"The friendly and flowing savage, who is he?"

After a long intermission, my time filled variously by my occupation, preoccupations, and a general feeling that the sagacious Lorelei Lee was right in her assessment that "Fate keeps on happening," I return to this blog with a post so lurid and sensational that I hope it offsets any impatience my supposed readers have had for more family stories. Anyway.

My subject is the preposterously named Cephas Hurlburt Miller Shibley (28 Mar 1855 - 23 Dec 1934), a big name for a big life. More about that name later....

Mr Shibley's connection to me is that he married one of my grandfather's aunts. Bertha E Brown (21 May 1870 - 15 Aug 1952), was an older sister of one of my maternal great-grandfathers, Clarence Edgar Brown (1 Dec 1878 - 21 Aug 1937). Shibley was the second of her three husbands.

The Browns were (and are) notoriously peripatetic, but at heart traditional. Most of her siblings married just once, and avoided scandal. Not so our Bertha, at least as far as Mr Shibley was concerned.

She married first, on 7 June 1884, James Henry Willerford (May 1860 - 17 Apr 1907); they had six children. Meeting and marrying in Missouri, by 1896 they had moved to Los Angeles, where Willerford worked as a laborer or hired man, and died relatively young, four of their children still being school age. 

Photo by "TLS," from Find A Grave

Bertha's third husband was German-born Henry Bricks (1 May 1878 - 30 May 1952). His birthplace is sometimes given as California, including on his World War I draft registration, understandably, but he immigrated to the US in 1884 and was later naturalized. Bricks' jobs included chauffeur (to Christian J Kubach, another German-born Angeleno, albeit a wealthy and prominent one), auto mechanic, and finally, owner of a roadside stand in Azusa CA.

There is one unresolved tidbit about Bertha's third hubby: was he the same Henry Bricks who was arrested in Chicago in 1915 for larceny?

Arrest information for Henry Bricks, chauffeur,
from the Chicago Police Department, 25 Dec 1915.

I have not been able to find out any more details. It seems unlikely, but still, the name, birth year, occupation, and birthplace are all correct....

Poor Bertha, if it is true. But she was not unused to having a shady husband, which leads us back to C H M Shibley. 

As Shibley was the middle of Bertha's three husbands, in a nice bit of symmetry, Bertha was the middle of his wives, but she was number number three of five! And those are just the ones I have discovered so far....

Cephas started out life innocuously enough, born in Newburgh, Ontario to George B Shibley (1830 - 1877) and Sarah Rose Derman (28 Aug 1834 - 13 Aug 1917). At age 22, he married his first wife, Margaret Riley (Jun 1859 - 28 Aug 1928), and they had two daughters. Just six month's after his second daughter's birth, however, he had immigrated to Ohio, and had married again. 

Wife number two was Ida Florence Bartlett (bef 1863 - aft 1890). With Ida, Shibley's true character starts to, if not shine, at least become clearer. This, from the Los Angeles Herald, 16 Jan 1890:

"A Divorce Case." There will be tried in Department 6, of the Superior Court, today, the case of Ida Florence Shibley against her husband, Hurlburt Miller Shibley. She sues for divorce and alleges desertion and adultery as the grounds for the demand. The woman was known as Ida Bartlett, in Cleveland, Ohio, prior to April 1, 1881, when she married the defendant as Seth Shibley. She afterwards discovered that Seth Shibley was not the name of the man she married, and in order to avoid complications, August 25, 1882, they were married at Erie, Pennsylvania. In this instance the man put on record all four of his names. The allegations of the complaint are that on March 12, 1888, Shibley left her and came to Los Angeles; that he has not since provided for her maintenance, and that he has been guilty of adultery since his arrival in the land of the Angels.

In the six--or seven-- years of their marriage, they had two children, this time a boy and a girl. Shibley had the good taste to wait a little under two years before he skipped out this time.

Of course, he may have left town for another reason, as well. He was hired onto the Cleveland Police Department (!) in 1887, after previously working several years as a switchman. Shibley did not last long on the force, however; by December of that year he was "dismissed upon charges" for "violating rules," after a fifty-six day suspension. Bye-bye Cleveland, hello land of the Angels!

He got a job, this time as a salesman for the Pioneer Roll Paper Company, a large firm dealing in roofing materials, asphalt, etc. He stayed there several years, uneventfully, it seems,with a few exceptions. In 1897, he got into trouble with the law, as reported by the Los Angeles Herald on 29 October:

Seth Shipley Worked a Fake Check on the Kitty Keeper

Incidental to a suit on a harmless looking check for $25, Justice Young was regaled yesterday with the story of a man who went out to see the tiger and the kitty, with the idea of ruining them in business, and who went home after the last jackpot with lots of newly discovered evidence of how foolish it is to dally with a cinch. Seth H. Shibley, salesman for the Pioneer Roll Paper company, took a hand in a game of poker at the Arizona Club rooms on the 14th inst., with only about $8 in his pockets. As Joe Halsey, who was watching the kitty of the game, would express it, probably, "Mr Shibley lasted very quick."  But whatever else might be said of Mr Shibley, he was game, and made up his mind to teach the other gentleman something about poker they had never dreamed of. But he had no money. Turning to the watchful Mr. Halsey, he inquired if he (Mr. Shibley) was good on a check. Mr. Halsey was happy to say that his check would be received in payment for $25 worth of chips. Then Mr. Shibley began to make life a burden to the other players. He lost a little oftener than he won for a time, and suddenly there was the grandest opportunity of his life before him. He had $14 in chips in front of him, and in the middle of the table was a jack-pot. And the hand he held! Well, he nearly fainted dead away. He felt sorry for the other players. "It isn't square, darned if it isn't," said Mr. Shibley to himself," to go into a jack-pot with three aces." But he threw his conscience to the winds, held up his three aces and another card, to put the gentlemen on their guard, and called for one. When he got a chance to bet he was there, and every man but another man and himself dropped out. The other man was perfectly reckless, and kept raising, which Mr. Shibley, being a dead game player, saw and raised again. In a few moments Mr. Shibley had his $14 in the middle of the table was was seen by the other gentleman. When it came to a show-down, the other gentleman raked in the money; he had four queens. And Mr. Shibley didn't ride home in a street car. he remembered on his way home that the other gentlemen had the deal when he (Mr Shibley) drew the three aces, and the awful truth burst upon him--he was not a poker player, but was learning. Mr Halsey brought suit on the check, because when he presented it to the Farmers and Merchants' Bank the paying teller refused to honor it. There was no account there in the name of C. H. M. Shibley, which was the name Mr. Seth Shibley had signed to it. Justice Young decided that the check was evidence of a gambling debt and that plaintiff could not recover on it.

In 1899 the sometime-Seth made the papers again with this:

From The Los Angeles Herald, 6 August 1899

Whether this is still the divorce from Ida, or from another, as-yet unnamed wife, it is certainly entertaining, if not quite as breezy as the previous article. At any rate, by 1902, Shibley was an employee of the Primrose Conserving Company. His widowed mother had also moved to California, and was living nearby.

And this is where great-aunt Bertha comes in. I do not know how they met, but they married in Orange CA on 7 December 1904. Perhaps she was a settling influence; by 1910 her mother had moved west, and was living with them. He worked as a "watchman" in city parks.

Domestic bliss never seemed to last long, though, with Mr Shibley. Within a few years, Bertha had moved on and married Mr Bricks; Shibley was now in real estate and in trouble with the law--again.

From The Los Angeles Herald, 23 February 1916.

His wealth apparently must have come from real estate investments, and they must have helped with the Seth/Cephas swindles--for lack of a better word. His voter registrations rarely gave the same addresses as the city directories, and the combinations of Seths and Cephases and initials is staggering. And I am wondering why he had returned to Cleveland; one of his children was already dead, two others lived in California, and one was  still in Canada. It seems unlikely he wanted to see Ida--remember her?

Now, by the time the above article appeared in early 1916, Shipley had already been married six months to wife number four: Vera Dorothy Smith (2 Jun 1892 - 15 Oct 1989), who had moved to Los Angeles from her home in Pennsylvania some time after her eighteenth birthday. 

Happily married 26 July 1915, we find that Shibley's age is a variable as his aliases: he has cut ten years off his birth date. Even then, Fifty was the new Sixty. But what are a few years, when greater problems are looming? Three years later, Vera and Shibley have separated, and he is in the papers again:

From The Los Angeles Herald, 6 August 1919

Cephas M Shibley, sometimes known as Seth Shibley, and widely known as a politician in the old days, was made defendant in a suit for divorce filed today by Vera S. Shibley, who is 28 years his junior.
Cruelty was the charge in the complaint, filed through the Attorney Milton M. Cohen, one of the allegations being that he failed to provide his young wife with amusement or recreation. He was also alleged to have beaten, kicked and choked her on a number of occasions while they were living at the defendant’s home on Ogier street.

They were married July 26, 1915, and separated Oct. 10, last, according to the complaint.
The romance of the former politician with his young wife came after a former alleged romance with Mrs. Mary Stringer, which culminated in a suit for breach of promise filed by the latter.

While Shibley was on a trip east he met Mrs. Stringer, an attractive divorcee, and according to her allegations promised to marry her.  She came to Los Angeles and acted as his housekeeper for some time and finally filed suit for $25,000 heart balm, declaring he had failed to carry out an alleged promise to marry her.

The suit came to trial in the local courts in November, 1917, at which time Shibley attempted to show that he and Mrs. Stringer became estranged because of her alleged attentions to a boarder in Shibley’s home. Mrs. Stringer and the boarder both denied the charges, and she was awarded judgment for $5000.

Now, I expect that it wasn't just a lack of "amusement" that led Vera to dump Seth. In 1918, just months before the separation, Shibley was ordered by the court to sell off a great deal of property, including parcels in Rancho Palos Verdes, San Pedro, and San Gabriel, to settle with Mrs. Stringer. I guess she knew better than to take a check. 

Anyway, somewhere along the way, too, Shibley had become a politician--with all the other drama, how did I miss that? (This was the only reference to a political career I could find in his otherwise perhaps embarrassingly over-documented life.)

By 1920, aged sixty-five--or as the 1920 U S Federal Census has it, fifty-six--you would think Seth/Cephas would be slowing down. You would be wrong. His next exploit would make him nationally known, when in 1926 this item ran in papers across the country:

From The Modesto News-Herald, 15 June 1926.

The Santa Ana [California] Register first reported the request for a marriage license between Nora Martin (1894 - ?) and Shibley, who gave his age as sixty-two; he was seventy. The Lincoln [Nebraska] Star helped fill in the story by reporting that they had been married just fifteen days, and that Shibley was worth $150,000. 

By 1930, Shibley was retired, and--apparently--finally living alone. He was seventy-five. On 23 December 1934, he died, and was interred in the Hollywood Forever Cemetery, ensuring himself a place alongside such greats as Cecil B DeMille, Rudolf Valentino, and Toto.

Photo by Mark R Daniels, from Find A Grave
"...whatever else might be said of Mr. Shibley, he was game." Indeed.

And what of his wives and children?

Margaret Riley was married again on 3 Dec 1889 to Joseph Cameron Laird (5 Mar 1846 - 13 Feb 1936), and had a least one more daughter. They stayed in Canada. Daughter Sarah Maud Shibley (5 Oct 1878 - ?) I could not locate beyond her birth. Her sister, Mary Jane Shibley (14 Sep 1880 - 5 Apr 1896) died at age sixteen, after suffering from consumption for several years.

Ida Florence Bartlett could not be located by me after the divorce. Their son Frank Axworthy Shibley (6 Oct 1884 - 7 Jun 1915) followed in his father's footsteps and moved to Los Angeles. He married Flora Ethel Bunker (21 Sep 1887 - 7 Oct 1924); also like his father, he was the middle of her three husbands. Daughter May Evelyn Shibley (14 May 1886 - 28 Jan 1954) also moved to Los Angeles. She married James C Stevens (abt 1873 - aft 1910), then Rodrigo Vincent Castro (13 Nov 1884 - 26 Apr 1952). She had three children by each husband.

Bertha E Brown died just a few months after her husband.

Vera Dorothy Smith found amusement, one hopes, with her next husband, George Harvey Stoddard (16 Aug 1889 - 23 May 1973). If nothing else, they had a son, George H Stoddard, Jr (24 Mar 1927 - 4 Jun 1999).

And what of strop-wielding Nurse Nora? Despite all the nation-wide infamy, I could uncover little else about her. I know that her last name was Martin, although whether that was a maiden or married name is unclear. She was awarded fifty dollars a month in alimony after her divorce from Cephas Hurlburt Miller Shibley.

And, as promised, about that name, the first sign of excess in his extravagantly excessive life. You might think that it was as unique as the man who--on occasion--admitted to it, but he is still as full of surprises as he was mystery (or at least misdirection). In my research, I came across multiple Cephas Hurlburt Millers, albeit without the Shibley. I am sure there must be familial connections between them, and perhaps Mr Shibley, but I cannot find them. 

The first Cephas Hurlburt Miller (3 Jul 1808 - 2 June 1892) was, unlike his namesake, utterly respectable and upright. He was born in Canada in 1808 to William Miller and Hannah Lydia McKim, and married Jane Elizabeth Shibley, surely not a coincidence. Among their five children was Adelaide Augusta Miller, who married Sir Allen Bristol Aylesworth. He served in the Canadian Parliament, and held several cabinet posts. (I told you they were respectable....)

Second, Cephas Hurlburt Miller (abt 1835 - poss 20 Mar 1902) about whom there is a lot of online confusion, his life facts being carelessly garbled and blurred with the other Millers. If nothing else, we can be sure that he married twice (in Cleveland, like our Cephas), first to Catharine Hodges in 1875, and then to Deborah A Graves in 1885 (although they had been living together for several years previously). She had one previous husband.

Our third--and final--Cephas Hurlburt Miller (13 Sep 1836 - 19 Mar 1924) was also born in Canada, the son of Christopher Miller and Sarah Isabella Grant. He married Mary N Longley. Their obituaries are both charming and give a lovely view into their world. I kind of wish my family connection was with them! Although who's to say that deeper research won't connect all these Cephases...?

One last interesting discovery. There is a land sale dated 20 Apr 1882 from the Bureau of Land Management to Cephas H Miller in Santa Cruz. That land, since 1941, has been the home of the the one-and-only Mystery Spot. Coincidence?

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