The People's party was organized at Farlington in the fall of 1890, and a ludicrous account of it was written for and published in the Girard Press, the writer comparing the organization to an accouchment and the party itself to a feeble infant that would scarcely survive its birth, little foreseeing that when but two years old it would whip its mother, the G. O. P., all over the state, and drive her out of business for several years.
At the election of 1890 the new party succeeded in electing all the county officers of that year, and it was admitted, even by the opponents, that the affairs of the county had never been more honestly or ably administered than they were during the incumbency of W. M. McDonald, clerk of the district court; Albert Finger, probate judge, and T. B. Mosher, county superintendent of schools. This regime last four years, these parties all being re-elected in 1892, when the People's party swept the state, and when they elected everything in Crawford county, so that one good-natured Republican facetiously remarked that they had elected one road overseer by a small majority.
So far as electing officers and big majorities were concerned, Crawford was the banner county in the state for several years, nor was it behind in men of ability to represent it in the state administration and the legislature; of these we shall speak later.
In the Omaha convention of 1892 this county was represented by General Daniels, and also in the St. Louis conference; and if his counsel had prevailed the People's party would be the dominant party in the county and in the state till this day. But he was turned down, and with this turning down the party began to decline, and continued on the down grade till it became a thing of the past. It died a lingering death by its own hand, as I shall now proceed to show by an array of facts that will not be disputed.
It has already been stated in these pages that in 1890 and for several years thereafter the Democratic party scarcely maintained an organization. Sometimes they would show spasmodic signs of life, as if operated upon by a galvanic battery, and would then relapse into a state of desuetude. During these years the greater portion of the party voted with the People's party, some of them from principle, but more of them "to down the Republicans," as they themselves acknowledged. At the same time there were a few stalwart Democrats who never swerved from their allegiance to party and although they sometimes affiliated with the Republicans, and very rarely with the People's party, it was only for the purpose of helping them into office, as in the case of B. S. Gaitskill, who once accepted the nomination for county attorney from the latter and once from the former, and was elected both times by the help which he received from these parties. There are other names that will receive notice in due time, some that performed a conspicuous part in the People's party, and others that never flinched from their party fealty, even when their party seemed to have gone out as completely as the old-fashioned candle in the blast of the north wind.
But the decadence of the People's party in the county and in the state was not from opposition from without, nor yet from the ridicule which was heaped upon it when its opponents had no other argument to offer; but from mistakes made by the party itself. The first of these was in its nominee for Congress. This gave the party in the county, as well as throughout the district, a severe backset; but it had well-nigh recovered from this and still maintained its supremacy in local politics, when the party in the state made a greater mistake in the railroad assessment, which had been a cause of complaint for several years, it being claimed that other property was taxed at a much higher rate than the railroads. This mistake well-nigh ruined the party in the state, and of course the county had to bear its part of the opprobrium, although our representative on the assessment board, Lieutenant-Governor Daniels, did his utmost to secure a just assessment, and the next year the Republicans carried the state, but not the county. If the Republicans had improved their opportunity and corrected the wrong complained of they might have retained uninterrupted control of the state, and, soon, of the county as well; but that party was too completely under the dominance of the railroads in general and the Santa Fe in particular, so that it could not release itself from its taskmasters, and as a result, at the next gubernatorial election the People's party succeeded, with the help of Democrats, in electing the state ticket, together with a majority of the legislature, and the county officers in Crawford county. Now was their opportunity to do something for the people and to secure an indefinite lease of power; but their efforts, like those of the other parties, degenerated into a scramble for official patronage rather than an attempt to correct existing wrongs or inaugurating new measures for the benefit of the people. True, they enacted some wholesome laws, some of which remain on the statute book, and the party in the county secured the county offices; but these did not prove as satisfactory as the former set.
Another thing that militated against the continued success and long life of the party was the non-enforcement of the prohibitory liquor law. With but one exception, and he a Republican, no county attorney had made an honest effort to enforce this law, and probate judges had been equally derelict in duty. When the People's party gained the ascendency in the county it was aided in its success by Prohibitionists, many of them going into the new party with the assurance that the new officers would try to enforce all laws alike. Instead of this, however, they tried to find excuses for the non-enforcement of this particular law, and it was loudly whispered in some quarters that they even profited financially by shutting their eyes to the numerous violations of it. I do not affirm this, but I know that liquor was sold in nearly every town in the county, in some of which no notice was taken of it, and in others monthly fines were collected from the violators of the law and they were permitted to continue their business the same as other business men who were not violators of law.
The defections brought about by these various causes so weakened the party that continued success was extremely doubtful, to say the least of it, and something must be done to build up the waste places caused by these mistakes and follies, not to use any harsher words. It will be remembered that many Democrats had assisted the party and had secured victory for it when it could not have succeeded without such help. It is also true that there was an element in the Democrat party that advocated some of the reform measures that constituted the principal features of the People's party platform. And furthermore, although they had once or twice aided the Republicans in defeating the party, they had generally professed friendship for it without ever laying claim to the offices or the emoluments of office. One thing more is worthy of note. The People's party, while denying affiliation with or sympathy for the Democrat party, had actually nursed it back to life when it was afflicted with necrosis and atrophy, apparently beyond the reach of medical aid. All these things served to make it easy to cajole the People's party into a coalition which they termed "fusion," which resulted in the entire overthrow of the People's party, and the substitution of the Democrat party in its place. But all this did not help the Democrats, for the first year of complete "fusion" witnessed the most complete triumph of the Republicans and consequent defeat of the Democrats that had been witnessed since 1888. Men of both the fusing parties tried to explain their defeat, but neither of them, so far as known to this writer, gave the right explanation except in partthat was the nefarious election law enacted by the previous Republican legislature. In addition to this I give the following reasons: First, the unreasonableness of fusion itself. If there ever was a reason for a new party separate from those already existing that reason still obtained, as neither of the old parties had shown any disposition to reform in any practical degree. Therefore, men who had sung with so much enthusiasm "Good-bye, old parties, good-bye," could see no reason for changing their tune and chorus to "Come to my arms, my long lost sweetheart."
Second, a large portionsome said a majorityof the People's party had come from the Republican ranks, and when it now showed but one choice, Republican or Democrat these almost unanimously chose to go back to their former associates rather than to affiliate with their life-long political opponents.
Third, the numerous mistakes committed by the People's party while it remained intact gave no ground for hope of improvement when tied to and lost in a party that had been, to their minds, a "comedy of errors" for more than half a century, and which had lost by death or conversion most of the able men that it mustered in its ranks in the long ago. The truth is that although the Democrats had aided in bringing about some important reforms, as a party they had done nothing to inspire confidence in the minds of real reformers, and hence those who had come from the Republicans, like Hamlet, thought it was "better to endure the ills we have than to fly to others that we know not of"; and so they returned to the G. O. P., which may mean almost anything we choose, even "go on to perdition."
These were undoubtedly the main reasons for the change in the political complexion of Crawford county in 1902, and which will probably continue it in the Republican ranks till a new reform party rises, one which will beget confidence in the people, and one which can adopt some plan to keep out shysters, who are always ready to fly to any new party that promises them a prospect of promotion.
But the political history of the county would be incomplete if we omitted a recent elementone which has put in an appearance within the memory of the youngest voter in the county, about twelve years ago. J. A. Wayland moved his paper, the Appeal to Reason, to Girard. Very few of its subscribers were residents of Crawford county, and many predicted for it a short life and an ignominious death; but they did not know of what stuff Wayland was composed. He had money and brains, the two principal ingredients for making a successful newspaper. Besides, he advocated some principles that appealed to the common sense of the common people, and, as men (and women) suffering from severe bodily ailment will swallow any kind of a nostrum if it is well sugar-coated, so the people could easily be induced to swallow the vagaries of modern socialism when blended with important, and in some cases, self-evident truths. People began to read the paper, mostly from curiosity at first, but soon on account of the many truths and sound principles it contained, the circulation increased with a corresponding increase of influence, till at the present writing, it has the largest circulation of any paper in the state, and its influence is felt in every part of the county. As a consequence of this a very considerable number of citizens went into what was known as the Socialist party and these largely from the People's party, although there were some from all the existing parties in the county; and some predicted that this is the new party which is to bring about the much needed reforms. As said before, I am here to write history, not to argue principles; but I will venture to say that socialism must lay aside some of its vagaries before it becomes the dominant party.
Some writer has said that history and biography are complements of each other, that we cannot have a correct history of any country or part of country without a biography of the leading spirits that have made up that country, and that the biography of such spirits is really the life-giving principle of the history. I do not propose to give a biographical sketch of each of the principal actors in the political drama of Crawford county; but this history would be quite incomplete were I to fail to notice some of those men whose lives and actions make up the political history of the county. I regret that I have not more ample data from which to compose the sketches, but must be content to use to the best of my ability the materials at hand.
As stated on a former page, the early politics of the county consisted mainly in local questions, and the parties were Land Leaguers and Anti-Leaguers; Railroad men and Anti-Railroad men. And it should be observed here as it has not been noted before, that the Anti-railroaders were not opposed to railroads, per se, but only to taking the land which they claimed belonged to the people, and giving it to corporations, ostensibly to build railroads, but really to give these corporations an opportunity, which they never failed to improve, for extortion from the people. It has already been noted that the Girard Press was moved from Fort Scott to Girard for the purpose of advocating the claims of the Kansas City, Fort Scott and Gulf Railroad, and that the proprietors and editors were divided on national politics, but agreed on local questions. This leads us to notice these two men first, as political factors, not only in the early history of the county, but also in after years when politics meant something more than local squabbles and conflicts for office.
Dr. W. H. Warner was one of the early settlers of southeast Kansas. He was here before the war, and helped in the early struggles of the territory, was in the Union lines when Price made his vandal raid into the state, and took an active part in the battle (massacre) of Baxter Springs. His account of that battle in rhyme is found in the Western Herald of 1892 (the exact date not now remembered), of which the present writer was then editor and publisher. When the railroad question was settled and national politics became the question of the day he retired from the Press, leaving it in the hands of his partner, while he attended to his medical practice, but always took a lively interest in politics, being a stanch and life-long Democrat of the old school when Democracy and patriotism were almost synonymous terms. He died in Girard.
E. A. Wasser, the younger of the firm of Warner & Wasser, was descended from an old Hessian family, and displayed throughout his political career at least one trait of his German ancestry, namely, if the readers will allow a slang word, that of stick-to-itiveness. No one ever charged him with being a man of great ability, but by his position as editor of the leading Republican paper of one of the leading counties in the state, and by his persistency in adhering to his party, he has gained an influence in political matters enjoyed by but few men. He has one idolhis partyand no Hindu ever more devoutly worshipped at the shrine of his favorite god than does this man before the imaginary deity of his choice. He is like the Scottish boor who, when asked what he believed religiously, answered, "I believe what the kirk believes." "And what does the kirk believe?" was asked. "It believes what I believe." "And what do you and the kirk both believe?" "We baith believe the same thing."In other respects Wasser is above an average citizena kind, obliging neighbor, an upright, honest citizen, and a good local editor, making his paper one of the best newspapers in the stateone which we always liked to read when there was no politics in the way. After Dr. Warner left him he had several partners. First, Mr. A. P. Riddle, then D. C. Flint, and last his son, Albert Wasser; but at all times the paper bore the marks of the senior editor in matters political. He still lives and runs the Press always strictly loyal to party.
Some of the early workers in the Democratic party were unknown to this writer, and, not having their histories or even their names before me, I can say nothing for or against them individually. Suffice it to say, they were able to maintain their cause against all opposition for several years, winning at every election until the Republicans began to divide the offices with them, and finally gained so much as to crowd them from the crib entirely and keep them in the background until the People's party, without any "malice prepense" nursed them back so far as to give them a name to live, at least, although they have not yet shown the vigor of youth nor the strength of manhood.
One of the early workers in the Democrat ranks, and who is still "in business at the old stand," is Dr. C. H. Strong. Although somewhat intimately acquainted with him, I have not yet been able to discover wherein lies the secret of his strength and influence as a politician, although it cannot be denied that he possesses these qualities to a considerable extent. He is not noisy, never boisterous, but in a quiet, gentle way he moves along in a well-beaten track which he has traveled often enough to be perfectly familiar with it and to have all the brush and rock moved out of the way, except such as have been recently thrown in, some by his own friends and some by his opponents, the latter just for the fun of seeing how quietly and easily he will clear them out, and go on his way rejoicing. But age is telling on him, and it is evident to all who see him that his race, whether in politics or otherwise, is nearly run, and that soon he will be numbered among the men of the past.
Following closely in the wake of these men is Dr. Cushenberry who is one of the sharpest politicians in the county, and who, if he should turn his attention exclusively to politics, would compare favorably in this respect with the smart ones of the state and nation. He has always followed his profession, and, in connection with it, has kept a drug and book store; but when a campaign was on he has always been found an active worker. Several times he has co-operated with the People's party, but always claiming to be a Democrat, acting with the new party for prudential reasons. He is a man to lead, generally in a very quiet way, so much so that only those who are behind the scenes know that he is in the campaign at all, as he always attends to his own business, just as though there was nothing else on hand. But if any move is made on the political checker board he sees it, and generally knows how to move next, and especially how to take advantage of any mistake made by the other fellow. These qualities made him a very desirable coadjutor with the new party, when he worked with it, as most of the men who composed that party knew much more about farming and mining than they did about politics.
Another man of considerable ability in the Democratic party was T. W. Wells. He came from Iowa in the early days of Kansas, and settled on a farm in Osage township, but soon turned his attention to the law, and moved to Girard, opened a law office and became somewhat popular as an attorney, all the while acting with the Democratic party, and once to the writer's knowledge running for office on the Democratic ticket. But it was when that party was in a hopeless minority, and of course he was not elected. He was known and respected in the councils of the party, but never enjoyed the emoluments of office. He died but recently, following a much respected wife to the great beyond.
George W. Brown, of Cherokee, has been for several years, an important factor in the Democratic ranks, and was once, I believe, elected to the legislature; but his time and attention were too much divided between his private business and politics, to say nothing of his interest in the Christian church and Odd Fellowship, ever to become a great politician or a successful office seeker, if he had desired office. He acted with the fusionists in the campaign of 1902.
Dr. J. H. Mahr, of McCune, deserves well of his party, although he started in his political career as a Republican, and by that party was sent to the legislature from Labette county, as a member of the lower house. In session he saw things in the party which, as an honest man, he could not approve, so he left the party and affiliated with the Democrats and for several years published the only Democratic paper in the county, the Crawford County Democrat, of which the present writer became proprietor and editor in 1901, though changing its political character somewhat. Dr. Mahr stood fearlessly and unflinchingly by his standard when the party in the county had become a forlorn hope, and did not, like one of his brother editors, leave the party on account of its weakness, but up to the last moment of his editorial career spoke out freely for the men and measures which he believed to be right. Having been a Union soldier from Missouri, where it was worth a man's life to declare Union sentiments, this was only what we might expect of him; but how many men disappoint our expectations under less trying circumstances than those surrounding him. We honor a man's adherence to his principles, however widely we differ from him, and I end as I began this sketch, Dr. Mahr deserves well of his party.
Of the Pittsburg politicians, I know but little. Only two of them can claim a notice here, although they are not the only ones that deserve such notice. After using due diligence to secure sufficient data to write intelligent sketches of some of them, I found it impossible to do so without using more time and money than the case would justify, and so concluded to let it go by default. The first man that claims our attention is "the venerable editor" of the Pittsburg Kansan, who has been a Republican, a populist and a Democrat, all within the memory of men who have not yet reached the meridian of life. I do not know that these changes are the result of a vacillating mind, but rather attribute them to the ups and downs of politics. He reminds me of a Dutchman who worked for my brother when keel boating was at its best on the Allegheny river. At that time keel boats were propelled up stream partly by horse power and partly by man power, the men walking on what was called the run board, and with long poles provided with sharp iron sockets on the lower end and a broad, flat knob on the upper end, pushed the boat along, thus aiding the horses in getting the boat over the rapids which abounded in that beautiful stream. When the old Dutchman came on board to hire, my brother asked him on which side (of the boat) he worked. He answered, "On de side next de bank." "But when the boat crosses over then what do you do?" "Den I cross over, too." The same seems to be true of this editor. But this I can say, but few men in the editorial ranks of the state have shown greater or more versatile talent than he, and whether he advocated Populist or Democrat ideas, he did it with the same energy as though he believed every word he said. (I did not know him when he ran a Republican paper.) If I was allowed to express an opinion I would venture to say that he would have had more influence in the political world, and perhaps would have made as much money in the aggregate if he had stood firm on one line. I can give him credit for ability and for clearness of diction, but can not endorse his many changes. But I leave that to himself and the public.
I now come to the giant of the Democrat party in the countya giant in stature as well as in intellectMorris Cliggett, Esq. And while I have had occasion to join issue with him on more than one occasion, and while I think he has advocated some extravagant and absurd theories, I am free to acknowledge that he possesses more logical and forensic ability than any other man of his party that I have met in the state; and I have wondered that he has not been pushed to the front by his fellow Democrats. It may be because he is more of a Republican than a Democrat on the money question. He takes ultra ground on this matter, going so far at one time as to say that "God makes the only real money that there is, and that is gold." In this I do not think that he displayed either erudition or wisdom, as the former would teach him that for centuries silver was the only money in use, and the latter would clearly show that gold is not money till it receives the government fiat stamp. But notwithstanding these aberrations, I must still award to him the first place in the Democratic ranks in point of intellect and political acumen, and I think it only requires a slight effort on his part to place him among the foremost leaders of his partynot in the county, but in the nation. Among other things I have to say of him is this, he has been one of the bitterest and most unrelenting enemies that the People's party has had in the county, and I believe he has always opposed fusion with that party. Whether he opposed it when B. S. Gaitskill ran for county attorney on the Republican ticket as well is on his own, we are not apprised, but suppose he voted for his friend, Ben, as a Democrat.
There are a few other men who have figured largely in the politics of the county, but I scarcely know where to place them. B. S. Gaitskill is one of these, who, while claiming to be a mossbacked Bourbon Democrat, accepted a nomination from the People's party, and was elected, mainly by that party, and at another time was nominated by the Republicans and was elected by that fusion. So far as I know, at all other times he was true to his party, and always a bitter opposer of the People's party.
W. H. Ryan is another who is hard to classify. As a Democrat he was only an ordinary citizen, scarcely known in political circles, but when the People's party called him out as a candidate for the legislature, he very soon developed into a campaigner of no mean ability. As a speaker it was found that there were few of any party that excelled him, and fewer still of his political opponents that cared to meet him on the forum. His forcible arguments, coupled with his Irish wit, were too much for them, and they stood aloof from him on the principle that "discretion is the better part of valor." He was in the belligerent legislature, and according to his political enemies, made his pugilistic talent answer him a good purpose, where a war of words would have been of no avail. This incident created quite a sensation at the time, but when it came to be explained according to the real facts there was very little in it, and the party elected him to the state senate by a handsome majority, the Republicans declaring all the time that he was, and still is, as much of a Democrat as ever. However this may be he was true to the principles of the party that elected him in both branches of the legislature, and all the mud-slinging that his enemies could do did not cause him to swerve from the principles which he espoused. Since he left the senate he has given his attention to the law more than to politics, but does not ignore the latter. He is now mayor of the city of Girard.
L. H. Phillips is another worker in the ranks of the Democratic party, but he says now that there is no money in it, and that henceforth he intends to devote himself to his profession in order to be able to furnish his wife and babies the necessaries and comforts of life. A wise conclusion. He is a law partner of W. H. Ryan.
The last that I shall name in this long list is E. A. Frazier, who has been for several years chairman of the Democratic county central committee, and in this position has exerted a somewhat controlling influence in the party. In connection with Mr. Montee he runs a drug store in Girard.
Pages 74-89 from A Twentieth century history and biographical record of Crawford County, Kansas, by Home Authors; Illustrated. Published by Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, IL : 1905. 656 p. ill. Transcribed by Melissa Anderson, Renee Burks, Peter Caraway, and other students at Baxter Springs Middle School, Baxter Springs, Kansas, in September, 2002.
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