Ritchie, James Alvie

Biography

photo of  James Alvie Ritchie

James Alvie Ritchie was the oldest son of Nelson Holder Ritchie and Annie Cowan Russell to survive into adulthood. His family called him by his middle name, Alvie, although his wife referred to him as Jim after they married.[1] He was born in Great Bend, Kansas, but moved with his family to Utah in 1892 when he was nine years old. Apart from a four-year stint in the U.S. Navy, he spent the rest of his life in the American West.

Even though Alvie’s father Nelson was variously defined in public records as colored, black, mulatto, Indian, and white, Alvie and his siblings passed as white. In fact, Alvie's father Nelson was denied LDS priesthood ordination and temple admission because his bishop said “he had negro blood in him.”[2] Alvie and his siblings, however, all received temple admission and/or priesthood ordination (either in life or by proxy after death) before June 1978, an indication of the difficulties of policing racial boundaries.

Alvie’s father Nelson was himself the son of a white man and an enslaved black woman. Nelson then married Annie Cowan Russell, a white woman, making Alvie at least a second generation descendent of mixed-racial relations . (It is possible that Alive's enslaved grandmother was also of mixed racial descent. On one occassion Alvie's father said that “he never knew his mother, but was told by some friends she was very dark, Creole or mulatto.” If Alvie's grandmother was "mullato" that would mean Alvie was at least a third generation descendent of mixed-racial relations).[3] All known public records describe Alvie as white.[4]

Alvie was born in 1883 at Great Bend, Kansas, where his father and mother were prominent business owners of a hotel, livery stable, and omnibus business. Alvie had just turned eight years old when in the spring of 1891 LDS missionaries Willard Richard Johnson and William C. Mann made the Ritchie hotel their home base and befriended the Ritchie family in the process.[5] Johnson, for example, helped Nelson with chores at the livery stable and around the hotel and one day in June he took Alvie with him to the train depot “after the mail.”[6] Johnson later requested that two of his children in Utah write letters to the two oldest Ritchie children, Alvie and Olive. When the letter from Johnson’s son Burt arrived at Great Bend for Alvie, Johnson called it a “very nice letter.”[7]

Johnson and Mann continued to befriend the Ritchie family and share LDS gospel messages with them. That fall, Annie took her oldest children to an LDS church conference at St. John, Kansas and it was there, on 15 September 1891, that elders Mann and Johnson baptized and confirmed James Alvie and his sister Olive in a creek. After the baptisms those who had gathered for the event “got some nice melons and tomatoes” and enjoyed each other’s company as they ate them together.[8]

Just over one year later, the Ritchie family moved to Salt Lake City, Utah. On 17 November 1892, Alvie, along with his mother, father, and possibly his sister Olive, went to Beck’s Hot Spring north of Salt Lake City and William C. Mann baptized them. It was a rebaptism for James Alvie and possibly Olive, while it was his mother’s and father’s first baptism.[9]

Alvie’s father struggled to make ends meet after the family moved to Utah and as a result the family moved frequently. By the time Alvie turned nineteen his sister Grace recalled that Alvie could not find work “so he went in the Navy.” In May 1902, the Salt Lake Telegram listed his name among the twelve applicants recently accepted as “naval enlistments.” Grace remembered that Alvie spent four years in the Navy and his obituary specified that it was during the “Philippine Insurrection” that he served. His service would have come at the conclusion of the active fighting phase of that “insurrection” which ended in July 1902. He was most likely involved in some aspects of the U.S. occupation of the Philippines which followed. Between February 1903 and January 1905, Alvie sent at least ten letters home to his family in Utah. He wrote from on board the USS Wisconsin and letters arrived from various global locations, including Yokahama, Japan; Shanghai, China; Manila Bay, Phillipines; and Honolulu, Hawaii. [10]

Grace recalled that while Alvie was in the Navy he would regularly write to the family and send ten dollars to help pay for the family home in the Sugar House neighborhood of the Salt Lake Valley. While Alvie was away, however, his father traded that home in Sugar House for a house at the mouth of Parley’s Canyon. When Alvie learned of that move, he became upset with his father for not staying put and paying off the home at Sugar House. As Grace put it, “he would not send any more money to help out” and his relationship with his father became strained to the point that after he returned to Utah from the Navy he refused to see or talk to his father.[11]

Alvie’s father, Nelson, passed away in 1913, when Alvie was 29 years old. When Alvie learned of his father’s death it prompted a belated reconciliation. His sister Grace said that Alvie quickly returned to the family home and sat with his father’s body. He “was the first one there and sat there for hours,” Grace recalled. Alvie attended his father’s funeral services and even paid the bill. As Grace put it, despite their prior differences, “James Alvie had not forgotten the love he had for [his] father.”[12]

After his return from the Navy, Alvie worked as a farmer in West Jordan, a rural community at the south end of the Salt Lake Valley. It was there that he met Millie Shulsen, a daughter of immigrant parents from Norway and Sweden.[13] On 14 January 1909, Heber C. Iverson, an elder in the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, performed the marriage ceremony for the young couple.[14] They eventually had seven children together.

In 1927, Alvie took a job as a construction worker in Montana. Tragically, while there Alvie was diagnosed with cancer. He twice traveled to the Mayo clinic in Minnesota for two different operations but the surgeries failed to eradicate the cancer. He thereafter returned to Utah and died at the home of his sister Olive Cleverly in Bountiful, on 10 July 1928. He was only forty-five years old at the time; his passing left Millie a widow with six children. James Alvie was buried in the Bountiful City Cemetery next to his father and eventually his mother.[15]

In 1930 Ritchie family members attended the Salt Lake Temple and there performed sacred rituals in Alvie’s behalf, including a proxy ordination to the priesthood, a proxy endowment ceremony, and a proxy sealing to his mother and father. In 1962, also in the Salt Lake Temple, family members again served as proxy as they vicariously sealed Alvie to his wife Millie.[16]

By W. Paul Reeve

Primary Sources

Ashton, Grace Ritchie. “An edited history of Nelson Holder Ritchie (1840–1913), written in 1975 by a daughter, Grace Ritchie Ashton.”

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Record of Members Collection. Parley’s Ward. CR 375 8, box 5238, folder 1, image 32. Church History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Record of Members Collection. Sugar House Ward. CR 375 8, box 6743, folder 1, image 469. Church History Library. Salt Lake City, Utah.

“Figures Tell Story: Naval Enlistment.” Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah). 17 May 1902, 2.

“James A. Ritchie Dies at Home of Sister.” Davis County Clipper (Bountiful, Utah). 13 July 1928, 1.

Johnson, Willard Richard. Mission journal. May 16, 1890 to April 15, 1892. Transcript in possession of Jeffery O. Johnson. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Johnson, Willard Richard. Mission letters. In possession of Jeffery O. Johnson. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Kansas State. 1885 Census. Barton County, Ellinwood.

Mann, William C. Mission journal. MS 26229. Church History Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

Whitaker, John Mills. Memorandum from the daily journal of John M. Whitaker (December 1906 to March 1912). Typescript of transcripts from John M. Whitaker journal. J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

United States. 1900 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City.

United States. 1900 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, West Jordan.

United States. 1910 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, West Jordan.

United States. 1920 Census. Utah, Salt Lake County, West Jordan.

United States. Utah. Salt Lake County. World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918. James Alva Ritchie. National Archives and Records Administration. Washington, DC.

Utah. County Marriages, 1887-1937. Salt Lake County. James Alvie Ritchie and Millie Shulsen, 14 January 1909. License No. 7603. Microfilm 429,300. Family History Library. Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Utah. State Board of Health. Certificate of Death. File No. 55. James Alvie Ritchie. Utah State Archives. Salt Lake City, Utah.

Secondary Sources

Reeve, W. Paul. “Nelson Holder Ritchie.” Accessed 7 September 2019.

Ritchie, James Alvie. (KWVZ-JXB). Ordinance records on FamilySearch.org. Accessed 7 September 2019.

Shulsen, Millie. (LLMT-JTC). FamilySearch.org. Accessed 7 September 2019.

[1] Grace Ritchie Ashton, “An edited history of Nelson Holder Ritchie (1840–1913), written in 1975 by a daughter, Grace Ritchie Ashton,” (accessed 9 January 2019).

[2] John Mills Whitaker, Memorandum from the daily journal of John M. Whitaker (December 1906 to March 1912), typescript of transcripts from John M. Whitaker journal, 150, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[3] Whitaker, Memorandum, 150; for further details see W. Paul Reeve, “Nelson Holder Ritchie,” accessed 7 September 2019.

[4] This includes Kansas State, 1885 Census, Barton County, Ellinwood; United States, 1900 Census, Utah, Salt Lake County, Salt Lake City; United States, 1910 Census, Utah, Salt Lake County, West Jordan; United States, 1920 Census, Utah, Salt Lake County, West Jordan; United States, Utah, Salt Lake County, World War I Draft Registration Cards, 1917-1918, James Alva Ritchie, National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, DC; and Utah, State Board of Health, Certificate of Death, File No. 55, James Alvie Ritchie, Utah State Archives, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[5] William C. Mann, mission journal, MS 26229, 99-100, Church History Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; William C. Mann, mission journal, MS 26229, 99-100, Church History Department, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah; Willard Richard Johnson mission journal, May 16, 1890 to April 15, 1892, transcript in possession of great grandson, Jeffery O. Johnson, Salt Lake City, Utah; Willard Richard Johnson, Great Bend, Kansas to Sarah Crosland Johnson, Holden, Utah, 14 July 1890, 21 April 1891, in possession of great grandson, Jeffery O. Johnson, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[6] Johnson, Mission Journal, 1 June 1891.

[7] Willard Richard Johnson, Great Bend, Kansas to Catherine Usslear Johnson, Holden, Utah, 21 May 1891, 16 June 1891, in possession of great grandson, Jeffery O. Johnson, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[8] Mann, mission journal, 158-159.

[9] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Sugar House Ward, CR 375 8, box 6743, folder 1, image 469, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah. Unfortunately, researchers have not yet found the original baptismal record to verify if Olive was rebaptized with James Alvie. See also Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Parley’s Ward, CR 375 8, box 5238, folder 1, image 32, Church History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[10] Ashton, “An edited history of Nelson Holder Ritchie”; “Figures Tell Story: Naval Enlistment,” Salt Lake Telegram (Salt Lake City, Utah), 17 May 1902, 2; “James A. Ritchie Dies at Home of Sister,” Davis County Clipper (Bountiful, Utah), 13 July 1928, 1; Deena Hill to Paul Reeve, email, 9 September 2019, in possession of author.

[11] Ashton, “An edited history of Nelson Holder Ritchie.”

[12] Ashton, “An edited history of Nelson Holder Ritchie.”

[13] United States, 1900 Census, Utah, Salt Lake County, West Jordan; Millie Shulsen (LLMT-JTC), FamilySearch.org, accessed 7 September 2019.

[14] Utah, County Marriages, 1887-1937, Salt Lake County, James Alvie Ritchie and Millie Shulsen, 14 January 1909, License No. 7603, Microfilm 429,300, Family History Library, Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[15] “James A. Ritchie Dies at Home of Sister,” Davis County Clipper, 13 July 1928, 1.

[16] James Alvie Ritchie (KWVZ-JXB), ordinance records on FamilySearch.org, accessed 7 September 2019.

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