A 1911 Marital Predicament
This was the headline of the Itasca News in Deer River on December 16, 1911. Two days earlier, the marriage of Mr. Pearl Phillips to Miss Abygail Leeman was announced in the Itasca Iron News (Coleraine). The editor had gleaned this information from a Duluth newspaper. On the same day, December 14, in the Deer River Times, it was reported that Mr. Pearl Phillips had married Miss Mildred Oothoudt.
Which newspaper was correct? Who had Mr. Pearl Phillips married, and when? Or had he married twice, and why?
First, some background information on these individuals.
Martin Pearl Phillips was about fifteen years old when his family moved from Wright County to the Bigfork Valley. His parents, Samuel Nelson “Nels” and Laura were farmers who, after hearing the favorable reports of neighbors who had homesteaded in Itasca County, came north. It wasn’t long before the family had their own 160 acres in section 62-26.
Martin preferred his middle name, Pearl, even on most important documents. He was a good student and enjoyed learning. There was no high school in Bigfork, and Pearl wanted to finish school, so he lived on his own at Deer River and graduated from the Deer River High School.
In February 1911, twenty-three-year-old Pearl negotiated with the owner of the Bigfork Settler newspaper, and on March 7th, ownership was transferred to him. Pearl was smart, curious, and considered a man of good moral character. He covered several high-profile stories including the murder of George Rahier in July, and the arrest of physician Delbert Dumas for arson at Blackduck in October.
Coverage of the news and working with businesses for advertisements required Pearl to travel by train to the communities of Deer River and Bovey. It was probable he was gone several days at a time and would stay in a local hotel or boarding house.
Abygail “Abbie” Leeman is the daughter of Charles and Ottilla. When she was three, the family lived in Trout Lake township in Itasca County, then relocated to Cass Lake within a couple of years. On the 1910 United States Census, Abbie was living with, and employed as a waitress at a hotel in Bovey owned by Charles and Ida Nelson.
Abbie may have become acquainted with Pearl when he was in Bovey on business. It is also stated that she was in Bigfork part of the summer 1911. Abbie may have worked at the cafe owned by John Pinette, or the Woodland Hotel owned by Pinette’s brother Louis.
Mildred “Millie” Grace Outhoudt was born in Sherburne County, Minnesota to Aaron and Blanche in 1894. Her father was a mason, and the family moved to Bagley by 1910, where he was employed to construct sidewalks. Millie was only sixteen when she began her work as a printer for the Bagley newspaper. Through word of mouth or advertising, Pearl hired Millie to help put the layout and publish the Bigfork Settler.
Who was Right?
Back to the facts. Both newspapers were correct. Pearl Phillips had indeed married two different young women during the same week. As you can imagine, those newspapers as well as many others in the area were having quite a time keeping up with the rumors. One marriage was planned, but the other, which happened first, took place with a bit of persuasion. It seems that Pearl’s predicament spun out of control rather quickly, and it wasn’t until after the second marriage that all was out in the open.
As best as I can determine, Pearl had asked Millie to marry him sometime after the first snowfall, and that is what they had planned to do following the publication of the December 7th issue of the Bigfork Settler. It is safe to assume that the news of the impending nuptials reached Abbie Leeman, who was several months pregnant with the child of Pearl. Abbie (or someone on her behalf), sought legal counsel.
Based on the newspapers, this is the timeline for what took place during one week in December 1911:
12/9 (Sat) ~ Pearl was in Deer River and was seen getting on the eastbound train. “He was called to Grand Rapids Saturday night by a lawyer and forced to marry the girl.” [Itasca News 12-16-1911] This type of marriage is often called a “shotgun wedding.”
12/10 (Sun) ~ Pearl and Abbie Leeman are married before Judge Webster in Grand Rapids. It is unclear where Abbie is at this time, but Pearl returned to Deer River on the noon train. He met Millie Outhoudt there and they shared with others news that they were soon to be married in Bemidji.
12/11 (Mon) ~ Pearl and Millie took the noon train to Bemidji.
12/12 (Tue) ~ Pearl and Millie were married in Bemidji.
On or about 12/13 (Wed) ~ Millie learns of Pearl’s marriage to Abbie Leeman. She had Pearl arrested and put in jail in Bemidji.
12/15 (Fri) ~ Nels Phillips, Pearl’s father, is seen in Deer River and it is believed he took the train to Bemidji or Grand Rapids to figure out how to get his son out of the predicament he was in.
A week later, the newspapers still didn’t have all the facts.
Is Doubted by Many ~ Deer River Times 12-21-1911
“The many tales that have come to the writer in regard to Editor Pearl Phillips of the Bigfork Settler and the story that Phillips married at Bemidji as published in the columns of this paper last week, is disbelieved by his many friends of which the writer is one. We are unable to give the public the facts but believe that a young man with the knowledge that Mr. Phillips possesses would not jeopardize his liberty and bright future prospects in such a foolish manner. There is no doubt, but that the matter within a short time will be cleared up and many of the false stories circulated properly corrected.”
I could find only one more reference to Pearl Phillips in the local newspapers during the month of December. The Itasca News picked up and reprinted from the Bagley Independent, the following. “Word was received here last week of the marriage of Miss Mildred Outhoudt, daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Aaron Outhoudt of this place to Mr. Pearl Phillips, of Big Falls, Koochiching County.
“The young couple are expected to pay a visit to the bride’s parental home during the holiday season, after which Mr. Phillips will launch a newspaper at Oaklee, up on the Soo line.” [Itasca News 12-30-1911]
It seems that the newlyweds decided it might be best to have a fresh start. Had the Bagley paper been given revised town and county details? At any rate, Pearl sold the Bigfork Settler newspaper to Zade Cochran before the end of the year.
The Rest of the Story
Pearl and Millie (Oothoudt) Phillips
Descendants of the Samuel Nelson Phillips family say that Pearl’s first marriage (to Abbie) was annulled. One newspaper speculated that Millie was pregnant at the time she and Pearl were married. If this is true, the baby wasn’t carried to term. Millie’s first child was born December 22, 1912, in Elk Point, South Dakota.
Pearl and Millie moved from SD to Duluth before the birth of their third child in 1917. In the 1930s and 40s they were living between the states of California and Washington. All census records document that Pearl stayed in the newspaper business. The Phillips were married for 64 years. Pearl died in 1975 and Millie in 1982. They are buried in the Acacia Memorial Park Cemetery, Lake Forest Park, King County, WA.
Abbie (Leeman) Phillips Pinette
Abbie was living in Cass County when her son was born in March 1912. She named him Pearl Edward Phillips.
Pearl Edward died shortly after his 2nd birthday and is buried in the Pine Grove Cemetery in Cass Lake near his maternal grandmother.
It appears that Abbie did use the last name of Phillips when she was living in Cass Lake. There is a notation on the Find a Grave website that the mother of Pearl Edward was Mrs. Abbie Phillips.
On November 28, 1916, Abbie Phillips married John Pinette of Bigfork. The Pinette’s celebrated 49 years of marriage and had four children. The couple remained in the Bigfork community. John died in May 1966, and Abbie just two months later. They, along with several of their children are buried at the Bigfork Cemetery.