LIKE MANY A western cowboy, John Kendrick was almost middle-aged by the time he married. The object of his affection was the teenaged daughter of his first employer, Charles William Wulfjen of Greeley, Colorado. Eula Wulfjen was the toast of Greeley society, a vivacious artist who was intrigued by the attentions of an older man.
As a young man, John Kendrick went to work for rancher Charles Wulfjen. Upon occasion he called upon the family at their ranch, at which time he made the acquaintance of young Eula Wulfjen, Charles’ second child. As noted by Frances Parkinson Keyes in a 1931 article in The Denver Post, Eula was quite smitten with John:
[As a child, Eula] became very fond of [John], climbing up into his lap whenever he had leisure to hold her, and announcing to anyone who would listen to her that when she grew up, she proposed to marry him. When Eula was 17, she began to realize she had ceased to think of him as merely a friend of her father’s and to consider that her childish remarks about marrying him when she grew up had perhaps been prophetic, and he encouraged this viewpoint.
A LONELY ORPHAN FINDS LOVE
John was thirty-four when the couple became engaged in 1890 – far older than the average first-time groom. But, as he told his sister, he felt the time was right to create a home for them both:
Dear Sister Rose, The invitations sent to you will explain how I have at last yielded to the inevitable. For a long while I have realized how badly you needed a sister and feel real happy that I have at long last found one for you. To be sincere, neither you nor I have ever had a home in its truest sense, and among the happiest thoughts in connection with this change in my life is that I now have one to offer you.
As orphaned children, John and Rose had been shuttled from one family member to another, never having a true home of their own. This lack of roots had long been on their minds, and Rose was happy that her brother was on the verge of settling down:
Dearest Brother, The news of your marriage was indeed a surprise to me. I could hardly realize it all day, but rest assured you have the best wishes of my heart for a long time. You know, Brother dear, I have often wished you had a home, because I knew you could be so happy in it, and when I saw Eula in her [parents’] home and saw how happy she made it there, I was glad she had been the choice of your heart.
THE ROCKY ROAD OF LOVE
Unfortunately for John, Eula and Rose, the road to that happy home was not a smooth one. All couples have their difficulties; spats, separations and even broken engagements frequently precede a happy marriage, and John and Eula were no different. Although the details are unknown, it seems that between the time of their engagement and their wedding day, seventeen-year-old Eula Wulfjen committed some kind of act that put the prospects of marriage in doubt. In a letter written to her future sister-in-law five days before the wedding, Eula apologized for the unspecified actions, ones which had apparently offended Rose Kendrick:
I hardly know how to write to you because I feel so much ashamed of myself for the way I have acted, but if you will forgive me and forget the past, I shall be so happy. I do hope you may think as much of your little wayward sister now as you did long time ago and I assure you that I love my dear Sister Rose as much, if not more, than I once did. I don’t blame you for feeling hard against me, but I have truly repented and I hope I may receive just pardon.
Fortunately, Rose was a forgiving woman; she immediately wrote to her brother and his young fiancee to let them know that all – whatever “all” might have been – was happily forgiven: "How I grieved when I thought all was broken off between you. It was so sad to me, I could never bear to mention it to you again. God grant that you will love and appreciate each other all the more for the misunderstanding."
In one final letter before the wedding, Eula again mentions the rift between herself and her future family:
Dear Sister Rose, It does seem so funny when I try to realize how soon I will be Mrs. K. It has seemed that the fates were against us, and have done all they could to keep us apart, but we have defeated them and have at last decided for the “better or for the worse.” May God grant that it may always be for the better and that each succeeding year may find us happier than the last. However we shall only look for happiness in the future and I am sure we will not be disappointed.
On Tuesday, January 20, 1891, John Benjamin Kendrick and Eula Wulfjen were united in marriage at the Methodist Episcopal Church in Greeley, Colorado. Attended by her sister Mattie Wulfjen, and best friend Minnie Davis, Eula walked down the east aisle of the church while John and his groomsmen, Addison Spaugh and George Bissell, went up the west aisle: "Meeting at the alter [the couple] took upon themselves the solemn vows of matrimony as rendered by the beautiful service of the Methodist Episcopal faith, and “they that were twain went forth as one flesh.”
Following the style of the day, the church was decorated with flowers, evergreen boughs and that newest of decorating tools, the electric light:
The bride and groom, making a perfect picture of beauty, [stood] under an arch of evergreens and flowers illuminated with colored electric lights. In the center hung a large bell of evergreens and flowers with an electric light suspended from the center. The altar was a scene of artistically arranged flowers, paintings and banners, exquisite taste being displayed by loving hands in the whole arrangement.
After the service, the newlyweds received their friends in the pastor’s study, then went to the Wulfjen residence for cake and “an elegantly prepared dinner” before taking the 5:50 train for New York.
THE POST-WEDDING JOURNEY
Following their honeymoon, John and Eula Kendrick were separated – not by lack of love, but by miles of open prairie. In 1889, John had established a ranch along Hanging Woman Creek in southeastern Montana. Although he had put up a few buildings, he felt that the ranch house was not yet suitable for habitation by his new bride. So he went to Montana and she to Colorado. These excerpts from his many letters show how keenly he felt her absence.
March 17, 1891 The long days spent alone on the road have given me ample time for reflection and memory has carried me many times over the scenes and incidents of our wedding journey.
March 21,1891 Do you miss your old man? Not one half so much as I miss ‘the girl I left behind me.’ Somehow the feeling of loneliness is unexplainable. Everything lacks interest – the scenes along the road, the different views of the snow peaks of the Big Horns, things that I used to enjoy so much.
April 7, 1891 But for thinking of you all the while I could hardly realize that I am or was married. In fact there is little difference. I work harder, sit up later writing letters, but I [still] have to sweep out my office and make up my bed every day. Occasionally one of the men will ask me if I ain’t gittin’ awful anxious to see my wife!
April 16, 1891 Although I have worked almost day & night through rain and sunshine since my return, preparations for your coming progress very slowly. If I thought you would be contented and happy with me here I would go down to Greeley and carry you up myself rather than leave you there, house or no house.
April 22, 1891 What would I not give for just one look into your blue eyes tonight. You think that I do not love you? Well, perhaps not, but there is something very wrong for my heart has ached and ached and longed, and where life seemed lonely before I was married it is desolate now.
April 30, 1891 The thought of being with you again in such a short time fairly makes my heart thump. I trust [that] in the happiness of your new life all of the most Sacred promises of our marriage will be fulfilled and that you will find it impossible to exist for any great length of time in any atmosphere that does not surround your old man. I will meet you when the flowers bloom in spring.
May 3, 1891 We won’t worry about expenses. If I find true companionship in my Little Wife my cup of happiness will be filled and I can make all of the money we will need. … As ever, your Lonesome Ole Man.
The "Lonesome Ole Man" and his "Little Wife" were reunited on May 20, 1891. They remained together until his death in 1933.
Wulfjen-Kendrick wedding invitation, 1891 (Kendrick Collection, TESHS)
A Whole-House Exhibit at the Trail End State Historic Site
March 2009 - December 2009
Kooi-Reynolds wedding, circa 1926 (Moeller-Edwards Collection, TESHS)
State Historic Site