For this week’s fifth assignment, we turn our attention to a criminal court case, Territory (Montana) v Rehberg, 1885. This unusual case revolved around the brutal beating and subsequent death of a ten-year old Montana girl named Clara Rehberg.

On Sunday August 9, 1885, the Rehberg family was going about their workday. Sometime during the early evening, Clara exhibited severe pain and was unwell. Edward, the girl’s father, decided to take her to Helena, the nearest town, to see a doctor. Joe Tiebow, the hired man, hitched the horses and placed Clara in the wagon. Dr Von Holzschuher noted the child’s condition, but she was in so much pain that she refused the doctor’s examination and medicine. He sent her to the Sister’s hospital for the night. When the doctor finally examined the girl the next morning, a horrifying discovery was made. Clara’s skin was red and blistered as if she had been doused with scalding hot water. Upon further examination, the doctor’s discover she was also covered with bruises inflicted by a heavy object and deep scratches on her neck and head. Clara, already a sickly child, died of septicemia and piemia, less than a month later on September 5th.

During the subsequent trial, blame for Clara’s death had to be assigned. Both Emma and Bertha, Clara’s older sisters, account her whereabouts throughout the day of August 9th. They testified that Clara spent most of the day helping their stepmother, Louisa, in the house and cooking dinner for the family. Edward was outside with Joe Tiebow and their little brother, Emil, working on the haystack. Both girls state that Clara and her father had little interaction throughout the day. The prosecution seemed determined to blame Edward for the crime, even though they could not establish opportunity. The more likely culprit was the stepmother, Louisa, but she was not allowed to testify, do in part with the nineteenth century ideals of masculinity and femininity. Women were supposedly not capable of child abuse. They were nurtures and protectors of children and considered too physically weak to commit abuse. I did not find the outcome of this case per se, but from the subsequent appeal and separation of trial, I can assume that Edward was convicted in this first trial. He was also granted an appeal and a separation of the charges from Louisa’s charges.

According to the 1880 census for Little Prickly Pear Valley, Lewis and Clark county, Montana, Edward (aged 45) was living there on his farm with wife, Amelia (39), and their seven children: Emma (13), Paul (12), Bertha (10), Edward (7), Albert (6), Clara (4), and Emil (3). So already we know there are several children missing from the court transcript: Paul, Edward, and Albert. Since I tracked them down on the 1900, 1910, 1920, & 1930 censuses, my best guess would be that they were either hired out to other employers or were placed with other families. I did find an obituary on October 15, 1963, for Albert that said he left home after his mother died when he was 6 years old to work on ranches in Havre and Great Falls. I found a genealogical site where family members were trying to find Edward Sr.’s family. There was some confusion though as the family attributed the abusive second wife erroneously as Amelia, instead of Louisa. A descendant oF Emil recounted the family lore that Emil ran away from home to escape his stepmother. He later died in 1919 in a railroad accident on the Northern Pacific RR.

And after a dismal newspaper search, I only found two references to Clara on September 10 and 15, 1885. Both articles were short recounts of the horrible abuse, her death, and the arrests of Edward and Louisa. I did, however, find one gem of information. On May 16, 1885, the Butte Daily Miner had an article featuring Louisa and Edward. Apparently, Louisa had brought Edward to court on seduction and paternity charges. She had been a frequent visitor to his ranch during the previous year and he drove her off through mistreatment. The judge asked Louisa what she wanted in compensation and she replied, marriage. Edward agreed, paid the court fee, and married Louisa on May 15, 1885.

On a side note: my google search was made more tedious by the repetitious articles about Republican Congressman Denny Rehberg. Hmm, I wonder if he knows about the skeletons in his family closet?

addendum:

Though now that i looked at the article again. It’s a reprint from Helena Independent. So Edward and Louisa got married sometime in May before the 15th.

Louisa sues Edward for seduction and paternity-Butte Daily Miner May 16, 1885

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