Lizzie Butler Wetmore
wife of Samuel Vantine
Written and compiled by Ken Newton, 2004,
Samuel and Lizzie Vantine
Lizzie and son Fred Raymond Vantine c. 1907
|The Lizzie Vantine Story
Compiled and researched by Ken Newton
Lizzie Vantine was a 47-year old grandmother living in Kankakee,
Illinois, when her nephew's lawyer found her in late 1906. She had
been raised in Paris, Monroe County, Missouri, by the kindly Edwin
T. and Lucy Wetmore. The Wetmores had adopted her at the height
of the Civil War when she was about four. Her mother, no longer
able to care for her, had given her up to a colorful local couple.
They, at Lucy Wetmore's insistence, had given her to the Wetmores.
At age 16, Lizzie married Samuel Derastus Vantine. He was six years
her elder and born in Peoria, Illinois, the son of Samuel Vantine
1812-1890 of the Ohio Vantines. Samuel, the elder, was an illiterate
laborer. Samuel D. was the son of his second of three wives. The
father's third wife was the widow of a successful Illinois farmer.
The couple, along with her two sons and Samuel D., had moved to
Monroe Co. about 1872.
Soon after Lizzie was found, a colorful story unfolded and soon
became the source of sensational newspaper articles. In June of
1859 on his farm in Perche, Boone County, Missouri Lizzie's father
John Butler, a wiry Irishman who had come to New York from Tipperary
with his parents as a two-year-old in 1827, beat and ran off his
pregnant wife Jane McGraw. Jane was found in a thicket and taken
to a hotel in nearby Sturgeon where she soon gave birth to daughter
Lizzie. Jane stayed in the area, was taken in by friends, and cooked
and did housekeeping to sustain herself and her daughter. John Butler
made no attempt to reconcile with his wife and when the Civil War
broke out he returned to New York with their other three children.
Jane, apparently wearing out her welcome with her friends because
of a drinking problem, wandered around Missouri with daughter Lizzie
during the chaotic times of the Civil War in Missouri and for awhile
was cooking for a regiment of Irish-Catholic Union soldiers bivouacked
near Paris. This was when the Wetmores adopted Lizzie. Soon after
this, Jane McGraw Butler disappeared into history.
Lizzie grew up comfortably in Paris. Edwin Wetmore was a successful
wagon maker and owner of a livery stable in Paris. John Butler returned
to Missouri after the Civil War and began acquiring the land surrounding
his farm. He also acquired three more wives. The marriage to the
second wife ended soon in divorce. The divorce was blamed on the
strong Irish temperaments of John and the second wife. The third
marriage produced three more children but the wife, Letitia Hill,
suddenly sickened and died after seven years of marriage. John went
to New York, married for the fourth time, and returned to Missouri.
In September of 1906 John Butler died. At his death he had huge
holdings of land and possessed his own town Perche or Butlerville
as its residents called it. John had been an interesting character
and the big city newspapers wrote human-interest stories about the
man who had his own town.
John willed his entire estate to his fourth wife Mary Fitzsimmons.
After her death it would be divided between the children of the
third wife and his grandchildren, the children of his first wife
Jane. Their parents, Lizzie's siblings, had all died as young adults.
The grandchildren's share would be smaller. One of the grandchildren
was dissatisfied with the will and was almost certain that he had
an aunt living in Paris, Missouri. He was the one who hired the
lawyer and found Lizzie. Proving that Lizzie was John Butler's child
would make John's subsequent marriages bigamous and invalidate the
A sensational trial was held in Columbia, Missouri, in 1908. Lizzie's
lawyers presented more than 60 witnesses. Most of them had been
around almost 50 years earlier when John had run off his wife or
had been in Paris, Missouri, when Jane arrived with her daughter.
The lawyers convinced the judge that the mother and child of Boone
County were the same mother and child who arrived in Monroe County
four-years later. In a time before blood tests and DNA, the testimony
was overwhelming. When the judge ruled that Lizzie was indeed the
missing heiress, the courtroom erupted in celebration.
John Butler's vast land holdings were sold off. Lizzie received
a large portion of the proceeds and Lizzie and husband Samuel soon
moved to Los Angeles where their five children lived. Samuel lived
until 1932 and Lizzie died in 1942.