#52Ancestors: 2nd Great-Grandfather William Sanford Fields Imprisoned for Rape in 1898 Texas

My 31st entry in Amy Johnson Crow’s “52 Ancestors in 52 Weeks” family history blogging challenge for 2015.

The challenge: have one blog post each week devoted to a specific ancestor. It could be a story, a biography, a photograph, an outline of a research problem — anything that focuses on one ancestor.

I am still quite behind on the challenge due to  a summer school course.

My 31st ancestor is my husband Jeff’s 2nd Great-Grandfather William Sanford “W.S.” Fields (1868-1945).

There is nothing enjoyable in telling this particular story, but it confirms information that my husband’s cousins and I have been trying to learn.

Information Baseline

In conversations I have had with my husband’s cousins, and in notes I have found on public Ancestry Member Trees, I was made aware that 2nd Great-Grandfather William Sanford Fields went to jail for rape when his youngest daughter–my husband’s Great-Grandmother Laura Mae Fields (1896-1933)–was very young. Our branches of the family never knew him and never saw him after he got out of prison, and Laura Mae’s daughter’s would not talk about the event when younger more removed generations asked about the incident.1

Fields Family 1900 US Census Texas
The Fields family on the 1900 U.S. census in McLennan County, Texas. 2
If you recall from a post I wrote last week that analyzed Great-Grandmother Laura Mae Fields on the 1900 federal census, Laura Mae (age 3) is living with her mother Dollie (age 25), brother Julius (age 9), and sister Clara B. (age 5) in Justice Precinct 1, McLennan County, Texas. No father lives with them, and mother Dollie is identified as widowed.3 I mentioned in that post that Dollie was not widowed, but that I would discuss that in a later post.

This is that later post.

Chronology of Events

The documentation investigated here was analyzed to answer the research question: “Was William Sanford Fields, father of Julius Fields and great-grandmother Laura Mae Fields, sent to jail for committing rape?”

The Rape

“On or about” 1 April 1897, William Sanford Fields (age 29) raped Alice Requardt, who was not yet 15 years of age. A public domain digitized law report available on Google Books provides very thorough details about the crime.4

The rape victim was newly married to husband Fritz Requardt, and the couple lived at the home of my husband’s 2nd Great-Grandparents William Sanford Fields and Dollie [?] Fields [in McLennan County, Texas]. While Dollie Fields–who I assume took their three young children with her–was away in Waco, McLennan County, Texas, caring for her sick sister, and the victim’s husband was away on business in Waco, W.S. Fields sexually assaulted Alice Requardt. The victim reported the attack to her husband when he returned. After they fled to her father’s home, her father reported the rape to authorities.5

William Sanford Fields Texas Reporter 1900
The rape account is on page 489 of the reporter.6

Conviction & Sentencing

On 12 January 1898, William Sanford Fields was convicted of criminal assaulted in Waco, McLennan County, Texas. He was sentenced on the same day to 5 years in the penitentiary. A brief announcement appeared that day in the Austin (Texas) Weekly Statesman.7

William Sanford Fields - Austin Weekly Statesman Jan 20 1898
Announcement in the Austin (Texas) Weekly Statesman, 20 January 1898.8

The Appeal

W.S. Fields appealed his sentence, with the appeal making its way up to the Texas Court of Criminal Appeals. On 25 June 1898, the appeal was overruled. The same digitized law report is actually a report on the appeal, not the original case. But it provides details about the original case, which I discussed above.

In Fields v. The State, we see 2nd Great-Grandfather W.S. Fields and his lawyers filing an appeal against the original case verdict, on a technicality. They argued that the Texas statute uses the term “carnal knowledge” in its definition of rape, yet the indictment failed to use that full term, and instead stated that the defendant “did then and there ravish and have carnal [the term “knowledge is not included here] of the said A.R.” Therefore, the charge was erroneous. But the appellate judge ruled the indictment was sufficient.9

The appeal also tried to impeach the credibility of the victim’s husband as a witness [witness of her age], claiming the witness was a bigamist still married to another woman. The appellate court ruled that no such impeachment could take place since the witness had never been indicted for bigamy.9

Doing Time


According to prison records, W.S. Fields was admitted to the Texas State Penitentiary in Huntsville, Walker County, Texas on 13 November 1898, with a sentence of five years. Slightly less than one year later, on 9 October 1999, he was punished for laziness.11

William Sanford Fields, Texas Convict Register
Prison record for W.S. Fields.12

Convict Camps

The 1900 U.S. census shows W.S. Fields enumerated 2 July 1900 in Colorado County, Texas, at an institution named Convict Camp No. 2.He is described as married (for 13 years, calculating out to about an 1887 marriage date), 32 years of age (born February 1868), and working as a farm laborer.13

William Sanford Fields, 1900 US Census
W.S. Fields on the 1900 U.S. census. Click on the image for a larger view.14
At first glance, this census record makes perfect sense–W.S. Fields is identified as a prisoner. But the location threw me off. Colorado County? Convict Camp No. 2? The prison convict register clearly notes that he was a prisoner at Huntsville State Penitentiary from 1898 until 1902. Huntsville prison is located in Walker County, not Colorado County.

1900 US Census, Convict Camp 1
A closer look at the Convict Camp No. 2 designation on Fields’ 1900 U.S. census page.14
I decided to do some further research on this convict camp in Colorado County. Which lead me to a blog post by Legal Genealogist Judy Russell. I immediately suspected that Judy must have written a general post about interpreting prison records that just happened to reference Colorado County. Reading her post, I nearly jumped for joy. Judy had written about Convict Camp No. 1 in Justice Precinct 8, Colorado County, where her great-grandfather Jasper Carlton Robertson worked as a prison guard when enumerated on the 1900 U.S. census.16
However Judy describes her great-grandfather’s place of work as Dunovant’s Camp No. 1.

William Dunovant was one of the biggest landowners in all of Colorado County, Texas, around the time when Jasper was a prison guard — and he hired convict labor to work on his sugar and rice plantations.”17

Same census, same county, same precinct as my W.S. Fields. Different convict camps.

So these were convict labor camps, run by private individuals. Texas operated a convict lease system from 1867 to 1912, that leased penitentiary prisoners out as labor.18

Time to take a closer look at the 1900 federal census record for my W.S. Fields, flipping back and forth to the page preceding and following his census entry. The page after the one that records Fields provides a more complete name of the institution where Fields was living and enumerated–Dunovant’s Convict Camp No. 2. Dunovant. Just like in Judy’s blog post.

1900 US Census, Convict Camp 1
Header of the page following the one on which Fields was enumerated in the 1900 U.S. census.19
This observation–missed the first handful of times I looked at the census record for W.S. Fields–prompted me to revisit his convict register record. Bingo. There it was all along. It just didn’t mean anything to me until I read Judy’s blog post.

William Sanford Fields Convict Camps
A closer look at the Location column on the prison register entry for Fields.12
Noted under the Location column are two sets of names and dates, indicating the convict campus to which 2nd Great-Grandfather William Sanford Fields was leased out while doing time in the state penitentiary:

  • Burleson & John’s: Dated 13 November 1898. This is likely the day he was first leased out. Burleson & John’s Farm was a convict camp located in Hill County, Texas.
  • Dunovant’s: Dated 28 October 1899. This also is likely the day he was leased out to this camp. We know that he was there at least through 2 July 1900, the date he was enumerated on the federal census.

When I made the connection between my husband’s ancestor and Judy’s ancestor, I hit her up on Facebook, joking that she and my husband are now Texas Prison System Kin. Judy and I chatted more about the coincidence. She informed me that her great-grandfather “Jasper was a guard at Dunovant Camp 2 in the late spring and summer of 1899.”21 Might Judy’s great-grandfather have been a guard at the very convict labor camp where my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather was imprisoned as a farm laborer? Might Judy’s ancestor have been the one who punished William Sanford Fields for laziness, as noted on Fields’ convict register entry? Nope. Her Jasper only worked at Camp 2 until the summer of 1899. My W.S. Fields was not leased out to that same camp until October of 1899.


Fields was discharged on 28 October 1902, in the penitentiary for less than his 5-year sentence, but perhaps the time spent in jail during his appeal process was counted towards his sentence.22

Impact on the Family

His youngest daughter–my husband’s Great-Grandmother Laura Mae Fields– was only 15-months-old when her father was convicted and sentenced. She was 2-years-old when her father was sent to Huntsville, and 6-years-old when he was released. I have no evidence to support that Laura Mae ever saw her father after the rape and trial.

Son Julius–who we discussed last week, when we found 13-year-old Laura Mae living with him and his new wife on the 1910 U.S. census–was thrust into the role of “man of the family” at a very young age.23 He would have only been about 6-1/2 years old when his father was convicted and sentenced, and age 7 when his father went to prison.

Going back to that 1900 federal census record for the family, we can see that the family lived in the same county in which the initial charges were filed for the April 1897 rape and the January 1898 trial was held. I cannot tell from the evidence if William Sanford’s wife and children lived still, in 1900, in the very house where the crime took place. Wife Dollie must have felt intense anger towards her husband and shame. It had to be very difficult for her to hold her head up in their community, to shield her very young children from town gossip, and to provide for her three children (remember…the 1900 census shows no one in the family as working).24

It is no wonder that Dollie chose to identify herself as a widow (her husband identifies himself as married), since she was the likely informant, on that 1900 census. I find no evidence that she and husband William Sanford ever received a divorce. Dollie apparently considered her husband dead to her and the children.

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Next Steps?

The information from these records sufficiently answers my current research question. But there is still a lot more work to do on my husband’s 2nd great-grandfather William Sanford Fields.

  • Begin documenting and piecing together the rest of Fields’ life story.
  • Locate a possible marriage record for William Sanford Fields and wife Dollie, as I still do not have documented evidence of their marriage, and this will likely provide me with Dollie’s maiden name as well, so that I can continue researching her line.


Sorry, EE citation purists. This footnote plugin does not place nicely with more than one “Ibid” reference or with [brackets].

Finally a Contemporary Marriage Record for Texas Great-Grandparents Andrew Jackson Pace and Laura Mae Fields

If you haven’t read my recent series of posts the past couple of weeks, I have been focusing my current research efforts on my husband Jeff’s Pace and Fields line, in preparation for a trip I am taking to Texas next month. His great-grandparents were Andrew Jackson “A.J.” Pace (d. 1961) and Laura Mae (Fields) Pace (1896-1933). Little is known about Laura Mae because she died from meningitis at the age of 36, leaving behind a husband and ten children ranging from 19 years old to just a few months old.

The Research Question

One of the key questions in this current phase of research was simply, when and where did my husband’s great-grandparents marry?

When and where did Andrew Jackson “A.J.” Pace (likely born in Alabama, lived in Texas, died 1961 in New Mexico) and Laura Mae Fields (born around 1896 likely in Texas, died early 1930s in Texas) marry?

The Evidence

I have been unable to locate an actual marriage certificate or even a marriage index entry for the couple in the collections available online through Ancestry and FamilySearch. Since, according to the FamilySearch Wiki, duplicate copies of marriage records are/were not sent to the state archives like is done for birth and death records, I will not be able to find a copy of the marriage record at the state archives when I visit Austin next month.1

My only choice is to go it old school, and request the marriage record from the county clerk in Dallas County. But thanks to these newfound documents, I now know a specific marriage date and place, which will make the county clerk’s work easier.

The 1930 U.S. Census

Prior to one week ago, the only piece of evidence I had that referenced a marriage date for Andrew Jackson Pace and Laura Mae Fields was the 1930 federal census.

Andrew Jackson Pace Household 1930 US Census

I wrote a little while back that the ages for Andrew Jackson and Laura Mae at the time of the census and and ages at time of first marriage do not jive. Andrew Jackson is noted as age 52 (born about 1878),  and first married at age 38. Laura Mae is noted as age 34 (born about 1896), and first married at age 16. This would make the husband and wife about 18 years apart in age at the time of the census, yet 22 years apart when each was first married.2

So either the two sets of ages for Andrew Jackson and Laura Mae were mis-reported (wrong info or bad math) to the census taker, or Laura Mae had a prior marriage. I have not yet exhausted the search for a possible earlier marriage for Laura Mae, but based on documents I have have since found pertaining to Laura Mae, I am leaning towards this census information discrepancy simply being a case of wrong information or bad math.

I have not found the family on the 1920 U.S. census.

Laura Mae’s Obituary

I blogged this past Sunday about just discovering the first document I have come across that references a specific marriage date and place for my husband’s great-grandparents,

This big discovery was the the 23 February 1933 obituary for great-grandmother Laura Mae, published in their local newspaper, the Lamb County Leader. The obituary–for which husband A.J. Pace likely served as the informant, since he did so for her certificate of death–reports that the two were married on 24 November 1912 in Mesquite, Dallas County, Texas.3, 4

Laura Mae Fields 1933 Obituary
Courtesy of the Southwest Collection/Special Collections Library.5

Marriage Announcement

Within hours of publishing Wednesday night’s blog post tracking and mapping Laura Mae’s life events across the state of Texas, I scored again. A big time score…from a tiny little reference in the tiny little newspaper in the then-tiny little rural farming city Mesquite, Dallas County, Texas. The first contemporaneously created record I have found documenting the marriage of Andrew Jackson Pace and Laura Mae Fields–a newspaper announcing their marriage. Sitting right there in one of my favorite digital archives, The Portal to Texas History, which I visit almost weekly (see the first segment in a series I am writing about the Portal on my professional blog).

The Record

On 29 November 1912, The Texas Mesquiter (Mesquite, Texas) published a small brief on its front page, which reports that “A.J. Pace and Miss May Field were married Sunday [the 24th] morning at 10:00 o’clock, at the home of the groom’s uncle, J.A. Pace.” It also reports that the couple “will probably make their home after the first of the year in Bell county.”6

1912 Marriage Announcement for Pace-Fields
Marriage announcement in The Texas Mesquiter.5

Analyzing the Record

As with the obituary, this newspaper announcement provides direct evidence since it directly answers the research question…”When and where were Andrew Jackson Pace and Laura Mae Fields married?”, whereas the 1930 census record only provides indirect evidence because it does not specifically answer the research question.

The marriage date and place mentioned in the newspaper announcement are in agreement with the evidence provided in Laura Mae’s death certificate and obituary; these records do not conflict. The marriage date from the newspaper announcement and the obituary are also in agreement with what the 1930 federal census reports for Laura Mae’s age at first marriage, age 16. They are not, however, in agreement with (meaning they conflict with) what the 1930 census reported as A.J.’s age at this marriage, but since I have not yet analyzed his life records, I cannot yet resolve that particular conflict. My hunch is still that the information reported for A.J. on the 1930 U.S. census is just wrong info and bad math, likely reported by wife Laura Mae who would not have had firsthand knowledge of Andrew Jackson’s birth and age.

What new clues does this new record yield?

  • The couple was married in a private home, not in a church, so it is unlikely that there is a church marriage record for them, which could function as a vital records substitute for a marriage certificate if a certificate does not exist.
  • Great-grandfather Andrew Jackson Pace had an uncle who went by J.A. Pace, and who lived in Mesquite.
  • The couple was planning to move to nearby Bell County in early 1913, which helps me narrow down the geographical scope in which to search for a record of birth (which I have not yet found) for their oldest child, my husband’s grandfather Roy Delmar Pace, who was born 19 October 1913. I have not been able to identify a place of birth for Roy, only that it was in Texas.

The Discovery Process

Why couldn’t I locate this record before?

I have spent months scouring The Portal to Texas History for information pertaining to my husband’s Pace and Fields lines. How have I never come across this newspaper brief until last night? That is the topic of a future tutorial on my professional blog. A lesson I have learned twice this past week, and which I now need to incorporate into my regular search tactics for online records and repositories.

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Next Steps?

Tasks to formally prove my answer to this current research question, and to formulate and answer new research questions.

  • Continue looking for an actual marriage certificate for Andrew Jackson Pace and Laura Mae Fields. This requires contacting or visiting the Dallas County Clerk’s Office.
  • Look for Dallas County records referencing Andrew Jacksons’s uncle J.A. Pace. This may help me locate where Andrew Jackson was living in Texas prior to marriage, and provide additional kinship clues to begin documenting the history of Andrew Jackson’s parents, siblings, and grandparents.