By Jim Harmon/Missoula Current

“I take you to be my lawfully wedded (husband/wife), to have and to hold ... (blah, blah, blah) ... until death do us part.”

“Until death do us part?”

Well, not so much for a rather large number of vow-utterers over the last century or more.

The Philipsburg Mail, October 06, 1899
The Philipsburg Mail, October 06, 1899
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That’s right, it’s time to talk about the Big D: Divorce. You know - the land where roam the “Captain Two-faces,” “Weasels,” “Two-timers,” “Cheaters,” “Strayers,” “Adulterers” and “Jackasses.”

There were some doozies back at the turn of the 20th century.

In 1899, the Anaconda Standard newspaper reported, “A whole tubful of soiled family linen was washed in Judge Napton’s courtroom. Four divorce cases were tried and four decrees granted.”

The Anaconda Standard, June 20, 1899
The Anaconda Standard, June 20, 1899
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One of the cases involved Mrs. Mary C. Blair. She had divorced her husband years before, then re-married the man, and now was back in court for a second time, claiming “cruel and inhuman treatment.”

Mary told the judge her husband had a “cruel, nagging and quarrelsome disposition,” and living with him was “undermining her health.” Default judgment was granted.

Mrs. Anna Campbell was next before the judge, similarly alleging “cruel and inhuman treatment” by her husband. Specifically, she claimed he “had called her a liar and other unpleasant names in the presence of friends, accused her of want of chastity, and that he had threatened her with an axe!” Once again, default judgment was granted.

In another 1899 case, the Butte Daily Inter-Mountain newspaper, related the domestic troubles of Augustine and Emma Dugay.

Emma told the county attorney that Augustine attempted to kill her, “and the only thing preventing him from doing so was his poor marksmanship.” It was 2 a.m., and as she and her children were sleeping, “Dugay swooped down on them, broke the door down and declared his intention of killing her.”

She leapt through the bedroom window into the snowstorm outside and began running away, as “Dugay unlimbered his battery of one gun and sent two bullets after her, but neither of them struck her.”

When she returned to the house two hours later, Dugay again “said something about blotting her out of existence. He did not, however, blot, and as a result she swore out a complaint charging him with having made threats to kill her.”

In the divorce that followed, Augustine Dugay was ordered to pay his ex-wife monthly spousal and child support, but swore he’d rather “stay in jail the balance of his life before he would pay her money!” A warrant for his arrest was soon issued.

Fast forwarding to 1917, let’s recount the story of Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Cobeen of Sanders County. In the spring of that year, the “highly-respected and prosperous settlers commemorated (their) happy wedding of fifty years ago.”

Friends and relatives from all over Montana and even some “distant states” attended the celebration which featured “toasts, congratulations and good cheer, together with music, song and pleasant games, long to be remembered,” according to the Sanders County Signal newspaper.

Just six years later, though, Helen Cobeen filed for divorce, after her husband was involved in a scandalous affair, “much to be deplored,” with “Mrs. Helen Gates ... a prime disturbing element in the domestic affairs of the Cobeen family.”

There are, I suppose, as many reasons for divorce as there are couples contemplating the option. Even food can play a role in divorce, as evidenced by these newspaper clippings from 1909.

The Choteau Acantha, November 04, 1909
The Choteau Acantha, November 04, 1909
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Pumpkin pie for every meal - The Choteau Acantha, November 04, 1909
Pumpkin pie for every meal - The Choteau Acantha, November 04, 1909
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attachment-Clipping - Lemon Pie - The Choteau Acantha, November 04, 1909
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Over the years, some states passed laws intended to decrease the number of divorces, but let’s face it – if couples want a divorce, they’ll find a way.

In 1899, when North Dakota attempted to require a one-year residency in order to apply for divorce, the Billings Gazette reminded readers that Missouri was still an option: “Thither let the unsuccessful venturer go, for there he or she will be welcomed and may register at a hotel and file a complaint on the same day!”

So here I am at the end of my allotted space – struggling to come up with the obligatory “closing paragraph” – the “now, therefore, the end” sentence – that wraps everything up in a fancy bow.

The struggle is understandable, since I’ve been married twice ... and divorced twice ... before finally getting it right, 30-some years ago. So, depending on your viewpoint, that either disqualifies me as marriage guru, or makes me the perfect advisor, given my real-life experience.

All I can say is – take your time. It may take years to really know someone well enough to consider an “until death do us part” lifetime partnership. But it’s worth it.

Jim Harmon is a longtime Missoula news broadcaster, now retired, who writes a weekly history column for Missoula Current. You can contact Jim at fuzzyfossil187@gmail.com. His best-selling book, “The Sneakin’est Man That Ever Was,” a collection of 46 vignettes of Western Montana history, is available at harmonshistories.com.

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