Sunday, August 22, 2021

The scandalous parting of Basil & Hester Prather

Find a Grave/St. George Cemetery, Victoria, Kansas

Dr. Basil R. Prather has for the most part vanished from the collective memory of Lucas County, but back during the centennial year of 1876 and well into the next this unfortunate physician's marital woes were big news. Then, as now, everyone appreciated a good scandal --- except, perhaps, those directly involved.

There are no extant Lucas County newspaper files for the long hot summer of 1876 when all hell broke loose within the extended Prather and Lind families in the neighborhood of LaGrange --- on the Lucas-Monroe county line just north of what now is U.S. Highway 34.

So I'm relying on the following report from The Fairfield Ledger of Aug. 24 for the basic outline of the situation:

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"Dr. Lind, sixty years old, went to board with his brother-in-law, Dr. Prather, of Lucas county, Iowa, whose wife was young and not unhandsome, and now Dr. Lind and Mrs. Prather are dodging around the country as Mr. Anybody and wife, and Dr.  Prather sues for a divorce from his wife and ten thousand dollars damages from Dr. L. Dr. P. don't care about getting Mrs. P. back, but he wants the ten thousand dollars badly.

"These parties stopped in our city a day or two several weeks ago, and then hied them away to other but not fairer fields of bliss. Dr. Prather is a sensible man in trying to get $10,000 instead of the frail Mrs.  P."

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The actual suit for damages seems not to have been filed until almost a year later, however, during October of 1877, when this notice was published in consecutive editions of the Chariton newspapers.

The Muscatine Weekly Journal of Oct. 12, 1877, reported upon the situation as follows under the headline, "Seduction Suit:"

"Basil R. Prather, of Lucas county, has sued Dr. W.H.H. Lind for $10,000 for the seduction of his wife. Lind eloped with Mrs. Prather nearly a year ago. She is said to be a buxom woman of about 40 and Lind is a tall, scraggy looking individual of about 60 years of age, and is about the last man in the world we should expect a woman to fall in love with."

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I can't say if Dr. Lind mounted a defense against the suit, only that a report in The Chariton Patriot of Nov. 14, 1877, stated that a jury had awarded damages totaling $1,000 in the case of B.R. Prather vs. W.H.H. Lind "for seduction of wife," a substantial amount but far short of the $10,000 asked.

The November 1877 term of Lucas County District Court had been a busy one and several other cases give indication of what our forbears were up to in the good old days.

In the case of State vs. John Osenbaugh for mayhem in biting off the lower lip of Benj. Young, for example, the jury returned a verdict of not guilty.

The case of the State vs. James Van Sickle for seduction was continued but the case of State vs. J.A. Stanley, also for seduction, was dismissed at the defendant's cost.

In the case of the State vs. George Draper, bastardy, on a  change of venue from Wayne County, the defendant was order to pay $150 down and $100 annually to the girl involved.

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Dr. Basil R. Prather was a son of Iowa pioneers David J. and Matilda (Noon) Prather, who settled near the Monroe-Lucas county line in Iowa about 1850 and who are buried in Prather Pioneer Cemetery, along U.S. Highway 34 between the Lucas county line and the Melrose corner. 

Here's a brief paragraph about Basil from a 1931 edition of The Journal of the Iowa State Medical Society: "Dr. B. R. Prather was a native of Bartholomew county, Indiana, and was born March 23, 1823. He commenced the study of medicine when twenty-one years of age. He then emigrated to LaGrange, Lucas county, Iowa, in 1860, and practiced medicine there for two years. In 1862 he helped make up Company G, 34th Iowa Infantry, and went to war as a private. He soon thereafter was surgeon of his company in which capacity he continued for seven months. The latter years of his life were spent in the practice of medicine at Columbia."

So rather than removing to Iowa with his family, Basil had remained in Indiana, where he married in 1850 Mary Ann Lind. Medicine was not an especially lucrative profession at the time, so Basil also farmed and was a sometimes Methodist preacher.

The new Mrs. Prather, nee Mary Ann Lind, had an older brother, Dr. William Henry Harrison Lind (born Sept. 29, 1817), who during 1846 had married Basil R. Prather's sister, Rachel Prather, and they seem to have accompanied the Prather family west to Iowa ca. 1850.

So Dr. William H.H. Lind was related to Dr. Basil R. Prather on two fronts --- as his wife's brother and as the husband of his sister, Rachel. During those early years, the two men were colleagues, both practicing medicine in the LaGrange area. Dr. Lind also served as postmaster at LaGrange for a time.

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Some 11 years after their marriage, Mary Ann (Lind) Prather died on Jan. 25, 1861, leaving behind the widowed Basil and two daughters, Ella, who lived a relatively long life, and Clara, who probably survived her mother but not for long. Basil buried Mary Ann in the Prather Cemetery and identified her as "wife of the Rev. Dr. B.R. Prather" --- utilizing both his courtesy titles --- on a nice tombstone (at the top here).

A year later, during August of 1862, Basil enlisted in Company G, 34th Iowa Volunteer Infantry, and served until March of 1863 when he was discharged because of poor health.

Soon after his discharge and back home in Lucas County, he married Hester A. McEldowney on her 23rd birthday, April 22, 1862. A daughter of John and Margaret McEldowney, also pioneers of the LaGrange area and also buried in the Prather Cemetery, Hester was 16 years younger than Basil.

Hester and Basil would have four sons during the next seven years --- Alfred, Charles, L. Grant and Hardan --- but all four died young. So say what you may about Hester, her life would not have been an easy one.

Five years later, on Dec. 11, 1867, Rachel (Prather) Lind, wife of William H.H. Lind and sister of Basil R. Prather, died and was buried, too, in the Prather Cemetery.

When the 1870 census was taken, William and his younger children were living just over the line from LaGrange in Wayne Township, Monroe County. It seems likely that Basil and Hester invited his widowed brother-in-law to move in with them during the mid-1870s, after the youngest Lind children were on their own. It must have seemed like a good idea at the time.

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Following his marital disaster, Basil R. Prather moved away from LaGrange and built an office for himself in the village of Belinda, located in northeast Lucas County. A few years later, prior to 1880, he purchased a drug store in the nearby town of Columbia and moved his medical practice there. 

While living at Columbia he married as his third wife Margaret Bellamy Van Dyke and during the early 1880s, the couple moved west to Rooks County, Kansas, then to Victoria in Ellis County, Kansas. His profession was given as "minister" rather than "physician" in an 1885 Kansas state census. Basil died at Victoria on March 18, 1890, at the age of 66 and is buried there.

Hester Prather and William H.H. Lind kept going east until they reached Washington County, Maryland, where they were married on the 9th of October, 1876.

They settled in Rockingham County, Virginia, where they became the parents of three children, Margaret and Henry G., who survived their father, and Robert, who didn't. Dr. Lind died on April 14, 1893, at the age of 75.

Hester outlived both her husbands by more than 30 years, dying at the age of 91 on July 2, 1930, at the home of her son in Edinburg, Indiana, age 91. Her remains were taken to Covington, Virginia, for burial.

Find a Grave/Cedar Hill Cemetery, Covington, Virginia





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