LAWRENCEVILLE HISTORIAN JUDE WUDARCZYK UNEARTHS THE DETAILS OF A CHIPPEWA WOMAN’S LEGAL FIGHT WITH THE CITY’S LEADING MEN
Of the many unique stories associated with Pittsburgh, perhaps one of the most unusual involved a legal battle, a Native American woman and Pittsburgh’s wealthy white elite. Central to the story are early Pittsburgh physician Peter Mowry; his son, William; and daughter-in-law, Cub-bayou-quit, or Mary, Mowry. By 1830, Peter Mowry had such a successful practice that he was able to build a large Greek Revival house at present-day 5134 Carnegie St. and secure a tract in Collins Township (now Upper Lawrenceville) that stretched from his home to the south bank of the Allegheny River. His estate included a part of what today is Allegheny Cemetery. In 1795, he married Elizabeth Gray, and they had two sons, Bedford and John. After his wife died, the doctor remarried in 1809. His children from his second marriage, to Eliza Mowry, who died in 1871, were William and Addison. Although William Mowry followed his father into the medical profession, he apparently had additional interests. Around 1846, he and Addison moved west to become traders. In Bay City, Mich., he met a Chippewa chief named Perot (sometimes spelled Pero). After the customary gifts to the chief, William was given permission to marry Perot’s daughter, Cub-ba-you-quit. The couple had two children, a boy and a girl. The boy died in childhood. After a few years, William returned to Pittsburgh, leaving behind his wife, daughter and brother. He may have intended to be away only temporarily. While in Pittsburgh, though, he became ill and died. His brother also died about the same time. The chief’s daughter remarried. Later, she struck an agreement with a man named Bernard L. Meister. Upon learning that she had inherited property in Pittsburgh, and that the property was developed and worth an estimated $2 million, Mr. Meister offered her $30,000 for three-fourths interest in the property. He also demanded to manage the litigation needed to obtain control of the property. She agreed, and the case was heard in federal court here in December 1874. By this time, the land had been subdivided and the sections sold off. Various businesses had been built on the property. The new owners included some of Pittsburgh’s most prominent men, such as industrialists F. S. Bissell, Andrew Carnegie and his brother, Thomas Carnegie; the Carnegies’ business partner, George Kloman; clothier Moses Oppenheimer; businessman Benjamin Darlington; and banker Christian Siebert. The businesses occupying the land included Keystone Bridge Co. and Allegheny Cemetery. Two suits made up the case. From Dec. 10, 1874, to Dec. 22, 1874, the Pittsburgh Gazette ran stories about it. Jurors were selected from among 45 prominent men in Western Pennsylvania. The selections included an editor from Meadville, Crawford County; a lawyer from Franklin, Venango County; bankers from Bellefonte, Centre County, and Waynesburg; a farmer from Washington; a doctor from Uniontown; a tax collector from Beaver; an iron manufacturer from Kittanning; and Pittsburgh attorneys Robert B. Carnahan and J. B. Sweitzer. Judge William W. McKennan heard the case. As his attorneys, Mr. Meister hired Isaac Marston and the law firms of Ferguson and Murray and Weir and Gibson. The defense hired a cadre of prominent lawyers. Mr. Meister’s attorneys argued that some of the jurors might have lots in Allegheny Cemetery and the verdict could be swayed by their interests. It turned out that only Mr. Carnahan had a lot, and he was kept on the jury because it was not part of the disputed ground. Next, Mr. Meister’s attorneys offered into evidence documents showing that Peter Mowry had owned the 76 acres in question. Then they entered into evidence the doctor’s last will and testament, which was dated April 20, 1833. (The doctor made the will about two weeks before dying.) The will directed that the doctor’s real estate be divided among his sons, with the land in question going to William. Another document, confirming this distribution of land, also was entered as evidence. Among the witnesses were various Michigan men, who testified that William Mowry often had referred to Mary as his woman or wife and that he referred to Perot as “dad” and his father-inlaw. One told how William had asked him to plead his case to Perot and ask the chief to grant him Mary’s hand. He testified that he told William that it was necessary for him to send gifts to the young lady’s parents. This witness then testified that he told William that things looked good and that within a few days William and the maiden were together. One newspaper article reported that as William lay dying, he asked his mother to send for his wife and daughter, but she refused. When Mary Mowry took the stand, she needed an interpreter because she did not speak English. Paramount to the case was the legality of her marriage. Mary testified that she and William were married according to Chippewa tradition, which her father believed was as good as white marriages. She said her husband rebuffed an offer by a minister to perform a marriage ceremony. This proved damaging to her case. She also testified that her original name was Cub-bayou-quit, but after marrying William, she was given the name Mary Mowry. The sensational courtroom drama drew large crowds of spectators. One of the defense witnesses was G. W. Brown, a Methodist missionary, who testified that Perot and his wife were members of his congregation and that he had told William numerous times that he and Mary were living in adultery. Mr. Brown told William that he should be married legally. The defense questioned the legality of Chippewa marriages in Michigan. Since both Mr. Brown and Mary Mowry testified that the marriage did not involve an officially recognized ceremony, the jury ruled for the defense. An appeal generated a great deal of national and local attention. The U.S. Supreme Court, in a ruling on common-law marriage that was cited many times over the years, ordered a new trial. Details about the final outcome are elusive. The ordeal caused such a sensation that someone in city government named an alley in honor of the Chippewa chief’s daughter, and Cuba-you-quit Alley shows up on local maps starting in 1882 in the Soho neighborhood of Pittsburgh. Note that the spelling of the alley’s name did not exactly match that of its namesake. Even newspaper articles gave different spellings of her name. The alley’s name was changed to Cuba Way in 1926. It no longer exists. Several of the people mentioned here are buried in Allegheny Cemetery. William Mowry died in 1852. He is buried in Section 11, Lot 30. William’s mother, Eliza Mowry also is buried in Section 11, Lot 30. Robert B. Carnahan died in 1890 and is buried in Section 23, Lot 23.