Sims, Katherine Fluellen


photo of  Katherine Fluellen Sims

Katherine Fluellen Sims, the daughter of a formerly enslaved mother, lost her siblings and father to early death and her mother to mental illness. She moved frequently and married often. Her family life was marked by separation due to death and divorce. Her life represents the challenges that emerged in slavery’s wake as the generation born in the aftermath of the Civil War struggled to find stability and belonging, even in the American West.

Katherine was born in Corinne, Utah in 1872. At the time, the town was a small but bustling railroad hub with a population of approximately 800 people. Corinne had sprung up just three years earlier as the transcontinental railroad neared its completion in nearby Promontory Summit. The town included boarding houses, restaurants, dry-good stores, a small newspaper office, and even boasted an opera house, but also epitomized the “wild west” of popular lore. Saloons, brothels, gambling dens and other staples of mining and railroad boomtowns were common sights in Corrine during this period.[1]

Katherine was born to Betsy and John Fluellen. Named Julia Ann at birth, she went by Katherine or Katy for the majority of her life. Katherine was the eldest of three children, and the only Fluellen child to survive infancy. Her father died sometime between 1878 and 1880, leaving Katherine and her mother as the only remaining members of their small family.[2]

Katherine’s mother, Betsy, was born enslaved and was brought to Utah in 1848 as an eleven-year-old girl. She gained her freedom in 1862 and at the time of Katherine’s birth, worked as a domestic servant at a boardinghouse in Corinne. Katherine’s father was born in Ohio, and lived in Montana before his arrival in Utah. He owned and operated a popular barber shop and was a vital member of Corinne’s business district.[3]

Although her mother had been baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints in 1855, Katherine did not join the LDS Church until 1888, when she was 16 years old. It is difficult to know why that was the case given that children of Latter-day Saint parents are typically baptized at age eight. Her mother may have transitioned to the Presbyterian faith at Corinne, since both of Katherine’s brothers were buried in the Corinne Presbyterian cemetery, but there is no record of Katherine or her mother’s membership as Presbyterians. It is possible that Katherine was not baptized at Corinne simply because Corinne was the “Gentile Capital of Utah,” and the LDS Church was not established there until 1878. It is not clear when she and her mother moved from Corinne following her father’s death.[4]

Katherine was in fact baptized at Mill Creek, Utah, not Corinne. Mill Creek was a small farming community at the time, on the east bench overlooking the Salt Lake Valley. A variety of Black Latter-day Saint families lived there in the nineteenth century and at some point, Katherine joined them.[5] The record of Katherine’s baptism appears alongside blessings, baptisms, and confirmations of members of the Ned and Susan Leggroan family, a prominent Black Latter-day Saint family in Mill Creek. It is possible that Katherine was living with the Leggroan family at the time of her baptism. By the late 1880s, Katherine’s mother had experienced a decline in her mental health and the Leggroans may have taken her in. In 1893, a judge committed Katherine’s mother to the Utah State Insane Asylum in Provo, Utah where she died in 1902; it is not clear if Katherine maintained contact or knew about her mother’s plight.[6]

Katherine was baptized a member of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints on June 7, 1888. Her church record lists two men as having performed her baptism, James S. Carlisle and Dan Lunn. Lunn confirmed her the same day. Carlisle and Lunn were members of the Mill Creek Ward, the same congregation to which the Leggroan family belonged.[7]

Katherine did not, however, stay in Mill Creek long after her baptism. One year later she married Posey Oglesby on August 1, 1889 in Bingham, Idaho. Oglesby was a quartz miner from Missouri, who was forty-two years her senior, and was not a Latter-day Saint. It is not clear how the two met but they had three children together, David, Dan, and Mary. By 1900, the couple had separated and then divorced shortly thereafter. Dan and Mary lived with Katherine, and David stayed with his father.[8]

After her divorce from Oglesby, little is known about Katherine’s life. Staid census records and succinct news clippings nonetheless offer clues as to her whereabouts and her changing familial circumstances in her later years. Katherine married Dock Davis sometime around 1900 and the couple lived in Denver, Colorado. Dock died on June 8, 1912. In 1914, Katherine next married Edward Davis (no relation to Dock) and the couple relocated to Pocatello, Idaho. Katherine and Edward divorced in 1923, after Katherine accused Edward of adultery and abuse. Katherine married Alex Sims the following year and they lived in Boise, Idaho, until Katherine’s death on October 4, 1932.[9]

According to her obituary, Katherine became a Baptist sometime after leaving Utah. Her funeral was held at St. Paul’s Baptist Church, Boise’s first predominately Black church. The church building is now home to the Idaho Black History Museum and is on the National Register of Historic Places. Katherine was also a member of Eastern Star, a fraternal organization. She was sixty years old when she died. She was laid to rest in an unmarked grave in Morris Hill Cemetery in Boise.[10]

By Julia Huddleston

[1]Brigham D. Madsen, Corrine: The Gentile Capital of Utah (Salt Lake City: Utah State Historical Society, 1980); David Walker, Railroading Religion: Mormons, Tourists, and the Corporate Spirit of the West (Chapel Hill: University of North Carolina Press, 2019).

[2] United States, 1880 Census, Utah Territory, Box Elder County, Corinne; Utah, Corinne Presbyterian Church Baptisms, Births, Marriages, Deaths, 1870-1897, Church Registers, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania, 171.

[3] United States, 1870 Census, Utah Territory, Box Elder County, Corinne; United States, 1880 Census, Utah Territory, Box Elder County, Corinne.

[4] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Mill Creek Ward, Microfilm 26147, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah; Utah, Corinne Presbyterian Church, Baptisms, Births, Marriages, Deaths, 1870-1897, Church Registers, Presbyterian Historical Society, Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.

[5] Tonya Reiter, “Life on the Hill: The Black Farming Families of Mill Creek,” Journal of Mormon History 44, no. 4 (October 2018): 68-89.

[6] “Another Case,” The Salt Lake Tribune (Salt Lake City), 2 March 1893, 5; Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Mill Creek Ward, Microfilm 26147, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[7] Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, Record of Members Collection, Mill Creek Ward, Microfilm 26147, Family History Library, Salt Lake City, Utah.

[8] Idaho, Bingham County, Marriages, 1878-1898, Posey Oglesby and Katy Flewellen, 1 August, 1889; United States, 1900 Census, Idaho, Bingham County, Gray’s Precinct.

[9] United States, 1910 Census, Colorado, Denver County, Denver; United States, 1920 Census, Idaho, Bannock County, Pocatello; Idaho, Bannock County, Marriages, Edward Davis and Catherine Davis, 10 August, 1914; United States, 1930 Census, Idaho, Ada County, Boise; “District Court,” Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 2 December 1923, 14; “Marriage License Issued,” Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 1 February, 1924, 9; Katherine Sims,; “Death Certificates,” Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 6 October, 1932, 2; “Funerals,” Idaho Statesman, (Boise, Idaho), 7 October, 1932. 5.

[10] “Death,” Idaho Statesman (Boise, Idaho), 5 October, 1932, 3; Katherine Sims,


Click the index tab in the viewer above to view all primary source documents available for this person.

Prev Next