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Sharon/Hill Divorce And Terry/Field Affair: 1883-1885 & 1887-1890

Pandemonium In The Courthouse

On September 3, 1888, the U.S. Circuit Court for Northern California issued its decision regarding the Sharon family's bill of revivor. Both of the Terrys were present in the courtroom. Neither of them expected a favorable ruling, but when Justice Stephen Field started to personally denounce Althea Terry while reading the court's decision, she stood up and accused the justice of taking a bribe. "Marshall, remove that woman from the courtroom," commanded Field. U.S. Marshall J. C. Franks attempted to do just that and received a slap from Althea. The marshal then grabbed Mrs. Terry's arm, at which point her husband, an adherent of the old southern honor code, roared, "No God damn man shall touch my wife" and knocked Franks to the floor. In the pandemonium that followed, Terry pulled out his bowie knife before several deputies threw him to the floor and put a gun to his head to quiet him down.

The Terrys were both cited for contempt of court and sent to jail; Althea for one month and her husband for six. Justice Field also ordered the local U.S. attorney to prosecute the couple for assault and other charges. David Terry filed a petition to revoke the sentences, but Field denied it. Terry then appealed to the U.S. Supreme Court, but that too was a lost cause. Field even made sure that Terry was not released from the jailhouse a few days early for good behavior.

Events started to really sour for the Terrys. While in jail or shortly afterward, the pregnant Althea suffered a miscarriage. Also, the Terrys were both indicted by a federal grand jury on criminal charges arising out of the incident before Justice Field. Then in May 1889, the U.S. Supreme Court refused to review the order invalidating Althea Terry's marriage contract with Senator Sharon. Finally, in July, with three of the four judges who earlier ruled in Althea's favor now off the bench, the California Supreme Court reversed itself and unanimously held that, because Althea Terry and Sharon had kept their "marriage" a secret, they were never legally married.

Both while imprisoned and after his release, David Terry made several threats to horsewhip Field and slap his face. In the culture of the west that still existed, these comments were an implied challenge to a duel. The newspapers widely printed these comments and the Justice Department in Washington, D.C. discussed them at length. Eventually, Justice Field was assigned a number of secret bodyguards, including David Neagle, one of the deputy marshals who had disarmed Terry the previous September.

Additional topics

Law Library - American Law and Legal InformationNotable Trials and Court Cases - 1883 to 1917Sharon/Hill Divorce And Terry/Field Affair: 1883-1885 1887-1890 - A Secret Marriage, A Long String Of Trials Begins, Senator Sharon Dies, But The Trials Continue