Five young sons and an imprisoned spouse— Encampment woman starts over in Laramie

The story of Lettie Welch’s time in Laramie isn’t quite the rags to riches story of her contemporary, Molly Brown (1867-1932) of Denver.

However, her story rivals that of Molly’s in perseverance through adversity.

For one thing, she managed to raise five healthy sons, despite living in raw poverty in Encampment, Wyoming. For another, she found a way to survive after the complete loss of income when her husband became a murderer on the lam.

At 27, Frances “Lettie” Arbuckle (1865-1940) married Minnesota native James Simon Malody (1859-?) in Iowa in 1893. A son was born there in 1895 and another in 1897.

It was purely by chance that Lettie and James Malody came to Encampment, Wyoming in 1898. James had been planning to head to the Klondike when he accidentally ran into his younger brother William at a miner’s outfitting store in Denver,

The brothers had lost track of each other since leaving home in Minnesota many years earlier. William Malody was getting supplies for his claim near Battle Lake in Carbon County, Wyoming, which showed promise of yielding copper and gold. William persuaded his brother to come to Encampment to help work his claim.

But while her bachelor brother-in-law enjoyed modest success, including being elected Secretary of a Miner’s union at Battle Lake, Lettie’s husband’s success in Encampment was elusive. James became a habitué of the local tavern. Meanwhile, Lettie gave birth to three more boys, though one died in infancy.

Tragedy struck again in 1904 when James committed the first murder in Encampment. He intended to threaten a barman he thought had cheated him. But in a drunken rage, he shot and killed the first man who got in his way. The victim was a musician named Tom Hayes, who thought he could disarm Malody since they were acquainted. There were plenty of witnesses.

Malody fled, leaving behind Lettie who was pregnant, and four sons. He evaded capture for nearly a year before he was found in Nevada and sent back to stand trial. In October, 1905, now the father of five sons, he was convicted of manslaughter. His sentence was two years in the Wyoming Penitentiary in Rawlins.

Lettie was left with five young boys and a house in Encampment on which back taxes were due. She became a janitor, possibly forced to leave the boys in the care of the oldest, who was 8 at the time his father fled.

A year after James was incarcerated in Rawlins, Lettie, despite James’ rather lenient sentence, came to Rawlins with a petition for his release. Her grounds were that the murder had been wholly unpremeditated, and James was needed to support his family.

The petition was unsuccessful; Lettie changed tactics and obtained a divorce in December 1906. James was released in June, 1907, and is not mentioned in local records again though a 1920’s era Christmas card addressed “to Father, J.S. Malody and family from your sons Ray and Roe” hints that those two sons (soldiers serving in Europe post-WW I) kept in touch with him, and that he remarried after gaining his freedom.

In December 1908, two years after the divorce, Lettie married William E. Welch (1874-1941) while both were living in Encampment.

Almost immediately Lettie, her new husband and sons moved to Laramie. The five Malody brothers, James Raymond “Ray”(1896-1967), Leo Francis (1897-1982), William Monroe “Roe” (1899-1982), Charles Bennett “Bennie” (1903-1940) and Leonard Reynolds “Len” (1904-1962) entered school here by the fall of 1909.

It took a while for Welch, a teamster to find steady employment with the Union Pacific Railroad in Laramie as a machinist. Eventually their home was at 807 South 9th Street.

Welch brought security, contentment and one would hope, a little joy into Lettie’s life. It appears that she was able to settle into the social life of Laramie, becoming an officer in some women’s organizations (Women of Woodcraft and Royal Neighbors of America). Everyone in the family got their names in the paper once in a while for attending and hosting parties, and/or doing well in school.

The Malody brothers were often referred to in the newspaper as “the Malody boys” rather than by their individual names. They worked as “call boys” for the railroad, assigned to roust out from their homes or favorite hangouts the crew who would be “next out” on trains from the Laramie station.

The oldest three, Ray, Leo and Roe, served in World War I. Ray made the military his career, married Sophia and eventually returned to Laramie. Leo and his wife Hattie had three children by 1940; he worked for the UPRR. The middle son, Roe (1899-1982) had two children with his wife Gertrude; a later wife was Mildred. Bennie was unsuccessful as a bootlegger (he was caught) and died in 1940 of unknown circumstances in Montana. 

The youngest, Len, took a route out of poverty that was common at the time, by becoming a professional boxer in the lightweight category.

His boxing career began at age 15 with 14 matches—all in Laramie at various venues.  Len retired in 1927 at age 23 with 31 wins, 13 losses and 21 draws, a respectable showing. He then joined the military, but also returned to Laramie to live until his death in 1962.

As for Lettie, she deserves to be remembered for raising five boys to maturity who didn’t always stay out of trouble, but mostly became productive citizens. Her character can only be guessed from her story, but she will be remembered for her perseverance in adversity.

By Judy Knght

Caption: Frances “Lettie” Arbuckle Malody Welch (1865-1940) undated photo in a trunk of Malody family artifacts donated to the LPM by Ruth Beckwith Malody (1900-1995), possibly a second wife who outlived James Raymond and the rest of the Malody brothers. Also in the trunk was the card addressed to “Father.” Photo courtesy of Laramie Plains Museum