Wednesday, August 05, 2009

Portia Hill and Jessie Ridgley - 1891

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Another double suicide! So sad! I don't really want to write about these cases, but they are a part of our history and these poor souls should not be forgotten. The first article is from Newark, Ohio - the first I found on the subject. The second is from Sacramento, California - a bit closer to the incident. The second article starts off with identicle verbage but quickly rewrites the article with a great deal of more detailed information. An additional, identicle copy of the Newark article, was published in the New Castle News (New Castle, Pennsylvania) on April 15, 1891, that paper having received the information on April 14.

Newark Daily Advocate (Newark, Ohio)
April 8, 1891

DOUBLE SUICIDE
Two Women Kill Themselves Locked in Each Other's Arms

SANTA FE, N.M., April 8 - Details of an Easter Sunday tragedy at White Oaks, N. M., has reached here, the affair being a double suicide in which two young women, formerly of Liberty, Mo., were the principals. The names of the women are Mrs. Howard Doyle and Miss Jessie Ridgley. Mrs. Doyle has been separated from her husband for some time and had made a confidante of Miss Ridgley. It is thought that Mrs. Doyle was despondent and had prevailed upon Miss Ridgley to commit suicide at the same time. The bodies of the women were found in a lonely part of the town. Over the heart of each was a bullet hole. They were clasped in each other's arms, and between them was a revolver, which usually had a place on the mantel in Miss Ridgley's bedroom. Their hats hung on a post near by; their cloaks had been neatly folded and served as head rests, and to each clock was pinned notes to various friends. One letter expressed the desire that they be buried in the same grave. None of the letters gave the reason for the rash act, only: "Death is sweet, and we prefer it to life."

The Record-Union (Sacramento, California)
April 8, 1891

DOUBLE SUICIDE
Two Women Found Dead Clasped in Each Other's Arms

SANTA FE (N.M.), April 7. - Details of Sunday's tragedy at White Oak, N. M., reached here to-day, the affair being a double suicide, in which two handsome young women, formerly of Liberty, Mo., were the actors. Some two years ago Miss Portia Hill came from Liberty to serve as governess in the family of Mrs. Ellis. At the end of a year she married Howard Doyle, a brother of Mrs. Ellis, and a prominent ranchman. On their bridal tour they met an old friend of the bride, Miss Jessie Ridgley, who replaced Mrs. Doyle as governess in the ellis home. Last Sunday Mrs. Doyle came on a visit to Miss Ridgley and the two were seen in a long conversation at various times during the day, avoiding the other members of the family. In the afternoon they went for a walk and in an old corral near by their dead bodies were discovered an hour later. Over the heart of each was a bullet hole. They were clasped in each other's arms and between them was a revolver. No reason is known for the deed.

Davenport Morning Tribune (Davenport, Iowa)
April 8, 1891

TWO FAIR SUICIDES
They Die in Each Other's Arms in New Mexico Corral.

DENVER, Col., April 7 - A Santa Fe (N.M.) special says: Details of an Easter Sunday tragedy at White Oaks, N. M., reached here to-day, the affair being a double suicide, in which two handsome young women, formerly of Liberty, Mo., were the actors.

Two years ago Mrs. Portia Hill came from Liberty to serve as governess in the family of a Mrs. Goodwin Ells. At the end of a year she married Howard Doyle, brother of Mrs. Ells, and a prominent young ranchman. On their bridal tour they met an old friend of the bride, Miss Jessie Rigley, who replaced Mrs. Doyle as governess in the Ells home. It was their custom to spend Saturday night and Sunday together. On later Easter Sunday Mrs. Doyle came on a visit to Miss Rigley, and the two were seen in long and earnest conversation at various times during the day, avoiding the other members of the family.

In the afternoon they went for a walk, and in an old corral near by their dead bodies were discovered and hour later. Over the heart of each was a bullet hole. They were clasped in each other's arms and between them was a revolver which usually had a place on a mantel in Miss Rigley's room. They left several notes, one alone giving a reason for their act. "Death is sweet and we prefer it to life," it said. They requested that they be buried in the same grave. The request was complied with.

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I have searched for additional information on these women and have learned that the Tucumcari Mortuary in Quay County, New Mexico handled their services. The mortuary listed their date of death of March 28th and listed their names as Portia Hill Doyle and Jessie Rigley. Both women were buried at Cedarvale Cemetery, the historical cemetery of White Oaks, New Mexico. It also holds the grave of Sheriff James Hill, who was killed by Billy the Kid in 1881. Billy was also a regular in the town, just a few years before Portia and Jessie came to town. White Oaks was a hard place to live at that time, not much more than a mining camp, it had the typical saloons and an Opera House. This was serious old west! Most of the historical building that still exist today were build after Portia and Jessie had died, showing that the town that they had known was of a less robust quality, unable to survive the passage of time.

I have written to White Oaks to see if they might be able to provide any additional information on Portia and Jessie. Hopefully they will be able to turn up something.
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