POSTSCRIPT - JEANNIE'S LIFE
AFTER LEAVING FORT MACON
by Randy Newman
For the past two
years, readers of the Fort Macon Ramparts have followed a young
mother's life at Fort Macon in the late 1860's, as revealed by her
letters to her sister in the North. Jane "Jeannie" Coues was the
wife of Fort Macon's Surgeon, Dr. Elliot Coues. Dr. Coues made
his living as an Army officer, but his primary interest in life was
developing and enhancing his international reputation as an authority
on North American birds. When the Army reassigned Dr. Coues in
1870, we lost our correspondence connection with "Jeannie".
In November 1870, Dr. Elliot Coues, along with his
wife Jeannie and their daughter Edith Louise, would leave Fort Macon to
go to Fort McHenry. Jeannie must have been very excited about
this move from Fort Macon for one of the best army posts, located near
Baltimore Maryland. Also, with her husband's transfer came a pay
raise from $2500 to around $4000. The officers' quarters at Fort
McHenry were of sturdy construction, well heated and ventilated.
Jeannie now had a home that provided her family with the comforts which
had been lacking at Fort Macon. The Officer's House at Fort Macon
had cracks in the wall that let the sand and rain in. Jeannie
probably never missed her house at Fort Macon which she called "my
cottage by the sea".
On January 16, 1872, Jeannie gave birth to her first
son, Elliot Baird Coues. Dr. Coues wanted to name their son
Spencer Baird (Spencer F. Baird was then the Assistant Secretary of the
Smithsonian Institution), but Jeannie had her heart set on Elliot
Baird. Sometime around late September 1872, Dr. Coues would be
sent to Fort Randall, in the Dakota territory. In 1878, Jeannie
would give birth to another son, Beverly Drinkard. Jeannie had
two other children, but both died in infancy.
On November 26, 1880, Dr. Coues was ordered to Fort
Whipple, Arizona Territory. He had begun his military career at
Fort Whipple and did not want to return to this outpost. He
considered this appointment an insult. Dr. Coues did not want to
return to "tent-life in unbookish Arizona". He believed this
appointment from the War Department was secretly arranged by his "worst
enemy". Dr. Coues' "worst enemy" was his wife Jeannie. Dr.
Coues would write "...my whole career is at present blocked, in the
deadlock brought about by the most devilish malignity and ingenuity of
my infamous wife, whose subtle antagonism has been manifested for years
in every possible endeavor to thwart and hamper and degrade me...
I have been utterly helpless; and so sure did a long matured plot leave
her in full possession of my name, house, children, and money..."
Jeannie's hatred for her husband had resulted from
his many affairs with other women over the years. In 1881,
Jeannie and her husband decided to go their separate ways.
Jeannie continued to reside at 1617 K Street, Washington, D.C., where
the entire family had lived before Dr. Coues' second tour of duty in
Arizona. Jeannie kept custody of their daughter, Edith Louise,
and youngest son, Beverly Drinkard. The oldest son, Elliot Baird, went
with his father. On May 12, 1886, Jeannie filed for divorce in
the District Court of Washington, D.C. On July 27, the judge
granted the divorce on the grounds of desertion. According to the
decree, Jeannie was to receive fifty dollars a month from Dr. Coues and
was to have custody of the children, except Elliot Baird, who was to
stay with his father. Dr. Coues died on December 25, 1899.
The lowest point in Jeannie's life must have been on January 2, 1913,
when her oldest son, Elliot Baird, passed away.
Edith Louise was age two while at Fort Macon.
She would ride a broom-stick around the fort and would often ask for
"tandy" (candy) from the soldiers of the fort. The soldiers made
a point to keep candy in their pockets for Edith. Later, she
would receive her education at the Convent of Notre Dame in Maryland,
and from private tutors.
On April 22, 1901, at the age of thirty three, Edith married Nelson
O'Shaughnessy of New York City. The wedding took place in Rome,
Italy. Nelson O'Shaugnessy worked for the American Diplomatic
Service. In 1907, Edith would give birth to her only child, Elim,
a son. Elim would also spend most of his life in the diplomatic
service as a Foreign Service Officer.
Edith became an excellent writer and wrote many
books. Her first and best known book was A Diplomat's Wife in
Mexico. Around 1920, Edith wrote about her mother, Jeannie:
"My mother is very tall, her figure little or not at all bent by time,
and her gait is of a peculiar rhythmic majesty. She generally
wears capes of unique and beautiful cut... Often too I picture her
sitting at one end of the long white table of the white upper chamber,
the light from the electric bulb in the paneled ceiling, cutting out
her beautiful, high, straight nose, deepening her large-socketed, still
blue eyes, tracing her delicate, so often smiling lips, and finding the
gleam or sparkle of something around her unravaged throat. Over
her face lies a great calm which has come after much combating with
circumstances and many enforced or voluntary renunciations...
Under that light yesterday she was saying, 'Love your griefs; they are
your best friends. Looking back over these many years I see that
the good and admirable things of life have indeed belonged to adversity
rather than prosperity".
Jeannie spent her last years traveling with Edith
and her family. She died on January, 1925, in Rome. Edith
O'Shaughnessy died on February 18, 1939, in New York City.
The author, Randy Newman, is a Park Ranger at Fort
Macon State Park. The source of much of the material in this
article is the book titled: "ELLIOTT COUES, Naturalist and Frontier
Historian" by Paul Cutright & Michael Brodhead.