Archive:Mexican War Pension File, Theodore Whitney
From the Mexican War Pension File of Theodore Whitney
Widow: Susan Whitney
Invalid's Application #6973, Certificate #9067
Widow's Application #15926, Certificate #14443
National Archives Building, Washington, D.C.
Company E, 3rd Indiana Volunteers
On 16 February 1887 from Cowley County, KS, Theodore Whitney signed a Declaration for Pension of Officer, Soldier, or Sailor of Mexican War. He is 62 years old and a resident of Arkansas City, Cowley Co., KS. He is married to Susan Puffer, to whom he was married at Montgomery Co., IA, on 18 Jan 1863. He had served one year in the U.S. military in the War of 1846 to 48. He enlisted at Georgetown, IN, on 15 June 1846 as a private in Company E, 3rd Indiana Regiment commanded by Captain James Tigart and Captain L. M. Adams. He was discharged at New Orleans, LA, on 14 June 1847. In a supporting affidavit he states that he was born on 25 December 1824. Theodore was granted a pension of eight dollars per month commencing 29 January 1887.
On 6 June 1900 from Jasper Co., MO, Susan Whitney signed a Claim of Widow for Service Pension, Mexican War. She is sixty years old and the widow of Theodore Whitney. At the time of entering the war her husband was 21years old; 6 feet 4 inches in height; with dark eyes, black hair, a dark complexion, and was by occupation a farmer. He was born at Richland County, OH. After leaving the service he resided for 8 years at Nashville, IN; Read Oak (sic), IA for 30 years; Arkansas City for 5 years; and Stillwater, OK for 10 years. She was married to him under the name Susan Puffer on 18 Jan 1863 at Read Oak (sic), IA, by J.H. Patterson, J.P. He had been previously married to Miss Isabella Quinn. Her husband died at Clayton, OK, on 17 Sep 1889, and she has not since remarried. She is 60 years of age, and was born on 27 Apr 1840 at St. Joseph, MO. She has been disabled since April 1875 by typhoid fever. Since then she has been dependent on her children for support, as she has no income. Her post office address is Carterville, Jasper Co., MO. J. Welch of Carterville and Martin Widner of Jasper County witness the declaration. They have known her for 25 and 27 years respectively.
My review of the pension file did not reveal to me the event which instigated a special investigation of the widow's claim, but it may be in the file. It was the largest pension file I have ever reviewed, and 95% or more of the file concerns the investigation of the widow's claim. In this abstract I will review the major points of the case and then single out only pieces of the testimony which have genealogical or historical significance. Those interested in further knowledge of this family are encouraged to review the file first hand.
J.A. Cuddy, Chief of the Law Division of the Bureau of Pensions, provided a review of the case and an opinion on the legalities involved in Theodore and Susan's marriage. I will draw from that summary the story of the dispute.
Susan's marriage to Theodore Whitney is established by record evidence, which shows that she was married under the name of Susan Puffer. In her original declaration she said that she had never previously been married. She subsequently admitted that she had previously married Richard Puffer, but she denies the validity of the marriage because at that time he had a wife, Sarah Wilder, living and not divorced. This brings into doubt the validity of Susan's marriage to Theodore.
Susan's marriage to Richard Puffer appears in the records of Cass County, NE, on 3 November 1857. (They were married in Plattsmouth, NE, and they lived between Rock Bluff and Plattsmouth.) After they had lived together for two years, Susan learned of the existence of the previous wife, Sarah Wilder. (Testimony reveals Richard left her in Keene, NH.) Susan alleges that she brought him to task over the matter, and he admitted it, but assured her that he had expected to receive a divorce decree, and he would secure it within a short time. They agreed to separate until he could show her the divorce decree, and she returned to her previous home in Iowa. Richard subsequently joined her there, and they returned together to Nebraska to settle and dispose of certain real estate interests. She then returned to Iowa with the understanding that Richard Puffer would send for her when he secured the divorce. Since then she has heard neither from nor of him. She claims that she secured a paper signed by her previous neighbors in Nebraska stating that Puffer had a former wife living and not divorced when he married her, and that this paper was accepted by the magistrate who officiated at her marriage to Theodore Whitney as satisfactory evidence of her capacity to marry Theodore. This paper was not preserved, and the only existing evidence of Puffer's previous marriage is testimony by various witnesses, which is based on the rumor started by Susan's remarks after her separation from Puffer.
Susan was married to Theodore and they resided together, all as previously described. No trace of Puffer subsequent to 1859 has been discovered, although and exhaustive search has been conducted. No divorce of Susan and Richard Puffer has been discovered in any records. Subsequently, a legal opinion is required as to whether Susan is entitled to recognition as the lawful widow of Theodore Whitney.
The marriage ceremony of Susan to Richard Puffer is established by recorded evidence, and no competent evidence has been secured to show that Richard Puffer did not have the legal capacity to contract in this marriage. Therefore, the marriage is assumed valid. The question remains as to whether or not this marriage was dissolved prior to her marriage to Theodore Whitney. There is no evidence that the marriage was dissolved by divorce or by the death of Richard, and there is little evidence upon which to assume that it was dissolved in this manner. Therefore, the law in the State of Iowa which governs the presumption of the dissolution of a marriage prevails, and that law is very liberal. Without a discussion of the intricacies of the law, since Susan conducted herself in accordance with the assumption that her previous marriage was dissolved, that marriage under Iowa law is thought to be legally dissolved. Her ceremonial marriage to Theodore and her lifetime cohabitation with him as his wife, with no word from her previous husband during that whole period are circumstances which weighed heavily in her favor in determining the presumption her capacity to legally marry Theodore. Therefore, it was the legal opinion that the dissolution of the marriage of Susan to Richard Puffer should be presumed prior to her marriage to Theodore, and she is entitled to recognition as the lawful widow of the soldier.
The testimony of many witnesses was elicited, recorded, and preserved in the pension file. The following facts of genealogical or historical interest have been extracted from that testimony.
The Clerk of the Court of Cass Co., NE, provided the following certified copy of the record of marriage: "I, John H. Craig, a Justice of the Peace of said county, certify that I did on the 3rd day of Nov. 1857 join in matrimony Mr. Richard Puffer of Cass Co., N.T. to Miss Susan Beazely (sic) of said place. Witness my hand on this 3rd day of Nov. 1857. John H. Craig."
H. G. Barnes, Clerk of the District Court, Montgomery Co., IA, provided the following certified copy of the record of marriage: "State of Iowa, Montgomery, Co, ss. I certify that on the 18th day of January, A.D., 1863 Theodore Whitney and Susan Puffer were by me lawfully united as husband and wife. Jan. the 15th, 1863. John W. Patterson, Justice of the Peace."
Much of Susan's testimony concerned the circumstances and dissolution of her marriage to Richard Puffer. In addition, we learn in the testimony of 1905 that she resides in Trenton, IA. Theodore Whitney had first been married to Isabella Quinn, who died in Montgomery Co., IA, sixteen miles northeast of Red Oak, and she was buried in a cemetery near Bean Schoolhouse. She left three children: William, Mary, and Margaret. Margaret Welch is now the only child still alive, and she resides in Jefferson City, MO. The other children lived with Susan and Theodore until they died. The fact of the death of Isabella can be corroborated by Jim Whitney, who lives near Villisca, IA, or Seiola, IA. Susan had known Theodore less than a year before they were married, and Isabella had been dead less than a year before they married.
James Whitney also testified in 1905. He is 72 years old and a resident of Villisca, IA. Theodore Whitney was his brother, and they were born in Richland Co., OH. With their parents they later moved to Indiana, close to Nashville in Brown County. He now has no brothers living, and has two sisters: Sarah Parr, residing in Oskaloosa, IA; and Miranda Redman, wife of Francis Redman, residing in Elliott, Montgomery Co., IA. He and Theodore came to Iowa in 1855. The sisters first settled in Poweshiek Co., IA, and Miranda came to Montgomery County about four years later. Theodore first married Isabella Quinn in Brown Co., IN, and she died seven or eight years after they came to Iowa in 1855. He thinks it was about four years later that Theodore married Susan Puffer. James knew Susan's father, Charles Beasley, before she married Theodore. She had a brother named Isham Beasley who enlisted in the Civil War. Susan's father deserted the family, and James never heard of him again. When James first knew Susan she had a child named Mary Puffer, about two years old, and a younger child had died. (Other testimony reveals she became Mary E. Robertson, who resided in Newton, IA.)
On 18 June 1906 Ella Gamble, who lives 10 miles northeast of Arkansas City, Cowley Co., KS, testified concerning members of the Whitney family. She is the widow of William J. Gamble, and is the daughter of Susan and Theodore Whitney. She lived at home until 1892, when she married. Susan and Theodore had together her and one son, Walter, who ran the family farm and supported his parents, whose only income was his pension. The children of Theodore by his first wife, Isabella, were:
- Martha J. Dwyer
- James Whitney
- Arthur E. Whitney
- Eva Snyder
- Austin Birtie "Bert" Whitney
In 1906 Susan testified that she now resides near Meehan, Payne Co., Oklahoma Territory, with Eva Snyder. Arthur Whitney lives in Sand Point, ID, and he went there in the spring of 1906. Birt lives in Guymon, Beaver Co., OK.
On 29 September 1910 the Commissioner of Pension was informed that Susan Whitney was last paid at twelve dollars per month to 4 May 1910, and has been dropped from the rolls due to her death, date not given.