U-Ta-Wa-Un – Who are you?

Once again, while searching in old newspapers for something completely different, I found a nice little treasure. Actually this one was pretty big, if you count the number of words.
At some point in a puzzling research project, I think most genealogists find themselves asking a dead ancestor something like “Betty, just who are you really?” We might even say it out loud if nobody is listening. Of course we don’t generally expect to get an answer, but what can it hurt to ask? At a minimum, it’s a way to vent frustration. And when we get an answer? That’s the really cool and Really Spooky part of genealogy that keeps me hooked.
I other day I said out loud something to the effect of “U-ta-wa-un, you little stinker, who the heck are you?” (actually that’s cleaned up considerably for my public audience). I then decided to put him aside. Within days I stumbled on a local news piece that tells me exactly who U-Ta-Wa-Un was before he was U-Ta-Wa-Un. He was listening and he answered – Spooky stuff!
Pretty cool what you can find when you’re not looking for it, ha ;)



The Olean Democrat, 18-Jun-1885, page 1


The Olean Democrat (New York), 18-Jun-1885, page 1

A former Cuban.
“Dr.” U-ta-wa-un, the Indian brave who recently paid our city a brief visit with his troupe of pale faced performers and amused street audiences in his endeavor to advertise his quacks, was a former resident of Cuba, it it said. Just before leaving that place after his visit there a short time ago he sent the following note to the Patriot:
W.C. Cappell, – ‘Dr. U-ta-wa-un’ – the Great British North American tooth puller, king of dentists, is a native of Cuba. He attended church Sunday evening, after an absence of forty-two years, where Stephen T., his father, worshipped.”The Patriot Published the notice with the following comments:–Inquiry among our elder residents found several who knew Cappel and who had recognized him in his role. He is said to have been born on a farm just east of the village of a white mother. His father is reported to have been a resident of the Allegany reservation. The boy remained here for some years and finally disappeared for a time. About twenty years ago he was here for some time with a show consisting of snakes and a tame bear. He was also interested in running horses. At that time he had lost one of his hands, and the woman accompanying him said it had been lost in a fight in a Michigan town. No trace had been had of him here until his present appearance in a descendant of “a long line of Indian medicine men.”


Key Data

  • His name is W.C. Cappell
  • His mother was white
  • His father was Stephen T. Cappell
  • His father may have lived on the Allegany Reservation (suggesting he may have been Native American)
  • He lived in Cuba, NY as a child
  • He left Cuba 42 years ago (so about 1843)
  • He visited Cuba about 20 years ago (c1865±5), traveling with a woman, a tame bear, and snakes
  • He liked to race horses
  • He lost his hand in a fight in Michigan before his last visit to Cuba (so before c1865)



Normally, I would not believe anything this man claims. He is a showman and it is his business to entertain people. However, in this case his story is confirmed by local residents who recognized him and also remembered an earlier visit.
At first I could not find his family with any certainty, since I did not have quite enough puzzle pieces. Later, I found a marriage record for “Chief U-ta-wa-un” in 1904 that provides the name of his parents as Stephen & Belinda. Unfortunately, no surname is provided for any of them.
Armed with the given name of both parents, I had no problem finding a Stephen & Belinda Cappell in the 1850 Census. Stephen was born about 1804 in New York and is not listed as “Indian” in this census. Belinda was born about 1814 in Vermont. Curious birth location! They are in Union, Erie Co., PA with 4 children, William born c1839 NY, George born c1844 PA, Rusia Ann born c.1845 PA, and Almina born c1848 PA.
I wonder if the William in this census could be W.C.? The census ages I have for U-ta-wa-un suggest he was born about 1835±1. So the age is off a bit, but how many male given names start with W? He could be a Walter, Wallace, Wilson, Washington, or Warren. Obviously, I still don’t have quite enough pieces, but this is a pretty good fit.
According to the birth locations of the children in the family, William was born in NY about 1839 and the next sibling was born in PA about 1844. It appears the whole family left Cuba about 1840, for Stephen appears in Mead, Crawford Co., PA. I can’t be certain this 1840 is correct, but the ages of people in the household matches well with the 1850 census family.
In 1830, I found Stephen and his wife in Hume, Allegany Co., NY. They may be newly weds, since there are no children in the household. Now, Hume is located in Allegany County, but not within the Allegany Reservation. In fact, I found nothing to suggest this family is Native American. It is very unusual to find Native Americans listed in U.S. Census records prior to 1870.
In the death notice of U-ta-wa-un, there is mention he had a son that was a doctor in Toledo Ohio. Perhaps his father is the widowed Stephen Cappell found in Toledo, Ohio in the 1870 Census.
The most important item to keep in mind is that U-ta-wa-un was born in New York. Not California and not Illinois. He was a local man. It does not appear he is really Native American and he is probably not related to any of the Kanistanaux, but I still can’t rule that out with certainty.
Other things I have learned about U-ta-Wa-un from historical documents.

  • A June 1887 news clip from Janesville, Rock Co., Wisconsin says he recently re-married his wife (not named of course!) in the Catholic Church and mentions the priest as Father McGinnity (this record could probably be located)
  • An 1891 help wanted ad shows his contact location as “World’s Fair and Palace Pavillion, Millville, Mass.”
  • He used the name “Chief U-Ta-Wa-Un”, in his 1904 marriage record
  • His 1904 marriage record gives his parents as Stephen & Belinda, but supplies no surname
  • He wrote poetry
  • His 1907 death notice states he “had a son practicing medicine in Toledo, O.”

Once again, I will wrap up my research on Dr. U-ta-Wa-un, but the little voice in the back of my head says I will revisit this man again before he is through with me. Any one care to make a wager?

See the Kanistanaux Home Page for more.
See the Kanistanaux Map at Google.
Do you have any information to add or questions?
Please leave a comment.
Canyon Wolf 
Copyright ©2012 Ne-Do-Ba – All Rights Reserved
Categories: Analysis, Documentation, Entertainments, Family-Kanistanaux | Tags: , , , , ,

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