The story

Bernhard Gillam

Bernhard Gillam

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Bernard Gillam was born in England in 1859. Nine years later the Gillam family moved to the United States. Gillam studied law but tried to establish himself as a portrait painter. He later turned to cartooning and had his work published in Frank Leslie's Illustrated, Harper's Weekly and Puck Magazine where he was influenced by the work of Joseph Zeppler. Gillam also worked for The Judge, a magazine where he became director-in-chief.

During the 1884 presidential campaign Gillam's attacks on James Blaine is believed to have played a significant role in helping Grover Cleveland win victory. On Blaine's body was engraved details of charges of corruption made by his political past. Blaine threatened to sue but was persuaded by his political friends to back down. Ironically, Gillam was a Republican who voted for Blaine in 1884.

Bernhard Gillam died of typhoid in 1896.

Our Gillam's of the 19th Century were all based in Brighton or Brighthelmstone as it was sometimes known. In my research I have found many Gillam families in Brighton but mine seem to have occupations of 'boot maker' and 'plumbers' or 'builders'. My grandfather used to say we came from the huguenots but I haven't been able to show this to date.

There is a record in the NZ West Coast Times on 29th December 1883 referencing a Mrs John TAIT as the sister of Rev. W.E. Gillam. We have records showing the marriage of Frances Gillam to John Tait. John died in 8th November 1907. Frances lived and died in Hokitika, New Zealand. Interestingly, there is a road named 'Gillams Gully' in that area. Frances Gillam is the 4th member of the George Harry Gillam family to emigrate downunder - Why?

New Zealand Connection

A Patched Balloon

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You've only scratched the surface of Gillam family history.

Between 1944 and 2004, in the United States, Gillam life expectancy was at its lowest point in 1952, and highest in 1999. The average life expectancy for Gillam in 1944 was 54, and 70 in 2004.

An unusually short lifespan might indicate that your Gillam ancestors lived in harsh conditions. A short lifespan might also indicate health problems that were once prevalent in your family. The SSDI is a searchable database of more than 70 million names. You can find birthdates, death dates, addresses and more.

The GILLAM Family

We turn now to the GILLAM family of Leicester and Countesthorpe, a family two Brewin girls married into. The first intimation of this family is a tantalising entry in the 1327 Lay Subsidy of Wykingeston which lists an individual called Richard Gylemyn. It sounds as if it could be Gilman, but i can find no reference to a Gilman family living at Wigston, so was this a very early Gillam in Leicestershire?

The first possible Gillam ancestor to our family was JOHN GILLAM. All we know of him is from a Marriage Settlement. He was a Freeman of Leicester in 1500, so saw the transition from the Plantagenets to the first Tudor, Henry VII. He had 2 sons, THOMAS and Robert, they being born around 1515/1520. Robert married Amy Ward, a member of a notable local family, and founded a parallel line to ours he died in 1562, leaving a Will.
THOMAS married ELIZABETH FRANCIS of Ticknall, Derbyshire, She was an heiress and would have brought Thomas sizeable wealth at their marriage. [ the Francis family of Foremark, who had acquired property in the parish at an early date, and the Abels, who from the early 1300s were being granted land by the Prior of Repton, including land where the Limeyards are now. Both families continued to own land in Ticknall after the Dissolution. Part of the Francis share passed to the Burdetts of Foremark and Bramcote in Warwickshire. See Sir Robert Francis, died 1419/20, at: [A notable ancestor was Sir Adam Francis who was Lord Mayor of London, and the family returned two Members to Parliament. One of the girls, Maude, became the Countess of Salisbury she was foster-mother to Henry V.] The Countesthorpe and Foston Heritage Group have found shards of Derbyshire pottery dating from the period around Green Lane, next to the Gillam’s residence at Countesthorpe which it is possible Elizabeth brought from her home at her marriage. Thomas and Elizabeth had 2 sons, Thomas and FRANCIS, the latter being born about 1570 at Ticknall. Thomas senior died in 1639 his estate was Administered by his sons Francis of Blaby and Thomas, both styled Yeoman. [From a family tree: The dates don’t add up here. If Thomas died in 1639, he could not have been born circa 1520. I think there was another Thomas in between, born around 1545, or it could refer to Thomas junior, but there is no record to prove this.]
Francis married 3 times, the first being to Katherine Hall of Wigston Magna in 1602 they had 1 daughter, Susan/Susannah, born in 1603, and Katherine died 2 years later.
It was at this time that the house in Countesthorpe came into the Gillam’s possession, in 1604. It was then called Gillam’s Farm, later as Gillams, and presently as The Manor House. Radiocarbon tests on the roof timbers have dated the construction back to around 1496. The house was extended and given a smart exterior in the 18th century. There have been 7 owners in all, the longest occupiers being the Gillams, who finally sold it in the late 19th Century, there being no heir.

Gillams, F ront view
Gillams, Back view

His second marriage was to MARGARET MANSFIELD, the daughter of FRANCIS MANSFIELD, the Rector of Foston, in 1609 at Foston. [There is a marriage licence for Thomas Gillam of Countesthorpe and Elizabeth Mansfeild, w, of Kymcoate, dated 1611. Maybe she was the one buried with her child at Countesthorpe in 1613.] Undoubtedly Margaret was married to Francis by her proud father, who had first been appointed Rector of Foston by Queen Elizabeth I in August 1598. Thomas and Margaret had 6 children: THOMAS, born around 1610 Sarah (died when a baby) Mary Sarah Francis and William.
After Margaret died in 1630 Francis married for the third time, a lady named Mary Wood, a widow, in 1632. He died in 1648.

Francis’ son THOMAS junior (born circa 1610) married MARY NORTON, daughter of HUMPHERIE NORTON of Norton by Gaulby, in 1636, and their Marriage Settlement is held at Leicestershire Records Office (Bray & Bray). [William Burton, the antiquary, stated in his book Descriptions of Leicester Shire in 1622 of Norton by Gaulby: ” In the 6th Edward I [1228] Robert de Norton was seized of the greater part of this town, held of the manor of Winchester” But Mary is shown to have Orton connections, so her ancestry is unclear]. Mary Norton would have been a descendant of this Robert, the family having retained Norton as their surname. Thomas and Mary had 7 children: Mary, baptised 1639, never married Frances, baptised 1641, married Joseph Bent, Thomas died as a baby in 1642 Elizabeth, baptised in 1645 married William Elliott Jonas, baptised in April 1648 married Elizabeth Sleath of Willoughby Waterless. THOMAS, baptised in November 1648 Sarah, baptised in 1652.

Thomas senior died in 1658 he left no will and the estate was administered by his widow ‘Mariam’ and William Orton. Mary did leave a Will when she died in 1727. This was a non-cupative Will, that is, in front of witnesses but not written down. The memorandum states that ‘she did give and bequathe all her estate unto Mary Tansor alias Gillam, Saray Gillam and Jonas Gillam her children with words or the like in effect was uttered and declared did [-?-] in the presence of Thos Gillam [her son] and his wife Mary Gillam and John Elliott.’ All 3 signed. She did not leave anything to Thomas because he had inherited the property and estate on the death of his father. Mary was leaving her personal goods.

This Thomas junior, son of Thomas and Mary, married MARY BREWIN, daughter of WILLIAM BREWIN [Brewerne] of Belgrave. [The Brewernes were a notable family, being yeomen and landowners. They had been in Belgrave since the 15th century.] They married at All Saints Church in Leicester, by Licence in 1670. Thomas was a Yeoman. Their children were: Thomas (1672-1672)THOMAS, baptised 1673 William, in 1675 Mary, in 1676 Elizabeth in 1680 Ann, in 1682 and 1691 Sarah, in 1683 George, in 1684 and Brewin, in 1691. Thomas senior died in 1696, his estate being administered by his wife Mary. She died in 1707 her Will mentions her deceased son William’s widow, Hannah son Brewin daughter, Ann Meadows (” if now with child if born alive”) son Meadows [Ann’s husband] grandsons Thomas Gillam, William Gillam, John Clarke and John Noone grandaughters Mary and Ann Meadows cousins William Orton wife sons in law John Clarke and Thomas Noone. In all, she left £125 in bequests, a sizeable sum for a woman then. Son THOMAS is not mentioned he had inherited the bulk of the estate directly from his father.
Mary married at Braunstone in 1695 John Clark of London, a wine cooper Ann married Richard Meadows ‘of Wixton’ in St. Marys in Arden Elizabeth marriedThomas Noon.
THOMAS, being the eldest son, inherited the estate he was a Freeman of Leicester and a Gentleman. He married firstly MARY GEE, the daughter of WILLIAM GEE of Aylestone in 1707. William and Emanuell Gee appear on the Lay Subsidy Hearth tax Rolls for 1663 both had 3 hearths, and only the Earl of Rutland and William Paske, a clerke, had more. A theory suggests that the 2 Gees were Stewards of the Earl. William Gee was sent to London, to be apprenticed to a goldsmith, by his father Emanuel, and who died in 1681, but no baptisms have been found to confirm if this was Mary’s father. Baptism records are sketchy during the Interegnum.
After Mary died in 1707, Thomas married ELIZABETH BREWIN, daughter of ROBERT and MARY BREWIN of Wigston Magna, on 18th May 1710 by licence. It was this Thomas Gillam who, with others, petioned Parliament for enclosure:
“Inclosure passed by Act in 1666 for Parish of Countesthorpe. The king was described as being patron of the Rectory of Countesthorpe and Blaby. Thomas Gillam, Thomas Hastings and John Young and others were seized of residue of lands and grounds in the open and common fields of Countesthorpe.”
The Gillams now owned a vast amount of the Parish, as well as land at Kilby Bridge and Belgrave. Thomas though, died in 1772 .
Mary was 35 when she had their only child, THOMAS, who was baptised on 20th December 1712. Thomas married JANE MEADOWS by licence on 25th June 1733 at Blaby. Jane was a daughter of THOMAS and MARY MEADOWS of Wigston Magna, born there in 1708.. Richard was an Inn-holder there, and although I have not found his parentage, he ,in 1739, and wife Mary , in 1747, did leave Wills, and an Inventory showing every item in the house and brewhouse underneath. Thomas left land and pasture to his daughter Elizabeth, including arable and grassland purchased from the influential Freer family. He also left Elizabeth and her sisters, Jane Gillam and Mary Painter, and their brothers Richard and Thomas £100 each. Richard also received the contents of the Brewhouse, as well as the Horse-trough and Pump in the Yard. Wife Mary received £100, and the residue after legacies had been paid. Mary could only leave personal goods she left the fixed bedstead in the Best Chamber to son Richard, £20 to son Thomas, daughters Elizabeth, Mary and Jane all her other goods, cattle and personal estate whatsoever, share and share alike.
Thomas and Jane Gillam had 5 children. They were: Mary, 1734-? Elizabeth, who married Benjamin Humphries, 1736-? Jane, who married Thomas Coleman, 1739-? CATHERINE, 1738-1817 who married WILLIAM HEARD of Countesthorpe William, who married Anna Iliffe, 1747-1828. We will meet Catherine again during the story of the Heard family. Thomas and Jane are buried within St. Andrew’s Church and a plaque records this.

Thomas and Anna Gillam had 12 children: Jane, Thomas, Anna, Elizabeth, Mary, Sophia Anna, Catherine Anna, William Meadows, Edward Thomas, Harriet, Bennett Thomas, and Jonathan.
William Meadows, Catherine’ nephew, was born 1785, and kept The Black Swan Inn at Kilby Bridge. He died at the Inn in 1823.
Bennett Thomas, Catherine’s nephew, was born 1794, and went to Canada, where he was a Timber Merchant at Quebec. He became involved in a Court case in 1827, when a ship he had chartered, the Trusty, was not unloaded within the allotted time at the docks in England. it was found that bad weather prevented the ship leaving Quebec on time, thus the owner of the ship, along with Bennett Thomas, became liable.
Catherine Anna’s son, John Savage, also went to Canada, where he witnessed his Uncle Bennett’s Will.

Thomas, Catherine’s nephew and heir to the Gillam estate, was born in 1775. He married Elizabeth Robinson at Shearsby in 1804. Thomas’ obituary, in 1833, states that ‘he died of care and gout’. As his 2 eldest sons emigrated, one wonders if that caused his ‘care’. He and Elizabeth never saw their boys again. They had 12 surviving children Thomas Meadows, William, Mary Ann, John, Jane, Harriett, Catherine, Anna, Sophia Ann, Elizabeth, and Bennett Thomas. Three of these are interesting
Jane, Catherine’ great-niece, married a Scot, Peter Reid in 1837. He was a Railway Contractor and I think must have been involved with the Midland Railway line through Countesthorpe for them to meet. They moved, presumably with Peter’s work, all over their 5 children were born in Kent, France, Berlin, Oswestry and Gloucester between 1843 and1850. 3 sons became Civil Engineers. The youngest Charles, corresponded with his Gillam cousin, William Merritt and was very anxious to discover the history of the Gillams. He did have a rather romantic view of the family though, being convinced that we were pure Angles, while giving his children Saxon names. It is through his letters to, and preserved by, William Merritt and passed on to his descendants that we know about that branch today.
Catherine’s 2 great-nephews’, and their families’ stories read like a ‘Boys’ Own’ adventure, they span the world. As we are not descended directly from them though, their stories are told separately.

[William, the second son of Thomas Gillam and Elizabeth Robinson, was the first to leave for Australia. He left before 1829 as we know that his elder brother followed him and arrived in Australia that year. William went straight to Sydney, or maybe Newcastle, NSW. He traded from there to China, having taken to the sea as a profession. It is thought that he took his nephew in as his partner but the ages are wrong, It is more likely that he left young Thomas Jenkins Gillam in charge, because he made his way to India. William’s elder brother, Thomas, followed him but disembarked in eastern Australia and never saw his brother again.] The house and estate were left in Jonathan’s hands after his brothers left. He had no children and it descended to his nephew, also Jonathan. Their holdings had shrunk and Jonathan was now a market gardener. He had one daughter who died young. The house was sold and thus ended our branch of the family in Countesthorpe. Other branches stayed though and there are descendants living there today.

Shooting Incident

On December 22, 1984, Goetz entered an empty Manhattan train, carrying an unlicensed .38 caliber revolver. Also on the car were four teenagers: Troy Canty, Barry Allen, Darrell Cabey and James Ramseur. As witness testimony later stated, Goetz had barely taken his seat when the young men approached Goetz for $5. When Goetz refused, Canty responded, "Give me your money."

Suspecting he was being set up for another mugging, Goetz stood up and said, "You all can have it." Goetz started firing his revolver, wounding all four teens. When the train came to a stop, a startled Goetz ran out of the car and eventually fled the city, making his way to Concord, New Hampshire. Eight days after the shooting, Goetz finally turned himself into police.

The New York City that Goetz returned to was a different place than the one he&aposd left. New Yorkers, tired of the crime that had gripped their home, vaulted Goetz to hero status. Joan Rivers sent Goetz a telegram of "love and kisses" and said she would help out with his bail money. T-shirts celebrating Goetz&aposs actions sprang up everywhere. Goetz, who posted his own $50,000 bail, wanted none of it. At least not at first. "I&aposm amazed at this celebrity status," he told the New York Post. "I want to remain anonymous."

1899 Gillam Political Cartoon Heralding the Construction of the Nicaragua Canal

A political cartoon celebrating America's expansion across the globe, both in territory and through influence.



This is an 1899 Victor Gillam political cartoon heralding the inauguration of construction of the Nicaragua Canal. Illustrating most of the Western Hemisphere, Uncle Sam is quoted as saying 'Finish the canal, McKinley, and make our national expansion complete.' America's burgeoning empire is marked by the line of American flags in the Pacific, identifying the Philippines, Hawaii, and Alaska as American ground, along with the flags in Puerto Rico and Cuba, also under American influence by 1899.

The years around the turn of the 20th century saw the United States emerge onto the world stage. Although American expansionism had been national policy since well before the American Civil War, it was not until after the American victory in the Spanish-American War that the United States believed it was taken seriously in a global sense. Many politicians professed concern that America lacked an overseas empire, even though it had easily annexed Texas, northern California, Alaska, and Hawaii in recent history.

Americans had remained staunchly isolationist throughout their country's history, even in the face of American 'Manifest Destiny'. The Spanish-American War began to change the country's perspective, particularly following the cession of Guam, the Philippines, and Puerto Rico to the United States in the treaty ending that war. Cuba also became an American protectorate.

The new atmosphere of global importance influenced the United States into appointing an Isthmian Canal Commission to determine the best route for a canal across Central America. As a French company had already claimed the route through Panama, it was determined that a canal across Nicaragua was the best option for the United States. Soon, however, the French company folded, and the U.S. managed to gain possession of the Panamanian route and quickly moved their operation to that site. American eagerness to complete the canal, and ease commerce between the East Coast (represented here by Washington, D.C. and New York) and the West Coast (San Francisco), is personified by Uncle Sam bringing McKinley an armful of tools to help him complete the task of building the canal. Enthusiasm for the project is also illustrated by the line of ships streaming toward the 'proposed Nicaragua Canal' from both coasts, merchants eager to avoid the perilous voyage around Cape Horn or the costly and time-consuming cross-country trip by rail for stagecoach.

This wonderful cartoon was created by Victor Gillam and published in the October 7, 1899 issue of Judge magazine.


Frederick Victor Gillam (c. 1858 - January 29, 1920) was an American political cartoonist, best known for his work in Judge magazine. His work was also published in The St. Louis Dispatch, Denver Times, New York World and New York Globe. He was born in Yorkshire, England and his family immigrated to the United States when Gillam was six year old. His older brother Bernhard Gillam (1856 - 1896) was a famous cartoonist as well, leading Gillam to sign his work 'Victor' or F. Victor' until his brother's death. He was also a member of the New York Press Club and New York Lotos Club. Gillam died in Brooklyn, New York on January 29, 1920. Learn More.

Gilliams of Virginia

Updated May 25, 2020

One cannot ignore Virginia when engaging in GILLIAM research. As on can see form the 1840 Census, most Gilliams lived in Virginia and those states that bordered Virginia.

Information on this website is arranged by County and then within in each County by type of source document&mdash Chancery Causes, Deeds, Wills , etc. These sources are listed alphabetically.

Each page begins with County Formation and Background and information on the early Parishes of that particular County.

Genealogical information is summarized in a County Overview .

Occasionally, following a particular record, explanatory information will be included. Such "editorial" comments are set off in brackets [. ].

Information on names similar to GILLIAM are, at times, included for clarity's sake. For example, the Gilmans of Hanover County may be found on the Hanover County Page.

  • What's New you will find a list of new pages
  • Search , where you will be able to search the entire site.
  • Foundations you will find information about the spelling and pronunciation of the name as well as the coat of arms.
  • County Formation speaks to the importance of looking at the history of a counties geography as County lines often change and as Counties have often split during Virginia's history.
  • Fact or Fiction addresses some of the most common Gilliam genealogical errors
  • Allied Families you will find information on families that married into the Gilliams of Virginia and/or used the surname Gilliam as a given name.
  • Given Names traces a given name through Virginia records
  • The Topical Pages compiles statewide information by topic such as all the Gilliam land patents and grants
  • City/State/Country Pages documenting Virginian Gilliams that have removed to other states

The following icon indicates that I have on file a copy of the original document.

(See Halifax County, Will of Richard Gilliam, Inventory of Richard Gilliam, Account of Sale of Estate of Richard Gilliam)


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I along with the help of several fellow GILLIAM researchers, in particular Mary Ellen Baker, Bonnie Flythe and Helen Sills have devoted many hours to compiling the information found on this site. Copyright of the information found at GILLIAMs of Virginia is held by Gregory A. GILLIAM, except as noted in sources.
None of the information found at GILLIAMs of Virginia may be copied, reproduced, distributed, republished, downloaded, displayed, posted or transmitted in any form or by any means, including, but not limited to, electronic, mechanical, photocopying, recording, or otherwise, without the prior written permission of Gregory A. GILLIAM.

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Early Elementary School Outcome in Children With a History of Traumatic Brain Injury Before Age 6 Years

Objective: To describe elementary school outcomes for children who experienced a traumatic brain injury (TBI) before age 6 years compared with a control group of children with orthopedic injuries.

Participants: Children ages 6 to 9 years recruited from community and trauma registries in a large southeastern state.

Design: Descriptive findings from the first year of a 3-year longitudinal study.

Main measures: Child assessment and parent report measures were administered to capture cognitive, language, reading, and behavior outcomes. Medical record review confirmed injuries and injury severity.

Results: The TBI group (n = 39) had a mean age of 7.55 years (standard deviation = 1.29) and was 5.15 (standard deviation = 1.56) years postinjury. The TBI group had primarily classified as mild complicated TBI (63%). On average, children in both groups performed within normal limits on most cognitive, language, and reading measures. Group differences were identified in verbal IQ, receptive language, and reading comprehension, with robust performance differences in pragmatic language, story retell and word fluency, and parent report of executive functions.

Conclusions: Findings indicate the importance of in-depth follow-up specialist assessments (eg, neuropsychologist and speech and language pathologists) to identify potential nuanced difficulties in children with mild complicated TBI that may be missed by general evaluations.

Bernhard Gillam - History

Harold Gillam: A Tragic Final Flight
Ketchikan remembers the search
By June Allen

Ketchikan, Alaska - Harold Gillam was among the boldest of those gutsy pioneer bush pilots who painted Alaska's early aviation history on an enormous canvas of rugged and unforgiving wilderness often cradled in the foulest, most extreme weather on the planet.

Harold Gillam in the cockpit of his Ski-equipped Waco
Donor: Don Dawson.
Photo courtesy Tongass Historical Society

Oldtime pilots said that there were three kinds of Alaska weather: clear and unlimited, called Pan Am weather then ordinary weather, and lastly, there was "Gillam weather." While more prudent pilots sat out the worst days, the quiet-loner Gillam would shake his head and say, "The weather's never as bad as it looks."

There were, of course, times the weather was indeed as bad as it looked and Gillam had his share of heart-stopping takeoffs, hairy landings, and more than a few minor accidents and serious crashes as well. But it was said that he had cat's eyes and could fly in the winter darkness as well as the daylight. Early in his career the lucky pilot had been given the nickname "Thrill 'em, spill 'em, no kill 'em Gillam."

That nickname held until Jan. 5, 1943 and his final crash landing on a mountaintop within today's 2.3-million-acre Misty Fjords National Monument. The crash site is almost due east from Annette Island, about 15 miles across choppy Revillagigedo Channel. Not only was it the most remote location possible for a crash, it was during one of the most severe winters in the history of Southeastern Alaska. There were unusually frigid temperatures and sixteen feet of snow on the ground.

The saddest part of the tragic crash is that the immediate rescue efforts failed to find a trace of the plane. The accident site, as remote as it is, was just east of the Annette Island's wartime airfield where Gillam planned to refuel - and just sixteen air minutes south of Ketchikan, at the time one of Alaska's largest cities!

Gillam had radioed Annette with the urgent messages, "I am in trouble!" and "One engine is out." Then silence. It was assumed that pilot Gillam and his five passengers had perished by plunging into the choppy winter waters of the entrance to Alaska's fabled Inside Passage. A search for the downed aircraft and survivors was initiated even though it was believed the plane was at the bottom of the ocean.

The search was called off after a little more than two weeks. It was assumed that fate had finally caught up with the adventurous Harold Gillam, the lucky pilot who had never had a fatality. He would be mourned.

Harold Gillam was born in 1903 in Kankakee, Illinois and grew up in Chadron, Nebraska. He ran away from home at the age of sixteen and joined the Navy, serving several years on a destroyer in the Pacific. Mustered out in 1923, he end up in Seattle where he worked what jobs he could find. In an American Legion Hall he saw a posted advertisement for men to work in construction in Alaska. The 20-year-old set out for the north country.

Gillam was not a big man, but he was burly, with great upper body strength. Like many men of his generation, he was a born-hard-worker. With his thick black hair and dark eyes under bushy black eyebrows ­ plus a silent, brooding personality - he was said to be quite attractive to the young ladies. In those days someone with those Irish attributes was called "a black Irishman." He was never really "pals" with his contemporaries, preferring his own company and his own rules. At first he worked several years for the Alaska Road Commission and then struck out on his own in Fairbanks as a freighting and road work contractor.

It was when he was grading the long stretch of Fairbanks' Weeks airfield just south of city center that he became interested in and finally enamored of airplanes. He had met his future as a bush pilot head on. It was there that he also met the lovely young Marvel Crosson, bush pilot Joe Crosson's sister, who, like her brother, was an aviator. Gillam and Marvel became engaged. Gillam then had one more reason to continue with his flying lessons. He was said to be a "natural," with an innate sense of direction as well as sharp eyesight.

Lockheed Mod 10-B Electra NC-14915 Piloted by Harold Gillam at Merrill Field, Anchorage, Alaska 1942. This plane was lost at Boca de Quadra January 5, 1943 while on a flight from Seattle to Anchorage with six people aboard Photo Credit: Morrison-Knudsen Company Archives Donor: Don Dawson, Courtesy Tongass Historical Society

By then it was the winter of 1929-30 and America was stunned from the news of the reported disappearance of the Territory's most famous bush pilot, Carl Ben Eielson, who was reported missing over Siberia! Eielson had taken on a contract to rescue a cargo of furs and passengers on the American fur-trading vessel Nanuk. The ship was caught fast in Bering Sea ice off the tiny Siberian village of North Cape. Part of the freight and passengers had been ferried to Alaska in November, but when Eielson and his mechanic Earl Borland returned for more, they vanished into the fog and whiteout of the Siberian winter landscape.

Every available plane and pilot in Alaska took off for the tiny Eskimo village of Teller, the search base location 70 miles north of Nome on the Seward Peninsula. There the pilots gathered around a hot stove to share information and suggestions before taking off over the all-white expanse of the Bering Sea and then the equally white expanse of Siberia.

Although young Harold Gillam did not yet have his pilot's license, his mentor, famous bush pilot Joe Crosson, had allowed him to join in the Eielson search in a borrowed airplane. And during the search, it was rookie Gillam's incredibly sharp eye that sighted a tiny sliver of a darker shadow on the blank white snow. The shadow turned out to be the slanted wing of a buried airplane. It was Gillam who had spotted the crash site! After days of digging, the bodies or Borland and of famous Carl Ben Eielson were recovered on Feb. 18, 1930. Harold Gillam's name joined Eielson's in headlines of the daring search effort.

Gillam was making a habit of making headlines! While he was still a student pilot, he had the distinction of being a survivor in Alaska's first aviation fatality. He was riding in a two-place Swallow biplane with instructor M.L. Danforth when the plane veered out of control and spun to earth. Danforth died two days later, but Gillam, with cuts and gashes on his head and hands, refused even to be hospitalized. Still with stitches in his wounds, he was flyng again.

But when Gillam returned to Fairbanks from the Siberian rescue flight, he had to deal with the devastating news of the death of his fiancé, Marvel Crosson. In August of 1929, while flying a Travel Air, she had crashed during a Women's Air Derby near Welton, Arizona. With her plane in a tailspin, she had attempted to bail out, but her body and unopened parachute were found close by the wreckage.

As years passed, the slow-to-smile and uncommunicative Gillam was learning how to deal with his press notices, in fact, his headlines. He said little or nothing. The daring and sometimes reckless young pilot's adventures would be featured in many word-of-mouth and printed stories over the next 14 years. All of America was in love with airplanes and the daring pilots who flew them!

Even the syndicated comic strips of the 1930's had their share of national aviation adventurers such as Tailspin Tommy, Skyroads, Barney Baxter and of course the famous Smilin' Jack. Who can forget Smilin' Jack's delightful sidekick Pancho (?), whose buttons popped off the shirt over his too-round tummy and into the craw of a tag-along rooster. Pilots were the heroes of the nation! Those were also the days of daredevils within the aviation industry.

By 1931 Gillam had left his home base in Fairbanks and relocated to Cordova, where the U.S. Army had built an airfield for stopovers of its own planes. Gillam was hired to fly the railroad route to the booming Kennecott copper mines and even over this relatively easy route he suffered six minor crashes in as many months. Over the following decade he, like other Alaska bush pilots of the era, flew wherever opportunity and pay took him across the north country.

Then in the first week of January 1943, Gillam was flying for Morrison-Knudsen contractors (M-K) ­ one of the prime builders in Alaska during the hurry-up construction years of World War II. He was in Seattle on a routine run to deliver freight and passengers to Anchorage. He warmed up his twin-engine Lockheed Electra - a plane almost identical to the one flown by Amelia Earhart in her final, ill-fated voyage across the Pacific.

Gillam discovered an oil leak in one of his engines and, as he had many times before, patched it up with tape and shellac. It would prove this time to be a disastrous mistake. Because of the repair he was late taking off. Aboard the plane were five passengers: Robert Gebo, M-K's Alaska general contractor Percy Cutting, the company's mechanic Joseph Tippets, CAA engineer (now renamed the FAA, Federal Aviation Administration) Dewey Metzdorf, Anchorage railroad and hotel man and young Susan Baxter, a stenographer headed to Anchorage to work for the FAA.

The weather reports for the route northward were rather routine for a Southeastern leg of the flight - dense fog, cold and gray. Gillam flew on instruments along the way and maintained total radio silence. It was wartime, just a little over a year since the Pearl Harbor attack, and enemy submarines had been sighted along the coast of Alaska and reports received of incendiary bombs lobbed toward coastal installations.

Crash site of the Harold Gillam Plane
Photographer: Don Dawson
Donor: Ketchikan Daily News, Photo courtesy Ketchikan Museums

Gillam planned to land and refuel at the new military base on Annette Island south of Ketchikan. The first four hours of the flight were uneventful, little to be seen below and nothing to hear but the drone of the engines. In spite of dense fog, the experienced Gillam's sense of direction told him he was over Southeastern Alaska. But he made his first fatal mistake in believing he was father west than he was.

Because of enemy aircraft pressure in the area, the Annette Island airfield occasionally changed its "instrument beam" signal to confuse any enemy aircraft in the area. It also confused Gillam, who, on his earlier flight southbound, had trusted a different signal.

According to an account related by passenger Joseph Tippets, "We hit a violent downdraft and dropped 4,000 feet almost before we knew it. It was pitch dark and the fog was almost down to the ground, but now and then through a hole we could peaks or trees flashing by. We were still flying at full speed. I yelled at Metzdorf to fasten his seat belt! The plane swerved just in time to miss one mountain. Then we saw another one looming up straight ahead. There was an open spot toward the top and Harold gunned the engine trying to make it. But our right wing hit a tree. I could feel everything leaving my body, everything blacked out, then it all came back. I was lying in the dark in the drizzling rain. I called out to the others. There was no answer. All I could hear was the hissing of the hot engine in the snow."

In the minutes that followed the others awoke and began to assess injuries. The cockpit had been crushed on Gillam but he seemed to suffer only from a gash to his head. Susan Baxter's injuries were the worst. She suffered a head injury and her right arm was caught under the debris, broken and bleeding. Sadly, after freeing her from the airplane, the young woman died two days later. Gebo and Metzdorf were seriously injured, with multiple broken bones. Tippets and Cutting were both battered and had broken bones but in the best condition of the survivors.

Gillam set to work immediately, fashioning snow shovels from the aluminum body of the airplane, he built snow shelters, lighted fires and fixed the stores of food. They could hear the blasting of construction work on Annette Island. Planes flew overhead, but the trees hid any sight of the survivors. Rescue didn't arrive. On the sixth day Gillam set out alone. He told the others, "I'm going up on a ridge. Maybe I can sight a definite landmark. If I do I'll got to it." He didn't return.

Cutting and Tippets set off down the mountainside in spite of their injuries. They dragged Gebo and Metzdorf to a spot lower down the mountainside and made them as comfortable as possible. Then they set out - if rescue didn't come to them, they would head for rescue. The story of the hardships all of them endured is almost unbelievable!

It was a month after the crash that the survivors were finally found!

By chance, a Coast Guard patrol vessel spotted Cutting and Tippets' fire on the shoreline of Boca de Quadra. As the boat drew near, they thought they were seeing two bearded, isolation-deranged trappers stumbling crazily along the beach! The survivors cried out, "We're from the M-K plane that crashed a month ago!" Help at last! The electrifying news was flashed across the miles and Ketchikan Volunteer Rescue Squad members responded. Tippets and Cutting were rushed to the hospital. Then Gebo and Metzdorf were found alive but in critical condition and rushed to aid.

Searchers found Gillam's frozen body wrapped in a parachute on the shore of Boca de Quadra, only a mile from where Tippets and Cutting were finally rescued. Gillam had torn his red underwear and tied the pieces to the spruce branches nearby. Over two tall poles stuck in the snow he had put his flight boots. Cutting later reported that he explored the surrounding area and found signs that Gillam had broken through a stream. He believed that the aviator had hung up his clothes to dry and lay down for a rest and never awakened. No autopsy was made and the cause of his death remains unknown.

The young woman's body was sent home for burial. Gillam is buried in Fairbanks' Pioneer Clay Street Cemetery, under a stone that reads, "Greater Love Hath No Man."

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