By Tom Collins
The story of Carrie Stephens, Arizona pioneer, illustrates the subservient position of women in the early years of Prescott’s colorful history. Ambitious businessmen sometimes used their nubile daughters as pawns in a chess game of social and economic advancement in Prescott, a village of about 400 men and only 28 women at the end of its founding year, 1864. The First Territorial Legislature, which convened in Prescott in September 1864, set the age of sexual consent at ten years old, perhaps to facilitate child marriage.
Caroline Elizabeth Stephens, known as Carrie, was born on January 30, 1849, in Athens, Missouri, the daughter of Varney Andrews and Nancy A. (Bell) Stephens of Jacksonville, Illinois. Her father was a farmer. Nothing is known of her childhood and education. Carrie had four younger siblings: Martina, Josephine, Martha and John. Around 1860 the Stephens family moved to Denton, Texas, where Stephens engaged in farming, stock raising and freighting.
Carrie came with her family to Prescott in October 1864, just as the town was beginning. They resided on Granite St. prior to the late 1860s and early 1870s, when Granite St. became Prescott’s Chinatown. Carrie’s father initially invested in a sawmill. In this village, with a population dominated by mostly single men, Carrie could not possibly have feared spinsterhood.
Yet, at the age of fifteen, on November 18, 1864, she married a man thirty-four years her senior: William Claude Jones (1815-1884), an attorney and Speaker of the House of Representatives in the First Territorial Arizona Legislature. With just a month of socializing and courting squeezed between daily sessions of the legislature, what could a young teenager like Carrie have possibly seen in a 49-year-old man? Possibly nothing at all. More likely her father, fascinated with the emerging territorial government and deceived by Jones’ charm and charisma, arranged this marriage to forge what he hoped might be a socially advantageous alliance. Carrie’s wishes would have been disregarded. Had Varney Stephens known what an inveterate liar and con artist Jones really was—around 1858 Jones had abducted and married a 12-year-old Mexican girl in Mesilla, NM—he might never have compelled Carrie to agree to such an unholy union.
At the end of the wedding festivities (including a humiliating midnight shivaree), Jones took his bride to Tucson in the company of Judge Joseph P. Allyn. In April 1865, he and Carrie returned to Prescott. On May 5, without a word, Jones mysteriously disappeared. Carrie and her family likely felt betrayed and ashamed. Where did Jones go, and why did he leave? For nearly two years his whereabouts remained unknown. Carrie filed for divorce on the grounds of abandonment and adultery in April 1867. Jones never returned, and the divorce was granted in July. Carrie resumed her maiden name. The Arizona Weekly Miner, under the editorship of John Marion and Ben Weaver, respected the Stephens’ privacy and made no comment about either Carrie’s marriage or Jones’ despicable desertion.
It turned out that Jones had boarded a steamer for Hawaii, arriving in Honolulu in February 1866. There he wormed his way into the confidence of the Hawaiian nobility. He was (illegally) elected representative from the South Kona District in the Legislature of the Kingdom of Hawaii in April 1868. Nine days later he resigned. True to his predilections, he then married a 14-year-old girl who was descended from a noble Hawaiian family.
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