Wednesday, March 17, 2010

"They Died in Their Sin"

The Hobart Gazette described Ainsworth resident William Potter as a "well-known character." What exactly earned him that description, I do not know, but since his family had been farming in Ross Township at least since 1870, there are a good ten years of newspapers I haven't read yet that may enlighten me. So far I've come across a couple random facts about him: in 1899 he went to Iowa to work; by 1901 he was back in Ainsworth, appearing in court because of a tangle with a railroad worker (but that report doesn't say who allegedly did what).

In 1903 he was about 45 years old, unmarried and living with his widowed mother in Ainsworth, when he became involved with Amanda Guernsey, ex-wife of Otis.

Otis was just one of many Guernseys farming in southeastern Ross Township. He had been born around 1865 to Chester and Elizabeth Guernsey. In August 1894 he married Amanda Rex. She was his third wife. (What had happened to the first two, I wish someone could tell me.) Together they had five children.

At some point things went sour between Otis and Amanda. In March of 1903 she obtained a divorce. According to one report, she had charged him with cruelty — and yet, having secured her divorce, she returned to his house, employed by him as a live-in domestic servant. That sounds like an awkward situation, but I suppose it worked for them.

While still living with her ex-husband, Amanda found new love with William Potter.

On Friday, October 9, William and Amanda took Otis' horse and buggy and disappeared. They did not resurface until the evening of Monday, October 12, when they arrived at Adam Hetzler's saloon, at the north end of Cedar Lake. They took a room on the second story of the saloon and retired for the night.

About 4 a.m., Mr. Hetzler awoke to find his room filled with smoke. His shouts of "Fire!" were loud enough to wake another tenant of the saloon, who helped him get Mrs. Hetzler and their two little daughters out of the burning building. By the time the Hetzlers realized their two new guests had not gotten out, the wooden structure was engulfed in flames. It would have been suicidal to go back in to search for anyone.

William and Amanda died together in the fire. It isn't clear why they couldn't get out. One report speculated that "[t]he heavy smoke must have stupefied them."

"They Died in Their Sin," fulminated a Logansport newspaper, adding: "The woman, it is said, had deserted her husband and five children." The Hobart Gazette treated the couple more gently, calling their death "tragic," and as to the question of sin, said only, "Whether Mr. Potter and Mrs. Guernsey had recently been married, reports differ, and is doubted by many."

In short order Otis, too, found new love. He took Mrs. Minnie Jones as his fourth wife on October 15, three days after Amanda's death — or, as a Fort Wayne newspaper put it, "[b]efore the charred remains of the mother of his five children were interred." The Hobart Gazette, again, was kinder, although unable to resist a little indiscretion:
Their courtship was very short, in fact it was a case of love at first sight as only two days before Mrs. Jones had gone to the Guernsey residence to care for his household as his former domestic had recently before met with a fatal accident in the burning of the Cedar Lake hotel. The groom is 41 years old and has taken to himself the fourth wife while the bride is 39 years old and had been married once previously.
Together they raised his five children. Their marriage was apparently happy; they were still married when Otis died in 1927. His will provided that Minnie would receive the interests and proceeds of his estate until her death or remarriage. Upon either of those events, the estate would be divided among the children of Otis and Amanda.

1870 Census.
1880 Census.
1900 Census.
1910 Census.
♦ "Additional Locals." Hobart Gazette 12 May 1899.
♦ "General News Items." Hobart Gazette 21 June 1901; 6 March 1903.
♦ "Hobart." Times (Hammond, Ind.) 12 March 1927.
Indiana Marriage Collection.
♦ "Meet Tragic Death In Burning Hotel." Hobart Gazette 16 Oct. 1903.
♦ "Otis Guernsey Leaves a Will at His Death." Hobart News 7 April 1927.
♦ "They Died in Their Sin." Logansport Pharos 15 Oct. 1903 (Newspaper Archive).
♦ "Two Hearts Made Happy." Hobart Gazette 23 Oct. 1903.
♦ "Was in Haste to Wed." Fort Wayne Weekly Sentinel 21 Oct. 1903 (Newspaper Archive).

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