Sarah Armstrong Montgomery was eighteen years old when she came to California. She married Allen Montgomery, a gunsmith, in Missouri in 1843. In 1844 they set out with the Stephens-Murphy Party for California. This was the first group of pioneers to bring (with great difficulty) wagons over the Sierra Nevada.
Allen Montgomery went to work for John Sutter and the young couple settled in a cabin near Sutter’s Fort. When the Bear Flaggers began their insurrection in the summer of 1846, Allen joined the California Battalion. So far, it was a typical life for young California pioneers before the gold rush.
In 1847 Allen Montgomery set sail for Hawaii, reason unknown. Allen was never heard from again. There was no sign of him when news of the gold discovery brought men from around the world to California. Sarah assumed she was a widow.
Talbot Green moved to San Francisco in January 1849 and soon made the acquaintance of Mrs. Montgomery. Since she had no official notice of her husband’s death, she was still legally married to Montgomery, but that detail did not stand in the way of their marriage. Green and Sarah Montgomery were quietly married at the home of his old comrade, Grove C. Cook, in San Jose on October 25, 1849.
His situation was, as we know, even sketchier than hers. But nobody knew about his past crimes or his wife in Pennsylvania. He continued to live comfortably in San Francisco with his new wife for a year before the rumors began to circulate. A son was born to them on July 3, 1851, but by then Talbot Green had been gone for two and a half months.
He later told Thomas O. Larkin that his resolve in going to San Francisco was to earn enough money to pay back the bank and redeem himself in the eyes of his family, (although he made no attempt to communicate with them in ten years).
I hoped to make a fortune for them & pay the bank and perhaps would have succeeded had not the fondness for company & drink drowned all my secret resolves and finally smothered conscience entirely. I found & seen that I was fast going to destruction and would soon be lost had I not something to cling to present.
I then by some fatality, although against my reason & judgement, began really and truly to love the woman I married. I studied her character well and was convinced that she had a much stronger mind than my own. I then thought if I married her I might be saved & in a few years pay up & provide for all, which was my full intention, and if I had not been recognized I should have done so before this.
This is a convoluted pack of excuses and self-justification, but he did really seem to love Sarah. In his letters to Larkin his concern for her welfare is second only to his concern for his own. Before leaving San Francisco he had arranged for her to be given $450 a month. He repeatedly asks after her and maintains “I loved that woman and still love her.”
But Sarah was moving on. Larkin wrote to Green in January 1854, enclosing Sarah’s application for a divorce. Green wrote back:
I loved that woman and I still love her, but as she has taken that course I know her so well that she will not stop; but I wish you to go to her and tell her from me never to marry again until I see her. Even if she persists in getting the divorce, as much as I love her & thought she loved me, I cannot blame her as I have done so wrong to her.
If he thought that she might wait until he returned and could work his charm on her, he was wrong. Sarah knew her own mind, and she had her pick of men in San Francisco. In July 1854, she married Joseph S. Wallis, and up-and-coming young lawyer who would later serve as a judge and a State senator. He adopted her son by Green, whose name became Talbot H. Wallis. Sarah was 29 years old as she started on her third marriage, the one that would last. Green wrote plaintively from Tennessee,
It is my sincere prayer that she may be happy in her choice, but I fear for her unless her husband is of a mild and conciliating disposition. . . I wish you to see her and tell her I have heard of her marriage and hope she will be happy, and tell her to take care of our boy, and if I ever come into possession of my own I will do what is right and just toward him.
The Wallis home at Mayfield (now part of Palo Alto)
The couple moved to Mayfield, in Santa Clara County, where they had a large estate. They became the parents of four children, in addition to Sarah’s son by Green. Sarah was active in the social and economic life of her community. She and her husband were strong supporters of women’s rights. Her husband Joseph Wallis died in 1898, and Sarah lived until 1905. She had lived a long, busy, and quintessentially Californian life.