Wandering Man

Wandering man, hobo, tramp, traveler, knight of the road, renegade, vagrant, transient, bum, drifter, homeless, rail rider. These are some of the terms that could describe the life of one of our ancestors, Great Uncle Frank McCune (1897-1946). Frank was Granddaddy Bill’s older brother, the first son of William and Carrie McCune. We know very little about him, and I’ve found no pictures of him. For reasons we can only speculate about, Frank roamed afar, mostly by catching rides on freight cars, and drifted back into Columbus occasionally for short visits with his brother.

This was not an easy story for me to write, and I debated about sharing it. I don’t want to dishonor Frank McCune, but I do feel his family should hear his story. It’s just not a happy one.

Frank seems to be what we call a product of his environment or a victim of circumstances. We know from the 1900 census that he lived with his mother and younger brother in his grandmother’s home without his father[1]. From the 1910 U.S. census we learned that he was living with his family in Griffin, GA, and working as a doffer in one of the textile mills at age 14.[2] Then he experienced the tragic murder of his father in 1911 in Griffin, was placed temporarily in a support role for his family, and then gained a step-dad when his mother, Carrie, remarried in 1912.

The 1914 Columbus City Directory reveals that Frank, 17, was living with his paternal grandmother, Sarah McCune, in Girard, AL, as a boarder and working as a mill operative[3]. So he didn’t stay with his mother Carrie and new step-dad, James Baker.

When he was about 21 he went off to fight in World War I.  The 1918 Columbus City Directory lists him as a boarder in his mother Carrie McCune’s home, but serving in the United States Army[4].  I’ve requested a copy of his veteran’s military and medical records, but almost all military records housed at the National Personnel Records Center in St. Louis, MO, were destroyed by fire in 1973.  I’m not sure if I’ll receive any documentation of his service.  I’ve been waiting since November 2015.

On Ancestry.com I located a World War I Service Card on a Frank McCune, born in Girard, AL, age 21 years, who enlisted as a private in the National Guard in Louisville, KY, on 27 May 1917. He was in Company M, First Infantry until 4 October 1917 and then Company G until discharge on 23 Jan 1919. He served overseas from 6 Oct 1918 until 6 Jan 1919. The address this man gave is that of Tom Tillman, Carrie Tillman McCune’s younger brother, at 1719 2nd Ave, Columbus, GA.[5] There’s only one problem. This Frank’s race is listed as “colored.” So was this just a typographical error or was there an African-American Frank McCune also born in Girard, AL, about the same time? However, it would not make sense for him to give Tom Tillman’s address.

I believe that Frank was a World War I veteran because the city directory gave the USA notation, he received services at what is now called the Mountain Home VA Medical Center in Mountain Home, TN, the year before he died, and his mother’s obituary stated that he was “of the American forces in France.” I did some research on the Kentucky National Guard, First Infantry, that was called to service during WWI and learned that it became the 138th Field Artillery attached to the 38th Cyclone Division. It was sent to France to serve as replacements for other units and never fought as a single organization and lost its state identity. It was demobilized at the end of the war[6].

I don’t even know if Frank actually engaged in combat action overseas. The KY division arrived in France just a month before the armistice was signed ending the war. Of course, I’m assuming that the Frank on the service card is our ancestor. What we know today as post traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) among military personnel wasn’t officially recognized and treated during World War I. They called it shell shock. Did Frank suffer from that? What really led to his hobo lifestyle? Why did he become a wandering man?


Next – Frank and the Great Depression

[1] 1900 U.S. census, Muscogee County, Georgia, population schedule, Ward 1, sheet 9A, dwelling 135, family 194, Rebecca A. Tillman; image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA T623, roll 214.

[2] 1910 U.S. census, Spalding County, Georgia, population schedule, Griffin City, p. 21B, ED 117, dwelling 367, family 411, William M. McCune; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2015); citing NARA T624, roll 209.

[3] Polk, R. L. Compiler, Columbus, Georgia, City Directory, 1914, 334, database image, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed  10 Oct 2015).

[4] Polk, R. L. Compiler, Columbus, Georgia, City Directory, 1918, 347, database image, U.S. City Directories, 1822-1995, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed  10 Oct 2015).

[5] Georgia, World War I Service Cards, 1917-1919, Frank McCune, image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com: accessed 2 Oct 2015).

[6] “History of the Guard: 1875-1924, World War I,” National Guard eMuseum, (http://kynghistory.ky.gov/Our-History/History-of-the-Guard/Pages/World-War-I.aspx: accessed 10 March 2016).

Be First to Comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *