Stranger Than Fiction

Week 13: #52 Ancestors – In the Paper

By Eilene Lyon

You know I don’t shy away from even the most salacious aspects of my ancestors’ lives. Let’s face it, not all people in the past were admirable characters – and some of them left descendants.

Someday, I swear, I’m going to find a Nobel laureate, a respected politician (okay, that’s an oxymoron), a person who saved a town from a devastating flood, or some other heroic soul in my family tree.

For sheer notoriety, the tale of Adoph Dills takes the prize. It begins in the summer of 1884 in a sleepy, little farming community in western Iowa… 










Now you know about as much as I do. The Dills case utterly vanishes from the news after August 28, 1884. Adolph is like a slow train wreck that you can’t seem to avert your eyes from. (Note the geographic distribution of the sources, below.)

Feature image: Reproduction claim shanty at the Charles Ingalls homestead near DeSmet, South Dakota (E. Lyon 2015)


All clippings from, cited in order:

Wood River Times (Hailey, ID) June 27, 1884 p. 2.

“Married a Child” St. Louis Post-Dispatch (MO) August 22, 1884 p. 2.

“A Nice Man is Farmer Dills” Star Tribune (Minneapolis, MN) August 23, 1884 p. 2.

“A Venerable Vulture” The Cairo Bulletin (IL) August 23, 1884 p. 1.

“Wanted for Two Crimes” Quad-City Times (Davenport, IA) August 24, 1884 p. 4.

“The Sheriff Has a Doubt” The Critic (Washington, DC) August 25, 1884 p. 1.

St. Louis Post-Dispatch August 25, 1884 p. 8.

“A Scoundrel’s Life in Jeopardy” The Evening Bulletin (Maysville, KY) August 26, 1884 p. 1.

“More of a Disgusting Case” Sioux City Journal, August 27, 1884 p. 3.

35 thoughts on “Stranger Than Fiction

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  1. Wowza! That’s really creepy! I had to laugh out loud at all of the different newspaper titles – especially “A NICE MAN IS FARMER DILLS” (obvious satire), but then right after “A Venerable Vulture”! Again…wowza! Good luck in finding a nice, respectable, Nobel laureate ancestor next!!! :o)

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Good grief, you couldn’t make that up! I’ve currently got a line going back to 1530 arriving at an ancestor who was a bishop in Henry VIIIs time, all still needing more verification but I shudder to think what I might find considering what the clergy were like in those days!

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  3. No, but I have read Pillars of The Earth, and constantly get him and his books confused with those of Edward Rutherford. I can’t remember reading the middle book in this series either so I think I’ll get them both. Should keep me busy for a week! Cheers!

    Liked by 1 person

      1. I have had in some cases a person at a local historical or genealogy society has done such a look up for me. In one case they knew a person who would do it for a very low fee. It would not hurt to call and see what if any help they could be. When it was done by a society I always sent a small donation. Best of luck I hope you are able somehow to get the information needed.

        Liked by 1 person

    1. Despite the hint about a possible pregnancy in the very first article, I don’t see anything to indicate Adolph ever had a sexual relationship with Mathilda. He wasn’t charged with rape, but bigamy (marrying her). Seduction? Is that really a crime?

      Liked by 1 person

  4. The geographic diversity of those headlines that you pointed out leads one to a timeless conclusion: The press loves a scandal. This definitely qualifies. I wonder if the sheriff’s concern about a lynching became an incitement to do just that!


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