William Edward Dunn's 1892 Marriage License, 1902 Letters - and More

Here's the front side of the 1892 marriage license of William Edward Dunn and Josephine Barbara Lauer.

(Click on it to enlarge it.)

Here's the reverse side of their marriage license. Note that it records this as his second marriage. His first wife had died, and later, so did two very young daughters, reportedly of scarlet fever.

(Click on it to enlarge it.)

Background on the Letters Below:

The United States grew in stages as settlers migrated west.
Oklahoma Territory was an organized territory of the United States from May, 1890, until November, 1907, when Oklahoma became the 46th state. It consisted of the western area of what is now the state of Oklahoma. The eastern area was the last remnant of Indian Territory and the map linked here shows how the area was divided circa 1900.

William Edward Dunn (WED) was part of the westward movement, for he was building a railroad in Oklahoma Territory five years before Oklahoma became a state.

To appreciate the significance of what he was doing, we must understand that when he was in Oklahoma Territory writing the letters below, Orville and Wilbur Wright had not yet had their first successful airplane flight (that occurred in 1903). And automobiles (and highways) were not yet common.

For example, in 1902 - when he was writing these letters - there were only 8,000 cars in the US and 144 miles of paved roads. The Studebaker brothers, having become the world's leading manufacturers of horse-drawn vehicles, made a transition to electric automobiles in 1902 and gasoline engines in 1904, but they continued to build horse-drawn vehicles until 1919. Henry Ford didn't start mass-producing the Model T until 1908.

In other words, as a pioneer builder of railroads, he participated in dramatically changing the history - and economy - of the United States.

Here are some links that provide a look at what life was like in that area in that era:

Sod house in Oklahoma Territory
Young American Indian women in Oklahoma Territory
Photographs of American Indians in Oklahoma Territory


WED's Letter of May 5th, 1902

So, there in the unsettled Oklahoma Territory, separated from his family in Illinois for long periods of time, WED wrote a three page letter on a piece of business stationery set up in memo format. It contains the name "Santa Fe." in large font, with the following in 10-point font:
The A.T. & S.F. Ry. Co.
G.C. & S.F. Ry. Co.
Santa Fe Pacific Ry. Co.
Sou. Cal. Ry. Co.
The S.F. & S.J.V. Ry.
The S.K. Ry. Co. of Tex.

He wrote this letter from Ripley, Oklahoma Territory, in what is now southern Payne County. (The town was named for William Ripley, president of the Santa Fe Railway.) The letter is addressed to WED’s brother-in-law (his wife Josephine’s brother) and reads as follows:

“Ripley O.T. [Oklahoma Territory] 5/5 1902

Mr. Theodore Lauer

Dear Bro & Sister

Your kind and loving letter of some days ago just received and it is needless for me to say that I was more than pleased to hear from you and you being well and happy as this leaves me enjoying good health and I would also be happy if I just had my poor sweet Joe [Josephine] and my little hunkey [illegible word] here. I got a letter from home yesterday and they were all well but my sweet Joe said they were all lonesome for papa and papa is lonesome for them. Theodore you just ought to see my little angels. It would tickle you to see them.

I had the rheumatism so bad that I could not work for two months last winter and was at home all the time and when I came down here it broke me all up of an evening when I could not see my sweet hearts.

Well dear Bro. this climate agrees with me fine and I get $125.00 and expenses per month and no one to bother me and if I had my poor sweet Joe and little ones here I would be happy. Just as soon as I can arrange it I am going to let Joe and the little ones go to see father and mother and all of you. Then I will come and bring them here. I want them to spend a week. They can go and see John and all the folks and if I can get off for 3 or 4 days I will spend them with you all.

I have 150 miles of new track to lay here and have 680 men working now. It is a lovely country but the people are very poor. I know my Joe will like it out here. [Click here to see a photo of a construction crew laying track for a railroad during that era.]

Well dear Bro. I am glad you are happy and contented and glad to know you have a good wife. We had some good times together and I hope we will again. Well dear Bro., give my love and best regards to father and mother and all the folks. I would like to see them all.

Tell mother not to worry about us. Although I am so far away from home it will be only a short time until I have my family with me. I write home every day and get a letter from home every day.

Well my dear Bro. and chum, as I sit here and write this my mind wanders back to the time when you first went to work, and old Tom McDonald, poor old soul. I guess he is dead and I remember the good times I and Joe and Henry and Anne had. She called me cheeky. It seems like a dream to me, and poor sweet Lizzie. May her sweet soul rest in heaven. If anyone went to heaven she did. [Lizzie was Josephine's sister Elizabeth, one witness on the marriage license above.]

Dear Bro. I am not the WE Dunn you used to know. I am different now. I have learned a lesson but it took me a good while to do it. Of course I had my troubles and when I got rid of them I quit drinking and have not drank anything for over two years and I feel better and have the confidence of every one I do business with and it’s no trouble for me to get a good job at all. And I never will put that [liquor] to my lips again. That will steal away my brains. And I hope and pray dear Bro. that you will not either. [I suspect the "troubles" above may be a reference to the death of his first wife and his two daughters.]

Give my love and best wishes to all our folks and all enquiring friends and when you and your wife have time write me a few lines. I feel lonesome out here among those natives and when I get a letter from Joe I wear it out reading it.

Good night and God bless you and your sweet family.

Your Bro,
W E Dunn"


Trivia: To put his income of $125 per month ($1,500 annually) in context I looked for information about incomes in that era. I learned that in 1902 the average wage in the U.S. was 22 cents an hour and he average U.S. worker earned between $200 and $400 per year.

found the following table for 1903:
Average of all Industries, Excluding Farm Labor:
Average of all Industries, Including Farm Labor:
Bituminous Coal Mining: $734
Building Trades, Union Workers:
Clerical Workers in Manufacturing:
Domestics: $270
Farm Labor:
Federal Civilian:
Federal Employees, Executive Departments:
Finance, Insurance, and Real Estate: $1,078
Lower-Skilled Labor:
Manufacturing, Payroll:
Manufacturing, Union Workers:
Medical/Health Services Workers: $275
Ministers: $761
Nonprofit Organization Workers: $679
Postal Employees: $924
Public School Teachers: $358
State and Local Government Workers:
Steam Railroads, Wage Earners:
Street Railways Workers:
Telegraph Industry Workers: $573
Telephone Industry Workers: $379
Wholesale and Retail Trade Workers:

Since he says in his letter that his income is "and expenses", I surmise that "expenses" might have covered his food and lodging costs. Since the federal income tax didn't come into existence until 1913, his $1,500 annual income would have been his net pay, which would have made him a very prosperous man for that time period.


His letter of May 27th, 1902

This letter was written on stationery that says, simply, "Santa Fe." in large font at the top of the page. He wrote from Pauls Valley, O.T., it’s also written to Theodore Lauer, and reads as follows:

"Pauls Valley O.T. 5/27 1902

Mr. T Lauer

Dear Bro & Sister

I received your kind and ever welcome letter and was more than pleased to hear of you and all the family being well as this leaves me at present well dear Bro.

We have 25 miles of track to lay here from
Pauls Valley to Erin Springs. It runs along the south branch of the Washita River and the country is very low and swampy and is filled with malaria. Our men is getting sick and quitting by the score. I must say that I feel frustrate[d] and if I can hold out a month we will move back to Oklahoma.

I do not like the country at all but the money is good. I got a letter from home today and the folks were all well. My two boys Eddie and Eugene wrote two fine letters. I wish you could have read them. They want papa to come home. The poor little angels.

How many little angels have you folks got and what is their names and how many have Henry and Cheeky got[?] God bless them all. How is all the folks at home and how is John and his family[?] Give my love and best wishes to all of them.

And some day I will be back to see them all with my sweet Joe. I wish it was tomorrow but it will not be long I hope. I get very lonesome out here for home and those I love so dear.

Well dear bro. I wish I could call back ten years. I would be happy but they are gone, never to return. And I will do all I can to correct the ten is gone with the ten that is coming with the help of God. I am glad to know that you and Henry and John are doing so well. We done fine for the last three years but Joe got sick. Eddie and Eugene got sick and to help matters I got sick and it does not take long to spend what you save on sickness.

But we cannot complain. Now we are in good health and I sent Joe $100.00 last week out of my salary, and God bless her, no one can be any closer and save any more than she can.

Dear Bro. I am going to quit this job just as soon as I can get one where I can move my family. I could not live without them for $500 a month. Well there is nothing of any interest to you in this country so I will say good night.

With love and best wishes to you and family and all enquiring friends.

I remain your Bro.
W E Dunn"


His Letter of October 26th, 1902

When he wrote this letter he had either changed jobs or been reassigned by his Oklahoma Territory employer, for this letter is written on stationery that says "The Illinois Southern Railway Company" at the top. This one, also written to Theodore Lauer, is written from St. Genevieve, Missoui (south of St. Louis) and says:

St. Genevieve, MO station Oct, 26th, 1902

Theodore Lauer

Dear Bro. and Sister

Your kind and welcome letter of some days ago received and content noted. We were more than pleased to hear of you all enjoying good health and happiness as those few lines leaves us enjoying every blessing God can bestow upon us at present.

After two years of snow and rain it is really pleasing to get a glimpse of sunshine. My boys John and Steve are going to parochial school every day and I am just after having a (illegible word) with Eugene and Eddie. They are all getting strong and healthy. Joe (illegible word) looks like she worked in a brewery. She is getting big out like a Dutchman, ha, ha. [These comments are confusing, but may be referring to Josephine being pregnant. However, their next surviving child after Eugene is Francis, who wasn't born until November, 1903, a year after this letter was written. It is possible she was pregnant at this time and lost that baby, however.]

Say, why don't you learn Mary how to write[?] She never writes a line. Well my dear Bro. I am just after going over the line with the president of the S.M. Ry, Mr. J.R. Walsh of Chicago, and he was more than pleased with the condition of the work. It is the heaviest and hardest piece of work I ever undertook, but I have no one to bother with and all the money I want to spend.

So you see there is no reason for complaint. The only trouble I have is in getting good labor and foremen. We pay laborers $150 and foremen we pay $60.00 to $70.00 on extra gauge and $45.00 to $60.00 on sections. If you know of any tell them to write me.

Well my dear boy, give my love and best regards to Pa and Ma and all the folks and don't forget to remember me to Cheeky. I hope her and her family is enjoying every blessing. I don't know just now when I can go up as I am very busy, but I long to see you all and the old home. It makes me feel lonesome for you all when I write.

With love and best wishes,

I remain your Bro.
W. E. Dunn

Last updated 2/15/2010

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