She fumbled at the layers of mourning riding clothes and winter outerwear. The child must eat, this she knew. It did not matter that they traveled through the middle of a December blizzard, nor that the infant’s father traveled by casket in the cart behind them. Once freed, she would have to brush away the insult of frozen crystalline snowflakes from the delicate skin of her breast, before she could position Harry to feed.
Harry, then 2 ½ months old, was the younger of William Arthur Hamill Jr.’s two children, both boys. Willie, his father’s namesake, was no more than a toddler when his father, according to newspaper accounts, accidently shot himself through the temple while hunting mountain lion on Friday, December 20, 1889. It was a grief stricken Hannah Lord Pancoast Hamill left behind to tend to the children and delivery of W.A. Jr’s remains to Denver’s Riverside cemetery where her husband would be laid to rest. She was accompanied by three friends. The nearest train station, however was Russell (present day Wolcott) approximately 100 miles away from Diamond Ranch in present day Hayden where the accident occurred. According to the Denver Republican dated December 26, 1889 “The trip from the ranch to Russell was made through a blinding snowstorm and the vehicle containing the body was several times almost buried in the drifts, and Mrs. Hamill and the friends that accompanied her on her sad mission suffered greatly from the cold.” According to reports the road was virtually impassible and often along the journey it was necessary to dig the team out of snowdrifts.
Once they arrived at the train station in Russell, the sad news was sent via telegraph to W. A. Jr.’s parents in Georgetown, Colorado, General William Arthur Hamill and his wife Priscilla. The relationship between General William Arthur Hamill and Priscilla would be irrevocably strained from that point on. Although he appears as living at the Georgetown home in the 1900 census, General Hamill is said to have moved to the Denver Athletic Club shortly after W. A. Jr’s death, where he continued to reside until his death in 1904.
HGI has a handwritten letter in its archives from Hannah Lord Pancoast Hamill to her mother-in-law Priscilla written the beginning of January, 1888. In it she thanks Priscilla for gifts and proceeds to describe her toddler son Willie’s latest milestones:
[Willie] says “pease” and “peasie” for everything he wants…for mischief he takes the premium…he is always in what he can’t reach…
There is a lot of information known about the public life of General William Arthur Hamill. For me, as I cull through the artifacts and archives…traces left behind by the Hamill family, it is the snippets of intimate memories, usually from those of Hamill women that draw me in, make me want to stay long enough to imagine how it really was. Hannah’s granddaughter, Nancy, wrote a letter to then HGI curator, Christine Bradley in 1980 in which she added a P.S.:
P.S. My mother tells me of my grandmother telling her of the trip through the blizzard with my grandfather’s body and how she had to brush the snowflakes off her breast when she would nurse the baby (Henry, k/a Harry) who was only 2 ½ months old. I always thought my grandmother was a wonderful person, and I knew she had a strength of character but I didn’t realize just how much. She had a marvelous sense of humor and she was a most loving grandmother.
In memory of the unbreakable spirit of Hannah Lord Pancoast Hamill and all the Victorian women who dealt with life head-on, whilst wearing the cumbersome costumes of the time, we share this intimate telling of history with you on December 20th, 2015, the 126th anniversary of Mrs. Hamill’s journey through the snow.
Anne Marie Cannon
Director of Museum Collections
Historic Georgetown Inc.