Back to Table of Contents


Now we can take a look at the family lines that married into our Williss surname. Let’s start with Grandpa’s Appler family roots.

The Applers in America

Some of us Grandpa Warren descendants will remember learning about the history of the Applers in our roots. The stories were recounted by Grandpa himself, as well as in “The Appler Family History” book (1976) (the “1976 Appler History Book”).  The 1976 Appler History book was written by our cousin Charles Ross Appler. Grandpa knew Charles Ross and also subscribed to Charles Ross’s Appler Family Newsletter.  The History book was intended to update another, older history essay, entitled “Two Centuries of the Appler Family in America, 1747-1947”. That older history was authored by Charles Ross Appler’s Grand-Uncle – who, as fate would have it, also happened to have been named Charles Ross Appler.

These two Appler family histories are a rich and solid source that are based on substantial, in-depth, personal research at courthouses and libraries undertaken over the course of many years. The 1976 Appler History Book, in particular is well-written, reflects an outstanding discipline in research, appears to have been well-grounded in fact — albeit accompanied by its share of speculation. And all of this, despite being long before the modern online research tools we have today.  I do encourage all to take another look at the 1976 Appler History Book. It’s a good read and informative.

Appler Family Golden Anniversary 1877

I will not even think of trying to duplicate that glorious family history research and reporting by Charles Ross. But, in the course of my research on Grandpa Warren’s ancestors, I took a second, serious look at Appler history, and can share the following takeaways that supplement the 1976 History book:

Our Appler Connection: Grandma Lulu (Lula Delmar Appler Williss, 1885-1950):  Our connection to the Applers is Grandpa Warren’s mother, Lulu Delmar Appler (1885-1950), known to us as “Grandma Lulu”.[1]  Grandma Lulu grew up in an upper-middle class household near old downtown St. Louis, and “came of age” there during the 1910’s. Her scrapbook and personal papers suggests she was very social and outgoing.

Grandma Lulu was remarkable because she appears to have had a creative streak within her. One of Lulu’s hobbies and personal pursuits was clothing fashion. Sally and Grandpa said Lulu spent a lot of time and energy following clothing fashions throughout her life, including years as a youthful and fashionable lass in St. Louis. It doesn’t appear Lulu was ever really deprived of fashionable clothing while she was growing up. But, she definitely did not just rely on retail stores for her wardrobe. In fact, relatively early in life, she taught herself how to copy the designs she saw in magazines and store windows; she would then purchase the pattern kits and cloth to manufacture those items for herself. She became so proficient at making dresses that she was able to maintain a fashionable wardrobe in later years, and her clothes-making and repair skills became a valuable skill when she ran into financial challenges after becoming a widow with two children. Grandma Lulu also inspired her granddaughter, Sally, who would eventually herself move to New York City to make a career out of designing women’s clothing during the 1960s and 1970s.

Grandma Lulu

Grandma Lulu, c. late 1910s

Another notable fact I recall learning about Grandma Lulu was that she is said to have been strongly opinionated on matters, including on social, philosophical and political. This is shown, for instance, by her keeping a copy in her scrapbook of a famous and then-controversial poem, called “Evolution”, by Langdon Smith.[2] America was still struggling with a large, ignorant population that denied science and the theory of evolution – as illustrated by the Monkey Scopes controversy of the 1920s[3]. I don’t see that this poem was specifically attacked by fundamentalists, but it was highly popular and representative of the thinking of the new generations of that day.

Louise Woods, Lulu's close friend and neighbor

Lulu’s best friend for many years, Louise Williams


Lulu in 1907 - joined protest marches for right to vote V.2

Grandma Lulu as a young woman.


Also telling about Lulu was her support for the woman’s suffrage movement, which had been strong in St. Louis, dating back to at least 1872.[4]  I will leave it up to the professional historians to more accurately state this, but apparently it was not uncommon for typical middle-class women to join in on the movement and openly support and volunteer for organizations promoting suffrage, even if only casually.[5]  Sally said Lulu had spoken of actively joining and supporting local suffrage marches. The right of women in the USA to vote, as you will recall, was not recognized nationwide until enactment of the 19th Amendment in 1919.  I have no facts recall as to exactly what Lulu did in supporting the suffrage groups. But Sally did recount to me that her support of the civil rights movement and participation in marches of the 1960s was due in a definite part to inspiration from her Grandma Lulu.


Bernard_Partridge_The_Shrieking_Sister_1906_Punch_wikimedia commons

The Shrieking Sister (1906), a cartoon typical of the era. There was still a vast amount of opposition to voting by women, and this cartoon reflects counter-reactionary criticism against activists pushing too hard for the vote. (Published in Punch, artist Bernard Partridge; Wikimedia Commons.)

Grandma Lulu died in an automobile crash in 1950.


Grandma Lulu’s Brothers

Grandma Lulu had just two siblings, one older brother and a younger brother.

(Grandpa’s) Uncle Arlie. Lulu’s younger brother was Arlie Appler (1891-1957). There are several photos of him in family albums, but I cannot identify anything much in particular of note. He may have had a free spirit, since at one point he and his wife Gertrude became thespians and went on a Vaudeville tour.


Uncle Arlie and Gertrude -Vaudeville, c.1912


Henry Ferrell. Lulu’s older brother was Henry Ferrell (1874-1912), and this is a notable story. For starters, he was only her half-brother. Henry was the son of Lulu’s mother, Sallie McCray, from Sallie’s first marriage to one Norman Ferrell. Norman died in 1880, and Sallie remarried to Joseph Ross Appler. Henry was 9 years old and living in the household when Lulu was born. So they spent some time together in the same household; and I am thinking they must have kept in touch, since photos of him appear in Lulu’s albums.

Henry was an achiever who became a successful medical doctor and scientist. He attended medical school at Washington University and later taught anatomy there. (That is, he “demonstrated anatomy” in the presence of groups of medical students.)  He was also a medical officer for the US Army Medical Corps, and was active in medical association activities.

He married and had one child. But for some reason, naturally left explained in the available record, he separated from his wife. She remarried in November, 1912. Sadly, just one month later – in fact, just days before Christmas – Uncle Henry’s life came to a sudden, tragic ending. A newspaper reported he was found slumped over his desk. I had myself never heard of this story, and Lulu’s scrapbook contains no reference to it.

But Henry’s death was notable enough to merit an entry in the American Medical Association Journal from early 1913. There, the Journal reported that Uncle Henry

“[d]ied in his office in St. Louis, December 19, from the effects of gun shot wounds of the head, believe to have been self-inflicted, with suicidal intent, while suffering from melancholia; age 37.”


Dr. Henry Eugene Ferrel (1875-1912), brother of Grandma Lulu


Boring Lives?: Grandma Lulu’s Father, Grandfather and Great-Grandfather.

Grandma Lulu’s father, Appler grandfather and Appler great-grandfather seem to have led fairly boring lives. Okay, that’s probably not fair: what I mean is, they may have been the most interesting people, but like most ancestors, we don’t know more than a few basic facts about their lives.

The Applers seem to have been reflective of an established American family that moves from one middle-class generation to the next. They seem to have been successful businessmen, always with plenty of food on their plates — but never exactly reaching truely high wealth or social standing.

Grandma Lulu’s father was Joseph Ross Appler. As provided in the 1976 Appler History Book, he ran his own general store/ grocery and seemed to be reasonably successful at it.  His parents, Isaac Appler and Judith Winter, seemed to run several businesses, including, at one point, operating a boarding house attached to their residence. They also were the ones who, at some points during the 1850’s, moved the Appler family from Maryland to Hannibal, Missouri.

Lulu’s Great Grandfather was Jacob Appler, was second generation and was born and raised in the Maryland community of his immigrant father, Eberhart Appler. (More on his origins below.) Jacob was a farmer.


Lulu’s Uncle John

Lulu must have had some kind of relationship with her Uncle John T. Appler: 1) they both lived in St. Louis while she was growing up, 2) there are family photos of him in her scrapbooks, and 3) a number of anecdotes were passed down through Lulu to Grandpa and beyond.

Uncle John T. Appler was apparently a zealous and aggressive Confederate. The 1976 Appler History Book and some other sources contains a recitation of his experience as a Missouri Confederate soldier.

Isaac and Judith Appler moved their family from Maryland to Hannibal, Missouri a port town along the Mississippi River, some time in 1857. (It’s not clear why, other than for affordable land.) Missouri, like Kentucky and Maryland, was a border state, with sympathies on both sides of the Civil War. Hannibal tended to lean toward Confederates.

I have found that there were Appler cousins in Virginia who appeared on slaveowners on slave schedules. These cousins were, like us, descendants of the 18th century immigrant Eberhardt Ebeler. However, I have never found evidence that our own family line of Applers actually owned slaves.

But never underestimate the power of ideology. Even though our group of Applers didn’t own slaves, John was an ambitious and aggressive believer in the rebellion against the Union. He displayed stamina and strength as he fought in multiple battles, was wounded at least twice, was imprisoned twice, and kept rejoining the cause despite setbacks. He was a deep believer. One of many.

J appler from histy book B - Copy1

Image of John T. Appler from about the time of outbreak of war. I accidentally discovered this in “Portraits of Conflict: A Photographic History of Missouri in the Civil War“, which also includes a short bio write-up. (Authors William Garrett Piston and Thomas P. Sweeney.image presumed to be in public domain.)

I encourage you to look at 1976 Appler History Book and other sources for more details about his service, but I want to add to the story by illustrating how far a “believer” will go.  John T. eagerly joined the volunteers early, in fact beginning in 1861, at the outbreak of violent hostilities (but before regiments were formally called up). He soon enlisted in the Missouri Confederate Infantry and over the next two years participated in several violent confrontations and battles. At one, the Battle of Corinth, he apparently injured a limb and was taken prisoner. He then escaped from a prison ship. He healed himself and then re-joined the Confederate army to fight in more battles, including several in the so-called Vicksburg Campaign; history books will refresh for you that this was a pivotal series of engagements in 1862-1963, when the Union was trying to force the Confederates out of their last stronghold along the Mississippi River. A critical battle among the Vicksburg events was the Battle of Champion Hill (May 10, 1863).  John was wounded again and actually left on the field for dead (if I am not incorrect, I think I read somewhere that his shoulder was busted). He was ultimately plucked off the field and sent back home to Missouri to heal.

But, he was not giving up his cause of the Confederacy. He apparently became active again as soon as he could, as the war raged on. He must have done something bold – or stupid; in 1864, he was thrown into Gratiot Street Prison in St. Louis.  Like most Civil War prisons, Gratiot Street prison was notorious for being overcrowded and horribly unsanitary, and prisoners there were subject to physical and mental abuse, neglect, and at times starvation. Many diseases were easily spread. Scores of thousands of prisoners died. John contacted typhoid and nearly died.


Cover Image on Frost, Griffin Prison Journal v.3

Block print of Gratiot Street prison, from Frost, Grifffin. Camp and Prison Journal Embracing Scenes in Camp, On the March, and in Prisons (1867)

In 1867 (two years after the end of the war), one Griffin Frost, a Confederate war prisoner who did time at Gratiot published a personal journal he wrote while confined there in 1863-1864, about the same time as John T.:

“I suffered on New Years’s day, as near the fire as I could get, wrapped up in my shawl and blanket; had a terrible time, and would have complained of my condition if there had not been hundreds in the house in a worse fix. Prisoners are being brought in all the time; over a hundred on the 6th, about a dozen officers with them. Gratiot occasionally gets very much crowded, and when such is the case there are many and just causes of complaint. The prisoners are poorly fed, worse bedded, and nearly suffocated in the impure air. It is said there has been as many as seventeen hundred men at one time in these lower quarters. That number could scarcely find standing room, sleeping would be out of the question, of course they must suffer, sicken and die.


JAN. 18.—For the past week all things with us have flown on smoothly. Scarcely a ripple  appearing on the calm surface of the bitter waters of prison life; this is true, at least, as regards our immediate quarters. We know nothing of what walls and floors may hide from our view, doubtless there have many painful scenes transpired at the hospital, as numbers are dying daily. Almost ‘ every hour witnesses the exit of some freed spirit, which drops its chains and its bondage and under the pale flag of death’s unquestioned truce, soars away to that blessed land where “the wicked cease from troubling, and the weary are at rest,” and in every instance the haggard corpse, handled roughly by rude strangers and stowed quickly away in its rough pine box, is the dear form of “somebody’s darling, God only knows who.”[6]

Fortunately for uncle John T., however, his relatively wealthy business owning family, the Applers, came through for him and posted a $5,000 bond (according to one calculator, this would be close to $82,000 in 2019 dollars). And we can be sure that all of that would have been cash; modern-era “bail bonds”, which can today be purchased for a tiny fraction of the bond amount, were not widely available.

Later in life, Lulu’s Uncle John became actively involved in Civil War clubs and fundraised for memorial statues. This was at a time when Confederate veterans were dying out and across the South, communities were still reminiscing about the “good old days”. It makes sense we would find John working on such a cause — he was truly a believer in the Confederate cause. And we can be sure the memorials he helped create ended up being the same the kinds of statues that in recent years have begun to be removed from public display across the country as community activists and local leaders oppose them as shrines to white supremacy, etc.

More on The Mark Twain Connection

The 1976 Appler History Book includes John T’s narrative about Mark Twain (whose real name, most of you already know, was Samuel Clemens). At the time the Applers moved to Hannibal, at least some of the Clemens family were already resident there. Samuel Clemens’ older brother Orion was the owner of a newspaper in town. (John T. would himself later go on in life to become a newspaper printer.) It seems likely the Applers got to know Samuel since Samuel was himself 22 in 1857, and the Appler boys were in the same age range. I believe Samuel traveled around before returning to Hannibal in 1861, but in either event the family story is that John (and possibly two other Appler boys) served with Clemens for at least two weeks. John T. reported he was with Sam Clemens in a small volunteer group for the first few weeks after war broke out.

Steamboat on Mississippi River 1907 colorized

Image of steamboats at a Mississippi River landing, c. 1907. This was decades after the Civil War but I tend to think the riverside image here is probably not too different from how it appeared when the Applers were in Hannibal. (Not sure of location, photo colorized by Shorpy and published here with Shorpy’s permission; Shorpy and their excellent collection of historic Americana photographs for purchase or view can be found at: )


John T. told one side of the story. I wanted to find what Mark Twain may have told about his own experience. I haven’t found any smoking gun of Twain mentioning the “Appler” name, but I do versions of the story that might only support Uncle John’s version.

From one website for Cape Girardeau County:

“[Clemens] returned to his hometown of Hannibal, where he briefly caught the martial fever of the hometown boys incensed that the federal government would try to tell them how to live their lives.  He joined the Marion (County) Rangers, who vowed to glorify themselves fighting Union forces.  He was elected second lieutenant.  After two weeks of camping out and drilling, the outfit scattered rather ingloriously when pursued by a unit of federal soldiers sent from St. Louis to catch them.[7]

Other recitations of the story, from Twain’s standpoint, were similar in that the local rebels who  who Twain joined were understood to be local friends from Hannibal. [8]

In any event, it would be interesting to learn more. Additionally, I think I would like to go visit Hannibal some day.





[1]      It looks like the official spelling of her name was “Lula”, but I will refer to her as “Lulu”, because: Sally referred to her as “Lulu”, and that is also what cousin Carol Craven, Aunt Corky’s daughter, also remembers; and sometimes she was in records as “Lulu”.



[4]    See:;  and; also,

[5]      There are many sources on the women’s suffrage movement. I enjoyed the photo of the activists with Missouri Governor Garder you can find on the National Park Service website currently at:

[6]   Frost, Grifffin. Camp and Prison Journal Embracing Scenes in Camp, On the March, and in Prisons (1867)

[7], accessed August 10, 2019

[8]    See, e.g., Alex Andrioni article Discovering the Civil War through America’s First Rock Star on the Gettysburg Compiler website at



Me (on the phone): "That's "C-r-e-s-a-p".

%d bloggers like this: