Saturday, January 8, 2011

Katie Hanson

Noted for her "predilection for masculine ways", Katie Hanson left home, disguised herself as a man and found work on a Great Lakes steamboat. An "expert rifle woman," she joined an Ohio regiment in 1861 and rose to the rank of sergeant. In 1864 her captain confronted her with his suspicions about her sex and she confessed. She was discharged and sent to work as a hospital nurse. She soon cared for her captain who had been wounded in battle. They formed a strong affection for each other and married at the close of the war. 

New York Times
June 2, 1879



ELMIRA, May 31--Twenty-two years ago Katie Hanson disappeared from her home in Tioga County, Penn. She was only 18 years of age and had grown up among the lumber woods of Northern Pennsylvania. She had a predilection for masculine ways. She was expert with the rifle and fishing-rod, and spent much of her time in the woods. Her family was highly respectable, and she was more than usually intelligent. In spite of her dislike for the pursuits of her own sex, she bore an unsullied reputation. She left home one day with her rifle, which her father had given her. She never came back. Nothing was ever heard of her. Her father advertised throughout the country for traces of her, and visited all the large cities in the State seeking for tidings of her. It being known in the neighborhood where the Hansons lived that Katie had formed an attachment for a worthless young man named Johnson, and that her parents had positively forbidden her having anything to do with him, many believed that she had run away from home for that reason, to lead a life of shame. Others held that she had either accidentally shot herself in the woods, or had become lost and died in some out-of-the-way part of the forest. Her parents, after searching a year or two, gave her up as dead.
     Col. Grant Wilson, of Philadelphia, was spending the Winter, in 1876, in Cuba. During his stay there he met Major James Hopkins, formerly of Ohio, who served in Gen. Thomas's division during the late war. Major Hopkins owned a fine plantation in the interior of the island, and Col Wilson accepted his invitation to become his guest during his stay in Cuba. The Major's family consisted of a handsome and dignified wife of about 40 and two interesting children. When Col. Wilson left Cuba he was entrusted with an errand in this country by Mrs. Hopkins. On arriving in New-York he started at once for Tioga County, Penn., and found the family of Elijah Hanson. He caused great rejoicing by the announcement that he knew their long-lost daughter, Katie; that she was alive and well, and preparing to pay the old homestead a visit in the Summer of the present year. Katie Hanson and Mrs. Major Hopkins were one and the same, and the following was the strange story she told to the friend she found in Col. Wilson:
     The young man Johnson referred to above was in the habit of accompanying Katie Hanson on her hunting expeditions, and being an excellent woodsman and hunter, was a most congenial companion to her. His family was dissolute and ignorant. When her father ordered her to cease associating with Johnson, Katie rebelled against the order for a time. The last day she left her house with her rifle she concluded that the association was not a proper one for her, but she could see no way for its dissolution but by leaving home. She passed that night in the woods, and the next day went to the cabin of some hunters in the vicinity. The hunters were not in the cabin, but she appropriated a suit of their clothes, and disguised herself in them. Her features and short hair favored the deception. She reached Dunkirk, N.Y., in her wanderings. She secured the position of cook in a lake boat running between Detroit and Buffalo. This position and life was entirely to her liking.
     One day in Buffalo she read in one of the papers an advertisement offering a reward for any information of where she was, and giving a minute description of her. This alarmed her, for she feared that she would be apprehended and returned home. On returning to Detroit, she gave up her position and went to Cincinnati. She fund employment on an Ohio River steamer. She continued on the steamer until the breaking out of the war. No one had ever suspected her sex. She determined to enlist, and joined an Ohio regiment, and was in all of the engagements of Gen. Thomas's division. In 1863, she was promoted to Sergeant in her company. In 1864, her Captain met her one day as she was returning from stating a guard. He said to her that he had long suspected that she was a woman, and demanded to know if such was the case. The charge was so sudden and unexpected that she lost her self-possession, and convicted herself by her reply. She begged the Captain not to reveal her secret, but he took her before Gen. Thomas and made the strange fact known to him.
     Katie was at once sent back to the read, and ordered to resume her proper attire. She became a nurse in the hospital, and soon had in her care her Captain, he having been wounded in a skirmish. Between the Captain and the nurse, whom he had detected in the ranks of his company, a strong affection formed. At the close of the war they were married, the Captain, meantime having been promoted to the rank of Major. Major Hopkins's family was one of the best in Ohio, and it refused to recognize his wife. She had $900, which she had saved from her earnings on the steamers. This was in a Cincinnati bank. She drew it out, and, with her husband, went to Cuba. There they prospered and were found by Col. Wilson in 1876. Word has been received from Mrs. Hopkins that she and her husband and children will sail for New-York in August, and visit the home she so mysteriously left nearly a quarter of a century ago.

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