JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Saturday, February 11, 2017


I know William Williams was anxious as he approached the cabin after midnight on Thursday,  26 July, 1860. He could see the adobe and the outbuildings in the dim quarter moon light, but the silence worried him. No smoke issued from the chimney where 15 men had cooked their meals and smelted their ore for the last year. There was not a sound from the corral where the burros and horses should have been responding to the pack animals he was leading. Motioning the boys, Billy and Charley Ake, to hold back their laden burros, Williams approached the cabin alone, calling out his cousin's name. "James? James?" Something unseen in the pitch blackness made him stop short. William struck a match. And in a ragged breath he saw that the cabin's front door was ajar, and then, stretched on the ground he saw James, face down, with his head split wide open and small clumps of gray-white brain trailing away into the dark.
This story begins after North America had been sailing westward at 2 inches a year for about a hundred million years. Then about 25 million years ago the continent's northwestern edge slammed head on into the Juan de Fuca plate. And like 2 cars colliding head on left headlamp to right headlamp, the collision sent 250 sextillion tons of continental rock buckling and twisting. The wrenching spun Baja California loose from Mexico and, about 17 million years ago, switched on the San Andreas fault.
Telling the boys to stay back, William edged past his cousin's corpse, and pushed the door wider. The small room was was pitch black. Holding the match high, William took two steps inside and stumbled over the heavy body of John Moss. William stumbled out of the cabin, yelling at the Ake boys to gather the mules, and get the hell out of here.
As the west coast twisted, the crust behind was pulled out, stretching a hundred miles and more, until it was so thin it cracked into 400 blocks roughly 25 miles across, each dropping down at a 60 degree angle on the west end with eastern escarpments tilting up to 10,000 feet into the sky. 
They formed a rhythmic series of north-south mountain islands, appearing on maps like "an army of caterpillars marching toward Mexico".  With every 1,000 feet in elevation up in each range, the temperature dropped down 4 degrees, and rainfall increased by 4 inches. Thus each mountain range became a sky island, biologically isolated by the 120 degree desert seas between them .And in this 500 by 1,500 mile Basin and Range Province lay most of North America's accessible rare metal wealth.
The 3 hurried 35 miles south along the San Pedro River to Sonoita Creek, then west up it's canyon to Fort Buchanan. The outpost's commander, Captain Richard S. Ewell, recognized William as the panicked man rode up,  not long after dawn. 
The two had crossed paths just the day before, and, as Ewell wrote his sister back in Virginia, he immediately realized, "..something bad had happened." The story spilled from William like a desert gully-washer. "He said he had arrived at the mine about midnight, and no one answering, struck a light and saw his cousin lifeless with his head split open. They did not wait to see more...." Ewell dispatched as many of his malaria ridden dragoons as he could spare to accompany William back to the cabin. The Captain's assumption was that the Apache must be responsible. But Ewell kept the Ake boys at the fort to question them, as to what they had seen and heard.
As the crustal blocks tilted they lifted ancient hydrothermal vents,  where super heated brine had split the bedrock. As the vents cooled they left behind precipitate, veins of quartz,  tinted occasionally with gold, but more often with lead - galena - or sulfur - agentite -  or even chlorine - horn silver (above). 
And by the middle of the 19th century, some humans had learned to read such rocks, the way a hunter reads a trail. A bit of fur caught on a bramble, a leaf nervously nibbled but left on the branch, tells of a furtive buck hiding nearby. Quartz stained with chalcopyrite tells of veins of copper sulphide hiding below. Gelena hints at lead sulphide (above). Should you find both, if you were educated, diligent and lucky, you might find silver as well.
The soldiers found the mechanic James Williams, "ravaged by animals", on the ground between the 3 room adobe cabin (above) and the empty supply shed. All the horses and mules kept in the corral and their tack were gone. Inside the adobe was the body of chemist John C. Moss. He lay on the front room floor, stabbed multiple times. The contents of the cabin had been ransacked, and some of the assaying equipment was missing. But there was no sign of the cook, David Brontrager, nor of the 11 miners recruited from Sonora Mexico, nor the tents they had occupied, nor their boss, the head of the St. Louis Mining Company, Frederick Brunckow.
Silver is an odd metal. You never pan for silver in a stream, or dig it out with your bare hands. Silver is found only in veins running through hard rock, where it forms thin flakes or plates and occasionally crystal clusters (above). But it takes an educated eye to recognize silver ore. In 1858 an educated mining engineer tracked a quartz trail across the hot deserts of the Sonoran desert, until he found a 6 foot wide vein of silver chloride, a mile east of the north flowing San Pedro River. He filed a claim and named his mine "The Bronco". His name was Frederick Brunckow.
Frederick had been born in Saxony in 1830, of a Russian father and a German mother. He was trained as a mining engineer at the University of Westphalia. He was fluent in German, English, French and Spanish. At 20 years of age he emigrated to the United States, where he worked his way down the Mississippi as a steamboat deckhand, all the way to  Texas. There, in 1854, his mining degree earned him an $1,800 a year salary with the Sonora Exploration and Mining Company. And after 2 seasons tracking minerals in the New Mexico basin and range providence, Frederick decided to strike out on his own.
They found Frederick Brunckow not far inside the mine shaft (above). Like the others he had been dead for several days. But his death had been more violent, in part probably because he was Jewish. 
His corpse had a 10 inch long hardened steel hand-held drill bit driven into this abdomen. Because of the violence of all the attacks, and because the bodies had lain in the Arizona heat for 3 days, the dead were buried in hastily dug and poorly marked graves. The next morning the nervous soldiers returned to Fort Buchanan.
Frederick had found financial backing in the immigrant community of St. Louis, Missouri. He found his first four employees there, as well. Pharmacist John Moss invested in the Bronco and would serve as chemist. Machinist James Williams agreed to keep the mine's equipment running and his cousin William offered to serve as the Bronco's supervisor. Another German American, David Brontrager, signed on as the mine's cook. The plan was to gather equipment in St. Louis, sail down the Mississippi to New Orleans, then across the Gulf of Mexico to Texas, and make their way overland to Arizona and Sonora, where Frederick would hire peons to do the heavy work because they were cheaper than Americans.
The soldiers returned to Fort Buchanan on Sunday, 29 July, 1860. Their opinion, as Captain Ewell told his sister, was "the Mexican employees had risen, murdered the Americans and robbed the place and run off for Sonora" Having negotiated with the Apache, Ewell agreed. "This is much worse than would have been done by the Indians," he wrote, "who don't betray confidence in this manner." A few days later, this version was seemingly confirmed when the cook, David Brontrager, reappeared 15 miles closer to the Mexican border, at Camp Jecker, on the San Pedro River.
The first task in hard rock mining is simple back-breaking labor under very dangerous conditions. In "single-jacking" an individual miner used a 5 pound hammer to drive a 4 foot long drill 3 feet into the rock, rotating the drill a quarter turn after every strike. 
When there was enough space 2 or 3 men would "Double Jack", one holding the drill and the others wielding 10 pound hammers, The completed holes were then filled with black powder, which was set off to crack the rock into pieces. The debris was then "mucked out" and carried to the surface in buckets or carts.
If Broterager's story was to be believed, just hours after William and the Ake brothers had left the adobe on Monday, 23 July, to buy flour at Fort Buchanan, the Sonoran peons had rebelled. They murdered Brunckow because he was the boss and because he was Jewish, James Williams and John Moss because they were witnesses, and the peons kidnapped and released Broterager at the Mexican border because, as they told him, he was "a good Catholic".  
The peons primary motive was theft. What they stole speaks to their poverty in feudal Sonora. They took firearms, boots, shoes, underwear, and several dozen pairs of pants, and a small amount of silver ore which had been refined through the use of an arrastra.
The method had been brought to the new world by the Spanish 300 years earlier. An axle was vertically driven into the center of a pit, lined with stones (above). Large flat bottom rocks were then tied to the axle so that as the axle turned, the stones would be dragged (arrastra) across the ore, slowly grinding it into pebbles. This "Chilli Mill" meant more back breaking labor, this time under the killing Arizona sun.  But without abundant water, it was the only way to "refine" the ore.
In the America of 1860, Catholics were still suspect, and Ewell could not prove Broterager's innocence. So the German American remained in the fort's brig while the Arizona mining community panicked.  Meetings were held, committees formed, outraged expressed, and a list of the "murdering greasers" was compiled. Captain Ewell forwarded these expressions of outrage to Governor Ignacio Pesqueira of Sonora, Mexico (above). The murderers were never arrested, but some of the mining equipment was returned, along with enough validation of Broterager's story, that he was released. 
And then the outbreak of the Civil War gave the Americans something else to worry about. Captain Ewell would rise to Lieutenant General of the Confederate States of America, and command 1/3rd of the Army of Northern Virginia. And the German immigrant community of St. Louis would enlist in large numbers to help defeat the Confederacy.
But the violence which had butchered 3 men in a lonely cabin in 1860, would eventually lead to the 30 most iconic seconds of violence in the history of the American frontier, just 8 miles from that dark and bloody adobe, in a town called Tombstone.
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Friday, February 10, 2017


I think Patrick Henry's death may have been a release. At the urging of George Washington, in the spring of 1799, Patrick stood for one last election - for the Virginia House of Delegates. He ran as a Federalist. That may seem an odd for a man who had had opposed the new Federal Constitution, and Hamilton's Bank of the United States. What swayed his thinking was the threat of war with France  – which never came. Patrick won his last election, but he never occupied his seat. He died of stomach cancer on 6 June, 1799. His second wife, Dorothea, quickly married Patrick's friend, Judge Edmund Wilson, thus protecting the family investments from predators who might have cheated a naive widow, probably a predator like  Senator James Gunn..
Once the details of the Yazoo Land sale became public, Senator Gunn was almost universally despised. But he still had six years to serve as a United States Senator. Toward the end of his term he announced he was “disgusted with everything connected with public life” - it was certainly disgusted with him. In March of 1801 he returned to the old state capital of Louisville, Georgia and at the end of July 1801, in a room full of people, James Gunn died so quietly no one noticed he was dead for several minutes. That would have galled him. One obituary called him “General Yazoo”, a reminder of those runaway slaves he had murdered so many years before. A kinder obituary hoped he was “beyond the reach of friendship, or of hatred.”  Not me.
James Jackson was twice elected Governor of Georgia. In his first two year term he personally wrote sections 23 and 24 of the new Georgia constitution, which insured that " “no...order shall pass the General Assembly, granting a donation or gratuity in favor of any person whatever...” except by a two-thirds vote.  During his second term he finally disposed of the temptation of the Yazoo Lands by selling them to the Federal Government for $1,250,000. Georgia was no longer broke.
And when the “Prince of Duels” died on 19 March, 1806, no one was more surprised and disappointed than James Jackson, that he met his demise in bed.
And so most of the speculators who tried to profit from the selling the Yazoo swamp  -  Patrick Henry, David Ross, Robert Morris, John Nicholson, James Wilson and James Gunn - most lost everything. Taking a profit would be up to the next generation of “land jobbers”, starting with John Peck, and his partner in “ legal crime”, Robert Fletcher.
The story goes - and it was a fictional story - that on 14 May, 1803, 75 year old John Peck sold to 43 year old Robert Fletcher 15,000 acres of Yazoo land around the Tombigby River, in exchange for $3,000, or about 4 and 1/3 cents an acre.  Fletcher was concerned about receiving a clear title because of the "The Rescinding Act”,  so Peck had included the following addendum; “The title to the premises as conveyed by the state of Georgia (in 1795)...has been in no way constitutionally or legally impaired by virtue of any subsequent act of any subsequent legislature of the...state of Georgia.”
The addendum was important because of the 1603 English case of Chandler v Lopus, which you remember established the legal doctrine of Caveat Emptor.  Peck had now provided the guarantee in writing that the 1796 Rescinding Act did not apply, even though Georgia had just sold the Yazoo Swamp-Land to the Federal Government. And in doing so, he had provided legal grounds for Fletcher to sue Peck to get his money back.

Because Fletcher was a resident of New Hampshire and Peck resided in Massachusetts, the case moved directly into the federal court system – what a lucky break that was. There  it was heard at the circuit court level by the cranky, craggy 74 year old New Englander, William Cushin , who was also a Supreme – another lucky break. Cushin  decided the case for Peck, which allowed Fletcher to appeal to the Supreme Court.

And it is now that the final character in our farce, John Marshal, steps upon the stage. He was a cousin to Thomas Jefferson, and a close friend to George Washington. When the case of Fletcher v Peck reached the high court in March of 1806, Chief Justice Marshall decided that the arguments made by Peck's team of lawyers had been “incorrect”, and so the case was “continued by consent”,  meaning held over for the next term, to be re-argued in October of 1807.  And even then, Marshall did not issue the final ruling until 16 March, 1810, 3 years later, probably because it took him that long to build a unanimous decision. The decision had to be unanimous because for the first time ever, the Supreme Court was declaring that a state law - the Rescinding Act -  violated an article of the Federal Constitution – in this case, section 10 of Article One.

As usual, Marshall wrote the court's opinion. He acknowledged that the members of the 1795 Georgia legislature were guilty of reprehensible actions. However, he reasoned, “The grant, when issued, conveyed an estate...(and) This estate was transferable; and those who purchased parts of it were not stained by that guilt which infected the original transaction.” Thus was born the legal fiction of the “innocent third party” in the Yazoo land fraud, meaning the speculators who had bought the land from the men who had bribed the legislature.  As if they had not often been the same men.

Marshall argued that if a concealed defect in a contract could be held against the victim of that concealment, then “All titles would be insecure”. That might be true in the abstract, but referring to the members of the New England Mississippi Company as “innocent” was almost as much a legal fiction as insisting that written guarantees protected buyers in an age when only 3% of the population could read.

Oddly, the only member of the court to disagree with Marshall in writing was Jefferson's only appointee on the court,  William Johnson, from South Carolina. And his only objection was that he thought the Indians had a better claim to the land than did the state of Georgia. Still, Johnson managed, at the end of his argument, to state the obvious. “I have been very unwilling to proceed to the decision of this cause at all,” he wrote, because, “It appears to me to bear strong evidence... of being a mere feigned case.” But having stated that, Johnson then folded his tent and concurred with Marshall's decision. And so the court had decided in favor of the New England Mississippi Company and all the other speculators in the Yazoo land sales.

The cost of that decision became clear in 1814, when the Federal government reached a settlement with all the “innocent third parties” in the Yazoo land fraud. Having already paid Georgia $4 million in 1802  for the land -  the modern equivalent of $63 million -  they now paid the speculators in the various Yazoo companies another $5 million for the same land - the modern equivalent of $50 million.

It made Patrick Henry's scheme to cheat the tax payers of Georgia seem small potatoes. And this would be far from the last time the lawyers wrote and interpeted laws to assist thieves in robbing the public. Such behavior is a stab to the heart of the public's faith in their government. And it all began at the very birth of our Republic.

It was the next generation of Americans who would risk their fortunes to build dams and levees, to drain the Yazoo swamp and keep the river to a path, and who would finally lay bare some of the richest agricultural soil in the world, upon which they would plant and grow cotton. There were profits aplenty for all...except, of course, for the natives who had originally owned the land and the slaves who picked the cotton. It is a sad truth about speculators that like villains in a horror story they generate life for no one but themselves, and misery and debt for everyone and everything else they touch.  And capitalism empowers them.
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Thursday, February 09, 2017


I suppose you've heard the story of how a group of civic minded men had gathered in Philadelphia during the summer of 1787 to create a “more perfect union”. Well, they did, except it would be well to remember that civics is not a science, but an art form, in which each artist expresses a different vision of perfection. And in the case of James Wilson, future justice of the Supreme Court under the new constitution and briber in-chief for the Yazoo land fraud, perfection included the right to steal from the tax payers.
Remember the story of Robert Morris and the Bank of North America? That was the financial institution which Morris had used to finance the American Revolution. Well, the bank had originally been chartered in Pennsylvania, and after the Revolution its charter had been revoked. But in 1786 the state was sued by a share holder in that bank, who claimed the repeal had violated the rights of an innocent party – i.e. him, James Wilson. And a year later Mr. Wilson was one of those civic minded men who gathered in Philadelphia to draw up the new Constitution for the United States.
The state of Pennsylvania had backed down from Wilson's lawsuit, and re-charted the bank. But Wilson was determined the new Federal government would not show the same disrespect for business as Pennsylvania had. So, in drawing the new constitution for America, James Wilson added what became Section 10 of the first Article of The Constitution, supposedly dealing with the formation, duties and responsibilities of the Congress. But Section Ten, Article One reads in part; “No State shall enter into any Treaty...coin Money...pass any Bill of Attainder, ex post facto Law, or Law impairing the Obligation of Contracts, or grant any Title of Nobility...”. This was to be a capitalist nation, and respect for contracts was thus written into its constitution.
All of which brings us back to 1795 when the Georgia Yazoo Company bought 11 million acres of swamp land for 1/4 cent an acre.  In August of 1795,  the Georgia Company was bought by James Greenleaf. He paid 1 cent an acre. Then in November of 1795  Greenleaf sold the company to yet another group of speculators, for 8 cents an acre, giving Greenleaf a 650% profit. The new owners renamed the company the New England-Mississippi Company  But why were these speculators paying so much for a dead company? Hadn't the new owners ever heard of Caveat Emptor?
Listed first among the directors of the New England-Mississippi Company was Boston lawyer, Benjamin Hichborn, a  cousin to Paul Revere on his mother's side.   But Benjamin's real talent was as a gossip, knowing which ear would be most receptive to which dirt.  In the late 1790's he aligned himself with the  Democrats, becoming a trusted and rare New England confidant for Thomas Jefferson himself. 
The other company directors were equally well connected. Samuel Brown had made a fortune financing the slave trade, insuring ships which were running the British anti-slave patrols off the African coast. Benjamin Joy was a speculator in Massachusetts real estate, and Thomas Winthrop was the thirty-something son of the iconic Boston family. George Blake was yet another lawyer-speculator . And finally there was John Peck.  Remember him?
He was 75 years old in 1800. He was secretive, “Often argumentative and egotistical, tending to alienate those with whom he interacted”. In other words, the people who knew him best, disliked him the most. Most people knew him for what he considered his hobby – he was “The most scientific and most successful naval architect” in the new nation, having designed small and fast privateers for the colonial navy. But someone else had to build the ships, because John did not work or play well with others.
John Peck saw himself as a merchant, starting with a store and trader's post on Crabtree Neck, where the Skillings River flows into Frenchman's Bay, not far from Bar Harbor, Maine. It is still labeled Peck's Point on the maps. John Peck invested his profits in land, and there are few communities in today's Maine,which do not list him on their early property rolls. So it was a natural that the wealthy landowner would be asked to join in the New England-Mississippi Company. And it was John Peck who on 14 May, 1803, sold to Robert Fletcher of New Hampshire, 15,000 acres of the New England- Mississippi company holdings, at the inflated price of $5 an acre. If the lawyers are to be believed Robert Fletcher felt cheated by Peck, and in 1803, just like Mr. Chandler in 1603 - remember him? - sued to get his money back
Robert Fletcher was a lawyer from Amherst, New Hampshire, He was only 42 years old in 1803, and owned extensive properties in Nashua, Amherst and Dunstable. He was a very successful husband, fathering 13 children, but ultimately, an unsuccessful businessman.  His final investment was in timber lands in Montreal, Canada. And when this venture failed in November 1809, Robert Fletcher shot himself. But even after his suicide, the court case he had launched continued all the way to the Supreme Court – just as it was intended to. Which was amazing because it was a set up, a fake case. And everybody knew it.
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