September 8, 2015

Denton Darby Coffey (1859-1921)

Denton Darby Coffey couldn't keep a wife and couldn't keep out of court for much of the last 13 years of his life.

He was a son of German J. and Mary Margaret Smith Coffey and was born in the Oregon Territory on Jun. 8, 1859.  German's father was Nebuzaradan Coffey and his mother, Elizabeth Easley.  German was born in Simpson Co., KY in 1827 and came to Oregon with his parents on the Oregon Trail in 1847.

German married Mary on Jul. 6, 1856 in Lane Co., OR and they had at least seven children: Mary L.; John Crittenden; Denton Darby; Edith L.; Ellen; Tecumseh Sherman; and Frank Nebuzaradon. Denton appears to be the one child in that family that had a lot of problems keeping his nose clean.

Denton married Mary Catherine Drury in Linn Co., OR on Dec. 25, 1878. They appeared childless in the 1880 Fox Valley, Linn Co., OR census.  It appears that Mary died, perhaps in child birth and sometime circa 1895 Denton married Carrie W. Woodrum. They appeared as a family in the 1900 Multnomah Co., OR census with daughter, Verne, born in 1896.

Verne married Irving V. Alvord on Feb. 13, 1920 in Weber Co., UT.  Irving was born in Utah in 1887 to Irvin Thadius Alvord and Sylvia Stone.

Denton and Carrie, the daughter of Elijah and Martha E. Deupree Woodrum, apparently divorced and Denton took his third wife, Margaret M. South c1907. There appears to have been no children born to this union.

In the meantime, Carrie took as her second husband, Irvin Thadius Alvord on Feb. 14, 1918.  With that marriage, she became mother-in-law to her daughter, Verne Coffey Alvord!

Denton and His Problems with the Legal System

When he and Carrie divorced in June, 1907, Denton was ordered by the court to pay $10 per month to Carrie for support of their child, Verne.  When he failed to do that, Carrie charged him with fraud and took him to court.  The judge was convinced that Denton was attempting to defraud his daughter but, gave him sometime to get the problem solved.

When Denton failed to follow up he was ordered by the Judge to pay Carrie $160 alimony. Earlier, when the divorce had been granted and he failed to pay her the $10 per month support, she brought suit and prevailed in the amount of $160. When Denton failed to pay that, the Sheriff was directed to seize some of Denton's property, but none could be found.  It appeared that Denton had placed everything in the name of his next wife, Mary Margaret South.  So, Carrie took him and Margaret back to court and charged both with conspiracy to defraud his creditors. Testimony showed that Denton had given Margaret a "$25 diamond as a Christmas present in 1907, he had not paid his first wife's alimony."  We don't know if Denton ever paid Carrie the money due her; no further newspaper reports have been found.

News about Denton was missing from 1909 until 1916 when on Sep. 2 of that year he and two pals were indicted for wire tapping.  He,  Charles B. Dill, a hotel clerk and Edwin G. Hayman, a salesman were charged with tapping the telephone line to the office of Dr. Anna M. Wheeler in the Platt Building in Portland.

Dr. Wheeler had previously sued a Mr. F. D. Stephenson of Wadhams & Co. for libel and had won.  She charged that Coffey and the other two miscreants were bought and paid for by Stephenson with the intent of ruining her reputation in revenge for her court triumph over him.

It appears that Dr. Wheeler had obtained a divorce from her husband, Dr. Glenn Wheeler and had charged him with abandonment.  She received the divorce on Jul. 17, 1916 but the decree had never been made public. Apparently, Stephenson knew something about that and hired Coffey, et al. to tap her office phone.  The plotters learned of the divorce through the wiretap. Dr. Anna Wheeler had apparently had an affair with one Mr. Alex G. Riddell who was being sued by his wife, Mrs. Marie Riddell for divorce.  She had named Dr. Anna as "the other woman."

The trial for wire tapping went on for more than a year, most often delayed by continuance. Apparently, the men never went to trial because on Feb. 3, 1917 an item appeared in The Oregonian reporting that charges against the three men "were never pressed."

Denton Darby Coffey Obituary
Finally, on Sep. 13, 1921, Denton died in Portland and was buried at Rose City Cemetery in that city.  His obituary mentions his wife, Mary M. and a child, Mrs. Lulu Cane.  I am unsure who the mother of this child was.  It is the only place where I have found her mentioned while looking for information about Denton.


There are a few twists and turns in the story and some information missing from the newspapers.  Hopefully, I have captured the gist of the problems Denton had, first with ex-wives and then with the wire tapping charge. It is mentioned in some news articles that Mary Margaret South was his fourth wife, but I have not been able to find more than three.  I would be interested in hearing from anyone who knows exactly how many wives he did have.

Readers can download a free copy of Vol. 131 of the Coffey Cousins Newsletter in PDF format. Pages 9 and 10 contain more information about the 1909 trial.

Ain't family history fun?



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