Murder, Mayhem and Madness

Wow, where to begin?  The Buttes were a very accomplished bunch.  All the ones that I knew (aunts, uncles, cousins) were brilliant.  It’s tempting to just give you the list of their accomplishments written up in their obituaries.  However, it’s more fun to hear the stories.  So here goes.

Charles Felix Butte-Caspari was born in Holland in 1830.  His parents were from Italy.  They apparently never immigrated. In 1853 a “C. Butte”, born in 1831, arrived in New York on the F J Wickelhansen.  When he next appears in the 1880 Census, he is married with three children and is a civil engineer in San Francisco.  His wife, Lina Clara Stoes, was born in 1850 in Austria and came to America alone in 1868 on the ship Hermann when she was 18 years old. 

She gives no profession but is listed as being in a “cabin upper level”.  Somehow she or her parents, or maybe her future husband, managed to pay for this.  Somehow Charles and Lina met and married, appearing in San Francisco in 1880 with their three sons, George, Charles and Paul, who had been born there.  The eldest, George, was three years old, so Charles and Lina married in about 1876, several years after her immigration. In 1886 Charles received a patent for a fruit drying machine. He is later listed as a superintendent at the California Dryer company. Charles and Lina remained in California until their deaths in 1900 and 1910.  However, somehow young George was in Texas at age 9 living on a farm.  But before we get to that mystery, I have to tell you about Charles’ other son, Charles.


Charles Felix, his father’s namesake, was a prosperous civil engineer and San Francisco “clubman”.  He married Lenore May Hughes in 1907 and they had three sons.  But in 1934, Charles divorced Lenore, and, that same year, married Emily Maude (Rice) Zigler, “well known in San Francisco and Indianapolis social circles”.  Though what she was know for, I cannot say.  Lenore then sued Emily for $100,000 for Alienation of Affections and Charles turned “approximately $500,000 in property over to his sons”.  This notice gives a little of the background of Charles’ relationship with his first wife.

The resulting financial distress proved fatal.  Using a “curtain pole”, Charles “bludgeoned his socially prominent wife and then heeded her dying request for a farewell kiss”.

Two psychiatrists agreed that Charles “was perfectly sane when he clubbed his wife to death” just  before their second honeymoon after a six month separation.  “She opened her eyes after I struck her the last time and said ‘kiss me goodbye-I’m dying,’” Charles told Detective Yoris. “I knelt down and kissed her and then she was dead.”

But aid was on the way.  Charles’s brother, George Charles Felix Butte (I know, it’s confusing) was reported to be arranging to fly from Mexico to Seattle to provide legal advice to his troubled brother.  

You see, George had made a few headlines himself.  He had been the Dean of the Law Department of the University of Texas, the Republican candidate for Governor of Texas, the Attorney General of Puerto Rico, Vice Governor of the Philippines, Associate Justice of the Supreme Court of the Philippines.  He could probably have gotten Charles off even after he kissed his wife goodbye.  George, the accomplished brother for once, is my ancestor.

But, in the end, George didn’t come.  

Charles died in Walla Walla, Washington at the age of 63 after serving a life sentence and apparently getting paroled at some point.  But that’s not all.  Of the three sons of Charles Felix and Lenore, one was named … wait for it … Charles Felix Butte. However, he always referred to himself as Charles Butte.

The immigrant Charles Felix Butte-Caspari’s eldest son, my great grandfather, was George Charles Felix Butte LLB JD.   The Buttes were worse than the Renfros in unimaginative names.  He named one son George and another, my grandfather, Felix.  

Anyway, as I mentioned before, George Charles was to come to the aid of his murdering younger brother, Charles, in 1938.  But he didn’t.  He was in Mexico at the time and died there two years later, at age 62, of an “intestinal blockage”.  But in those 62 years he made quite a few headlines and was the predominant topic of conversation at our family gatherings with the Butte aunts and uncles in Austin and San Antonio.  There was a great deal of pride in his accomplishments and they are so numerous that I could never keep them straight.  George even had his own Wikipedia entry but it disappeared for some reason.  Here’s part of it:

Butte was born [in 1877 in San Francisco, California, to Charles Felix Butte and the former Lena Clara Stoes. When he was nine years old, Butte’s family moved to Hunt County, east of Dallas, Texas, where he was reared on a farm near Commerce and attended public schools.

In 1895, he received his Bachelor of Arts degree from Austin College in Sherman. He moved to Dublin in Erath County near Stephenville, where on August 21, 1898, he married the former Bertha Lattimore (November 23, 1878–July 13, 1926). Thereafter, he received another bachelor’s degree and in 1904 a Master of Arts from the University of Texas at Austin.  He studied at the University of Berlin in Berlin, Germany from 1911–1912, and received a degree in jurisprudence from the University of Heidelberg in Germany in 1913. He also studied at the École de Droit in Paris, France. Butte was admitted to the Texas bar in 1903, the Oklahoma bar in 1904, and the bar of the Supreme Court of the United States in 1907.

From 1904-1911, Butte practiced law in Muskogee, Oklahoma, when he left the practice to travel and study in Europe. During World War I, Butte was chief of the Foreign Intelligence Section of the General Staff of the U.S. Army, based in Washington, D.C., with the rank of captain and then major.

Now I can tell you the rest of the story.  Notice that George received his first bachelor’s degree in 1895 when he was 18 years old.  Then, after he married, he received a second bachelor’s degree from the University of Texas in 1903.    

One of George’s daughters, Pauline, was an avid family genealogist. According to Aunt Polly’s research, young George went to live with his maternal uncle, Henry Stoes, at Rockwall, Hunt County, Texas in 1887, at the age of 10.  This was long before the scandals in San Francisco, so he wasn’t being sent to get away from all that negative attention.  But that also would mean that Lina Stoes did have family in Texas.  I was able to find Uncle Henry in a later census record in Las Cruses, New Mexico.  But I don’t know why young George was raised on a farm in Commerce, Texas.  And, of course, we don’t have the 1890 census to verify any of this.  The town of Commerce, also in Hunt County, is very proud of its history. “In 1885, the year of incorporation, Commerce had twelve businesses in addition to a hotel and livery stable, a wood shop and wagon factory, and a steam mill and gin, as well as a church and school.” The biography above says he came with his family to Hunt County in 1886.  According to the Census, his father died before 1900, but I don’t know where, and his mother, who died in 1910, and brothers remained in California.  So why was he sent to Texas? I don’t know.

But it’s a good thing he was because George Butte and Bertha Lattimore met and were married in 1898 in Erath County, Texas, where Bertha’s mother, Sarah Catherine (Shivers) Lattimore lived.  Hunt County and Erath County are on opposite sides of Dallas.  Maybe they met in Dallas.  

Bertha was the first wife of George Charles Butte and the mother of all of his children, including the first born, Felix Lattimore Butte, my grandfather, who was born in Sherman, Texas, north of Dallas in 1901.  Bertha’s brother Samuel, that “strong and cultured young attorney”, as we will find out later, followed them to Muskogee and remained in Oklahoma the remainder of his days.

Bertha died young at age 49 in 1926 of a ruptured appendix, when her youngest child, Pauline, my Great Aunt Polly, was just 9 years old.  Aunt Polly wrote this about her memories of her mother:

Because I was not quite nine years old when she died, I have only snatches of memories which I believe are distinct from the things told to me later about those early years.  I remember her singing the old favorite hymns as I stood very close to her in church. She had a sweet clear singing voice and was often asked to sing at friends’ weddings—some of her favorites were “Oh Promise Me” and “Believe Me If All Those Endearing Young Charms”.  Trying to write this evokes a deep sadness (and a lump in my throat) because I lost her so early in our lives together. 

I’ll cover the Lattimores and their ancestors in the next post. 

I never met my great grandfather George, but the thing I remember the most was hearing about his third marriage to a Filipino woman, Angela Montenegro, whom he met while serving as the acting governor of the Philippines.  Although this was somewhat scandalous, the grownups all agreed that she was a lovely woman and made George very happy.


One thing that was not discussed in any detail was the nature of his run for Governor of Texas in 1924.  Based on appearances, he was entirely surprised to be nominated by the Republican Party.  Then Dean of the University of Texas Law School, he was returning home from Europe when he received the news.  “I was overwhelmed,” he said on his arrival in New York. “I am virtually a nobody in Texas politics. Why, I wouldn’t recognize the State’s political leaders if they strolled down the pier to meet me.”  

The thing the grownups didn’t even whisper about was the influence of the (un)desirable Ku Klux Klan vote.  If the Republicans were to have a chance at winning the Governorship, they could not afford to alienate the Klan.  The importance of the Klan vote was evidenced by George’s need to defend himself by stating “I am not now and have never been a member of the Ku Klux Klan. I have not now and never will have any alliance with it.” 

The former governor, and husband of the Democratic nominee, “Ma” Ferguson, charged that, failing to find anybody on land, the “Republican – Ku Klux” crowd had “finally jumped on one poor ignorant professor away out in the middle of the ocean and thrust upon the poor devil the Republican – Ku Klux nomination for Governor.”

I don’t really understand the ins and outs of Texas politics in the ’20s, or any other time for that matter, and I think that is a positive attribute.  But it seems that the Klan’s loathing of the Democratic Fergusons lead them to vote for Uncle George.

Mrs. Ferguson’s Republican opponent in the general election was George C. Butte, dean of the University of Texas law school. Ferguson attacked him as “a little mutton-headed professor with a Dutch diploma,” who was taking orders from the “grand dragon” of the “Realm of Texas,” Z. L. Marvin, “the same as Felix Robertson did [another Felix?].” According to the New York Times, the November 4 election signified “the greatest political revolution that ever took place in Texas.” Tens of thousands of rock-ribbed Democrats cast a ballot for a Republican candidate for the first time. Klansmen deserted wholesale to Butte, who was not in sympathy with the organization, as did a number of anti-Ferguson Democrats, outraged that Ferguson should return to power through his wife. [“Texas in the 1920s” Handbook of Texas, Texas State Historical Association]

He also benefited from the Suffragists’ abhorrence of “Ma” Ferguson.

Caught between a rock and a hard place, many of the former suffragists found themselves unable to bring themselves to support Ferguson. Instead, they did what was then almost unthinkable in Texas politics. They crossed party lines and supported the Republican candidate, George C. Butte, dean of the University of Texas law school. Ordinarily, Republican candidates for governor polled between 11,000 and 30,000 votes statewide. In the election of 1924, Butte received over 294,000 votes — most of them from women. [“Women’s Suffrage Movement in Texas”, Texas State Library and Archives]

But that was not enough to win the election.  

The Texas Klan quickly died out after that. “It was all over,” recalled a former Klansman. “After Robertson was beaten [in the Republican primary] the prominent men left the Klan. The Klan’s standing went with them.”   


The Buttes were blessed with brilliance but plagued by mental and emotional problems. But George and Bertha’s children were some of my favorite relatives when I was a child.  The eldest was Felix, my grandfather. More on him below. The next, George, I didn’t know.  Woodfin, or Uncle Woody, was a lot of fun.  He also was a law professor at the University of Texas.  He had a son, Johnny, who was absolutely brilliant.  Uncle Woody and Aunt Pat had two grand pianos in their house so that Uncle Woody and his son could play duets together.  It was astounding.  Tragically, their Johnny suffered heat stroke his first year at Yale, and lived in a vegetative state thereafter. 

George Charles and his sons

Then came Catherine, whom we all called Aunt Ta, my most favorite great aunt.  She was funny and had a glass eye.  When she was young she was sitting in the stands watching a baseball game when the ball flew right into her eye.  Even with no depth perception, she was a great pool player.  And her son, Woodfin, one of my favorite cousins, followed the family tradition and became a judge. His older brother, Stephen, was a Chess Master as a senior in college. His younger sister, Casey, was wild and was frequently the topic of family conversation.  I think she came to a tragic end. 

Beth, Polly and Sara

Finally, there was little Sarah Pauline, or Aunt Polly.  She was only a few years older than her niece, Beth, and often visited at the Butte house in Dallas on Maplewood Avenue.  Next door lived the Gifford Family and Beth and Polly came to know the Giffords’ son, Pete, who was about Polly’s age.

Now, to my grandfather, Felix Lattimore Butte, George and Bertha’s first born. During his youth he lived for a while in Austin and then Muskogee, Oklahoma while his father practiced law there.  Later, he benefited from his father’s stays in Berlin, Heidelberg and Paris while George was obtaining (more) advanced degrees.  He followed the family tradition of being very accomplished, playing the violin, becoming not only a doctor but eventually the Chief of the Orthopedic Surgery Department at Baylor Hospital in Dallas.  Always a point of pride in the family.  He worked there, literally, until the day he died in 1962.

While Felix was studying in Austin he met a very vivacious young lady from Chilton, Texas, Sarah Elizabeth Kirkpatrick.  They married on September 17, 1924. The marriage announcement in the San Antonio Press September 13, 1924 had Elizabeth’s name wrong, referring to her  as “Mary”.  She must have been furious.

Elizabeth and Felix 1924

Felix and Elizabeth were separated for a year or two while he was at medical school in Galveston.  Elizabeth had graduated from the university and was back in Chilton teaching school.  His letters are very passionate and creative in the greetings and closings he uses.  Or maybe that was just how young twenty-somethings wrote in the early twenties.  After their marriage, Felix became a professor of anatomy at Galveston from 1927 until 1933. There are a lot of pictures of them with their daughters Rose Elizabeth and Sara and son Felix, Jr at the beach.  Rose, my mother, changed her name to Beth because she got tired of the other children calling her “Rosie Butt”. Galveston also became a frequent destiny for our family summer vacations when I was little.  

Beth, Sara, Elizabeth, Felix, Jr and Felix

Next Felix and his family moved to White Plains, New York, so that he could train further in New York in the specialty of orthopedics. Felix’s medical career was interrupted by military service from 1942 to 1945.  Their children were in their early teens and did not see much of their father during those years.  He served as military doctor in England.  There was family gossip, via Aunt Sara, that he fell in love with a nurse and must have considered leaving Elizabeth, because she and the children knew of the affair.  However, he returned home and was a very devoted husband and father.

Elizabeth and Felix

After the war Felix’s peers considered him a superb technician, and his main clinical interest was the spine.  He is thought to have been the first to use a particular type of fixation in the stabilization of spines. He became well known for the treatment of scoliosis.  I have a box with with his spine, skull and hand (well, not literally his).

Felix always referred to Elizabeth as “Pretty”. Elizabeth loved to write poems.  I received one every year on my birthday, as did everyone else.  Here is an early one that she wrote to Felix.  It is in a plain envelop so it may not have been mailed, but delivered by her hand.

Elizabeth loved Dallas society and was a very active member of the Dallas Garden Club.   She made very elaborate flower arrangements and entered them into contests.   She had come a long ways from the little town of Chilton.  She also taught piano.  I was one of her worst pupils.  

My grandfather loved sports cars.  He had an MG and Elizabeth (all the other grownups called her Libbo) had a pink Caddy or Lincoln Continental with “suicide doors”.  Not to be outdone, my father bought my mother an Austin Healey.

I remember when I was very young Aunt Sara and “Uncle T” would come “home” to visit during the holidays.  Since they were aunt and uncle, I thought they were husband and wife.  Sara must have been living and working in New York by then and Uncle T was in the navy.  Here’s a picture of him in his uniform.  I look like I’m 2 or 3 years old.  Shortly after that, he had a mental breakdown and was eventually diagnosed as a schizophrenic.  

The family gossip (via Aunt Sara, again) was that Felix could not see that his son was ill.  He must have expected a great deal of his son.  Young Felix Jr had attended Yale and would, of course, be as gifted as all the other Buttes.  Some said that early treatment might have prevented such a serious illness.  After his breakdown, Uncle T lived in the Veterans Administration hospital in Topeka, Kansas for many years.  

Many years later, after my mother’s death, that my father told me of his almost life-long infatuation with Polly.  Polly married in 1940, so she was out of the running when he came home from the war.  Not everyone was pleased that Pete married Beth.  His sister Marjorie said to me, at the hospital where my mother lay dying, that “Pete should never have married her.  Her mother pushed Beth on [poor little] Pete.”  As if his mother had nothing to say in the matter.  That was the last conversation I had with my very unfavorite Aunt Marjorie.  Maybe the marriage was simply his mother’s (Eveline Bonorden Gifford) way of keeping her only son near her in Dallas where Beth’s parents lived as well.  

After my mother died, Pete and Polly had an intense love affair. But Polly had hepatitis and was too ill to be a constant companion for him.   She could never leave San Antonio but Dad might have moved there to be with her. I begged her to let him just adore her.  But Polly said he deserved better than a dying woman.  Polly died a couple of years after Dad remarried.  But he continued to see Polly until her death, which infuriated that other woman. 

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