Redheaded Bertha and William Greene: Persecuted Love in the Arizona Territory

Today’s post is written by Kimberly Gorman, an Archives Technician at the National Archives at Riverside, CA

Currently, I am working on processing records from Record Group 21, Records of the District Courts of the United States, which is the largest collection of records we have here at the National Archives at Riverside.  RG 21 includes criminal and civil cases, bankruptcy cases, and records of naturalization.

In particular, I have been processing and describing court records for the Arizona Territory.  These records date from 1864 to 1912, when Arizona became a state.

While working on processing criminal court records from the U.S. Territorial Court for the Fifth Judicial District of Arizona, I stumbled upon the interesting story of a notorious pair, William Green and Bertha Reed, who lived in the Arizona Territory.

Bertha Reed’s story starts out in the 1890s when she was a prostitute (according to local newspaper accounts) in Ash Fork, Arizona.  She had many troubles there, including being charged with “administering poison” (morphine) to a Mr. James Gabel, having a bullet removed from her leg, shooting herself in an alleged suicide attempt, and receiving a 30-day sentence for loitering in saloons.  In 1894, a man named Tim Casey, who was apparently a caregiver and friend of Bertha, was shot and killed in her room.  Bertha was arrested, but released, and was not charged in connection with the murder, as apparently a “customer” of hers by the name of Martin was solely responsible for the killing.

We next pick up Bertha’s story in the City of Globe in 1907, where she continues in her same line of work, as evidenced by the City of Globe Prostitute Permit Receipt pictured below, from the series Criminal Case Files, ca. 1905 – ca. 1912 (NAID 616756).

Prostitution Permit Receipt, file: US v. William Greene and Bertha Reed [Case File 54-B] (NAID 7788402)
In June 1907, Miss Reed, who was known in the town as Redheaded Bertha, was arrested at the “Luz Colorado” (the red light district) for defaming the character of Miss Ophelia Sanders, who was apparently one of her coworkers and lived at the same house of ill repute.  In November and December 1907, Bertha was charged with vagrancy and paid a $5.00 bail for her appearance each time.

Receipt for Bail, November 1907
Receipt for Bail, December 2, 1907

Around this same time, Bertha had hooked up with one Mr. William Green, born in Texas in 1866.  Mr. Green was proprietor of the Mandolin Club in Globe, Arizona.  As one might imagine, Bertha and Bill had a nontraditional love story.  In December 1907, they were charged with violation of the Edmunds Act (fornication) and Bill paid a $100 fine via a gold certificate.

Bill and Bertha wanted to get married, but were unable to obtain a marriage license in the Arizona Territory because of the laws against miscegenation.  You see, according to newspaper accounts, Bill was African American and Bertha’s ethnic background could not be definitively determined, so they were forbidden from marrying.  However, there were no such laws in Mexico, so they were married there.

Unfortunately, their marriage was short-lived.  At the age of 42, on October 9, 1908, Bill Green was killed by one John W. Sanford after a fight over a card game.  The killing, which happened on North Broad Street, was quite gruesome and was described in gory detail in the Daily Arizona Silver Belt.  In that same article, Green was described as a “bully” and it was said that the town was relieved that he was killed.

Sanford was acquitted of the murder.  Green’s gravesite can be seen at Find-A-Grave.

We hope you enjoyed today’s story of the Wild West from the holdings of the National Archives at Riverside.

The entire case file (U.S. v. William Green and Bertha Reed [Case File 54-B], ca. 1905 – ca. 1912.  Series: Criminal Case Files, ca. 1905 – ca. 1912.  Record Group 21: Records of District Courts of the United States, 1685 – 2009) from the 1907 fornication charge has been digitized and will be available soon in the National Archives Catalog.  Documents include the indictment, subpoenas, a jury list, exhibits, the verdict, judgment and commitment.

Many of the historic buildings of Globe’s downtown are still standing today, including the Gila County Courthouse.  Check out @globemainstreet on Facebook for more of the Globe Historic Downtown.

Much of the information in this story was gleaned from articles in the local Arizona Territory newspapers and found at the Library of Congress – Chronicling America website.