The Notorious Jimmy Price

In a previous post, James William Price: Balloonist, I bemoaned the brick walls I ran into tracing his elusive genealogical origins. I can now report after a bit more sleuthing on Ancestry and GenealogyBank, thanks to a tip-off from Jerry Kuntz (who is researching a non-fiction history of the parachuting craze of 1887-1890s) — I’ve had a breakthrough.

To recap, when James Price died in Saigon in 1921, his daughter (Miss Constance Price, C/- Mrs Albert H. Dulton, 192 Yosemite Avenue, San Jose, California) was notified of his death by the American Consular Service.  

His previous registration as an American citizen in Burma had named his wife as Myrtle M. Price, born in Farmington, Illinois. I plugged in Myrtle (born 1872) in Farmington, Illinois and this time a matching person from another family tree popped up: Mary Myrtle Coykendall with the spouse, James W. Sisk. The name Coykendall rang some bells as Park Van Tassel’s third wife was Clara Coykendall — it turns out that Myrtle was her sister!

Myrtle had married James W. Sisk in 1906. It was her third marriage, she had a daughter Winifred Frances Marithew from her first marriage. Myrtle’s second marriage to Wallace Avery had ended acrimoniously according to this report in the San Francisco Call of 22 June 1904.

In the 1910 census, Myrtle and her children (Frances Merithew, Constance Sisk, and Harrison Sisk) were living with her brother, Frank Coykendall, at Senter Street, San Jose. She’s described as a stage singer.

Winifred Frances Marithew married Albert H. Dutton and bingo! She was living at 192 Yosemite Avenue, San Jose in the 1920 census.

Myrtle and Constance Syske were living at Beach Road, Santa Cruz. The son, Harrison Sisk, had died in 1914. I now had enough matching names and addresses to conclude that James W. Price and James W. Sisk were one and the same person.

Meanwhile back in Illinois:

James Price made his first balloon ascent under the auspices of his mentor, Ira N. Fisk in 1883. There are a few reports of J. W. Sisk making another ascent in Paris, Illinois in 1888 and I had assumed this was a misprint of Fisk.

But in the 1870 census, James Sisk was in Tolono, Champaign, Illinois with his mother (Mary) and brother (Charles). There is no father, but a possible Harrison Sisk (1842 – 1877) lived in Pope, Illinois.

In 1871, Mary Sisk married Robert Price in Champaign, Illinois. Robert Price was in the local jail the year before, and in 1872 he was arrested and charged with robbing a safe at Sardorus, not far from Tolono. In 1880, Mary filed a petition for divorce — the grounds being her husband, Robert E Price, had been convicted of burglary and larceny.

Mary Price wasn’t a model citizen either. In March 1879, she had a run in with Clarence “Piggy” Payran who was arrested for threatening to murder her then in July, Mary (the mother of the notorious Jimmy) was arrested with stolen goods. The Daily Illinois State Journal quoted her: Mary Price says the police lie, that she never stole anything, but that she bought all her jewelry and that it was Piggy Payran who made all the racket. An acerbic comment from the newspaper followed: Mary’s memory, however, is at times defective.

On 14 Dec 1881, Mary (Mollie) Price married James Hinton. Mary Hinton made the papers again in 1890 when she was charged with the abduction of the child of Miss Claude Barrington. Mary conducted a place for the care of motherless children — she was a baby farmer. Claude was the inmate of a disreputable house (a prostitute) and had given the child to Mrs Mollie M. Hinton who is middle-aged, fat and experienced and belongs to the Salvation Army, felt lonesome without a baby, and persuaded Claude to let her have the youngster to raise. When Claude came to reclaim her child, Mary refused to part with it unless she was paid $3 per week for her trouble. The court ruled that neither were fit and proper persons to care for the child and the 11-month old baby was adopted out.

In 1900, James and Mary Hinton were living in Springfield, Illinois with their lodgers Jessie (13), Edna (9), Roy (4) and John (2) Clark. Edna Clark (14) the recently adopted daughter of Mrs Mary Hinton, the Salvation Army woman, filed a paternity suit against Sam Bonasinger (15) in 1906.

Mary Hinton, the wife of James Hinton of 732 South 10th Street, died of senility aged 70 years on 13 Jan 1916. The death notice named two sons: J. Price and Charles Price of California. I now have the answer to the puzzle of his mother’s name and the explanation for the black armband in J. W. Price’s passport applications.

Jumping Jimmie

In 1879, the Daily Illinois State Register reported the escape and subsequent arrest of that notorious little thief James Price. He had jumped from a moving train after being brought back to Springfield to identify his accomplices in a burglary at Petersburg.

James W. Sisk married Elenora Wing on 15 Nov 1883 in Springfield, Illinois. They divorced six months later when Sisk filed a bill against his wife accusing her of adultery. Animosity between Price and his father-in-law resulted in a street brawl and a charge of disturbing the peace.

In March 1884, Prof. Price made a balloon ascension in Springfield. Once again the Journal was less than impressed by his antics. It described him as making a circus of himself then launched into the following diatribe:

…though it was whispered around town yesterday that he is not strictly a professor of aeronautics, but of something else. There were those about town, some of the police said, who would have given him permission, when his shabby old balloon went up, to go on and never come back. One wicked fellow said he greatly regretted that the encounter with the chimneys had terminated so innocently. But the whole thing was a farce, not half so real as some in which Prof. Price has figured heretofore. Prof. Price is well known to the police of this city, and a citizen who pretended to know, said Price received his degree under Prof. McClaughrey, of the Joliet University.

Daily Illinois State Journal, 27 March 1884.

(R.W. McClaughry was the warden of Illinois State Penitentiary at Joliet).

Charles Price: Policeman

One member of the Sisk family, however, appears to have made good. Charles H. Sisk married Essie Anderson on 26 Dec 1889. In the 1900 census, he was a policeman living at East Jefferson Street, Springfield.

In 1901, the couple separated and divorced a year later because of the husband’s unfaithfulness. On 10 March 1902 Charles H. Sisk married Nellie L. Cox in Decatur. The newspaper reported that the groom is familiarly known as Charles Price, and was formerly a member of the Springfield police force. For several years he was employed at Chatterton’s opera house and now is employed as a bartender.

Charles kept in touch with his brother, providing regular updates to the newspaper about his whereabouts in South Africa, Japan, and India but it was fourteen years before James Price felt welcome enough to make a short visit back to Springfield, Illinois in 1902.

San Jose Mercury News, 7 March 1907. Image permission from GenealogyBank

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