A Disgraceful Double Elopement in 19th Century Martin City
By Diane Euston
No one would have guessed what was conspiring on a farm in August 1893, but the result was a double elopement featuring a father and son. And to shock the community even more, the girls who ran away with them were their niece and first cousin – a secret that survived for over 125 years.
The McPherson family were well-known and well-respected citizens of Jackson Co., living just northwest of Martin City. The patriarch of the family, Edward McPherson (1809-1889), farmed 160 acres between Blue Ridge Blvd. and approximately 123rd St. on the west side of current day Wornall Rd. He and his wife, Angeline Collins, had eight children.
His oldest son, Nicholas, was the first postmaster in Martin City. Albert (1839-1914), the second oldest, stayed in the community and lived near 127th and Holmes Rd. He was first married to Lydia Bartlett and had six children. His daughter, Marietta (also called Mary) was born in 1871, and another daughter, Lydia (also called Lettie) followed in 1875.
Edward’s third born son, Alexander (b. 1841) married Belle Proctor and had five children including Frank, born in 1872. After several years in Missouri, he settled for a time in the Fort Worth, Tx. area but returned to Jackson Co. with his son, Frank.
And this is when things got very interesting for the McPherson family.
A romance of epic proportions had blossomed between first cousins, Lydia and Frank. And according to records, a separate affair involving Alexander, then over 50 years old, and his niece, 23 year-old Mary had begun.
On August 26th, 1893, the two couples ran away from Albert McPherson’s farm off Holmes Rd. and off into the sunset. The community was left shocked and dismayed by the scandal; news of this event spread like wildfire across the country. The newspapers reported they may have been headed for Oklahoma.
Where these couples were for three months remains unknown, but they surface in Fort Worth, Tx., the scandal hot on their heels. By January 1894, Alex and his new wife, Mary, had been caught and thrown in jail for their illegal marriage and relations. The uncle and niece, turned man and wife, were left to answer for their affair.
On January 24, 1894, the honeymoon was over. Alex and Mary McPherson were charged with “a nameless offense”, The case went to the jury and verdict of guilty was reached. Alexander was sentenced to three years, and Mary was sentenced to two years. Newspapers reported that they “were married and were uncle and niece.”
Alexander became Inmate Number 10532 at Huntsville Prison in Texas on February 3, 1894, serving time for what is listed as “incest.” Shown as being 5’6” tall and 184 pounds, Alexander served out most of his sentence until he was discharged months early on October 7th, 1896. Mary served her sentence and was released early. After living for a short time with first cousin Frank and her sister, Lydia, she promptly vanishes from the records – about the same time Uncle Alex was released.
Even as the court threw the books at Alexander and Mary, Frank and Lydia McPherson’s elopement and marriage stayed intact. It wasn’t illegal to marry your first cousin, as strange as that may seem today. Almost three years to the day after their unseemly escape from Jackson Co. to the South to marry, the kissing cousins welcomed a baby girl named Mondena Mae McPherson. Frank worked as a home mover in Fort Worth alongside a few of his brothers and lived steps away from the Tarrant County Courthouse where his father met his fate. However, their happiness was short-lived. In 1904, 29-year-old Lydia passed away.
One has to wonder what kind of contact the disgraced McPherson’s in Texas had with their family picking up the pieces in Jackson Co., Mo. When Albert McPherson passed away in 1914, his probate record presents us some clues.
As division of his estate was underway, a list of his heirs is included. When a child predeceased a parent, oftentimes their “issue”- or children- would inherit part of an estate. Albert’s daughter, Lydia had passed away 10 years earlier. This information was provided in the paperwork and infers there was some contact with her father. Mondena, daughter of Frank and
Lydia, would be an heir to this large estate in Jackson Co.; however, it appears that they knew there was a daughter but had no clue as to her name, showing us that their involvement was limited.
Even more telling is the fact that Marietta McPherson, called Mary by most, is also listed as an heir of Albert’s estate. Records clearly indicate that Mary married Uncle Alexander and served time for it. But the family seems to know nothing of her location or her fate. Under “Residence,” it reads, “Left home 20 years ago single and unmarried and whereabouts have been unknown since.”
This double elopement between first cousins and an uncle and niece shook the Martin City community and spread throughout the entire nation. A 10-year marriage and the birth of a child was the fate of Frank and Lydia’s courtship. But there is no closure for the love affair between Alexander and his niece, Mary. The two disappear in the records, leaving us questioning if their forbidden love was strong enough to survive an illegal marriage and a stint in prison. Did the two reunite and run away together? Only more records unearthed will reveal the true ending of this disturbing love story.
Diane writes a blog about the history of the area. To read more of the stories, go to www.newsantafetrailer.blogspot.com