HISTORY OF THE GREAT AMERICAN FORTUNES

CHAPTER XIII

THE ELKINS FORTUNE



Stephen B. Elkins With a fortune conservatively estimated at $50,000,000, but undoubtedly reaching much more, Stephen B. Elkins is one of the notable multimillionaires of the United States.  Compared to the wealth of such magnates as the Vanderbilts, the Goulds, Morgan and Hill, Elkins’ possessions are not remarkable ;  he can not be placed in their special class.  But his wealth has elevated him to be one of the most powerful politicians in the country ;  he is one of the active ruling leaders of the United States Senate ;  the State of West Virginia is virtually his province, not only politically, but to a great extent, as his personal property.  He owns or controls many of its mountains and its coal mines, and much of its other natural resources ;  some of its railroads are his, and also its traction companies.  The West Virginia Central Railroad, sold a few years ago to the Goulds for $18,000,000, was controlled by him ;  this was but one of his railroads.  In the same State he owns banks and security companies, construction corporations, coke plants, water works and other diversified properties.  He has large mining, land and other interests in the West.


WEST VIRGINIA IS HIS PROVINCE.


Elkins is the great lord of wealth whose word is law in West Virginia.  Whether the State goes Democratic or Republican matters little ;  its control is a strictly family affair.  While he is the Republican ruler, his father-in-law, Henry G. Davis, reputed to possess a fortune of at least $30,000,000, has long been the Democratic boss.  Whichever of these political parties has been in power, this family has been on the winning side.  Some few years ago, when “ conservative Democracy ” gained the upper hand over the middle-class elements in the National Democratic Convention, Davis was selected as its candidate for Vice President of the United States.  The forms of “ popular government,” so-called, still prevail in West Virginia, but only to carry out the designs and will of such magnates as Elkins and Davis, as in other States they are used to execute the plans of magnates who rule in them.  The Elkins-Davis family ordered the legislature to elect Elkins to the United States Senate, and the honorable Legislature did it.  State and county officials, judges and other functionaries owe their incumbency and allegiance to this family.  Elkins, at present, is the grand factotum of West Virginia politics.  Yet twenty years ago he was considered an interloper.

The same wealth that has enabled him to center in himself political and industrial control of an entire State, is, it is reported, to bring him a new distinction.  His daughter, it is rumored, is to marry the Duke of the Abruzzi, a member of the royal reigning family of Italy.  These royal families, as is well known, are extraordinarily solicitous of the preservation of caste ;  “noble blood,” hallowed by ancient ancestry, is of all things, demanded as a passport of admittance into the sacred circle.  And for intimate admission nothing less than similar “royal blood” usually suffices.  If royalty examines ancestry with such scrupulous care, why should it not critically examine the origin of the wealth to which it attaches itself ?  Would royalty think of marrying without having a genealogy duly made out and verified ?  If it is true that the Elkins fortune is to enrich the royal family of Italy, surely its history likewise ought to be known and treasured in the royal archives.

Senator Elkins inherited no wealth ;  he is wholly “ the architect of his own fortune.”  What were the species and style of his architecture ?  According to the routine biographies, ordinarily paid for at advertising rates, his was the memorable career of a poor boy rising to great wealth by hard work, application and superior ability.  But official documents have a very different tale to tell ;  and while they do not explain how Elkins obtained all of his millions, they give enough vivid details of the methods by which he first became a millionaire.

As a young man, Elkins was repeatedly accused of being one of Ouantrell’s band of marauders during the Civil War, as to which charge no actual proof can be found in the records.  After the Civil War he went to New Mexico.  There he studied Spanish and became a member of the Territorial Legislature.  His enemies, both partisan and personal, brought the accusation against him that he was the originator and ringleader of the immense land frauds current in New Mexico.  This particular charge was both unjust and false.  Long before Elkins drifted into the Southwest the land frauds were notorious ;  what he and others did after the Civil War was nothing more than a continuation of what had been going on for many years.

It is characteristic of the way in which American history has been written that not a line can be found of the gigantic frauds by which tens of millions of acres of land were stolen in the Southwest and in the Pacific States after the Mexican War, although court records and other official documents relate enough details to make an extended work by themselves.  In Chapter II, Vol. ii, of this work a brief summary of these colossal frauds was presented, with the explanation that further facts would be more fully set forth in this chapter.

Under the Mexican colonization laws no individual was entitled to, or could claim, more than forty-eight thousand acres.  The Mexican authority in California was overthrown by the American forces on July 7, 1846, and elsewhere at about the same time.  When it was evident that the Mexican power was about to pass away, Pio Pico, the Mexican Acting Governor of California, at once began to issue fraudulent grants of land, which, the court records indicate, were given for bribes.  Most of these grants were presented in May, 1846.  Numerous other land grants, alleged to have been given by him at the same time, were forgeries.  The Supreme Court of the United States found some of them so when the Government later contested their validity.  The Mexican governors corruptly gave some land grants, while many other grants were forged, with the signatures of the Mexican governors.


GREAT LAND FRAUDS FOLLOWING THE MEXICAN WAR.


When the Mexican war was over, American capitalists bought from the Mexican holders large numbers of the land grants covering many millions of acres of the very best and richest agricultural, grazing, mining or timber land in California, New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and other sections.  In fact, some of these alleged grants comprised large portions of the populous cities and towns.  The American capitalists then made application to the United States Government to have the grants confirmed. In nearly every case the Government denounced the grants as forged and otherwise fraudulent, and refused.  The claims were then taken to the courts.

One individual, Henry Cambuston, claimed eleven square leagues of pasture land on the Sacramento River, as having been granted by Acting Governor Pico on May 23, 1846.  The California courts decided in his favor.  These local courts throughout California and other portions of the West seem to have been in collusion with the land grabbers, and were often composed of judges who were themselves interested in land-grabbing operations.  The Government carried the Cambuston case to the Supreme Court of the United States, asserting that the purported grant was fraudulent and forged.  The Supreme Court of the United States, in December, 1857, handed down a decision expressing doubts of the genuineness of the grant, and reversing the decree of the California courts.1

Another claimant, Fuentes, had the assurance to carry his claim to eleven leagues of California territory to the Supreme Court of the United States.  In his argument before this court in December, 1859, United States Attorney General Black denounced the claim as “ fraudulent and spurious, a base and impudent forgery.”2  “ It is not at all difficult to see,” Attorney General Black continued, “ how and when this grant was fabricated.  It is in the handwriting of Manuel Castro, a part of whose business consisted in forging land grants.”  This particular grant, Black stated, was dated Monterey, June 12, 1843, but it had been forged in Mexico City in 1850.  There are several other grants in Manuel Castro’s handwriting,” Black added.3  The Supreme Court of the United States found the grant at issue to be fraudulent, and voided it.4

James R. Bolton turned up with a claim to ten thousand acres of land in the vicinity of San Francisco — a claim worth, at a low estimate, in 1851, more than two million dollars.5  The grant was one purporting to have been made to Santillan, a priest, by Pio Pico, on February 10, 1846.  Bolton had his claim confirmed by the courts in California on the ground that it was valid, and that he had bought it from Santillan in April, 1850, for $200,000.  The Supreme Court of the United States could not be convinced of the validity of the grant and dismissed the claim.6  Another particularly flagrant case was that of the claim of Juan M. Luco and Jose Leandro Luco to 270,000 acres in California.  They claimed that this alleged grant was made on December 4, 1845, by Acting Governor Pio Pico to one Jose de la Rosa, from whom they swore they purchased it.  The Supreme Court of the United States, in December, 1859, found that the documents were forged.  “ Its confirmation,” said this court’s decision of the grant, “ was vigorously opposed by the counsel for the Government.  They [the Government’s counsel] allege that the documents produced to support the claim were forgeries, supported by perjuries of persons who had conspired to defraud the Government of an immense body of valuable land. ... The whole of the testimony is beyond doubt a mere fabrication. . . . In conclusion we must say, that after a careful examination of the testimony, we entertain no doubt that the title produced by the claimants is false and forged.”7

A claimant, one White, claimed a large tract of land in California under a grant alleged to have been made to Antonio Ortega.  The Supreme Court of the United States, in December, 1863, found that the grant was fraudulent and forged, and that the evidence was perjury.8  In the case of Andres Pico against the United States for the possession of eleven square leagues of land in California, the Supreme Court of the United States decided that the grant alleged to have been made by Acting Governor Pio Pico on June 6, 1846, was fraudulent and that the documents were forged.9


LARGE ESTATES SECURED BY FORGERY AND PERJURY.


These were a few of the thirty-six private land claims rejected by the Supreme Court of the United States up to 1869.  They were crude forgeries and the cases were not skilfully prepared.  But thirty-three other claims were confirmed.  Most of these were fully as fraudulent as those rejected, but the work of forgery was so cleverly done, and bought witnesses, well trained in the art of giving testimony, gave such corroborative evidence, that the majority of the Supreme Court of the United States declared that it found itself in a position where it could find no grounds upon which to dismiss the claims.  Numbers of these grants embraced gold and silver mines and valuable timber lands, as well as agricultural tracts.

An example of this successful imposture was the case of Hornsby vs. the United States.  Hornsby claimed that Acting Governor Pico on May 6, 1846, had granted 40,000 acres of land in California to Jose Roland, from whom Hornsby testified that he bought the claim.  The majority of the Supreme Court of the United States, in December, 1869, confirmed the grant on the ground that the title was possessed at the time California was admitted to the Union.  But Justices Davis, Clifford and Swayne in a dissenting opinion said :

The Mexican authority was overthrown in California on July 7, 1846, but the history of the times made it clear to every intelligent man for a considerable period before this date that the country would pass to the jurisdiction of the United States.  During this period grants of land were made very freely by Pio Pico, the Acting Governor, and the records of this court show that many of the grants were invalid and fraudulent.  Doubtless, grants were made by him within that time which were valid, but all must agree that every grant which bears his signature should be examined with the most careful scrutiny.  By the record in this case, it appears that the petition for this grant is dated May 5, 1846, and the grant, if any was made, was on the following day, and did not comply with the requirements of the law conferring power on the Governor of California to grant lands. ...
      No possession of any kind is proved in this case, and the authenticity of this grant, covering an area of over forty thousand acres of land, depends upon the testimony of a single witness, unsupported by any proof, except the imperfect or mutilated expidiente, found among a mass of loose papers on the floor of one of the rooms of the custom house at Monterey after the Mexican officials had fled on the approach of our forces.10

The Congressional committee reports of the period are likewise full of evidences of the prevailing frauds.


AN ORGANIZED SYSTEM OF FRAUD.


In his report to Congress in 1860, United States Attorney General Black described how he had ordered the Mexican archives to be collected, and he gave the results of that investigation.

“ The archives thus collected,” he wrote,

furnished irresistible proof that there had been an organized system of fabricating land titles carried on for a long time in California by Mexican officials ;  that forgery and perjury had been reduced to a regular occupation ;  that the making of false grants, with the subornation of false witnesses to prove them, had become a trade and a business. . . . There was also compiled from the records here a faithful chart of all of the professional witnesses or persons supposed to have hired themselves out to do the business of false swearing of claims.  Today full biographies of nearly all of the men who have been engaged in these schemes of imposture, from governors down to the lowest suborned witnesses, can now be furnished whenever necessary.

Attorney General Black set forth further :

It must be remembered that the grants in most of these fraudulent cases were very skilfully got up, and were supported by the positive oaths, not merely of obscure men whose characters were presumed to be fair, but also by the testimony of distinguished men, who had occupied high social and political places under the former governors.  Their honesty in many cases was never suspected until after the records were brought to Washington.  They [the fraudulent land claims] passed through two lower tribunals, some of them without being questioned, and nearly all of them without successful opposition. ... The value of the lands claimed under grants ascertained to be forged is $150,000,000. ... It is vain to look for public morality under a government which fails to distinguish between honest titles and fraudulent claims.11

Reporting on February 20, 1860, on the claim of William McGarrahan to a large land grant in California including vast rich mines, alleged to have been granted by Acting Governor Pico to Vincent P. Gomez and sold to McGarrahan, the House Committee on Claims wrote :

Gomez, Abrego and Moreno [the secretary of Acting Governor Pico] are suitable associates.  They are equally notorious for the forgeries and perjuries in which they have been concerned.  Gomez and Abrego were the chief instruments in the false swearing in the great Limantour swindle that attracted so much public attention some years ago.  Ex-Secretary Stanton visited California in 1858 in behalf of the United States in connection with land cases, and then found that Abrego had been a witness to support thirty-two, and Gomez, twelve, claims, most of which ascertained to be frauds or forgeries.12

The committee went on to say that “many of the towns and cities of California are covered by these rejected claims, and if Congress is to readjudicate and reverse one case on ex parte evidence, then the other thirty-five will be resurrected, and an army of land sharks, lobby agents and lying witnesses will invade the Capitol and defile the halls of legislation with their schemes of forgery and perjury.”  The committee referred to “ a bagful of the affidavits of drunken and venal Mexicans who can be hired for five dollars apiece to swear to anything.”13  It said that dependent upon the passage of the McGarrahan bill, was a prize of more than $500,000, and that “ politicians, lawyers, and editors have taken large shares in the lottery ;  the professional lobby, both male and female, have been marshaled behind and around McGarrahan.  The crowd is impatient of delay, and hungry for the spoils of victory.”14


CORRUPTION OF CONGRESS AND THE COURTS.


The national Capitol was not only filled with lobbyists for these landgrabbers, but members of Congress were financially interested in the success of the fraudulent claims, or themselves held claims in the names of dummies.  It was also strongly suspected, although never proved, that at least one justice of the Supreme Court of the United States, appointed during the Civil War, — and the very one whose vote often decided the fate of the claims — was interested, either financially, politically or by friendly connection with certain of the land claimants.  As we have seen in other chapters, it was no unusual matter for the highest judiciary, as well as the lowest, to hold stock or other evidences of property in corporations or enterprises, cases affecting which were decided by those very judges or their associates.  These decisions would then take rank as precedents, to be cited in future cases.

But the courts were not the sole reliance of the land grabbers and other plunderers.  It was Congress that they usually depended upon for the confirmation of their schemes.  A confirming act passed by Congress was considered as law strictly binding upon the courts, and it was to be generally expected that the courts would construe the acts of Congress with the closest technicality.  Thus it was, to mention only one instance of many instances, that Marshall O. Roberts and his partners succeeded in robbing the United States Treasury out of millions of dollars by lobbying an act through Congress so adroitly worded that, after the Court of Claims had dismissed the claim, the Supreme Court of the United States decided, upon technical grounds, that the act of Congress amounted to a ratification of their claim.15

Beginning by about the year 1860, Congress was “induced ” to confirm one private land claim after another.  The reports of a number of the Congressional Committees on Private Land Claims strongly suggest bribery, but no positive, specific proof appears.  Very often these measures were passed in the hurry and confusion of the last days of a session, with few members knowing what they were.

After the passage of these acts by Congress, the next step was to have a fraudulent survey of the alleged grants made by land office officials.  In order to make these fraudulent surveys under form of law, the landgrabbers lobbied two acts through Congress.  One act, passed in 1860, authorized surveys to be made at the expense of “ settlers.”  This meant that capitalists were virtually allowed to hire Government surveyers, and arrange with them to increase fraudulently the boundaries of the alleged grants.  This is precisely what happened, as is shown in the numerous official reports cited in Chapter II, vol. II.  Another act, passed by Congress in 1871, provided that the amounts deposited by settlers should be applied as part payment for the lands surveyed.  The plain meaning of this act was that the money paid by the land-grabber for fraudulent surveying was held to be a payment for the stolen lands, and in law was technically equivalent to a virtual confirmation of his claim.  By means of these fraudulent surveys, corruptly arranged for, dozens of grants of a few thousand acres each were enlarged so as each to embrace hundreds of thousands, and in some instances, millions of acres.16


LITTLE OPPORTUNITY FOR THE POOR SETTLER.


The colossal private claim land frauds were by no means confined to California.  They went on in New Mexico, Colorado, Arizona and other States and Territories.  The poor settler had very little opportunity to secure land.  Almost wherever he appeared he was confronted by the capitalists who claimed vast stretches of land — agricultural, grazing, mineral and timber.  So scandalous was this condition that Secretary of the Interior Thompson, in a report dated December 11, 1859, to President Buchanan, commented :

The advantages and profits arising from the settlement of a new country ought to be enjoyed by the early settlers.  They have peculiar hardships and privations to undergo.  The law does not contemplate that they shall have any competition, except from other actual settlers, in selecting the most fertile lands and the choicest locations. ... There is reason to believe that the withholding of public lands from a public offering, and consequently from private entry, has often proved a temptation to fraud and an inducement to perjury ;  and unscrupulous speculators profit by it more than any other class.17

Aside from its recognized value as a grazing country, New Mexico was well known to be rich in mineral resources.  Acting-Governor W.W.H. Davis, of New Mexico, reported to the Secretary of the Interior on September 10, 1857, that New Mexico’s mineral wealth had been long known, and he drew a fascinating picture of its rich deposits.  “ That the country is rich in the precious metals,” he wrote, “ there can be no doubt.  There is good reason to believe that ores of silver occur in all of the ranges of the mountains bordering the Rio Grande, from the boundary line on the south to the extreme north of the Territory.”  Abandoned mines, he added, were very numerous.  Hardly a mountain range in the whole country did not disclose evidence of the presence of precious metals.  There were gold ores and copper in abundance, and thick deposits of bituminous coal.18


A LAND GRANT GROWS FROM 96,000 TO NEARLY 2,000,000 ACRES.


One of the private Mexican land claims was that of Charles Beaubien and Guadalupe Miranda.  They claimed that the Mexican Governor Armijo had made them a grant on February 22, 1841.  On September 15, 1857, the United States Surveyor General of New Mexico reported the grant to Congress as embracing 96,000 acres.  Congress confirmed it on June 21, 1860.  One L.B. Maxwell had bought the claim from Beaubien and Miranda, and in 1869 he applied to the General Land Office for a survey, claiming that the grant comprised about two million acres, partly in Colorado, but mainly in New Mexico.

The Commissioner of the General Land Office freely expressed his amazement at the audacity of this claim.  He reported that the claim was an impossible one ;  that the Mexican colonization laws had limited the area granted to any one individual at 48,000 acres, and that in confirming the grant, Congress had confirmed it to the extent of 96,000 acres only—48,000 acres to Beaubien and Miranda each.  This decision of the Land Commissioner was upheld by Secretary of the Interior Cox.19

The Maxwell Land Grant and Railroad Company was then incorporated to push and exploit the grant.  This company, in 1871, renewed the application for a survey and a patent under the claim as put forth by Maxwell in 1869.  Secretary of the Interior Delano refused the application, declaring that the decision of Secretary Cox in 1869 was final as to the extent of the grant — 96,000 acres — so far as the executive departments of the Government were concerned.20

The Government officials at Washington were irritated at the persistence of the claimants and their refusal to comply with the law.  On January 28, 1874, the Commissioner of Public Lands ordered the Surveyor General of New Mexico to treat the whole of the grant as public lands, inasmuch as the claimants refused to obey the terms of the decision of the Department of the Interior.


ELKINS BECOMES A PRINCIPAL OWNER.


Why did the claimants decline to comply with the law ?  Because, as the sequel showed, the foremost United States Territorial officials in New Mexico were in collusion with them.  Despite the order of the Department of the Interior, which was law, the Territorial officials continued to assess the alleged grant as private property for taxes.  The taxes, by prearrangement, went unpaid, and a fraudulent tax sale was held at public auction in January, 1877, and the grant was sold for an alleged tax debt.  The nominal purchaser was M.W. Mills, a member of the New Mexico Legislature.  Mills transferred the alleged tax title to T.B. Catron, United States District Attorney for New Mexico.  Shortly afterward it was revealed that Stephen B. Elkins was the real party behind the whole transaction, and that he was the chief owner of the alleged title.21

Elkins had long been a powerful Republican politician in New Mexico.  During President Grant’s administration he had been United States District Attorney in that territory.  At that time the peonage system of slavery was widespread in New Mexico, as it is still in Mexico.  The laborer who fell in debt to his employer could not quit employment until the indebtedness was first discharged.  This resulted in the worker’s practical slavery.  Under the United States laws the Government paid a fee of $25 for each conviction of persons charged with violating the peonage statutes of the United States.  Elkins, it was said, procured the indictment of thousands of Mexican violators of this law, convicted them, or compromised the cases, and, thus was enabled to pocket the fee of $25 in each case.  He became reasonably rich by this process.

He was then elected a delegate to Congress from New Mexico, and it was during this time that he got hold of the Maxwell land grant and pushed it in Congress.  The records of the General Land Office, of January 28, 1874, show that Stephen B. Elkins was interested in having this alleged grant surveyed ;  he was at that very time in Congress.  Immediately after the fraudulent tax sale had been held, the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company made, in 1877, another application to the General Land Office for a survey and patent.  This time there was no opposition from the Government officials at Washington.  Matters moved with extraordinary smoothness.

The General Land Office ordered a survey.  Who did the surveying ?  One of the two surveyors was Elkins’ brother, John T. Elkins.  On August 15, 1877, the United States Surveyor General in New Mexico entered into a contract with John T. Elkins and Robert T. Marmon for the execution of the survey.  Their bondsmen were Stephen B. Elkins and James L. Johnson.22  These surveyors reported the grant as embracing, in all, 1,714,764.94 acres.  As reported by them, it comprised the finest lands in New Mexico, watered by the Rio Grande River with its numerous tributaries ;  towns and cities and villages ;  mountains filled with minerals ;  it took in a large range of the Raton Mountains with their rich gold and silver and coal deposits and timber lands ;  and extended far into Colorado, where it covered vast tracts of land.  The General Land Office, on May 19, 1879, gave a patent, in the form of a quit-claim, for the whole of the 1,714,764.94 acres claimed in the survey.

Meanwhile, the grant had been mortgaged to a syndicate of Holland capitalists for the sum of 700,000 pounds in sterling money and Dutch currency.23  To their consternation, they soon found that they had a bitter lawsuit on their hands.

They had been entirely unaware of the fact that the Government challenged the validity of the grant.


THE GOVERNMENT CHARGES FRAUD.


The Government brought an action to have the grant declared void.  On August 25, 1882, it sued the Maxwell Land Grant Company, the Denver and Rio Grande Railway Company, the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway Company and the Pueblo and Arkansas Valley Railroad Company.  The Government’s bill of complaint, the court record reads, “ charged that the survey on which this patent was issued was falsely and fraudulently made, and that the Maxwell Land Grant Company and certain parties who made this survey under a contract with the Government, conspired to cheat the Government of the United States by including a larger amount of land than was intended to be embraced by the original grant of the Republic of Mexico ;  and it especially charged that about 265,000 acres, to wit, all the land lying in the county of Las Animas, in the state of Colorado, were fraudulently included in this survey and were of the value of two millions of dollars.”24

The United States Circuit Court of Colorado dismissed the Government’s suit, as was expected, for it was notorious that the railroad and land-seizing interests largely controlled such courts, some of the judges of which had been attorneys for those identical interests.  The Government carried the case to the Supreme Court of the United States.  In the argument before this court on March 8, 9, 10 and 11, 1887, the Government contended :

First—That the grant of the Republic of Mexico could not, under the Mexican laws, exceed altogether twenty-two square leagues, equivalent to 97,424.8 acres of land.

Second—That the report of September 15, 1857, of the Surveyor General of New Mexico, recommended the grant for confirmation for no greater extent of land than twenty-two square leagues.

Third—That the confirmatory act of June 21, 1860, did not operate as a grant de novo, or new grant, for the land in excess of twenty-two square leagues.

Fourth—That the survey under which the patent was issued, and the patent itself, included, in addition to the twenty-two square leagues, many hundred thousand acres not included in the grant as confirmed, and also several hundred thousand acres (about 400,000) lying upon the outside of the eastern and northern boundaries, also not included in the confirmed grant.

Fifth—That the patent was issued by officers of the Land Department to include the million six hundred thousand excess acres because “ of the frauds and deceits practiced upon the Commissioner of the General Land Office and his agents, and by Surveyor General Spencer, and the deputy United States surveyors, Elkins and Marmon, in the interest of such owners.”25

In his argument United States Assistant Attorney General Maury said : ... “ Being a Mexican grant in the beginning and subject to the laws and customs of Mexico, it is for this court to determine whether there exists any authorized process of evolution, by which this original Mexican grant of twenty-two square leagues to Beaubien and Miranda have grown and expanded into the princely domain covered by this patent.”26  Maury contended that fraud had been abundantly proved.  J.A. Bentley, special counsel for the Government, submitting a long brief arguing that frauds were practised upon the Government in the enlargement of the boundaries of the grant, and he also argued that the decision of Secretary of the Interior Cox, in 1869, was final.


THE SUPREME COURT’S DECISION.


Piles upon piles of proofs that the grossest frauds had been committed could not convince the Supreme Court of the United States.  In its decision of April 18, 1887, it held that the act of June 21, 1860, was virtually a new grant, and that it confirmed the grant to the full extent of the 1,714,764.94 acres claimed — a decision received with the utmost amazement by the whole country.

With this decision in hand the Maxwell grant holders proceeded to evict settlers right and left.  This raised a great storm.  The settlers on the grant organized and appointed O.P. McMains their agent to present their petition for redress to Congress.  In an affidavit dated May 9, 1892, McMains, on behalf of the settlers, charged the different United States authorities, such as Secretary of the Interior Noble, Land Commissioner Carter (at present, 1909, a United States Senator from Montana) and other officials with refusing to throw open the grant as public lands.  This refusal, the affidavit pointed out, was in violation of the explicit act of Congress of June 21, 1860.  The affidavit read on :

And the deponent further deposes and says that S.B. Elkins was the last president of the Maxwell Land Grant and Railway Company, which was bankrupt at the time of his resignation in 1875 ;  that after 1875 the said S.B. Elkins had no connection with the said Company as officer or counsel, and took no part in the company’s affairs ;  that he was, nevertheless, interested as an outsider and speculator in having the land required by law to be treated as public land, again treated and surveyed as the alleged Beaubien and Miranda or Maxwell grant, and made a trip to Europe in the latter part of 1875-76 with a scheme in view for the reorganization of the Maxwell Land Grant Company.
      That T.B. Catron of New Mexico, who was interested with Elkins in having the land required by law to be treated as public land, again treated and surveyed as the alleged Maxwell grant, became, on July 19, 1877, by an unlawful and fraudulent tax title deed, an alleged owner of nearly 2,000,000 acres of public land as the so-called Beaubien and Miranda or Maxwell grant ;  that in order to profit by the unlawful tax title deed to public land as the alleged Maxwell grant, it became necessary to defeat the enforcement of the final and valid order of the Department of the Interior of January 28, 1874, requiring the lands claimed by the Maxwell grant claimants to be treated as public land, by prosecuting anew the adjudicated Maxwell grant claim against the United States to survey and patent ;
      That the parties conspiring to prosecute said adjudicated claim against the United States, in violation of Section 5498 of the Revised Statutes, were Hon. S.B. Elkins, then delegate to Congress from New Mexico ;  Hon. T.B. Catron, then United States Attorney for New Mexico, and Hon. J.A. Williamson, then Commissioner of the General Land Office ;  that the object of said conspiracy was accomplished, the enforcement of the valid order of January 28, 1874, and the act of Congress of June 21, 1860, was defeated, homestead and preŽmption settlers were deprived of their private and vested rights without due process of law and the United States deprived of its surveyed public lands.27

The affidavit went on to say that “the refusal of the officials to enforce the act of Congress is in the interest of the aforesaid conspiracy ;  that by such wrongful refusal said secretary and commissioner are aiding and abetting, by trick and fraud, the said conspiracy.”28

The House Committee on Private Land Claims, to whom the petition of the settlers was referred, found that the statements regarding the New Mexican portion of the grant were true.  As to the four hundred thousand acres in Colorado, the committee reported :

“ No application by the Maxwell Land Grant Railway Company has been made to the Commissioner of the General Land Office for the survey of public land in Colorado in 1877 as a portion of the alleged Maxwell grant ;  but a party who is in nowise connected with the company or acting in any capacity in behalf of the company — Hon. S.B. Elkins — did ask for a survey to be approved ”— that would include public lands in Colorado as belonging to the Maxwell grant.  It was after this survey that the whole of the 1,714,764.94 acres were mortgaged to Dutch capitalists for £700,000.  This land in Colorado, the committee stated, was unlawfully appropriated.  The committee concluded :  “ And it is the opinion of your committee that the lands included within the Colorado portion of the alleged Maxwell grant were required, by act of June 21, 1860, to be treated as public land ... and was not a portion of the original Beaubien and Miranda grant.”29


SURVEYOR GENERAL JULIAN STATES THE CASE.


Congress took no action on the report of the House Committee on Private Land Claims, and the result of this complete inactivity, coupled with the decision of the Supreme Court of the United States, was that the appropriators, or their assignees, of the 1,714,764.94 acres, were allowed to retain a possession which thereafter was undisputed.  George W. Julian, United States Surveyor General of New Mexico, during President Cleveland’s first administration, found a state of affairs in that territory, which, in recounting Elkins’ career, he described in a speech, on September 14, 1892, before the Hendricks Club at Indianapolis.  After relating some of Elkins’ early transactions in New Mexico, Julian said :

This experience amply prepared him for the brilliant ventures in real estate through which he became rich.  His dealings were mainly in Spanish grants, which he bought for a very small price from their Mexican claimants or their grantees.  The boundaries of these grants were vague and uncertain, and their definite settlement had to be determined by the Surveyor General of the Territory, subject to the final action of Congress.  Elkins became a member of the land ring of the territory, and largely through his influence the survey of these grants was made to contain hundreds of thousands of acres that did not belong to them.  He thus became a great landholder, for through the manipulation of committees in Congress grants thus illegally surveyed were confirmed with their fictitious boundaries.
      He made himself particularly conspicuous as the hero of the famous Maxwell grant, which, as Secretary Cox decided in 1869, contained only twenty-two square leagues, or about 96,000 acres, but which, under the manipulation of Elkins, was surveyed and patented for 1,714,764.94 acres, or nearly 2,680 square miles.  Congress, through the action of its committees, was beguiled into the confirmation of the grant, with the exterior boundaries vaguely indicated in it so stretched as to cover the whole of this immense area, and which confirmation by Congress compelled the Supreme Court to recognize this astounding robbery as valid.  By such methods as these more than 10,000,000 acres of the public domain in New Mexico have become the spoil of land-grabbers, and the ringleader in this game of spoiliation was Stephen B. Elkins, the confederate of Stephen W. Dorsey and the master spirit in the movement.
      He was thoroughly qualified for his work.  He was irrepressible and full of resources.  He was a genius in business, and in the pursuit of his ends was singularly unshackled by a conscience.  He used the Surveyor General of the Territory, the Land Department in Washington, and the committees of Congress as his instruments in fleecing poor settlers and robbing the Government of its lands.  To cheat a man out of his home is justly regarded as a crime second only to murder, and to rob the nation of its public domain and thus abridge the opportunity of landless men to acquire homes is not only a crime against society, but a cruel mockery of the poor.  If any such considerations ever disturbed the dreams of Mr. Elkins, they were summarily silenced by his overmastering zeal in the work of “practical politics.”  According to Dorsey, Elkins knew more than any other person about the star route cases, which became famous a dozen years ago, and he will also be remembered as engaged in the prosecution of a claim of $50,000,000 against Brazil while Blaine was Secretary of State under Garfield, which claim was afterward indignantly rejected by Secretary Bayard. ...
      In referring to these matters I do not speak at random, but from official documents, and ascertained facts with which I became familiar during my public service of four years in that territory under the last administration.

The “star route” frauds to which Julian referred became a great public scandal thirty years ago.  By means of them the United States Treasury was robbed of large sums.  The term “star route” was used to designate interior postal routes, on which the mails were carried other than on railroads or by steamboats.  These routes were officially designated on the books of the Postoffice Department by asterisks or stars, thus *, hence the term.  The investigations made by the Postoffice Department and by committees of Congress did not reveal Elkins, as a contractor.  His signature, however, was found attached to the bonds of certain leading postal route contractors in the Southwest, and he was very energetic in securing the establishment of overland routes in New Mexico and elsewhere.  It was conclusively established that he was interested in what was called the “ Kerens combination,” the ostensible head of which was Richard C. Kerens, a powerful Republican politician of St. Louis.  But so astutely and covertly did Elkins work that he did not appear at all in the great “ star route ” trials in 1882 and in 1883.30


ELKINS GETS THE STAMP OF OFFICIAL RESPECTABILITY.


By this time he was a noted Republican politician of national importance.  In 1884 he was chairman of the Republican National Committee and in December, 1891, President Harrison appointed him Secretary of War.  Harrison was not ignorant of the details of Elkins’ career in New Mexico, for while a United States Senator, Harrison was a member of the Committee on Territories, and gave particular attention to the affairs in New Mexico.

Harrison was likewise acquainted with the facts of the Brazilian claim.  This was an alleged claim growing out of a concession to one D.G.M. Jewett by the Brazilian Government to develop certain nitrate deposits on an island off the Brazilian coast.  Jewett claimed that he had fitted out a vessel and had expended $27,000 when the Brazilian Government annulled the concession.  Elkins became attorney for Jewett and filed an elaborate brief in the State Department in support of the claim, and calling for the enormous sum of $50,000,000 damages.  Elkins tried to get successive United States Secretaries of State to press the claim, but Secretary Bayard fully investigated it in 1886, and President Cleveland sent the correspondence to the Senate, with a special message which closed as follows :  “ Such an egregious claim is an outrage upon any nation with which the United States has or desires to have friendly relations.  I have declined to receive the papers or send any communication to Minister Jarvis on the subject.”

The Maxwell land grant, and the star-route affair were only two of Elkins’ many transactions in New Mexico.  Meanwhile, he had married the daughter of United States Senator Henry G. Davis, a millionaire railroad and coal mine owner of West Virginia.  Elkins removed to that State.  With the millions gathered in the Southwest, and with the help of his father-in-law’s many millions, he there became a great magnate, getting control of one property after another.  He, Kerens and Davis built several West Virginia railroads, and obtained control of coal, coke, oil and lumber properties.  They also financed the construction of railroads in California, Nevada and Utah.  Elkins built a splendid castle-like palace in the town bearing his name ;  on a mountainside it commands a view of peaks and valleys for thirty-five miles.  In 1895 he was elected to the United States Senate by the West Virginia Legislature, after a campaign in which, it was freely charged, corruption money, in the form of campaign funds, was distributed throughout the entire State to insure the election of members favorable to his plans.  In the United States Senate Elkins has been one of the most adroit and useful law-drafters for the plutocracy.  One of his notable acts was an amendment to the interstate commerce act expunging the clause providing imprisonment for violation of the anti-rebating law, and giving complete immunity to magnates who testify in such proceedings brought against them.

As one of the wealth rulers and law makers of the United States, Elkins is obviously a very powerful and distinguished magnate.  Moralizers may well contemplate his career, and consider its climax.  Were the suggestion even facetiously made that our legislators should be elected wholly from prison constituencies, it would be received with either amazed shock or droll levity, according to temperament.  And yet, it should cause neither of these receptions, for have we not seen herein by a convincing mass of facts, that Business Society, after all, consists so largely of those who have not been found out and punished, and those who have ?  Such a conclusion, as we see, is no exaggeration.  And have we not also seen by the facts that the great despoilers become the dictators of the very communities whom they despoil ;  how would it do to reverse the process and elect the petty despoilers, convicts though they be, as rulers ?  ‘Twould be no worse, and perhaps better.  But neither of these classes can be condemned for the passions and crimes which the system, and the forces of that system, generate and too often compel ;  the system, not the units, stands the need of change.  By the light of this fact, and this alone, Elkins’ career, and that of all like him, big and little, should be considered.



 

1 Cambuston vs. United States, Howard’s Reports, Supreme Court of the United States, xx : 59-65.

2 Howard’s Reports, Supreme Court of the United States, xxii : 448.

3 Howard’s Reports, etc., xxii :450.

4 Ibid., 443-461.

5 Howard’s Reports, etc., xxiii : 343.

6 Ibid., 353.

7 Howard’s Reports, Supreme Court of the United States, xxiii: 515-543.

8 Wallace’s Reports, Supreme Court of the United States, i:660-682.

9 Wallace’s Reports, Supreme Court of the United States, ii:279-282.

10 Wallace’s Reports, Supreme Court of the United State x : 224-245.

11 Ex-Doc. No. 84, Thirty-sixth Congress.  Also, House Reports, Third Session, Fortieth Congress, Report No. 261 : 544.

12 Report No. 261, etc., 1869: 535.  In one case especially, Gomez had been convicted by the Supreme Court of the United States of swearing to a false date.  See Wallace’s Reports, Supreme Court of the United States, vi: 589.

13 Ibid., 543.

14 Rep. No. 261, etc., 545. See also U.S. Senate Miscellanies, Third Session, Forty-fifth Congress, “ Private Land Claims,” Vol. iv.

15 See Chapter iii, Vol. ii, of this work.

16 See the many specific examples described in Chapter ii, Vol. ii, of this work.

17 United States Senate Executive Documents, First Session, Thirty-sixth Congress, 1859-60, 1:94.

18 Executive Documents, First Session, Thirty-fifth Congress 1857-58, Vol. ii, Doc. No. 2:286-288.

19 “ Land Titles in New Mexico and Colorado,” House Reports, First Session, Fifty-second Congress, 1891-92, Vol. iv, Report No. 1253 (Committee on Private Land Claims).

20 United States Reports, Vol. cxxi : 326.

21 House Reports, etc., 1891-92, Vol. iv, Report No. 1253. Commissioner Sparks, of the General Land Office, reported, in 1885, that Stephen B. Elkins was a principal owner of the grant at the time Elkins’ brother and — Marmon made the official survey.

22 House Reports, etc., 1891-92, Vol. iv, Report No. 1253.

23 Ibid., 7.

24 Supreme Court Reports, vii: 1017.

25 United States Reports, Vol. cxxi : 327

26 Ibid., 330.

27 House Reports, First Session, Fifty-second Congress, 1891-92, Vol. vii, Report No. 1824: 4-5.

28 House Reports, No. 1824, etc., 1891-92:5.

29 “Land Titles in New Mexico and Colorado,” House Reports, First Session, Fifty-second Congress, 1891-92, Vol. iv, Report No. 1253:8.

30 The charge was long openly made that the reason why Elkins was not brought to trial was that he had secretly turned state’s evidence, and had furnished the Postmaster General with much valuable information against his former associates.  So far as the public records are concerned, no documentary proof of this charge can be found.
      Kerens, it may be noted, continued his career as a conspicuous Republican politician and was appointed Ambassador to Austria by President Taft, in 1909.