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Wild Women of the West: Runaway Brides

Marriage has changed a lot through the years...

October 18, 2017

After spending long periods of time reviewing numerous advertisements listed in various matrimonial publications, men and women responded to announcements they felt best suited their needs, crossed their fingers, and prayed for a favorable outcome.  In the early 1900s there was a series of mail order brides who accepted proposals from men and soon after regretted their decision.

Failed attempts to find a spouse via postings in magazines and newspapers were widely publicized and that thrilled critics of the popular method of finding a spouse.  Religious leaders and suffragettes believed matrimonial periodicals degraded the sanctimony of marriage and promoted the ideal that women were nothing more than commodities to be traded. They hoped reports of unhappy first meetings and fraud would put an end to mail order bride and groom business.

Men and women had a tendency to misrepresent themselves in paid announcements.  According to the periodical Hand and Heart, a family, social, and temperance magazine, more dissatisfied couples appeared in court to settle breach of promise claims between 1905 and 1921 than any other civil suit during the same period.

On August 11, 1908, the Hutchinson Daily News in Hutchinson, Kansas ran an article about a jilted groom who filed charges against the mail order bride business and the federal government claiming that the United States postal department was being used to defraud prospective spouses.  Clyde Williamson, a resident of Seattle, Washington, read an advertisement in a western matrimonial paper in April 1906, and decided to write to a woman seeking a husband.  Williamson noted in his complaint that the young woman in the case gave him inaccurate information about her appearance, disposition and family.  “The courtship of the couple consisted of an even 100 letters,” the newspaper report read.

Williamson insisted that in his correspondence with the intended, he inquired about her home life and character.  “She led me to believe and that it would be her object in life to make her husband a “loving and useful helpmate.”  Williamson reported in his complaint that once he met her in person he felt he was “grossly deceived” and that the woman in question was nothing like she presented herself to be in the ad she placed.

Although Bessie Stouthard did not think the Postal Service was at fault in her situation the mail order bride from Kentucky felt she too was misled by and advertisement. Henry Clay King had placed an ad in the matrimonial paper the New Plan which caught her attention, but it turned out he was less than honest about his age.  Stouthard had no idea King was more than thirty years older than she was until they were married within an hour of meeting.

King advertised for a wife in the summer of 1911 and received six hundred answers from every corner of the country.  Shortly after they wed, Stouthard left to visit her family and never returned.  King filed for divorce on the basis of desertion.

Many would-be spouses were disappointed in the mail order bride system, but their circumstances never warranted litigation.  One such person was Edith Kish who posted an announcement in the Matrimonial News magazine in February 1913.  John Kissel, the owner of a hotel in Linton, Oregon promptly responded to the prospective bride’s advertisement.  The two communicated via letter for months before Kissel sent Kish a diamond ring and asked her to marry him. She happily accepted and traveled west to meet her future husband.  After one glance at Kissel, Kish told him he was not her ideal and returned the ring.

Charles K. Afflack of Muskogee, Oklahoma was the subject of much gossip in his hometown when he selected a “want-ad” bride in early 1913 from the Halcyon Matrimonial Company. Shortly after the pair exchanged vows, Afflack told friends and family he noticed a remarkable change in the woman he had corresponded with from Maine.  The couple divorced and Afflack eventually married a woman he met through a friend.

Thirteen days after George C. Ganabrant of Monroe, Michigan married a mail order bride from Arkansas, the woman ran away from him.  “We had become acquainted by mail,” he told a reporter at the Orange County Times Press newspaper on March 22, 1915.  “We were married on December 5, 1913, after I paid $50 to bring her from her home in Hot Springs.”

Two weeks later George’s wife informed him she had to go to Colorado on business.  She asked her husband for the loan of $500 to take care of the taxes on a piece of property in Denver. He refused to give her the sum, but did furnish the $75 she needed to make the trip. George kept his money stored about the house he briefly shared with his bride.  Once she had left for Colorado he went searching for his funds and learned his duplicitous wife had stolen the cash he had.  “She also went shopping on her way out of town and at the local merchants and charged more than $60 to my account,” he complained to the newspaper.  One of the items she purchased with George’s money was a gold ring.

On March 11, 1912, the Stevens Point Daily Journal in Stevens Point Wisconsin posted a story about the risks involved with meeting a potential husband or wife through a “want-ad.”  The article, entitled “Californian Lost a Mail Order Bride”, described what happened to a farmer after he arrived to collect his future wife from her parent’s home in Kansas.

J.A. Ray wouldn’t be the last man to be taken advantage of by a disreputable mail order bride.  In 1921, a groom in Washington sent a train ticket and money to Missouri for his fiancé to join him at his homestead but she never arrived.  “Frank Everett, a rancher from Chester, Washington, answered an ad he found in Matrimonial News and after a brief time corresponding, proposed to the lady.  At her request, Everett dispatched a fat envelope to her containing, among other things, the price of a first class ticket including sleeping car accommodations and $25 for expenses from Kansas City to Spokane where Everett was to meet her.

The bride was due to arrive in Spokane on March 15, but she never made it.  Everett waited five days for his fiancé before he had to admit to himself he’d been jilted.  “The girl, whose name I shall not make public described herself as twenty-four years of age, fairly good looking and a first class cook,” Everett told a reporter with the Bismark Daily Tribune.  “She wanted to come west and marry a rancher, but I guess she changed her mind after getting my money.  I’ve been ‘bunked’ and I’m going back to the ranch, but before I promise again to marry I’m going to see the other party on the ground.”

Robert Miller of Denver experienced the same kind of disappointment at the hand of his “correspondence bride” Eliza Kent in August 1906.  In spite of Miller’s best efforts to keep the arrival of his betrothed a secret between his closest associates, more than a few curious people were on hand at the train station to meet Kent.

She was wearing an elegant traveling suit and had a rose pinned to her lapel so Miller could easily identify her.  Miller barely had a chance to introduce himself when the crowd that had gathered began pressing in around Eliza.  The two exchanged a glance and he smiled at her, but she did not return the favor.  She was not pleased with Miller’s appearance and she backed away from the scene.  The crowd followed her.  They pursued her for six blocks until she managed to hide out inside a stranger’s home.  The following day she boarded a train back from where she came.

Some mail order bride experiences appeared at first as though they were destined to fail, but fate intervened.  Marie E. Grey and J.E. Guy were scheduled to be married on March 7, 1921, in Spokane, Washington.  Their romance had its origins in the advertisement column of an Eastern paper.  Guy waited for his intended to step off the train, but Marie was nowhere to be seen.  As the vehicle was pulling out of the station the mail order bride jumped out of one of the cars.  She had gotten the tie on her shoe tangled in a section of the underside of her seat and had trouble getting it undone.

Guy and Grey hurried off to the First Presbyterian Church and were married.  Guy, who was an expert machinist in the employ of the Potlatch Lumber Company in northern Idaho, said when he read Grey’s advertisement he knew she was right for him.  “She was a widow, and lonely, and tired of owning herself, and wanted a man and responsible mate,” he told the Bismark Daily Times.  After six months of corresponding, Grey agreed to marry Guy.  The couple made their home in the town of Potlatch and served as a positive example to their friends and neighbors who considered the success rate of mail order marriages to be extremely low.

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