Mary is Free
On June 27, 1922, Burk Burnett died of heart disease in Fort Worth. Though still his legal wife, Mary was omitted from his obituary in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, his immediate survivors were listed as his son Tom and daughter Anne. The Southwestern Cattle Raisers Association closed the day after his death out of respect for Burnett and his contributions to the industry. His funeral was presided over by First Christian Church's Reverend L. D. Anderson, the same minister who conducted Burk, Jr.'s service six years prior. In eulogizing Burnett, Reverend Anderson said, "It is generally recognized that in his business enterprises he attained marked success, not only in acquiring profit for himself but at the same time in helping others and promoting the general welfare...Several considerable gifts have been made, directly and indirectly, to the First Christian Church." (FWST June 29, 1922)
Almost immediately after his death, Mary's sister Margaret Moseley applied for guardianship of "the person and estate of Mrs. Mary C. Burnett" in probate court in Fort Worth. But Mary had other plans.
On July 5, 1922, the week after her husband's death, Mary petitioned the court to declare her sane. And she had witnesses to support her claim.
- Ollie Burnett and Burk's granddaughter Annie V. Burnett attested to spending time with Mary and that she was of sound mind.
- Minnie P. Hill, a local nurse who lived at 4410 Hemphill Street in Fort Worth, also swore in an affidavit to the court that she associated with Mary on several occasions and "has her right mind and is a person of sound mind."
- Mrs. J. H. Barnes, a neighbor living across the street from the Burnett home on Summit Avenue stated that she was acquainted with Mary and said she "is in as good normal condition as any woman of her age."
- Dr. W. L. Allison, a physician from Dallas, stated he had known her for about six years. In Dr. Allison's opinion she "is mentally entirely capable of taking care of her property and looking after and transacting her own business affairs and entirely capable of taking care of herself personally, without the aid of a guardian either of her person or her estate."
- Finally, Dr. Charles H. Harris, a prominent physician in Fort Worth stated that he had been Mary's medical advisor for eight years. He stated Mary had spent several months in his Harris Sanitarium under his care. He concurred with the other opinions that Mary was indeed sane and capable of taking care of herself.
The judge agreed and Mary was given her life back. Read the court papers here.
Next, she set about getting her fair share of Burk's estate.
Burk Burnett's will, written in 1921, reflected the state of his family relationships. Family members still in his favor found themselves rewarded for their loyalty. The greatest portion of his estate went to Tom and Ollie's daughter, Burk's beloved granddaughter Anne, then age 16.
He was less generous with Mary. Burnett stated his belief that Mary only had a claim on assets acquired after their 1892 marriage, which he said was "comparatively meager" to the wealth he had accumulated before their wedding. Mary would receive a small share of his fortune, but not the customary "widow's share" of half his estate.
Mary filed suit against the estate, and in May of 1923, a judge awarded her share of the Burnett empire, over $3,000,000 (adjusted for inflation, nearly $52 million). She immediately began making plans to give the money away.