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Wednesday, April 26, 2023

Marion Wright Bonnell (stage name Bonnie Bonnell), Ted Healy and the Christmas Day Fire

We genealogists and family historians really like stories. The last blog post reported Ted Healy’s clipping files at New York Public Library’s Theatre Collection. included an article, from the New York Daily News, dated December 26, 1935.  The headline reads: “Ted Healy in Firebug Role Lands in Jail.” and the article mentions Marion Bonnell.

A search of several digitized newspaper databases shows this story made the papers all over the U.S. People then, as now, loved to read about the crazy antics of folks in Hollywood.

The following transcribed newspaper articles flesh out the story. It's an interesting one in light of Marion Bonnell's alcoholism.

Ted Healy and "Bonnie" Bonnell stand outside her home at 141 Mayberry Road, Santa Monica, 1935

We gratefully thank the Los Angeles Times Photographic Archive, Library Special Collections, Charles E. Young Research Library, UCLA for allowing us to use this image.

Los Angeles Evening Post-Record, Thursday 26 December 1936 page 2 Col B (


Bald-headed Ted Healy, who makes his living being funny in front of a camera, could ‘remember doing something someone didn’t want him to do” today, but a police repot was filled out with details of a very strange “fire” story assertedly involving the comedian.

“This beef is liable to cost me a $60,000 contract, but right now I’m too sick to care about anything,” remarked the depressed comedian yesterday as he was released from his jail cell under $1000 bond pending a hearing tomorrow on a charge of suspicion if arsib,

The police report asserts that the actor called yesterday on Marion W. “Bonnie” Bonnell, 141 Mabery Road, Santa Monica canyon, and set fire to a pile of papers and clothing atop her gas stove.

In addition to his headache and all the trouble, Healy had a bandaged hand. Miss Bonnell said he cut himself when he poked his fist through a glass door when told by his hostess that he was not welcome.

However, Healy maintained that Miss Bonnell shot him through the hand to discourage Christmas spirit.

The “house warming,” Miss Bonnell told police, was carried on by Healy, who just piled expensive clothes, furniture and boxes on the stove and set fire to them.

Methodically he broke the larger pieces of furniture into kindling sized logs and piled them on the blaze, she told Capt. Paul Woolfe of the fire department.

Healy’s attorney obtained the actor’s release after eight hours in jail. The funny man is scheduled to appear for hearing at 10 o’clock tomorrow.

Los Angeles Evening Citizen News Thursday 26 December 1935 page 15  Col H (

…According to police, Healy smashed through the glass front door at the home of Marian(sic.) W. “Bonnie” Bonnell, 141 Mabery Rd. Santa Monica Canyon, and set fire to a pile of papers and clothing on the stove.

At the height of the excitement, someone fired a shot, it was reported to detectives by Miss Bonnell.

Healy was found in a Beverly Hills hotel and booked on suspicion of arson.

In his cell at the Central Station he said he could not recall what had occurred but did remember that he had had a number of drinks.

Healy refused to join the other prisoners in a roast pork dinner and was released on a $1000 bail on a writ of habeas corpus obtained by Attorneys Jerry Giesler and S. Ward Sullivan from Superior Judge Francis J. Heney.…

Press Democrat, Santa Rosa, California Thursday 26 December 1935 page 1  Col C (

Marion W. Bonnell, 26, in whose apartment Healy supposedly held his impromptu Yuletide celebration, insisted the comedian had “forced his way in.”

“Was I burned up?” she told police. She pointed to a stack of charred table legs and chairs to illustrate her point.

Healy laughed that off.

“I’m too old to play with matches,” he said. “She must have got cold during the night. I went to call on Bonnie, and she fired on me.”

He showed a bandaged hand as evidence, claiming the bullet went through his palm. Police said the hand was cut by glass and burned.

According to Miss Bonnell’s story, Healy attended a Christmas Eve party at her apartment. He left with other guests, and later appeared at her door, demanding to be let in.

Miss Bonnell said she was alone, and the party was over, so she refused. Healy, she claimed, crashed his fist through the glass door and walked in.

She told Captain Paul Wolfe of the fire department that Healy marched into the kitchen, heaped her expensive clothes on a stove and set fire to them.

She said she ran out and yelled for help. Healy meanwhile collected the living room furniture, reduced the larger pieces to kindling wood, and set fire to the pile, she said.

Firemen arrived but Healy had departed. He was arrested at the Beverly Wilshire hotel. Police said he appeared to be intoxicated.

Los Angeles Times, Friday Morning, 27 December 1935 Part II page 8 Col A (


Comedian Insists He’s Guiltless

Witnesses to Aid Defense at Hearing on Suspicion of Arson, He Asserts

Ted Healy, 39-year-old film and vaudeville comedian, yesterday announced thorough his attorney that he is prepared to produce witnesses to his innocence in a quarrel at a woman’s home in Santa Monica Canyon which led to his arrest on suspicions of arson.

George Johnson, chief of the complaint department, set a hearing for Healy and his witnesses for 10 a.m. tomorrow.


Healy has been free on a $1000 bond since 2 p.m. on Christmas Day. He spent eight hours in the City Jail after Marion W. (Bonnie) Bonnell, his onetime comedy partner with his three stooges, had complained to the West Los Angeles police station that the comedian broke into her home at 141 Mayberry Road and started a fire.


Meanwhile the comedian was pondering the conflicting array of stories purporting to tell of the gay Christmas Eve party that began at his apartment in a Beverly Hills hotel and continued toward Santa Monica.

West Los  Angeles Police Officer Stebbins related that early Christmas morning he received a telephone call from Mordaunt Shairp, an English writer living at 78 Ocean Way. There Healy was said to have come with a companion—seeking additional Christmas cheer.

After Healy had departed, Shairp notified police of a broken window in his home, assertedly caused by one of the men.


Healy was arrested several hours later at his Beverly Hills apartment.

the comedian was little disposed late yesterday to discuss Christmas Eve affray which led to his eight-hour imprisonment in the City Jail Christmas morning.

Earlier Healy had spoken freely of his trip to Miss Bonnell’s canyon cottage where “someone” had shot and wounded him in the left hand, according to his story to police officers. The morning after the episode, the actor could throw no light on the arson charges.


Capt. Paul Wolfe of the fire department arson squad announced that although Miss Bonnell had declined to prosecute charges, the matter could not be abandoned.

Investigation of the Santa Monica house, he said, showed unmistakable evidence that someone had started a fire of clothing and books. Miss Bonnell accused Healy of that in her call to the West Los Angeles Police Station.

Los Angeles Times, Saturday Morning, 28 December 1935 Part II page1 Col B (


Fire Department Will Ask Complaint on Charges of Starting Fire

TedHealy, 39-year-old screen and vaudeville comedian, at libertu under $1000 bond after being booked on suspicion of arson following a fire in the Santa Monica Canyon home of an actress friend, today will appear at 10 a.m. in the District Attorney’s office for a hearing.

Arrested following complaint of Marion W. (Bonnie) Bonnell, his one-time vaudeville partner, that he had entered her home Christmas Eve and ignited a pile of clothing and books, Healy maintained he has witnesses to refute the charges.

Capt. Paul Wolfe of the fire department arson squad said that despite the dropping of prosecution by Miss Bonnell the department will seek a complaint.

Los Angeles Times, Sunday Morning, 29 December 1935 Part II page 2 Col D (


Statements of two friends absolving him of blame for an asserted attempt to start a fire in the cottage of an actress friend in Santa Monica Canyon on Christmas Eve, yesterday won exoneration for Ted Healy, 39-year-old comedian, at the District Attorney’s office.

The actor appeared at the office of George Johnson, chief of the District Attorney’s complaint department with his attorneys, Jerry Giesler and Mark Sullivan and with two friends who supported his plea of innocence.

Johnson declined to issue a complaint.

The friends were A.C. Bishop-Jones and W.V. Jamieson, who said they accompanied Healy to the residence of Miss Marion W. Bonnell Christmas Eve at the time he was reported to have attempted to set a fire in the place.

The two men declared that although Healy entered the house he remained there but a moment speaking to Miss Bonnell and made no effort to set any fire.

Miss Bonnell previously told officers that Healy came to her house earlier in the evening and that she fired two shots to frighten him away. Later, she said, he returned with his two friends and attempted to start a fire by lighting a pile of clothing and books in the kitchen.

Monday, April 24, 2023

Bonnells and Bunnells in England Before 1850 (a Charles E. Bonnell Project)

Charles E. Bonnell has spent a lifetime helping Bonnell and Bunnell descendants find their ancestors. As editor of the Bonnell-Bunnell Family Newsletter he compiled and shared an incredible amount of information and countless family stories. Yet the amount of research he has done over the years is amazing. 

In one of those efforts he tried to identify every Bonnell and Bunnell (and surname variations) in England prior to about 1850. He examined 65 different sources, including register transcripts, wills, archival records, books and articles and online databases.

He identified more than 700 individuals and created excel spreadsheets to track them. The entry for each states the type of event recorded, the date and the source of the information.

People were found in England, Wales, Scotland, the Channel Islands, France, Barbados and the Netherlands.

This work has been published on InternetArchive Bonnells & Bunnells in England Before 1850

Contents include:

  •     Complete List of Names
  •     Cheshire by Town
  •     Cheshire by Date
  •     Essex
  •     London
  •     Norfolk
  •     Shropshire
  •    Sources and Notes

Wednesday, April 19, 2023

Marion Wright Bonnell (stage name "Bonnie Bonnell") and the Three Stooges

Here's another fascinating story from former editor Charles E. Bunnell (Charlie to his friends) recently compiled Bonnells & Bunnells of Note (And a few Burnells & Burrells for Good Measure). The complete work is available on Internet Archive at this link: Charlie Bunnell's Bonnells & Bunnells of Note  

Steve Bonnell referred Charles to an article about Bonnie Bonnell who appeared in some of the Three Stooges movies. CharlieI contacted the author, Bill Cappello, who agreed to publication of his article in the newsletter. It also serves as an interesting study in research methods.

“The Search . . . for Bonnie Bonnell, by Bill Cappello

     By now, I suppose all Three Stooges fans have seen the MGM shorts they made with Ted Healy.  Also appearing in these shorts is a young lady referred to in the opening credits as “Bonny.” I became interested in knowing more about “Bonny.”  What was her real name? Was she still living?  If alive, and willing and able to talk, she would be valuable from an historical point - she would know first hand how Healy really got along with Howard, Fine  and Howard; how the routines were developed for the screen; and most importantly, what sequences weree filmed for the various shorts, and then cut from final release.  This article is about my search for “Bonny.”

     My first place to check for any information on “Bonny” was in Ted Healy’s clipping files at New York Public Library’s Theatre Collection. In the multitude of clippings was one article, from the New York Daily News, dated December 26, 1935.  The headline reads: “Ted Healy in Firebug Role Lands in Jail.” The article described how Healy, in a mischievous mood, forced his way int the apartment of “former showgirl Marion Bonnell” and set fire, on the kitchen stove, to bundles of her clothing and pieces of furniture.  At one point in the article, she was referred to as “Marion W. Bonnell, age 26,” and Healy called her Bonnie.

     Now knowing what apparently was her real name, I checked the clipping files for Marion Bonnell, and found one, with just two newspaper clippings: one was a full -length photo of her, mentioning she was “one of the beauties” in a Broadway musical revue The Ramblers, dated February 21, 1927. The other was a portrait photo, obviously taken many years earlier, accompanying a couple of lines about the Ted Healy firebug episode, dated December 1935.  Unfortunately, there were no clues as to her birthplace, or any marriages.

     Before continuing library research, I decided to call any living people who may have known her personally, in hopes that they’d be able to give me some leads. I talked to Paul “Mousie” Garner, who worked with her in Bill Rose’s Crazy Quilt, a 1931 Broadway musical revue.  Garner said that in that show, Healy’s stooges were Dick Hakins, Jack Wolfe, and himself.  He remembered her as being a very good dancer, but knew nothing about what became of her.  Next call was to Muriel Evans, who played Healy’s wife in the MGM short The Big Idea. Muriel remembered working very briefly on the set, but did not know Bonnie at all.  Final call was to Matt Brooks, who was a co-writer with Healy on the shorts.  He knew nothing.  So it was back to the library.

     In the Personal Name Index to the New York Times, I found one reference to Marion Bonnell. The article referred to was a mention of a marriage to a T.F. McGoey of Long Island, who met her while she was appearing in a show named Tell Me More in 1925. The marriage took place in New York City in May of 1926.  I was able to get a copy of the marriage application, which gave me some personal information: her father’s name was John, mother’s maiden name Marion Evans, and she was born in Atlanta, Georgia.  The man she married, Thomas E. McGoey, was a salesman.  I was able to locate some relatives of his, who told me he was long dead, but that his marriage to Marion Bonnell didn’t last more than a few years, and, of course, they had no idea of what happened to her.

     With the information that she was from Atlanta, I was able to locate a few of her relatives there. The most helpful was a first cousin, Lloyd Dixon (his mother and Bonnie’s father were brother and sister). He told me he never met her, but knew of her work on the stage and in movies with Healy.  He was under the impression that Healy and Bonnie were married, but I’ve never found any documentation of this.  Mr Dixon referred me to his daughter, Mrs. Jean Murray, who was keeper of the family history.  Mrs. Murray gave me information from the family records that led me to another of Bonnie’s relatives, a first cousin on her mother’s side.  Bonnie was born on August 1, 1905, in Thomasville, Georgia, the only child of John Wright Bonnell and Marion Evans Bonnell.  Her full birth name was Marion Wright Bonnell.  With the information that her parents were married in Thomasville, the birthplace of her mother, I was able to locate another very helpful relative. Jim Evans whose father and Marion’s mother were brother and sister, told me that Bonnie, whom he called “little Marion,” had died in Santa Monica, California on March 14, 1964, age 58.  He told me he believed she was an alcoholic, and that when he visited his Aunt Marion in the 1950s (Bonnie’s mother lived with her since the early 1940s), he was not allowed to see Bonnie because she wasn’t in any condition to have visitors. He did tell me that her married name was Hayes, but he never met her husband.

    I applied for and received a copy of Bonnie’s death certificate.  Her full hame is listed as Marion Bonnell Hayes; date of birth August 1, 1913, which is erroneous by eight years; married to Jack L. Hayes, an auto parts salesman, her last occupation, housewife, for 28 years.  She died at Santa Monica Hospital, and an autopsy was performed to find the cause of death, which is listed a “fatty metamorphosis of the liver,” a condition which is caused by consumption of large amounts of alcohol over a long period of time; a contributing factor to her death was “cerebral edema” which is fluids collecting around the brain, which may be caused by a blow to the head.  Bonnie was cremated and her ashes (known as cremains in the funeral business) are interred in their own niche at the Woodlawn Cemetery Mausoleum in Santa Monica.

     The final person I talked to was Marc Bentley, the man who owns the house in West Los Angeles where Bonnie and her husband last lived.  Mr. Bentley told me that his house had been in his family for many years, and at the time Bonnie lived there, his brother Fred owned it.  He said Fred rented out rooms to friends who were not in good financial circumstances.  He recalled that Bonnie (he  referred to her as Bonnie, a name that stayed with her since her association with Hely) was an alcoholic and things were very bad for her at the end.  After her death, her husband Jack moved out of the house and was never seen again.

     So that’s the story of whatever happened to Bonnie Bonnell Ted Healy’s first and only lady stooge on screen.  Perhaps it was their mutual penchant to drinking that brought them together, but unfortunately, it was also the cause of their individual demise.”

[Newsletter Editor's Note: Marion Wright Bonnell is in Claude’s database and this article provides considerable data for it.  While I was searching for additional information on Bonnie, I found a Bonnie Bonnell who was a frequent guest of Ernest Hemingway during the 1920s.  I don’t believe it is the same Bonnie though as this one lived, at least for some time, in Toronto.]

Online newspaper archives make research easier now then when the above was written. This article was found through
 Evening Tribune, San Diego, California, Wednesday 29 July 1936 Section A page 15 Col A
"Brand New Woman"
SAN PEDRO, July 29 (A.P.)—Returned from a honeymoon cruise with her husband of three weeks, Marion ("Bonnie") Bonnell, ex-dancing partner of Comedian Ted Healy, said today: "I'm a brand new woman." She was married to Laurence Hayes, Santa Barbara sportsman, in a Yuma elopement July 12. "All my troubles are forgotten, blond Mrs. Hayes declared, referring with a smile to last Christmas eve when fire engines rushed to her home after a visit by Healy. The actor later explained to authorities that his idea of a joke had backfired. He was cleared of suspicion of arson.

Tuesday, April 11, 2023

More on the Billy Bonnell Family and Rodeos

The blog post on Billy Bonnell mentions the rodeo activities of other members of his family.  His granddaughter, Pat McKinley was a trick rider, roper and Roman Rider.  Her husband Bud McKinley was a calf roper and steer wrestler. The Rodeo Historical Society Oral History Project includes an interview with them and their son Bill McKinley that was filmed at the National Cowboy & Western Heritage Museum in Oklahoma City, Oklahoma on 18 August 2005.  Pat & Bud McKinley Interview

An unidentified writer’s posted the following on The Elk County Forum : She (momof2boys is the writer’s handle) obviously knew the family. If anyone reading this blog knows her, please thank her for posting this information.

The following is an excerpt from a research paper I wrote in college. The class was American Folklore, and I chose to write about my family's involvement in the rodeo.

When one thinks of rodeo they think of the professional cowboys with their Stetson hats, ornamental belt buckles, and Justin boots, traveling from rodeo to rodeo in their 4 X 4 trucks pulling fancy horse trailers. Rodeo today is a big money business. However, this was not how the early rodeo circuit appeared.  

In the early days of rodeo there weren't large sums of money to be paid to the winners nor fancy means of transportation from one rodeo to the next. Rodeos were impromptu events organized by the cowboys who loved to compete and show off the talents they had learned on the range. 

Cowboys would come together to socialize and compete in the games they had made while working on the range. Each event was derived from some aspect of a task that the cowboy engaged in while working on the range. Over the past 100 years rodeo has developed into a major sporting event. It has become a form of entertainment, where simple activities, such as twirling a rope and riding a horse, developed into spectacular performances.

The Bonnell/Howell/McKinley family has been witness to the evolution of rodeo. This family had been involved in the many aspects of rodeo such as rodeo events and providing entertainment at rodeos for approximately 80 years.

William (Billy) Bonnell was involved in rodeo in the early 1900's. He participated in many roping and riding competitions through-out Kansas and Oklahoma. The events he enjoyed were the calf and steer roping. Billy set world records in both of these events. He set a world record in calf roping in August of 1909 in his home town of Cedar Vale, Kansas, with a time of 25 seconds. It was reported that over 2500 people attended this rodeo and none, except the cowboys who participated in the rodeo, realized what they were witnessing until the time keeper made the announcement that Billy Bonnell had busted the record to smithereens. Winning times averaged around 35 - 40 seconds. (Cedar Vale Commercial, Aug.  1909, Vol. 22, N. 8, P. 1)

The rules for calf roping were tougher in 1909 than they are now. The calf got a sixty foot running start with two men on horseback whipping it. After the calf was roped and tied by the cowboy, the judge would turn the calf over to ensure a good tie. When an article was written about Billy in 1940 in Hoof & Horns, a western magazine, his calf roping record had still not been broken under the old rules.  

Due to the increased popularity of rodeo as entertainment, wild west shows began popping up. Among these shows were the 101 Ranch Wild West Show which Billy toured with for many years. It was during his time with this show he met people such as Will Rogers and Lucille Mulhall. Billy, along with his two brothers, also toured with the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show. In an interview with Ralph Bonnell, grandson of Billy, he told of how Billy and his brothers traveled to Europe with the show. During their tour, the show went bust, leaving the boys stranded. The parents had to raise money to bring the boys back home.

Billy Bonnell was selected as one of the five men having the best average in steer roping in 1912 and was chosen to perform his talents in Calgary, Canada. …These trips took a toll on the horses. The horses were never the same after these trips. Their legs were weakened and their full strength and agility never regained. This was very upsetting for the cowboys, because a good roping horse is the major part of getting the good time. Billy's accomplishments in calf and steer roping can be attributed to the skills he acquired while working on the range, however the major factor to his success was his well trained horse. Billy owned many well trained horses, the most famous being Romeo. Romeo is listed in a book of famous horses and was the horse he used when he set the world record in 1909. Lucille Mulhall, Fred Beason, Tom Mix, Ellison Carroll, Buffalo Vernon and many other record holders used this horse. (Hoofs & Horns, May1940, vol. 9, N. 11, pg. 4)

As Billy grew older his love the rodeo did not diminish. He was still active in rodeo up till death at the age of seventy-four. He participated in and around Cedar Vale, and at age 64 he placed second in calf roping at the Moline 4th of July rodeo.  

He also enjoyed showing and teaching you boys how to ride and rope. One of Billy's students was his youngest daughter, Lillian Lucille Bonnell Howell. Lillian was named for one of Billy's friends, Lucille Mulhall.  

From a very young age, Lillian went to rodeos with her father, and sometimes competed in calf roping events against boys and men. It was while attending these rodeos, that she was people entertaining the crowd with special acts, such as trick roping, trick riding, and Roman riding. This sparked an interest in being a rodeo entertainer.  

Her father, Billy, taught her how to trick rope and this began her career as a rodeo entertainer. She would perform her talents in trick roping at various area rodeos.  Meanwhile she was teaching herself how to trick ride. She could not afford to buy a special trick riding saddle, so she made one herself. Pat McKinley, Lillian's daughter, stated that when Lillian was a married woman she and her husband decided to buy her a horse she could train to trick ride. This horse was a bit shorter than average horses, which was exactly what Lillian needed since she was 4 feet 11 3/4 inches tall.  

Lillian was a natural at trick riding. However at one performance she had an accident which knocked her unconscious. This event convinced her to go to Stroud, Oklahoma, where a few more experienced trick riders taught her some tricks of the trade.  Although Lillian was under 5 feet tall, she could do a lot of tricks on a horse that most women could not. She was stout enough to do such tricks as leaping off and on a running horse and doing a headstand on the shoulder of a horse. 

Lillian's performances grew in popularity and she decided to expand the act. Lillian's husband, Harold Howell, joined the act. Harold had also been involved in rodeo as a calf roper and bull rider. He also performed at various rodeos as a rodeo clown. Their acts included double trick riding, with Harold dressed as a clown, as well as trick roping and various acts. Harold and Lillian passed on their talents to their children Pat Howell McKinley and Lee Howell. Both children performed with their parents at early ages, doing such things as trick roping and trick riding.

Lillian's love for performing passed on to her daughter Pat. When Pat was a teenager she had perfected her trick riding and decided to try another facet of performing . . . Roman riding. Roman riding involved standing on the backs of two horses and doing various tricks. The family act turned into a mother/daughter act. Lillian and Pat performed various rodeos in Kansas and nearby states, doing twenty or more shows a season. Lillian's age soon became a factor and she had to retire. However, Pat remained performing and became well-known. She performed in such places as the Dominican Republic.

Pat performed her trick roping, trick riding, and Roman riding for many years and eventually passed it on to her own children. Pat and her three children performed at local and area rodeos until 1976.  

This family never got rich from rodeo, nor did they ever receive endorsements such as the ones that today's rodeo professionals receive. They were involved because they loved what they were doing.

Hope you enjoyed it.  It is rather lengthy, and I did omit a lot of information.


Monday, April 10, 2023

William Sanford Bonnell (Billy Bonnell) & The Rodeo

Another story from former editor Charles E. Bunnell (Charlie to his friends) recently compiled Bonnells & Bunnells of Note (And a few Burnells & Burrells for Good Measure). The complete work is available on Internet Archive at this link: Charlie Bunnell's Bonnells & Bunnells of Note  

Patricia (Howell) McKinley of Cedar Vale, Kansas, sent Charlie a biography of her grandfather William “Billy” Bonnell. Pat said that like Billy, her parents, her husband, her and their three children have all been in the rodeos. 

W.S. (Billy) Bonnell was born in Mayetta, KS July 19, 1877 and began roping and breaking horses at an early age along with his two younger brothers. At the age of 12, after the death of his father, he rode a horse from Gravette, Arkansas to Ponca City, Oklahoma to work for the ranches of Moncravy and Fuller as a way of helping the family income. 

While cowboying on the ranch he soon perfected a method of tying a calf that was faster than others at the time. 

Billy and his two brothers worked with the Pawnee Bill Wild West Show and participated in the filming of a motion picture which sadly no longer exists. In fact, Billy and his wife Mary wired money to Europe for the brothers to come back to the U. S. when the European tour went bust. Billy also worked with the 101 Ranch Wild West Show and was well acquainted and traveled with many of the people there including Bill Pickett and Lucille Mulhall. In fact, he named his youngest daughter Lillian Lucille after his good friend Lucille Mulhall. 

Billy’s horse Romeo, which he used for many years was considered one of the world’s best roping horses. Many record holders and great people rode and appreciated Romeo’s skills and personality, including Tom Mix, Buffalo Vernon, Ellison Carroll, Fred Beason, and Lucille Mulhall. 

Billy helped organize and produce “Ropings and Ridings” or Roundups” as many Rodeos were called then, in the south central Kansas and north central Oklahoma areas and was a co-founder of his local polo club, in Cedar Vale, KS. His first newspaper documented win that we have found in steer roping was in October 1907 in Stroud Oklahoma, at 24 seconds. He broke the current world record in calf roping in Cedar Vale, Kansas in August 1909 at 25 seconds. The original rules required much more of a roper as the calf got a much longer head start.

Billy competed at the Stampede in Calgary Canada in 1912 and is listed in the book “Man, Beast, Dust” (see note below) as one of the important contestants of that year who did command performances for the visiting royal family from England. Billy booked a box car under his name to leave from Arkansas City, Kansas for the horses of the group from this area competing and traveling to the Stampede in Winnipeg, Canada in 1913. Among the group were Henry Grammer, Joe Gardner, George, Bert and Charles Weir, and Lucille Mulhall, only to find out that when returning at the custom house at the border one member had sold his horse. Whereupon Billy was detained to get the papers proving the sale and accounting or the difference in the livestock count. That year of the Stampede Bill Bonnell, Joe Gardner, W. Hale, Charles Johnson, and Bert Weir were declared the world’s champion steer roping team.

 No Rodeo or roping was too big or too small for him. In the 1920’s, in his mid forties, Billy Bonnell continued to rope in more local competitions rather than traveling far away. This allowed him to attend to his family, land, and livestock obligations at home. 

He broke and trained horses for roping, racing, work teams and polo through the years. He taught and encouraged many young cowboys and his own daughter and granddaughter to compete and entertain in rodeos. He saw his friends at the ropings and kept pace with the winnings, even beating his friend Ben Johnson at Winfield, Kansas July of 1920. 

Billy continued to train horses and compete into his older age. At the age of 64 years old Billy won 2nd place at Moline, Kansas competing against ropers less than half his age. 

He died on June 4, 1951 at 74 years old with many paying their respects. Ben Johnson, Jr remembered him fondly to members of our family and stated that he deserved to be in the Cowboy Hall of Fame. He has become a part of local history and folklore, and is fondly remembered by his family. 

[Charlie’s Note: The Ben Johnson, Jr mentioned above was a rodeo cowboy, Hollywood stunt man, actor, and rancher who was in several movies with John Wayne. William Sanford “Billy” Bonnell is 002590 in Claude’s database.  His lineage can be seen in the Direct Lines entry by his granddaughter, Pat (Howell) McKinley.]

Blog Editor’s Note: “Man, Beast, Dust, the Story of Rodeo, ” by Clifford P. Westermeier, World Press, 1947 was reprinted in 1987 by The University of Nebraska Press but is no longer for sale from it. There are many used copies available through online booksellers.

Sunday, April 9, 2023

Nell Bunnell and the Chautauqua Shows: A Research Study

 Another story from former editor Charles E. Bunnell (Charlie to his friends) recently compiled Bonnells & Bunnells of Note (And a few Burnells & Burrells for Good Measure). The complete work is available on Internet Archive at this link: Charlie Bunnell's Bonnells & Bunnells of Note  This story is not reprinted verbatim from Charlie's book.  Some of his internet links don't work any more. When possible they've been replaced with active links. 

Nell Bunnell-Smith was a prominent and popular American Chautauqua singer. The University of Iowa Libraries, Special Collections Department is the go to resource for information on Chautaqua performers and the Chautauqua Circuit and much is available online at: Traveling Culture: Circuit Chautauqua in the Twentieth Century

At the time of this blog post the digital collection includes two items relating to Nell Bunnell/Nell Bunnell-Smith.  This one is in the public domain:

The rights of the other brochure are restricted: Educational use only, no other permissions given. U.S. and international copyright laws may protect this digital image. Commercial use or distribution of the image is not permitted without prior permission of the copyright holder.

It is a 3-page Redpath brochure promoting the concert trio of Nell Bunnell, Helen Crowe and Ethel Freeman. "A company of exceptional artists giving a versatile, artistic and popular entertainment," according to the brochure's cover.

Charlie's transcription is permissable, however: “Ms. Bunnell might be called the ‘vocalist of the heart.’  She sings the songs that are dear to the people; songs that have been employed to express their joys and their griefs, their hopes and fears.  Her personality is most winsome, her repertoire is universally popular and not the least of the charm of her work is the fact that one distinctly understands every word she sings.”

The rest is verbatim from Charlie's book, and shows the meticulous research he and his correspondents conducted to complete and correct Claude Bonnell's database.

In the first issue of the Newsletter that published, March 2003 (Vol. 17, No. 1), on pages 10 and 11 we had a short article on Miss Nell Bunnell who was an Unattached Branch. She was a soprano singer who toured with the Chautauqua shows. And from one short piece I had learned that she did marry and, ahead of her time, used a hyphenated last name: Nell Bunnell-Smith.  Recently I decided to reopen the search for her ancestry believing that so much data had been added to the internet in the last 8 years that I should be able to learn more.  And I was right. I found more than 40 pages from newspapers and magazines that have her name on them. And along the way I had some help from subscribers. 

He learned from the Stonghurst, IL Stronghurst Graphic, September 4, 1913 

 (Compiled and Edited by Virginia Ross Registrar for Daniel McMillan Chapter, N.S.D.A.R.1913that Ms. Bunnell appeared there at a Chautauqua on the preceding Sunday, August 31st: “Miss Nell Bunnell proved she still possesses complete mastery over a soprano voice, "…” 

Then on Jan 12, 1928 in the Anadarko, Oklahoma Tribune ( a Nell Bunnell is again mentioned, but nothing indicates that this is the same Nell cited above: “MRS. NELL BUNNELL and JANE ARLENE of Chickasha are here this week while her sister, Mrs. IDA WRIGHT, is convalescing from an attack of tonsilitis.” (Blog editor's note: at the time this article was originally published in the newsletter, Charlie's reference was to a transcription: Caddo Co. OK Newspaper - Anadarko Tribune Submitted By Sandy Miller

Trying to track down Nell Bunnell to see where she lived and worked and when and whom she married was one of the first challenges. I was able to find the following printed sources through and when read in the order they appeared, there begins to appear an outline of much of her life. In part, this exercise serves as a good example of how much information can be gleaned from sources other than court house records. 

S1: Hamilton Daily News, Hamilton Oho

S2: Hamilton Journal & Hamilton Evening Journal, Hamilton, Ohio

S3: Palm Beach Post, Palm Beach, FL

S4: The Lyceumite & Talent, published by The Lyceum Magazine, Chicago, IL

S5: The Lyceum Magazine, Chicago, IL

S6: Visitor’s Guide and Municipal Band Program, Greater Palm Beach, #1469

S7: Florida Divorce Index, 1927-2001

S8: The Palm Beach Post, Palm Beach, FL.

S9: Florida Death Index

S10: Ohio Department of Health Death Index

1908 - “Song and Story. Miss Nell Bunnell of Middletown, and Miss Bertha Johns give an evening of sound and story tonight at West Elkton, this being the third number on the lecture course there.” S2, 18 Dec 1908, pg. 6.

1910 - “The Redpath Concert Trio for 1910-1911 will include Nell Bunnell, Middletown, Ohio, soprano; …” S4, Feb 1910, pg. 54

1910 - Soloist at the Georgia Chautauqua, Albany, GA, April 17-23, 1910. S4, Apr 1910, pg. 58

1911 - Recovering from throat trouble and “will head the ‘Nell Bunnell Concert Company’ …” S4, Apr 1911, pg. 50

1911 - Appeared at a Chautauqua in Dothan, AL in early 1911. S4, Jul 1911, pg. 23

1911 - “Dr. W. L. Davidson corrects a statement in a recent issue to the effect that Miss Nell Bunnell of Hamilton, O., has been compelled to give up her platform work thru ill health. He says Miss Bunnell has finished her tour of his Chautauquas in splendid form and never did better work in her life.” S4, Jul 1911, pg. 43

1911 - “The attractions appearing for the Alkahest assemblies are William Jennings Bryan, Evelyn Bargelt, Nell Bunnell, …” S4, Sep 1911, pg. 24

1911 - On Sept. 18, 1911, the “Nell Bunnell Concert Co.,” appeared at the Millionaire’s Club, Copper Hill, TN. S4, Oct 1911, pg. 44

1911 - “Miss Nell Bunnell was taken sick at Micanopy, Florida, and compelled to return to her home in Middletown, Ohio. She is at the head of her own company.” S4, Dec 1911, pg. 45

1912 - “Miss Nell Bunnell, who is at the head of her own company this season, and who suffered from a severe case of malaria fever contracted during her tour in Florida in the early fall, rejoined her company the first of December and is doing better work than ever.  She lost several pounds of flesh during her illness, but none of her voice. …” S4, Jan 1912, pg. 44.

1912 - Through the spring and early summer she appeared in Florala, AL; Bonliay, Lakeland, Orlando, and Gainesville, FL;  Atlanta, GA. S4, multiple issues. S4 & S5, multiple issues.

1913 - She again covered the southern circuit, performing at Waycross, GA; Defuniak Springs, FL at a minimum. S4 & S5, multiple issues.

1913 - “Nell Bunnell, the lyceum singer, is to be married.” S5, Jul 1913, pg. 38.

1920 – “Administratrix named for H. H. Smith Estate. Judge R. S. Woodruff in probate court Thursday appointed Nell B. Smith of Middletown, to be administratrix of the $12,500 estate of Harvey H. Smith, late of Lemon township.” S1, 3 Dec 1920, pg. 20 [That estate would equate to about $135,000 today]

1923 – “Entertain Vets. … Mrs. Nell Bunnell Smith and other prominent entertainers from Middletown also appeared on the program.” S1, 10 Apr 1923, pg. 15.

1925 – “Nancy and Jacob Smith, children of Mrs. Nell Bunnell Smith are seriously ill with bronchial pneumonia at their residence on Coles road.” S1, 24 Feb 1925, pg. 9.

1925 – “Mrs. Edward Bunnell of Coles Road, is very ill at her home. Her friends are wishing for her speedy recovery.”  S1, 4 Mar 1925, pg. 7. [This may be Nell’s mother.]

1925 – “Nell Bunnell-Smith Appointed Guardian. Nell Bunnell-Smith made application and was appointed guardian of Nancy Jane Smith and Jacob E. Smith, minors, in probate court Thursday.  The estate consists of $900 in cash and real estate in Florida and Canada worth $200.  She gave $2,500 bond with S. E. Bunnell and W. H. Johnson as sureties.” S1, 23 Jul 1925, pg. 16. [S. E. Bunnell may be Nell’s father.]

1925-1926 – Winter season, Nell Bunnell Roser performed vocal solos at the Municipal Band performance at West Palm Beach, on 28 Feb., 3 Mar., 4 Mar., and 6 Mar. S6, 1925-1926. [Nell has remarried]

1926 – “Lad is Injured. Jacob Smith, son of Mrs. Nell Bunnell Smith-Roser, Miami, Fla., visiting relatives in this city [Middletown] was injured when at play near his home today, and underwent an operation at Middletown hospital.” S1, 16 Jun. 1926, pg. 7.

1926 – “Complimenting her sister, Mrs. Nell Bunnell Roser, of Miami, Fla., who is to return home Sunday after a two month visit here, Mrs. Arthur Harvey collected  …” S1, 4 Sep 1926, pg. 7. [Establishes that Nell had a sister]

1926 – “Word was received from Harold Yaw, Mrs. Nell Bunnell Roser and Mrs. Tom May, all former Middletown residents now in Miami, that all were safe. Yaw and Mrs. May suffered heavy financial losses due to damage to buildings.” S2, 22 Sep. 1926, pg. 16. [On 17 Sep. 1926 the  Miami/Palm Beach area was struck by a tremendous hurricane with 130 mph winds. About 450 people were killed.]

1927 – “Ed Bunnell returned to Middletown Thursday after passing the winter with his daughter Nell Bunnell Roser, at Fort Worth, Fla. Mr. Bunnell will remain in this city for the summer with his daughter Mrs. Arthur Harvey and family.”  S1, 14 May 1927, pg. 7. [Nell’s father is Ed, which may be his middle name.]

1927 – Divorce between Charles A. Roser and Nell Bunnell. S7

1930 – “D.P. Council Marries Nell Bunnell Roser in Ceremony at Asheville. Ashville, N. C.., Sept. 6. Verification of the marriage of D. P. Council, well known Lake Worth, Fla., resident and Madame Nell Bunnell Roser, prominent Lake Worth singer, was given here Saturday. The marriage took place here in July, it was learned Saturday, but the couple made every effort to keep it secret until their return to lake Worth. …” S8, 7 Sep 1930, pg. 8.

1931 – “Mrs. D. P. Council (Nell Bunnell Smith) and son Buddy of Lakeworth [sic] Fla., left Monday for their summer home near Danville, KY., where they will spend the summer months.  They were accompanied by the former’s daughter, Miss Nancy Jane Smith and Miss Robin Vorhis.” S1, 16 Jun 1931, pg. 7.

1938 – Ohio Department of Health Index:                                                          Date of Death

Name of Deceased      County & City Vol. No.     Certificate   Mo   Day    Yr

Council, Nell Bunnell Middletown   8795           33008     6       08      38

The newspaper articles alone provide a wealth of information: her career, marriages, death of her first husband, her children, residences, possible parents, and a sister who married Arthur Harvey. They certainly point us in the directions we need to look for more detailed or official information and sources.

Enter Freda Long, 82 Elm St., Germantown, OH 45327, who found Nell’s gravestone in the Woodside Cemetery, Middletown, OH which provided us with her birth date (1882) and death date (1938). I later found her cemetery listing on the web which shows her name as Nell Bunnell-Council. Also buried in that cemetery are Dr. H. H. Smith (1872 -1920), Nell’s 1st husband, and Samuel E. and Martha A. Bunnell. Samuel could well be the S. E. Bunnell mentioned in the 1925 guardianship notice; however in the previous article a Mrs. Edward Bunnell is mentioned. The 1927 notice states that her father’s name is Ed which seems to confirm that Samuel goes by a middle name, such as Edward. 

Adding to the confusion are two more newspaper articles and a death certificate index:

1933 – S. D. Bunnell. Samuel Daniel Bunnell, 72, suffered a stroke of paralysis a year ago since which time he had been making his home with his daughter, Mrs. D. T. Council in Lake Worth, Fla., where he died on Wednesday night.  For many years Mr. Bunnell was connected with the American Tobacco company and was prominent in civic affairs in Middletown.  He retired 10 years ago.  The remains will be brought to Middletown and taken to the house of another daughter, Mrs. Arthur Harvey.  Funeral arrangements will be made after the arrival of the remains here.” S2, 4 May 1933, pg. 15.

Florida Death Index, 1933:                            Guide

Name         Place Sex Col. Vol. Number         Year

Bunnell, Samuel Edgar Palm Beach M W 583 8057 1933

Claude’s database shows Nell’s sister, Rose, as marrying Arthur Harvey. And he cites the Hampden co., MA Vital Records as stating that Rose’s parents were S. Edgar and Martha. 

If the Samuel Bunnell in the Death Index is the same one whose remains were sent to Middletown, then the newspaper appears to have printed the wrong middle name. 

To try and sort out these inconsistencies I have ordered the death certificates for Nell Bunnell and Samuel Edgar Bunnell. But even without them, the above information does provide some updates for the database:

1. CB008523 in the database is Nellie I. Bonnell.  I believe Claude used the Bonnell spelling base on the 1900 census for Butler County, OH. Nellie, her father Edward, mother Martha and sister Ruth L. are listed as “Bonnell.”  However, based on the multiple sources cited above, the spelling is definitely “Bu” rather than “Bo.”  Apparently the census taker wrote down what he thought he heard. I’m confident this is our Nellie based on other family info in the data base.

a. Nellie’s marriages can now be added to the web page.

b. Her singing career should be mentioned.

c. Her death date and burial location can now be shown.

2. CB040855 is Nell Bunnell who married Charles A. Roser. This entry should be eliminated as the information will be listed with CB008523.

Nell’s first husband was Harry H. Smith, born 1872 and died November 1920. His type of practice was Allopath and he practiced in Jeffersonville, IN, 1907 and Middletown, OH, Oct 24, 1911. He was a graduate of Indiana Medical College, School of Medicine of Purdue University, Indianapolis, 1907. [Source: Directory of Deceased American Physicians, 1804-1929,].

Next I wanted to try and determine Nell’s lineage. 

Parents: probable: Samuel Edgar/Edward and Martha Bunnell 

possible Edward and Martha Bunnell. 


Warren County 1880 census shows Arch and Hannah Bunnell with a son Samuel E., b. about 1862 and a William and Mary A Bunnell with a son Eddie, b. abt1871. 

Hamilton County 1880 census shows William & Roxyann Bunnell with a son Samuel, b. about 1862.

Butler County 1880 census shows Oliver and Mary A. Bunnell with a son Eddie, b. abt. 1868.

Seneca, Summit and Wyandot, Ohio each show an Edward Bunnell or Bonnel b. between 1868 and 1879 who would be considered if the death certificates show that Nell’s father’s name was Edward.

So, in the next issue we hope to complete Nell’s lineage based on the results of the death certificates.

In the continuation of the Nell Bunnell saga, we received her death certificate the day after we finished the previous newsletter. Here’s what we learned from it:

Name: Nell Bunnell Council  Address: 600 Alameda St, Middletown, OH Husband: David P. Council.

Date of Birth: Nov. 22, 1882  Age at death: 55 years, 6 months, 16 days Date of Death; June 8, 1938

Birthplace: Red Lion Ohio  Father’s name: S.E. Bunnell Father’s Birthplace: Ohio 

Mother’s Name: Martha Kim Mother’s Birthplace: Ind. Informant: Ruth Harvey

Trade or profession: Musician

Cause of Death: Carcinoma Oesophagus, right breast, left hip, cervical vertebrae, cerebral Hemorrage.

While I was hoping it would show her father’s precise name, the S. E. certainly narrows it down

A couple of days later I received the death certificate for Samuel Edgar Bunnell, which was listed in the Florida index of death certificates. And it provided precisely the information I was looking for. 

Name: Samuel Edgar Bunnell  Address: Lake Osborne Rd, Lantana, FL Wife: Martha Bunnell, deceased..

Date of Birth: Jun 1, 1861  Age at death: 71 years, 11 months, 2 days Date of Death; May 2, 1933

Birthplace: Warren Co., Ohio  Father’s name: Archibald Bunnell Father’s Birthplace: Ohio 

Mother’s Name: Hannah Schnorff  Mother’s Birthplace: Ohio Informant: Mrs. Nell B. Council

Trade or profession: Retired Tobacco Mfg. 

Cause of Death: Cerebral Hemorrage.

This clears up and consolidates several entries in the database for Nell, her father and her sister.

Nell Bunnell was born 22 Nov 1882 in Red Lion, Warren co., OH daughter of Samuel Edgar and Martha (Kim or Kern) Bunnell.

M. (1) Dr. Harry H. Smith, b. 1872; d. 1920. Issue (surname Smith)

Nancy J., b. abt 1916

Jacob E., b. abt 1918

M. (2) abt. 1925, Charles A. Roser; div. 1927; no issue

M (3) July 1930, David P. Council; no issue

In the database 

CB040855 Nell Bunnell should be removed. 

CB008523. Nellie I. Bonnell & CB008524 Ruth Louise Bonnell should be realigned under CB341141, Samuel Edgar Bunnell and the spelling of their surname corrected.

CB008522 Edward L. S. Bonnell: All entries regarding Nellie and Ruth Bunnell and Martha Kern should be removed. 

CB341141 Samuel Edgar Bunnell: b. 1 Jun 1861, Warren co., OH, son of Archibald and Hannah (Schnorff) Bunnell. M. 22 Feb 1882, Martha A. Kim or Kern, b. 1861, d. 1925. 

Finally, using what we have learned and the database, we can now report Nell’s ancestry back to William the immigrant: William1, Nathaniel2, James3, Stephen4, Jonas5, George6, Archibald7, Samuel8, Nell9.