Tag Archives: Mack Henry James

The Other Woman in the Life of Mack Henry James

The pursuit began in 1999. What happened to Mack Henry James, following his abandonment of his wife and children? Following Mac from his home in Kentucky to Bloomington in McLean County, Illinois, the chase has continued since.

It’s known that a third woman was involved with Mack Henry James. First, there was Dorinda “Dora” Phelps-James, the wife he abandoned around 1916. The death of Millie Mae Scanlon, his second wife or partner, from cerebral syphilis occurred in 1934. Flora Audra Spencer is the third. She is the other woman in the life of Mack Henry James. They married in 1935, a year after Millie Mae died. Mac then died tragically in 1945. Flora followed, dying in 1968. Like Millie Mae, Flora died of a severe brain disease. The implication beneath these facts is that Mac may have been the source of infection.

In January of 2016, contact was made with Rebecca Spencer-Landis. As Becky writes in the following, she is a granddaughter of Flora and the partner whom Flora never would identify. With some minor editing, Becky offers the following particulars about her grandmother and her relationship with Mack Henry James.


Email from Rebecca Spencer-Landis to Eric F. James

Hello. It’s nice to meet you. So many questions! Questions are good. I will try to answer them for you as best I can.

First – Flora Audra Spencer was my grandmother. I am the youngest of her son Olin’s four children.

About Flora

The other woman, Flora Audra Spencer
Flora Audra Spencer 1889-1968

She was a school teacher most of the year, which must have been difficult when she was pregnant. During the summer months, she was the housekeeper on a farm (not her parents’ farm) She had my father at her parents’ farm outside Stanford, IL. They cared for him during the week when she was teaching and she returned each weekend when she would take over the childcare and – from everything I was told – pretty much the running of the farm. She died when I was 2 years old so I don’t have any direct memories of her.

From what I was told, she was very strict – to the point that her parents allowed her to run everything when she came home. (According to my father, they hated to see her come home and could not wait for her to leave.)

The Father of Flora’s Son Olin B. Spencer 1921-1994

She never revealed the man who got her pregnant, although according to her sister Alta, the family believed it to be the hired hand who worked at the farm she worked on during the summer. We had always heard he was married with children. Census records list my father’s birth father to have been from Ohio, but no one knows for certain.

Olin B. Spencer, the son of the other woman
Olin B. Spencer 1921-1994 circa 1992 with his second wife Geraldine Pearl Schofield 1926-2001

While no one ever knew who my father’s birth father was, one thing was maintained by everyone – Mac James was not the man who fathered Olin Spencer. I asked – numerous times. I asked my father, his aunt, some of his cousins, all said the same – Mac and my father were not related by blood. (To be 100% honest, I still kind of have my questions on that.) I had thought they were blood related when I was small because I saw a picture of Mac’s son Omar (sic) in an army uniform and thought it was my father in his army uniform. When I got older, I could tell the difference, but they looked very alike when I was young. I don’t know where the photo is now.

Olin, Mac, and Omer

My father told a few stories about going fishing with Mac. I know that Dad and Omar sometimes visited each other, and Dad always spoke fondly of Omar. Don’t recall hearing much of anything about other children Mac had, or even why he was no longer married to their mother. I didn’t even know until now that Flora was his third wife. Either my father didn’t know or it wasn’t talked about. My father usually referred to Mac as “My old man” a phrase he used when talking about his grandfather as well.

The Marriage of Flora and Mac

I am not sure how Flora and Mac met, but my father did work for a time at Tick’s Junk Yard but I don’t know if that was before WWII or after. I would guess – and it’s just a guess – that if Mac was working for Tick’s at the right time, he could well have met her while handling something for the farmer she worked for or for her father’s farm. Tick’s was, and still is, a place most people in McLean County go to get rid of scrap or junk. They may even have met at church.

Flora left teaching after she married Mac. They were married Feb 20, 1935 in Carlock, McLean County, IL. Rev. E. Troyer was listed as the man who married them. They lived outside of Bloomington in an area known as Bloomington Heights. The house as far as I know is still there.

For all accounts Flora was truly happy for the first time in her life after she married Mac. She supposedly became a different person. He ran the house more than she did. She cared for him after he lost his legs and was horribly upset when he died.

She had lost her mother in 1936 and her father in 1944. My father who had been in the army was discharged to help her care for her father and for Mac, as both were ill at the same time and she was trying to take care of both. My father was just as upset at Mac’s death as his mother, perhaps a bit more as he had been the only real ‘father’ he had known outside of his grandfather.

After Mac’s Death

After Mac’s death…I think she did laundry, sewing, odd job types of things. When my parents bought a very small farm outside of Danvers, IL in Dec 1966 and moved in, they had both grandmothers move in as well.

I was told Flora began acting differently in the last few years of her life; sometimes forgetting things like she had experienced a stroke. This is why Dad wanted her living with us. My mother said – a few months after moving in – she began to forget who my father was and simply called him “that man.” She sometimes acted like she was a child, and sometimes as if I – the baby – was a dolly to play with. Many years later my mother would realize that she had what we now know as Alzheimer’s, which was not very well researched in the 1960’s.

The last few months of her life, Flora would hide from my father and only respond to my mother, telling my mother in a childlike voice “That man was here. He was looking for me. He hates me.” She died in Jan 1969 and was buried on my sister’s birthday.

I have seen a picture or two of Flora and Mac but it has been a long time. I will have to see if I have any or if my sister does. She may be able to provide more information too. She and my oldest brother live in Kentucky in the Cambridge Shores Subdivision on Kentucky Lake. It may take some time to do some digging but I promise I will get anything I find to you. I hope that what I have put into this has helped somewhat.

Best regards,

Becky Landis

Becky Landis
Rebecca “Becky” Spencer-Landis
The family of Flora Audra Spencer-James: Siblings standing L-R: Roy Augustus Spencer 1894-1923, Alta E. Spencer 1893-1983, Ross Hamilton Spencer 1891-1976, Flora Audra Spencer 1889-1968. Not shown is deceased infant Harris Edwin Spencer 1899-1900. Parents seated: Mary Catherine Ranes 1865-1936, John Hamilton Spencer 1863-1944

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Portrait of an Abandoned Family

Every photo tells a story. This photo tells the sad story of the aftermath left by a person not in the picture. Mack Henry James 1878-1945 ran out on this abandoned family. He left his wife and his children, shown here, with no support. With few resources, they successfully reorganized themselves into extended family.


Identified by Dean Watkins Conely, Feb 18, 2016: Center: Ivadean James Elliott & her 3 chrildren Patricia Ann, Gerald, & Rod Elliott. 4th Child is Del Watkins, sister of Dean Watkins Conley. 2nd Row L-R: Zena James Randall, Ada James Watkins, Geneva “Ginny” James Randall, Dora James, & Canzada Watkins. Back Row L-R: Lareen Randall Phelps, possibly Boyd Phelps, & Leonard Watkins.

Mac died terribly. He was a junkyard man woefully ridden by  Buerger’s disease. His two legs were amputated. Mac was left entirely to the care of one of the women for whom he abandoned his family. Following Mac’s death, his third wife Flora Audra Spencer, after caring for Mac and watching him die, would enter her own descent into the cruel underworld of Alzheimer’s disease.

Mac’s abandoned family progressed forward painfully. They were more successful. Generations of them, demonstrating high respect for family, have followed. Mac only survives as a lost memory and a sad story. The legacy of Mac’s family lives in his children and theirs.


The Abandoned Family in the Picture

Canzada Frances Gregory-Watkins:  From her apron, it is evident Canzada Watkins is the hostess of this group on the day the photo was taken. Born in 1872, she is the mother of Leonard Watkins, a twin born in 1905.

Leonard Watkins :  Leonard is a son of Canzada Watkins. Leonard also is a 6th great-grandson of Samuel Sallee of Culpeper County, Virginia. Just how Samuel is related to Guillaume “William” Sallee, the associate of Frank and Jesse James’ grandfather John M. James, remains undefined.

Ada James-Watkins :  Ada James, one of the daughters abandoned by Mack Henry James, stands to her husband Leonard’s right. All the descendants of Leonard and Ada James Watkins share a unique combination of James and Sallee kinship.

Delma “Del” Watkins:  The child standing far right is the daughter of Leonard Watkins & Ada James.

Dorinda “Dora” Phelps-James:  Standing to the right of Canzada Watkins, Dora is the first wife of Mack Henry James. She is the mother of his children. All were left to be Mac’s abandoned family shortly after the birth of their 5th child, Ivadean James in 1915. The 1920 census lists Dora at age 37 as head of household with four children between the ages of twelve and four and a half years. She had been head of household for almost four years.

Ivadean James-Elliott:  Standing front and center is the youngest child of Mack Henry James. Ivadean James inherited the genetic tall gene that is occasional among James siblings. Over the years, the unhappiness of her expression in the photo would turn into resignation and peaceful acceptance.

James Family History Is Lost & Unknown

When interviewed in 1999, Ivadean James-Elliott misidentified her paternal great-grandfather. She knew her grandfather Judge John Thomas James, who tragically was dragged under an automobile and killed when Ivadean was 8 years old. But she knew nothing about her actual paternal great- grandfather, the “talented, but erratic” Rev. Joseph Martin James.

Leaving his family in embarrassment and defrocked due to his alcoholism, outrageous misbehavior, and bigamy, Rev. Joe married Permelia Estepp bigamously, while he still was married to his second wife Rhoda May. Rev. Joe continued to father children in alternate years as he lived with his two wives in their houses in alternate years.

The community of Flat Lick Baptist Church and Pulaski County branded the offspring of Rev. Joe and Permelia Estepp as “the bastard bunch.” They were socially ostracized by a communal silence. Children and grandchildren of this line did not know or recognize one another. Nor were they regarded as family by others of the James family. Today, that has changed.

More Abandoned Family

Ronald “Ron,” Patricia Ann, & Gerald Elliott: The three children Ivadean James bore to Gid Chester Elliott, who also abandoned Ivadean as her father did. When Ivadean died in 2000, ironically Gid Elliott also passed 12 hours later.

Zena James-Randall:  Another child in the abandoned family of Mack Henry James, Zena married Rev. Clifford Randall Sr. They had 6 children. Zena operated a mercantile store in Science Hill. She was known to often forgive unpaid due balances. Her kindness and consideration, together with her children and their progeny, salvaged their lost ancestry. She restored dignity and respect.

Geneva “Ginny” James:  Geneva married Rev. William Lesbert Randall, known casually as Willie. Their 7 children moved in a world beyond Pulaski County. Five years after they married, Rev. Randall in 1928 began to conduct missionary work in China. For a year following September, 1936, he furloughed in Victoria of Vancouver, Canada. He returned to China until 1940, when Ginny and he finally returned to Pulaski County, he conducted Baptist evangelism.

Missionary Family

Missionary Family – Rev. William Lesbart Randall & Geneva James, with their youngest son Robert Randall.

Other Outlaw Kin

Through their ancestry in the Randall family, the descendants of Zena & Geneva James also are 3rd cousins, twice removed of Western outlaw & lawman Wyatt Berry Stapp Earp 1848-1929. The common ancestors they share are William H. Earp 1720-1778 & Priscilla Nichols.

Laurene “Lareen” Randall-Phelps:  The daughter of Zena James & Rev. Clifford Randall Sr., she married Boyd Bertram Phelps. The couple produced 4 children.

Boyd Bertram Phelps, possibly:  Zena’s husband.

Omer James:  Omer does not appear in this photo above. He is the sole male sibling of Zena, Ada, Geneva, and Ivadean James. Omer was known to visit his father Mack Henry James in Bloomington, Illinois on several occasions. He appears here with a friend identified as Clettie.

Contributors

William Hurt:  The subject photograph above was brought to the attention of Stray Leaves by William Hurt. He is the husband of Mitzi Elaine Watkins, a daughter of Leland Elaine Watkins and a granddaughter of Leonard and Ada James Watkins.


Dean Watkins Conley:  Dean provided William Hurt with the subject photo initially. She provided furthermore identification of the individuals in the picture. Dean Watkins Conley is a daughter of Leonard and Ada James Watkins.


Ada James Watkins’ Lore about Frank & Jesse James

Contributor William Hurt provided Stray Leaves with this following family lore back in 2010.

“Hi. My name is William Hurt (not the actor). I was at my wife’s family reunion sitting with her grandmother Ada James Watkins. We were all sitting around talking and she was sitting quietly enjoying the presence of all the young people around her when a popular cousin arrived and caused a big stir of people wanting to see him.

Ada James-Watkins

“Well, out of the blue she [Ada] started telling a story. I was totally amazed. She said, ‘I can remember when I was a young’un at our reunions when Frank would show up he would cause an even bigger commotion.’

She went on to explain that she was talking about Frank James. I knew that she was somehow related to Frank and Jesse James, but I didn’t know that she actually knew one of them, let alone that Frank would come to Pulaski County to a James family reunion. Unfortunately, she stopped talking and a few months later suffered a stroke and forgot everything and everybody.

“I grew up in Campground close to where The James Gang hid out after an aborted attempt at robbing The Bank of Somerset, according to stories. It seems they rode into town and saw some young men with shotguns and thought someone had tipped them off. In all reality, the boys [with the shotguns] were going rabbit hunting and never even noticed the James gang. The gang returned to Campground and hid out a few days then rode on to rob the bank in Jamestown so the story was told to me. The cabin they hid out in burned when I was very young but the chimneys are still standing.

“My wife has been wanting to find out exactly what her relation to Frank and Jesse really is. Lots of people around here claim relation but most I do not believe. I didn’t really think my wife was related until her grandmother told that story and one of her cousins tried to explain the blood tie. Thank you for your time. I no longer live in Campground I now live in what locals call the Halloween house in Stanford.”

Ada James-Watkins (c) with daughters L-R Dean, Delma, and twins Zena and Lena Watkins.

The Facts about Ada James Watkins Lore

Alexander Franklin “Frank” James died February 15, 1915, when Ada James was still only 4 years old. Other James family relate stories of the James brothers visiting Rev. Joseph Martin James’ stone house in Shopville, but none of the stories are substantiated.  If Ada recalled a Frank James, it probably was another Frank James among the family and not the notorious Civil War partisan who had surrendered.

The attempted robbery of the First National Bank of Somerset, KY occurred in either 1876 or 1877 as reported in Alma Tibbal’s book The History of Pulaski County.  As is widely known and documented, Jesse James lived in Nashville and secondly in Waverly, Tennessee. Frank also lived in Nashville. Both were pursuing the turf trade and racing. Frank was pursuing a lucrative career as a race starter. They had little need for robbing banks.

Lastly, the Campground site mentioned has been researched and documented HERE on Stray Leaves.

Descendants of Dorinda “Dora” Phelps-James, 2017

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Flora Audra Spencer, The Other Woman in The Life of Mack Henry James