Mary (Douthitt) Beeson

This is the beginning of three generations of darkness in the Beeson family story. Unfortunately, this episode was mostly erased from memory within the family. Only a few photos and documents remain so I’ve done my best to scrape together some records from official sources.

Merritt Beeson’s first wife, Mary Marie Douthitt, was born to John and Elizabeth (Fetterman) Douthitt in Kansas City, Missouri on April 15, 1885. This family did not have a stable home. They bounced around between the Kansas and Missouri sides, rarely staying at the same address for more than a year.

Mary’s brother, Crawford, had some difficulties and the differences between the two newspaper articles below is striking. Also, every single document I found with Crawford’s name on it had a different date of birth so I have no idea how old he really was when this happened. Seriously, his year of birth has been reported anywhere from 1883 to 1900.

Crawford’s injury must have been extremely taxing for this family with four children but things got even worse less than a year later. Lizzie died the week before Mary’s fourteenth birthday.

The Kansas City Times, April 9, 1899

That is one of the strangest obituaries I have ever seen. A lot of detailed information about her lineage and upbringing followed by “Her husband and four children survive her.” No names. It didn’t even mention her mother, Louisa (Moore) Fetterman, who lived until Lizzie was twelve years of age.

Anyway, the 1899 Kansas City (Missouri) directory listed 14-year-old Mary as a clerk at a dry goods store. That was the last instance I could find of her residing with her father.

I know nothing about Merritt and Mary’s courtship. He was playing music in Kansas City and since Mary was a talented singer, I can only assume that is how they met. You’ll note her family was omitted from their wedding announcement.

The Globe-Republican, December 25, 1902

It is unclear when things started going sideways between Merritt and Mary, who did not initially live at the Beeson farm as indicated in the wedding announcement. They did travel from Kansas City frequently, however, and Mary was often a guest in Chalk and Ida’s home. She was included on many guest lists in Dodge City and even joined some of the ladies’ clubs. For a while, she was involved with the Foreign Missionary Society at the Presbyterian Church.

Ida Elizabeth (Betty) Beeson was born on May 28, 1907 in Kansas City. After Betty was born, Mary’s visits to Dodge City became lengthier and more frequent. She was increasingly involved in social pursuits and even performed at Gluck’s Opera House in December of 1908.

The Globe-Republican, December 10, 1908

By the summer of 1909, Merritt had begun planning construction of what we all knew as the Big House so he, Mary, and Betty had moved full-time to the Beeson farm. Mary traveled with her mother-in-law to visit friends and family in Iowa.

I was hoping to see if I could learn from the newspapers when it all went wrong and I think I did:

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, April 1, 1910

It should be noted that she left Betty at home in Dodge City. While it’s certainly possible I missed a mention or two, it appears Mary didn’t return to Dodge until January of 1911. A month, indeed!

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, January 6, 1911

And then by July of the same year, she was gone again.

The Dodge City Globe, July 20, 1911

This time, Merritt took the opportunity to visit his younger brother, Ote, who was playing a summer engagement in Colorado Springs.

Photographer Unknown

Mr. and Mrs. L. L. Taylor made a trip all over the western United States that summer and they just happened to visit Mary in Los Angeles. By total coincidence, I am sure, they met her at the “big department store” where she worked as the “chief of a department.”

Merritt filed for divorce in the summer of 1912.

The Dodge City Kansas Journal, August 2, 1912

Mary did not contest the petition and the divorce was granted but not final until the spring of 1913. Merritt and Beth Schaetzel married in March of 1913 and then Ida somehow decided to spend the summer in California. I’m sure this was all totally coincidental.

Frank Hobble made a trip to California in June of 1913 and also reported to the papers that Mary was the head of the millinery department at a large department store in Los Angeles. There were a bunch of people from Dodge in California at that time and he apparently saw all of them. That was the last mention I could find of Mary Beeson in Ford County, Kansas.

Photographer Unknown

I don’t know much about Mary’s time in California. Since I have her death certificate and street address, I found listings for her in the Los Angeles city directory for several years. It turns out that big department store she worked at was the famous Hamburger’s Department Store.

The Los Angeles Times, August 18, 1918

Her brother, Crawford, listed her as his nearest relative on his World War I draft card with an address of “general delivery” in Los Angeles. He still lived in Kansas City and I found that very odd since their father was right there. But then I found this article about a man who had been left at an orphanage with his younger brother and wanted to know his last name.

The copy is terrible and they fudged the dates a bit but it explains why I couldn’t locate Mary’s two youngest siblings. I haven’t been able to find any information about Bion (could be a typo) Douthitt and have to assume his name was changed. Jackson County, Missouri lists neither child in their birth record database.

The two young boys were left at the orphanage right around the time their mother died. I have no idea why there was no support system in the community to help the family through this hardship. Clearly, Lizzie had been an orphan herself and John moved from Kentucky but they had both been in the area for some time and one would expect friends and church resources to provide some assistance.

It appears that John struggled the rest of his life. He died at the Jackson County Home for the Aged and Infirm in October of 1928. The word “pauper” is scrawled across his death certificate.

My grandmother, Irene, was always reluctant to discuss her father’s first wife but I tried asking my questions many times in various ways over the years. There were rumors that Mary had been mean to Betty but I have never been able to verify whether there was any truth to that or to even clarify what was meant by it. There was an assumption that Merritt had paid Mary to go away but Irene insisted that was not the case. Maybe she pursued a career as a singer. Maybe Kansas winters were too dreary for her to function. I can only assume a mental health component caused Mary to leave her young daughter in Kansas to wonder what happened.

Mary died by suicide on August 14, 1918 at her home in Los Angeles. Her death certificate listed asphyxiation by illuminating gas as the cause of death. She was only 33 years old.

The Los Angeles Times, August 17, 1918

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