Doris Kearns Goodwin’s most recent history, The Bully Pulpit, chronicles the intertwined lives of Theodore Roosevelt and William Howard Taft, often in excruciating detail, from Roosevelt’s struggles with the bosses of his Republican party to the fungal infections that plagued Taft’s groin. But the most illuminating aspect of Pulpit is the spotlight it shines on the muckraking journalism of the early 20th century, particularly as practiced by a monthly magazine called McClure’s. There, writers such as Ida Tarbell, Ray Baker, and Lincoln Steffens held the feet of the powerful to the fire. In one landmark issue, January 1903, articles by all three were featured, including the third installment of Tarbell’s 12-part exposé of Standard Oil and Baker’s counter-intuitive, sympathetic portrait of coal miners, whose dire circumstances had forced them to cross picket lines.
Steffens contributed the issue’s cover story, “The Shame of Minneapolis,” reprinted below. In it, he laid bare the city’s entrenched system of police graft, in which protection money was paid to law-enforcement officials to permit the flagrant operation of opium dens, gambling rooms, and “disorderly houses,” the quaint euphemism of the day for brothels. Steffens tracks the rise and fall of the Minneapolis machine that profited from this vice until he can declare “Minneapolis should be clean and sweet for a little while at least,” at the end of his piece. Such a sentiment sounds hopelessly saccharine to contemporary ears, which is why most editors today would almost certainly cut it. Indeed, in this age of BuzzFeed journalism, Steffens would probably be asked to boil his reporting down to a list. Thankfully, we get to plow through this somewhat fusty treasure instead.
The Shame of Minneapolis
Lincoln Steffens | McClure’s Magazine | January 1903 | 29 minutes (7,181 words)
Whenever anything extraordinary is done in American municipal politics, whether for good or for evil, you can trace it almost invariably to one man. The people do not do it. Neither do the “gangs,” “combines” or political parties. These are but instruments by which bosses (not leaders; we Americans are not led, but driven) rule the people, and commonly sell them out. But there are at least two forms of autocracy which has supplanted the democracy here as it has everywhere it has been tried. One is that of the organized majority by which, as in Tammany Hall in New York and the Republican machine in Philadelphia, the boss has normal control of more than half the voters. The other is that of the adroitly managed minority. The “good people” are herded into parties and stupefied with convictions and a name, Republican or Democrat; while the “bad people” are so organized or interested by the boss that he can wield their votes to enforce terms with party managers and decide elections.
St. Louis is a conspicuous example of this form. Minneapolis is another. Colonel Ed Butler is the unscrupulous opportunist who handled the nonpartisan minority which turned St. Louis into a “boodle town.” In Minneapolis “Doc” Ames was the man.
Minneapolis is a New England town on the upper Mississippi. The metropolis of the Northwest, it is the metropolis also of Norway and Sweden in America. Indeed, it is the second largest Scandinavian city in the world. But Yankees, straight from Down East, settled the town, and their New England spirit predominates. They had Bayard Taylor lecture there in the early days of the settlement; they made it the seat of the University of Minnesota. Yet even now, when the town has grown to a population of more than 200,000, you feel that there is something western about it too―a Yankee with a small Puritan head, an open prairie heart, and a great, big Scandinavian body. The Roundhead takes the Swede and Norwegian bone out into the woods, and they cut lumber by forests, or they go out on the prairies and raise wheat and mill it into fleet-cargoes of flour. They work hard, they make money, they are sober, satisfied, busy with their own affairs. There isn’t much time for public business. Taken together, Miles, Hans and Ole are very American. Miles insists upon strict laws, Ole and Hans want one or two Scandinavians on their ticket. These things granted, they go off on raft or reaper, leaving whoso will to enforce the laws and run the city.
The people who were left to govern the city hated above all things strict laws. They were the loafers, saloonkeepers, gamblers, criminals, and the thriftless poor of all nationalities. Resenting the sobriety of a staid, industrious community, and having no Irish to boss them, they delighted to follow the jovial pioneer doctor, Albert Alonzo Ames. He was the “good fellow”―a genial, generous reprobate. Devery, Tweed, and many more have exposed in vain this amiable type. “Doc” Ames, tall, straight and cheerful, attracted men, and they gave him votes for his smiles. He stood for license. There was nothing of the Puritan about him. His father, the sturdy old pioneer, Dr. Alfred Elisha Ames, had a strong strain of it in him, but he moved on with his family of six sons from Garden Prairie, Illinois, to Fort Snelling reservation, in 1851, before Minneapolis was founded, and young Albert Alonzo, who then was ten years old, grew up free, easy and tolerant. He was sent to school, then to college in Chicago, and he returned home a doctor of medicine before he was twenty-one. As the town waxed soberer and richer, “Doc” grew gayer and more and more generous. Skillful as a surgeon, devoted as a physician, and as a man kindly, he increased his practice till he was the best loved man in the community. He was especially good to the poor. Anybody could summon “Doc” Ames at any hour to any distance. He went, and he gave not only his professional service, but sympathy, and often charity. “Richer men than you will pay your bill,” he told the destitute. So there was a basis for his “good-fellowship.” There always is; these good fellows are not frauds―not in the beginning.
But there is another side to them sometimes. Ames was sunshine not to the sick and destitute only. To the vicious and the depraved also he was a comfort. If a man was a hard drinker, the good Doctor cheered him with another drink; if he had stolen something, the Doctor helped to get him off. He was naturally vain; popularity developed his love of approbation. His loose life brought disapproval only from the good people, so gradually the Doctor came to enjoy best the society of the barroom and the streets. This society, flattered in turn, worshiped the good Doctor, and, active in politics always, put its physician into the arena.
Had he been wise, or even shrewd, he might have made himself a real power. But he wasn’t calculating, only light and frivolous, so he did not organize his forces and run men for office. He sought office himself from the start, and he got most of the small places he wanted by changing his party to seize the opportunity. His floating minority, added to the regular partisan vote, was sufficient ordinarily for his useless victories. As time went on he rose from smaller offices to be a Republican mayor, then twice at intervals to be a Democratic mayor. He was a candidate once for Congress; he stood for governor once on a sort of Populist-Democrat ticket. Ames could not get anything outside of his own town, and after his third term as mayor it was thought he was out of politics altogether. He was getting old, and he was getting worse.
Like many a “good fellow” with hosts of miscellaneous friends downtown to whom he was devoted, the good Doctor neglected his own family. From neglect he went on openly to separation from his wife and a second establishment. The climax came not long before the election of 1900. His wife was dying, and his daughter wrote to her father a note saying that her mother wished to see and forgive him. The messenger found him in a saloon. The Doctor read the note, laid it on the bar, and scribbled across it a sentence incredibly obscene. His wife died. The outraged family would not have the father at the funeral, but he appeared, not at the house, but in a carriage on the street. He sat across the way, with his feet up and a cigar in his mouth, till the funeral moved; then he circled around, crossing it and meeting it, and making altogether a scene which might well close any man’s career.
It didn’t end his. The people had just secured the passage of a new primary law to establish direct popular government. There were to be no more nominations by convention. The voters were to ballot for their party candidates. By a slip of some sort, the laws did not specify that Republicans only should vote for Republican candidates, and only Democrats for Democratic candidates. Any voter could vote at either primary. Ames, in disrepute with his own party, the Democratic, bade his followers vote for his nomination for mayor on the Republican ticket. They all voted; not all the Republicans did. He was nominated. Nomination is far from election, and you would say that the trick would not help him. But that was a presidential year, so the people of Minneapolis had to vote for Ames, the Republican candidate for Mayor. Besides, Ames said he was going to reform; that he was getting old, and wanted to close his career with a good administration. The effective argument, however, was that, since McKinley had to be elected to save the country, Ames must be supported for Mayor of Minneapolis. Why? The great American people cannot be trusted to scratch a ticket.
Well, Minneapolis got its old mayor back, and he was reformed. Up to this time Ames had not been very venal personally. He was a “spender,” not a “grafter,” and he was guilty of corruption chiefly by proxy; he took the honors and left the spoils to his followers. His administrations were no worse than the worst. Now, however, he set out upon a career of corruption which for deliberateness, invention and avarice has never been equaled. It was as if he had made up his mind that he had been careless long enough, and meant to enrich his last years. He began early.
Immediately upon his election, before he took office (on January 7 ), he organized a cabinet and laid plans to turn the city over to outlaws who were to work under police direction for the profit of his administration. He chose for chief his brother, Colonel Fred W. Ames, who had recently returned under a cloud from service in the Philippines. The Colonel had commanded a Minnesota regiment out there till he proved a coward under fire; he escaped court-martial only on the understanding that he should resign on reaching San Francisco, whither he was immediately shipped. This he did not do, and his brother’s influence at Washington saved him to be mustered out with the regiment. But he was a weak vessel for chief of police, and the mayor picked for chief of detectives an abler man, who was to direct the more difficult operations. This was Norman W. King, a former gambler, who knew the criminals needed in the business ahead. King was to invite the Minneapolis thieves, confidence men, pickpockets, and gamblers, and release some that were in the local jail. They were to be organized into groups, according to their profession, and detectives were assigned to assist and direct them. The head of the gambling syndicate was to have charge of the gambling, making the terms and collecting the “graft,” just as King and a Captain Hill were to collect from the thieves. The collector for women of the town was to be Irwin A. Gardner, a medical student in the Doctor’s office, who was made a special policeman for the purpose. These men looked over the force, selected those men who could be trusted, charged them a price for their retention, and marked for dismissal 107 men out of 225, the 107 being the best policemen in the department from the point of view of the citizens who afterward reorganized the force. John Fitchette, better known as “Coffee John,” a Virginian (who served on the Jeff Davis jury), the keeper of a notorious coffeehouse, was to be a captain of police, with no duties except to sell places on the police force.
And they did these things that they planned―all and more. The administration opened with the revolution on the police force. They liberated the thieves in the local jail, and made known to the underworld generally that “things were doing” in Minneapolis. The incoming swindlers reported to King or his staff for instructions, and went to work, turning the “swag” over to the detectives in charge. Gambling went on openly, and disorderly houses multiplied under the fostering care of Gardner, the medical student. But all this was not enough. Ames dared to break openly into the municipal system of vice protection.
There was such a thing. Minneapolis, strict in its laws, forbade vices which are inevitable, then regularly permitted them under certain conditions. Legal limits, called “patrol lines,” were prescribed, within which saloons might be opened. These ran along the river front, out through part of the business section, with long arms reaching into the Scandinavian quarters, north and south. Gambling also was confined, but more narrowly. And there were limits, also arbitrary, but not always identical with those for gambling, within which the social evil was allowed. But the novel feature of this scheme was that disorderly houses were practically licensed by the city, the women appearing before the clerk of the Municipal Court each month to pay a “fine” of $100. Unable at first to get this “graft,” Ames’s man Gardner persuaded women to start houses, apartments, and, of all things, candy stores, which sold sweets to children and tobacco to the “lumberjacks” in front, while a nefarious traffic was carried on in the rear. But they paid Ames, not the city, and that was all the reform administration cared about.
The revenue from all these sources must have been enormous. It only whetted the avarice of the mayor and his cabinet. They let gambling privileges without restriction to location or “squareness”; the syndicate could cheat and rob as it would. Peddlers and pawnbrokers, formerly licensed by the city, bought permits now instead from “Gardner’s father,” A. L. Gardner, who was the mayor’s agent in this field. Some two hundred slot machines were installed in various parts of the town, with owner’s agent and mayor’s agent watching and collecting from them enough to pay the mayor $15,000 a year as his share. Auction frauds were instituted. Opium joints and unlicensed saloons, called “blind pigs,” were protected. Gardner even had a police baseball team, for whose games tickets were sold to people who had to buy them. But the women were the easiest “graft.” They were compelled to buy illustrated biographies of the city officials; they had to give presents of money, jewelry and gold stars to police officers. But the money they still paid direct to the city in fines, some $35,000 a year, fretted the mayor, and at last he reached for it. He came out with a declaration, in his old character as friend of the oppressed, that $100 a month was too much for these women to pay. They should be required to pay the city fine only once in two months. This puzzled the town till it became generally known that Gardner collected the other month for the mayor. The final outrage in this department, however, was an order of the mayor for the periodic visits to disorderly houses, by the city’s physicians, at from $5 to $20 per visit. The two physicians he appointed called when they willed, and more and more frequently, till toward the end the calls became a pure formality, with the collections as the one and only object.
In a general way all this business was known. It did not arouse the citizens, but it did attract criminals, and more and more thieves and swindlers came hurrying to Minneapolis. Some of them saw the police, and made terms. Some were seen by the police and invited to go to work. There was room for all. This astonishing fact that the government of a city asked criminals to rob the people is fully established. The police and the criminals have confessed it separately. Their statements agree in detail. Detective Norbeck made the arrangement, and introduced the swindlers to Gardner, who, over King’s head, took the money from them. Here is the story “Billy” Edwards, a “big mitt” man, told under oath of his reception in Minneapolis:
“I had been out to the coast, and hadn’t seen Norbeck for some time. After I returned I boarded a Minneapolis car one evening to go down to South Minneapolis to visit a friend. Norbeck and Detective DeLaitte were on the car. When Norbeck saw me he came up and shook hands, and said, ‘Hullo, Billy, how goes it?’ I said, ‘Not very well.’ The he says, ‘Things have changed since you went away. Me and Gardner are the whole thing now. Before you left they thought I didn’t know anything, but I turned a few tricks, and now I’m It.’ ‘I’m glad of that, Chris,’ I said. He says, ‘I’ve got great things for you. I’m going to fix up a joint for you.’ ‘That’s good,’ I said, ‘but I don’t believe you can do it.’ ‘Oh, yes, I can,’ he replied. ‘I’m It now―Gardner and me.’ ‘Well, if you can do it,’ says I, ‘there’s money in it.’ ‘How much can you pay?’ he asked. ‘Oh, $150 or $200 a week,’ says I. ‘That settles it,’ he said; ‘I’ll take you down to see Gardner, and we’ll fix it up.’ The he made an appointment to meet me the next night, and we went down to Gardner’s house together.”
There Gardner talked business in general, showed his drawer full of bills, and jokingly asked how Edwards would like to have them. Edwards says:
“I said, ‘That looks pretty good to me,’ and Gardner told us that he had ‘collected’ the money from the women he had on his staff, and that he was going to pay it over to the ‘old man’ when he got back from his hunting trip next morning. Afterward he told me that the mayor had been much pleased with our $500, and that he said everything was all right, and for us to go ahead.”
“Link” Crossman, another confidence man who was with Edwards said that Gardner demanded $1,000 at first, but compromised on $500 for the mayor, $50 for Gardner, and $50 for Norbeck. To the chief, Fred Ames, they gave tips now and then of $25 or $50. “The first week we ran,” said Crossman, “I gave Fred $15. Norbeck took me down there. We shook hands, and I handed him an envelope with $15. He pulled out a list of steerers we had sent him, and said he wanted to go over them with me. He asked where the joint was located. At another time I slipped $25 into his hand as he was standing in the City Hall.” But these smaller payments, after the first “opening, $500,” are all down on the pages of the “big mitt” ledger This notorious book, which was kept by Charlie Howard, one of the “big mitt” men, was much talked of at the subsequent trials, but was kept hidden to await the trial of the mayor himself.
The “big mitt” game was swindling by means of a stacked hand at stud poker. “Steerers” and “boosters” met “suckers” on the street, at hotels, and railway stations, won their confidence, and led them to the “joint.” Usually the “sucker” was called, by the amount of his loss, “the $102 man” or “the $35 man.” Roman Meix alone had distinction among all the Minneapolis victims of going by his own name. Having lost $775, he became known for his persistent complaining. But they all “kicked” some. To Norbeck at the street door was assigned the duty of hearing their complaints, and “throwing a scare into them. “Oh, so you’ve been gambling,” he would say. “Have you got a license? Well, then, you better get right out of this town.” Sometimes he accompanied them to the station and saw them off. If they were not to be put off thus, he directed them to the chief of police. Fred Ames tried to wear them out by keeping them waiting in the anteroom. If they outlasted him, he saw them and frightened them with threats of all sorts of trouble for gambling without a license. Meix wanted to have payment on his check stopped. Ames, who had been a bank clerk, told him so, and then had the effrontery to say that payment on such a check could not be stopped.
Burglaries were common. How many the police planned may never be known. Charles F. Brackett and Fred Malone, police captains and detectives, were active, and one well-established crime of theirs is the robbery of the Pabst Brewing Company office. They persuaded two men, one an employee, to learn the combination of the safe, open and clean it out one night, while the two officers stood guard outside.
The excesses of the municipal administration became so notorious that some of the members of it remonstrated with the others, and certain county officers were genuinely alarmed. No restraint followed their warnings. Sheriff Megaarden, no Puritan himself, felt constrained to interfere, and he made some arrests of gamblers. The Ames people turned upon him in a fury; they accused him of making overcharges in his accounts with the county for fees, and laying the evidence before Governor Van Sant, they had Megaarden removed from office. Ames offered bribes to two county commissioners to appoint Gardner sheriff, so as to be sure of no more trouble in that quarter. This move failed, but the lesson taught Megaarden served to clear the atmosphere, and the spoliation went on as recklessly as ever. It became impossible.
Even lawlessness must be regulated. Dr. Ames, never an organizer, attempted no control, and his followers began to quarrel among themselves. They deceived one another; they robbed the thieves; they robbed Ames himself. His brother became dissatisfied with his share of the spoils, and formed cabals with captains who plotted against the administration and set up disorderly houses, “panel games,” and all sorts of “grafts” of their own. The one man loyal to the mayor was Gardner, and Fred Ames, Captain King and their pals plotted the fall of the favorite. Now, anybody could get anything from the Doctor, if he could have him alone. The Fred Ames clique chose a time when the mayor was at West Baden; they filled him with suspicion of Gardner and the fear of exposure, and induced him to let a creature named “Reddy” Cohen, instead of Gardner, do the collecting, and pay over all the moneys, not directly, but through Fred. Gardner made a touching appeal. “I have been honest. I have paid you all,” he said to the mayor. “Fred and the rest will rob you.” This was true, but it was of no avail.
Fred Ames was in charge at last, and he himself went about giving notice of the change. Three detectives were with him when he visited the women, and here is the women’s story, in the words of one, as it was told again and again in court: “Colonel Ames came in with the detectives. He stepped into a side room and asked me if I had been paying Gardner. I told him I had, and he told me not to pay no more, but to come to his office later, and he would let me know what to do. I went to the City Hall in about three weeks, after Cohen had called and said he was ‘the party.’ I asked the chief if it was all right to pay Cohen, and he said it was.”
The new arrangement did not work so smoothly as the old. Cohen was an oppressive collector, and Fred Ames, appealed to, was weak and lenient. He had no sure hold on the force. His captains, free of Gardner, were undermining the chief. They increased their private operations. Some of the detectives began to drink hard and neglect their work. Norbeck so worried the “big mitt” men by staying away from the joint that they complained to Fred about him. The chief rebuked Norbeck, and he promised to “do better,” but thereafter he was paid, not by the week, but by piecework―so much for each “trimmed sucker” that he ran out of town. Protected swindlers were arrested for operating in the street by “Coffee John’s” new policemen who took the places of the negligent detectives. Fred let the indignant prisoners go when they were brought before him, but the arrests were annoying, inconvenient, and disturbed business. The whole system became so demoralized that every man was for himself. There was not left even the traditional honor among thieves.
It was at this juncture, in April 1902, that the grand jury for the summer term was drawn. An ordinary body of unselected citizens, it received no special instructions from the bench; the county prosecutor offered it only routine work to do. But there was a man among them who was a fighter―the foreman, Hovey C. Clarke. He was of an old New England family. Coming to Minneapolis when a young man, seventeen years before, he had fought for employment, fought with his employers for position, fought with his employees, the lumberjacks, for command, fought for his company against competitors; and he had won always, till now he had the habit of command, the impatient, imperious manner of the master, and the assurance of success which begets it. He did not want to be a grand juryman, he did not want to be a foreman; but since he was both, he wanted to accomplish.
Why not rip up the Ames gang? Heads shook, hands went up; it was useless to try. The discouragement fired Clarke. That was just what he would do, he said, and he took stock of his jury. Two or three were men with backbone; that he knew, and he quickly had them with him. The rest were an sorts of men. Mr. Clarke won over each man to himself, and interested them all. Then he called for the county prosecutor. The prosecutor was a politician; he knew the Ames crowd; they were too powerful to attack.
“You are excused,” said the foreman.
“Do you think, Mr. Clarke,” he cried, “that you can run the grand jury, and my office too?”
“Yes,” said Clarke, “I will run your office if I want to; and I want to. You’re excused.”
Mr. Clarke does not talk much about his doings last summer; he isn’t the talking sort. But he does say that all he did was to apply simple business methods to his problem. In action, however, these turned out to be the most approved police methods. He hired a lot of local detectives who, he knew, would talk about what they were doing, and thus would be watched by the police. Having thus thrown a false scent, he hired some other detectives whom nobody knew about. This was expensive; so were many of the other things he did; but he was bound to win, so he paid the price, drawing freely on his own and his colleagues’ pockets. (The total cost to the county for a long summer’s work by this grand jury was $259.) With his detectives out, he himself went to the jail to get tips from the inside, from criminals who, being there, must have grievances. He made the acquaintance of the jailor, Captain Alexander, and Alexander was a friend of Sheriff Megaarden. Yes, he had some men there who were “sore” and might want to get even.
Now two of these were “big mitt” men who had worked for Gardner. One was “Billy” Edwards, the other “Cheerful Charlie” Howard. I heard too many explanations of their plight to choose any one; this general account will cover the ground: In the Ames melee, either by mistake, neglect, or for spite growing out of the network of conflicting interests and gangs, they were arrested, arraigned, not before Fred Ames, but a judge, and held in bail too high for them to furnish. They had paid for an unexpired period of protection, yet could get neither protection nor bail. They were forgotten. “We got the double cross all right,” they said, and they bled with their grievance; but squeal, no, sir!―that was “another deal.”
But Mr. Clarke had their story, and he was bound to force them to tell it under oath on the stand. If they did, Gardner and Norbeck would be indicted, tried, and probably convicted. In themselves, these men were of no great importance; but they were the key to the situation, and a way up to the mayor. It was worth trying. Mr. Clarke went into the jail with Messrs. Lester Elwood and Willard J. Hield, grand jurors on whom he relied most for delicate work. They stood by while the foreman talked. And the foreman’s way of talking was to smile, swear, threaten, and cajole. “Billy” Edwards told me afterward that he and Howard were finally persuaded to turn state’s evidence, because they believed that Mr. Clarke was the kind of a man to keep his promises and fulfill his threats. “We,” he said, meaning criminals generally, “are always stacking up against juries and lawyers who want us to holler. We don’t because we see they ain’t wise, and won’t get there. They’re quitters; they can be pulled off. Clarke has a hard eye. I know men. It’s my business to size ’em up, and I took him for a winner, and I played in with him against that whole big bunch of easy things that was running things on the bum.” The grand jury was ready at the end of three weeks of hard work to find bills. A prosecutor was needed. The public prosecutor was being ignored, but his first assistant and friend, Al J. Smith, was taken in hand by Mr. Clarke. Smith hesitated; he knew better even than the foreman the power and resources of the Ames gang. But he came to believe in Mr. Clarke, just as Edwards had; he was sure the foreman would win; so he went over to his side, and, having once decided, he led the open fighting, and, alone in court, won cases against men who had the best lawyers in the state to defend them. His court record is extraordinary. Moreover, he took over the negotiations with criminals for evidence, Messrs. Clarke, Hield, Elwood, and the other jurors providing means and moral support. These were needed. Bribes were offered to Smith; he was threatened; he was called a fool. But so was Clarke, to whom $28,000 was offered to quit, and for whose slaughter a slugger was hired to come from Chicago. What startled the jury most, however, was the character of the citizens who were sent to them to dissuade them from their course. No reform I ever studied has failed to bring out this phenomenon of virtuous cowardice, the baseness of the decent citizen.
Nothing stopped this jury, however. They had courage. They indicted Gardner, Norbeck, Fred Ames, and many lesser persons. But the gangs had courage, too, and raised a defense fund to fight Clarke. Mayor Ames was defiant. Once, when Mr. Clarke called at the City Hall, the mayor met and challenged him. The mayor’s heelers were all about him, but Clarke faced him.
“Yes, Doc Ames, I’m after you,” he said. “I’ve been in this town for seventeen years, and all that time you’ve been a moral leper. I hear you were rotten during the ten years before that. Now I’m going to put you where all contagious things are put―where you cannot contaminate anybody else.”
The trial of Gardner came on. Efforts had been made to persuade him to surrender the mayor, but the young man was paid $15,000 “to stand pat,” and he went to trial and conviction silent. Other trials followed fast―Norbeck’s, Fred Ames’s, Chief of Detectives King’s. Witnesses who were out of the state were needed, and true testimony from women. There was no county money for extradition, so the grand. jurors paid these costs also. They had Meix followed from Michigan down to Mexico and back to Idaho, where they got him, and he was presented in court one day at the trial of Norbeck, who had “steered” him out of town. Norbeck thought Meix was a thousand miles away, and had been bold before. At the sight of him in court he started to his feet, and that night ran away. The jury spent more money in his pursuit, and they caught him. He confessed, but his evidence was not accepted. He was sentenced to three years in state’s prison. Men caved all around, but the women were firm, and the first trial of Fred Ames failed. To break the women’s faith in the ring, Mayor Ames was indicted for offering the bribe to have Gardner made sheriff―a genuine, but not the best case against him. It brought the women down to the truth, and Fred Ames, retried, was convicted and sentenced to six and a half years in state’s prison. King was tried for accessory to felony (helping in the theft of a diamond, which he afterward stole from the thieves), and sentenced to three and a half years in prison. And still the indictments came, with trials following fast. Al Smith resigned with the consent and thanks of the grand jury; his chief, who was to run for the same office again, wanted to try the rest of the cases, and he did very well.
All men were now on the side of law and order. The panic among the “grafters” was laughable, in spite of its hideous significance. Two heads of departments against whom nothing had been shown suddenly ran away and thus suggested to the grand jury an inquiry which revealed another source of “graft,” in the sale of supplies to public institutions and the diversion of great quantities of provisions to the private residences of the mayor and other officials. Mayor Ames, under indictment and heavy bonds for extortion, conspiracy, and bribe-offering, left the state on a night train; a gentleman who knew him by sight saw him sitting up at eleven o’clock in the smoking room of the, sleeping car, an unlighted cigar in his mouth, his face ashen and drawn, and at six o’clock the next morning he still was sitting there, his cigar still unlighted. He went to West Baden, a health resort in Indiana, a sick and broken man, aging years in a month. The city was without a mayor, the ring was without a leader; cliques ruled, and they pictured one another hanging about the grand-jury room begging leave to turn state’s evidence. Tom Brown, the mayor’s secretary, was in the mayor’s chair; across the hall sat Fred Ames, the chief of police, balancing Brown’s light weight. Both were busy forming cliques within the ring. Brown had on his side Coffee John and Police Captain Hill. Ames had Captain “Norm” King (though he had been convicted and had resigned), Captain Krumweide, and Ernest Wheelock, the chief’s secretary. Alderman D. Percy Jones, the president of the council, an honorable man, should have taken the chair, but he was in the East; so this unstable equilibrium was all the city had by way of a government.
Then Fred Ames disappeared. The Tom Brown clique had full sway, and took over the police department. This was a shock to everybody, to none more than to the King clique, which joined in the search for Ames. An alderman, Fred M. Powers, who was to run for mayor on the Republican ticket, took charge of the mayor’s office, but he was not sure of his authority or clear as to his policy. The grand jury was the real power behind him, and the foreman was telegraphing for Alderman Jones. Meanwhile the cliques were making appeals to Mayor Ames, in West Baden, and each side that saw him received authority to do its will. The Coffee John clique, denied admission to the grand-jury room, turned to Alderman Powers, and were beginning to feel secure, when they heard that Fred Ames was coming back. They rushed around, and obtained an assurance from the exiled mayor that Fred was returning only to resign. Fred―now under conviction―returned, but he did not resign; supported by his friends, he took charge again of the police force. Coffee John besought Alderman Powers to remove the chief, and when the acting mayor proved himself too timid, Coffee John, Tom Brown and Captain Hill laid a deep plot. They would ask Mayor Ames to remove his brother. This they felt sure they could persuade the “old man” to do. The difficulty was to keep him from changing his mind when the other side should reach his ear. They hit upon a bold expedient. They would urge the “old man” to remove Fred, and then resign himself, so that he could not undo the deed that they wanted done. Coffee John and Captain Hill slipped out of town one night; they reached West Baden on one train and they left for home on the next, with a demand for Fred’s resignation in one hand and the mayor’s own in the other. Fred Ames did resign, and though the mayor’s resignation was laid aside for a while, to avoid the expense of a special election, all looked well for Coffee John and his clique. They had Fred out, and Alderman Powers was to make them great. But Mr. Powers wobbled. No doubt the grand jury spoke to him. At any rate he turned most unexpectedly on both cliques together. He turned out Tom Brown, but he turned out also Coffee John, and he did not make their man chief of police, but another of someone else’s selection. A number of resignations was the result, and these the acting mayor accepted, making a clearing of astonished rascals which was very gratifying to the grand jury and to the nervous citizens of Minneapolis.
But the town was not yet easy. The grand jury, which was the actual head of the government, was about to be discharged, and, besides, their work was destructive. A constructive force was now needed, and Alderman Jones was pelted with telegrams from home bidding him hurry back. He did hurry, and when he arrived, the situation was instantly in control. The grand jury prepared to report, for the city had a mind and a will of its own once more. The criminals found it out last.
Percy Jones, as his friends call him, is of the second generation of his family in Minneapolis. His father started him well-to-do, and he went on from where he was started. College graduate and businessman, he has a conscience which, however, he has brains enough to question. He is not the fighter, but the slow, sure executive. As an alderman he is the result of a movement begun several years ago by some young men who were convinced by an exposure of a corrupt municipal council that they should go into politics. A few did go in; Jones was one of these few.
The acting mayor was confronted at once with all the hardest problems of municipal government. Vice rose right up to tempt or to fight him. He studied the situation deliberately, and by and by began to settle it point by point, slowly but finally, against all sorts of opposition. One of his first acts was to remove all the proved rascals on the force, putting in their places men who had been removed by Mayor Ames. Another important step was the appointment of a church deacon and personal friend to be chief of police, this on the theory that he wanted at the head of his police a man who could have no sympathy with crime, a man whom he could implicitly trust. Disorderly houses, forbidden by law, were permitted, but only within certain patrol lines, and they were to pay nothing, in either blackmail or “fines.” The number and the standing and the point of view of the “good people” who opposed this order was a lesson to Mr. Jones in practical government. One very prominent citizen and church member threatened him for driving women out of two flats owned by him; the rent was the surest means of “support for his wife and children.” Mr. Jones enforced his order.
Other interests―saloonkeepers, brewers, etc. ―gave him trouble enough, but all these were trifles in comparison with his experience with the gamblers. They represented organized crime, and they asked for a hearing. Mr. Jones gave them some six weeks for negotiations. They proposed a solution. They said that if he would let them (a syndicate) open four gambling places downtown, they would see that no others ran in any part of the city. Mr. Jones pondered and shook his head, drawing them on. They went away, and came back with a better promise. Though they were not the associates of criminals, they knew that class and their plans. No honest police force, unaided, could deal with crime. Thieves would soon be at work again, and what could Mr. Jones do against them with a police force headed by a church deacon? The gamblers offered to control the criminals for the city.
Mr. Jones, deeply interested, declared he did not believe there was any danger of fresh crimes. The gamblers smiled and went away. By an odd coincidence there happened just after that what the papers called “an epidemic of crime.” They were petty thefts, but they occupied the mind of the acting mayor. He wondered at their opportuneness. He wondered how the news of them got out.
The gamblers soon reappeared. Hadn’t they told Mr. Jones crime would soon be prevalent in town again? They had, indeed, but the mayor was unmoved; “porch climbers” could not frighten him. But this was only the beginning, the gamblers said: the larger crimes would come next. And they went away again. Sure enough, the large crimes came. One, two, three burglaries of jewelry in the houses of well-known people occurred; then there was a fourth, and the fourth was in the house of a relative of the acting mayor. He was seriously amused. The papers had the news promptly, and not from the police.
The gamblers called again. If they could have the exclusive control of gambling in Minneapolis, they would do all that they had promised before, and, if any large burglaries occurred, they would undertake to recover the “swag,” and sometimes catch the thief. Mr. Jones was skeptical of their ability to do all this. The gamblers offered to prove it. How? They would get back for Mr. Jones the jewelry recently reported stolen from four houses in town. Mr. Jones expressed a curiosity to see this done, and the gamblers went away. After a few days the stolen jewelry, parcel by parcel, began to return; with all due police-criminal mystery it was delivered to the chief of police.
When the gamblers called again, they found the acting mayor ready to give his decision on their propositions. It was this: There should be no gambling, with police connivance, in the city of Minneapolis during his term of office.
Mr. Jones told me that if he had before him a long term, he certainly would reconsider this answer. He believed he would decide again as he had already, but he would at least give studious reflection to the question―Can a city be governed without any alliance with crime? It was an open question. He had closed it only for the four months of his emergency administration. Minneapolis should be clean and sweet for a little while at least, and the new administration should begin with a clear deck.
Photo: Wikimedia Commons