Maria Agnes Hickok

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Maria Agnes Hickok (Polschneider)

Also Known As: "Mersman", "Lake"
Birthdate: (80)
Birthplace: Probably Damme, Großherzogtum Oldenburg, Deutscher Bund
Death: August 21, 1907 (80)
Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey, United States
Immediate Family:

Daughter of Friedrich Mersman and Catharina Polschneider
Wife of William Lake Thatcher and James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok
Mother of Infant Lake; Emma Lake and Alice Lake
Sister of Elisabeth Kattenhorn; Friederich Polschneider; Henry Mersman; Joseph Polschneider and Franz Polschneider

Managed by: Karen Elizabeth Engstrom
Last Updated:

About Maria Agnes Hickok

She had been baptized in Damme, Oldenburg, as Maria Agnes Polschneider, as the father took the mother's name - they regarded the Polschneider farm as their permanent home, and thus his name change. However, according to Bowers & Fisher, when the family moved to the United States, they assumed the father's birth name, with a minor variation (Messmann to Mersman). Her Alsatian ancestry may be correct, but her actual birthplace was further east. Her eldest siblings immigrated to the United States via Bremen in Fall 1832. her brother Friederich apparently dying on the way to the New World, and her sister Elizabeth arriving in Cincnnati in relative safety. Agnes, her father, and the three youngest boys traveled in late spring from Breman, arriving in Baltimore at the end of June 1833, likely traveling on the National Road to Ohio.

From Agnes Lake Hickok: Queen of the Circus, Wife of a Legend, by Carolyn M. Bowers, Linda A. Fisher:

An account of Lake's first meeting with Agnes Mersman appears in Gil Robinson's book, "Old Wagon Show Days." [27] Using information possibly supplied by his future mother-in-law, Agnes Lake, Robinson wrote: "[Agnes] was an Alsatian, and was brought to his country by her parents in 1829 when she was three years old. The family settled in Cincinnati. Life passed uneventfully for her until her 16th year, when the Robinson & Eldred's Circus exhibted in Cincinnati. The tents were pitched a few blocks from her home. "Bill" Lake was the star clown of the show; one day in passing her residence, he saw Agnes swinging in the yard. It was a mutual case of love at first sight; he sought and secured an introduction and begged her to marry him; despite the opposition of her parents, she consented, but her youth was so evident that it was impossible to get anyone to perform the ceremony. It was decided that she should elope and go to St. Louis, and make an effort to get the marriage knot tied, only to again suffer disappointment. Neither clergymen nor justice of the peace would marry them, the young people determined to go to New Orleans. But even there marrying powers were obdurate. Finally in the little town of Lafayette, Louisiana, 10 miles from New Orleans, they were joined in wedlock. [28]

In 1846, it took at least a week to travel from Cincinnati to New Orleans by steamboat. Therefore a plausible interpretation of the documentary evidence is that Bill Lake arrived in Cincinnati at the beginning of 1846 and planned to open up the circus season with Stone & McCollum's company and particiipate in the scheduled tour. Shomen he had known for years, including Spencer Q. Stokes, Joe Clavau, and Eaton Stone, also signed on with the company. While the show was in rehearsal, Lake encountered Agnes Mersman. He sought an introduction and then courted her for a few weeks.

Robinson's version contains several errors. He subtracted years from Agnes' true age and suggested the wedding occured in the early 1840s. In addition, her birthplace, the presence of both her parents, and the name of the circus that featured Lake are all incorrect. [29] Agnes was 19 years old when she married Lake in 1846, hardly a child bride. Based on the naturalization papers of her brother Joseph, her mother died in 1833 prior to Agnes' immigration when she was 6 years old; and Lake was employed by the Great Western Circus, not the Robinson & Eldred show. [30] ...

Robinson's account of Agnes and Lake's romance and subsequent wedding does contain truthfull elements. The location of the couple's first encounter (Cincinnati), the location of their marriage (Louisiana), and the mutual attraction that captivated them are all correct. The couple eloped, and therefore Lake failed to open the season with the Great Western Circus in Cincinnati. Robinson's flawed account of that fateful meeting is not entirely his fault. In a newspaper interview with the New York Morning Telegraph in 1906, Agnes herself proclaimed that she had met Bill Lake while he was performing in Cincinnati in 1842, and married him in Lafayette, Louisiana, later that year. [37]

At present, the only reliable documentation found to help distinguish fact from fiction includes an application for a marriage license in Jefferson Parish, Louisiana, dated May 1, 1846, for William Lake Thatcher and "Mary Agnes Mersmann" [sic]. [38] Two dozen newspaper advertisements printed in the Cincinnati Daily Commercial and the Cincinnati Enquirer herald the arrival of the Great Western Circus that played in Cincinnati from April 23 to May 1, 1846, and document Lake's presence in the city. Advertisements for Stickney's New Orleans Circus that appeared in newspapers in Virginia, Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Mississippi later that year contradict Robinson's chronicle of Lake performing in Mexico after he and Agnes were wed.

To reach New Orleans and fill out the marriage license on May 1, the couple would had to have left Cincinnati no later than April 23, if they traveled directly to New Orleans. In Robinson's account, however, the couple traveled first to St. Louis, and when they were denied a marriage license, they continued on to Louisiana. That journey would have taken at least 15 days, requiring a departure from Cincinnati somewhere between April 12 and April 14, when Lake's name was printed daily in the newspapers.

Although Agnes was not a child bride, as Robinson claims, her sudden elopement with Bill Lake likely resulted from her father and brothers' concerns and objections regarding Lake as an acceptable suitor. A professional clown was not seen as a desirable husband by most young people of that era. [39] Lake, an unschooled vagabond with no family, contrasted dramatically with Arnd Kattenhorn, who was German, had stable kinfolk, a conventional lifestyle, and a steady income. [40]

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Maria Agnes Hickok's Timeline

August 24, 1826
Probably Damme, Großherzogtum Oldenburg, Deutscher Bund
August 26, 1826
Damme, Großherzogtum Oldenburg, Deutscher Bund
January 1, 1849
Age 22
New Orleans, Orleans Parish, Louisiana, United States
August 21, 1907
Age 80
Jersey City, Hudson County, New Jersey, United States