Dial “M” for “Monogamy”: A Southwestern Belle Tolls for Thee, Mayor

On April 6, 1890 the Fort Worth Gazette was of the opinion that with the election earlier that week of progressive candidate William S. Pendleton as mayor, Fort Worth should build a fine city hall:

pendleton-fw-needs-4-6-90-910x768Fort Worth would build its fine city hall in 1893. But the honorable William S. Pendleton would not be around to occupy that city hall as mayor. Or even to walk past it as a resident of Fort Worth. Seems that Hizzoner was a little too progressive.

You see, there was this telephone operator . . .

pendleton-3-sisters-1024x122In the 1888 city directory Addie Cullen was one of three Cullen women (sisters?) who were operators at the Fort Worth phone company and who lived at the same address.

pendleton scandal breaks 7-12 nytThe Gazette is not archived for July 1890, so we must look elsewhere to find out what happened when the . . . gavel hit the fan. On July 12 the New York Times reported that on July 5, three months after his election, Mayor Pendleton had married Addie Cullen in New Orleans, adding that Miss Cullen had been described as “a second Venus.”

“But . . . but  . . . but,” Fort Worth newspapers sputtered collectively upon hearing of the marriage, “isn’t Hizzoner already married?”

Well, yes and no.

See, after his marriage to Addie became news, the mayor claimed that he had gotten a divorce from Mrs. Pendleton no. 1 in August 1889 in Illinois.

The divorce came as news to Fort Worth newspapers. In fact, the divorce came as news to Mrs. Pendleton no 1. Hizzoner had not told even her about the divorce.

pendleton-mcart austin statesman 7-17And now, to thicken the plot, let us stir in some further chicanery. The divorce was news even to state officials in Illinois. Fort Worth attorney Robert McCart went to Chicago and learned that the state of Illinois had no record of Pendleton’s divorce. It was a fraud. So, for almost a year Pendleton had been living life on a party line: a wife and a girlfriend. Clip is from the July 17 Austin Statesman.

pendleton frenzied 7-12 dmnMeanwhile, Dallas was in a frenzy over the scandal upriver. Or, rather, the Morning News on July 12 said it was Fort Worth that was “frenzied.”

pendleton frenzied 2 7-13 dmnIn fact, the Morning News said it twice. On July 13 the Morning News word of the day again was “frenzied.”

pendleton cruel deception 7-14 dmnOn July 14 the Morning News in its lead sentence admitted that “There were no new developments in the Pendleton scandal to-day.” But the newspaper then proceeded to print several dozen words about those “no new developments.”

pendleton no developments 7-15 dmnOn July 15 the Morning News admitted in both headline and lead sentence that “There Are No New Developments to Report,” although Mrs. Pendleton no. 1 was expected to return to Fort Worth.

pendleton-mug-7-20-dmnIndignant Fort Worth civic leaders drafted a resolution calling for Pendleton to resign, wherever he was.

These days a politician might bluster his way through such a scandal and remain in office. But in Victorian Cowtown of 1890 Mayor William S. Pendleton had hung himself by his own telephone cord. At some point in July Pendleton did resign from office after serving less than four months. City Councilman J. P. Nicks, mayor pro tem, served as acting mayor until a special election was held on August 4. Sketch is from the July 20 Morning News.

pendleton-dont-look-at-each-otherFort Worth had suffered a double blow with the Spring Palace fire on May 30 and now the mayoral scandal. This brief appeared in the Brenham Banner on July 24.

pendleton no return 7-24 dmnAlso on July 24 the Dallas Morning News reported that a letter written by Pendleton indicated he intended never to return to Fort Worth.

pendleton lust 7-24 brenham bannerThis dog-in-the-mangerish comment appeared in the July 24 Brenham Banner regarding Pendleton and his “adulterous intercourse with the Cullen woman.”

pendleton-jps-elected-455x768On August 5 the Fort Worth Gazette reported that in the special election John Peter Smith had been elected to the third of three terms he would serve as mayor. Not one word was printed about the scandal that had necessitated the election. Fort Worth had moved on, just as it had moved on after the Spring Palace fire.

pendleton-heard-fromBut in a brief in that same August 5 edition the Gazette reported that Hizz(dis)oner had been heard from. Pendleton, already involved in one triangle, was in another triangle: The man with at least one wife in Fort Worth had notified a hotel in New Orleans to forward his mail to Chicago.

pendleton-smith-other-papersThe Gazette printed reactions of other Texas newspapers to the election of Smith. Note the Sherman paper’s allusion to “where the panther laid down.” And note that a Houston paper could not resist a dig at Pendleton.

pendleton-divorce-millFast forward to December 1890. Pendleton told his side of the scandal to the New York Sun, and on December 5 the Gazette reprinted the story. Pendleton claimed he had been the victim of a “divorce mill”: In August 1889 Pendleton, himself a lawyer, had paid $265 to a law firm in New York City to file for him in the state of Illinois a divorce suit on the grounds of “incompatibility of temper.”

But a child of the Pendletons had been ill at the time, and Pendleton, his friends said, had chosen not to tell his wife that she was now an ex-wife. The child died, and afterward Pendleton had told his wife about the divorce. In April 1890 Pendleton was elected mayor.

Pendleton claimed he had assumed that his divorce was valid until he read otherwise in the newspapers after his marriage to Addie Cullen on July 5. But the divorce decree turned out to be worthless. The seal of the Cook County, Illinois, court was bogus, the signature of the court clerk a forgery.

pendleton-end of it 10-5-90-gazpendleton-brenham-remarriedLong story made short: On October 4, 1890 Mrs. Pendleton no. 1 got a valid divorce from Mr. Pendleton; that same month Mr. Pendleton got a valid marriage to Mrs. Pendleton no. 2. (Clips are from the October 5 Gazette and October 23 Brenham Banner.)

Perhaps Fort Worth voters should have expected no good to come out of that mayoral election of 1890. On Election Day the Gazette had published the following brief editorial urging voters to go to the polls. Election Day that year had fallen on April 1, April Fools’ Day:


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2 Responses to Dial “M” for “Monogamy”: A Southwestern Belle Tolls for Thee, Mayor

  1. Janis Smith Shaffer says:

    Bravo, Mike. Glad to know the whole story.

    • hometown says:

      Thank you, Janis, for the heads-up on Hizzoner. Your great-grandfather Nicks probably told Pendleton to keep his mustache holstered.

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