Today, I have a mystery that needs a solution. Our friend Jim Sears, a former resident of Denison now living in Indiana, has been in contact with J. Patrick O’Kane, who is trying to learn information about his great-grandfather who lived in Denison from 1910 to about 1922, then disappeared.

Jim sent me the information some time ago that J. Patrick shared with him in hopes that someone in Denison might have a connection with the gentleman who was a mysterious figure in more ways than one. He included several photos that were taken in Denison at least 100 years ago.

The great-grandfather was James Joseph O’Kane and he was born in 1882 in Manhattan. I am assuming here that J. Patrick has his great-grandfather’s birth certificate that lists his parents as John and Liza Brodenek O’Kane. He was born in Ireland and she was born in New York City.

James was first found in the historical record in the 1900 Census when he was a 17-year-old farm laborer boarding with the Goin family on their farm in Fannin County, a long way from New York City.

J. Patrick said there is a possibility that NYC James and Fannin County James were not the same person, but there are some good reason for thinking that they were. On the census form, his birth date is 1882 and place of birth in New York both match the information on his birth certificate. Jim said he was told that the family knows that he turned up in Denison in 1910 and that tends to corroborate his presence in Fannin County 10 years earlier.

The family believes that for some reason James began signing his name J.O. Kane in Denison, as it appeared in the newspaper and Denison City Directories, so from now on we will call him simply “Kane.” His descendents still use the name O’Kane.

A December 1910 issue of Denison’s Sunday Gazetteer contains his first advertisement for a business that he had just purchased, Union Woolen Mills at 209 West Main Street. Near the bottom of the same page is a paragraph complimentary of the new manager who was misidentified as J.A. Kane.

Union Woolen Mills sold men’s clothing, mainly suits. It opened in April 1909 under the ownership of Sam Mathews who then sold it to Sam Hill in the fall. Hill then sold it to Kane at the end of the following year. Kane is identified in the ads as the manager, but the Denison Daily Herald referred to him as the proprietor when he married in 1913.

The first mystery about J.O. Kane is how many wives he had and what became of each of them. His last known wife was Bernice L. Benner, who was born in 1889 and died in 1964 in Mound City, Missouri. Before they married in 1913, he was listed in the 1911 City Directory at 416 North Scullin Avenue with a wife named Alta. No other information about her could be found.

The newspaper report of Kane’s marriage to Bernice in January 1913 said they would welcome their friends at 319 North Rusk Avenue, a temporary residence. The two-story house sat across from St. Patrick’s Catholic Church and today the address is a parking lot. Before and after the Kanes wedding, the house was occupied by J.W. and Mary Corcoran. J.W. was an insurance agent.

Jim Sears surmised that the Corcorans either offered their home to the Kanes while they were away someplace or they took them in as houseguests until the young couple could find a place of their own.

Before 1913, the city directory was published in August, the Kanes had moved to 1019 West Main and the 1915 and 1917 city directories list them at 109 North Scullin.

In April of the previous year, before Kane arrived in Denison, a Fort Worth census taker wrote up a man there named Joseph O. Kane, 29, who was born in New York and was a tailor. Our Kane was a year younger, but his place of birth and occupation match the man in Fort Worth. Joseph O. Kane is how he is listed in the Denison City Directories. The Fort Worth Kane had a 26-year-old wife named Alice and a 5 year old son named Clyde. Nothing else was found about either of them.

Kane’s great-grandson said that his great-grandmother, Bernice, returned to Mound City around 1922 with two children without a husband. Mrs. J.O. Kane last appeared in the Denison newspaper in the personals column of the Denison Herald on June 5, 1922, reporting that she had been a visitor to Sherman.

J.O. Kane is last mentioned in newspaper ads for his business in January 1921. He and Bernice and Union Woolen Mills are listed in the 1921 Denison City Directory. Bernice claimed to be a widow in the 1930 Census in Missouri. No trace of her husband appears in any known record after 1921.

Patrick O’Kane said Bernice refused to share any information about her mysterious husband with any of her children or grandchildren. They had hinted that he may have deserted Bernice and the children. If so, did he also desert Alice and Clyde in Fort Worth and what about Alta, his 1911 spouse in Denison? O’Kane said if Bernice knew the answers to those questions she took them to her grave, but she did save the photographs.

Jim Sears and I would like any information a reader might have about this early Denisonian. My email address is listed below.

Donna Hunt is former editor of The Denison Herald. She lives in Denison and can be contacted at She has been a longtime contributor to the Herald Democrat with her column. The views and opinions expressed here are the author’s own and do not necessarily reflect those of the Herald Democrat.