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The Last Time a Republican Reigned in Big Business - 1903

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Saturday, October 22, 2016

FIGHTING OVER SWAMPLAND

“Politics have no relation to morals”
Niccolo Machiavelli - “The Prince” - 1513
I would say that 1835 was, like most years, a revolutionary year in America. Inspired by pro-slavery gringo emigrants, Texas rebelled against anti-slavery Mexico. In Boston, five thousand bigots broke into a meeting of the Anti-Slavery Society, and dragged abolitionist William Lloyd Garrison through the streets at the end of a rope. In South Carolina 36 slaves and one 60 year old free-black carpenter were hanged for trying to organize a slave revolt. Down in Florida the Second Seminole War broke out when Native Americans refused to surrender their freedom and their homes. And along the shores of Lake Erie, free whites did their very best to start a war over possession of 268 square miles of swamp known as “The Toledo Strip”.
In truth, the Great Black Swamp was what film maker Alfred Hitchcock would call a "magoffin'. It was not what people were really fighting over, even tho it was what people were fighting over. It was not even much of a swamp by Louisiana standards. It was great only because it occupied a swath of land 40 miles wide and 120 miles long, in the northwest corner Ohio – which was a little far north for a swamp.
It was really a remnant of the ice ages, a collection of ponds and marshes interspersed with hillocks, filled and drained by the 130 mile long Maumee River, which rose from the high ground around Fort Wayne,  Indiana and fed into Lake Erie.  It's only claim to fame was that it formed a natural barrier between the state of Ohio and the territory of Michigan. The Black Swamp was certainly not desirable  farmland, but it provided a bumper crop of mosquitoes each summer, and they, and the malaria they carried, made life difficult for any intrepid surveyors who might set up their theodolites upon such soggy ground.
“Princes and governments are far more dangerous than other elements within society.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
The first real attempt to draw the border was made in 1817, when Michigan Territory hired surveyor William Harris. According to the “Harris Line” the mouth of the Maumee River was in Michigan, below the swamp. In 1818 Ohio responded by hiring John Fulton to survey the border, which he found five miles further north, avoiding the swamp by going above it. Taken together the two lines bracketed the Great Black Swamp. And while the desire of a surveyor to avoid all those mosquitoes was understandable, the residents of Ohio and Michigan were confused. They appealed to Washington, D.C.  But abiding by the political rule that whatever you do will make somebody angry with you, the Federal politicians decided to do nothing. After all, nobody would fight for ownership of a swamp. Would  they?
Then in 1825 the Erie Canal opened, connecting the port of New York City with the Great Lakes. It proved to be such an economic revolution that plans were immediately drawn up for a port at the mouth of the Maumee River, and a canal up that river to Fort Wayne, Indiana (statehood granted in 1816), where it would connect to another canal to be built down the Wabash River, to the Ohio and thence to the Mississippi. Those canals would make the port at Toledo (which was established by Ohio in 1832) the hub of transportation for the entire center of the continent. A Toledo lawyer, John Fitch, noted that already it was the general opinion that “no place on the lake except Buffalo will rival it.” Quite a claim to fame - almost as big as Buffalo. The politically active residents of Michigan Territory became convinced that Ohio politicians were trying to steal Toledo from them. Which was true.
The politics finally solidified when hot-headed 23 year old Stephen Mason was appointed Territorial Governor of Michigan. He was a gift from President Andrew Jackson, a man who appreciated hot heads. And under pressure from other hot heads in the territory,  Governor Mason issued the “Pains and Penalties Act” of 12 February, 1835,  making it illegal for a non-Michigan resident to enforce Ohio law in Toledo, Michigan Territory.
The Cleveland, Ohio newspapers called the Michigan claim to Toledo “as absurd as it is ridiculous.” And on 23 February, the defiant Ohio General Assembly, playing to their own base, voted to “run the border” of the Fulton Line, meaning to mark it again as Toledo, Ohio, with stone posts that clearly said so. Then on April Fool’s day Michigan held local elections in the Toledo Strip. On 6 April, Ohio held competing local elections in the Toledo Strip. Somebody was going to have to disappoint their supporters..
“Before all else be armed.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
Two days later a Michigan Country sheriff and an armed posse of 40 men rode into Toledo to enforce the Penalties Act. Several men snuck into the home of Benjamin Stickney, who was an “Ohio patriot” or an Phio Nut - depending on which side of the border you lived on. He was also a major in the Ohio militia. Now, even allowing for how little humanity knew at the time about dysfunctional parenting, the level of strangeness displayed by Benjamin Stickney toward his own children is staggering. This respected member of the Ohio community named his eldest son “Number One” and his younger son “Number Two”. Stickney also had a daughter, but we don't know what he called her. I suspect it might have been “Light Sleeper”.
You see, on the night of 8 April, 1835,  the girl was awakened by a noise, and she stepped into the hall to investigate. A creeping Michigan deputy clamped a hand over the startled child’s mouth, and held her silent, lest she shout a warning to her father.  Alas, Benjamin Stickney would not have heard her, as he was not at home. So two of his house guests were arrested and taken north for arraignment. Two days later they were released on bail.
In handbills and letters to Ohio newspapers Major Stickney inflated the posse to 300 men “armed with muskets and bayonetts". He claimed that the deputies had tried to gouge out his eyes (he wasn't there)  and had “throttled” his daughter.  He urged his fellow buckeyes to “turn out en masse to protect  their northern border and restrain the savage barbarity of the hordes of the north.”  Ohio Governor Robert Lucas, another Jackson Democrat,  sent 40 men to guard his surveyors and ordered the 100,000 members of the state militia to assemble in the tiny town of Perryville, Ohio, just up the Maumee River from Toledo. Only 10,000 actually responded and most of them never got to Perryville, because they got lost in the swamp.
Meanwhile on Sunday 21 April a Michigan posse 30 strong, caught the Ohio “line runners” relaxing in camp.   Most of the buckeyes broke for the woods, but nine of the protecting militia were caught in the open. When the Michigan posse fired a volley over their heads they wisely surrendered. All seven were unharmed but were arrested for violating the “Pains and Penalties Act”. And on Monday morning six were granted bail and two were released after a warning to behave. The only Ohioan who remained in jail was Jonathan Fletcher, a hot head who refused to post bail “on principle.” In the annals of Michigan this encounter was memorialized as the “Battle of Phillip’s Corner”, since the encounter had occurred in a field owned by Eli Phillips, who supported Michigan.
“The distinction between children and adults, while probably useful for some purposes, is at bottom a specious one, I feel. There are only individual egos, crazy for love.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513
The smell of gunpowder had brought a degree of sanity back to Governor Mason, and in the spirit of good will he suspended enforcement of his Pains and Penalties Act. But now it was the Ohio legislature’s turn to appease their base. Kidnapping was already illegal in Ohio, but buckeye politicians felt it necessary to pass a new law providing hard labor for kidnapping anyone from Ohio. And they made Toledo the capital of a new Ohio county.
In Toledo one observer noted “Men (were) galloping about – guns getting ready – wagons being filled with people and hurrying off, and everybody in commotion “ The little town of just 1,250 citizens had become a magnet for every nut case, political hot head and pugnacious drifter in the Midwest. In July, two Michigan deputies tried to hold an auction of property seized for non payment of Michigan taxes, and a gang of Ohio “patriots”, led by Number Two Strikney, broke up the auction. So, on 12 July 1835 a Michigan arrest warrant was issued for the son-of-a-patriot, for disturbing the peace.  Number Two, upon learning of the warrant, sent a message to the Michigan Sheriff to stay out of Toledo, if he wanted to live.
That threat set Michigan Governor Mason off again. He ordered 250 men into Toledo, under Deputy Sheriff Joseph Wood, to arrest Number Two and his "gang". Most of the Ohio “patriots” ran safely for the Maumee River border, but Number Two didn’t make it. When Sheriff Wood physically grabbed Number Two, he pulled what in Ohio was called a pen knife and in Michigan described as “a dirk”.  “Two” stabbed the sheriff in the leg and disappeared across the Maumee River. The wound was minor and the sheriff was able to ride back across the border that night, having paused to arrest Number Two’s father, Major Stickney, and drag him back to Michigan, tied to the back of a horse. But before leaving town the Michiganders also smashed the offices of the pro-Ohio Toledo Gazette, behaving, claimed the paper, worse than an “Algerian robbery or Turkish persecution.” It seemed the residents were finally running short of hyperbole. What was left but gunpowder?
“A wise ruler ought never to keep faith when by doing so it would be against his interests.”
Niccolo Machiavelli – “The Prince” – 1513.
It was at this point that Andrew Jackson finally stepped in and on 29 August, 1835 removed Mason as governor of Michigan Territory. Jackson also let it be known that Michigan would only be allowed to become a state after they accepted that Toledo was a town in Ohio. It was a bitter pill for the Badger rabble to swallow, particularly after all that rabble rousing, but as a sop for hurt feelings, the federal government granted Michigan the additional territory known as the Northern Peninsula. Michigan was finally admitted into the union, sans Toledo, on 26 January, 1837.
So Ohio won. The canals were dug, and the buckeyes benefited from the taxes paid by the port at the mouth of the Maumee River.  In 1842 1,578 barrels of flour and 12,976 bushels of wheat were shipped through Toledo, Ohio, and taxed.  By 1852 the totals were a quarter million barrels flour and almost two million bushels of wheat. But Toledo did not become the transportation hub for the Midwest, because canal technology was superseded by the railroads, and Chicago superseded Toledo; none of which the Ohio patriots could have predicted in 1835.
Meanwhile, in 1844, a party of surveyors was marking out the second place prize for Michigan, the Upper Peninsula,  when they found their compasses spinning wildly. This was caused by one of the largest concentrations of iron ore ever found on the planet Earth, the Marquette Range, which was surrounded by one of the largest concentrations of copper ore ever found on the Earth. Beginning in 1847 and continuing over the next one hundred years and fifty years, over a billion tons of iron and several billion tons of copper were removed from those hills. None of the Michigan patriots could have predicted that, either.
The truth was the future contained a bounty beyond the imagination of the patriots who willing to kill each other in 1835, all for possession of a swamp – and not a great swamp at that. Does that make any sense?  It is a basic rule of human history - That which people are willing to murder for today, they may give away tomorrow, and what they cannot give away today may be worth a fortune to your children. Folks might remember that rule, next time a hot head starts calling for violence.
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Thursday, October 20, 2016

THE POLITICAL GAME

I don't think anybody ever told Theodore Roosevelt “no”, and made it stick. When they told him America could not afford a two ocean navy, Theodore - he hated being called Teddy - first created the country of Panama. Then he defeated yellow fever. And then he built the Panama Canal, allowing the United States to eventually turn the seven seas into an American lake. After he left the White House in 1908, when they told Theodore no one had ever charted the River of Doubt in Brazil, Theodore insisted on traversing all 400 miles of it through the rain forests. He was infected with malaria and suffered from dysentery. He lost 60 pounds off his 220 pound frame. But he charted the river, and it was later renamed the Rio Roosevelt. Nope; nobody ever doubted Theodore’s tenacity, even when he decided he wanted to be President one more time, in 1916.
Theodore faced one insurmountable hurdle between himself and the Republican nomination that year, and it was named William Howard Taft. The fat man had been Theodore’s chosen successor in 1908. But almost immediately Taft began laboring under the mistaken impression that he was now President, not just Theodore’s stand in. And when Taft indicated his preference to stay in the White House in 1912, Theodore let it be known that he considered Taft to have stolen the presidency under false pretenses, just because he had won an election.
After holding the 1912 Republican convention hostage for two weeks, Theodore’s progressive supporters, finally walked out. This handed the nomination to the hated Taft conservatives, who then purged all progressives from party leadership; it was the original RHINO test - Republican in Name Only.  In response Theodore willed into existence the “Bull Moose” Progressive Party, and the resultant three way race for President saw Democrat Woodrow Wilson elected. Theodore found that acceptable because he was convinced he could hold the hated Democrat to just one term.
Four years later, Theodore’s biggest hurdle was now his own creation, the Progressive Party. They were devoted to Theodore, but the Republicans blamed them (and Theodore) for their defeat in 1912. Rejoining the two antagonists to retake the White House seemed an impossible goal - just the sort of thing Theodore excelled at doing.
First, Theodore convinced the Progressives to hold their convention in early July and in Chicago, at the same time when, and in the same city where, the Republicans would be holding their convention. And then Theodore convinced some of the leading members of both sides to hold conferences on reuniting. Theodore’s idea was, of course, that they should reunite around him
His agent on the spot was George W. Perkins (above). And luckily (for us) George had his private secretary Miss Mary Kihm, on a telephone extension, secretly transcribing his conversations with Theodore. I imagine the poor woman, at some tiny out of the way desk, perhaps even in a closet under the stairs, holding a handset tight against her ear with one hand and furiously taking shorthand with the other. The conversations she assiduously transcribed were held at all hours of the day and night over a week’s time, and Mary was always there. There are even occasional breaks in the record when, I assume, Mary desperately raced for the bathroom and back.
Just after noon, on Monday, 6 June, 1916, in Chicago, George called Theodore at his home in Oyster Bay, New York, to confirm that it seemed likely that the Republicans intended upon nominating Charles Evens Hughes (above), an ex-Supreme Court Justice. George put Pennsylvanian Senator Boies Penrose on the phone. Theodore had never met Penrose, and you have to wonder what the Senator from Pennsylvania could be talking about that Perkins could not have said.  Penrose  informed Roosevelt that “This Hughes proposition has assumed proportions none of us dreamed of before we came here."  Then Pensrose asked suggestively, "Have you any suggestions to make?” Theodore immediately assured Penrose that if there was a third Roosevelt term, he would make Penrose the leader of the Senate. Penrose disingenuously replied, “I really do not think the question of patronage…is the controlling factor at present.” But he added, “There is a general desire to win.” In other words, he accepted Theodore’s offer.
Theodore’s old friend, Senator Henry Cabot Lodge, then got on the phone and assured Theodore that, “It is going to be either you or Hughes.” But he went on to warn “... if the Progressives nominate you before we act, that blows our plans all up and destroys them.” To this Theodore, just as disingenuously, replied, “…if they do not nominate me I shall breathe a sigh of relief.… I can earnestly say I am not interested in my personal welfare at all; but…I know I am worth two of Hughes.” You could never accuse Theodore of  lacking self confidence.
The next night the keynote address at the Republican Convention was delivered by Senator Warren G. Harding, in which he first used the phrase “Founding Fathers" - and don't we all wish he hadn't? That same night, on a more pragmatic note, Theodore again spoke by phone with George Perkins, with Mary Kihm again on the extension. Speaking of the Republican convention, George told Theodore, “We figure up 81 or 82 votes on the first ballot. … On the second ballot we know we will have more than 75, and then we will be in the running.”   George then laid out the plan for handling the "other" convention. “Now suppose that I could get (the progressives)…to authorize me to say to you, confidentially, that provided…the right Vice President and the platform were put up, we would immediately pick up our banners, walk down to the Coliseum (where the Republicans were gathered) and surrender, body, boots and breeches.” Theodore thought that idea sounded bully, saying “George, that is a master stroke.” It was all theater, of course, but Theodore was certain it would be a hit that would run for at least four years.
Both conventions opened on Wednesday, 8 June, 1916, and it was immediately clear that Justice Hughes and the conservatives had no intention of letting Theodore steal the nomination. Theodore told a friend, “Hughes has been a big disappointment thus far. I guess there is no need to tell you that I think Hughes a good deal of a skunk in the attitude he has taken.” It seems that in Theodore's opinion, anybody who did not support Theodore was a skunk.
All that night, and the next, the conference between the Progressives and Republicans met and argued and cajoled and sought a compromise. But at 3:30 A.M. Friday morning they finally admitted defeat. The Republican conservatives were backing Hughes and the Republican Progressives were backing Roosevelt, and neither would accept any middle ground. That afternoon the Republicans began making nominating speeches for President. At 3:30 that Friday afternoon William White, a leader of the Kansas Progressives, warned Theodore that his group could not hold off much longer. Theodore urged him to wait. “You know I haven’t committed myself in any way about running on a third ticket, but as you know I am very reluctant to do so. I can see that only damage would come from it…Try to keep our convention from acting today. Keep them from acting until tomorrow.” But White warned, “I think it can be very easily handled for tonight provided the Republicans do not…stampede for Hughes. Our people do not like the Hughes proposition.”
That night Theodore’s operative, George Perkins (above), warned that the Progressives were no longer willing to wait. “…they did not propose to listen to any more nonsense about postponing your nomination and were going to put you through.” To this Theodore observed, “George, there is no doubt about it; the other fellows have all the crooks and we have all the cranks.”
At this inopportune moment, Mary Kihm took a bathroom break. It was a little reminiscent of Ms. Woods and the 18 1/2 minute gap in the Watergate tapes, although I certainly hope Mary was not gone that long. When she did return to her duties, Theodore was lamenting, “...much as I despise Hughes I would prefer him to one of the burglars (meaning a Taft man, meaning a Hughs man). Even the members of our lunatic fringe take that view,.” said Teddy.  It seemed that at the precise moment that Mary had been taking a tinkle, Theodore had been accepting the unpleasant truth.
The balloting at the Republican Convention put the coda to Theodore’s maneuvers. On the first ballot Charles Hughes (above) got 253 votes, while Theodore got 81, just as George had predicted. But the second ballot, taken almost immediately, saw Hughes surge to 326 votes, while Theodore dropped to 65. On the third round Hughes reached 950 votes and Theodore faded to only 19 true believers. Hughes was declared the Republican nominee by unanimous consent at 12:37 p.m, Saturday 11 June, 1916. Stung, the Progressives immediately nominated Theodore.
But Theodore was now rethinking his position. He had fought Hughes. He did not like Hughes. He did not trust Hughes, as long as he stood a chance of beating Hughes. But he now told his son Kermit, “Of course I will support him, but I will not be responsible for him.” In other words, Theodore had decided to cut the ground out from under his own Bull Moose Progressive Party. And they were the last third party to have a real chance of winning a presidential election in the United States.  They may call this stuff "Political Science", but its all about ego.
Like all good politicians, Theodore was thinking about himself. And he was thinking four years ahead. To mend fences, he campaigned for Hughes, and spoke out for him strongly. And with Theodore’s support Hughes even seemed to be pulling ahead on election night. Early the next morning, when a reporter rang up Hughes’ hotel suite, the butler informed him that “The President is asleep.” To which the reporter replied, “Well, when he wakes up, tell him he isn’t the President.” The butler was not alone in his mistake. The New York Times screwed up the results, too.
Charles Evens Hughes won 18 states and 254 electoral votes. Wilson took 30 states for 277 electoral votes. If Hughes had just won California, he would have been President. And he lost California by a mere 3,800 votes. Wilson was thus the first Democrat to win a second term as President since Andrew Jackson, and the first man from either party to win without carrying his home state
Theodore had mended his fences. And Hughes was now out of the way. But Theodore would never make the 1920 run for the White House. He died in his sleep at his home on Oyster Bay, on 6 January 1919. Most of those who knew him blamed his death on that trip up the river of Doubt.  As Thomas Marshall put it, “Death had to take Roosevelt sleeping, for if he had been awake, there would have been a fight.”
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Tuesday, October 18, 2016

A DESIRE FOR SUCCESS

I have no doubt that when Stephen Puter put two $1,000 bills on the Senator's desk, John Mitchell promptly picked them up. At his trial John denied he took the bribe, but nothing in his previous life even hints at the possibility that the Oregon scoundrel would have left that much cash unattended so close to his own pocket even for an instant. He was a garden variety sociopath, raised to high office by his ambition. Noted one Oregon newspaper, “His political methods are indeed pitched on a sufficiently low scale, but not below his methods as a lawyer.” That did not make him unusual for a gilded age politician. It was the reliability of his depravity that made him a star.
Senator John H. Mitchell grew up John M. Hupple about 30 miles north of Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. In 1855, when he was twenty, John was fired from his teaching job after impregnating his 15 year old student Sarah Hoon. Forced to marry the unfortunate girl, John switched professions, and two years later he passed the state bar exam. However, the new lawyer beat his Sarah in public so often that a patrilineal grand jury was convened. John escaped being indicted by convincing his naive now 19 year old wife into dropping the charges. Whereupon John stole $4,000 from his legal clients, abandoned Sarah and his three children and fled to California with his mistress, teacher Maria Brinker. A few years later Maria's medical expenses threatened to consume John's ill gotten grubstake. So, ala Newt Gingrich, he abandoned her as well.
Arriving in Portland, Oregon in 1860 (above) with his new mistress, Mattie Price, John switched his moniker to John Hupple Mitchell and hung out his shingle. In a matter of weeks John was named the city attorney to the 1,000 inhabitants of what the locals appropriately called, “mud city”. His skills as a lawyer could be attested by the unfortunate Marcus Neff, an ambitious illiterate seeking help in expediting his 10 year old homestead filing.  Neff had paid $2.50 an acre for his 160 acre property, occupied and worked it, and in May of 1862 Neff paid John Mitchell $6.50 to file an affidavit reaffirming his bonafidies. Then, in November of 1863, John Mitchell sued his own client for what he claimed were $253.14 in unpaid fees.
In court, the amoral attorney Mitchell (above) swore under oath that Neff could not be found, even tho in July of 1863 the Oregon land office successfully delivered the final homestead deed to Neff in California. In February of 1864 Neff's homestead was sold at sheriff's auction, where it was purchased by future governor and Portland mayor, Sylvester Pennoyer, aka “His Eccentricity”, AKA “Sylester Annoyer”. John got the $294. 98 paid by Sylvester, and Sylvester got the 160 acre homestead. It would take a decade and require the intervention of the U.S. Supreme Court, before poor Mr. Neff's stolen property would be returned.
As this episode demonstrated, John Mitchell was always willing to help the Oregon power structure get richer, to his own benefit of course. In particular there was his toadying with the “stagecoach king” Ben Holladay (above), who had just sold his California mail routes to Wells Fargo for $1.5 million ($24 million today). Beginning in August of 1868, and financed largely by distant German investors, Holladay began building a railroad along the Willamette river valley, from the capital of Salem north to Portland, and then south over Grant's Pass to California. It was Holladay who, in 1864, financed John's divisive election as President of the Oregon State Senate – it took 53 days and 27 ballots. And in 1872, Holladay supplied $15,000 in bribes to secure John's election by that same legislature as a U.S. Senator. So obvious was Mitchell's toadying for his patron, ( "Whatever is Ben Holladay's politics is my politics, and whatever Ben Holladay wants I want") that both offices were one term endeavors. But it remains a testament to John's grit and greed that when Ben Holladay went bankrupt in the “Panic” of 1873, John simply switched his loyalty to the next richest man on his horizon.
The 18 year old Friedrich Weyerhauser (above) arrived in America in 1852. He so hated working on his cousins' Pennsylvania farm that he drifted west and landed a job on the Rock Island Railroad in Illinois, which led him to a job in a saw mill, making railroad ties. He ended up owning the mill, and started buying lumber mills until the Weyerhaeuser Syndicate controlled every tree processed on the upper Mississippi River. The only thing standing between Friedrich and total domination of the lumber industry was that he did not own the land on which the trees grew. Oregon offered him a remedy to that little problem.
Out on the Great Plains, railroads could be financed by awarding them a 20 mile wide swath of government land on either side of the rails. The builders could then sell this land to homesteaders who then became the completed railroad's customers. That was how Holladay financed his Willamette Valley line. But everywhere else in Oregon’s mostly vertical terrain, money grew on trees. The state has been selling lumber to China since 1833. By 1870 there were 173 sawmills in Oregon. And it was the combination of the well intentioned homesteader program and Weyerhaeuser's ambition which remade Oregon politics for the next hundred years.
The middle man between Oregon's past and its future was one time surveyor Stephen A. Douglas Puter.     In his book, “ Looters of the Public Domain” Stephen described a process which began on board foreign vessels tied up at Portland's docks. “I have known agents of the company to take at one time as many as twenty-five men...to the county courthouse”, he wrote, “where they would...declare their intention to become citizens...(then) they would proceed direct to the land office and make their filings, all the location papers having previously been made out. Then they would appear before Fred W. Bell, a notary public, and execute an acknowledgment of a blank deed (transferring the land to the lumber company), receive the stipulated price of $50, and return to their ships...As fast as this land came into the market, the (Weyerhaeuser) company gobbled it all up.”
All told, it cost "entrymen" like Puter about $320 for each 160 acre homestead. Then, instead of land hungry farmers, Puter sold the parcels to Weyhausser through his railroad or lumber companies for a hundred dollar profit. The Oregonian newspaper estimated that between 1870 and 1904 75% of all land transferred in Oregon was sold in this fraudulent way. The great scam only came to an end because in 1903 Stephen Puter was convicted of fraud, and after serving 18 months was pardon by President Teddy Roosevelt after agreeing to turn state's evidence. With Puter's testimony,  Federal grand juries indicted more than 100 people, and convicted 33 of them. But no where on any legal papers did the name of Friedrich Weyerhauser appear, and his corporation's titles to the land were never questioned. However, John H. Mitchell's name did show up.
When John had first arrived in Washington, D.C. back in 1874, he found the capital abuzz with stories about his abandoned Sarah, back in Pennsylvania. Since John had married Mattie Price in 1862, without divorcing Sarah, he was now a bigamist. But the Senate decided morality was a matter for the voters back in Oregon, and allowed John Mitchel to sit on the Senate Railroad Committee, which is just where Ben Holladay wanted him. After his defeat for re-election in 1879,  John tried for the state legislature, but lost. In 1885 he was campaigning for a return to the Senate when, four days before the election, "The Oregonian" published love letters John had written to Mattie's sister. What kind of a man carries on a five year sexual liaison with his wife's sister? Evidently, in Oregon, a re-elected United States Senator. An opponent called his election “a disgrace to the state and a reproach to humanity.”  But it stuck.
And yet John was easily re-elected yet again in 1890, and tirelessly maneuvered to legally steal land from Indian reservations to benefit Weyerhauser's syndicate.  In 1896 John ran yet again, but the opposition finally adopted John's own “political ethics (which) justified any means that would win the battle” The legislature was deadlocked for two years, leaving the state without a second Senator. Then, in 1901 the 65 year old Mitchell won his last campaign. And it was in Senator John Mitchel’s Washington office on Sunday, March 9, 1902, where Stephen Puter laid down those two $1,000 bills. And John picked them up.
The newly named Chairman of the Committee on Inter-oceanic Canals, now grown old and fat, responded to his indictment with a carefully worded press release. “I defy any man to charge me successfully with any conduct that is otherwise than honorable” he wrote, adding “I am sure I cannot be connected in any way with any land frauds”. No where did John claim innocence. He merely dared others to prove his guilt. So they did.
This first trial of the century for the 20th century was held in June of 1905 in the newly expanded Court House on Pioneer Square in downtown Portland. It had to compete for the public's attention with the Lewis and Clark Centennial Exposition out on Guild's Lake. While the fair, whose federal funding Senator Mitchell had pushed, attracted over 11,000 visitors a day, the courtroom could hold less than a hundred spectators. But it was the tribunal which attracted far more newspaper coverage. Testifying against Senator Mitchell was  Stephen Puter, and John’s law partner, Judge Albert H. Tanner, and even John's personal secretary. The defense tried reminding the jury about the recent death of John's daughter, and the Senator's age – he had just turned 70. But on Monday July 3, 1905 the jury found him guilty, anyway. It was the climax to the Oregon Land Fraud Trials, and a fitting end to Mark Twain's Gilded Age. John was sentenced to six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.
He never served an hour in jail, of course. And he never paid the fine. Not because of his political connections, this time, but because of a visit to the dentist. Five months after the verdict, on Friday December 8, 1905, John had four teeth pulled, and the strain was too much for the old thief’s heart. He died, said the press, of complications after surgery. The old Republican was replaced by a Democrat.
John H. Mitchell – ne John Mitchell Hupple – was survived by a second daughter, Marie Elisabeth, who in 1892 had married the very wealthy Alfred Gaston, the 5th duke of Rochefouald and Duke of Anville. But the only place in Oregon which still carries his name is the tiny hamlet of Mitchell, with less than 200 residents. Three time in its history the town has been destroyed by floods, and three times by fires. But the residents keep rebuilding, making it a perfect monument to a man described  as lacking either ethics or ability, but making up for that with “persistence and (a) desire for success at any price.”
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