Skeletons in the closetFeb 22nd, 2009 | By Leonard Legends & Legacies | Category: Inlaws & Outlaws
In all the years I’ve been doing family history, I can honestly say that I’ve never come across that deranged ancestor that everyone seems to think we all have. Oh sure, there’ve been a couple of illegitimate kids, an alleged cattle-rustler, cousins marrying cousins… but nothing that would make the cover of The National Enquirer… until I met John Mitchell-Hipple, or Hipple-Mitchell, depending on which state you’re in.
Hipple-Mitchell-Hipple was a grandson of Nancy (Leonard, daughter of Daniel & Lucretia) and George Hipple. His parents were John Hipple and Jemima Mitchell (another one of those cousins-marrying-cousins arrangements). He turned up in the recently-acquired Mitchell Papers.
What caught my eye was a note at the bottom of the page that said, in scribbled hand-writing, that “John Mitchell Hipple changed his name to John Hipple Mitchell – he became a US Senator – Oregon – 1890s.” Great, I thought, a famous family member! What I found, via WikiPedia and other sources, was something much closer to an infamous family member. To wit:
John Mitchel Hipple, aka John Hipple Mitchell (1835-1905), was born in Washington County, PA. and moved with his parents to Butler County at the age of 2. He attended both public and private schools and became a teacher in his youth. As such, he seduced and impregnated a 15-year-old student (Sarah Hoon), whom he married and with whom he fathered several more children.
In the four years John and Sarah lived together, Mitchell-Hipple beat and mistreated her to such an extent that he was indicted by a grand jury and brought to trial. The couple settled their differences before the jury could reach a verdict, however, and Mitchell-Hipple promptly abandoned his family, moved to California and changed his name to Hipple-Mitchell.
Once in California, the impetuous Mr. Hipple-Mitchell married one Maria J. Brinker, whom he abandoned two years later when he decided to move to Oregon. Third state, third wife, right? Mr. Hipple-Mitchell took his third wife in Oregon, without divorcing either of the first two. Did I mention that Mr. Hipple-Mitchell was also a lawyer? Stop me if you’ve heard this one before.
As a newly-married bigamist lawyer, Mr. Hipple-Mitchell quickly became a major player with political and, more importantly, railroad connections. He was elected to the State Senate two years later and the US Senate six years after that.
His political opponents tried to block his swearing-in (sound familiar?), charging him with bigamy, desertion, and living under an assumed name. The Senate committee hearing the matter decided that while the charges were inescapably true, they were also irrelevant. Senator Mitchell-Hipple took his seat, and subsequent bribes, with impunity.
John Mitchell-Hipple, or Hipple-Mitchell, depending on what state you’re in… was voted in and out of office in six separate elections between 1872-1905. His shoddy legal work resulted in the famous Supreme Court decision of Pennoyer v. Neff and his blatant political favoritism won him the honor of being one of only five US Senators to be indicted and convicted of corruption while still in office. The Oregon Land Fraud Scandal won him plenty of noteriety. He appealed his conviction and died before he could be sentenced.
While it is unlikely that Mr. Mitchell-Hipple-Mitchell ever traced his family tree, if he had, he would’ve discovered that his great-great-grandfather Jotham Burt on his father’s side was also his g-g-g-grandfather Jotham Burt on his mother’s side. So the moral of the story is… well, really convoluted.
So how ’bout you? Got any black sheep stories?