Tuesday, June 11, 2013


As I research stories from turn of the twentieth century I am truly struck by the hardness of life, especially in the American West. This is one story that left me feeling especially forlorn.

"my wife was 1919" 3 x 3 inches, acrylic on photopaper.

When he was arrested Walter Trimble, a miner, had $47.90 in his pocket, the equivalent to about $1200 now.

Walter Trimble Yuma Prisoner 1920

He is actually prisoner number 1920. His number card was originally misapplied, as number 1919 was meant for his wife, Bertha Trimble. Both were arrested and charged with raping Bertha's then eleven year old daughter. But the case had some strange twists. Bertha is discharged after a law stating that unless you are the perpetrator in a rape case you cannot be accused of a crime. She supposedly was the accomplice. After an attempt by Judge Baker to apply for a change of venue, her retrial never happened and she was set free.

Lydia Sparks, the victim, claimed things so heinous that they could not even be printed in the local papers at the time. But Lydia did not come forward with her accusation until a year and a half after it happened. After she spent time with other relatives, friends and her natural father, never revealing her assault to anyone in the interim.

Because of Lydia's testimony Walter Trimble was sentenced to natural life in Yuma territorial prison in 1902, but soon after, his sister, Mrs. Hayes (some reports claim she was Bertha's sister) provided letters and affidavits to Governor Joseph H. Kibbey,  and Trimble was then pardoned unconditionally in 1905.

Another interesting thing about the case was that it allegedly happened in Duncan, AZ and was purported to have been attempted previously in Clifton, only to be stopped by two Mexicans. The Trimbles were supposedly driven from the mining camp at the time. The arrests were made in Cananea, Mexico when they fled the territory after the accusation. They were brought to a jail in Bisbee by an Arizona ranger, and tried in Solomonville.

The case stirred up a great deal of publicity. Firstly, because it was so revolting to have a mother listed as an accomplice to rape. Secondly, because of the nature of the crime, many people felt the only punishment should have been the gallows. Thirdly, an older sister claims she got married, at the age of thirteen, to escape the tortures of her step-father, Trimble. But there were several reports that she was a child prostitute and used her sister's case as a reasonable excuse for her own sad life. Others claimed she was forced into this life by her parents, who benefited from her earnings.

I couldn't help but think of "My Darling Clementine", and the miner forty-niner, who was in love with his darling daughter, who drowned, then he forgot her when he kissed her little sister.

Dreadful sorry is an understatement.

See all of the Prison Hill series on flickr.

No comments:

Post a Comment