Family Ties Genealogy Research strategies Stogsdill

Great-Great-Grandmother and the Bawdy House

Family names can be so frustrating, why must they continue to name their children after another family member? The exact same name over and over again? Grrrr. 

Have you come across this scenario in your family? Dear Grandmother was named Mary, so let’s name our firstborn daughter Mary. Fine. Then…everyone in the family decides they want one of their daughters to be named Mary. So now we have several Mary cousins with the same last name. What a mess.

Mahala was a very popular name in the Keeney and Stogsdill family. My great-great-grandmother was Mahala Keeney. Unfortunately for family researchers, Mahala’s brothers and sisters honored her by naming their daughters Mahala. To further complicate the situation, Keeney sisters married Stogsdill brothers.

(Background info: Mahala Keeney married John Stogsdill in Phelps County, Missouri in 1858. They were the parents of my great-grandfather Greenberry Stogsdill who, in turn, was the father of my grandmother Myrtle Odessa Stogsdill-Langley. Mahala’s sister, Elizabeth, married John’s brother Berryman Stogsdill. )

I admit I have been guilty of skimming over the various Mahalas and their roles in the family. Focusing only on “my” Mahala. Then one day, my cousin and research cohort, Ruby, discovered a newspaper article dated 1877. It was from Rolla, Missouri, a small town in Phelps County, Missouri.

The article reported that Mahala Stogsdill had been arrested!

Mahala Stogsdell arrested for running a bawdy house in Rolla, Missouri Round Top Gang in Rolla, Missouri

She was charged with keeping a bawdy house (I wasn’t familiar with the term-but it’s a bordello).

A hard citizen! A madam! 

First, I was surprised, then I was in denial. Then I was all in. I’m going to exonerate my great-great-grandmother. This cannot be right. Not my great great grandmother. No way. We may have unsavory characters dangling off our branches, but she wasn’t one of them! 

But, good or bad, genealogists have to go where the records take them. 

I had to face facts, things aren’t always the way we want them. I just have to grin and bear it. And keep researching

Old Phelps County Courthouse in Rolla, Missouri houses the Phelps County Genealogical Society.
Old Phelps County Courthouse in Rolla, Missouri houses the Phelps County Genealogical Society.

While Ruby and I were on our research trip in Southern Missouri, we decided to go to the Phelps County Genealogical Society in Rolla to get to the bottom of our little family scandal.

The staff was so helpful and knew all about the bawdy houses that plagued Rolla during the mid-1870s and gave us lots of information to read about Rolla and Phelps County history. 

There were quite a few Stogsdills named in the case. Henry Stogsdill, Dutch Stogsdill and Rebecca Stogsdill along with a Jacob Light.  I was unfamiliar with Dutch or Rebecca, but Mahala had a brother named Henry. My heart sank, but I still had hope. But really, how many Mahala Stogsdills could there be in Phelps County, Missouri in 1877?

Turns out, more than one, even more than two

Now the question was which Mahala was which?

Am I going to find out something I don’t really want to know?

Should I let it be?

In my head I’m reasoning, only Ruby and I know, we could just pretend we never came across the unfortunate find.  We’ll just let it be.

But nooooo….one way or the other I had to know, I couldn’t leave it alone. 

I started reviewing my records and sure enough in 1858 John Stogsdill married Mahala Keeney in Phelps County, Missouri. 

Marriage record of John Stogsdill and Mahala Keeney 1858
Marriage record of John Stogsdill and Mahala Keeney 1858

 Not good, that places her in Phelps County, Missouri. 

But the arrest was 21 years later in 1877 so my next step was to know where John and Mahala Stogsdill lived when the 1870 census was taken.  

AND…they were living in Lynch Township, Texas County, Missouri.

Lynch Township and Rolla are about 50 miles apart, over the hills and valleys of what now is part of Mark Twain National Forest. It’s not likely that Mahala commuted back and forth to work at the bawdy house. Still, this was 1870, and the arrest was made in 1877. A lot could happen in 7 years. 

Fortunately, Missouri was one of the states that conducted their own censuses, and in 1876 there was a statewide census. What would I find? I couldn’t wait to find out but afraid to look at the same time.

I found Mahala Stogsdill living in Rolla, Phelps County along with  John Stogsdill. NOOO!! And right above her name was Jacob Light also part of the bawdy house scene. 

mahala stogsdill phelps county with jacob light BUT, on closer inspection, the age wasn’t right for either Mahala or John Stogsdill. She was too old. Maybe, just maybe this might have a happy ending. BUT wait, there is one more Mahala Stogsdill on the 1876 census in Phelps County, but she’s too young to be my grandmother, this Mahala Stogsdill is just a child. 

Things are looking up for my Mahala. 

Finally, I found Mahala and John on the 1876 Missouri State Census, living in Texas County. John and Mahala Stogsdill on 1876 Missouri State Census in Texas County., Missouri

The ages are correct, the other members of the family are there as well as her brothers and sisters living nearby. This was my Mahala and she was not the owner of bawdy house. Relief. 

However, it did stir up another mystery. This is the last time John appears on any record. He just disappeared, we can find no death record, will or probate. Mahala is listed on the 1880 census as a widow, so we have a time window of 1876-1880 for his death.  In addition to the mystery, the last record we’ve found for Mahala was the 1887 marriage record of her son Berryman in which she gave her consent for him to marry, as he was underage. Mahala Stogsdill consent for Berryman to marryMahala signed her name as Mahala Stogsdill so she had not remarried. She was only 47 in 1887, what happened to her? It remains a mystery, we have found no death record, will or probate nor does she appear on any further census. Maybe she remarried, perhaps she died. One day we’ll find out, so we keep looking. 

But thankfully, now we know, she was no madam. 

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