If you’ve followed my blog, you know that I’ve written about many incredibly talented individuals with brilliant minds, and great leadership qualities. However, in every family, there are a few members you don’t hear about. That’s a good description of my great Uncle Tom Houchins. As a child, I knew all my great aunts and uncles who were Houchins, my mother’s mother’s family, who were also the children of Evelyn Langhorne–from a wealthy and influential family in Virginia before the Civil War. At least I thought I knew them! I was in my late teens before I realized that there was another Great Uncle I had never heard of! He lived in Florida while we lived in Virginia, so it was easy to keep him unknown to young kids growing up. What amazes me is that my Mom was one of six sisters who were very close, and very family oriented. They kept up with their own Aunts and Uncles, and therefore we knew them and our cousins as well! How could it be, that I learned as an adult that we had this petty criminal , irresponsible playboy, and business success all wrapped up in one, in our own family! Kudos Mom, as a mom of the 1950’s, you did your job of “sheltering the children” well! In recent years, of course, I’ve talked with my cousins as adults, and we realize our mothers were all aware of our great Uncle Tom’s exploits, but none of them told us–talk about a code of silence (!) and he wasn’t an axe murder or anything! Want to know just what he did do?
Some of it is almost funny, some is sad, some terrible! Take your pick, because you are the only judge. Thomas, was born William Thomas Houchins 14 June, 1890, in Patrick County,Virginia, a beautiful, mountainous area of Southwest Virginia. On the 1900 Census we can see the whole family intact for the very last time. Little did they know when the census was taken in June of 1900, that by October, their loving mother, aged 34, would be dead, and their father would leave them for another woman and to start a new family! Four more months of oblivious childhood–then the reality of a hard life, a different life would set in! They had lived at one time with their grandfather, James Steptoe Langhorne. But he was not well, was blind, and would die within three years as well, so what were these children to do?! You can see on the census, six living children out of nine, as their mother died birthing twins in Oct.1900. (see blog post re. Evelyn here) Another sister,Virginia Myrtle had died at age 2, about six years earlier. Katie, their oldest child and daughter at age 16 was my grandmother. Was she panicked when her mother died and her father left? Grief stricken I’m sure! Her sister Julia was 15, Harry was only 13, but would be blind with the family disease by 17. Then there is Wm.Thomas, our subject of this blog, at the tender age of 9, days before his tenth birthday! His whole world was going to come crashing down around his head! There were two little boys, John and Guy, ages 4 and 3 respectively, did they even remember being a family?
I knew three of them fairly well. My grandmother died before I was born unfortunately, and Guy died when I was only five. (now I know all of their descendants, my siblings and cousins! ) Great Uncle John and his wife Aunt Josephine lived in Staunton, Virginia where she taught at the school for the deaf. I remember visiting them often as a child. Uncle John was always mannerly and kind to me. Great Uncle Harry was blind when I knew him, but he would come see us and stay for days. He would sit out on our front porch and play his banjo and sing! I would sit at his feet and beg him to play more! more, more! Great Aunt Julia lived in Richmond where we did and we saw her often. When her grandson Billy Pat, who was just my age came to visit, I would get so excited! We would swim, and play and just got along famously. Aunt Julia herself was a lawyer–the first female ast. district attorney in the state of Va. Sometimes she scared me to death! She could freeze you with one look! LOL I’m sure that served her well in the courtroom! In actuality, she was a sweet, kind woman who would do anything for family. I never knew my Great Uncle Tom existed, until 1966 or 7, when I was a Junior or Senior in highschool. That summer my parents went to visit him and took my younger brother with them! My brother would have been about 12 probably. While I was shocked to learn I had another great uncle alive and successful in Florida, I paid little attention. You see, this was the first time I was allowed to stay home alone with my older brother and sister while our parents were gone away for a week! A week! We had a ball, and thought little of whom they were visiting , I’m sorry to say! I now know my uncle was dying. I suspect Mom knew, and wanted to visit him one last time! So sad to have been an oblivious teenager! He died in 1968, with no children, but an interesting life.
Thomas was 10 when his mother died. A wealthy close cousin,, Lady Astor, Nancy Langhorne, swoooped in and sent him to military school to continue his growing up! You’d think that would do it! On the 1910 census, taken on April 16, we can see that he is enrolled in the army and is stationed at Fort Myer Military Reservation in Alexandria, Virginia. He is listed as 23 and single on the census. Did he lie, or is that a typo? We know that in April of 1910, he would have been only 19, turning twenty that June! We are also told by family members that he had married one Martina Ruth Bowie on January 11, 1910, when they were both 19 years old! Then we find the US Army Register of Enlistments where we find that Thomas was dishonorably discharged on October 26, 1911. Oh my gracious!
The only way to fill the years in between 1910 and 1930 when our couple is found in Chicago, is to listen to family stories. Thomas’s niece, the famous Mary Stuart of TV fame, wrote about him in her memoirs, Both of Me. She says he was known to have “shot a revenuer” in the mountains of Virginia and that he joined the army to escape punishment! He would have been a teenager, home from military school, where would he have been living? So, he joins the army and we find him there in 1910. He also gets married that year. We are told in the family, that he deserts the army and heads off to who knows where, but wait, his wife is not with him. Apparently he is going to meet her, when he gets drunk, and marries another woman, becoming a bigamist! All before he is 20! This kid is in trouble–shooting, desertion from the army, now bigamy!
But he has an ace up his sleeve! He has a loving sister who is an attorney! And sure enough, his sister, only 5 years older, but married and living in Richmond, Va. by then, a ripe old age of 25, comes to his rescue! My Great Aunt Julia helps him annul his bigamist marriage, she works with the army to get him his dishonorable discharge with no prison time, and it seems there were no charges pending from the rumor that he “shot a revenuer”! My suspicion is that this older and wiser sister of his also gave him her famous glare, and told him to grow up and fly right–did he?
The next census I can find, 1930, shows my great Uncle Thomas living in Chicago, with his wife Lillian–in fact, they are listed as Thomas and Lilian Anglin, not W.Thomas Houchins and Martina Bowie, his wife! Wow! I would never have found them of course, except for family stories, not given by any of the sisters, but pieced together through the cousins when we were all over 50 and our mothers were gone! They took these secrets to their graves!
I learned that indeed, they changed their names, legally or not I do not know, but I doubt it..and there is more to the story! What name did he choose? Thomas Smith, or Jones, oh no — Anglin–Thomas Anglin–how sad! Thomas Anglin was his first cousin who lived in Oklahoma! The real Thomas Anglin was a State Senator there in fact–another of the good guys! The real Thomas Anglin was the son of Pocahontas Houchins and her husband John B. Anglin, also from Patrick County, Virginia, who had moved to Oklahoma. I wonder if he knew? I wonder if our Aunt Pokey knew when she died in 1927! Wouldn’t she have been furious at her nephew, her brother’s son, a criminal –that he would dare to take her famous son’s name! Can you imagine the family feuds that might have erupted! No Thanksgiving Dinner family gatherings for them! Apparently, it never happened! Our Thomas Anglin and wife Lilian lived peacefully and prosperously it appears! By the 1940 census, we find him and Lilian living in Dade County Florida, in Coral Gables! This is where my Mom, Dad, and brother visited him in the late 1960’s! They had a business school there that they owned, and apparently it was very successful! “Buyer Beware” rings in my ears! Of course, we didn’t have computers in the years when he was alive. I understand that their school had a great reputation! He and Lilian never had children. I wonder , did they feel guilty; live in fear of being discovered? It’s hard to believe–in the midst of attorneys, State Senators (in Virginia as well), actual revenue agents hunting moonshine stills, educators, and so on, how do you get one like this? You could say he was scared by his mother’s death and his father’s desertion at his age 10, that he was hurt severely, and perhaps so. It may be that something happened in military school to a young boy of 10–18–that’s a tough way to grow up! However, his brothers and sisters did just fine it seems. We will never know, but wow–what a discovery of a sad and eccentric member of our family! What a journey he had.