On April 6, 1890 the Fort Worth Gazette was of the opinion that with the election earlier that week of progressive candidate William Smartt Pendleton as mayor, Fort Worth should build a “fine city hall”:
Fort Worth would indeed 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 the progressive Hizzoner was a little too progressive.
You see, there was this woman . . .
But first, before we cherchez la femme, some background. William S. Pendleton was born in Tennessee in 1848. He moved to Fort Worth in 1873 and practiced law. By 1880 Pendleton, then thirty-one, was county attorney. In 1880 he was thirty-one. His wife Lizzie was twenty-four.
Pendleton represented Tarrant County in the Texas House of Representatives 1885-1887. In 1888 he was a partner in a law firm. And a good law firm it was. It would produce two mayors of Fort Worth: Pendleton in 1890 and Thomas J. Powell in 1900.
Note that Pendleton’s law firm was located at the northeast corner of Houston and West 2nd streets. We’ll revisit that address.
By the time William S. Pendleton was elected mayor in April 1890 he was forty-one years old. Despite his electoral victory, was he perhaps feeling old, feeling that his best years were behind him? For the man suffering a midlife crisis late in the nineteenth century there were no Corvettes or Harley-Davidsons to transport him, the wind whipping through his handlebar mustache, back to his youth.
But men find other rejuvenators.
Enter . . . the woman.
In 1880 Katie, Stella, and Addie Cullen were sisters living in Mississippi. Addie was ten years old. While William S. Pendleton was practicing law, Addie was practicing her multiplication tables.
By 1888 Addie, Katie, and Stella were in Fort Worth, working as operators at the Fort Worth phone company. Addie Cullen was then eighteen years old.
And where was Addie Cullen’s place of employment located?
At the northeast corner of Houston and West 2nd streets.
Sometimes geography is destiny. Sometimes in romance, as in real estate, it’s all about location, location, location. Yes, the local phone company and W. S. Pendleton’s law firm were located in that same small building of First National Bank.
The Gazette is not archived for July 1890, so we must look elsewhere to piece together what happened that month when the gavel hit the fan and Cowtown’s ménage à mayor made headlines around the country. On July 12 the New York Times reported that on July 5, three months after his election, Mayor Pendleton had married twenty-year-old 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 already 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.
And now, to thicken the plot, let us stir in some further chicanery. The divorce was news even to state officials in Illinois, where Pendleton said he had gotten the divorce. Fort Worth attorney Robert McCart went to Chicago and learned that the state of Illinois had no record of Pendleton’s divorce. The divorce 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.
Meanwhile, 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.”
In fact, the Morning News said it twice. On July 13 the Morning News word of the day again was “frenzied.”
On 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.”
On 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.
Finally Mrs. Pendleton no. 1 issued a statement. She said she had learned of her husband’s “infatuation” with Addie Cullen in December 1889 when Mrs. Pendleton found in Hubby’s pocket a will leaving $7,500 ($194,000 today) to Miss Cullen.
“Two days later,” newspapers reported, “at the muzzle of a pistol, he [Pendleton] forced his wife to surrender the document to him. He then threw his arms around his wife and wept like a child.”
Indignant Fort Worth civic leaders at a meeting of more than eight hundred citizens at the courthouse drafted a resolution calling for Mayor Pendleton to resign. Pendleton was in New Orleans in hunker-down mode, not granting interviews. “Old friends” had advised him not to return to Cowtown. Clip is from the Temple Weekly Times of July 18.
Mayor William S. Pendleton indeed tendered his resignation on July 18. The city council accepted.
Sketch is from the July 20 Dallas Morning News.
These days, of course, a politician might bet on the public’s short attention span, bluster and spin 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. After Pendleton’s resignation, City Councilman J. P. Nicks, mayor pro tem, served as acting mayor until a special election was held on August 4.
Fort 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.
Also on July 24 the Dallas Morning News reported that a letter written by Pendleton indicated he intended never to return to Fort Worth.
This dog-in-the-mangerish comment appeared in the July 24 Brenham Banner regarding Pendleton and his “adulterous intercourse with the Cullen woman.”
On August 5 the Fort Worth Gazette reported that in the special election to replace Pendleton 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.
But in a brief news item in that same August 5 edition the Gazette reported that Hizz(dis)oner had been heard from. But again not one word about the scandal of July.
The 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.
Fast-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, remember—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 stressed, 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 in New Orleans 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.
Long story made short: On October 4, 1890 Mrs. Pendleton no. 1, naming Addie Cullen as co-respondent, was granted a valid divorce from Mr. Pendleton; that same month Mr. Pendleton was granted 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 the day after the election the Gazette had published this article:
Yes, Election Day that year had fallen on April 1: April Fools’ Day.
The rest of the story: William Smartt Pendleton in 1907 would marry again: Rosa Addie Prather. He died in 1933. The Star-Telegram obituary, as was often the case, did not mention the scandal of 1890.
The fact that in 1885 Pendleton’s sister Octavia had married civic leader Major Khleber Miller Van Zandt might account for circumspect coverage of the 1890 scandal by local newspapers.
I enjoyed this story. Now, as they say, we know the rest of the story!
Thanks, Gail. It’s one of my favorites.
Bravo, Mike. Glad to know the whole story.
Thank you, Janis, for the heads-up on Hizzoner. Your great-grandfather Nicks probably told Pendleton to keep his mustache holstered.