Belle Moore is an example of the incomplete, often contradictory evidence available about orphan’s lives. Born in 1867, Belle may have been surrendered sometime around 1875 by her biological mother, Sallie Crum Moore, a Jeffersonville native, due to the death of her father, William Moore. Her mother eventually remarried, this time to German immigrant Louis Ulrich, but the newlyweds didn’t rush to reclaim Belle. Most of Belle Moore's history comes from sensational newspaper accounts of her “scandalous” misadventures from 1883 to 1885.
According to Louisville's Courier-Journal of November 6 and 9, 1883, Frankfort, Kentucky, area farmer Milton Craig "adopted" Moore as a live-in nanny for his children. When Craig and his wife had business away from the farm, a neighbor, Marcus Cromwell, raped Moore, leaving her pregnant. Cromwell denied the assault. He defended himself to reporters by asserting that the 13 year-old girl was a “seductress” and portraying himself as a respectable father and grandfather. Craig indicated his support for Moore's story. The Courier-Journal bemoaned the fact that Cromwell faced no charges because Kentucky had no law against "seducing" an unmarried girl. In fact, for many purposes, the law considered poor teenagers like Moore an adult, but offered them few protections.
Soon after, Moore reported that the Craig family physically abused her. Moore fled to Jeffersonville to find her mother when the assaults became unbearable. Within a few weeks, Moore was arrested for antics outside her stepfather’s house, including dressing in boy’s clothing and drawing a crowd of spectators. Family members claimed she had been keeping them awake with singing and dancing, and threatened her stepfather’s life. Moore’s family called for an “inquest” or hearing into her sanity.
These inquests judged adults’ mental health. A finding of “insane” could result in the subject’s confinement to a state hospital. Moore, however, avoided confinement, and walked free after the inquest. The November 21, 1883 Courier-Journal reported that Jeffersonville authorities blamed Moore’s behavior on the effects of “the outrage committed upon her” at such a young age, the only official recognition given to the rape or to her vulnerable age. The papers did not record the outcome of her pregnancy.
In March 1885 she was again arrested for dressing in male clothing. She spent at least one night in jail, but the judge released her after a lecture on morals. Within a week, she was arrested again “cursing and raving like a rum maniac.” This time, a Courier-Journal reporter called her an “outcast,” a “male impersonator” and a “hard-case” who “undoubtedly wants to go to the work-house.”
We don't know today whether Belle identified as male, whether she dressed in male clothing to provide safety from assault, or whether the clothes were merely those she felt most comfortable in. What we do know is that Belle's arrests demonstrate the struggles orphans could face with their families, neighbors, and local law enforcement.