The Misadventures of “Dirty Dog Harry” Staats

Originally published 14 Apr 2017

Among the many Staats photographs I’ve inherited over the years is this photograph labeled “Harry Staats, son of Millison Staats.” That makes Harry my second cousin three times removed. For years, the only record I could find of him was in the 1880 census as a five-year old boy. The picture is clearly of someone in their late teens or early twenties, so surely there must be more to his story? Most definitely.

Harry was born on 19 Jan 1875, probably in Ralls County, Missouri. He was the oldest son of Elisha Millison Staats and Mary Ann Headley. By that 1880 census record, they were back in Caldwell, Noble, Ohio.1 The family would also live in Marietta and Cambridge Ohio, but Harry didn’t appear in any of those records. What had become of him?

While I have yet to discover all of the details, Harry has turned out to be quite an interesting character! He was married to Elizabeth Smith in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania on 26 Mar 1894. Underage? No problem, Harry just made his birth year two years earlier, 19 Jan 1873, and was now magically of age! Interestingly, his bride was of age, but consent was given anyway.2 Five months later, their daughter was born in Elwood, Indiana, explaining some of the urgency of the marriage.3

Harry played semi-professional baseball. For two or three seasons, Harry played for the Elwood team, but signed with Terre-Haute in March of 1896.4 By May, Harry was playing second base for the Logansport Ottos5, about 50 miles north of the Staats’ home in Elwood. Apparently baseball wasn’t the only thing Harry was playing in Logansport. The season ended, but Harry had not returned home. On 21 Nov 1896, the Logansport Pharos-Tribune reported “Mrs. Staats, wife of the ballplayer, was in Logansport yesterday in search of her truant husband.” According to the paper:6

“Staats, who has been in the city for the past month shinin’ around a certain young woman, gave out that he had never married the woman who claims to be his wife, but she brought her marriage license with her also newspaper clippings announcing when and where the marriage was celebrated.”

Whoops! Two weeks later, his wife was back and filed an affidavit charging him with desertion and a warrant was issued. Harry was found at the flat of his mistress and her mother, taken into custody, fined $10, and released to his wife. The details were dramatically reported the next day:

“Dirty Dog Harry and his faithful wife left police headquarters and were walking about to kill time…Staats picked up his child and was carrying the little one when Lottie [the mistress] emerged from the house of a mutual friend … and took hold of her lover’s arm. This bit of brazen impudence enraged Mrs. Staats, and picking up a stone…threw it at her hated rival. The missile hit the giddy creature on the back and caused her to retreat.”

According to the paper, Dirty Dog Harry briefly gave his wife the slip to hug and kiss Lottie goodbye. Even Lottie’s mother got in on the action, calling Elizabeth [Staats] a “dirty trollup” before police intervened. But in the end, Harry returned to Elwood with his wife, who was far more forgiving than I imagine I would be under the same circumstances.7 That lasted two weeks, when Harry returned to Logansport, his wife reporting to Logansport police that she no longer wanted anything to do with him.8 He signed the following spring to play in Lexington, Kentucky, although it appears he instead signed on to an Indianapolis’ team.

In March of 1898, he went to work for the Mutual Telephone company. On his first day on the job, he felt the pole he was climbing was falling, so he jumped. The pole was fine, Harry was not so lucky. He shattered his ankle, crippling him and ending his playing career.9 In 1899, Harry underwent several surgeries to regain mobility, eventually having three toes amputated. He briefly managed the Logansport team, but never played again.

There is a gap in the online Elwood papers for 1900, but amazingly given his indiscretions, Harry appeared in that census with his wife and daughter, listed as a bartender. In Jul of 1901, the Elwood Daily Record reported that Harry had resigned his bar-tending position at the Stevenson House in order for he and his family to return to Ohio. At some point before July 1904, Harry and family returned to Indiana, Harry once again making news. This time, he was arrested in a gambling raid. Other articles mention him as a breeder of fox terrier. The last mention of Harry is a July 1905 blurb mentioning that his brother, Allen, was in town visiting.

In 1910, his wife, Elizabeth, and daughter are in the Marion County, Indiana census, living in Indianapolis with Elizabeth’s mother. Elizabeth is listed as a widow. What was Harry’s fate? Was Elizabeth actually a widow, or had Harry run off for good? Only more research will uncover those answers.

  1. 1880 U.S. census, Noble, Ohio, population schedule, Caldwell, enumeration district (ED) 195, p. 166 (stamped), dwelling 159, family 178, Weedon Heady household; digital images, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 11 Oct 2009. His parents were living in Ralls County in the 1870 Census); citing National Archives and Records Administration microfilm T9, roll T9_1055. []
  2. “Pennsylvania County Marriages, 1885 – 1950,” database and images, FamilySearch (http://www.familysearch.org : accessed 14 Apr 2017), Staats-Smith (1894); Pennsylvania, Allegheny County, Marriage Dockets 29:99, 1894. []
  3. Social Security Administration database, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 14 Apr 2017), entry for Irene M. Fox, 1989, SS no. 315-34-9037. []
  4. “With Terre Haute: Harry Staats Will Play Baseball This year,” Elwood Daily Press, 20 Mar 1896, p. 8, col. 1; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 14 Apr 2017). []
  5. “City News,” Logansport Pharos-Tribune, 6 May 1896, p. 21, col. 1; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 14 Apr 2017). []
  6. “A Deserted Wife,”  Logansport Pharos-Tribune, 21 Nov 1896, p. 13, col. 3; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 14 Apr 2017). []
  7. “Disgusting Was the Conduct of Lottie Guinup,”  Logansport Pharos-Tribune, 2 Dec 1896, p. 13, col. 2; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 14 Apr 2017). []
  8. “Staats Is Back,”  Logansport Pharos-Tribune, 15 Dec 1896, p. 24, col. 4; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 14 Apr 2017).   []
  9. “Harry Staats Breaks His Left Ankle Yesterday,”  Logansport Pharos-Tribune, 15 Mar 1898, p. 6, col. 2; digital images, Newspapers.com (http://www.newspapers.com : accessed 14 Apr 2017).

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