The Much Married Renfro – 52 Ancestors (Ancestor 22)

Well, here we go again.

Just when I thought the story couldn’t get any juicier, my great, great grandfather John Marion RENFRO has outdone himself. Well, he outdid himself. And how appropriate that this week’s topic for 52 Ancestors is weddings.

I recommend a reading of my first post on John Marion RENFRO before you continue.

New Information

In this post, I want to present two of the revealing newspaper articles from 1893 and information I found about a marriage mentioned in the articles. I found these articles just last night, looked at this week’s topic, and knew it was providence. There is much more of the story to tell, I am certain of that, but I’ll continue with what I know now.

The Chief-Reporter (Perry, Iowa), 6 April 1893, p. 2. (, accessed 5 June 2015.

About a year ago Jennie Marsden, of Gladstone. Ill., and J. M. Renfro, claiming to be of Chicago, were married by Justice Edmunds in Burlington. They went to Chicago, where, after spending all his wife’s money, some $300, Renfro deserted her. Afterwards she discovered that he then had three wives living in various parts of the country. The affair has been called to the mind of the justice by the receipt of a telegram from another Mrs. Renfro. now in Chicago, who claims to have discovered the gay deceiver’s baseness and caused his arrest. The last Mrs. Renfro was a Detroit widow of considerable means, and it would seem of nerve and determination also. She wired requesting that the justice find the whereabouts of Mrs. Jennie Renfro and urge her to visit Chicago and appear against the perfidious husband. So far as known Renfro has now living five separate and distinct wives. The first on record resides in New York, the second at Rock Island, the third at Englewood, the fourth at Gladstone, and the fifth is the Detroit lady, now temporarily sojourning to Chicago for the purpose of bringing the much married Renfro to justice.

Chicago Daily Tribune (Chicago, Illinois) 11 April 1893, p. 1 (, accessed 5 June 2015.

Charged with Polygamy

John A. Renfro is sought for by the Hyde Park police on complaint of Jennie Marsden of Gladstone, Ill. who says he married her while he had several other wives living. So far as heard from four living women claim to be wives of Renfro, who is 50 years old. His latest wife was Mrs. Brown, with whom he lived for a short time next door to the Hyde Park Police Station. Renfro has disappeared. His case will be presented to the grand jury.

And the lazy genealogist’s on-line incorrectly indexed record that is obviously for Jennie MARSDEN and J. M. RENFRO, as the parents are close enough to convince me. The original was not obtained prior to this post, but I expect to find either transcription errors, indexing errors, or both. I found this marriage index record by doing a FamilySearch search for an Iowa 1892 marriage record with spouse Jennie Marsden.

Name: John G. Rufen Event Type: Marriage Event Date: 08 Mar 1892 Event Place: Burlington, Des Moines, Iowa, United States Age: 43 Birthplace: Davenport Iowa Father's Name: Absaborn Refen Mother's Name: Mary Mccormack Spouse's Name: Jennie E. Marsden Spouse's Age: 35 Spouse's Birth Year (Estimated): 1857 Spouse's Birthplace: Oquawka Ill. Spouse's Father's Name: Saml. Marsden Spouse's Mother's Name: Amanda M. Watson GS Film Number: 956354 , Digital Folder Number: 004309532

“Iowa, County Marriages, 1838-1934,” index, FamilySearch ( : accessed 6 June 2015), John G. Rufen and Jennie E. Marsden, 08 Mar 1892; citing Burlington, Des Moines, Iowa, United States, county courthouses, Iowa.

The “Five Separate and Distinct Wives” as of April, 1893

  1. Mary Lavinia HOUSEMAN. On 20 February 1867, we have what appears to have been the first marriage of John M. RENFRO, in Rock Island County, Illinois.
  2. Mary A COTTER. On 1 June 1873, Manhattan, New York.
  3. Mrs. Fernanda BUDDEI. On 9 May 1885, Cook County, Illinois.
  4. Jennie MARSDEN – new in this post. On 8 March 1892, Burlington, Des Moines County, Iowa.
  5. Mrs. Ellen BROWN. On 5 August 1892, Niles, Berrien County, Michigan.

In early 1886, in Wyoming, a divorce was granted to Mary, his first wife. And in April 1893, he was sought for polygamy. By counting the number of wives in the newspaper report, it appears that Mary Lavinia HOUSEMAN was included in the count even though a divorce was granted in Wyoming in 1886, that they remarried, or that he had another wife that I don’t know about, which is altogether possible.

In 1895, while he was at the National Home for Disabled Volunteer Soldiers in Leavenworth, Kansas, he claimed his residence was Wheatland, Platte County, Wyoming. He was discharged from the hospital on 30 June 1896, and it appears he may have stayed in Kansas for the rest of his life, primarily in Douglass, Butler County. Was this to avoid being arrested for the charges against him? Was he ever found? One of my next steps will be to find records for the warrant(s), etc.

Remaining Wives

  • Lavina P. McHENRY. On 17 August 1896, Lyon County, Kansas. Lavina could have been one of his wives.
  • Eva FOLENSBEE. Circa 1901, probably Kansas. Eva appears to have been his last wife.

From the newspaper articles, it looks like some of his motivation was money. Regarding children, he had two sons with Mary Lavinia HOUSEMAN, one daughter with Mary A COTTER (my 2nd great grandmother), and four sons with Eva FOLENSBEE.

Ironically, although it appears John may have settled down with Eva during the last 15 years of his life, I wonder if she knew she wasn’t really married to my 2nd great grandfather at all.

John was a painter and paper hanger. Everywhere he went for many years it seemed he would set up shop as a painter and paper hanger. His brother, George, was a traveling salesman. I think they stuck together sometimes.

Learning more about my 2nd great grandfather’s transgressions does not make me feel better. It is funny, yet sad. Why was he like this? Why did he do this? Why him?

More will be revealed in time.

This entry was posted in 52 Ancestors, Dad's Side, RENFRO and tagged , , . Bookmark the permalink.

9 Responses to The Much Married Renfro – 52 Ancestors (Ancestor 22)

  1. This is amazing, Elizabeth!!!


  2. charles f renfro says:

    This is so interesting my grandfather was marion renfro from anna or cobden illinois married hazel lence who passed away when my dad was 4 also from that area- i was told he was a foreman of a basket factory im guessing 1920s around cobden – anna area. My father miles eugene renfro eventually was raised by his uncle claude renfro and his newly wed wife geraldine who moved to holland ny where claude relocated where a new basket factory was built-my father was 10 when claude and geraldine moved my father with them – geraldine taught 4th gr at holland. My father married carol koerner formally of holland. Had 3 of us boys shawn eugene- gary miles and myself charles- shawn has 3 girls gary 1 girl 1 boy wesley miles – wesley is the only one carrieing the renfro name who has 2 girls living inc phearson kansas near wichita how ironic is that after reading your story about john renfro


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