After only eight years of marriage to Kate, his young second wife, Brooks Bowman Hazelton died on December 10, 1899, at their home at 424 Cross Street, Ypsilanti, Michigan. Brooks also left two daughters, nine and seven years older than Kate, who apparently had a questionable relationship with the stepmother as events will show. He was 70 years of age. The cause on his death certificate was noted as “uremia” and “enlargement of prostate.” Brooks was a prominent business man, having been in the lumber business most of his adult life and, at the time of his death, was one of the own- ers of the Ypsilanti Lumber Company.
Less than two years after the death of his first wife, Brooks met and married a very young, Katherine ‘Kate’ J. Schaff, who was born in 1866. Kate was 25 and Brooks was 62! The couple married in Saginaw, Michigan, on November 18, 1891. It may have been a clerk’s error or otherwise, but Brooks’ age is written as 52 on the marriage record. Before her marriage, Kate lived with her parents. There is no record of how or where Brooks and Kate met.
Sarah Ann Lane Hazelton, Brooks’ first wife of over 40 years, had died on January 29, 1890. Two daughters, Mary ‘Ella’ Childs (1857-1941) and Frances ‘Frankie’ Ann Burke (1859-1952), survived her.
Brooks’ handwritten Last Will and Testament was dated December 6, 1899. He died four days later. His signature at the bottom of the will is very feeble-looking, making it obvious that he could not have written the will. Who might have, or certainly, who helped to write this obviously legal document, is open to speculation. If a previous will existed, it was never brought forth.
Brooks bequeaths to his wife, Kate, the following:
• an amount of my stock in the Ypsilanti Lumber Company as shall equal the value of the two dwelling houses and lots owned by said company and situated on Cross and Ballard Streets, in the City of Ypsilanti.
• all of my household goods and fur- niture and ornaments and my horse and buggy and its equipment.
• one third of all the rest, and residue of the estate, real, personal, and mixed, of which I shall die seized and possessed, or to which I shall be entitled at my decease.
His two daughters receive:
• the remaining two thirds of my said estate, I give, devise, and bequeath to my daughters, Ella Childs and Frankie Burke, share and share alike, subject however, to the payment of all my debts and funeral expenses including a debt of five hundred dollars which I owe my said wife, Kate J. Hazelton.
Lastly the will states:
• I nominate and appoint my said wife, Kate J. Hazelton, to be the executrix of this my last will and testament.
Kate’s Petition for the Probate of a Will:
The will was “deposited and filed in said Court” before Judge H. Wirt Newkirk, Judge of Probate for Washtenaw County, on December 16, 1899, six days after Brooks died. It was “attested and sub- scribed” by Charles C. Carr and David R. Morford, witnesses. Charles was a nurse, and one assumes he was employed as Brooks’ nurse at the time. David was part-owner of a nearby drug store and was also in the Michigan National Guard with Kate’s brother-in-law, who is mentioned later in this article.
Brooks’ estate was estimated to be worth $25,000 ($600,000 in today’s dollars). In this document, Kate is asking the Court to “appoint a time and place for proving said will, and that due notice thereof be given to all persons interested as the Court shall direct, and that said will may be allowed and admitted to probate, and that admin- istration of said estate may be granted to Kate J. Hazelton the executrix named in said will.” It indicated that along with Kate J. Hazelton (33), Mary Ella Childs (42) and Frankie Burke (40) were possible “persons interested in said estate.” It is signed by Kate J. Hazelton and notarized by Fred W. Green, who was an Assistant Editor to the local newspaper, The Ypsilantian. He was also associated with Mr. Morford and Kate’s brother-in-law in the National Guard.
Things not going smoothly:
About a month later, on January 12, 1900, Ella Childs and Frankie Burke, answered the petition by Kate Hazelton. This docu- ment starts out with wording indicating that the daughters agree with when he died, where he died and the value of the estate. They further agree that Kate is the widow and that they are the daughters of Brooks. BUT, they deny that the deceased left ANY last will and testament, and they DENY that the instrument now on file in the court, the last will and testament IS the last will and testament. They deny that their father executed the will “in his life- time in the manner the same purports to have been executed, and they deny that it was ever executed by the said deceased either under the forms and ceremonies provided by the statute, or otherwise.”
At the time the will is dated, it continues, “or purports to have been executed, the said Brooks B. Hazelton, was of un- sound mind and incapable, by reason of mental weakness, imbecility and disease, of executing any last will and testament whatever.” In other words, he was “insane and incompetent to execute the same” and that he was under “undue influence of said petitioner Kate J. Hazelton, and others to these respondents unknown, but whose names when discovered, these respondents beg leave to have inserted in this provision of this answer.” It continues stating that the will “does not in any wise express the true will and desire of the said Brooks B. Hazelton, in respect to his property and the disposition to be made thereof” It requests that the petition be dismissed. It is notarized by Philip Blum, Jr, Deputy County Clerk for Washtenaw County.
Additional Documents are submitted:
Two “Proof of Probate of Will” forms were submitted on Wednesday, January 17, 1900, five days after the daughters responded to the petitions already sub- mitted. These verified the two witnesses of the will, Charles C. Carr and David R. Morfort, are who they say they are, that they had known Brooks for many years, and that they saw him sign and seal his last will and testament on December 6, 1899. They further state that Mr. Hazelton knew they were signing as witnesses and wanted them to do so. They state that he was over the age of 21 and was of sound mind and under no restraint whatsoever. These are signed by the witnesses mentioned above and “sworn, taken and subscribed before me” by Judge Newkirk.
Certificate of Probate of Will:
This form is dated two months later on March 26, 1900, also signed and wit- nessed by Judge Newkirk, and accepts Kate’s appeal that the Last Will and Testa- ment “approved, allowed, established and have full force and effect as the last Will and Testament of said deceased.” And that “the administration of the estate of said deceased be granted to Kate J. Hazelton, the Executrix in said Will named, who is Two Thousand Dollars, with sufficient sureties, as required by the statute in such case made and provided.”
The Final Agreement:
No other documents connected with the will were located. The final agreement is dated one year to the day after Brooks died, on December 10, 1900, and is be- tween Kate and the daughters, Ella and Frankie, and signed by all, including wit- nesses John P. Kirk, Atty., and George R. Gunn. John Kirk is Kate’s brother-in-law mentioned earlier. He is married to her sister, Mary. Mr. Gunn is a law student. Could he have been an intern at the City Attorney’s office?
One assumes that the daughters wanted to make sure that things were divided fair- ly and probably didn’t want Kate as the executrix and therefore in control of the estate. In particular, they may have been concerned about the personal property. Things were divided differently after the agreement. The will was accepted by all parties. The changes made by the final agreement are summarized here:
* the appeal by the sisters will be dis- missed and the will probated.
* Kate will NOT be the executrix.
* all of Brooks’ debts will be paid by the estate, including $100 for the funeral, Kate will pay any balance. [In 1899, an average funeral cost $80.]
* widow’s allowance will stop on January 1, 1901.
* the rest of the estate will be divided: 1/2 to Kate and 1/4 to each of the daughters, additionally each side will receive 1/2 of the “good” securities and 1/2 of the “bad” securities.
* household goods and furniture will be appraised and turned over to Kate at the appraised value. The daughters will get a few things, divisions to be made by John P. Kirk and Oliver Ainsworth.
Here again, John Kirk’s name appears. Mr. Ainsworth was a local prominent busi- nessman and veteran of the Civil War.
Brooks and Kate:
After their marriage, Brooks lived at vari- ous addresses in Ypsilanti, according to the city directories available. Kate is not listed with him or elsewhere, until the 1899 city directory when they are both residing at 424 W. Cross Street. Were these omis- sions by the editors of the directories or is she living elsewhere but not recorded? Even though they married in late 1891, Brooks resides at a rooming house at 114 E. Congress in the 1892 directory. In the 1895 directory, his residence is 208 Par- sons Street. His lumber company owned the house at 424 W. Cross Street, where he and Kate finally settled. Kate continued to live in this house until her death on No- vember 21, 1950. The land is now part of the campus of St. John’s Catholic Church. A copy of a will for Kate was not found, so how the Church came to own the prop- erty is unclear.
Although Brooks was not Catholic, he is buried with Kate’s family in St. John’s Catholic Cemetery in Ypsilanti. Did this burial site for their father also cause addi- tional friction between the daughters and Kate? Were the daughters consulted? Ella and Frankie are buried in Highland Ceme- tery. There appears to be room in that plot for their father.
in July, 1904, to Alvah P. Ferguson. Al- vah (45) was born in August, 1859, and probably died between the 1920 census, and 1922, when he is no longer listed with her in the city directory. No record can be found of Alvah’s death or burial. Kate never had children.
On the 1900 census for Ann Arbor, Alvah is listed with his first wife, Nellie and chil- dren, Ray and Marjorie. Alvah, over the years, is listed as a blacksmith, traveling salesman, or a manufacturer of carriages, on the censuses. Eventually, he held sever- al patents on carriages and equipment and owned a carriage factory in Ann Arbor. Al- vah was a prosperous businessman, held various county offices during his lifetime, and is listed in the “Portrait and Biograph- ical Album of Washtenaw County, Michi- gan.” He and Nellie divorced sometime between 1900 and when he married Kate in 1904. Did Alvah and Nellie divorce before or after he met Kate? Nellie appears to have had rough times after the divorce. She and the children eventually moved to Los Angeles.
Was Brooks of sound mind when he wrote his will four days before his death? Was there undue influence by the young wife and her family? What were the daughters given from their mother’s estate after her death and before their father’s remarriage? What did the daughters gain by challenging the will?
Most of these questions do not have an answer. Kate was married to Brooks for eight years. It would appear, with the final agreement, that the daughters really wanted more control over how the assets were divided and most likely did not want Kate to be in charge. In fact, it appears they relinquished some inheritance to keep Kate from being named executrix.
The Agreement States in a Paragraph::
It is hereby agreed that the appeal of said second parties from the decision of the Probate Court of Washtenaw County sub- mitting to probate the last will and testa- ment of said Brooks B. Hazelton, shall be dismissed without costs, and that said last will be probated; that the said Kate J. Ha- zelton shall refuse in writing to accept the position as executor of said last will and testament, and that Robert W. Hemphill, shall be appointed administrator with the will annexed, and that for his service he shall be paid by said estate.
This paragraph is rich with emotion. It shows the daughters initiated the “appeal of said second parties,” because the trial court ruled in favor of Kate. We do not know if the trial court ruled to validate the will or to find that Kate's actions as a finduciary were appropriate. The agreement immediately removes Kate form controlling personal property and prevents her from distributing the stock in the lumber company.
We also have to consider whether the daughters brought the litigation out of necessity or greed. The daughters appear to be comfortable both financially and socially. The most effective way to change a will is to bring a lawsuit that moves the parties to settle. It does not necessarily mean a hostile situation, but may just be distrust. We will also never know if Kate was greedy or just didn’t have a good re- lationship with her stepdaughters. The fact that two people are appointed to handle the personal property, might in itself show the importance of the personal property to the daughters, albeit, Kate’s brother-in- law being one of the individuals.
Attorney John P. Kirk was the City Attor- ney and a Prosecuting Attorney for Ypsi- lanti. He served in the State of Michigan House of Representatives from 1903-04 and was elected mayor of Ypsilanti from 1908-1910. He was a Captain with Co. G, 1st Infantry, Michigan National Guard of the Ypsilanti Light Guard. He was a ma- jor during the Spanish-American War, and later, a general. He died in 1952.
Robert William Hemphill, (1839-1922) was a prominent banker of Ypsilanti, as well as Brooks’ partner in the lumber business.
I wish to say thank you to my fellow writ- ers in the Western Women Writers Group in Phoenix, Arizona, for their support and many contributions. Thank you also to Lynn Keeling, friend, neighbor and law- yer, for her insightful comments about some of the legal aspects of the documents involved. -J. M. B.
Janet (McDougall) Buchanan does obituary searches for heir research and law firms and has done a great deal of re- search on the McDougall and Beckington families.
Photo 1: Brooks Bowman Hazelton was 62 years old when he married his young second wife, Katherine J. Schaff who was 25
Photo 2: Sarah Ann Hazelton was Brooks’ first wife of over 40 years. She died on January 29, 1890
Photo 3: Frances Ann Hazelton, daughter of Brooks and Sarah Ann Hazelton, was born in 1859 and died in 1952
Photo 4: Mary Ella Hazelton, daughter of Brooks and Sarah Ann Hazelton, was born in 1857 and died in 1941