Monday, September 14, 2009

The Unfortunate Lot of Gertie Trost

The following account appeared in a newspaper in Olympia, Washington, April 14, 1904.

A Baby Bride Seeks Divorce. Child From Ozark Mountains in Missouri Tells Shocking Story in Iowa Court--Her Husband an Iowan Aged 60 Years.

Washington, Iowa, April 14.--Clad in dresses scarcely clearing her knees, and with her dark brown hair falling in long curls over her shoulders, Gertie Trost, 11 years old, today filed a petition before Judge Scott for the annulment of her marriage with John Leeper, 60 years old, a resident of Brighton, Iowa, whom, she declared, she had been forced to wed when she was 9 years old.

The girl's story is a shocking revelation of the primitive theory of life that is followed by the scarcely civilized dwellers in the wild mountainous districts of Missouri. Two years ago, according to her story, she lived with her mother in one of the most inaccessible regions of the Ozark mountains, near Lebanon, Mo. She was then scarcely 9 years old. It was there she first met Leeper. He made a contract, of the details of which she is ignorant, with her mother. Leeper stayed in their cabin. Then a traveling preacher--Buck was his name, so far as the child could remember--came to the cabin. There was a ceremony, the nature of which she did not understand, and she was told that she was Leeper's wife. More than that, her mother told her, she said, that she was Leeper's slave and must obey him in all things so long as he lived.

Leeper was bent and crippled with age. He had already been married three times, the girl said, and she hated him, but did not disobey. Some months after their marriage Leeper returned to his home in Iowa. The girl put off the long dresses her mother had forced her to wear for the ceremony and was a child again.

About a month ago the old man sent for his child bride, and her mother sent her to him. Since then she has lived with a family near his home in Brighton. She begged the people with whom she lived to keep her from the man whom she detested. When they heard her story they refused to let her live with him. Angered, the old man threatened to send his child wife to a reform school unless she lived with him. Neighbors, indignant at the fate that had been forced upon the little girl, told her story to the authorities. County Attorney Balley refused to believe until he heard the story from the girl's lips. He brought the matter to the attention of Judge Scott, who today ordered the police to bring Leeper before him.

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