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The affidavit

It may have been love.

It may have been lust.

What it was, for certain, was a recipe for disaster.

Eva1Evangeline Leonard was just 16 years old when she married James Farmer, a man almost twice her age, in Piute County, Utah, on the 22nd of December 1890.1

Her first child, Mabel, was born in October 1892; her second, Delmah, in December 1893.2 By 1895, she and James were living in Garfield County, Utah.

And then disaster struck.

Now it isn’t at all clear just what happened. What the records show is that on the 18th of June 1895, Eva L. Farmer and her husband James both signed statements before Volney King, a Justice of the Peace for Garfield County, to the effect that John Farmer — relationship, if any, to her husband James unknown — had committed adultery with Eva on the 12th of June 1895.3

The crime alleged wasn’t rape, mind you, which requires an element of force, but adultery. Which leaves open the question of Eva’s willingness, or lack thereof, as a participant.

In any event, as a result of James’ and Eva’s statements, John was indicted, waived examination, posted bond, and went to trial. And on the 14th of September 1895, a jury found John not guilty of the crime of adultery.4

That very same day, the 14th of September 1895, in the United States District Court for the 2nd District of Utah Territory, Eva L. Farmer was herself indicted on charges of adultery — the very same adultery with John Farmer that was alleged to have happened in June.5

Eva was arrested on 11 October 1895 in Garfield county.6 She was, at that time, four months pregnant; daughter Minerva would be born in March 1896.7

And one month later, with the trial about to begin, she signed an affidavit before United States Commissioner John Ward Christian. In it, she said:

she has no money means property or credit whatever with which to pay the per diam and milage of her witnesses
That Henry Nelson and Mrs Elizabeth Nelson are … necessary witnesses for the defendant and that the evidence of said witnesses is material for the defendants defense as she is advised by her counsel and that she can not safely proceed to trial without the evidence of said witnesses … 8

This affidavit was Eva’s application to be allowed to proceed in forma pauperis. That’s the technical legal Latin term for not having to pay the costs involved in securing assistance in her defense.9 Unless the application was approved, the fees to pay the witnesses for their daily attendance (the per diem charges) and for their travel expenses (the mileage fees) would have to be paid by Eva or the deputy marshal wouldn’t serve the subpoenas to bring the witnesses to court.

The argument Eva was making was a critical one. Saying the Nelsons were material witnesses was the same as saying that each of them was “a person who apparently has information about the subject matter of a lawsuit or criminal prosecution which is significant enough to affect the outcome of the case or trial” — in which case “the court must make every reasonable effort to allow such a witness to testify.”10

In this case, the court agreed: “It appearing to the satisfaction of the court that Henry Nelson and Elizabeth Nelson are material witnesses for the defendant and that defendant is unable to pay the per diem and milage It is ordered that said above names witnesses be subpoenaed and paid by the Territory as provided by law.”11

The law of the Utah Territory made it clear that fees like the ones Eva faced should not stand in the way of seeing that justice was done. In his address to the Legislative Assembly in 1882, for example, Governor E.H. Murray said:

In order that justice may in no instance be denied, where a person is without money or friends willing to serve him as surety, the court shall be authorized to allow such party to proceed in forma pauperis, and costs in such cases should be paid out of the treasury. Witnesses in the class of cases last referred to should be compelled to obey the subpoena and paid for their attendance by the Territory.12

Whatever the Nelsons said in their testimony, the trial went in Eva’s favor. On the 19th of November 1895, the jury returned a verdict finding the defendant not guilty.13

The verdict saved her freedom, but not her marriage. By 1900, Eva was a divorced housekeeper lodging with her youngest daughter in the household of Albert Clayton,14 her older daughters going to school in nearby Cannonville as lodgers in the Johnson household.15

But the story does seem to have a happy ending.

In 1902, she married John Talbot of Piute County and, by 1910, all of her children were living with her and her new family.16 She had four Talbot sons to go with her three Farmer daughters and died in 1953 in Idaho.17

All because of a legal Latin phrase… and the testimony of two witnesses, paid by the Territory which was prosecuting her.


  1. Western States Marriage Record Index, BYU-Idaho Special Collections, entry for Evangeline Leonard and James Farmer, 22 Dec 1890 ( : accessed 8 Oct 2013).
  2. 1900 U.S. census, Garfield County, Utah, Cannonville, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 95, p. 234(A) (stamped), dwelling 348, family 353, Mable and Delmah Farmer, lodgers, in Seth Johnson household; digital image, ( : accessed 8 Oct 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T623, roll 1683; imaged from FHL microfilm 1241683.
  3. United States v. John Farmer, Case No. 790 (1895), NARA microfilm M1401, roll 11, Territorial Case Files of the U.S. District Courts of Utah, 1870-1896; digital images, ( : accessed 8 Oct 2013).
  4. Ibid., verdict sheet dated 14 Sep 1895.
  5. Ibid., United States v. Farmer, Case No. 792 and 793 (1895).
  6. Ibid., return on warrant dated 11 Oct 1895.
  7. 1900 U.S. census, Garfield Co., Utah, Coyoto, pop. sched., ED 94, p. 205(A) (stamped), dwell./fam. 180, Minerva Farmer, lodger, in Albert Clayton household.
  8. United States v. Farmer, Case No. 792 and 793 (1895), affidavit of defendant Evangeline Farmer, 11 Nov 1895.
  9. Henry Campbell Black, A Dictionary of Law (St. Paul, Minn. : West, 1891), 602, “in forma pauperis.”
  10. The Free Dictionary ( : accessed 8 Oct 2013), “material witness.”
  11. United States v. Farmer, Case No. 792 and 793 (1895), order dated 11 Nov 1895.
  12. Message of E.H. Murray, 9 Jan 1882, Council Journal of the Twenty-Fifth Session of the Legislative Assembly of the Territory of Utah (Salt Lake City : Utah Territory, 1882), 22-23; digital images, Google Books ( : accessed 8 Oct 2013).
  13. Ibid., verdict sheet dated 18 Nov 1895.
  14. 1900 U.S. census, Garfield Co., Utah, Coyoto, pop. sched., ED 94, p. 205(A) (stamped), dwell./fam. 180, Eva and Minerva Farmer, lodgers, in Albert Clayton household.
  15. 1900 U.S. census, Garfield Co., Utah, Cannonville, pop. sched., ED 95, p. 234(A) (stamped), dwell. 348, fam. 353, Mable and Delmah Farmer, lodgers, in Seth Johnson household.
  16. 1910 U.S. census, Millard County, Utah, Leamington, population schedule, enumeration district (ED) 68, p. 213(A) (stamped), dwelling 5, family 6, John A. Talbot household; digital image, ( : accessed 8 Oct 2013); citing National Archive microfilm publication T624, roll 1604; imaged from FHL microfilm 1375617.
  17. Idaho, Death Index, 1890-1962, entry for Eva Talbot, 8 May 1953, Bingham County, Idaho; database, ( : accessed 8 Oct 2013).
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