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From Sohon Drawing


The Justice of Frontier Divorce

By Amber Chapin


These are summaries of twenty divorce cases from Walla Walla County between 1860-1869. They were the key documents for my essay on "The Justice of Frontier Divorce." (See my home page) I am providing this overview as another way of exploring the topic. Included in the information below are the case numbers, marriage and divorce dates, and the circumstances surrounding each divorce. Also, names and ages of children are present, as well as maiden names where available. In ten of these cases I have provided full or partial transcriptions; in all cases image files are provided for the entire case. Click on any case below to access these resources.

Nancy M. Bowers vs. George W. Bowers
Original case number: 789
Frontier Justice Record: WAL-790
Married: 1863 in Oregon
Divorced: Filed May 1, 1865, no date of finalization.
Cause: George failed to provide for Nancy, he contracted venereal disease from an adulterous relationship and was charged with grand larceny in Oregon. He fled to Canada and abandoned her.

In Nancy vs. George Bowers, the couple was married only two years and had no children. George was absent most of the time they were married, so Nancy was compelled “by his neglect of her to wash for a living” (Bowers vs. Bowers p. 3). Because Nancy was only fifteen years old when she married George, she believes she was inexperienced and easily deceived. The evidence mounted against George, as Nancy asserted he was “guilty of adultery and has been affected with venereal disease called “the pox” (Bowers vs. Bowers p. 4). Also, having been charged with grand larceny in Wasco County Oregon, George fled to Kootenay British Columbia. Unfortunately, there is no conclusion provided for this case.

Angus Brown vs. Elizabeth Brown
Original case number: 490
Married: February 12, 1855 in Jackson County Oregon
Divorced: Filed July 22, 1864, Finalized October 22, 1864
Cause: Elizabeth took their daughter and abandoned Angus moving to California.
*One child, Anna Mary aged 4 years.

The case of Angus Brown vs. Elizabeth Brown was fairly typical of the period because it involved abandonment. The couple lived together from the time they were married in February 1856 in Oregon, until Elizabeth abandoned Angus and moved to San Francisco in 1862. Angus waited for two years before filing for divorce in 1864. Witnesses testified that Angus sent Elizabeth money so she and their daughter could return home, but Elizabeth had written a letter to one of the witnesses insisting that she “never intended to come back and would not live with him anymore, that it was useless for him to try to get the child, that she could support it” (Brown v. Brown p. 5). A notice was sent to Elizabeth in San Francisco, and printed in the Walla Walla Statesman, explaining that she must attend the court date or Angus would win his complaint against her. Elizabeth likely did not attend the hearing because there are no documents concerning the outcome of the case. It is probable that a divorce was granted without issue because Washington Territory divorce law provided for dissolution of marriage after one year of abandonment, and there were witnesses attesting that Elizabeth Brown disserted Angus two years prior and had no intentions of returning.

Mary Clough vs. Ned Clough
Original case number: 426
Frontier Justice Record: WAL-431
Married: October 27, 1861 in Walla Walla County
Divorced: Filed March 20, 1862, Finalized May 6, 1862
Cause: Ned was very abusive, a drunk, did not provide, and called Mary a whore in front of people.
*Mary returned to maiden name Andreas (uncertain spelling).

Married on October 27, 1861, Mary filed for divorce from Ned Clough in March 1862. In the divorce Mary claimed that Ned neglected to provide for his family because he was a drunk who spent all his money on alcohol. An incident occurred in February in which witnesses heard Ned verbally abusing Mary, and calling her a dead whore, to which Mary simply replied, “Ned I am no whore now, and I never was” (Clough vs. Clough p. 14). For his part, Ned refused to acknowledge to the court that anything Mary said was true, other than the fact she was a resident of Walla Walla County. Nonetheless, Mary received her divorce and was able to continue co-managing a boarding house with another woman, Mrs. N. A. Allen.

Catherine Cox vs. William Cox
Original case number: 716
Frontier Justice Record: WAL-719
Married: September 15, 1862 in Wasco County, Oregon.
Divorced: March 5, 1863, Finalized May 16, 1864
Cause: William committed adultery with an Indian women his entire first year of marriage.

The case of Catherine vs. William Cox proved a rather interesting trial. Catherine had been an “affectionate and obedient wife and did what was in her power to promote his happiness and interests” (Cox vs. Cox p. 1). Regardless, soon after their wedding, William began an adulterous relationship with an Indian woman, which persisted. Catherine had been driven from the couple’s home because she could no longer endure her husband’s affair. In the divorce record, Catherine listed and described in detail a number of horses that she claimed William had granted her, then taken away. She wanted the court to enforce her ownership of the horses and grant a divorce, which the court obliged, as well as awarding an additional five hundred dollars for alimony.

Lovina Dovel vs. John Dovel
Original case number: 427A
Married: February 2, 1862 in Walla Walla County
Divorced: Filed March 25, 1862, Finalized May 12, 1862
Cause: cites incompatibility, when in fact John was physically and verbally abusive.
*Lovina returned to maiden name Chambers.

Lovina Dovel was married to John Dovel in Walla Walla County in 1862. According to Lovina’s testimony, barely more than one month after the couple wed, John physically and verbally abused her, forcing her to leave his home and file for divorce. Two witnesses reiterated Lovina’s story adding, “Plaintiff was turned out of doors by Defendant one evening about 8 P.M. Of my knowledge they have never lived together since” (Dovell vs. Dovell p. 9). The court declared the marriage dissolved in May 1862, a mere four months after the couple married. The document also mentions that Lovina would return to using her maiden name, Chambers rather than Dovel. Lovina was ordered to pay the court costs, which seems rather egalitarian for the time.

W.M. Ewing vs. Cynthia Ewing
Original case number: 465
Married: 1857 in Oregon
Divorced: Filed January 1864, Finalized April 15, 1864
Cause: Cynthia left with two men, later became a prostitute.

W.M. Ewing and Cynthia Ann (sometimes spelled Cinthia) were married in Oregon in 1857, and the court record insists they had a good marriage until Cynthia left the couple’s house in August 1862. Cynthia deserted her husband, leaving with two men whom she continued to live with, and commit adultery with. Also, for eight or ten months Cynthia “has had sexual intercourse with diverse persons and publicly exhibits herself as a whore and prostitute” (Ewing vs. Ewing p. 2). Included testimony from witnesses, corroborated Cynthia’s new occupation as a prostitute. Another witness testified that Cynthia no longer wanted to be married to W.M. Ewing and expected him to file for divorce. The court awarded the divorce and ordered Mr. Ewing to pay the associated court costs.

William French vs. Sarah French
Original case number: 368
Married: October 1857 in Oregon
Divorced: Filed May 28, 1868, Finalized June 30, 1868.
Cause: Sarah abandoned William and returned to Portland to live with her parents in 1862.
*Sarah wrote letters to William saying she was not coming back, and signed them using her maiden name McQuin.

Sarah abandoned William French in 1862 and returned to live with her parents in Oregon. William asserted that before marrying Sarah he had acquired some claims. Although he wanted most of the property, William was willing to let Sarah retain the title to some property. Included in the records were two letters from Sarah in Oregon asserting her intentions to remain with her parents signed with her maiden name. The divorce was granted on the grounds of abandonment. There is no further mention of property and likely William retained full ownership.

Catherine Galbreath vs. James Galbreath
Original case number: 447
Married: 1856 in Washington Territory
Divorced: Filed June 12, 1866, Finalized May 28, 1867
Cause: James was abusive, had threatened to kill her with a pistol.
*Three children, George aged 9 years, Ellen aged 6 years and Catherine aged 3 years. Catherine also had a 14 year-old son, Lawrence Tooler from a previous marriage.

The divorce of Catherine and James Galbreath is rather interesting because the couple is fighting over three children and $5000 in assets. Catherine claimed that at the time of their marriage in 1856 she had $3000, which her husband James took control of at the time of their marriage. James was accused of verbal and physical abuse of Catherine, the court documents describing how he, “has often struck Plaintiff and repeatedly threatened to kill Plaintiff with a loaded pistol in his hands and has used other violence repeatedly toward Plaintiff” (Galbreath v. Galbreath p. 6). Catherine’s teenaged son from a previous marriage Lawrence Tooler witnessed the abuse, as did others. Catherine asked the court to grant a divorce, to award her custody of the children, and the $3000 in assets that she had taken with her upon leaving James. The court did as Catherine requested, but also ordered that $800 be reserved for the children for when they were older.

Josephine Holmes vs. James Holmes
Original case number: 10
Married: January 11, 1867 in Lewiston, Idaho Territory
Divorced: Filed August 19, 1868, Finalized October 31, 1868
Cause: James abandoned Josephine less than a month after their marriage and at the time of the proceedings had not seen him.
*Josephine returned to her maiden name Hastetter.

Immediately following Josephine’s marriage to James Holmes in Lewiston Idaho in 1867, the couple moved to Walla Walla County. Despite her efforts to be a dutiful and obedient wife, James abandoned Josephine less than one month after their wedding. Josephine informed the court that she had been forced to provide for herself since the time of James’ abandonment. The court granted the divorce on the basis of abandonment and failure to provide for more than one year. Josephine was ordered to pay the court costs and returned to her maiden name.

William Horton vs. Kate Horton
Original case number: 333
Married: September 23, 1861 in Walla Walla County
Divorced: Filed September 30, 1861
Cause: Kate abandoned William after five days of marriage to become a prostitute. He had not seen or heard from her, although he heard she was at the dance house.

William Horton asserts that he intended to be a good husband and provide for his wife, however immediately following the wedding, Kate began being abusive. He insists that “she had only married plaintiff to be her own mistress so that she could get away from her own mother and go and reside at a house of ill fame” (Horton v. Horton p. 2). Five days after the couple was wed, Kate left William, telling him “she would be his wife no longer. She would go right off and join the up at the dance house” (Horton v. Horton p. 2). A friend of William’s went to retrieve Kate, but she did not return to live with William and at the time of the trial he had not seen her. There is no final ruling on this case.

Mary Elizabeth Joy vs. J.C. Joy
Original case number: 886
Married: June 13, 1858 in Iowa Point Kansas
Divorced: Filed February 13, 1863, Finalized October 29, 1863
Cause: J.C. was abusive, would not provide and hired Mary out.

Mary Elizabeth and J.C. Joy were married in 1858 at Iowa Point Kansas. According to the February 1863 divorce file, J.C. was known for his terrible temper. Witnesses attested that he hit her, that she once had a blackened eye, and that he carried her away by force. Also, J.C. refused to provide for Mary and had hired out for a considerable amount of time. The court granted a divorce, however there were matters yet to be settled. Mary Elizabeth claimed in a further lawsuit against J.C. Joy, that in an effort to make off with Mary’s court awarded share of the couple’s belongings, J.C. hid property with D.S. Baker. A witness countered that actually A. Dodger retained the withheld property. In the documents Mary makes clear that she believed Ned was hiding their property because he intended to defraud the $1100 alimony claim granted by the court and leave the territory. The court maintained that Mary was owed $1100, half the determined value of the couple’s property. Granting the woman half of a couple’s property is quite remarkably egalitarian for 1863.

Jacob Kenoyer vs. Martha Kenoyer
Original case number: 101
Married: February 1868 Walla Walla County
Divorced: September 1869
Cause: Martha had left Jacob three times and her behavior was regarded as improper and immoral.

Martha and Jacob Kenoyer were married about four months and Martha had abandoned their home three times before she finally decided she was not returning, and moved her belongings to her mother’s house. Jacob claimed that Martha was guilty of adultery with A. Forsyth who owned a peanut stand. There were four witnesses including A. Forsyth and Martha’s uncle W. A. Moody, and all insisted they saw Martha “about the streets of the City of Walla Walla at late hours of the night, that she repeatedly paid improper visits in said city to a man named Forsyth and to our A.F. Sheets” (Kenoyer v. Kenoyer p. 11). However, there was no actual evidence that Martha actually committed adultery, and the court maintained that the allegations were vague and required more evidence. The court granted the divorce essentially on the basis that by frequenting the city late at night, Martha’s conduct was improper and immoral, and grounds for divorce.

Henry La Fleur vs. Julia LaFleur
Original case number: 1086
Married: April 1, 1862 in Colville, Washington Territory
Divorced: Filed April 9, 1867, Finalized May 24, 1867
Cause: Julia left Henry to be with A. Pranic (uncertain spelling). They were going to Big Bend Mines in British Columbia.

After five years of marriage, Henry filed for divorce from Julia because she had committed adultery with A. Pranic Also, Henry believed that Julia was about to leave with this man to the Big Bend Mines in British Columbia. It is likely that by the time the case appeared in court, Julia was already in Canada. There is no further evidence or witnesses, but the court granted the divorce less than three months after it was filed, and ordered Henry to pay the court costs.

Mary Lynch vs. Alexander Lynch
Original case number: 102
Married: July 14, 1864 Boise County, Idaho Territory
Divorce: Filed August 27, 1869, custody still being fought in July 1886.
Cause: Alexander was verbally and physically abusive, threatened to kill Mary. Alex responded with claims Mary was a Prostitute and that she intended to make Louisa follow in her footsteps. He also admitted to being cruel, but denied failing to provide. Mary responded disputing Alex’s allegations and reiterating the fact that she was filing for divorce because of his cruel and harsh treatment.
*Two children, William Alexander aged 4 years, Mary Louisa aged 5 months.

Married in Boise Idaho and together for nearly five years, Mary found it necessary to file for divorce from Alexander due to his extreme physical and verbal abuse of her. She informed the court that Alexander threatened to kill her, called her names and hit her. Mary insisted she could provide for their children, William A. aged 4 and Mary L. aged 5 months and requested the court grant her custody and a divorce. Also, Mary said Alexander abandoned the family, and failed to provide. However, Mary allowed him visitation with the children, and recently during a visit Alexander took off with their son William. The court immediately ordered Alexander to court over the issue of taking the child. In Alexander’s response, he admitted to treating Mary cruelly, but asserted that he provided. He also claimed Mary was a prostitute and a terrible mother. Mary responded that the real reason for divorce was Alexander’s cruel treatment, which he admitted to, and insisted that she took care of her children and did not consort with men at all. The court granted the divorce. Still, Alexander in 1884 sued Mary for custody of their daughter Mary Louisa, telling the court that Mary is a prostitute who wanted their daughter to take up the profession. Meanwhile, Mary had remarried and lived with her husband and children in Portland Oregon. The court ordered the parents to contribute to their daughters education and awarded custody to St Paul’s school in Walla Walla. Alexander failed to provide the financial support, abandoned his daughter, and in 1886 the court allowed Mary Louisa, then 17 years old, to move to Portland to live with her mother.

Minerva Macy vs. Cosby Macy
Original case number: 344
Married: 1866 in Walla Walla County
Divorced: 1869
Cause: Cosby failed to provide for his family, and then deserted Minerva and their two young children.
*Two children, William Sherman aged 2 years and Francis Marian aged 7 months.

Minerva filed for divorce from Cosby Macy on the grounds that he failed to provide for the family and had abandoned her and the couple’s two young children the previous April. Minerva claimed to be a good mother and asserted to the court her desire for a divorce and custody of two year-old William Sherman and seven month old Francis Marian. She also informed the court that the couple had no money or property. There is no court decision provided for this case. It is likely that Cosby did not appear in court and the divorce and custody were granted without issue.

John Moorehead vs. Ester Moorehead
Original case number: 553
Married: 1857 in New York City, New York
Divorced: Filed February 4, 1865, Finalized April 14, 1865
Cause: Ester abandoned John in November 1864 without informing him of her whereabouts. She had also been abusive.

Ester married John Moorehead in New York City, New York, in 1837. The couple moved to Walla Walla County in 1860, where they lived together until Ester left John in 1864. John informed the court that he retained no knowledge concerning Ester’s whereabouts. The couple had no children, but owed $600 in promissory notes. According to John, Ester had abused him verbally and even assaulted him with a deadly weapon during their marriage. John also claimed that Ester committed adultery and contracted venereal disease. He requested the court issue a divorce and order Ester to pay the associated fees. Included in the records was a deposition from a publisher of the Walla Walla Statesman asserting that the divorce notice for Ester Moorehead ran for nine weeks in the newspaper, from February 10th to April 7th 1865. Ester was a no-show at the hearing, the court dissolved the marriage and John was ordered to pay the court costs.

Alvin B. Roberts vs. Martha E. Roberts
Original case number: 849
Married: September 1858 in Oregon
Divorced: Filed March 23, 1866, no date of finalization.
Cause: Martha wanted to marry another man, and abandoned Alvin.
*Four children, Alvin B. aged 6 six, Sarah E. aged 5 years, Ebenezer B. aged 3 years, and Mary K. aged 1 year.

The case of Alvin vs. Martha Roberts in 1866 was quite intriguing and informative. Alvin claimed that Martha treated him cruelly and cursed at him while she informed him that she no longer loved him. According to the allegations, Martha recently left her husband’s house to be with “another man whom she declares she loves and intends to marry” (Roberts v. Roberts p. 5). Alvin insisted to the court that he was a good husband, and tried unsuccessfully to reason with Martha about her wifely duties. Alvin maintained he used to have more wealth and property, but was left with only enough for a meager living as a result of Martha’s extravagance. In the divorce, Alvin requested ownership of all of his property as well as custody of the couple’s two oldest children, Alvin and Sarah, but said that Martha could have the two youngest children, Ebenezer and Mary. The court however, ruled that Alvin could keep his property, would pay no alimony, and awarded him custody of all four children.

Ellen Thomas vs. John Thomas
Original case number: 874
Married: 1860 in Victoria, B.C.
Divorced: Filed September 21, 1866, Finalized November 23, 1866
Cause: John had abused Ellen, then abandoned her and their child, refusing to provide a living for them.
*One child, Mary Elizabeth aged 6.

Ellen and John Thomas were married for six years, from 1860 to 1866. Ellen claimed that John repeatedly abused her, and that two years ago he had abandoned her. She informed the court that although able, John refused to financially care for her and their six year-old daughter Mary. As a result, Ellen was forced to work to support herself and child. Ellen insisted in the court records that she endeavored to convince John to be a good husband, but “she has wholly failed and her acts of kinship have been rejected” (Thomas vs. Thomas p. 2). It’s interesting how the documents insinuated Ellen is to blame for the failed marriage, especially considering John was abusive and abandoned his wife and child. Yet, somehow Ellen is regarded as a disappointing wife because she failed to persuade John to be a decent husband. The court granted Ellen her divorce and awarded one thousand dollars for alimony.

Mary Emily Vint vs. Robert Vint
Original case number: 839
Married: July 4, 1860 in Walla Walla County
Divorced: Filed September 13, 1865, Finalized April 26, 1866
Cause: Robert was abusive to Mary and their children, did not provide for the family, and was often drunk and gambling.
* Three children, John Robert 4 years old, Emma 2 years old, and William 3 months old.

Mary Emily asserted to the court that the cruel and extreme abuse caused by her husband Robert to herself and two of the couple’s young children, forced her to take the children and relocate to her father’s house. Besides being abusive, Robert was characterized as a drunk and a gambler, who failed to provide for his family. Mary Emily provided four examples of Robert’s abuse, which included his threat to “knock plaintiff’s brains out,” (Vint v. Vint p. 2) as well as details his attempt to hit her with a stick and run her over with a horse. She told the court she felt ashamed and humiliated because she chose to marry Robert and explained that she had put up with his behavior for a long time hoping he would change. Mary Emily requested the court grant a divorce and award her custody of the children, which they did. She was ordered to pay $20 for court costs.

John C. Wells vs. Martha Ann Wells
Original case number: 429
Married: October 12, 1858 Eugene OR
Divorced: Filed October 21, 1861, Finalized June 21, 1862
Cause: He made plans to move to Walla Walla County and she abandoned him, taking their child.
*One child, Hiram approximately aged 2-3 years.

The Well’s, according to John, discussed and agreed to move from Eugene Oregon to Walla Walla County. However, as soon as John had made the arrangements to move, Martha refused to join her husband, and instead abandoned him, in June 1859, taking with her their son. John mailed letters to Oregon and California, but received no reply. He requested the court grant a divorce and custody of their child bestowed on himself, “according to the statute” (Wells v. Wells p. 4). A notice ran in the Vancouver newspaper for two months, from November 1861 to January 1862, however Martha did not appear in court. The divorce was granted, John was ordered to pay court costs and there was no mention of custody in the ruling. Likely the court lacked the ability or authority to enforce custody rulings without both parties present or outside their jurisdiction.