When Professor Thomas Tristram Came to Town (1879)

By David Schleper

Professor Thomas Tristram and his bride, Theresa, came to town in the late summer of 1878. He had been in Bloomington, and moved to work in Shakopee. He was one of the most popular teachers in the public school during the year, and was re-employed for the coming year of 1879. The professor and his new pretty wife, Theresa Pearle Tristram, were very popular socially and much sought after.

But then the rumors started. “I told you so!” said one person in Shakopee. “I knew something was wrong!” said another.

And immediately, the professor left town and returned to Ireland.

The Argus newspaper on August 7, 1879 started to investigate. The Argus noted that Reverend William R. Powell had received a letter from Annie Tristram, who claimed that she was the professor’s wife. The letter noted that she had not heard from the professor since 1876 and expressed concern as “he was one of the kindest of husbands…”

Thomas Tristram was born in Ireland in 1843. At the age of 17, he married a lady six years his senior, Annie. Thomas claimed that he had been drunk before the ceremony and kept intoxicated during the service. (Good excuse!) He also claimed that his wife was unchaste before the wedding, and since then had been repeatedly broken her marriage vows. They had four children.

Thomas was not happy, and he escaped by immigrating to the United States…without his wife or his four children.

In the United States, he enlisted as a private in the army for five years at Fort Snelling. While in St. Paul, he met Theresa Pearle and after two years of engagement, they were married in Minneapolis on September 16, 1876.

About two weeks ago, Reverend William R. Powell received a letter from Dr. Knickerbacker of Minneapolis. He included a letter that was sent from Ireland by Annie Tristram, who explained that she had been waiting patiently and trusting in God. She explained that she had been waiting the last three years, taking care of the children, and had been struggling. She heard that Thomas Tristram was in Shakopee, and she needed to find out more.

Upon being confronted with the letter, Thomas Tristram confessed, and then quietly and rapidly left to rejoin his wife in Ireland.

The second wife, Theresa Pearle Tristram, was left to pick up the pieces. According to the Argus, Theresa was “terribly wronged, yet she trusts the man who so wronged her. She has forgiven him…” and refused to prosecute.

Thomas Tristram was a villain, a rascal, and a man deserving to spend his remaining years in prison. In the newspaper, the Argus noted that frail, pretty and innocent Theresa, with her broken heart, was thrown upon the cold, heartless world.

(Some information from Argus, August 7, 1879; and The Shakopee Story by Julius A. Coller © 1960 by North Star Pictures, Inc.)

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