Annie Gayle was considered one of the prettiest, most ambitious girls in Akron, Ohio in 1883. Her eyes were large, her features were well proportioned, and her desire to go West was her number one aspiration. She was well on her way to achieving her goal when she accepted the proposal of a man living in French Camp, California. He had advertised for an adventurous woman anxious to settle in the Gold Country and experience the excitement of the wild frontier. Annie wasted no time favorably responding to his letter asking for her hand in marriage.
Born an only child in 1874 to Charles Gayle and Margaret Stantz Gayle, Annie’s father entertained his daughter with tales of the land beyond the Rockies and the endless possibilities to be had there. Charles died before he realized his own dream of moving to San Francisco. Fearing the chance to make such a journey died with her father, Annie decided to consider mail-order bride opportunities.
Horace Knapp, a handsome man in his late forties, collected his bride to be at the train depot in Sacramento, California on September 10, 1890. Annie was anxious to meet the sheepish suitor who had described himself in his letters as a “good fellow, with means and prospects.” The plan was for the two to marry the day after Annie arrived and only if their first encounter proved to be mutually satisfactory. The couple dined together and discussed their possible future. By the end of the evening they were in complete accord to wed. Vows and a ring were exchanged the following morning.
Annie was delighted not only to be married, but with finally being at a location that seemed to be bursting with potential. If she had remained in Ohio working at a millinery shop, life as a farmer’s wife was the best she thought she could hope for. She believed being Mrs. Knapp would bring her happiness and therefore surrendered to her husband the small amount of money she had earned working as a seamstress in Akron. It never crossed her mind that Horace might be untrustworthy. She was honest and thought everyone else was as well.
The newlyweds moved to a small cabin nestled in a mining community in the San Juan Valley. Everything went along as nicely. It was as though the couple had been settled for years in their new position. Horace invested his wife’s funds on a mining venture he explained to her would produce great dividends – enough for them to see the world beyond California. Annie was thrilled by the idea and while her husband was away tending to their interests, she planned trips to distant lands.
One night, alone again in their fledgling homestead, a ragged little boy arrived at the doorstep and delivered a soiled note to her. It read as follows: “Mrs. Knapp, your husband has another wife living not far from you. He has three children whom he has deserted. He married you to get whatever money you had or could acquire. She is innocent and knows nothing of him having married you. Don’t bother her, poor thing; she has a hard enough time to feed her babies.”
Annie was stunned by the news and refused to believe it was true. She tucked the note in her pocket and waited for Horace to arrive home. When Horace finally returned to her, he walked into the house dressed in a new suit of clothing and a hat and was swinging a cane as though he was in a parade. He carelessly threw himself into a chair and asked Annie if there was anything to eat. For a moment she couldn’t speak. If the note was right she stood to lose her husband, her honor and the little bit of fortune she had turned over to Horace.
She started to speak but her tongue was stuck to the roof of her mouth. Horace stared at his bride of a week, waiting for her to reply. Annie didn’t say a word, she simply handed him the letter and watched his face. It turned white, then red, then white again. “It’s a lie,” he said with an oath. “A lie.” Annie couldn’t stand the terrible strain of the ordeal any further. She fainted and fell on the floor. When she recovered she was alone. Horace was gone.
He did not appear again for a day or two. In the meantime the once obliging, trusting bride had utterly changed. She was bold and defiant now. She felt the story was true and was determined to make the guilty man pay. He had given her no mercy in any way and she would have none for him.
When he finally returned to her, Annie seemed the same as usual. Horace was surprised and couldn’t understand it. Her quiet demeanor led him to believe she had resigned herself to the situation. She watched him with a carefully eye, however, just like a cat watches a mouse. Her apparent resignation completely disarmed him. He was curious as to what was going on.
One evening he went out and Annie followed him. Shortly after Horace left she left too. Wearing a shawl around her head and walking somewhat slumped over, he didn’t notice it was Annie keeping a safe distance behind him. Past one corner and around another he went until finally he turned onto a small street. His shadow followed behind him up a flight of stairs of a dilapidated building the wooden stairs he ascended. He stopped at a door at the top of the stairs, paused, turned the knob and entered. His shadow was at the keyhole almost before the door was closed.
Annie heard enough to confirm her worst fears. She descended the stairs and glided home. The next morning, bright and early, she paid a call to the house. A woman in a calico wrapper opened the door for her. Three small children were in the room. “I am Mrs. Horace Knapp,” she said in answer to Annie’s first question. “Yes, my husband was here. Am I sure? Oh, yes. See here is the photograph.” As she spoke she reached behind a clock on a mantle and produced a picture to show the poor girl. It was Horace.
Trembling, Annie removed a locket from around her neck. She opened it, showed it to the woman and told her story. The wife was more than indignant. She vowed that Horace should go to jail. He had permitted their children and her to almost starve and they were all still very hungry.
Annie returned to her home and met the man who had caused her such misery. He had anticipated trouble, and merely shrugged his shoulders. “Better make the best of it,” he said. That night he came home leading a little four year old by the hand. “This is my daughter,” he said. “I lied to you, but she has to live here now. Her mother met me on the road with two other brats, and raised such a fuss that I agreed to take this one and care for it.”
“I will not stay here or have your children to look after,” Annie cried. “I have been enough of a fool already.” The reply so engaged Horace he grabbed up a carving knife and brandishing it before Annie’s eyes shouted, “Do what I ask or I will kill you.”
Annie hurried out of the cabin and Horace chased after her. She lost the furious man in the dark. She reported the incident to the authorities and Horace was arrested and held on a $1,000 bond. He was charged with assault with intent to kill and bigamy. Annie and Horace’s first wife were present at his trial. He was convicted and led away to prison. He was never heard by either woman or his children again.
Horace’s first wife eventually married again. Annie moved to Denver, Colorado and married again as well. According to the Alta Daily newspaper which covered the tragic story of the mail-order bride, the second time around both women wed men with “sound morals and good character.”