Anne t. kent california room

In his 1924 Autobiography, Joseph Louis Mailliard recounts some of his family history and his early life and the wildlife on the Mailliard’s Rancho San Geronimo. He describes at length his work as an ornithologist, collecting birds and eggs, and the donation of 10,000 specimens that he and his brother made to the California Academy of Sciences in 1919. It is likely that his social standing, dislike of notoriety and the Victorian mores of the day prevented him from even hinting at the event which dramatically changed his life.

In December 1881, Joseph Mailliard married Emily Hort Tompkins, the eldest daughter of Minthorne and Harriet Tompkins, uniting two prominent families. The Tompkins had purchased 45 acres and built a home east of Red Hill in San Anselmo in 1870.


The Marin Journal reported on the lavish wedding and observed that “Life opens very brightly for Mr. and Mrs. Joseph Mailliard.” The young Mailliards made their home at the San Geronimo ranch and had two children, Rena Hort Mailiiard (1884-1903) and Ernest Chase Mailliard (1887-1982). Their domestic life was thought to be “happy and harmonious.”

It started with an advertisement placed in the Chronicle by a private investigator offering a $1,000 reward for information leading to the discovery of a woman who had disappeared. A description was provided but no name. A $100 reward was also offered for information leading to recovery of a trunk removed from the train depot at San Rafael.

A Chronicle reporter jumped right on this and discovered that the missing woman was Emily Tompkins Mailliard. At the end of August she had driven to a residence in San Rafael with a large trunk on the back of her carriage. While there, she opened the trunk and showed a quantity of newly purchased undergarments. She journeyed to San Francisco where she was seen by a dentist; this was the last time Emily was seen. Theories about her disappearance abounded. Some speculated that she was mentally deranged, others that she had been drugged, carried off and hidden, though a cousin pointed out that Emily was stout and couldn’t easily be hidden. Others thought that she had grown tired of life on the ranch and wandered off and would return. Friends said that she was a devoted wife and loving mother. Joseph Mailliard and the Tompkins were alarmed and grief stricken. The detective refused to discuss the case as it was a private matter.

Twenty-three days after her disappearance, the Chronicle reported that Emily Mailliard had been found, her mind deranged, and been returned to her father’s home. This story proved to be untrue as it was soon reported that she was found in a cabin in a logging camp in Humboldt County living with Ingram, the hired man. A mediator pleaded with her to return home, but she refused, professing her love for Ingram.

Joseph Mailliard immediately filed for divorce which was granted on November 12, 1891. He appeared “crushed and heartbroken on the stand.” Thus ended what the Marin County Tocsin called “the greatest sensation Marin county has ever known.” Mailliard took solace in his work at Rancho San Geronimo and raising his two young children. It was at this time that he “took up bird work in real earnest.”

Joseph and his brother John built adjoining homes in San Francisco in 1904, and when the remaining portions of the San Geronimo Rancho were sold in 1912, Joseph moved there fulltime and lived with his unmarried sister. With the donation of the Mailliard Collection to the Academy of Sciences, Joseph was appointed as an honorary curator and then curator. He took field trips, cared for the collection and wrote numerous scholarly papers on birds and mammals of the West Coast. Though he retired at age 70, he remained active as curator emeritus into his 80s. Joseph Mailliard died at age 87 on December 12, 1945.

And what of Emily Tompkins Mailliard? She and William Ingram married two days after the divorce was granted. Three months after the marriage William was so badly injured in a sawmill accident that his imminent death was feared, Emily was unwell and they were without money. In the 1900 census, the couple and a nine year old daughter are enumerated in Napa. No occupation is listed for William. By 1920, the Ingrams had divorced and Emily had married Joseph Meyer, a widower. She died May 25, 1954 at age 91 in San Francisco.

Emily never saw her children Rena and Ernest Mailliard again nor was she reconciled with or forgiven by her parents. Ethel H. Tompkins, Emily’s youngest sister and the founder of the Marin Humane Society, would have been about 15 at the time Emily left. Years later, Ethel declined biographical interviews, shunned publicity and felt it was “not proper for a lady’s name to appear in a newspaper.” Was this just an old-fashioned notion or the lasting impact of her sister’s action?

I was delighted to find this article. I work at the Fortuna Depot Museum, Fortuna being the town in which the scandalous Mailliard/Ingram couple were discovered, cohabiting at the Newburg logging camp. We are currently researching this story for a historical/theatrical presentation to take place this fall. Your article provides some wonderful information I didn’t have before about Joseph Mailliard‘s life and about the Mailliard and Tompkins families.

I do want to let you know about something we just recently discovered, which adds an interesting little twist to the story. It turns out that the report of William Ingram being "horribly mangled" in a sawmill accident was false. According to the Humboldt Daily Standard of Eureka, that report was something the Chronicle had made up out of whole cloth as a publicity stunt, for an excuse to bring up the Mailliard/Ingram story once again. Here is the article from the Standard of February 28, 1898: " A Chrnoicle Canard. The S. F. Chronicle of the 25t Inst., contains a column article on the late Ingram-Mailliard scandal. As an excuse the statement is made that Ingram was recently badly mangled in a mill at Fortuna and that his wife, nee [ sic.] Mailliard, was at Fortuna suffering for the common necessaries of life. A STANDARD reporter, being in teh vallye Saturday, made inquiries and finds there is no truth whatever in the story. Mr. Ingram is not employed in the mill, but in the yard and is in no danger. He and his wife are well and apparently happy."