Unearthing a relic’s mystery origins

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The Sacramento Valley Museum is known for its extensive history of the area. A particular item from World War I, a mess kit, was temporarily stationed at the museum but recently returned to the family of its owner. 

The intricately carved mess kit was found in the shed of Williams City Councilman and former Sheriff, John Troughton Jr., who discovered it when cleaning his father’s shed. Troughton donated it – and other items – to the museum. The mess kit haunted Troughton, who said the deliberate carvings meant that the item may have had significance to its owner, and he wondered how it came to be in Williams. 

“Back in those days, a lot of people would come to California after the war,” said Troughton. “There’s only two people that I can remember that were veterans of WWI, and that’s the Wallace brothers. I was wondering if Bunk or Grover were in this guy’s regiment or outfit.”

A mess kit is a portable metal set of serving and cookware issued to troops. The engravings on the outside of this particular kit gave a chronicle of places and dates where the owner had taken it, along with patriotic drawings etched into its facade. 

Troughton enlisted the help of Resa Lyn, member of the Sacramento Valley Museum Board of Directors. Lyn had been previously tasked with finding information about historical local people, which prompted Troughton to enlist Lyn’s help. 

Lyn traced the kit to a man named Otto Hovind, who served in The Great War. Lyn’s sleuthing continued until she found and contacted a descendant of the soldier.

The mess kit, which had been in the museum’s exhibit on veterans, was sent to the Hovind family’s winter home, in Florida. 

Upon his return to the family’s summer home, in Wisconsin, Hovind’s nephew said he will begin looking through the family’s stored history. Perhaps he may uncover the reason the mess kit was in Colusa County, finally telling the full story of a relic, 100 years in the making. ■