by Paul R. Spitzzeri
Yda Addis, a talented poet, journalist and writer who spent her mid-teens through mid-twenties as a rising star in the literary firmament of Los Angeles and then rose to further recognition through publication of her work in San Francisco and occasionally beyond, was involved in a series of highly publicized and sensationalized conflicts involving powerful men.
As related here before, this included her assertion in 1887-88 that she was betrothed, a few years previously, to former governor and capitalist John G. Downey before a breach of promise ensued that she alleged was carried out not by him but by his sisters and nephew. This was, she said, within a few months of the horrific death of Downey’s wife in a train crash that injured him.
Although she went into great detail about their purported relationship, including claims that he was plied with alcohol and drugs and “spirited away” from Los Angeles to keep them together, and there was no small amount of media fanfare, Downey publicly denied her statements and remarried, ending the matter.
This was quickly followed by her publicly stated position that an article that appeared in the popular and prestigious Harper’s Monthly Magazine in August 1887 concerning her discovery of iridescent pottery made by native Indians of a remote part of Mexico was manipulated and changed to deny her not only a byline but proper credit in favor of the piece’s editor, Dr. William C. Prime and magazine editor Charles Dudley Warner.
While Addis took, in 1889-90, to writing lengthy letters to Nation, another widely read journal, and to Warner in Los Angeles newspapers, stating with specifics the situation involving her allegations and calling upon Warner to own up to his actions, it does not appear that he provided the public satisfaction she insisted upon and the matter receded from public view.
Yet, after spending much of the Eighties in Mexico, including Chihuahua, where her family lived in the late 1860s and early 1870s, she returned to Los Angeles and Addis secured a contract with Lewis Publishing Company of Chicago to write a history of the Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo and Ventura counties. As with the case of one the firm did for Los Angeles County, this worked was a “mug book,” in which subjects of extensive biographies would pay for these to be included in the work and which constituted a form of subsidy for its production.
One of those interviewed in 1890 by Yda for the book was Charles Albert Storke (1847-1936), a long-time Santa Barbara resident who was then a member of the California Assembly and a lawyer. Theirs was a whirlwind courtship, leading to marriage not long after they met, and the nuptials were followed, just months later, by a complete collapse into bitterness, acrimony, and court drama that lasted for the rest of the Nineties.
Storke was born in upstate New York and, as a child, moved with his family to Wisconsin. His father died when Charles was eight years old and his mother worked as a school teacher to support her family. Charles worked for newspapers when he enlisted, when just sixteen, with a Wisconsin volunteer regiment for the Union Army. He went into battle and, within just a few months on 1 June 1864, was captured by the Confederates.
For most of the remainder of that year, he was shunted to several prisoner of war camps, including the brutal Andersonville, where thousands of Union soldiers died from privation, disease and exposure. Another Southern Californian, Charles Jenkins of Los Angeles, the only Angeleno to fight in battle for the Union, was in some of the same facilities.
Storke was finally paroled in a massive exchange of prisoners toward the end of 1864 and was in an Annapolis, Maryland parole camp until he was discharged. It is hard to imagine that, like Jenkins, Storke, still only seventeen years old when he returned home, did not suffer from what we now know as post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), as Downey likely did after his wife’s tragic death.
For three years after the war, the young man studied at a Michigan college and then transferred to Cornell, which recently opened near his hometown and from which he was a graduate of the first class in 1870, earning honors for his work, including a history prize. Like his mother, he went into teaching, starting at an academy in Brooklyn, then an independent city.
It is not known how Storke was brought west, but he journeyed to Santa Barbara in 1872, not long before Yda and her family migrated from Mexico to Los Angeles, and he became a private teacher for prominent rancher Thomas More. Not surprisingly, Storke married More’s daughter, Martha, whose mother descended from the Ortegas, who first came to California with the Portolá Expedition of 1769-1770.
The three children born to the Storkes were Susana, Thomas, who became a prominent newspaper publisher in Santa Barbara for decades, and Minita, an 1874 photograph of whom, when she was a baby, is in the Homestead’s collection. The image was taken in Los Angeles, where Charles, financed by his father-in-law, launched the city’s third daily English-language newspaper, the Herald, in fall 1873.
In the paper’s first edition, on 2 October, an article noted that a young girl came to the office asking for a job and the piece went on to discuss the question of women and work—it’s tempting to think that Yda, a junior at the newly opened Los Angeles High School and a member of its first graduating class in 1875, was the applicant.
Storke’s enterprise with the Herald was short-lived as it was a financial failure and he sold it to a company that included F.P.F. Temple as one of its directors and he returned to Santa Barbara. After studying law, he was admitted to the bar in 1876 and hung up his shingle in the mission town. He also had political ambitions and, by 1880, he was elected to the state legislature, serving in two blocs during the ensuing decade.
He had just gone through a messy public divorce from Martha, who also remarried, when he was interviewed by Yda and their short romance and quick marriage followed. In its 13 September 1890 edition, the Los Angeles Express reprinted the news from the Santa Barbara Independent about the nuptials, noting that Storke was “one of our best-known citizens” as an attorney and politician, in which latter capacity, “this gentleman is a ready, forcible speaker.”
As for Yda, it was related that she “is one of the literary celebrities of the coast. As the writer of short stories she stands preeminently the best in California.” The Independent concluded by stating, “we are very glad to know that Mr. and Mrs. Storke will make our city their future home. We extend to them our heartiest good wishes and congratulations.”
Laudatory as that rather typical account was, there was another from the newspaper in Redlands, near San Bernardino, which sharply and tellingly foretold the future:
We understand they will reside in Santa Barbara, but are willing to wager a cookey [cookie] that Mrs. Ida can no more be kept quiet at home than could Miss Yda.
Sure enough, in the time it takes to bring forth a child, what was birthed instead was a scandal that could not be contained in the provincial coastal mission town, but was carried to Los Angeles, San Francisco and elsewhere and dragged on for several years.
We’ll pick up the story next time as divorce proceedings between Storke and Addis included allegations of cruelty, stories of attempted suicide, and charges that both parties were insane, among others.