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Andrew Geddes Court-Martial: 1879

Andrew Geddes Court-Martial: 1879

Defendant: Andrew Geddes
Crimes Charged: Libel, seduction, attempted abduction
Chief Defense Lawyer: George W. Paschal
Chief Prosecutor: John Clous
Judges: Officers from the army's Texas Division
Place: San Antonio, Texas
Date of Trial: June 14-August 21, 1879
Verdict: Guilty of all charges except abduction
Sentence: Three years in prison and dishonorable discharge; Geddes conviction was overturned by President Rutherford B. Hayes

SIGNIFICANCE: This case demonstrated the extreme discomfort of Victorian society in accepting the possibility of incest, and the difficulties inherent in proving it.

In April 1879, a letter arrived in San Antonio, Texas, addressed to General E. 0. C. Ord, commander of the Department of Texas. It contained a sworn statement from Captain Andrew Geddes of the Twenty-fifth U.S. Infantry accusing another officer, Lieutenant Louis H. Orleman, of having an incestuous relationship with his 18-year-old daughter Lillie. Both men were stationed at Fort Stockton in a remote section of west Texas. Geddes told Ord that he was forced to reveal this shocking state of affairs because he had learned that Orleman planned to file charges against him. In order to defend himself, Geddes claimed, he had to expose the relationship of "criminal intimacy" that he had discovered between the 38-year-old Orleman and his daughter.

Geddes's story was a grim one. On March 2, 1879, he said, "I heard from the adjoining quarters a voice which I recognized to be that of Miss Lillie Orleman, saying, 'Papa, please don't. I'll call Major Geddes, if you don't quit' and in a most piteous and pleading tone, 'Oh Papa, for God's sake don't. Major Geddes is Officer of the Day and will hear us.' I went to the window of said room and looked in, and there saw Lt. Orleman in bed with his said daughter, having criminal intercourse with her."

Geddes, Not Orleman, Is Court-Martialed

The next day, wrote Geddes, Lillie told him that her father "had been having sexual intercourse with her for the past five years and that he had placed a loaded revolver to her head, threatening that he would blow out her brains if she did not consent to his horrible desires. Miss Orleman begged me repeatedly and implored me on bended knee to save her and take her from this terrible life of shame." Afterwards, Geddes told Orleman that he knew of his relationship with Lillie and was prepared to take her away "either to her home in Austin, or to my wife." Geddes concluded by saying he was not alone in suspicions of Orleman, and he claimed to have other witnesses who had seen Orleman behave improperly toward his daughter.

Ord, who had complete discretion over how to proceed with the case, chose not to prosecute Orleman, but instead to court-martial Geddes on Orleman's charge that Geddes had libeled him with a false accusation of incest as part of a plot to seduce and abduct Lillie Orleman. Geddes was charged with two counts of conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman. According to the first charge, Geddes, "a married man, did by persuasion, advice, threats and other means, endeavor to corrupt Miss Lillie Orleman to his own illicit purposes." The second charge claimed that Geddes willfully and falsely accused "Lt. Orleman of the heinous crime of incestuous intercourse with the said Orleman's daughter and by threatening to make the same public attempt to force and coerce said Lt. Orleman into giving his consent to the departure of his daughter."

Geddes pled not guilty to all charges. The trial would last for the exceptionally long time of three months. The prosecutor's immediate task was to impeach Geddes's character and portray him as a libertine and a liar. The prosecutor introduced evidence that Geddes had been court-martialed once before on charges of attempting to cash one month's pay in two different places. He had been found guilty, but the judge advocate general recommended leniency in light of his otherwise spotless record. It also quickly came out that Geddes, who lived apart from his wife (whom he had been compelled to marry in a shotgun wedding) was a notorious womanizer who had had several affairs, including one with his commanding officer's wife, who bore him a child.

Lillie Orleman was the prosecutor's first witness. She traced the development of her relationship with Geddes from their meeting at a post dance where he "squeezed her hand meaningfully," and she told of his many visits to her quarters while her father was away and his attempts to take liberties with her. Yet, she confessed, she continued meeting him, claiming that she believed, "Captain Geddes to be a gentleman. I inferred from all his actions that he would get a divorce and make me his wife." She testified that the night Geddes allegedly discovered the incest, she had gone to bed at nine and slept through the night. She also said she had closed the bedroom windows and drawn the curtains, making it impossible for Geddes to see in the window. She also testified that she and her father had had a disagreement earlier in the evening, and that her father had come into the bedroom and told her to stop seeing Geddes or he would turn her out of the house. She then claimed that Geddes told her the next day that "your father is not treating you right." She said she had thought that he referred to Orleman's reprimand over her meetings with Geddes, and she agreed her father treated her "cruelly and meanly, which is really not so. I told him that to enlist his sympathy in order to take me home." She then testified that Geddes told her father that he would not expose him if Orleman let Lillie leave with him on the evening stage. She firmly denied that any incest had taken place.

Conflicting "Expert" Testimony

The prosecution's most valuable witness was Dr. M. K. Taylor, who examined Lillie to determine whether or not she was a virgin. He testified that in his opinion "she had never had sexual intercourse." The defense called its own expert witnesses to refute Taylor's conclusion, but as they had not been permitted to examine Lillie, their testimony was largely ineffective. The prosecution meant to prove that if there had been no sex there could have been no incest, and that therefore Geddes was guilty as charged.

Geddes took the stand on August 4, and he told the same story that he had written in his letter to Ord. He denied making any improper overtures to Lillie, or visiting her except on one occasion, and he portrayed himself as her rescuer. He told how he had grown suspicious of Orleman when he had seen him fondle his daughter's breast in an ambulance on the way to Fort Davis. Another witness, Joseph Friedlander, testified that Orleman had reached under her clothes, taken hold of her leg, and told a smutty story on the same trip.

The defense called several witnesses to corroborate Geddes's testimony. Michael Houston, the driver of a stage in which Lillie and Louis Orleman had traveled alone, told a story remarkably similar to Geddes's of what he had overheard while driving the stage. He said that Orleman had accused his daughter of having sexual relations with Geddes and other officers as well as with Orleman. Another witness, Corporal George A. Hartford, testified that in 1877 he too had witnessed an intimate scene between father and daughter.

When the defense tried to call Lillie as a rebuttal witness she was pronounced too ill to testify. Her illness was attributed to the strain of her previous testimony. On August 21 the court announced its verdict of guilty on all counts, except abduction. Geddes was sentenced to three years in prison and a dishonorable discharge. The sentence was reviewed by the judge advocate general, William M. Dunn, who submitted his review to the secretary of war and President Rutherford B. Hayes. Dunn concluded that the verdict was a miscarriage of justice and recommended overturning the conviction and the sentence. The president concurred, and Geddes was returned to his unit.

This was not the end of Geddes's difficulties. William T. Sherman, general of the army, intervened to have Geddes investigated and retried. An extensive investigation concluded that Geddes was a notorious womanizer, but that prosecuting him for any related infractions would be damaging to the reputations of other officers and their wives. Ultimately, in 1880, Geddes was court-martialed for the third time, found guilty of drunkenness on duty, and dismissed from the army. This time the Judge Advocate General's office allowed the sentence to stand.

Carol Willcox Afelton

Suggestions for Further Reading

Barnett, Louise. Ungentlemanly Acts: The Army's Notorious IncestTrial. New York: Hill and Wang, 2000.

Cresap, Bernard. Appomattox Warrior: The Story of Genera/E. 0. C. Ord. New York: A. S. Barnes, 1981.

Williams, Clayton W. Texas' Last Frontier: Fort Stockton and the Trans-Pecos 1861-1895. College Station, Tex.: Texas A & M University Press, 1982.

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