· Allen P. Jordan (1843-1888)
Julia and Houston Whiteside are recovering from a house full of family and guests at 504 East Sherman. Their son, Houston Latimer, 37, is eating the last piece of leftover birthday cake. It’s Monday, October 10, 1927, in Hutchinson, Kansas.
Dr. Karl Menninger and his brothers are sure doing wonderful things in Topeka,” said Houston, 81. “Now they have a sanatorium, not just a clinic.”
“Too bad that Jordan, the former Reno County sheriff, who died years ago in Kalamazoo at the Michigan Asylum for the Insane, wasn’t able to get help,” stated Julia, 59.
“He was before your time in Hutchinson,” said Houston. “We hadn’t even met.”
“He was sheriff while I was still living in Cleveland,” replied Julia, “but I met his wife, Florence, upon her return to Kansas. Her husband was in his mid-40s when he passed.”
“A. P. Jordan,” replied Houston. “His first name was Allen. He had a rough time of it.”
“What a tragedy for him and his family,” said Julia. “I remember how Florence was so strong. It’s difficult to imagine what that family went through.”
“Times have changed,” said Houston, “but on its best day a private asylum would have been unbearable, a state asylum much worse. If I’d been sent to Topeka or Kalamazoo as a sane man, I’d have died a lunatic.”
“Today, some psychiatrists use psychoanalysis,” said Julia. “Back then, there wouldn’t have been therapeutic intervention.”
“Allen P. Jordan was the fourth sheriff of Reno County,” said Houston. “Like the men before him, he was a Union Civil War Veteran who migrated west to Kansas with a pioneer spirit.
Like a lot of veterans, after returning home from the war, it wasn’t too long before he found himself a wife and followed a deep-seeded urge to move west and stake out a homestead claim. A. P. and Florence Field, both born and raised in Michigan, landed in Lincoln Township where Captain John Hedrick, the future third sheriff, was also settling.
“It’s odd what a person remembers,” said Julia, “but when I think of Allen today I recall how Florence told me the Hutchinson Lodge #77 of the A.O.U.W. had saved her family. The lodge kept her husband in good standing for four years while he was in the asylum. Members were pained to know of his unfortunate affliction. They stepped up and paid his assessments when he and his family were struggling.”
The Ancient Order of United Workmen, or A.O.U.W., was a fraternal organization after the Civil War. It was the first of the “fraternal benefit societies,” organizations that would offer insurance as well as sickness, accident, death, and burial policies. It became quite popular as a means of providing financial protection to working class people at an affordable price.
Each new member paid a $1 initiation fee to the insurance fund and was granted a $2,000 death benefit. When a member died, the fund would be replenished by a new assessment of $1 on each member (but never more than $2 per month). This post-mortem plan required members to make every payment or be dropped from the coverage.
“Florence told me that after her family returned to Michigan, Allen was diagnosed with general paresis, a fatal disease,” said Julia. “His physical and mental condition continued to deteriorate until he died of exhaustion from his paralysis.”
“Sad,” said Houston. “He was in a mental institution for a physical problem that couldn’t be cured. Makes me recall a saying that’s been around for centuries, ‘One night with Venus, a lifetime with Mercury.’ In the war, it was a cautionary reminder to our troops that a single sexual encounter could lead to a lifetime of disease and treatment with mercury.
“Dad,” said Houston, Jr., “I’ve read that the treatments were as bad as the disease.”
“Exactly,” said Houston, “in many cases, people died from significant mercury poisoning.”
“In 1884, when the Jordan’s returned to Michigan, the hope was that Allen would make a recovery in his old surroundings,” continued the senior Houston, “but it wasn’t long before he was sent to the asylum.”
“Florence and the children had to endure his decline,” said Julia, “generally, children were not allowed to visit the institutions, and even spouses had limited access. That’s the way asylums worked. Some administrators thought a family visit would hurt, not help the affected individual.”
“Remember,” said Houston, “she gave birth to a child about two months before Allen’s death, so I expect she had at least one intimate visitation with him, unless she was having an affair.”
“Houston Whiteside!” declared Julia, raising her voice. “Granted, it’s difficult to imagine Florence consenting to make love with Allen while visiting him in a crowded insane asylum, especially in his late stages of the disease, but there may have been opportunities for conjugal visitation.
“If I’d been Florence, I’d have preferred to keep my distance,” Julia continued. “The odds are that Allen caught his disease while being sexually promiscuous. It could have occurred when he was a young man, before their marriage, twenty or more years prior to his death.”
“Mom, Dad,” said Houston Jr., “I think you’re both assuming the worst about this former sheriff and his wife, and I don’t think it’s fair. In the 1880s, forty years ago, science was still primitive compared to today. Just because Jordan died of general paralysis, doesn’t mean it was caused from a venereal disease. Does it?”
“Houston,” said his mother, “we weren’t saying he definitely had syphilis, only that the symptoms were similar to someone in the final stages of the disease.”
“Okay, then,” Jr. responded, “It sounded like the man needed someone to come to his defense for character assassination.”
“Statements of opinion are not considered false, because they are subjective to the speaker,” said Houston, Sr., a retired attorney-at-law. Then the former owner-editor of the Hutchinson News, added, “Besides, we’re just having a private conversation, not publishing an article in the newspaper while he was alive. The dead cannot raise a libel action.”
“Florence told me that while in Michigan, she had to find homes for their children due to the family being destitute,” said Julia. “Different parties cared for the Jordan children. But, after Hutchinson’s A.O.U.W. lodge sent her the $2,000 beneficiary fund, she was able to gather her children and return to Hutchinson.
“Fortunately,” continued Julia, “Florence has apparently been healthy all this time. She must be 80 years old by now. Last I heard, she’s living with a daughter in Chattanooga, Tennessee.”
“I think Florence, a pioneer woman, liked living in town—on South Main—during the time Allen was sheriff,” said Houston. “The Jordan children were old enough to walk to school from the jail.”
“The wives of early sheriffs I’ve known were given little credit for their work, feeding, and caring for the prisoners who were imprisoned in the basement of the old courthouse,” said Julia.
“Early on, the sheriff was the only one paid,” said Houston, “but it took the whole family to to make it work; it was a group effort. I heard that a newly elected sheriff from another county, a bachelor, asked the outgoing sheriff if he had any advice on running the jail. The experienced sheriff answered, ‘Yes, get married as soon as possible.’”
“Gradually, things have changed,” continued Houston. “Today, Fay and Cora Brown—Mr. and Mrs. Sheriff––make a good team. Cora is the paid matron and cook, and goes on prisoner trips with Fay when they need to transport a woman. I saw in the News today that they’re taking prisoners to Lansing tomorrow.
“Cora is a gifted woman,” said Julia. “I’m glad she gets paid something. That’s better than nothing.”
Until next time, happy writing and reading.