The Tremonts

The Tremont's
"...Phil is also fiction and so is Mary Ware..."
                                   --The Little Colonel, in a letter, July 1907

It is a gratification to know that the various characters have become so endeared to their readers that they count them as warm personal friends. To be sure, it often becomes annoying when a letter contains six or seven pages of closely written questions, insisting on knowing what became of everything and everybody, even to Mary Ware's handkerchief which she dropped in the Arizona schoolroom hoping for a romantic adventure. The writers do not seem to realize that many of the characters and incidents are purely imaginary, but insist on having their curiosity satisfied, just as if the happenings were in real life.
       --Annie Fellows Johnston, half evading the question, in Chapter 8, Land of the Little Colonel

And so we haven't been looking as closely, perhaps, as we should have at families such as the Wares and the Tremonts, which have repeatedly been declared entirely fictional. But just as in the case of the Wares, whose deeds and circumstances suggest that Annie Fellows Johnston used herself and her stepchildren as loose models for these characters, a similar case can be made for the Stuart, Phil and Elsie Tremont.

Our first clue to the author’s inspiration for the their characters begins in 1900 with the publication of "The Story of Dago," a tale of three motherless children and the adventures of their pet monkey. Annie Fellows Johnston dedicated the book to Dr. Gavin Fulton:

"Gin the Monk" 
whose pranks are linked 
with the boyhood memories of Dr. Gavin Fulton, 
one of the best of physicians and friends, 
this Story of Dago 
is respectfully inscribed

“The Story of Dago” was re-released in 1931 as ‘THE THREE TREMONTS” with this explanation from the author:

"THE THREE TREMONTS (formerly issued as THE STORY OF DAGO) is a tale about Stuart, Phil & Elsie Tremont and of Dago their pet monkey. The three motherless Tremont children have taken prominent places with Lloyd Sherman and Mary Ware in the last seven volumes of THE LITTLE COLONEL SERIES."

So who exactly was this Dr. Gavin Fulton, and how is he related to these Little Colonel stories?

According to “Louisville’s First Families – A Series of Genealogical Sketches” by Kathleen Jennings, The Standard Printing Co., Louisville, Ky., 1920, Dr. Fulton was related to the Weissingers of Pewee Valley through his grandmother, Caroline Bullitt Wilson. She was the sister of Amanthis Bullitt who married George Washington Weissinger, the Old Colonel’s father.

Gavin Fulton was born on April 8, 1873 to Edward and Caroline Wilson Fulton. At the time, the Fulton family was probably living in Middletown, their home during the 1870 census. Gavin was the couple’s third and last child. He had an older sister, Caroline, and an older brother, Thomas. Living with the Fulton family were Edward’s sister, Elizabeth Gordon, and her four children: Edith, Bessie, Fulton, and Carrie W. During the family’s tenure in Middletown, Edward Fulton served as a trustee for the Anchorage Presbyterian Church, incorporated on February 23, 1876. The two families were still living in the same household at the time of the 1880 census, although Edith Gordon appears to have left home and was probably married.

On June 14, 1882, Caroline Wilson Fulton died, leaving her three children motherless. At the time of her death, her daughter Caroline would have been about 17; her son Thomas about 14; and Gavin only 9.

By the 1900 census, Gavin was married to Mary Henri Peter, had a daughter, Nellie, age 3, and was living in Pewee Valley.

A biographical sketch about Dr. Fulton from HISTORY OF KENTUCKY AND KENTUCKIANS, E. Polk Johnson, three volumes, Lewis Publishing Co., New York & Chicago, 1912. Common version, Vol. III, pp. 1182-83. [Jefferson County], provides additional information about his family and career:

...Edward …Fulton…was born in Zanesville, Ohio, the son of Robert Fulton, who was born in Pennsylvania and was one of the first men to cross the mountains into Ohio in his own conveyance, bringing with him his family. He was a pioneer of Zanesville, the old Fulton homestead there still standing and being occupied. The great grandfather was John Fulton, who came from Scotland with his widowed mother when a child and settled in what was then Robbstown, Pennsylvania.

Edward Fulton, the father of our subject, came to Louisville as a youth of eighteen or nineteen years of age, and became one of the Spring Hill distillers of Louisville. He died on January 7, 1893, at the age of fifty-two years, and during his life was a quiet, home-loving man, and very fond of his large, well-selected library. The mother of our subject was born in Louisville, the daughter of Dr. Thomas Wilson and grand-daughter of Dr. Daniel Wilson, who founded what is now the Peter-Neat wholesale drug concern. Dr. Thomas Wilson was born in Louisville and graduated from the Jefferson Medical College, Philadelphia, but never practiced, as he took up the drug business upon the death of his father. Daniel Wilson, the pioneer, was a native of Georgia, of Virginia parentage. The mother died in 1882, at the age of forty-two years.

Dr. Fulton was reared in Louisville and received his education in that city, first attending the public and high schools. After grounding himself thoroughly in these preparatory courses he entered the University of Louisville in 1890, and was one of the two first four-year students to enter that institution. He was graduated there in 1894, with the degree of M. D., and was assistant to the professor of chemistry for one year in the Louisville University, then adjunct professor of diseases of children in the Kentucky Medical College for two years. At the end of that time he engaged in country practice in Oldham county, Kentucky, where he went on account of his health, but in 1903 he returned to Louisville and for the next three years was adjunct professor of physiology in the old Hospital College of Medicine.

He is now (1910) adjunct professor in the diseases of children. Dr. Fulton is engaged in the general practice of medicine, at the same time making a specialty of children's diseases and obstetrics. He is a member of the staff of the Deaconess Hospital and chairman of the medical committee of the Baby's Free Milk Fund. He is a member of the Jefferson County Medical Society, the Kentucky State Medical Society and the American Medical Association. The Doctor married Mary Henry Peter, who was born in Louisville, daughter of M. C. Peter, the well-known citizen and wholesale druggist of Louisville, of whom a sketch is published elsewhere in this work. From this union there are two children: Nellie Crutcher and Rhoda Peter.

As a physician and surgeon Dr. Fulton is constantly broadening his knowledge and promoting his efficiency as a practitioner by reading and study.

From this sketch, we know that Dr. Fulton came by his healing skills through his mother’s line. His grandfather, Thomas Wilson and his great-grandfather, Daniel Wilson, were both physicians involved in a successful pharmaceutical business. His father was in the wholesale liquor business and worked for John Cochran who owned Spring Hill Distillery, one of six distilleries operating in Franklin County at the turn of the 20th century.

Items from the Peter-Neat-Richardson wholesale drug business.
Both Dr. Gavin Fulton’s grandfather and great- grandfather were involved in the business, 
which was started in 1817. By 1912, it was one of Louisville’s leading business enterprises.

Edward Fulton, Dr Gavin Fulton's father, died on January 7, 1893 of some type of pulmonary problem. His residence at the time of his death was listed as Phoenix, Arizona. He was not interred at Cave Hill Cemetery in Louisville until ten months later, on October 16, 1893. Gavin's mother Caroline's remains were also moved to Cave Hill at that time.

We believe Dr Fulton became acquainted with Annie Fellows Johnston during the years he lived in Pewee Valley. According to the 1900 census, he, his wife Mary and his three-year-old daughter, Nellie, were living near the O’Neals in Old Pine Tower and the William Alexander Smiths, whose home was at the corner of what is now Mt. Mercy Avenue and Rest Cottage Lane.

Mortuary records show that he was the physician in attendance when Rena Eaves Johnston, Annie’s 21-year-old step-daughter, died of appendicitis on September 12, 1899.  (She is buried in Evansville, Indiana.)  "The Story of Dago" has a copyright of 1900, which suggests that the author met and befriended the physician while he was caring for her stepdaughter.

It’s possible that Dr. Fulton became her stepson’s physician, too, or at least provided suggestions on his care. John Johnston suffered from pulmonary tuberculosis, the same illness that took the life of his mother, and his health was a constant concern. After Rena’s death, Annie Fellows Johnston took John to the Catskills for several months, and then in 1901 moved her little family to the Southwest, stopping first in Arizona before finally settling at “Penacres in Boerne, Texas. Since Dr. Fulton’s own father appears to have moved to Phoenix for health reasons, it’s possible the physician recommended the Southwest to Annie Fellows Johnston as the healthiest climate for her stepson – a move that led to all the “Little Colonel” tales that took place in Arizona, as well as the re-introduction of the Tremonts as major characters in the books.

Now, let's compare the life of Dr. Fulton to the Tremonts in the stories.

From the revised "Story of Dago" or "The Three Tremonts", (and it is the monkey that is the voice of the story:)

I'll not talk about such a painful subject any longer, but you may be sure that I was glad when something happened to the show. The owner lost all his money, and had to sell his animals and go out of the business. After that I had a very comfortable winter in a zoological garden out West, near where we stranded. Then an old white-haired man from California bought me to add to his private collection of monkeys. He had half a dozen or so in his high-walled garden.

It was a beautiful place, hot and sunny like my old home, and full of palm-trees and tangled vines and brilliant flowers. The most beautiful thing in it was a great rose-tree which he called Gold of Ophir. It shook its petals into a splashing fountain where goldfish were always swimming around and around, and it was hard to tell which was the brightest, the falling rose-leaves, or the tiny goldfish flashing by in the sun.

Gold of Ophir Roses from turn of the 20th Century California post cards


There was a lady who used to lie in a hammock under the roses every day and smile at my antics. She was young, I remember, and very pretty, but her face was as white as the marble mermaid in the fountain. The old gentleman and his wife always sat beside her when she lay in the hammock. Sometimes he read aloud, sometimes they talked, and sometimes a long silence would fall upon them, when the splashing of the fountain and the droning of the bees would be the only sound anywhere in the garden.

When they talked, it was always of the same thing: the children she had left at home, --Stuart and Phil and little Elsie. I did not listen as closely as I might have done had I known what a difference those children were to make in my life. I little thought that a day was coming when they were to carry me away from the beautiful garden that I had grown to love almost like my old home. But I heard enough to know that they were as mischievous as the day is long, and that they kept their poor old great-aunt Patricia in a woeful state of nervous excitement from morning till night. I gathered, besides, that their father was a doctor, away from home much of the time. That was why their great-aunt had them in charge.

Their mother had come out to her father's home in California to grow strong and well. The sun burned a pink into the blossoms of the oleander hedges, and the wind blew life into the swaying branches of the pepper-trees, but neither seemed to make her any better. After awhile she could not even be carried out to her place in the hammock.Then they sent for Doctor Tremont and the children.

The first that I knew of their arrival, the two boys came whooping down the paths after the gardener, shouting, "Show us the monkeys, David! Show us the monkeys! Which one is Dago, and which one is Matches?"

I did not want to come down for fear that Stuart might treat me as he had done Elsie's kitten. I had heard a letter read, which told how he had tried to cure it of fits. He gave it a shock with his father's electric battery, and turned the current on so strong that he killed it. Not knowing but that he might try some trick on me, I held back until I saw him feeding peanuts to Matches. I never could bear her. She is the only monkey in the garden that I have never been on friendly terms with, so I came down at once to get my share of peanuts, and hers, too, if possible.

I must say that I took a great fancy to both the boys; they were so friendly and good-natured. They each had round chubby faces, and hard little fists. There was a wide-awake look in their big, honest, gray eyes, and their light hair curled over their heads in little tight rings. Elsie was only five,--a restless, dimpled little bunch of mischief, always getting into trouble, because she would try to do everything that her brothers did.

The gardener fished her out of the fountain twice in the week she was there. She was reaching for the goldfish with her fat little hands, and toppled in, head first. Phil began the week by getting a bee-sting on his lip, and a bite on the cheek from a parrot that he was teasing. As for Stuart, I think he had climbed every tree on the place before the first day was over, and torn his best clothes nearly off his back.

The gardener had a sorry time of it while they stayed. He complained that "a herd of wild buffalo turned loose to rend and destroy" would not have done as much damage to his fruit and flowers as they. "Not as they means to do it, I don't think," he said. "But they're so chock-full of _go_ that they fair runs away with their selves." The gardener's excitement did not long last, however.

There came a day when there was no noise in the garden. The boys wandered around all morning without playing, now and then wiping their eyes on their jacket sleeves, and talking in low tones. Once they threw themselves down on the grass and hid their faces, and cried and sobbed, until their grandfather came out and led them away. The blinds were all drawn next morning, and the gardener came and cut down nearly all his lilies, and great armfuls of the Gold of Ophir roses to carry into the house.

Another quiet day went by, and then there was such a rumbling of carriage wheels outside the garden, that I climbed up a tree and looked over the high walls. There was a long, slow procession winding up the white mountain road toward a far-away grove of pines. I knew then what had happened. They were taking the children's mother to the cemetery, and they would have to go home without her. "Poor children," I thought, "and poor old great-aunt Patricia."

Just as in real life, there were three children – two boys and a girl -- a mother who died when they were still young, and connections to the West. Though Elsie Tremont is the youngest child in the “Story of Dago,” in real life it was Gavin Fulton, rather than his sister Caroline, who was the baby of the family.

In the stories, the Tremonts’ grandfather lived in California. In real life, the Fultons had a father who lived in Arizona. We are still trying to determine if the Fultons had any other relations living in California during this time. We know that Annie Fellows Johnston made a trip to California after she left Arizona, but before she moved to Texas. We have never been able to determine whom she was visiting or where she stayed while she was there. References to that California location appear over and over in the later “Little Colonel” books, especially to those spectacular Gold of Ophir roses, which were very popular in southern areas of the state, since they were not winter-hardy...

From The Little Colonel in Arizona, Chapter 1, by way of re-introduction:

The Ware family were already seated in the dining-room when Phil and Elsie went in to dinner a little later. Mary, over her soup, was giving an enthusiastic account of her new acquaintances. "They're going to their grandfather's in California," she said. "It's the most beautiful place you ever heard of, with goldfish in the fountain, and Gold of Ophir roses in the garden, and Dago, their old pet monkey, is there. They had to send him away from home because he got into so much mischief. And Miss Elsie Tremont, that's her name, is all in black because her Great Aunt Patricia is dead. Her Aunt Patricia kept house for them, but now they live at their grandfather's. Mr. Phil is only seventeen, but he's six feet tall, and looks so old that I thought maybe he was thirty."

From The Little Colonel, Maid of Honor, Chapter 12, at the wedding of Stuart Tremont:

"I wish this wedding could last a week," she confided to Lieutenant Logan, when he paused beside her. "Don't you know, they did in the fairytales, some of them. There was 'feasting and merrymaking for seventy days and seventy nights.' This one is going by so fast that it will soon be train-time. I don't suppose they care." she added, with a nod toward the bride, "for they're going to spend their honeymoon in a Gold of Ophir rose-garden, where there are goldfish in the fountains, and real orange-blossoms. It's out in California, at Mister Stuart's grandfather's. Elsie, his sister, couldn't come, so they're going out to see her, and take her a piece of every kind of cake we have to-night, and a sample of every kind of bonbon. Don't you wonder who'll get the charms in the bride's cake? That's the only reason I am glad the clock is going so fast. It will soon be time to cut the cake, and I'm wild to see who gets the things in it."

From Mary Ware in Texas, Chapter 11:

Joyce finished reading, and Phil rose to his feet and began pacing up and down the long room, his hands in his pockets and his eyes fixed on the floor as if he were considering some weighty problem. Finally he stopped, and leaning against the mantel, looked down at her, thoughtfully, saying, "Joyce, I've about thought out a way to manage it --- to take in Bauer on my way to California, I mean. You told me once that Aunt Emily calls me her 'other boy.' Well, you all are my other family, and these glimpses you've given me of it make me homesick to see them. I might be able to help matters some way. I'm almost sure I can arrange to start several days before the rest of the party and go around that way, so if you have any messages or things to send, get them ready."

"Oh, Phil!" she cried, thankfully. "They'll be so glad --- I know it will do them a world of good to see you. Maybe you can cheer Jack up a bit. So much depends on keeping him hopeful." Then she added, wistfully, "I only wish you could put me in your pocket and take me along."

...and in Annie Fellows Johnston's Letter from Lee's Ranch:

We are quite undecided about our next move. It will be California but we probably cannot stay long (at the) coastand shall have to go to some place like Redlands or some (of the) mountain resorts near Los Angeles.  We'll blow up a feather (and) follow its course

In the books, it is "Stuart Tremont" who becomes a doctor, and thus Dr. Gavin Fulton is our best candidate as a loose model for Stuart. Eerily, however, it is a Doctor Tremont that Annie Fellows Johnston wrote into the story to attend to "Jack Ware" in "Mary Ware in Texas," Chapters 10-13, with happy results. But instead of Stuart Tremont, it was his father, the elder Doctor Tremont, with Dr. Shelby as his assistant. The real "Jack Ware", like his sister Rena over ten years before, died on September 26, 1910, the year that "Mary Ware in Texas" was published. We can only imagine Annie Fellows Johnston's state of mind as she wrote this story.

Another intriguing aspect of Dr. Fulton’s career is his early relationship with the Children’s Free Hospital in downtown Louisville. In the “The Little Colonel’s Holidays,” copyrighted in 1901, the children’s hospital is the setting for the touching reunion of Molly and Dot, the two orphaned sisters who were separated for several years after their father lost his job as a railroad conductor and took to drink and then lost both their mother and grandmother.

While the author undoubtedly was kept informed about the hospital’s good works through her relationships with the Craig family  – Louise Craig Culbertson served on the board – Dr. Fulton might also have also influenced Annie Fellows Johnston’s decision to include the relatively new facility in the tale.

Dr. Gavin Fulton died on September 9, 1953 and was buried in Cave Hill Cemetery, Section 3, Lot 382, with his parents. His obituary is shown below:

Dr. Gavin Fulton in 1938

Dr. Gavin Fulton, Whose Worked Helped Youngsters, Dies at 80 After Fall

Dr. Gavin Fulton, active in many projects to benefit Louisville children, died yesterday at 19:30 a.m. at Norton Memorial Infirmary. He was 80.

The physician was taken to Norton after a fall Saturday in which his hip was broken. He had been in poor health for more than a year, and had retired. He practiced in Jefferson County for more than 50 years.

Dr. Fulton was one of the original backers of the old Babies Milk Fund, founded to provide pure milk to babies who otherwise could not afford it.

He was also a leader in the campaign to bring certified milk to Louisville shortly after the turn of the century. Milk being sold here then was considered dangerous.

Dr. Fulton served on the old Certified Milk Commission, which administered the program. The system later gave way to the graded-milk plan now in effect.

Helped Found Hospital

One of the initial supporters of the founding of Children's Hospital, Dr. Fulton was among the first doctors on its staff, aw well as on the staff of Kosair Crippled Children's Hospital.

He was president of the Norton Infirmary staff in 1836 and 1937. He was also president of the Medico-Chirurgical Society of Louisville.

A native of Louisville, Dr. Fulton graduated from the University of Louisville Medical School in 1894. He practiced a few years in eastern Jefferson County , then began practice in Louisville in 1903.

His home was at 1 Hawthorn Hill. His wife, Mary Henri Peter Fulton, died three years ago.

Survivors include two daughters, Mrs. Nell Fulton Norman and Miss Rhoda Fulton; a granddaughter, Mrs. Mary Norman Pollack; and a sister, Mrs. John Tevis.

The funeral will be at 11 a.m. Friday at Christ Church Cathedral, of which he was a member. Burial will be in Cave Hill Cemetery. The body is at Pearson's, 1310 S. Third.


As of now we know little more than we have on this page of Dr. Gavin Fulton's sister and brother, Caroline and Thomas.  And for that reason we can't say if there is anything more about their circumstances that could link them to the Little Colonel Series characters, Phil or Elsie Tremont. Or if  Elizabeth Gordon, who lived with the family during the Fulton's childhood might have been the inspiration for the Great Aunt Patricia of the stories.

If so, any of those details would have been relayed to Annie Fellows Johnston by Dr. Fulton himself, as Annie herself would not have been acquainted with the family in the early days.

The ages of the children in the stories are completely reversed to those of the real life Fulton children.  And yet, Annie Fellows Johnston makes us wonder a bit when in the stories she describes the younger boy Phil

"Mr. Phil is only seventeen, but he's six feet tall, and looks so old that I thought maybe he was thirty."

Someday, we may be able to answer more of these questions.