On October 14, 1882, a young man named Charles W. Savidge arrived in Omaha to begin serving as the pastor of First Methodist Church.1 Located at Seventeenth and Davenport, the congregation had been established in September 1855,2 a year and a half after the village of Omaha had been incorporated in Nebraska Territory. When Rev. Savidge wrote his autobiography in 1914, he had served as a minister in Omaha for 31 years, having left the city for only one year to minister in Grand Island, Nebraska. Regarding one of his accomplishments, Rev. Savidge stated, “I have now married nearly three thousand couples. I have married all kinds of people, all colors, nearly all nationalities and all ages; some have been young, some old and others middle-aged.”3
Nearly six months after beginning his ministry in Omaha, Rev. Savidge performed the marriage ceremony of John C. Thompson and Emma V. Bonewitz. The groom was the 22 year-old son of Benjamin and Elizabeth Thompson and was a newspaper editor, residing in Brownville, Nebraska, a city about 75 miles south of Omaha. Thompson is mentioned in a history of Brownville:
“April, 1882, J. Thompson, a young man who learned the printer’s trade in the Advertiser office, purchased an office in Fullerton, Neb., and established a Republican paper in the old Advertiser office, on the north side of Main street, between First and Second. He has named his paper the Brownville Republican.”4
The bride was the 18 year-old daughter of John E. and Josie Bonewitz, whose family had moved to Omaha in 1880. The wedding was performed on May 6, 1883, at Emma’s parents’ home and announced in one of the city newspapers, Omaha Daily Bee:
“At 4 p. m. Sunday, at the residence of the bride’s parents, No. 1623 Dodge street, Mr. John C. Thompson, editor of the Brownville Republican, was united in Marriage to Miss Emma V. Bonewitz, Rev. Savidge, of First M. E. church, officiating. Only the relatives and intimate friends of the high contracting parties were present, but the affair was a most auspicious one, and the presents received were both costly and beautiful. The happy couple left Sunday evening for their home in Brownville.”5
Rev. Savidge had performed his first wedding in 1879. He has related that at the time he did not know what to do in that ceremony, so he asked a Presbyterian pastor who served in the same area and he was given some instructions.6 Thirty-five years later, Rev. Savidge wrote:
“Some ministers have a very long and tedious marriage service, but my service is short and to the point. There is not so much dependent on the length of the service and the minister as there is upon the contracting parties themselves.
“It is up to them whether they will be happy or miserable. Here is a copy of my brief marriage ceremony:
“ ‘Will thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife to live together after God’s ordinance in the holy state of matrimony?
“ ‘Wilt thou have this woman to be thy wedded wife in health, and forsaking all others, cleave thee only unto her?’
“The bridegroom answers, ‘I will.’
“I then ask the bride the same questions concerning the groom. She answers, ‘I will.’
“I then direct the bridegroom to place the ring on the third finger of his lady’s left hand and, holding the hand, to repeat after me these words:
“ ‘With this ring I thee wed, and with my worldly goods I thee endow; in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.’
“I then close that part of the service with these words: ‘For as much as this man and this woman have consented together in holy wedlock, have witnessed the same before God and this company, and signified the same by joining of hands, I pronounce that they are husband and wife together, in the name of the Father, the Son and the Holy Ghost.’
“I then offer the following brief prayer: ‘And now may God, the Father, and the Son and the Holy Ghost bless, preserve and keep you. The Lord mercifully look upon you; so fill you with all benediction and grace that ye may so live together in this life that in the world to come ye may have life everlasting.’
“Sometimes I add this prayer: ‘Lord, bless this man and woman, now this husband and wife. Bind them together Thyself and may they never be separated by any discord or difference or rent apart by the action of any divorce court, but may death alone break this bond. In order that they may live long and prosper, we pray they may believe in Thee, the living God, as much as Daniel ever did. That they may take the Bible as the inspired word of God and Man of their counsel, thus laying the foundation of happiness here and felicity forever. For the sake of Jesus Christ, our Lord. Amen.’ ”7
A year after John and Emma’s wedding, Rev. Savidge performed the marriage ceremony of Emma’s 23 year-old sister, Carrie Bonewitz, who had arrived in Omaha with her family in 1880. Carrie married 25 year-old Charles P. White, the son of S. M. and Anna White, on June 12, 1884. At least six years prior to their marriage and before Carrie had moved to Omaha, White and Carrie’s brother Orlando were boarding at the same boarding house, Donovan House, in Omaha.8 White resided in Omaha for a few years between 1878 and 1884, but on his marriage license his residence is recorded as Tobias, Nebraska. Tobias was a new railroad village that had been platted and incorporated in the early spring of 1884.9
One of the witnesses of this marriage was S. H. Buffett. This was White’s employer, a grocer whose name, Sidney H. Buffett, can be found in the Omaha city directories starting at 1870. Initially, White had worked as a teamster for Buffett,10 later he worked as a clerk.11 The other witness who signed the marriage license was William T. Lyons, who was probably White’s mother’s brother.
In 1886, Rev. Savidge performed a third wedding for a member of the Bonewitz family. This time, 27 year-old Harman (sometimes called by his middle name Finley) married a 25 year-old dressmaker, Cornelia B. Higley, on December 29. When the 1880 U. S. census was taken, both the Bonewitz family and the Higley family resided in Fairfield, Iowa.12,13 Harman and his father and brother Orlando had gone to Omaha for work as early as 1878, but apparently, Harman didn’t permanently move to Omaha until 1880 when his entire family moved there. In 1885, Cornelia was still living with her parents, Judson and Ruah Higley, in Fairfield when the Iowa state census was taken,14 but in 1887 Cornelia and her parent’s names appear in the Omaha city directory. One of the signatures of the witnesses on Harman and Cornelia’s marriage license is possibly Cornelia’s father’s signature. The other signature is very difficult to read, but may be the signature of Harman’s brother-in-law, Charles P. White.
In his autobiography, Rev. Savidge had some sage words regarding “The Marriage Fee”:
“The true minister of the Gospel does not charge a regular fee for his services at the marriage. He depends upon the generosity of the bridegroom and his appreciation of his bride.
“The minister has many avenues for his surplus change and his income is generally limited. Don’t forget the preacher, boys!
“It is very poor taste indeed for the bridegroom after the ceremony to ask the minister what his bill is or what the charges are. This is often done, but it is not the thing to do; it throws a sort of coldness over the meeting.
“The bridegroom ought to have his offering for the minister in his vest pocket, or better still, in an envelope, and then quietly hand it to him.
“That sum ought not to fall below $5.00. A ten-dollar bill looks better to me!
“The groom who remembers the minister liberally will not lose in the long run. A man ought not to be married often during this earthly life and he can afford to be manly and generous at this time.
“This whole transaction from start to finish is a test of manhood. Brother, walk up and stand the test!
“I have often married people where I received no fee at all, but it seemed to me a good deal like tying up cattle.
“The largest fee I ever received was $50.00, but I prayed eight hours for that fellow. I said, ‘Lord, work him up and help him give me a good fee, for I need the “dough.” ’
“He gave me, sealed in an envelope, ten five-dollar bills. I praised the Lord and used the money. One of the smallest, meanest fees I ever got, was some shade trees for the church and the trees died. I guess they got ashamed and quit.”15
After serving at First Methodist Church for six years, Rev. Savidge was assigned to Grand Island, Nebraska in 1888. He only served there one year, because during that year Rev. Savidge felt a conviction that his work in Omaha was not done. He has written: “God seemed to pull on me and put a message from Himself in my very soul, that He had plans for me in this city, and the past twenty-four years have proved that my convictions at that time were from God.”16 So Rev. Savidge requested to be assigned to Omaha again and to found his own church, which would be called the People’s Church. He has explained how he started the new work in Omaha:
“I … hired Boyd’s Opera House on Fifteenth and Farnum Streets for twenty-five dollars every Sunday.
“… The congregation was made up of the unchurched masses. Men and women who never went to any regular church went there. Harlots, drunkards and gamblers came to see and to hear: Many of these were benefited.
“I started a Sunday School in the lower part of the city and we instructed children of all nationalities and colors.
“… When the hot weather came on, I was compelled to give up the opera house and transfer my services to the Newman M. E. Church.”17
In the fall of 1891, Rev. Savidge decided to discontinue his association with the Methodist Episcopal denomination.18 He determined to be an independent minister and once again established the People’s Church, purchasing the old United Presbyterian Church building located on 18th Street near California for $1,000.19
That same fall, Rev. Savidge performed a fourth marriage ceremony for the Bonewitz family. In about 1886, the family had moved to West Side, a developing addition to Omaha. At some point in the late 1880s, Josephine Bonewitz began running a boarding house in that area, and a man named Charles M. Daily became one of the boarders and became acquainted with Maggie Bonewitz, the youngest daughter of John and Josephine Bonewitz.20 The son of Joseph and Amanda Daily, Charles Daily had worked his way from Indiana, across Illinois and Iowa for about 15 years, and finally settled in Omaha. His first known employer in Omaha was Charles P. White,21 who was operating a feed and coal business, and was the brother-in-law of Maggie. Daily worked for several years for White and on November 18, 1891 when 35 year-old Daily married 24 year-old Maggie, White signed the marriage certificate as a witness. The other witness was Maggie’s other brother-in-law John C. Thompson.
The dress that Maggie wore on her wedding day was passed down to one of her daughters and then to one of her grandsons. About ninety years after Maggie wore the dress for her wedding photograph, one of her great granddaughters posed for a photograph wearing Maggie’s dress. The dress is still brought out for display at the biennial reunions of the combined Daily and Bevers families.
As time went by, Rev. Savidge began to be consulted by many families regarding marriageable prospects. In his autobiography, he writes:
“I am a firm believer in marriage. We can never beat the evils of the present day except the people enter the marriage relation and establish their own homes. God says, ‘He setteth the solitary in families.’
“Marriage is the order of God, the foundation of society, the church and the state. Many people among us who have their own homes do not know the intense desire of those who are not so situated. Our cities are crowded with women, good women, who have no chance to meet agreeable gentlemen, and there are many good men on ranches, farms and in mining, and even in our crowded cities who have small opportunity to meet good women.
“In recent years, on account of my age and experience, many come to consult with me on this subject. Mothers bring their daughters and beg me to use my influence to have them properly settled in life. It might do the skeptical on this subject much good to read some of the letters I receive. One lady said, ‘The desire for a home and love is with me constantly; it haunts my every waking hour.’
“In the Bible you may read a very beautiful story of how Isaac got his wife, in Genesis, twenty-fourth chapter.
“Abraham’s eldest and most trusted servant attended to this business with alacrity and devotion, and with the evident blessing of God.
“Other people can dip in a little to help others if they have the skill and ability. I have a bureau of information on marriage in my downtown office, which in the past year has worked wonders. I have a most competent secretary who takes the details off of me and I hope to assist many worthy people in the future.”22
One last quote from Rev. Charles W. Savidge: “It is a perfectly natural thing to marry. Man never got up this scheme; it is a plan of God. It is folly to try to beat it.”23
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God (Omaha, Nebraska: Beacon Press, 1914):38-39, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/topic/religion/MECHURCH/faith/pages/hfig0038.htm.
- David Marquette, History of Nebraska Methodism: First Half-Century (1904): 56, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/topic/religion/MECHURCH/hmec/pages/honm0052.htm.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 89, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/topic/religion/MECHURCH/faith/pages/hfig0083.htm#ch25.
- John McCoy, transcriber, History of the State of Nebraska by William Cutler (Chicago: The Western Historical Company, 1882): https://www.kancoll.org/books/andreas_ne/nemaha/nemaha-p6.html#press.
- Omaha Daily Bee (Omaha, Nebraska: Omaha Daily Bee, May 8, 1883):8, https://www.newspapers.com/image/466624152.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 89.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 89, 91.
- J. M. Wolfe, publisher, Wolfe’s Omaha City Directory 1878-1879 (Omaha, Nebraska: Herald Publishing House and Book Bindery, 1878): 97 & 286.
- Helen Kottas, “Nebraska…Our Towns, Tobias — Saline County”: https://casde.unl.edu/history/counties/saline/tobias/.
- J. M. Wolfe, publisher, Wolfe’s Omaha City Directory 1878-1879: 286.
- J. M. Wolfe, publisher, Wolfe’s Omaha City Directory 1881-1882 (Omaha, Nebraska: Herald Printing, Binding and Electrotyping House, 1881): 421.
- “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GYYV-9R3L?cc=1417683&wc=XHBX-C68%3A1589394762%2C1589396075%2C1589395491%2C1589396695 : 24 December 2015), Iowa > Jefferson > Fairfield > ED 81 > image 60 of 64; citing NARA microfilm publication T9, (National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., n.d.)
- “United States Census, 1880,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:33SQ-GYYV-9RN5?cc=1417683&wc=XHBX-C68%3A1589394762%2C1589396075%2C1589395491%2C1589396695 : 24 December 2015), Iowa > Jefferson > Fairfield > ED 81 > image 19 of 64; citing NARA microfilm publication T9, (National Archives and Records Administration, Washington, D.C., n.d.)
- “Iowa State Census, 1885,” database with images, FamilySearch (https://familysearch.org/ark:/61903/3:1:939Z-YGHT-J?cc=1803643&wc=M6L6-Q23%3A145017901%2C145048501 : 1 April 2016), Jefferson > Fairfield, Fairfield > image 67 of 152; State Historical Society, Des Moines.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 92-93, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/topic/religion/MECHURCH/faith/pages/hfig0092.htm.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 51, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/topic/religion/MECHURCH/faith/pages/hfig0045.htm.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 51-52.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 55.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 56, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ne/topic/religion/MECHURCH/faith/pages/hfig0056.htm.
- E. J. B. V. Bevers, personal communication with M. R. Wilson, ca. 1976.
- Omaha City and South Omaha City Directory for 1889 (Omaha, Nebraska: J. M. Wolfe & Co., Publishers, 1889): 194.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 93-94.
- Charles W. Savidge, Have faith in God: 92.