For Nelson Savier, Hamilton, Nevada probably seemed like the perfect place to hide. No doubt he was hoping that the sordid tale of his mistress’s murder wouldn’t follow him to a remote mining town. And best of all, he’d left his murderous wife Julia back in California.
But as you’ll remember from Part 2 of our story, a quiet hunkering-down in Hamilton was not to be Nels’ fate. Augustus Lake, the husband of Nels’ mistress, paid a most-inconvenient prospecting visit there in the summer of 1872.
Lake invited his rival down to the Hamilton saloon for a cordial drink, then led the unsuspecting Nels into a quiet back room — and locked the door.
But if Lady Fate hadn’t been much in Nels’ corner for quite awhile, she evidently took pity on him now. Hearing a commotion, saloon patrons broke in the door. They arrived just in time to yank a six-shooter away from Lake. But Lake wasn’t ready to call it quits. He pulled out a large knife and lunged for Nels.
The Good Samaritans managed to intervene yet again, and Nels escaped unharmed. Threats of arrest proved sufficient to calm Lake down. Both men soon left Hamilton – reportedly in opposite directions.
Despite his disastrous track record with marriage thus far, Nels Saviers still had an eye for the ladies. His name hit the papers again in January, 1873, when a reporter for the Eureka Sentinel spotted Nels with “Mrs. Saviers” at the beach near San Francisco, “billing and cooing like two young lovebirds.”
Lovebirds they may have been. But later evidence would suggest that the woman Nels was kissing that day was probably not his wife, the murderous Julia. Despite Julia’s expressed desire to reconcile, Nels seems to have (for once) done the wise thing, and avoided her.
By 1875, Nels was living in Sacramento, working again as an agent for Wheeler & Wilson Sewing Machines, at their office at 119 “J” Street. About this time, he met up with – and married — a young lady named Emily.
Emily came from a good family; her step-father was a prominent resident of Marysville, California, who would eventually get into politics and become a state assemblyman. Emily was young — some 11 years younger than Nels, and a good 23 younger than Julia. She was pretty, and probably impressionable. There was only one problem with all this new-found domestic bliss: although Emily likely didn’t know it, Nelson was still officially married to Julia!
Once again, trouble dogged Nels Savier’s footsteps. He was arrested that October, accused of taking $20 belonging to a Mrs. Jane Baker. The facts of that case were more than a bit odd: the money had been enclosed with a letter to Mrs. Baker, which was addressed “in his care” at Wheeler and Wilson’s address. So why was Mrs. Baker’s mail going to Nels Savier’s office? That little detail hasn’t survived. What we do know is that Nels adamantly denied taking the money. Other employees, he pointed out, also had access to the same “public desk” where the letter had been stashed.
The evidence was good enough that Nels was initially convicted of the theft. But on appeal he was exonerated — after Mrs. Baker herself did a complete about-face and testified she now suspected a different employee of taking the money.
Nels was in the clear again, but the blush had gone off the Sacramento rose. Nels and new “wife” Emily moved east to Chicago. There their union would soon be blessed with two daughters: Marcia, born in June, 1877, and Grace, born in 1879.
By now, Nels’ actual wife, Julia, had figured out just how thoroughly her husband was moving on. Julia filed for divorce in Sacramento in August, 1876, accusing Nels of multiple acts of adultery. Nels didn’t contest the divorce proceeding, and a default decree was granted in May, 1877. That news must have come as a huge relief to wife Emily (if she knew anything about it); she was eight months pregnant at the time with baby Marcia.
In 1881, Nels threw his considerable marketing energies into a new and different endeavor: launching an expensive “College of Telegraphy” to teach wanna-be telegraphers. The editor of The Operator called this out for the flim-flam it was, describing Nels’ lengthy advertisement as “a double infliction of falsehood and bad grammar upon the suffering public.” Nelson Savier, the editor pointed out, was the same “well but not favorably known” person who was currently being sued by none other than Western Union. And indeed, Nels and a partner would eventually plead guilty that same December to criminal conspiracy.
It was time to pick up stakes and move again. Nels and his family found greener pastures, this time, in Brainerd, Minnesota. And once again, Nels became associated with some high-falutin’ business endeavors, helping to launch the “Brainerd Electric Light Company” in September, 1883, and the “Sauk Center Water Co.” in June, 1884. It’s hard to tell if those, too, were flim-flams or if his business partnership simply didn’t work out. But by 1886 the Saviers family was back in Marysville, California, where Emily’s family resided.
There, at least, Emily’s life seems to have finally have become stable. Her children excelled in school, and Emily won awards for her oil painting. But things were definitely not going well with her marriage to Nels.
In 1889, Emily filed for divorce on grounds of “extreme cruelty,” alleging among other things that Nels had choked and threatened to kill her. It’s hard to say whether those allegations were true or simply a convenient legal fiction. Emily remarried less than three months later. Nels himself quickly remarried, too, in September, 1889, just four months after this latest divorce.
And this time, it was a match that finally lasted.
Nelson Savier’s latest wife was Sarah “Sally” Matilda Heald, a 34-year-old teacher. Here again, his wife was well-connected. Sally was a niece of the founder of Healdsburg, California, and a daughter of the pioneer who’d built the first local flour mill.
Maybe Sally provided Nels with emotional stability. Or perhaps the connection to her prominent, well-regarded family helped to rehabilitate his reputation. For the next 48 years, no more scams or scandals bubbled up, and Nels seems to have toed the straight-and-narrow.
Nels and Sally took up residence initially in Sacramento, where Nels found employment as a dispatcher for the railroad, and helped organize a local Odd Fellows chapter. In the 1890s the couple moved to Cloverdale (Sonoma County), California, where they operated a citrus farm. Nels managed to wangle a coveted civil service appointment as a “gauger” for the IRS (a weights-and-measures officer for the tax on spirits, in this case likely Sonoma wine) – a “fat position” he would hold for some 22 years. And in 1902, he won a promotion to what was likely another highly-paid patronage post: “store-keeper over the bonded warehouse in Sonoma.”
Nelson became a well-known local figure, assisting with the Cloverdale Citrus Fair and joining the Citrus Grange and other civic and fraternal organizations. Now affectionately called “Dad” by his friends, he was elected Noble Grand of the Cloverdale Odd Fellows Lodge in 1903.
By 1930, Nels and Sally were retired and living quietly in Sally’s hometown of Healdsburg. And there Nels passed away in 1937, at the age of 92.
The local newspaper lauded Nels as a “pioneer telegraph operator,” a trade he’d supposedly learned back east “at the same time as the late Thomas Edison,” and claimed Nels had even carried on conversations with Edison himself “via the keys.” It was a lovely story for his obituary, but you have to wonder if that Edison connection was really true, or just more quintessential-Nels flim-flam.
Nels Savier was laid to rest in the cemetery at Healdsburg, California, and was soon joined there by Sally, his wife of nearly half a century. Perhaps Sally had been the financial brains in their partnership all along; when she died in 1940, her estate was valued at $25,000 – nearly half a million dollars, today. Some of that legacy was shared with Nelson’s two daughters. But in a disposition that likely reflects her strong religious faith, the majority of Sally’s large estate was left to charities, including the Bible-promoting Gideon Society.
And what finally became of the murderous Julia Savier, the wife who had literally “killed for love” and who had hoped to be reunited with her dear Nels? Well, stay tuned for the final episode in Part 4!