Sunday, January 11, 2015

What Was She Thinking? The Unusual Marriage of Jennie V. Rector

I like to think I have a good handle on the lives of my ancestors.  My ancestors like to prove me wrong. Jennie Rector is one such ancestor.  Born in Albia, Iowa in April 1872, she was the daughter of William Peter Rector and his wife Caroline Dunkin. In a 1884 school report card she was ranked second in her class, had all A's, including one in deportment. On 9 July 1894 she married William P. Cramer who tragically died the following year.  Jennie remained a widow until finally marrying on Christmas Eve in 1917. She died in August 1938, age 66, and is buried in Albia, Iowa.  Her husband Theodore S. Witten died 10 years later.

I had a picture of her in my mind, a sad grieving widow, who finally remarried in midlife. She was unemployed in both the 1900 and 1910 census. Her father died in 1918 and I imagine that she was beginning to worry about her future. Did she marry Theodore for love, for companionship, for security, who can say. All in all, she she seems to have lived a quiet, boring, unremarkable life. Or so I thought.  Here is what  I know about Jennie V. Rector.

As I said earlier, Jennie married William Cramer in 1894. So, who was this William.  Well let me tell you about him. William was the son of George P. and Rachel Cramer, longtime residents of Albia.  George was a businessman who had owned a dry goods store, started and sold a circus and finally was the proprietor of the Cramer Hotel in Albia. He had served on the city council, was at one time a constable and deputy sheriff. He and his wife had three children, Anna, who married Sheriff John Doner, Emma who married Thomas Mitchell and William.  So it would seem that our Jennie had married into a prominent prosperous family and had a bright future.

Jennie, however, was not the first Mrs. William P. Cramer.  In 1886 William had married Clara A. Shriver. This union resulted in one child.  For whatever reason,  William filed for divorce from Clara in October of 1893. The filing made the local paper.  In December William was again in the newspaper when he rescued a fellow ice fisherman who had fallen through the ice and whose life was in imminent danger. Was this what attracted Jennie, was William a brave single father in need of a good wife?

bad stuff
A few weeks later, on 20 January 1894, William was once again the subject of a newspaper article.  This time he and John Dull were arraigned before the Mayor and bound over to the Grand Jury, the charge; assaulting a man by the name of Donaldson. Yikes, there must be some mistake. But no, a month later the paper reports that on 16 February William assaulted a second man, 65 year old Mr. Martin. Ewww, I starting to not like this guy. The next day William and John Dull appear before the Grand Jury and were indicted.  William, or his father, was able to make bail, but John Dull ended up in jail.

it gets worse
On the 21st of February the police searched William's house.  They reported finding no booze, but they did find a prostitute, she was let go without charge. William seems to have kept his name out of the paper until the 4th of July.  As the story goes, the whole town was terrified of him.  The Sheriff had a warrant for his arrest but was afraid someone would be killed trying to bring him in. In a previous attempt to jail him, William had asked the Sheriff to take him by the Cramer Hotel so he could drop off some things that he would not need in jail. He then pulled out a revolver and pointed it at the Sheriff and the city Marshall.  William escaped out the backdoor and remained at large.

the shooting
Finally the Sheriff resolved to take William in, he had been spotted driving through town with a woman and two men. Oh Lordy, was the woman Jennie?  The Sheriff warned all his men to arm themselves. One of these men was George Fordyce, an ex-soldier and night watchman. As William and his gang drove down the street, he stopped his horses. "Are you looking for me?", William yelled at Fordyce. "No" responded George, "I am not looking for you". William then threatened to "thump the hell" out of Fordyce if he was. William got down out of the wagon, walked behind it and approached Fordyce.

George Fordyce must have been nervous as William neared him.  He pulled out his revolver and fired it at William.  The paper reported that the caps did not explode.  William then pointed his gun at George and shot him in the abdomen.  Despite his wound, George tackled William and they fought.  The Sheriff finally arrived and pulled his gun on William who thankfully surrendered.

Five days later, our Jennie married William, what was she thinking? The wedding took place at the jail and within one hour of becoming Mrs. William P. Cramer, Jennie was arrested for being drunk.  She may well have been drunk prior to the wedding! In any case she was brought before the judge who gave her a choice of a ten dollar fine or 30 days in jail.  She choose to go to jail, apparently thinking she could share the cell with her new husband.  When the judge informed that she would be in her own cell, she decided to pay the fine. Her parents must have been horrified.

the trial
Luckily for William, George Fordyce survived his gunshot wound.  William was charged with attempted murder. His trial, held in February of 1895, was moved from Albia to Centerville, Iowa.  He was, of course, found guilty. He faced a sentence of not more than 10 years in the state penitentiary. Five months later he was dead.

William's name appeared in the paper for probably the last time on 14 November 1895.  The article reported his death of consumption (TB) at the home of his brother in law John Dolan. William was only 32 years old. The writer graciously admitted that while William had some serious faults, he did have a good side. He was, they said, an industrious man who paid his debts, and he had a warm side for those in distress and that he had many friends. His widow was not mentioned.

Wow, what a story.  It just goes to show that our ancestors are way more than just names and dates.  I will never know Jennie's motivation for her marriage to bad boy William. I wonder what her life was like after his death.  Did she grieve, was she ostracized for her behavior, is that why it took so long to remarry. Who knows, but I won't think of her as just a bland boring woman again.

Thanks to SP Stewart and his great Iowa research for making the newspaper articles available online.

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