John Napoleon Maddox, 1872-1945

On 21 May 1872 John Napoleon “Poly” Maddox was born to his 73-year-old father Joseph and 32-year-old mother Susan (Hargraves) (Jones) Maddox in Christian County, Kentucky.  Joseph soon moved his family to Crawford County, Illinois, joining relatives.  But  John Napoleon’s parents both died by the time he was eleven, and left him in the care of family friends.  He would live a dignified life despite his hard luck.

John Napoleon lounging on his farm, circa 1940.

John Napoleon was given his unusual middle name in honor of his uncle Napoleon B. Hargraves (his mother’s brother).  Napoleon Hargraves served as a private in Company H of the 48th Kentucky Infantry Regiment – a Union unit – and died of unknown causes on 17 June 1864 in Munfordville, Kentucky.  He’s buried in Cave Hill National Cemetery.[i.]

John Napoleon and his sister Viola were orphaned in 1884 when John was eleven and Viola was seven.   John was raised by Roena Magill and Viola probably was raised by her half-sister, Elizabeth, and her husband Eber Jenne who lived next to their father in 1880, four years before he died.  Roena Magill was the widow of Allen G. Magill, a Civil War soldier whose body was never returned, and John Napoleon lived on her farm just northwest of Heathsville in Crawford County. Roena’s nephew, Marquis Allen Magill, married Mary Maddox, the daughter of John Napoleon’s uncle, Jefferson Maddox.  In 1870, Jefferson lived next door to Roena Magill and in 1880, Jefferson’s widow, Jane, was living with Marquis Magill.[i.a.]

John Napoleon was promised a horse and buggy and $20 at age 21, and his caretaker Roena fulfilled her promise.  He put his modest inheritance to good work.  On 18 January 1897, John Napoleon, at age 25, and Viola’s husband, Granville Jenne, purchased part of Lot 12, Section 6, Township 5, Range 12, in Crawford County, Illinois from George Carter for $400.  At this time, John and Granville lived in Pinkstaff, Lawrence County, Illinois.  George Carter had purchased this land from Inadell Goff and his wife Elizabeth for $300 on 21 August 1892.  For some unknown reason on 5 September 1898, John and Granville  with their wives and a Mr. & Mrs. James from Golden Gate, Wayne, County, sold this land back to George Carter for $500.  According to the deed, they were living in Heathville, Crawford County then.[iv.a.]

John Napoleon also bought 16.5 acres at the southeast quarter of the southwest quarter of Section 35, Township 6, Range 11, in Crawford County from Byron Magill for $400, just eighty acres to the south of his grandfather Benjamin (III)’s former 40 acre farm.[iv]  He developed the farm – building the house and barn, and planting an orchard – eventually called the Sunny Side Stock Farm, where he lived for the rest of his life, growing corn and tobacco.  As of 2009 the white farmhouse remained, despite some neglect by the current owner, but the barn has fallen (ink pens were made from the barn’s wooden planks and one was in the possession of his grandson David in 2012).[ii]  [iii] 

Poly once described himself as a “Kentucky Corn Cracker,” a self-deprecating allusion to his meager upbringing.  His Kentucky sentiment probably was a reflection of his numerous siblings born there, and his family’s storied past — especially his half-brother Wes’s service with Morgan’s Raiders and Joseph Jefferson’s service in the Union Army in the Civil War.

John Napoleon Maddox's family history document, naming his first wife Frances Gaines and their children, Lloyd, Francis, Lolith and Milford.

John Napoleon Maddox’s family history document, naming his first wife Frances Gaines and their children, Lloyd, Francis, Lolith and Milford.

John Napoleon spun yarns about one of his half-brothers holding a horse for the escaping assassin of Abraham Lincoln.  Wes, having participated in some of the most daring Confederate exploits of the war, and having served time in the horrifying Union prisons at Camp Douglas, Illinois and Point Lookout, Maryland, would have been the most likely candidate for such a dubious task… and no doubt he would have been more than a little grievous after the war.[1][v]

A depiction of Booth’s escape shows a mysterious conspirator at the door (Frank Leslie’s Illustrated Newspaper, 13 May 1865).

John Napoleon Maddox married Frances (Fannie) Gaines (24 December 1878 – 22 January  1908), daughter of John Gaines and Ann Lackey, on 8 May 1895 in Crawford County.  Frances was a descendant of the Gaines family which was interrelated with and had travelled to South Carolina, Kentucky, and Illinois at the same time as the Maddox family.  Together John and Fannie had the following children, many of whom employed the kinds of nicknames made popular during the Roaring Twenties.[vi]

Anne Lackey Gaines and Frances "Fannie" Gaines, mother and daughter

Anne Lackey Gaines and Frances “Fannie” Gaines, mother and daughter

1. Lloyd J. “Jim” Maddox, 15 June 1896 – 17 January 1970.  Lloyd was born in Palestine, Crawford County, Illinois. His mother died on 27 January 1908 when he was eleven. He graduated from the Palestine Township High School on 11 June 1915 in a class consisting of 4 boys and 6 girls.  Lloyd had three wives.  On 23 December 1917, Lloyd married Florence Audria Martin (23 October 1893 – 1 July 1953) in Palestine.  Lloyd and Florence lived in Vincennes, Indiana and had two children, Mary Frances Bush, b. 14 September 1918, and Richard Byron Maddox (3 May 1921 – 17 February 2007).[vi.a.]  Lloyd’s son, Richard, served in the Army from 19 November 1942 until 27 October 1945, lived in Texas and Arizona, married Gladys Nolan on 22 December 1975, and died in Scottsdale, AZ.  By 1930, Lloyd had married Gladys Dant (17 July 1900 – 6 May 1968) and was living in Terre Haute, Indiana.  On 25 December 1937, Lloyd married Doris Wells (20 February 1900-unknown), a public school teacher, who lived with him in French Lick, Indiana.  Lloyd worked as a travelling feed and grain salesman for the Acme-Evans Milling Company in Indianapolis, Indiana for 30 years.  He came to Paoli, Indiana in 1943 and purchased the Paoli Milling Company which he operated for 25 years as the Magic Feed Mills, Inc. Lloyd was a partner in milling businesses in Salem and Odon, Indiana and operated stock farms in Paoli and Orleans. Lloyd was found dead on the morning of 17 January 1970 at the Greystone Hotel in Bedford, Indiana where he had been living for three months. He had been ill for six years as the result of paralytic stroke. He was buried in the Ames Chapel Cemetery in Paoli, Indiana. Lloyd’s sister, Diane, lived with him and his family while she was in high school.  Much later, she came to Paoli to be married to Harold M. Johnson on 7 July 1946. Their marriage was witnessed by Lloyd and Doris.

2. Francis Leroy “Roy” Maddox, 19 June 1899 – November 1976.[vii]  Roy’s first wife was Lola M. Shamhard, who had their first son, George, who died of leukemia.  Roy served in the US Navy from 1 December 1919 -12 February 1921 and then worked as a fireman at Fort Benjamin Harrison before starting his own construction business.  Roy’s second wife was Suzie. Roy married Anna Mae Wright, 15 December 1919 – 7 November 1997, and had two sons, Michael (b. 16 August 1952) and Timothy (b. 9 December 1955), and a daughter, Teresa Ann (b. 14 January 1955), who are living in Indianapolis.   Roy was a carpenter by trade,  owned his own construction company, and lived in Indianapolis, Indiana, where he built and sold several houses.  Roy died in 1976, and is buried with his wife Anna in Oaklawn Memorial Gardens, Fishers, Hamilton County, Indiana.

3. Lolith Irene “Diane” Maddox, 6 September 1903 – 14 May 1993.[viii] [ix]  Loleth is our direct ascendant and her full biography can be read here.

4. Milfred Marcellus “Squib” “Roy” Maddox, 10 July 1906 – 9 April 1942.  Milfred married Alma “Peggy” Lambert in 1934 and “Jessie” McLaughlin in June 1937 in Gary, Indiana.  According to a 1937 newspaper account, he was secretly married to them at the same time.[2]  Milfred and his brother Leo worked for the Elgin, Joliet & Eastern Railroad in Gary, Indiana.  Milfred was a switchman and Leo was a checker.  Early on 9 April 1942, they were returning home from work when Milfred drove into the rear of a trailer-transport truck stopped at a railroad crossing waiting for a freight train.  Milfred died two hours later at Methodist Hospital and Leo died 18 hours later at 12:25 a.m. the next morning.”[x]

Brothers Milfred and Leo pictured in the Gary Post Tribune on 9 April 1942

After his wife Fannie’s death on 22 January 1908 (she is buried in the Wesley Chapel Cemetery in Palestine, Illinois), John Napoleon – with four children and his farm to care for – hired Martha Cook, a practical nurse who had cared for many people in the Crawford County area.  On 23 October 1915, he married Mattie, Martha Jane Cook (17 October 1892 – 28 November 1979), daughter of William and Maria E.  Cook.  Together they had the following children:

5. Leo Eugene “Jack” Maddox, 21 November 1921 – 10 April 1942, died along with his half-brother Milfred when they drove into the rear of a trailer-transport truck stopped at a railroad crossing waiting for a freight train outside Gary, Indiana.  Their deaths meant that none of John Napoleon’s boys would fight in World War II, since none of them were of the right age at the time.

6. Jane Elizabeth “Jill” Maddox, born 3 October 1923, married Fay Earl Adams (1 January 1920 – 9 March 2010) (former Mayor of Palestine, Il.), on 19 September 1940, and died on 16 June 2004.  They had three children:  Barbara Weaver, Jim Adams, and Joyce Windmiller.

7. Viola Ruth Maddox, born 15 February 1926 in Palestine, Illinois, married Harold Raymond Langston (23 May 1923 – 10 May 1991), died 11 July 2007 and is buried in the Palestine Cemetery.  They had two children:  Gene Langston and Marsha Bliss.

8. John William Maddox, born 1 July 1929, married Mary Ellen Sturm (30 April 1930 – 3 February 2001) and had two children, John William Jr. (19 November 1950 – 3 December 2011) and Alan Ray Maddox, b.  2 July 1952.  John William Jr. received an associate’s degree in music education from Vincennes University, married Brenda Deckard who delivered his daughter, Kristi Maddox Knox, was survived by his third wife, Mandy Stewart Maddox, whom he married on 26 March 2004, and is buried in the Robinson New Cemetery.  Alan Rae married Reva Jane Gust, b. 27 December 1953, and had a son, Steve, b. 15 January 1977, who has contributed some John’s narratives and many family photographs to this history.

John Napoleon was a prosperous farmer despite the times.  His son John tells of picking 72 bushels of corn, loading them in John Napoleon’s wagon, hooking up their two horses, and bringing the corn to market where it sold for 15¢ per bushel.  John had two dray horses, a riding horse named Ethel, and a mule named Jack.  The kids could feed the horses but only John groomed them.  He also had chickens, milk cows, and hogs.  His grandson David remembers one Sunday morning before church when John Napoleon decided to feed the hogs in his white suit.  The hogs kicked mud on the suit and without a word, John Napoleon simply went into the house, changed, and the family went to church.

In his old age, John Napoleon would tell stories and play cards into the late hours.  He reportedly retained his “corn cracker” pride to the end, always wearing bib overalls and staying busy on the farm.  He was a prosperous farmer until the depression, which devastated him.  As his health failed, he moved to 404 E. Harrison Street in Palestine, but kept his farm, which was sold at public auction shortly after his death.  He expired of heart problems (angina pectoris) on 16 April 1945, after a long illness, and was buried at the nearby Methodist church then called Wesley Chapel.  Many other Maddoxes, including John’s wives, and sons Leo and Milfred, also are buried at Wesley Chapel in Palestine, Illinois.

A rendering of the area of John Napoleon Maddox’s and Benjamin Maddox (III)’s farms in Crawford County, Illinois.  Artist: Anne McGraw.

[1] There is no evidence to prove Poly’s story.  An unrelated man named James L. Maddox worked as the property manager for the Ford Theater, and was known to consort with Booth, but was acquitted of any involvement in the assassination.

[2] Marcellus “Roy” Maddox was threatened with bigamy charges in mid-October 1937.  It appears from a newspaper article that Marcellus absconded with his second wife “Jessie’s” 1936 Dodge sedan from her Gary, Indiana, tavern, along with $1,400 in tavern receipts.  Jessie notified the police.  He drove to his father’s farm in Palestine, Illinois, where he met his first wife “Peggy.”  While Marcellus and Peggy were preparing to drive the car and the money to Atlanta, Peggy accidentally shot herself in the abdomen with a pistol.  Peggy’s appearance at a Robinson, Illinois, hospital, tipped the police to Marcellus’ whereabouts and he was arrested.  A local cop described the circumstances as “a maze of puzzling information.”  By late October, after Jessie recovered her car (but not all of her money), the charges against Marcellus were reduced to possessing a bottle of liquor in a car with the seal broken, and he was released from jail.  According to John William Maddox, John Napoleon was infuriated by the incident.  He broke the pistol that shot Peggy and threw it into his field.

[i.] Napoleon B. Hargraves’ Civil War service is from the National Park Service’s site at, based on M386 ROLL 12.

[i.a.] 1870 and 1880 Crawford County, Illinois census.

[ii] “History of Crawford County, Illinois,” Crawford County Historical Society, Inc., 1980, #673, p. 194.

[iii] 14 June 1981 letter from family historian Mrs. W.A. Mason to Mrs. Adams, describing Magill-Maddox relationship.

[iv] 26 December 1899, Crawford County, IL, deed of purchase of 16.5 acres from Byron Magill to John N. Maddox.

[iv.a.] On 5 Sep 1898 John and his wife Fannie and his sister and brother-in-law, Granville & Viola Jenne with a Mr. & Mrs. James of Golden Gate, Wayne County sold a part of lot #12, section 16, township #5 to George Carter for $500.  Ref: Book 68, Crawford County Deed Record.  On 26 Dec 1899, John bought 17 acres in Montgomery Township, Crawford County from Byron Magill for $400.

[v] Biography of John Napoleon Maddox, Confederate Archives, Richmond, Va., undated and unnumbered.

[vi] The children of John Napoleon Maddox and Frances Gaines are hand-listed and dated on a “Family History” document.

[vi.a.] The 1920 census shows Lloyd, married and living at his father’s farm, but his wife is not listed with him. The Vincennes, Indiana, street directories show Lloyd and Florence living there in 1921 and 1926. The 1930 census shows Florence and the two children living with her mother Mattie Martin in Crawford County, Illinois.  According to the 1930 census, Lloyd had married Gladys Dant (17 July 1900 – 6 May 1968) and was living in the home of her parents Herman E and Louise Irvin Dant in Terre Haute, Indiana.  The Terra Haute city directory shows Lloyd and Gladys living there between 1931 and 1936.

[vii] World War I draft card and Social Security Death Record (304-03-9235).

[viii] Evidence of Lolith Irene Maddox’s father and birth date: Illinois birth certificate, 6 Sep 1903.

[ix] Illinois birth certificate “infant Maddox”; 1910 census “Lolith Maddox”; 1920 census “Irene Maddox”

[x] Gary Post-Tribune, 9 & 10 April 1942

13 thoughts on “John Napoleon Maddox, 1872-1945”

  1. GGGrandaughter to Davis Maddox - Nancy Fore said:

    In 1999 I copied bios from a HistoricaL book I found in the Palestine Library. Among the many bios, I found one of John Napoleon. It said, “Poly was four years old when he came to Crawford County from Kentucky aftetr the death of his mother and went to live with Grandma Magill.” Your information states that Poly came to CC with his parents and at the age of 9, upon the death of his parents, and went to live with Grandma Magill. Unfortunately, I only noted that the information came from a historical book. I assume this is an error and your records are correct.

    • Actually, whatever the book was, its story makes a lot of sense as an explanation for Joseph and John Napoleon’s move from Kentucky to Illinois. For a long time we’ve struggled to understand why Joseph would move from Kentucky – where he had a great farm. The death of his wife would probably have been motivation to move to Illinois, where some of his family already had settled. Thanks for this info, Nancy! I’ll add it into the core story about John Napoleon and cite it as “family history.”

  2. GGGrandaughter to Davis Maddox - Nancy Fore said:

    Will email you a copy of the bio .

  3. Mary L Sier said:

    I stumbled upon this site quite by accident. John Napoleon Maddox was my great-grandfather. My mother, Mary Frances (Maddox) Bush passed away in 2016 just two weeks before her 98th birthday. I remember meeting Diane once at Jim’s (Lloyd’s) farm in Paoli when I was a child.

    • I’m glad you found the site, Mary! If you have any old photos or memories of the family, I’d love to include them. What year do you think you met Diane?

      Thanks – JD

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