Feuding Brothers: Who Was the Femme Fatale?

Kaitlyn Dunnett/Kathy Lynn Emerson here, today writing about a real life mystery I’m trying to solve. I’ve written before about some of my adventures uncovering the truth behind family stories, both my own and my husband’s. Another puzzling tale resurfaced last month, thanks to some recently rediscovered notes I made years ago when I was visiting relatives with my mother. I wrote about that trip here and touched on the mystery in that post. Since then, I’ve been doing a little sleuthing, hoping to find out more.

My mother, Marie (age 8 in 1918), and her cousin Eleanor (age 12 in 1918) both remembered the basics. Their Uncle M. H. (age 26 in 1918) was dating the local schoolteacher before he went into the army in World War I. While he was away, his brother Howd (age 22 in 1918) started dating her. When M. H. got back after the war and found out, he wasn’t pleased (to put it mildly!) and literally stopped speaking to Howd. Although they were both living at home, sharing a room in the farm/boardinghouse their parents ran (and both sleeping in the barn in the summer to make more room for boarders), they communicated only by having my mother or one of their other relatives relay the message.

Uncle M.H. in his uniform

To say the least, I was curious about who this femme fatale might have been. Neither brother married her. Howd married in 1933. M. H. waited until 1946 to wed.

I started by asking Howd’s daughters if they’d ever heard the story. Neither had, and I think they were a bit skeptical of its veracity.

The next step was to find out a bit more about my great uncle’s time in the military. I had a photo of him in uniform, so I already had proof that he served in World War I, but I didn’t know any details. The U.S. entered the war on April 6, 1917. It ended November 11, 1918, and the last U.S. combat division left France for home in September 1919. My uncle, however, was involved for a much shorter period of time. First I found his draft card. He registered for the draft on June 5, 1917. According to the information taken down at the time, he had brown hair and brown eyes and was of medium height and build. Then, thanks to Ancestry.com, I found his service record. He was inducted as a private on September 3, 1918 and was discharged on January 30, 1919.

Wait. What?

Yes, that’s right. Uncle M. H. was away from home less than five months and was never sent overseas. The war ended when he’d been in the army just short of ten weeks.

This narrowed the time frame significantly for discovering the identity of the schoolteacher in question, and I thought I had an ace in the hole. The local one-room schoolhouse in Hurleyville, New York, where M. H. and Howd and my mother all went to elementary school, is one of the best documented in the area and the person who has all the original records is a distant cousin through M. H. and Howd’s mother. Even better, he’s someone I’ve gotten to know on Facebook and with whom I have exchanged family information and photos. I emailed him to explain my quest. He consulted the Treasurer’s Book for Columbia Hill School for 1901-1927 and sent me a list of all the female teachers from 1907-1927.

Columbia Hill School around 1918-19 with my mother marked with an X

I wish I could say that solved the mystery, but since M. H. left town in September 1918, the teacher he’d been seeing would logically have been the one who taught in Hurleyville in 1917. You guessed it. Between 1907 and 1927 there is only one year that has no entry—1917.

In the fall of 1918, Miss Agnes Krause was hired to teach for thirty-six weeks, which seems to have been the usual school year. That would put her at the school from just about the time M. H. left and throughout the period when Howd was dating his brother’s girlfriend. Had she also been there in 1917? Did she arrive enough before M. H. left to give him time to start courting her? We will probably never know, especially since the only Agnes Krause of roughly the right age that I’ve been able to find in the records on Ancestry.com is listed as a shirt maker, not a teacher.

It’s also possible that our femme fatale was teaching at one of the other small, one-room schoolhouses in the area. There were a lot of them and several weren’t too far away. Since those young women usually boarded with local families during the school year, however, it’s most likely the woman I’m interested in taught at Columbia Hill School.

Will the mystery ever be solved? Maybe not, but I’ve learned a few interesting facts along the way, thanks to my third cousin, Paul Lounsbury. He also sent along some scans from the Treasurer’s Book. The teacher at Columbia Hill School in 1910 and 1911, Miss Florence Haley was initially hired for sixteen weeks at the princely sum of $11.00 a week, the same amount her predecessor, Miss Mary Robinson, earned with a commitment for thirty-two weeks. Florence actually received a little more than that, on one occasion getting $77.80 for seven weeks of teaching. And you thought teachers were underpaid today!

If you want to know more about the one-room schoolhouse project Paul was involved in, you can click here

With the January 2020 publication of A View to a Kilt, Kathy Lynn Emerson/Kaitlyn Dunnett will have had sixty-one books traditionally published. She won the Agatha Award and was an Anthony and Macavity finalist for best mystery nonfiction of 2008 for How to Write Killer Historical Mysteries and was an Agatha Award finalist in 2015 in the best mystery short story category. She was the Malice Domestic Guest of Honor in 2014. Currently she writes the contemporary Liss MacCrimmon Mysteries and the “Deadly Edits” series as Kaitlyn. Next up is A Fatal Fiction, in stores at the end of June. As Kathy, her most recent book is a collection of short stories, Different Times, Different Crimes but there is a new, standalone historical mystery, The Finder of Lost Things, in the pipeline for October. She maintains three websites, at www.KaitlynDunnett.com and www.KathyLynnEmerson.com and another, comprised of over 2000 mini-biographies of sixteenth-century English women, at A Who’s Who of Tudor Women.

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