Further Misadventures in Matrimony: The Later Marriages and Divorces of Amos D. Norris

Last week, we explored the first marriage and divorce of the “well-known” Amos D. Norris, who apparently considered “lawing” a rather satisfying pastime. The first divorce was notable for his wife’s Eliza’s claims that Amos Norris practiced witchcraft upon her. This week, we will take a look at his later life, and although there were no more claims of wizardry, there were many more visits to the courthouse.

Amos’s second marriage appears relatively calm and simple, by comparison to the ending of his first marriage. He married Katharina (sometimes Katherine, and Kitty in the Mansfield directory) Schick, in Richland County on September 19th, 1903, about a year after he was divorced from Eliza [1]. Katherine had been born in Germany but was living in Mansfield, as were her brother and sister-in-law. Nothing about their marriage was newsworthy, although Amos did make the news several times during their marriage for various lawsuits, including the slander suit that Eliza brought against him. That changed in 1909 when Katharina sued for divorce on the grounds of extreme cruelty and gross neglect. In her suit, she claimed that Amos did not buy her clothing even though he was financially able to do so, that he “charges her with improper conduct” even among company, in an attempt to “ruin her standing among friends and neighbors” [2] While the details of this divorce proceeding did not make the newspaper as did the first divorce, it seems that the matter was quickly decided in Katherine’s favor, and she was granted a divorce, $830 alimony, and returned to her unmarried name of Katherine Schick on April 20th, 1910 [3].

It was not long before wedding bells were ringing for Amos yet again. And this time the wedding was front page news, under the headline: Groom is 73, His Bride 23. This time Amos married Ada Frances Courson (not to be confused with his daughter, Ada Piper, née Norris) on August 13, 1910, less than four months after his divorce from Katherine was finalized [4].

15 August 1910, Mansfield Daily Shield, page 1

Their manner of meeting is as interesting as the timing. Later in their marriage, Ada recounts that she responded to an add that Amos had placed in the newspaper for a housekeeper, perhaps to take up the household duties his wife had previously performed. In some manner or other, Ada saw the ad while living in Michigan and moved down to Worthington township to take up the position in July of that year. Amos began pursuing a marriage with her two weeks after she arrived on his farm as his housekeeper, but she was became very sick, so they were not married until about six weeks after she arrived [5]. This time around, however, there was a prenuptial contract in place. In the agreement, Amos would leave all his property to Ada so long as she cared for him and his daughter from his first marriage.

Amos, Sheepish? Never!

As convenient as it might have been, Amos’s third marriage does not seem to have kept him out of the courthouse. In 1915, Amos found himself the subject of a lawsuit rather than the instigator. It appears that Amos had cried “wolf”–or rather “dog”– when claiming that he had a number of sheep who were killed by local animals in order to claim damages from the county. When a “secret service” man went to investigate, he found that the sheep had in fact not been killed by dogs. The newspaper reports do not clarify whether the sheep had in fact not been harmed at all or if Amos himself was the cause of their demise, but regardless the county did not appreciate the fabrication.

After having been indicted by two grand juried and failed in an appeal of the charges, Amos was found guilty of three counts of fraud by a jury, the total amount of fraudulent funds he received having been established at $34.50. Amos was either lucky or clever with the amount he sought to swindle from the county, because if he had been found guilty of $35 of fraud it would have resulted in a prison sentence at the penitentiary. As it stood, and in light of his advanced age (Amos would have been about 75 years old at this time), the judge decided instead to fine him $50 per instance and the damages, a total of $350. In this case, crime certainly did not pay- it charged ten times in interest! [6]

The Last Straw- or Perhaps Potato?

At this point, it is probably no surprise to hear that Amos’s third marriage did not last ’til death did part them, either. At 80 years old, Amos went to court yet again, this time to divorce his 30-year-old “mail order” wife. Amos claimed gross neglect and infidelity as the grounds for his divorce case, alleging that Ada “cruelly and negligently left him in the house alone night after night during the last two or three years” and also that she “was guilty of infidelity” with Melvin Shrader specifically on November 18th, 1918, although he also more generally claimed that she “ran with all sorts of men” and that she sold his cattle and kept the money. In his suit, he sought to dissolve any right she had to his property and also sought alimony from a one-eighth stake she had on some property in Michigan [7]. In her response, Ada denied the claim of infidelity and claimed that she did indeed sell cattle but that they had belonged to her [8].

There was a bit of a delay between when Amos filed his suit in February and when the case was heard in court in June, during which time Amos was still responsible for Ada’s upkeep. Apparently frustrated by the delay prolonging his responsibilities for maintaining his wife, Amos filed a motion to be relieved of the burden, laying out the apparently extreme quantities of food that Ada allegedly consumed as follows:

He tells the probate court that since the divorce petition was filed, she has used a bushel of potatoes a week, for herself and daughter and for two weeks her sister and child were her guests.

Norris says that since filing his divorce petition, he has bought for his wife three sacks of flour. He claims she has used at least 50 pounds of lard. Norris relates further that he butchered three hogs, dressing 225 pounds each and that his wife has used eight shoulders and hams, since the divorce suit was filed, besides other portions of the meat.

In addition to the pork, Norris says his wife has killed and eaten 25 or 30 chickens and has sold several more. Norris says he boards himself and has used none of the items enumerated. The husband further relates that Mrs. Norris has used several cans of fruit and maple syrup. Besides eating all these home provisions Norris says he allows his wife to buy on his account, what groceries she needs.

Mansfield News, 20 June 1919.

Let’s start dissecting Norris’s claims by establishing that there were about 19 weeks between when Amos filed the divorce at the beginning of February and when the court case was brought in to be scheduled in June. Given that figure, and given that the standardized weight for a bushel of potatoes (today) is 60 pounds, Amos was claiming that Ada used 1,140 pounds of potatoes in just under five months, plus 675 pounds of pork that Amos supposedly butchered for her and used none of, between 25 and 30 chickens, and many other items besides. No wonder, then, that the headline said that Ada must have been “some eater.” The judge either did not believe the sum of groceries that Amos claimed Ada was using, or was unsympathetic, because Amos was still required to continuing providing groceries for his wife until the full divorce case could be heard at the end of June, despite his motion to be released of the duty. [9]

When June 30th, the day of the hearing, came around, it was up to Amos to prove that Ada had neglected her duty as his wife and that she had committed adultery. Unfortunately, whatever witnesses Amos had brought with him were not enough to convince the judge of the two claims. Especially when Amos changed his own story on the stand, and admitted that it was not Ada who killed 25 or 30 of Amos’s chickens, but a fox that Amos himself chased into a groundhog’s hole, and the strongest evidence he had of Ada’s supposed adultery with Marvin Schrader was that Marvin went into his cellar to help Ada carry up ice cream for a birthday party. Ada was also called to testify and was cross-examined, and although she had brought 20 witnesses to court to testify on her behalf, in the end none of them were required on the stand. Judge Bissman dismissed the divorce suit after Ada’s testimony and by her request, but since no divorce was granted Amos and Ada were still married, and the prenuptial agreement was still in effect, meaning that Ada was still entitled to Amos’s property, and in addition Amos was responsible for the court costs. Apparently some of the witnesses were curious about how their relationship would be, still married after a divorce, especially after Ada declared “you bet your life I’ll stay on the farm,” because someone asked Ada what she planned to do from here on out. Ada’s response? “I supposed I will go on ‘eatin’ a bushel of taters a week,’ as he says.” [10]

Divorce Case #5

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the marriage did not last much longer after the first divorce proceedings. Come December, the couple were back in court for, as one newspaper put it, “about the thirteenth chapter of the domestic relations of Amos and Ada.” This time around, in the fifth divorce suit Amos was a party to (despite only having been married three times), Ada was suing for divorce, and claiming some of her rights as stated in their prenuptial agreement. Per the agreement, Ada was entitled to all of Amos’s property, which was valued at around $12,000, and she was also pursuing alimony. For once, Amos was apparently not in the mood for another court case, and over the couple of months before the case was due to be heard in court Amos and Ada settled upon the division of property among themselves. While the exact terms of their arrangement were not aired in court, rumor had it that Ada ended up with the best 30 acres of Amos’s land and a portion of their belongings. In what would presumably have been the shortest court hearing Amos was ever involved in, Ada presented her case to the judge, Amos decline to contest it, and Amos was officially a three-time divorcee, a veteran of the Civil War, innumerable lawsuits, and five divorce cases. [11].

Legalities Never Cease

Amos did not marry again after his third divorce, and he died in 1925 and is buried in Bellville Cemetery. And of course, after he died, his name was back in court again, as his family scrabbled over the details of his estate and will. Maybe this was a fitting memorial to the man who was known to all the lawyers (and probably judges) in Richland County.

Do you have a favorite person with lots of character from Richland County’s history? Let us know who! Curious about other aspects of Richland County history? Explore history through our digital archive and digital newspaper archive, available through the Sherman Room page at mrcpl.org/shermanroom.


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