The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002

Southwestern Historical Quarterly

Ungentlemanly Acts: The Army's Notonous Incest Trial. By Louise Barnett. (New York:
Hill and Wang, 2000. Pp. x+287. Acknowledgments, epilogue, appendices,
notes, bibliography, index. ISBN 0-8090-7397-8. $25.00, cloth.)
The author chose a fascinating story of charge and counter-charge between offi-
cers stationed at Fort Stockton, a post on the far West Texas frontier in 1879. One
set of charges was "unspeakable" because the Victorian morality of the nineteenth
century declared that the subject of incest was too horrible to contemplate, could
not possibly be true, and anyone bringing the charges could not be believed.
Capt. Andrew J. Geddes charged that fellow officer Lt. Louis Orleman was
committing incest with his eighteen-year-old daughter, with whom he shared his
quarters. Lieutenant Orleman's wife and remaining children were not with him
at his far-western frontier assignment but were living in Austin. Captain Geddes
claimed to have heard things through a wall and also to have learned of the
incest from Lieutenant Orleman's daughter Lillie, who told him that the situa-
tion had been going on for five years.
When Captain Geddes brought his charges in what he said was an effort to
help Lillie Orleman free herself from her ongoing abuse, Lieutenant Orleman
countercharged that Captain Geddes was trying to seduce and abduct his daugh-
ter. Captain Geddes was a married man but was separated from his wife.
Because the military officials in Texas at that time deemed Captain Geddes'
accusation of incest too "unspeakable" even to consider, they brought charges
against Captain Geddes himself for defaming the good name of a fellow officer.
The trial of Captain Geddes lasted three months. Obviously, his only defense was
to try to prove that Lieutenant Orleman indeed had been engaging in incest with
his daughter.
Author Louise Barnett, an English professor rather than a historian, neverthe-
less used scholarly methods of research in finding the court transcripts to reveal
the truth of what happened over a century ago. She also used secondary sources
quite effectively to provide an accurate background of the military situation on the
frontier of Texas. At times the reader begins to feel that the author is engaging in
too much military background and an excessive discussion of incest as an issue. In
some cases a few paragraphs would have sufficed rather than entire chapters of
background material. However, her discussion of what happened when Harriet
Beecher Stowe wrote of Lord Byron's incest with his half-sister was appropriate to
illustrate prevailing nineteenth-century opinion. (Instead of generating sympathy
for Lady Byron, who revealed the facts to Stowe, the public turned against the
author of Uncle Tom's Cabin for having the audacity to bring an incest charge.)
With her literary background Barnett was able to make the book read almost
like a mystery novel and to keep the reader in suspense concerning the fate of the
main characters of the story, Captain Geddes, Lieutenant Orleman, and the poor
embarrassed young lady, Lillie Orleman. What a century ago was unspeakable now
can be researched and published for a public who is better able to accept the facts
than the military officials were able to do in 1879 on the frontier of Texas.

July

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Azle, Texas

J'NELL PATE

Texas State Historical Association. The Southwestern Historical Quarterly, Volume 105, July 2001 - April, 2002. Austin, Texas. The Portal to Texas History. http://texashistory.unt.edu/ark:/67531/metapth101222/. Accessed July 28, 2014.