Having bombed Tokyo and gotten most of Doolittle’s Raiders to safety with the help of numerous Chinese villagers, I closed the book and turned to Robin. “Anything I can do to help track down this William G. Rankin fellow?”
She laughed. “I hit ‘publish’ about two minutes ago – so, no. On the other hand, it is a good story but with a lot of holes. Let’s see what else we can find.”
Indeed, it is a good story, starting with a Union coat and vest up for auction. A guy comes out of nowhere, gets commissioned as a Captain in the Union Army in 1861, gets breveted to Major and Lt. Colonel on the same date in 1865, maybe carries a brevet Colonel rank in 1867, supposedly leaves the service in 1870, goes to work in Customs in New York City, applies for a veteran’s invalid pension in 1889, and appears in the 1890 schedule of Civil War Veterans — still in New York, although he was born in Pennsylvania.
But the holes are gaping. Where and when was he born? Who were his parents? What was his middle name? What did he do before the War? How did he wrangle a Captain’s commission? What really happened when he was at Fort Buford? Did he marry and/or have children? As Yule Brenner said in The King and I, “Etcetera, etcetera, etcetera.”
Well, by gosh, we persevered and found answers to many of those questions. He was born in 1822 (not 1835) in Mercer County, Pennsylvania. His parents may have been William S. and Martha (birth surname unknown) Rankin. His middle name was Galloway, which is interestingly the name of a single malt scotch. At Fort Buford our man was a conniving, scheming, alcoholic. He did marry – apparently to a woman with lavish tastes but some good sense. She left him. We still do not know about children. He died in 1891 and is buried in the Rankin plot in Mercer Citizens Cemetery, Mercer, Pennsylvania.
If you are interested in how this all came together, here is how the sausage was made. First, I found New York City Directories online at the New York Public Library site. Nicely digitized but non-searchable, not even to skip to a numbered image! Faced with scrolling page by page, I complained to Robin, “Sure would be nice if we were looking for someone named Adams or Bailey instead of Rankin.” She replied, “That is a funny thing to hear coming from a man named Willis!” I laughed and turned back to scrolling. Somewhere around image #900, the 1889-90 Directory lists Wm G Rankin on West 38th Street. That was also Rankin’s location in the 1890 Civil War Veterans’ Schedule. He showed up at the same address in the 1890-1891 directory. And then Bingo — he does not appear in 1891-92. Maybe he moved. Maybe he died. I found the answer in a New York Death Index Extract. It read:
William G. Rankin, died 30 May 1891 in Manhattan, New York, age 69, born about 1822, Death Certificate #18993.
That looks like our guy! Unfortunately, there was no digitized image of the certificate, so we could not learn names of next of kin or parents that might be on that document. In any event, the discovery was a breakthrough. From that point, the search picked up steam.
Then, we found his middle name! A register of United States employees in 1873 listed “W. Galloway Rankin” as Entry Clerk in the Customs Department in New York at an annual salary of $2,200.00. Surely, this is the same man as William G. Rankin who was a temporary Customs Inspector at a later date for $4.00 per day, about half the earlier salary. The 1873 listing showed he was born in Pennsylvania, which also matches our man.
Having that middle name opened the floodgates to more information. One of the most revealing pieces was an article published in 1969 about drunken officers at forts in the West. Based primarily on official military reports and correspondence, the author exposes Captain (not Colonel) William Galloway Rankin, commander of Fort Buford during the summer of 1867. He was a drunk and a thief who sold Army rations, probably to a nearby village of friendly Sioux. He was assaulted by an equally inebriated subordinate officer who discovered Rankin’s thievery. The article claims that he had a beautiful wife, half French and half Spanish, who left Fort Buford by steamboat for Omaha, apparently enjoying some of the Captain’s illicit wealth. As you might expect, the record does not include the wife’s name!
Despite substantial proof against Captain Rankin, he escaped punishment and was assigned to a coveted job in recruiting. The article claims he was friends with Colonel (later General) Rufus Ingalls, who headed the Army’s Quartermaster Corps. We have not been able to trace the beginnings of that relationship. Was that part of the reason Rankin got his commission in the first place? Was that why he apparently spent a lot of the war at headquarters rather than in battle? Was there any connection related to Rankin’s misappropriation of government supplies? One has to wonder.
In any event, the officer bringing charges against Rankin (and his assailant) was the commander of the U.S. 31st Infantry Regiment. That regiment was formed from one battalion of the 13th Regiment in December 1866. Rankin’s company at Fort Buford was part of the transferred battalion, which explains how he came to be in the 31st during 1867. We can reasonably conclude that whoever “rescued” him from his pending Court Martial and placed him in the recruiting assignment also transferred him back to the 13th, where he ended his service. Rankin apparently had some powerful friends.
Having Willie G.’s middle name also yielded results at Find-A-Grave. William Galloway Rankin’s tombstone is pictured on the site showing birth and death months of June 1822 and May 1891, respectively. That is our man! And a big breakthrough – he is buried in Mercer Citizens Cemetery, Mercer County, Pennsylvania. A Pennsylvania U.S. Veterans Burial Index confirmed our guy (although misspelling the name as Rawkin) – born June 1822, died 30 May 1891, buried in Mercer Citizens Cemetery.
With that information, Robin searched for William Galloway Rankin in Mercer County. Census records in Mercer County identified Willie G.’s possible family of origin. A William S. Rankin family appeared in 1820, 1840, and 1850 censuses. The 1840 census includes a male born between 1820 and 1825, the right age for Willie G. The 1850 census shows William S. Rankin with wife Martha and several presumed children. William G. Rankin is not listed in the household, which makes sense. He would be 28 years old.
The household, however, does include R. C. Rankin age 34, an attorney. Robin found a reference to a Robert C. Rankin who died in 1855. She also found that William S. Rankin does not appear in the 1860 Census, so he likely died as well.
Next step has to be looking for those two in the probate records at FamilySearch! Hopefully, our Willie G. will be named as an heir or administrator.
Cheers, and See you on down the road,
Gary and Robin
 To be fair, I could scroll eight pages at a time, so it “only” took about 120 clicks in each directory to get to image 900.
 “Register of Civil, Military, and Naval Service Employees 1863-1959,” 1873, Vol. 1, Customs.
 John R. Sibbald, “Frontier Inebriates with Epaulets,” Montana: The Magazine of Western History, vol. 19, no. 3, 1969, pp. 50–57. JSTOR, http://www.jstor.org/stable/4517383. Accessed 29 Jan. 2023.
 Id at 51, Colonel Phillipe Regis de Trobriand.
 This transfer explains why the 1867 events were not included in the history of the 13th Regiment of Infantry prepared by Lt. J. B. Goe referenced in the earlier article on William G Rankin.
 The 1850 Census for Mercer, Mercer County, Pennsylvania lists Wm S Rankin 69 farmer with $9,000 of real estate, Martha Rankin 58, R. C. Rankin 34, Madeline Rankin 28, Martha J. Rankin 20, and James L. Rankin 4.
 Robert might have never married. The New Castle Public Library in Lawrence County, adjoining Mercer County, Pennsylvania, lists an obituary for Robert C. Rankin, Esq. No image is available for the obit, which appeared in the Lawrence Journal on 27 Jan 1855. However, the library’s index card does not indicate any spouse named in the article.