Forgot His First Love

(Maybe) Willie Childs (with Jim James) in her later years

The following newspaper excerpt came to me from SoHum historian Olmanriver.  Thanks, River ! 

“The Arcata Union” Arcata, California

Saturday, February 25, 1899


Willie Childs, an Indian woman, has laid claim to a half interest in the estate left by William Childs, a Humboldt pioneer. According to her complaint, her marital relations with Childs commenced at Trinidad in January 1855, & continued until January 1886, in which year Childs left Humboldt to return to his old home in Massachusetts where he had come into a fortune of $50,000, & where he had married Christina Childs, a white woman, to whom he transferred all his property, before the close of his earthly career. The deserted Indian woman claims that the property was transferred for the purpose of defrauding her of rights in the property & she asks the courts to declare that the white wife is entitled to only one half of the property so conveyed & that she is holding the other half in trust for the plaintiff. The suit only affects the property in Humboldt county. The estate consists of stock & ranches valued at $15,680 & about $3,000 for the personal property. The complaint was filed last Saturday, the action being entitled Willie Childs vs Christina Childs.

Per Olman:

I have read where it was very unusual for an Indian wife to get her white partner’s inheritance and that Fannie Briceland was a big groundbreaker in that regard down here [Southern Humboldt/Northern Mendocino] I think that was Mary Anderson’s insight…

I will be curious to see if you find other successful legal passings of estates to the Indian spouse….



William Childs-no Willie listed in the house though William Jr. was born in 1859, supporting Willie's claim that she lived with him from early in the settlement period




The happy Childs family...


 Note the change in young William’s race.  This was quite common in 1870-not only were 1/2 Indian children declared “W” for white, the change is obvious on all the forms, meaning there was a policy shift for some reason.

1880 Census shows William alone again. I can't find wife Willie...


So I tried to find more info on the photo above and found all of this, which does remind us to be cautious when citing/believing what we read.  There can be a million different stories about the same exact thing.;style=oac4;view=dsc

There is considerable controversy about the name of the subject of the photo. R. F. Heizer and John E. Mills in their Four Ages of Tsurai, 1952, p. 94, probably inaccurately identify her as “Willie Childs, a Last Survivor of Tsurai.” Yuroks Axel Lindgren and Seeley Griffin both deny that this is either the male half-breed Willie Childs, or his mother or his wife; Axel Lindgren was collecting mussels with William Childs, when the latter drowned in 1911 (Notebook XXXVI:13).


Josephine Peters, the former wife of Axel Lindgren’s grandnephew and a former neighbor of Axel’s at Trinidad said #12 is a shot of “Mrs. Humpback Jim,” a woman also known as “Blind Molly” (Notebook XXXVI:130).


Axel Lindgren, oldest Indian native of Trinidad, born about 1890, probably the best possible informant now surviving on this photo says the woman shown was not the mother of Willie Childs, but was the wife of Humpback Jim; her son was George James, whose son Theodore James is still living, having been born about 1892 (Notebook XXVI:9). Axel remembered Mrs. Humpback Jim well; he commented on how the hallway of her house was always piled with firewood; he noted that although she looked blind, she was not (Notebook XXXVI:10).


Mrs. Ann Hyner, the oldest white native resident of Trinidad, born 1887, identified this woman as “Old Willie” and noted she was “sort of blind”; she also said she thought this woman may have been the wife of Humpback Jim (Notebook XXXV:163).


Mrs. Alice Spinas, another Trinidad native, born about 1900, niece of Ann Hyner, and a collector of Indian data and relics for some forty years, owns a postal of the woman in #12. Mrs. Spinas said her Indian name was Skarap (Notebook XXXV:169). She owns another Ericson postal showing a quite different woman and labelled: “Willie and Jim”; the latter she identified as Humpback Jim. Mrs. Spinas’ notes state that a shot of the woman in #12 wearing the same clothes was taken in 1905 (Notebook XXXV:170).


Photos in the Clarke Museum of Eureka have other photos by other photographers of the subject of #12 labelled “Mrs. Childs.”


In summary, it appears that this postal is of the wife of Humpback Jim. In the Indian English of about 1900, she was apparently called “Mrs. Humpback Jim.” For some unknown reason, this woman became known in the white community as “Mrs. Childs” or “Mrs. Willie Childs” or “Willie Childs,” a designation which the Indian community used for a quite different woman, the latter actually being the mother of the half-breed William Childs, later of Boston.

2 Responses to Forgot His First Love

  1. olmanriver says:

    Great research Lynette! And an excellent example of how historians have to dig deep and sort through all of the information.
    Ernie B and I go around from time to time on the reliability of oral accounts vs. written accounts, many of which started out as an oral account. In a recent post on the history of one of Long Valley’s most popular Indians, we posted a newspaper article with an account that had a 3-4 year old boy riding off with the men and bringing back Indian children. Didn’t happen.
    Your sleuthing is remarkable, good work.

    • Lynette M says:

      Hey ‘River, thanks for stopping by.

      It was amazing to read all the contradicting opinions regarding that single photo. I guess the trick (too late for a lot of these stories, but not too late for future historians) is to record the stories from the original sources while we can. Talk to parents, grandparents, neighbors. And WRITE STUFF DOWN.

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