His early years
Don Sroufe’s story is complex, confusing and incomplete. It has been a challenging research task to locate records of this elusive man who was married to my paternal grandmother, Lillian Florence (Howle) Marshall, using the name, Robert Lee Marshall. It was only after my Grandmother Marshall’s death that I uncovered original records documenting their marriage and divorce hidden in a trunk in her hall closet. The story of this discovery and the associated records are covered in greater detail in two previous blog posts – The Elusive Robert Lee Marshall and Don Sroufe, a painful family secret. The purpose of this blog post is to share what I’ve been able to piece together so far on Don Sroufe’s life before and after his brief marriage to my grandmother. Because his story is so tangled, it must be told across multiple blog posts.
According to the 1900 US Census record for Justice Precinct #3 in Grayson County, Texas, Earl D Sroufe was the son of Henry A and Pearl Sroufe. 1 The census record also indicates that he was born in January 1900 in Texas. There is one other tragic detail noted in this record. We see that Earl D’s mother, Pearl, had given birth to four children but he was the only child still living.
We find the family again in the 1910 US Census for Justice Precinct #3 in Grayson County, Texas. The family has remained in the same location, but this time, Henry and Pearl’s son is listed as Don who is 11 years old and there is a daughter, Ellen, who is 4 years old. 2 The small bits of information about this family and the relationships stated in these two census records are important to remember as we continue to unravel Don’s story in future posts.
First sign of trouble
In February 1917, a small item appeared in the El Paso (Texas) Herald about an elderly couple who had been “indicted, tried, and sentenced within one afternoon” 3 for selling liquor. The article also stated that this couple sold the alcohol to Don Sroufe who was a member of the Fourth Texas Infantry stationed near Sierra Blanca, Texas.
Using the info in this brief article, I searched for and located several websites that chronicle the history of the Fourth Texas Infantry. From sites such as The Portal to Texas History and the Texas Military Forces Museum, I learned that the members of the Fourth Texas Infantry had been recruited from the north and north central areas of the state 4 and that the unit was stationed in the Big Bend area of Texas from late-June 1916 until mid-March 1917. According to online histories, the Fourth Texas Infantry was among the first National Guard units mobilized during a period known as “the Great Call-Up.” 5 It was so named because President Wilson had ordered some 150,000 men from almost every National Guard unit in existence into federal service. 6 Initially, these units were called up and transported to the US-Mexican border. Their orders were to secure the border and protect against raids by Mexican bandits. On March 26, 1917, these troops were mustered out of service only to be called back into service five days later. The Fourth Texas Infantry was then reorganized along with many other National Guard units from Texas and Oklahoma into the 36th Division that served in France in WWI. 7
While researching this National Guard unit, I’ve not yet located any official record documenting that Don Sroufe actually served in it. However, the article originated from El Paso and placed him in the US-Mexico border area during the same time frame for which that unit of National Guard was stationed. Since the unit was mustered out and called back into service so quickly, it is possible that Don was among the troops of the 36th Division that fought in France in October 1917. However, to date, I have not located any credible evidence placing him there.
Whether Don ultimately fought in France or not, the article does indicate that he was among those men guarding against Mexican raids into US territory. It also offers a first indication of Don’s disregard for the law. While it must have been very hard for an eighteen-year-old to be far from home and ordered to travel across treacherous terrain and endure sweltering temperatures, he was probably very aware of local liquor laws. As I’ve read and re-read the article, I find myself wondering which of the parties are truly at fault. Did the elderly couple who sold him the alcohol lure him or convince him into the sale in any way? Or did he prey upon their good nature and convince them to sell it to him? Either way, what the couple did was illegal and he was a party to the crime.
1920 – It’s a girl!
The next record I located was a birth certificate for an unnamed female born in Bells, Grayson County, Texas, on 14 May 1920. 8 Don E Sroufe is listed as the child’s father, age 21, and the mother is listed as Rosa Louise Marshall, age 19. Both parents indicate they live in Bells, Texas, which is where the baby girl was born. Don stated his occupation as a salesman and Rosa said she was a housekeeper. Although I have been unable to locate a record of their marriage, this birth certificate states the child’s birth was legitimate.
Finding this record was important to learning more about Don’s life for several reasons. It confirmed the whispered family stories about R.L. Marshall having a wife and a family in Texas. It might also be a clue as to how he chose Robert Lee Marshall as an alias. This name is very similar to his wife’s name in that he perhaps used the initials of her given names and then took on her maiden name as his surname. Even though my grandmother carefully guarded what she shared about R. L. Marshall, she did tell us that he was a salesman and that matches Don Sroufe’s stated occupation on the baby girl’s birth certificate. Finally, the most important information revealed in locating this record is that my father had a half-sister.
Marriage to my grandmother
Don Sroufe’s whereabouts after his daughter was born in 1920 and before he met my grandmother are still unknown to me. However, I do know that my grandmother entered the University of Oklahoma in the fall of 1920. After just two years, she had to leave the university for family financial reasons and began teaching elementary school in Elk City, Oklahoma. Somehow Don Sroufe had drifted into the Elk City area because that is where they met and finally married in February 1924. By this time, he was no longer using his real name. He was calling himself Robert Lee Marshall.
- 1900 U.S. census, Grayson County, Texas, population schedule, Justice Precinct #3, p. 65A (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 103, sheet 24, dwelling 418, family 421, Earl D Sroufe; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 Jan 2015); citing FHL microfilm: 1241640. ↩
- 1910 U.S. census, Grayson County, Texas, population schedule, Justice Precinct #3, p. 296 (stamped), enumeration district (ED) 93, sheet 12A, dwelling 178, family 178, Don Sroufe; image, Ancestry.com (http://www.ancestry.com : accessed 15 Jan 2015); citing FHL microfilm: 1375570. ↩
- “Couple is Indicted Tried, Sentenced in One Afternoon,” El Paso (Texas) Herald, 21 February 1917, p. 12, col. 1; image copy, Newspapers.com (http://newspapers.com : accessed 28 January 2016). ↩
- Capt. Ben H. Chastaine, 142nd Infantry U.S.A., Story of the 36th: The Experiences of the 36th Division in World War I (Oklahoma City, Oklahoma: Harlow Publishing Company, 1920), p. 6: digital images, Google Books (http://books.Google.com : accessed 27 February 2016). ↩
- Charles Harris, III and Louis R. Sadler, The Great Call-Up: The Guard, the Border, and the Mexican Revolution (Norman, Oklahoma: The University of Oklahoma Press, 2015), p. 3: digital images, Google Books (http://books.Google.com : accessed 27 February 2016). ↩
- Harris and Sadler, The Great Call-Up, p. 6. ↩
- W. D. Cope, “36th Division in World War I,” at Texas Military Forces Museum, 36th Division History (http://www.texasmilitaryforcesmuseum.org/gallery/ww1/cope.htm : accessed 27 February 2016), section “Texas National Guard in World War I.” ↩
- Grayson, County, Texas State Board of Health, Bureau of Vital Statistics, birth certificate no. 25674, “not named,” 14 May 1920; image, Ancestry.com (http://ancestry.com : accessed 06 March 2016). ↩