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Friday, February 04, 2011


I contend that, politically speaking, Amos Kendall was one of our founding fathers. The fact that he was born a generation after the American revolution is irrelevant. This child of poor parents from Massachusetts, by dint of his intellectual brawn, guile and his drive to succeed, reshaped the political landscape in America and he helped create the Democratic Party in his own image. He is mostly forgotten today in part because, for the next one hundred years, his sins became the Democratic Party’s sins. He was a partisan in the extreme and his politics were always personal. He never forgot and he never forgave. He served two presidents, and one of his enemies, President John Quincy Adams, said that those two chief executives were merely, “…the tools of Amos Kendall, the ruling mind of their dominion.”
Amos was tall, thin, asthmatic and prematurely white haired. His photos remind me of a vulture, for some reason. He was also a puritanical workaholic and a hypochondriac with such a talent for venom that he carried a pistol for protection; although he was so nearsighted it is unlikely he could have hit anything. In the election of 1828 it was Amos’s talent for invective which made Andrew Jackson President.
Amos, working under the guiding hand of campaign manager Martin Van Buren, eviscerated the incumbent, John Quincy Adams (above), day after day on the pages of his newspaper, “The Argus of Western America.” According to Amos, Adams was effete and too European. (Sound familiar?) Adams had permitted the rape of an American servant girl by the Russian Czar (a complete fabrication). He was living lavishly while average Americans suffered (a gross exaggeration). Adams had even, charged Amos, brought gambling into the White House. (Adams had bought a pool table and a chess set). Thanks in large part to Amos’ constant attacks, Jackson easily won the election. And when Jackson moved into the White House, Amos came with him.
Officially, Amos was given a vague job in the Treasury Department. But it was just a cover for his real career in Washington. According to Virginia Whig Henry Wise, Amos was…”the President’s thinking machine and writing machine and his lying machine… Nothing was well done without him”. English journalist Harriet Martubeau, while visiting the United States in 1834, noted, “I was fortunate enough to catch a glimpse of the invincible Amos Kendall, one of the most remarkable men in America. He is supposed to be the moving spring of the administration; the thinker, planner, and doer, but it is all in the dark.” And Virginia Democrat Colonel Augustine Clairborn described Amos as a “…little whippet of a man” who was “...the Atlas that bore on his shoulders the weight of Jackson's administration. He originated, or was consulted in advance, upon every great measure.”
Before Jackson (above), a President would look to his cabinet for advice. But cabinet members had to be approved by the Senate, and often saw themselves as the President’s heirs, if not future competitors. And Jackson did not intend on taking any advice from either his opponents or his competitors. This produced a situation in which, wrote Nicholas Biddle, “The kitchen predominates over the parlor”. There was bitterness in that description, since Jackson and Amos were intent upon dismantling the Bank of the United States and firing its president, who happened to be Mr. Biddle. And they succeeded. But, whatever the spirit, Amos was a member of the original “Kitchen Cabinet”, “the common reservoir of all the petty slanders which find a place in the most degraded prints in the Union”, according to Mississippi Whig George Poindexter.
During Jackson’s second term Amos was appointed the Postmaster General, and proceeded to empty the bureaucracy of every Wig sympathizer, replacing them with reliable Democrats. In addition, every Wig contractor had their mail contracts cancelled, unless they hired only Democrats (duplicated in Republican Tom Delay's 2000-2004 K Street Project). Amos had thus created the “Spoils System”. This politicizing of entire departments of government was justified by New York Democratic Senator William Learned Macy, this way; “If (a politician is) defeated, they expect to retire from office. If they are successful, they claim, as a matter of right, the advantages of success. They see nothing wrong in the rule that to the victor belong the spoils of the enemy.” President Jackson himself argued, “In a country where offices are created solely for the benefit of the people, no one man has any more intrinsic right to official station than another.” The President  innocuously described this conversion of government into plunder merely as the “rotation in office”. But the brain behind the argument was Amos Kendall, and there was nothing innocuous about Amos' thinking.
It was Amos who ran Martin Van Buren’s (above) successful Presidential campaign in 1836. And when the “Little Magician” took the oath of office in March of 1837, it looked as if the Democrats would rule Washington permanently. But the destruction of the Bank of the United States came back to bite the Jackson Democrats.
During the first three weeks of April 1837, 150 businesses failed in New York City alone, wiping out $100 million in wealth. By the end of that summer unemployment nationwide had topped 10%, and mobs were raiding food warehouses. Van Buren’s only response to the “Panic of 1837” was to cut government expenditures, so tightly that they even sold the tools used to construct roads and bridges. As Republicans today might note, this action only deepened the depression, and insured that in 1840 the Whigs elected William Henry Harrison President.
Amos tried to go back to running newspapers. But the economic depression inspired at least in part by the Democratic economic policies, had become too deep. His publishing ventures failed. Then, in 1845, Amos became Samuel F. B. Morse’s business manager. He helped Morse create and run the International Telegraph Company (it would later become International Telephone and Telegraph). This venture finally made Amos a wealthy man. He retired in 1860. But that did not last for long.
While Amos had been running the Post Office, he had decreed that local postmasters could refused any mail which they deemed to be either abolitionist or pro-slavery. That was a purely political decision, made because the Democrats in the 1830’s were pursuing a “Southern Strategy”, which sought to shore up their base of support in the South. The postmaster's decision was just one of the myriad of compromises which brought on the American Civil War, and certainly not the most important one. Still, it must be counted against Amos that while he never owned slaves, he did nothing to encourage slavery’s demise, when he had the chance to. It is to Amos’s credit that, when the war finally came, he publicly supported the Union cause, which, for a Democrat who was unending in his criticism of the Lincoln administration, was not an easy thing to do.
The amazing Amos Kendall died on November 12, 1869, at sixty years of age. An obituary writer tried to explain his extraordinary career by listing his fields of endeavor. Amos had been “a newspaper editor, party organizer, political propagandist, postmaster general, telegraph builder, and promoter of language for the deaf.” Amos had helped found, and had left most of his fortune to, Gallaudet University, the unofficial national school for the deaf. And that is to his credit as well. And while the Democratic Party that he founded has changed so much in the last 150 years as to be all but unrecognizable, still, he was a midwife at its birth, and that deserves to figured toward his credit, as well.

Wednesday, February 02, 2011


I must tell you that your parents were right; the world is not fair. Some people succeed while you fail because they are more talented than you are, or more persistent or prettier, and some are smarter...and some are just so lucky they could walk through a car wash and not get damp. Jacob Waltz, on the other hand, almost drowned in the middle of a desert. 

To be fair it was a once in a hundred year rainstorm. The clouds above central Arizona opened up on Wednesday, February 18, 1891, and by the next morning the Salt River, which ran past Jacob’s property north of Phoenix, had risen 17 feet. The normal trickle you could jump across had grown to a mile wide rampage. In the Rio Satillo Valley, the eighty year old retired miner was forced to lash himself to a tree and spent that night, and the following Friday, day and night, with just his head and shoulders above the cold pounding waters.
The Sacramento, California "Sunday Union" reported on the 22nd, that “The northern edge of this flood…entered the city of Phoenix, flooding out many of the poorer families….About a hundred adobe houses fell in…The churches and public buildings have been thrown open to the shelter-less, and a subscription started for their benefit, but many families are still without protection. The river began to fall Friday afternoon…”
That Saturday, February 21, 1891, one of Waltz’s neighbors found the old man shivering in the ruins of his home, crouched atop his soaked bed. He refused to leave unless his heavy candle box came out with him. The Samaritan brought Waltz and his meager possession into Phoenix. Luckily, the now destitute Jacob was matched with a compassionate small businesswoman named Julia Elena Thomas, who had a spare room and a bed. In fact, Julia was probably the only lucky thing that ever happened to Jacob.
Because, besides being compassionate Julia was curious, and susceptible to greed. She cared for the difficult old man as best she could, in part because Julia became intrigued by the heavy candle box Jacob insisted on keeping under his bed. 
Before the development of electricity, oil for lamps was expensive to buy and transport. So farm and ranch homes were usually lit by candle. Tallow candles were made from farm animal fat, and every rural home had a candle box. Strength was not a requirement, merely protection from the rats and mice attracted to the tallow’s odor. So the wood was thin but coated with a paint or varnish. The boxes were usually a foot to a foot and a-half long and a foot deep, but usually no more than six inches wide. The top slid into place, making for a nearly air tight closure without the need for weighty hardware. 
But Jacob’s box was too heavy to be holding candles, or papers, or keepsakes. What could a broke, sick, old man hold so dear that he risked his life to stand guard over it, while soaking wet, in a collapsing flooded adobe? Eventually Julia peeked, but all she found inside were about 50 pounds of rocks. But it was enough to start her imagination racing. As the months passed Julia teased out Jacob’s story, and it seemed the old man had spent most of his life chasing gold. 
He had been born in Germany. And he had chased the shinny metal across the Atlantic. He had worked in the gold mines of North Carolina and Georgia and Mississippi. He could not mine for himself, however, because only an American citizen could own a mineral claim. In 1848, at 38 years old, in Natchez, Mississippi, Jacob had filed a letter of intent to apply for citizenship. But his intentions were put on hold when he chased the California gold strike of 1849. But again, Jacob was not lucky. Like most of the 49ers, he found no gold.
In July of 1861 Jacob finally became an American citizen, in Los Angeles. In 1863 Jacob joined a wagon train bound for the new gold fields around Phoenix, Arizona. Over the next few years he filed three claims for mines in the Bradshaw Mountains. But they produced nothing. In 1868 he homesteaded 160 acres in the Salt River Valley. Every winter Jacob would wander the bitter wilderness of the nearby Superstition Mountains, searching for gold. And, like a lot of other bearded prospectors in the area, every summer Jacob made ends meet by working established mines for his next grubstake. In Jacob's case he worked the Vulture Mine.
Henry Wickenburg had traveled in the same wagon train that had brought Jacob Waltz to Arizona. But unlike Jacob, Henry was lucky. Within a few weeks of arriving in the Phoenix area, Henry stumbled upon a vein of quartz that eventually produced $200 million worth of gold and silver, the Vulture Mine. But very little of that fortune went to Henry, in part because Henry sold the mine after a few years (and eventually died broke), but mostly because of something called “highgrading”.
“Freighters would line up at the mine with wagons to transport the gold ore (to the crushers and smelters). As soon as they were out of sight of the mine, the freighters would begin picking through the ore, pocketing the best nuggets. "Highgrading" was the name of this practice, stealing the highest grade pieces of ore. In fact, freighting for the Vulture was more profitable than mining. Several nearby mine owners closed down their mines to become freighters for the Vulture…It was widely known among the prospectors that working at the Vulture for a few months could provide them with a grubstake for the rest of the year…Miners would often work the mine during evenings and weekends for their own benefit. The early owners of the mine treated harshly anyone caught doing personal mining. Later owners may have silently condoned personal mining when they were not able to pay their workers.” 
Every successful hard rock mine in the nineteenth century suffered these deprivations, and that is why all modern mines include stamps and smelters on their premises. Nothing leaves the mine site except for refined gold - under guard. 
Jacob never told Julia he highgraded the ore in his candle box from an established mine like the Vulture. If he had, she probably would not have believed him, for Julia, like Jacob, had been bitten by the gold bug. Instead, she pressed the old man for more details about his hidden mine in the mountains. Eventually the sick old coot was forced to admit that he had a mine. But where was this bonanza? Although he never produced a map, in infuriating slowness the old man confided obscure details, almost as if he were stringing Julia along to ensure he kept a roof over his head and food in his belly. He told Julia that with a short climb from his mine you could see the peak known as Weever’s Needle, but from the Needle you could not see his mine…You could see the military trail that ran through the Mountains from his mine, but you could not see the mine from the trail…You had to crawl through a hole to see the gold in his mine…that near his mine was a rock shaped like a face…and that the setting sun shown on the entrance of his mine. This was about all that Jacob shared about the source of the ore in his candle box, before he died of pneumonia in Julia's spare bed, on October 25, 1891.
The ore in Jacob’s box brought $4,800 from the assay office – a lot of money in those days. And that proved the case for Julia. Jacob had a mine hidden in the mountains; where else could the ore have come from? A year later the "Arizona Enterprise" noted in its pages that Julia had sold her business (an ice cream parlor) and was actively prospecting the Superstitions, searching for Jacob’s “missing” mine. She even attracted a few financial backers. But after a few more unproductive seasons, Julia lost her financing. I guess Julia was just not very lucky. 
But she finally made money off Jacob’s mine, once she gave up trying to find it herself, once she switched to selling maps to Jacob’s “Lost” mine, for $7 apiece. And because Jacob had been born in Germany, making him a “Deutsch man” or ‘Dutchman’ to parochial American ears, the magical mystery was marketed as the “Lost Dutchman Mine.”
You too can find the Lost Dutchman Mine. All you need is a map and an understanding of the intricate and complicated stories weaved to explain how once located, a source of immense and instant wealth could have become lost again, and why, with some 2,000 people every year searching for it in the Superstion Mountains Wilderness Area, "The Lost Dutchman Mine" could have remained lost for a hundred years. Maybe, just maybe, the answer is that all those people before you have just been more unlucky than you. And just around the next bend, the next canyon, the next turn of the card or the next scratch off lottery ticket, you too could be the luckiest person in the world. It could happen.
- 30 -

Sunday, January 30, 2011


I suspect there were growing murmurings amongst the rank and file of Coxey’s Army as they breached the mountain ramparts southwest of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania. Each night the men formed a picket line around the encampment while a circus tent was erected as their shelter. Then, each Group would build a cooking fire, while their leaders would collect and distribute rations either bought by Coxey or donated by sympathetic locals. After an early meal, designated groups would canvass the area for more donations of food, clothing and money. But the vast majority of the men stayed in camp, where they had little to do but talk.
"Well," said the Head, "I will give you my answer. You have no right to expect me to send you back to Kansas unless you do something for me in return. In this country everyone must pay for everything he gets. If you wish me to use my magic power to send you home again you must do something for me first. Help me and I will help you."
It became evident while April proceeded what the members of The Army were talking about – their leadership. Many nights and every Sunday Carl Browne would berate the men with ideological harangues, selling his vision of the unity of all working and unemployed men along with his version of Christianity mixed with a little reincarnation. Most of the Army had long since stopped listening to his speeches, referring to him in private as the “Great humbug.” But they also noticed that after the oration, while they settled into their bed rolls on the cold ground, Browne and Coxey spent every night in warm soft beds in local hotels. And should they ever forget to notice this disparity in creature comforts, The Great Unknown Smith was always careful to point out that he was sharing all the discomforts of the march with them, unlike Mr. Browne.
Remember, The Great Unknown Smith had been recruited by Carl Browne (above) and had been his partner in the patent “Blood Purefyer” business before Coxey had even appeared. Browne even knew The Great’s Unknown Smith's real name, A.B.P. Bazarro, and that the silent veiled lady who always followed him around was Bizarro's wife. The press, particularly those from Chicago, had known The Great’s real identity all along, but he was such good copy as The Great Uknown Smith, that they had not shared this information with their readers, or the Army. In fact there was an outragous rumor running about camp that the Great Unknown Smith was in fact a Pinkerton spy - and by his later actions, he may have been.
In the teeth of a snowstorm, on April 11th 1894, the Army made the hard march spouthwest out of Uniontown, Pennsylvania. They were following the old National Highway, which had first been created by President Thomas Jefferson. That had been the last significant road improvement project the Federal Government had undertaken, over ninety years earlier.
Now this motley Army was petitioning their government for a new, larger investment in national infrastructure. They were speaking with their boots, as they struggled past Fort Necessity, built by George Washington, the construction of which had set off the French and Indian War in North America. They plodded in the snow past the grave of the British General Braddock, who had been ambushed on the road to Pittsburgh. Coxey's Army, speaking for the vast armies of unemployed, trudged step by step over the 2,000 foot high Big Savage Mountain. Every man was cold, wet and exhausted. Patience was in short supply. Reason was absent. It was a bad time for a fight, so of course they had one.
As they reached the peak the Great Unknown Smith – who was mounted this day – rode back to the commissary wagons to grab a snack. Carl Browne saw him do this and was infuriated. He rode up to Smith and berated him, and then returned to the lead. After smoldering over the insult for a mile or so on the down slope, Smith rode back to the lead and unloaded on the buckskinned duomo, calling him a “fat faced fake” and threatening that if Browne ever spoke to him like that again he would “make a punching bag out of your face.” “I found you on your uppers in Chicago” Smith shouted. “I picked you out of the mud.”
Browne immediately ordered the marchers to halt. They stopped. Smith responded by commanding the Army to “Forward March”. The army hesitated, but enough men automatically leaned forward, that Smith (actually Bazarro) sensed an advantage and seized the moment.
He turned his horse and rode back amongst the men. “You and I have roughed it together,” he reminded them. “You know I have been with you…while others were enjoying their ease. It is for you to say men, who shall command you…Will you have Smith …or this leather coated polecat?” It was a loaded question, and the Army responded as expected,  with chants of “Smith, Smith , Smith!” Even Coxey’s eldest son, Jesse, joined the mutineers. With that,  Smith (actually Bazarro) led the army down the slope, while Browne, now bereft of command, galloped to the nearest telegraph office.
Jacob Coxey was in Cumberland, Maryland, arranging supplies and support in advance of the Army when Browne's desperate telegram reached him. He immediatly hired a carriage and drove all night to intercept his Army at dawn, Saturday April 14th, in the well named town of Frostburg (above), just over the Maryland state line. In a perfect bit of historical staging, the Army’s headquarters for the night were in the town’s opera house (below), one of the few buildings not damaged by a tornado which had struck Frostburg the year before.
After listening to everybody’s version of what had happened on the road, Coxey stood on a box on the stage (he was not a tall man), and called for a vote. The results were not what he had hoped for; 158 for The Great Unknown Smith, and just four for Browne. There was an uncomfortable pause, and then Coxey did the greatest thing - the thing that proved him to be a real leader. He said to the men, “I cast 154 votes for Mr. Browne.” It was a clever move, a clear statement of intent to the men of the Army from the very man paying for the food in their bellies, and the shoes and the socks these men were now wearing. But it took a few moments for the Army to realize the choice they now had to make; give up the march, or give up the Great Unknown Smith. And just as that realization dawned on the men, into the stunned silence Coxey added, “I further order that the Unknown Smith be forever expelled from the Army.” And he called for an immediate vote of agreement.
A few voices were raised in protest that if The Great Unknown Smith should be expelled then so should Jesse Coxey, their leaders son. But even they were disarmed when Coxey reluctantly agreed to the logic. And thus so did the Army. The Great Unknown Smith was out. Across the street from the opera house the Great Unknown Smith unloaded again, this time to the press. “I have been deposed by a patent medicine shark, a greasy-coated hypocrite, a seeker for personal advancement.” Like all those caught in the act, Smith’s (actually Bazarro’s) accusations might have been better used as a self portrait.
The next morning Carl Browne called a press conference of his own and revealed what everybody there already knew, that the Great Unknown Smith was actually A.P. B. Bazarro, a patent medicine salesman and hypocrite. And with that weight lifted, the Army moved on 14 miles to Addison, Maryland.
Twenty years later, Jacob Coxey would explain why he stood up for Carl Browne (above) that cold morning in a half empty opera house, and why he had tolerated the bombast and pretense which Carl Browne exhibited, and why he trusted him dispite the man’s less than sterling past. Coxey called Browne “…the most unselfish man of my entire life’s acquaintance. He never gave a thought to pecuniary gain. His whole heart was in the movement to emancipate labor."
The next day, as the march continued into Maryland, the eldest son Jesse Coxey was reinstated on the one condition that “he not sulk anymore”. The day after that Coxey’s Army acquired a navy.
Don't speak so loud, or you will be overheard--and I should be ruined. I'm supposed to be a Great Wizard."
"And aren't you?" she asked.
"Not a bit of it, my dear; I'm just a common man."
"You're more than that," said the Scarecrow, in a grieved tone; "you're a humbug."
"Exactly so!" declared the little man, rubbing his hands together as if it pleased him. "I am a humbug."
- 30 -

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