyle were on that 1859 wagon train recounted by Larkin Barnes, and that John H. Pyle was in Tarrant Co, TX prior to 1859.  So the conclusion is that during that 1859 voyage from Texas to California, the kids got serious and married along the trail in Tucson.

An interesting sidelight is that wagon trains (see) that traveled from the Tarrant Co area of Texas to California would start the voyage from the Denton, TX area (a few miles north) in April and arrive in Tucson in mid August which fits perfectly with Amanda and John’s marriage on August 17, 1859.  This is further circumstantial evidence that both Amanda as well as John were on the Larken Barnes wagon train of 1859.

 

The Butterfield Trail

In the two 1924 newspaper interviews (Jan 24, 1924, Feb 25, 1924), John J. Poill stated that he had been a "Texas Ranger" and had escorted wagon trains from Texas out to California.  I have looked in vain for evidence that he was, in fact, a “Texas Ranger.”  He wasn’t.  However, his tall-tale does fit my theories.  Here’s how:

 

During the two interviews, he mentioned many place names along the trail such as "Deadman's Hole", "Concho", and "Texas Hill".  These place names are along the Butterfield Trail, the same route as the Larken Barnes wagon train.  The Butterfield Trail ran from Missouri to California via Texas and Arizona.  In Texas it followed the old Texas-California Cattle Trail.  JJ’s 1924 story was detailed and specific as it relates to place names along the Butterfield trail in Texas, Arizona and California so I’m certain he was actually on the Texas – Arizona – California part of the Butterfield trail sometime in his life.

 

So my conclusion is that John J. Poill (aka John H. Pyle) either was employed by the 1859 Larken Barnes wagon train and did his part to escort it (thus supporting JJ’s tall tale that he was a “Texas Ranger”) or at least was a passenger on that wagon train.  In this way, JJ picked up enough information and facts about the route and trail life to tell his stories about being a “Texas Ranger” in 1924 in the newspaper interview.  A few facts go a long way when you’re telling "tall tales."

 

Henson McCoy Connection

Getting back to John H. Pyle and Amanda Barnes, the newlyweds first settled in El Monte, Los Angeles County where they were in the 1860 census. Then according to Amanda’s divorce deposition, they migrated up to Oregon and were there for over 2 years from 1860 to 1862.  There is a very compelling connection here too.  One of the children of John and Amanda was a son named Henson McCoy Pyle born in 1868.  It so happens that living near them in the 1860 census of El Monte was a Henson McCoy.  Tracing this character further, we discovered that Henson was married to Amanda’s half sister Clarissa so Henson was Amanda’s brother-in-law.  Also, to make the connection even stronger, Henson and Clarissa and their family lived in Tarrant Co, TX in the 1850’s and had voyaged across the plains to California by ox wagons in 1858 according to his biography in the Wasco Co, OR county history where he settled later.  We suspect that this date of 1858, given after his death by possibly ill-informed children, might be wrong and that he too was on that 1859 Larken Barnes wagon train that brought Amanda, John, and the Barnes’ to El Monte!

 

The 1860 census of El Monte, CA brings together all these characters.  First there’s our John H. Pyle and Amanda.  Then we have Amanda’s mother Mary Any Barnes, Amanda’s brother William,  Larken Barnes and his family, not to mention Henson and Clarissa McCoy all living in the same area.

 

It is our theory that they all started from Tarrant Co, Texas, all came out west in that 1859 Larken Barnes wagon train, and all settled in El Monte, California along with numerous other Texans.

 

Yamhill Co, Oregon Connection

Henson and Clarissa moved to Yamhill Co, OR in the early 1860’s according to his biography and property records.  So our theory is that John and Amanda moved with them and were in Yamhill Co, OR in the later 1860 to 1862 time frame to account for their own voyage to Oregon mentioned in Amanda’s divorce deposition

 

This would also correlate nicely with one of JJ’s stories in the 1924 newspaper interview.  He stated that during the Civil War, he had organized a company of militia known as the Oregon Guerillas in Yamhill Co and that the company had marched down to Texas to participate in the war on the side of the Confederacy.  Even to this day, Yamhill Co still has vestiges of southern symphonies such as pickup trucks sporting Confederate flags.  My conclusion is that he was in Yamhill Co when the Civil War started in 1861 with Henson McCoy and being a Southerner, he may have at least done some rabble rousing for the Old South, enough to tell a vivid tale in 1924.  Remember, a little truth goes a long ways when your telling tall-tales.  Also, in 1862, according to Amanda’s divorce deposition, the family moved back to California which corresponds with JJ’s story of going down to Texas from Yamhill Co, OR.

 

Everett Pyle Connection

We next have a record of John H. Pyle and Amanda Barnes living at Tule River, Tulare county, California by the 1867 Great Register and the 1870 census.  Also Henson and Clarissa were living nearby too in Tulare county.  John and Amanda had four children, among them an "Everett Pyle".  So this is additional circumstantial evidence that John H. Pyle, son of Nicholas E. Pyle and Mary Ann Westbrook, is the same John H. Pyle married to Amanda Barnes living in California (i.e., he gave one of his sons the same name as his brother Everett.).  Also, California John H. Pyle was born in Mississippi according to the 1860 census and Alabama John H. Pyle was too.  So this is strong evidence that California John H. Pyle is the same John H. Pyle who was the son of Nicholas Pyle and Mary Ann Westbrook!

 

Married, Divorced, Remarried

John J. Poill was divorced then remarried to Mila Ann Eaton  They were originally married on 24 Aug 1872 then divorced 31 Oct 1891 then remarried on 6 Mar 1895.  The deposition that Mila Ann gave for divorcing JJ makes fascinating reading.  He abused her mentally and physically and was given to flashes of anger, whipping her with a buggy whip or threatening her with a revolver.  He deserted her for a year and a half in 1882.  At the time, Mila Ann had two children under the age of 5.  These characteristics of JJ are very compatible with those of John H. Pyle who had stabbed a man in 1853, killed a man by stabbing in 1870 then fleed and deserted his family without further support.  Why did Mila Ann remarry JJ in 1895?  She probably found out after their divorce in 1891 that their first marriage in 1872 had been illegal (i.e., since JJ was still married to Amanda Barnes at the time) so she wanted to make her children legitimate.  Or perhaps she just felt sorry for him and took him back.

JJ Was Always a Mysterious Character

According to my mother Juanita Miller Gale (1911—2006), her grandfather "J J Poill" was always a mysterious character and seemed to have something to hide.  With her twin sister, Willetta, they used to joke when they were in high school in the 1920s that he was actually John Wilkes Booth hiding out in Eugene Oregon!  They weren't serious but it shows how mysterious "J J Poill" was for these high school girls to make up this joke about him. 

So that’s a summary of our 15 year research into John J. Poill.  He was a liar, bigamist, wife abuser, family deserter, and murderer.

Elusive Ancestor: John J. Poill

John J. Poill
Elusive Ancestor Website

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Updated

2/13/2010

thorntongale@poill27.info

©Thornton Gale 2007