Anna B. Allen’s grave sits solemnly in section eight at Westlawn-Hillcrest Cemetery in Omaha, Nebraska. She died on September 22, 1910 at the age of 64.[i] During her retirement years, she lived at 2867 Manderson Street with her son-in-law and daughter, Augustus D. and Melissa J. Williams. While there, she spent most of her time with her grandson, Thomas D. Williams.[ii] Allen was a recluse, rarely went shopping, and never attended outside activities.[iii] She married several times, but refused to talk about the past. “That is the past; let it rest,” she said softly when people inquired.[iv] At her death, few people knew that she was the former wife of Charles Guiteau, the man who shot President Garfield. Her court testimony helped seal his fate.
Allen’s maiden name was Bunn. She met Guiteau in 1877. She was a librarian; he was a debt-collecting attorney. Bunn was a small woman with blonde hair and blue eyes.[v] She rarely talked about Guiteau’s courtship and marriage, so little is known about it. Her parents were upper class and objected to the marriage. She lived with Guiteau for years, but got a divorce based on cruelty. She said that they never had a permanent residence, but lived in boarding houses. They traveled a lot because he failed to pay the bills.[vi]
Because of cruelty, Bunn divorced Guiteau four years prior to the assassination. She married Theodore Dunmire on August 21, 1877. They had a daughter, Melissa Dunmire, together. He was a Union Soldier in the Civil War serving under General George Thomas at Chickamauga, trudged in Major General William Tecumseh Sherman’s March to the Sea, and fought in the Battle of Franklin during the Civil War. Injured while installing temporary fortifications before the Battle of Stones River, he drew a pension. He eventually became gold prospector in Colorado. This is where Guiteau’s former wife was when she heard about the assassination. [vii]
James A. Garfield, the twentieth President of the United States, held the office for less than seven months. On September 19, 1881, Charles Guiteau shot Garfield at 9:30 am at the Baltimore and Potomac Railroad Station in Washington, DC because Garfield did not offer him a political position. Guiteau shot Garfield two times: the first bullet grazed his arm, and the second pierced his first lumber vertebrae, lodging in his abdomen. Doctors did not expect him to live through the night.[viii]
Nevertheless, he lived for almost three months after the assassination attempt. With modern diagnostics, he would have went home in “two to three days.” Medical practice in the 19th century was basic. Doctors repudiated the germ theory, sticking their unwashed fingers into Garfield’s wound to find the bullet. They limited his food intake because they thought the bullet pierced his intestines. Based on this, doctors decided to feed him through his rectum. Today, many consider that starvation and sepsis caused his death. Garfield’s wound was fatal.[ix]
Guiteau’s trail lasted from November 14, 1881 until January 13, 1883. The crux of Guiteau’s defense was that he was insane at the time of the assassination. The prison warden testified that during Guiteau’s six months in jail, they saw no indication he was insane.[x] The court summoned his ex-wife, Anna Dunmire, to testify. On the stand, she told of his abuse and anarchistic sentiments. It was her testimony that swayed the jury that Guiteau was sane and responsible for shooting the president.[xi] The judge sentenced him to death by hanging.
During the cross-examination of Mrs. Dunmire, Guiteau’s attorney failed to ask her questions concerning her character. Guiteau previously threatened that if his ex-wife testified that he would tear her record apart. During her testimony, newspapers described him as nervous with trembling hands. Many believed that this was because when Dunmire arrived in Washington with his wife, he did an interview and said that, “he would shoot [Guiteau] down,” if he made negative statements against his wife. While she was leaving the stand, Guiteau shouted that Mrs. Dunmire was a good, “Christian woman,” and wished her the best.[xii]
Charles Guiteau went down in history as the notorious assassin of Chester A. Garfield. He went to the scaffold on June 13, 1882. Anna Allen died, and her family buried her at Westlawn-Hillcrest. Her daughter and son-in-law passed away. The grandson she spent most of her time with became assistant vice-president of Omaha National Bank.[xiii] Eventually, her grandson passed away, too. Family buried all of them next to Allen at Westlawn-Hillcrest.
Underneath Anna Allen’s gravestone lies a woman’s body who sat center stage during one of the most horrific acts of the 19th century. This transpired while she was living her life. By not talking about it in her later years, Allen did not let it define the rest of her life. She moved on and lived her final years the way she wanted. This ultimately makes her remarkable.
[i] “Births and Deaths” (22 September 1910), Omaha World-Herald, pg. 12.
[ii] “Wife of Assassin Dies in Obscurity” (16 November 1910), The Ottawa Daily Republic (Ottawa, Kansas), pg. 3. https://www.newspapers.com/image/76868670/?terms=%22Anna%2BB.%2BAllen%22
[iii] “Kept Secret Well” (5 November 1910), Evening Star (Washington, District of Columbia), pg. 9. https://www.newspapers.com/image/330925497/?terms=%22Anna%2BB.%2BAllen%22
[iv] “Divorced from Assassin of Garfield and Testified Against Him” (8 November 1910), Quad-City Times (Davenport, Iowa), pg. 1. https://www.newspapers.com/image/299217107/?terms=%22Anna%2BB.%2BAllen%22
[v] “An Interesting Interview with Guiteau’s Former Wife” (24 November 1881), The Parsons Weekly Sun, (Parsons, Kansas), pg. 6. https://www.newspapers.com/image/61406657/?terms=Dunmire
[vi] “An Interesting Interview with Guiteau’s Former Wife,” pg. 6.
[vii] “Noted Character: Theodore Dunmire, A Soldier of Fortune, at Leavenworth” (7 September 1907), Topeka State Journal, (Topeka, Kansas), pg. 12. https://www.genealogybank.com/doc/newspapers/image/v2%3A16A0C17D2D2A377B%40GB3NEWS- 164AABE348B461A0%402417826-164AAC19EA9E07CD%4011- 164AAC19EA9E07CD%40?h=1&fname=Theodore%20&lname=Dunmire&fullname=&rgfromDate=&rgtoDa te=&formDate=&formDateFlex=exact&dateType=range&kwinc=&kwexc=
[viii] Amanda Schaffer, “A President Felled by an Assassin and 1880’s Medical Care” (25 July 2006), The New York Times, https://www.nytimes.com/2006/07/25/health/25garf.html
[x] “Guiteau’s Insane Dodge” (12 January 1882), Buffalo Weekly Express, (Buffalo, New York),
[xi] “Wife of Assassin Dies in Obscurity, pg. 3.
[xii] “Guiteau’s Trail: The Evidence Yesterday –Examination of Mrs. Dinmore—A Scene in Court Avoided” (17 December 1881), The Muncie Morning News, (Muncie, Indiana), pg. 2. https://www.newspapers.com/image/548804002/?terms=Dunmire
[xiii] “Augustus Williams, Retired U.P. Employee” (26 May 1961), Omaha World Herald, pg. 36.