San Francisco History

My Own Story


I WAS considerably disturbed by McNab's threat concerning the Democratic nomination. With Partridge nominated by the Republicans, it needed only the nomination of another man by the Democrats to kill absolutely our hopes of defeating Schmitz. Another three-cornered fight would inevitably put him back in office.

Now, McNab and Wheelan were not a whit less sincere than I in a desire to thrust Schmitz out of the mayor's chair. Whatever motives actuated them—and we were all impelled by desire for power, prestige, success—they were earnest and sincere reformers in politics. They wanted to clean the grafters out of San Francisco.

But when they went into politics they went into a dirty game, and they found it must be played in a dirty way. They did not trust a railroad man to play fair with them, so they did not play fair with the railroad. They did not know that nowhere in the world is honesty more necessary than among thieves.

The railroad did know this, and never, in my whole relations with them, did the Southern Pacific politicians break a promise. The reformers did. Wheelan and McNab had broken their agreement with me; they had broken their agreement with the railroad. And the only hope of defeating Schmitz lay in standing shoulder to shoulder with the railroad in this fight.

I was in despair. If McNab, furious at my putting Partridge over on the Republican convention, nominated another man for the Democrats, the fight was lost before it began. And I did not believe that there was any possible way in which I could nominate Partridge in the Democratic convention.

In this mood, I received a subpena from the Superior Court in Sacramento citing me to appear the following day as a witness in the Emmons case. Emmons was on trial for accepting bribe money from Grange in that affair of the building and loan committee.

The subpena reached me late in the afternoon, and that night the Democratic caucus met to nominate its candidate for mayor.

That evening my wife and I were at the Palace Hotel.

I asked Dr. Washington Dodge to come up to my room. He came. I said: "Doctor, I hate to ask you to do this, but I'm desperate. It's the last shot in my locker. The Democratic caucus meets tonight at 8 o'clock. I want you to go over and see McNab. I want you to tell him that unless Partridge is nominated at 8 o'clock tonight I will go to Grove L. Johnson, attorney for Emmons, and I will tell him to ask me, when I am on the stand as a witness, whether or not Grange intended to bribe the Senate committee.

"My God! That's an awful thing to ask me to do," Dodge replied.

"I know it. But you must do it, doctor. I'm desperate. I must have Partridge nominated. I tell you we've got to beat Schmitz."

"All right," he said. "I'll do it."

He went away, and shortly afterward Mrs. Older and I went down to dinner. We were sitting at our table, in the old Palm Court of the Palace, when I happened to look up. Through the glass that surrounded the court I saw the white face of Dr. Dodge. I rose and went out to him.

He was much agitated. He said: "I gave the Scotchman your message." I waited, and he went on. "His reply was: `Tell that long-legged blank blank blank that if I am alive at 8 o'clock tonight Partridge will be nominated."

At 8 o'clock, with wild enthusiasm, Partridge was endorsed by the Democrats as the reform candidate for mayor.

That was a jubilant night for me. The Bulletin next day was full of rejoicing in the prospective victory of right over all the powers of graft and corruption. And this was sincere on my part, for I honestly believed that Ruef and Schmitz were the bad forces in San Francisco, and that when they were eliminated we could have a clean city.

I plunged immediately into a most malignant campaign against Schmitz. The Bulletin was filled with cartoons showing Schmitz and Ruef in stripes. Our editorials declared that these men should be in the penitentiary and would be put there eventually. I spared no effort in running down and printing news stories to their discredit.

At this time I used to dine frequently at Marchand's a famous restaurant here, controlled by Pierre. One evening when I entered Pierre met me with a face of despair and said: "Mr. Older, I'm a ruined man. They're going to put me out on the sidewalk after all these years building up this business."

"Why, Pierre, what is the trouble?"

He told me that the French restaurants were threatened with loss of their licenses. I said, laughingly: "Why don't you see Ruef?"

But he was utterly hopeless. He said that nothing could save him.

A few days later a friend telephoned my office and told me that the French restaurants had paid $10,000 for protection, and that they would not lose their licenses. I rushed over to Marchand's.

Pierre was seated at a side table, his spectacles on his nose, contentedly reading his Chronicle and sipping black coffee, apparently at peace with the world. I said to him, "You look happy, Pierre!"

He replied: "Yes, Mr. Older. My troubles are over. You know, when you are seeck, send for the doctor. Well, and I send for the doctor—Dr. Ruef—and everything is all right."

This confirmed the information I had received over the telephone, and that afternoon the Bulletin printed the story with a flaring headline across the front page. My recollection is that all the other papers permitted me to have this scoop without protest, and made no effort to follow up the story in their own columns.

My old hope of basing some criminal charge against Ruef and Schmitz flamed again and I interested the foreman of the grand jury in it. He employed a well known lawyer and paid him a fee to look up the law and see if there was basis for criminal prosecution in the French restaurant story. The lawyer put in two weeks on the case, wrote a report and sent it in with a bill to the grand jury, advising that nothing could be done.

Meanwhile the Partridge campaign was being waged with great enthusiasm on my part. I did not for a moment believe that he could be defeated. I was so wrought up that I could not believe that labor would stand by men so discredited as Schmitz and Ruef, and it was far out of the range of my thought to imagine that any great number of the business men would vote for them.

Of course, McNab and Wheelan were deeply angered by the enforced nomination of Partridge and there were rumors that secretly they were working against him, but I had no evidence that they were. Certainly they did nothing for him.

I made what I considered at the time a very strong and effective fight. Partridge campaigned the city, speaking in all the districts. The burden of all his talks was the shameless graft that was going on. The billboards were covered with his utterances, headed always with a big, attractive line, "Partridge Says—" The Bulletin hammered ceaselessly at Schmitz.

Even on the day of election I could not be convinced that Schmitz would win. Many people came to me and told me that they heard nothing but Schmitz sentiment, but I simply would not listen to them. It was impossible for me to realize it.

Even one who was deaf and dumb and blind should have known the truth, but I didn't. I went to my office on election night confident that we would win.


AT SEVEN o'clock that night I sat in my office watching the news of our defeat flashing on the bulletin boards. Schmitz was elected.

It was incredible to me. I could not believe it, though I knew it was true. I could not believe that the people of San Francisco had again chosen the Schmitz-Ruef crowd to rule the city. But they had. The fight was over, and we were overwhelmingly defeated.

Crowds of Schmitz-Ruef enthusiasts were marching up and down the streets beneath the windows, yelling, half mad with excitement. Rockets were going up, whistles were shrieking. It seemed that all the powers of bedlam had broken loose.

Out in the local room the reporters were working at fever heat, checking up the returns and writing bulletins, in a confusion of noise and hurry and excitement. In the earlier part of the evening various men who had been in the fight dropped into my office to say a word or two: "Well, we're beaten." After a while they stopped coming.

Mrs. Older was with me, and Arthur McEwen, a well known writer, who had been helping make the fight on the Bulletin. We did not say much. We just sat there in despair. McEwen said he was through. He would not remain in the rotten town. He was going back to New York the next day. I could not do that. I had to stay.

About 10 o'clock the mob outside, going mad with victory, attacked our office and smashed the windows. They screamed and jeered, howling insults while the glass crashed. When Mrs. Older and I came out of the office we were assailed with yells and hooted all the way down Market street to the door of our hotel.

I went to bed feeling that the world, so far as we were concerned, was a hopeless place to live in. At a late hour I fell asleep, only to be awakened almost immediately by the shouts of bellboys in the corridors. They were calling that the Chronicle building was burning, that all the guests must rise and dress; the fire might extend to the Palace.

We hurriedly threw some thing into a dress suit case and rushed out into the hall. Others were doing the same. With other hastily dressed, excited, half delirious persons we rushed to the Market street side of the hotel and watched the tower of the Chronicle building burn, a blaze of flames.

A victorious skyrocket had been shot up into the sky, and descending on the Chronicle tower had set it on fire. But against the blackness and excitement of that night it seemed like the breaking loose of unearthly fiends, as though the powers of darkness had clutched the city and were destroying it, as though the end of the world was upon us. Overwrought as I was from the long fight and our defeat, nothing was too wild for me to imagine.

When, after some weeks, my mind returned sanely to the fight that I had lost, I reasoned this way about it: The people of San Francisco did not believe me. They thought I had some ulterior political motive in fighting Ruef and Schmitz so desperately. There was only one way in which they could be convinced that I was telling the truth. I must prove my charges in court.

I recalled a speech Francis J. Heney had made one night during the election, in the Mechanics Pavilion. He had said: "If the people of San Francisco ever want me to come back here and put Abe Ruef in the penitentiary, I'll come."

My mind dwelt on that. I thought, "If I could only get Heney—" He was at that time a conspicuous prosecutor of land frauds in Oregon, and had acquired considerable national reputation in this work. If only I could get him—there was the French restaurant case. Something could surely be done with that.

In my mad desire to get Schmitz and Ruef I conceived the idea of going to Washington and asking Heney to come to San Francisco to start a case in the courts. I knew, of course, that he was working for President Roosevelt at that time in the Oregon land fraud cases, but my own obsession was so great that I believed I could convince Roosevelt that the graft in San Francisco was far more important than the land fraud cases in Oregon.

At any rate, I told Mrs. Older and Crothers that I was going. They both said, of course, that it was a crazy thing for me to do, but I was much disturbed and excited, and the trip would perhaps be good for me. They both believed that my plan was an idle dream, that nothing could come from it. But I would rest and become calm, maybe, and the journey could do no harm.

So without letting anyone know, other than Crothers and Mrs. Older and Eustace Cullinan, who at that time was editorial writer on the Bulletin, I departed for Washington.

By appointment I met Heney at luncheon at the Willard Hotel, and told him my mission. I also told him that I thought I had one definite case that he could make good on in the courts—the French restaurant case. Heney said that he would be glad to come, but that he would want William J. Burns, who was working with him as a detective in the land fraud cases. They were both employed by the government.

He asked me to meet Burns in his rooms that afternoon. I did so, and we had a long talk. Burns was eager to come and so was Heney, but Heney said: "We'll need some money."

I said: "How much?"

He thought about a hundred thousand dollars would be as little as we could afford to begin work with. In my desperate frame of mind I said: "Well, I'll take care of that. I'll arrange it."

The following morning I saw President Roosevelt, who said that he was in sympathy with what I was trying to do and would do all in his power to help, but that he could not see his way clear to release Heney and Burns. Perhaps, he said, something could be done later.

With these half-satisfying assurances I returned to San Francisco.

When I had so rashly promised to raise a hundred thousand dollars I had in mind James D. Phelan and Rudolph Spreckels. I came back, revolving all the way across the continent the probabilities of being able to get such a sum from them for this purpose.

Immediately upon my return I had a visitor who gave me the first ray of hope that had shone for me since the election. This visitor was Langdon, the newly elected district attorney.

The Ruef ticket had been made up rather loosely, with a number of men more or less connected with labor as supervisors, and Langdon for district attorney. Langdon up to that time had been superintendent of schools.

His opponent was Henry Brandenstein, one of the strongest figures, from our point of view, in San Francisco. He had rendered excellent service as a supervisor, and as chairman of the finance committee, and had stood for all the reform measures we were interested in. Under the old system of voting, I think undoubtedly he would have defeated Langdon. But, for the first time, in this election voting machines were used, and no one understood them very well. In order to scratch a ticket one had to understand these machines better than most voters could understand them, so, rather than not vote for Schmitz, the voter banged one key and voted the whole ticket in. This was the reason for Langdon's election.

I had not thought much about Langdon, assuming, in general, that he would stand with the people with whom he was more or less loosely allied politically.

Shortly after I returned from Washington, however, I called upon him at his office. We talked for a moment or two, and he said:

"Mr. Older, I think perhaps you misunderstand me because of my affiliations in the election. I want you to know that I am the district attorney of San Francisco. My duty is to enforce the law." He picked up a copy of the penal code that lay on his desk and, holding it in his hand and looking me in the eye, he said: "My job is to enforce all of the laws in that book. I mean to prosecute any man, whoever he may be, who breaks one of those laws. Any man. No matter what happens. Do you understand me?"

I said that I understood and that I congratulated him. From that moment I knew that at heart Langdon was with us. Ruef soon learned that he was.

Meantime I set to work to get the hundred thousand dollars that I had promised to finance the prosecution of Ruef and Schmitz.


WHEN I said I thought I could raise a hundred thousand dollars I had in mind James D. Phelan and Rudolph Spreckels.

Phelan, as I have said, was a rich man. He had always been wealthy, had been brought up in an atmosphere of wealth, as his people had money. He had toward the city somewhat the attitude of a rich man toward a great business in which he is interested; his life had always been identified with that of San Francisco, he loved the city, and he wished to see it a clean and beautiful place, efficiently administered. I knew that he was eager to see the grafters cleaned out of the city government, and thought that he would contribute toward that end.

Rudolph Spreckels also had come of a wealthy family, but he had quarreled with his father when he was 17 years old. The quarrel was caused by Rudolph's standing by his brother, Gus, when their father had quarreled with Gus and cast him out. Rudolph said to his father: "Even though this causes a break between us, I am going to stand with Gus. I think Gus is right. Father, I am always going to stand for the right all my life."

His father ordered him out of the house, and he went. From that time on, with scarcely any one to help him, Rudolph made his own way and accumulated a fortune by his own efforts. His father, in his old age, relented, forgave him, and left him a big part of his estate. But Rudolph Spreckels was a big man without his father.

His actual contact with political affairs had been very slight and, such as it was, it had grown out of his efforts to improve the Sutter street car line, some time prior to my trip to Washington.

The Sutter street line was an old, ramshackle cable system, owned by the United Railroads. It not only ran out Sutter street, passing some of Rudolph Spreckels' property there, but it turned up Polk and rounded on to Pacific avenue, where it passed his residence. The line was so dilapidated that the United Railroads was considering changing it into an overhead trolley system.

To this, naturally, Rudolph Spreckels was opposed. He thought that if a change was to be made, the new system should be the most modern that any city had. He had in mind the underground conduit system which was used in Washington, D.C., and in New York City, a system which conserves the beauty of the streets and increases rather than diminishes the property values near by. Nothing short of that admirable system would satisfy Rudolph Spreckels.

In order to force the installation of this system, he formed an organization of property owners and made a very intelligent campaign in favor of the underground conduits. But Patrick Calhoun, president of the United Railroads, considered the improvement too expensive. He said that it was impossible because of the grades. Spreckels met all his objections intelligently, offering himself to pay for any work required on the grades in order to make the system practical. But Calhoun refused to listen, or to have anything to do with the conduit system. He insisted on the overhead trolley, which cost less.

Then Spreckels conceived the idea of organizing a separate streecar company, obtaining franchises on certain streets without car lines, and building up a system with the underground conduit in use, which would compete with the United Railroads and by superior service and quality force the United Railroads to abandon the hideous cheaper system and install the underground conduit.

This attempt gave Rudolph Spreckels his first practical experience of politics. He organized the company, with his father and, I think, James D. Phelan. Rudolph and his father called on Mayor Schmitz in regard to the proposed franchises. Of course, Schmitz would not listen to any such proposition. He was definitely tied up with the Calhoun interests and the United Railroads, although at this time Calhoun had not yet bribed him to grant the overhead trolley franchise.

Rudolph Spreckels retired from this attempt with a considerably increased knowledge of underground conditions in San Francisco.

I knew this, and I felt that his public spirit had been awakened to such an extent that he would, perhaps, go further and back a big fight against graft in San Francisco. I did not have Calhoun in mind, because at that time I did not know that he had done anything unlawful. However, I felt that Spreckels was a man upon whom I could call for help.

I first visited Phelan and told him what I had done. I informed him that I had seen Heney and Burns and Roosevelt, and I felt that if I could raise a hundred thousand dollars Heney and Burns could be gotten out here to investigate the graft and punish those guilty of it.

Phelan was very much in favor of the attempt, and said he would help to raise the money. Then I called on Rudolph Spreckels and told him how matters stood. He was most enthusiastic. He rose from his chair, walked over to me and said: "Older, I'll go into this! I'll put my money in this and back it to the limit. But I want one understanding—that our investigation must lead to Herrin. Herrin is the man who has corrupted our state. He is the man who has broken down the morals of thousands of our young men, who has corrupted our legislatures and our courts, who has corrupted supervisors of counties, and coroners and sheriffs and judges. He is the worst influence in California. If we go into this fight, we've got to stay in it till we get him."

Later, when the fight was on, it was charged that Spreckels' motive for going into it was his antagonism to the United Railroads, because he had organized a rival company. This was wholly untrue. He had organized a railway company for the reasons I have stated, but it had nothing to do with his going into the graft prosecution, because at that time none of us knew anything that Calhoun had done unlawfully. As a matter of fact, at that time—December, 1905—Calhoun had not yet bribed the supervisors. That occurred later.

Assured of Phelan's and Spreckels' support, I got into communication again with Heney, and in the following February he came out to San Francisco. I had him meet Phelan and Spreckels at luncheon at the University Club, and there we had a preliminary talk. I had nothing definite to offer as an entering wedge beyond the fragments of evidence in the French restaurant case, but we were all confident that if this were followed up it would lead to deeper disclosures, perhaps in the end even to Herrin himself.

Heney said that he had to go on with his government work for the present, but as soon as there was a lull in it he would make the investigations and the prosecutions, if there were any to be made. We parted with this understanding, and three weeks later came the great fire.

San Francisco was destroyed. I was in the midst of the cataclysm, working, as all men did in those feverish days and nights, first to save what I might of the Bulletin, and later to help others who needed help. But my mind was so filled with one idea that even in the midst of fire and smoke and heaps of ruins, I thought of our plans to get Ruef and Schmitz, and mourned the delay I feared the fire had caused. I worked frantically, feeling that this overwhelming disaster must be met and handled, so that we could go on with our hunt of the grafters.

The Bulletin staff was gathered in Oakland, and we managed to get out the paper, printing it in the plant of the Oakland Herald. Many of our files had been destroyed, our papers were scattered; of course, our advertising had been wiped out. We struggled with innumerable difficulties.

As soon as possible we returned to San Francisco and found temporary quarters on the roof of the Merchants' ice house, at the northern end of Sansome street, at the foot of the Telegraph Hill cliffs. Here we built temporary editorial and linotype rooms on the roof. The pressroom was in a shack on the ground below. With these makeshift expedients we resumed publication in the city. All around us San Fracisco was a heap of blackened ruins.

Walking on Fillmore street one day, I met Heney, who had come out on a flying visit. We shook hands and I said: "I'd like to have a talk with you."

"Where can we talk?" he said. I took him into a tent on Fillmore street, and we each got a cracker box, turned it on end and sat down. "How about the graft prosecution?" I said.

"I'm ready to go ahead," he replied, "any time you people are. Let's go down and see Spreckels."

We started to make our way through the mass of wreckage in search of Spreckels.


RUDOLPH SPRECKELS had rigged up a little temporary office, roughly built of boards, in the ruins of his bank on Sansome street. Heney and I found him there, surrounded by miles of burned brick and tangled steel girders. At once we plunged into discussion of our plans. It had already been agreed that we should borrow Burns from the United States secret service. Spreckels undertook to raise the necessary money to finance the investigations. He had already secured thirty or forty thousand dollars in the fund. Spreckels said:

"Now that we have made terms about Burns, what is your fee to be, Heney?"

Heney said: "Well, I was born in San Francisco and raised here. I have always felt that it was my city. I have a little money, enough so that I am not going to be in need of money very soon, and I am willing to put my time and services against your money. I'll do it for nothing."

"That's very fine of you," Spreckels answered. "But it's more than we should ask."

Heney looked out at the ruins of the city and said: "No, I think I ought to do it, for San Francisco. It's my town."

From that day to this Heney never received one cent for his work in the graft prosecution. Even when he was appointed deputy district attorney in order to operate in the courts, he paid the salary of $250 a month to the man that was displaced in order to allow him to come into the office.

We ended the interview with Heney's promise to bring Burns here and begin definite work as soon as possible. I returned to the office on the roof of the ice plant, a happy man. After five years of hard work on the trail of Ruef and Schmitz I felt that at last the real fight was beginning.

Shortly afterward, Heney and Burns arrived here, ready for business. They established themselves in what was later known as "The Red House" on Franklin street between Post and Geary. Heney took Charles W. Cobb, a brilliant San Jose lawyer, into partnership with him, and also engaged the services of Joseph J. Dwyer. Burns had brought with him a small number of assistant detectives, and later added others to this nucleus of a strong detective force.

The first move had to be the appointment of Heney as deputy district attorney. At that time the giving of such an appointment was in the hands of District Attorney Langdon, who was stumping the state as candidate for governor. After some difficulty, we persuaded him to appoint Heney. He was very fond of Hiram W. Johnson, and would have preferred to appoint him, but he was finally overcome by our arguments and agreed to give us Heney.

Before this had become public I made a move in the direction of getting rid of what I considered a crooked grand jury. I told Judge Graham that I was associated with a group of men who meant business in their fight on the grafters. I went into the matter so forcefully that the Judge finally consented to dismiss the grand jury.

Two days later I got information of a definite case of bribing Ruef. Four prize fight promoters had raised $20,000 and it was given by an emissary to Ruef for prize fight permits. This was the first definite information that we had received. Heney, however, had meanwhile been working on the French restaurant story, and had decided that he could make a case out of it. This was encouraging. But of all the big briberies that we suspected, there was as yet not a shred of evidence.

When Heney's appointment as deputy district attorney became public, however, things began to happen.

I was living in San Rafael at the time. Late one night, after I had gone to bed, I was called to the long distance telephone. Rudolph Spreckels was speaking from San Mateo. He said: "Ruef has removed Langdon and appointed himself."

"What!" I said. This was incredible. However, Spreckels insisted that it was true. At the alarm, the acting mayor, doubtless at Ruef's command, had removed Langdon from his place as district attorney, and put Ruef himself into it. The brazen effrontery of this staggered us. Immediately, however, we perceived the danger in which we stood.

Graham had discharged the old grand jury, and we were insisting upon the drawing of a new one. With Ruef as district attorney, our chance of getting a friendly grand jury was removed from the realm of the possible into that of the fantastic.

I took the first boat for the city in the morning, in a desperate frame of mind. The morning papers carried the story of Ruef's appointment. Crossing the bay on the deck of the ferryboat, I made up my mind that there was only one thing to do.

At 2 o'clock Judge Graham was to decide whether he would recognize Ruef or Langdon as district attorney. By 11 o'clock that morning I had 20,000 extras on the streets stating the facts and calling on all good citizens to rally to the synagogue on the corner of California and Webster streets, where Judge Graham was holding court, and help uphold his hands in giving us justice. Hundreds of newsboys rushed all over the city, giving away these extras.

Long before 2 o'clock thousands of people were congregated around the synagogue. The streets were jammed with them, traffic was at a standstill. Indignation was running high against Ruef and Schmitz.

At that time even our so called "best people" were with us in the fight. On a bit of lawn, outside the windows of Judge Graham's chambers, a large group of influential persons were gathered, silently glaring through the windows, just steadily glaring, without a sound, as though to say, "Don't you dare!" Some of these were the people who later when we touched Calhoun fought us so desperately, but at that time they were with us, and that bit of lawn looked like a first night at the opera.

On the street sides of the synagogue there was pandemonium. The crowds surged this way and that, cheering, hooting and yelling, dangerous, in a mood for anything. Ruef not only controlled the city government, but the sheriff as well, and the sheriff's deputies were there in full force, but they could not control the crowd. They could only center upon certain men, throwing us about, handling me as roughly as they dared.

Heney and Langdon appeared on the steps and were wildly cheered. Ruef came out and was roughly handled by the mob. He bravely held his ground, protecting himself as best he could, never losing his nerve or showing fear for an instant, though he was in danger of his life. He was rescued by the deputies, and the roars of the crowd subsided into mutterings.

Then Graham arrived. He passed through the black mass of people, heard their mutterings and disappeared into the courtrooms.


THAT day was long known in San Francisco as Black Friday, the day when, in the silence of the courtroom, besieged by the aroused crowds outside, Judge Graham recognized Langdon as district attorney of San Francisco.

Whatever the thoughts of any man present in that courtroom, they were overshadowed by the knowledge of the mob outside, waiting to see that Ruef was dethroned, that Langdon was recognized. The days of the Vigilantes, of riots and lynchings, were not so long past that any one could fail to recall them, and the temper of the crowd around the synagogue was unmistakable.

Every one in the courtroom knew the temper of that crowd. Excitement was at fever heat. The Bulletin had two men there throughall the proceedings, trained newspaper reporters, and neither of them telephoned a line to the paper. They decided that the situation was too big, too overwhelming, to be reported at all. They must have felt that they were at the center of the universe, that all the people in the world had gathered, that every one knew what was happening.

After Judge Graham recognized Langdon there came the drawing of the grand jury. Old fashioned methods were, of course, employed. The names in the box had been prepared for the drawing, the bits of paper bearing the chosen names being folded together, so that the searching had of the clerk could feel a thick bunch and draw from that.

Knowing this, I had managed to force my way into the courtroom, in spite of the efforts of a big fat push bailiff, who tried to throw me out. When the drawing of names was about to begin I rushed up to the judge's bench and loudly demanded that the names be emptied out of the box and separated.

This was done. The prepared bunches of papers were broken up and scattered through the others. Then the Oliver grand jury was drawn.

This was a triumph for us, for with Langdon as district attorney, and an honest grand jury, we had in hand all the weapons we needed. All that was necessary was to furnish legal evidence of the crimes that we knew had been committed, and we would be able to go on and punish the men who had committed them.

After I had furnished Heney with the evidence of the bribery of Ruef in the matter of the prizefight permits, there was a long interval of searching and investigation without results. Spreckels was somewhat discouraged. At length, however, the evidence secured by Burns was presented to the Oliver grand jury, and early in the fall of 1906 Schmitz and Ruef were both indicted for extortion in the French restaurant cases.

We all felt these cases to be a side issue. We had already suspected something in regard to the bribery of the supervisors for the overhead trolley franchise, and our principal efforts were spent in trying to get at those facts.

Up to this time there is no question that public opinion was with us. Public opinion was with us until we began to touch the big fellows. We could have gone on, uncovering petty graft, saloon graft, tenderloin graft, convicting and punishing men even to the extent of exposing the police department, and the city, that is, the powerful men of the city, would have been with us. But the moment the big men were in danger their support left us overnight.

Black Friday had alarmed Calhoun. The indictments of Ruef and Schmitz were final danger signals to him. He was a very brilliant man, clever, resourceful, daring, of a temper that stopped at nothing. He knew what we did not know at that time. He knew that he had paid $200,000 to Abraham Ruef through his attorney, Tirey L. Ford, for the purpose of bribing the supervisors to give the United Railroads the overhead trolley franchise. He knew, when Heney was appointed and upheld by Judge Graham, that he stood in danger of being exposed. Sooner or later, the trail we were following would lead to him.

His first move was characteristically clever and unscrupulous. He precipitated the streetcar strike.

Some time previous to Heney opening headquarters here in commencing operations against the grafters, the United Railroads carmen had made a demand for an increase in pay. The United Railroads prevailed upon them to submit their grievances to arbitrators. Probably suspecting that Heney in his investigation might uncover the United Railroads bribery, Calhoun offered to make Francis J. Heney one of the arbitrators. Possibly Heney might have accepted the position. He had it under consideration when Burns came excitedly into his office and told him not to accept it, because he had just learned through an employe of the mint that Calhoun had transmitted $200,000 through the mint in this city to Tirey L. Ford to be used to secure the overhead trolley permit. When Hency declined the position the labor men agreed to accept Chief Justice Beatty of the Supreme Court.

There was a long investigation made of the claims of the carmen for more pay, a lot of testimony was taken and it occupied some time before the matter was adjusted. The men were not satisfied with the terms that the United Railroads was willing to make. Calhoun seized upon the situation to bring on a strike among the carmen. The deal was made in Mayor Schmitz' house, with Bowling, secretary-treasurer of the carmen's union, acting with Calhoun and Schmitz.

Cornelius, the president of the Carmen's Union; Michael Casey, Andrew Furuseth and other labor men were anxious to prevent the carmen from striking, fearing they would lose and hoping that Heney's investigation would lead to the discovery of the bribery of the supervisors by Calhoun.

In this situation, Cornelius stood against the strike and Bowling for it. Our plan was to try to bring about a secret ballot, reasoning that if the men voted secretly they would vote against the strike. Bowling was advocating an open ballot, counting on the men's fear to vote openly against the strike. Bowling won out.

We so nearly succeeded that I still believe that if we had been able to get a secret ballot in the meeting which declared the strike, we would have averted it. But Bowling's influence and strategy were too much for us. He succeeded in putting the question to a viva voce vote.

The question of striking was trembling in the balance. But many men were not brave enough to rise and openly vote "No" against a strike for higher wages. Bowling, working with Calhoun and Schmitz, had so inflamed certain elements in the union that others did not dare openly to stand against them. The men rose, one by one, and voted "Yes."

Immediately the streetcars were tied up. This second calamity, falling upon the disaster of the fire, halting the city's attempt at rebuilding, infuriated the businessmen and property owners of San Francisco. Calhoun knew the city; he knew what would influence the powerful men of the city. He knew that San Francisco was in ruins and that the businessmen above all things wanted the street cars to run, otherwise they would be utterly ruined.

With the entire approval of the businessmen of San Francisco, he imported professional gangs of strike breakers, headed by Farley, and attempted to run the cars. The strikers attacked these strike breakers viciously. Rioting broke out on the streets, men were beaten, crippled, killed. The city was in a turmoil. In the midst of it, in the most picturesque way, Calhoun rode up and down Market street in his machine, winning tremendous admiration from the business people and property owners.

"There's a man who isn't afraid of anything! He's for San Francisco and the rebuilding of San Francisco. He'll break this strike and save us, if any man can," they said on every hand. Calhoun could not have made a better move than to secretly force this strike, and then boldly and openly to break it, by force.

It was the one brilliant move by which he could have endeared himself to the powerful people of San Francisco, who hated labor unions anyway, and particularly at this time, when the hard work of rehabilitation and desperate task of keeping business going depended on the street cars moving.

While the strike was in progress the men were receiving $5 a week each in benefits, and one week the money did not come, $5000 for a thousand men. The international president, McMahon, was away from his home office and had failed to send it. The labor men who had been with me in the fight to prevent the strike came to me and said: "If we don't have $5000 by 1 o'clock today, the strike will be broken. If the men don't get their $5 apiece at 1 o'clock they'll give in and go back to work, and all their efforts and suffering will come to nothing."


WHILE I had exerted every effort of which I was cacapable, in trying to prevent the calling of the street-car strike, still I did not want to see the strike lost now and the men who had already been led into so much suffering forced to lose their chance of getting something out of it all.

Since it was necessary to have the $5000 by 1 o'clock that afternoon, if these men were to get their strike benefits and be held in line, I determined to do my utmost to provide the five thousand.

I found two friends who were willing to lend me $2500 each. I had the money changed into $5 gold pieces, put it in a sack and sent it out to the headquarters of the Carmen's Union. Bowling, the traitor secretary-treasurer who had planned the strike with Calhoun, was there. The sack was given to him and he was told to distribute the money to the men. He was obliged to do so, but he kept the sack and carried it to Calhoun as evidence that I had saved the men from losing the strike at that time.

Shortly afterward Calhoun, by using a force of strike-breakers, succeeded in crushing the strike he had begun, and the men went back to work, beaten. Calhoun was the hero of the day.

In the meantime, however, we had struck a trail that was leading us hot on his track. We were getting closer to him every day.

While we were in the midst of our investigations, Schmitz suddenly left for Europe. The day after he left it was announced in the newspapers that he had dismissed the president of the Board of Works, Frank Maestretti. The news came as a thunderbolt.

Could it be possible that Ruef and Schmitz had dared to dismiss Frank Maestretti, a man who, we felt convinced, was in on all the city graft, or at least knew of it?

I was very much excited and sent for Maestretti and Golden M. Roy. Roy I knew to be a close friend of Maestretti. They were partners in Pavilion Skating Rink. They came to my office and I talked with them about the removal of Maestretti. They still hoped that he would be reinstated by wire from Schmitz.

I said: "Well, if he is not, perhaps you will be willing to talk with me." After some discussion, they left, saying that they would know about it next day, and asking me to call on them then.

The following day I called on them in their office at Pavilion Rink. I told them that I represented powerful interests in San Francisco who were going to get the facts of the graft, and that I thought they would do well to get in on the ground floor with me. They admitted that they could tell me some very interesting things, but they put me off, saying that they would see me again.

Maestretti followed me out of the office and warned me against Roy, saying that he was a Ruef man and could not be trusted. When I reported this to Burns he very cleverly analyzed it as meaning that Maestretti wanted the whole thing to himself and wanted Roy shut out.

I carried to Rudolph Spreckels the news of the possibilities that I thought lay in Roy and Maestretti, and Spreckels said: "Can you trust them?"

I said: "Well, unfortunately, Rudolph, the crimes that were committed here were not known to respectable people like Bishop Nichols or our leading prelates. If we are going to get anywhere, we've got to get our information from crooks."

Burns had many meetings with Maestretti, and he soon discovered that Roy was the man who knew it all, and that unless we could get Roy we could get nowhere.

"Work on Roy," he said.

In my eagerness to get information from Roy my mind went back to the days before the fire. At that time Roy owned a jewelry store on Kearny street near the Bulletin office. A friend of his called on me and said that Schmitz had offered Roy a position as police commissioner. Having a wife and family whom he dearly loved, Roy did not want to take the place if I were going to attack him.

I said: "Well, tell him to come up and see me."

Roy called and I told him that if they offered him this position, they expected him to take their program, and that if he took their program it would be a crooked program, and therefore it would come under my criticism. It was impossible, in my judgment, that they would appoint him with any other idea than that he would stand in with their graft.

He insisted that he could be honest, even though a Schmitz police commissioner. But I remained unconvinced, and in the end he did not accept the position.

Later, in the Schmitz campaign, Roy organized what he called the "Schmitz Business Men's League," and I published an article that was really gentle, coming from me at that time, in which I reproved Roy for having anything to do with Schmitz, saying that he was a man of family, that he ought not to risk his reputation by affiliating with such men as Ruef and Schmitz.

I learned that this criticism worried him tremendously, and this gave me an idea. I had a very violent personal attack written on Roy. It was a page article, embellished with pictures. I raked up everything in Roy's activities that could place him in a discreditable light before the community. Then I had a proof page of this article printed secretly in the Bulletin office, and when it was ready I laid it face down on my desk and sent for Roy. Burns was waiting in an adjoining room.

Roy came into my office. He said: "Well, what can I do for you, Mr. Older?" in what I thought was a patronizing tone. I was very much excited.

"You can't do anything for me," I said, "but I'm going to put you in the penitentiary." I picked up the page and handed it to him to read.

He began to read it, turned pale, and reeled on his feet. "Read it all," I said.

"I'm reading it all."

He finished, laid it down and said: "What do you want me to do?"

"I want you to tell the truth."

"All right," he said. "I'm willing to tell you the truth—everything." I pressed a button and Burns came in. I turned Roy over to Burns and left the room.

In a little while Burns called me and said: "Roy wants to see his friends before he talks."

I said: "I don't think we ought to let him see his friends. It's a friend, it isn't friends. It's Ruef he wants to see." Roy sat there without saying a word.

"No," Burns said, "I think it best to let him see his friends."

I said nothing more, and after a moment Roy got up and walked out. He was shadowed, of course. He went directly to his home, where his wife and children were, and stayed there, sending no messages and telephoning nobody till midnight. Then he telephoned Burns and asked to see him. When they met he told Burns much that he knew about the Ruef briberies, and this interview led directly to the confessions of the eighteen supervisors who had taken money in the overhead trolley franchise deal. We had reached Calhoun at last.


ALL this time the street car strike was going on, with almost daily violence and bloodshed, and Calhoun was riding up and down Market street, to the admiration of all who saw him. His ruthlessness in dealing with the strikers and his terrific efforts to quell the storm he had raised were having exactly the effect he had desired when he plotted to cause the strike. He was daily becoming more of a hero to the big men of San Francisco who controlled public opinion.

Meantime it became known to Ruef that Roy had come over to our side, and in order to frighten him into silence Ruef had introduced into the Board of Supervisors an ordinance making it illegal for any girl under eighteen years of age to visit a skating rink without her mother. If this became a law, Roy and Maestretti's business, Dreamland Rink, was doomed.

Roy, far from being intimidated, responded to this threat with a brilliant idea. He suggested to us that by means of this proposed ordinance we could trap the supervisors. His plan was to bribe them to kill the ordinance, have them caught taking the money, and terrorize them into confessing the overhead trolley briberies.

We rehearsed for the plan in Roy's office at Pavilion Rink. There was another room next to his office, in which we planned to hide and watch the bribery. Burns borrowed a gimlet from a nearby grocery store, and we bored three holes through the door, so that three people could look into Roy's office. When this was done, Burns and I stood on the other side of the door and looked through the holes, while Roy rehearsed the coming scene.

Roy sat at his table with imaginary bills in his hand, and the chairs placed in such a position that we could see him. Then, leaning toward the empty chair in which the unsuspecting supervisor was to be placed, Roy began, pretending that Supervisor Tom Lonergan was present.

"Tom, I want that skating rink bill killed. If it goes through—"

We would interrupt. "A little louder, Roy—" "Move over to the right. Now go ahead."

"Tom, I want that skating rink bill killed. I'm willing to pay $500 for it, and here's the money. The bill's coming up tonight, and I want you to go against it."

The rehearsal was perfect. It was beyond my imagination to conceive of anything like that being fulfilled, and I said to Roy, "It's too much of a melodrama for me. I can't believe it's possible that anything like this will ever happen." Roy replied, "Don't worry. It will happen exactly as we have planned it."

And it did.

Two days later Supervisor Tom Lonergan came into the office, while Burns and two other witnesses stood behind the door. He took the chair that had been placed in position, listened to Roy's talk pitched in a key that the witnesses could overhear, took the money and pocketed it. After him came two others, one at a time, I have forgotten which two they were. We were elated and were arranging to trap the others speedily, when the Chronicle got a tip that something was happening, and ran a story which scared them all.

So we worked on the three, and finding that we had the goods on them, they confessed to everything, including the overhead trolley deal. And their confessions involved the others, and the others got scared and got in line. The whole eighteen made their confessions as quickly as they possibly could, one after the other hurrying into safety, with the promise given them by Heney and Burns and Langdon that they would not be prosecuted if they testified.

We had in our hands all the evidence that I had been combing the town for, during many years.

Burns later got the whole credit for obtaining these confessions, but the trap which caught them was entirely Roy's idea, planned by Roy and carried through by Roy.

While these confessions were being taken down, Ruef had hidden himself away in a roadhouse at Trocadero. He was out on bail, under indictment in the French restaurant case. Burns was searching for him.

He finally found him, brought him back into custody, and put him in the Little St. Francis Hotel, a temporary structure put up after the fire in Union Square. Here Ruef learned for the first time of the supervisors' confessions, and Burns believed that he could be induced to make one himself. But Burns said that Heney was so exalted over his success with the supervisors that he would not listen to any confession from Ruef.

"Let the blankety-blank go over the bay! We won't allow him to confess and have immunity. We've given the eighteen supervisors immunity, and we'll make him sweat!"

Burns shook his head, and said to me, "That's the way it always is when you haven't got complete control. You see, they don't know now that in less than two weeks they'll be pleading with me to get Ruef to do the very thing I could easily get him to do now, and that he won't think of doing when he gets his second wind and has a chance to connect up with his powerful friends. They'll order me to get his confession, in two weeks, remember. And it'll be hard to do."

Sure enough, in less than two weeks Burns was hard at work trying to get a confession from Ruef.

By connecting up with Rabbi Kaplan and Rabbi Nieto, he managed to secure a confession from Ruef on the overhead trolley bribery, on some understanding with Ruef that he was not to be prosecuted at all, not even in the French restaurant case, which was then pending. Burns told me little, almost nothing, about the details of his arrangement with Ruef. It was not until much later that I learned the facts. At that time I knew only that Burns was well along toward pulling Ruef through.

One day Burns came to me and asked me to go with him to Judge Lawlor and try to convince Lawlor that if Ruef was a good witness in all the big bribery cases he should be allowed to go free in the French restaurant case.

We found Lawlor in his room at the Family Club. Burns presented the case to him. Lawlor flatly refused to have anything to do with any such program. He said that the city would not stand for Ruef's not going to the penitentiary, that Ruef must be put in stripes. Anything less than that would mean the failure of the graft prosecution.

"We've already given immunity to eighteen supervisors," said Lawlor. "Now to give full immunity to Ruef would mean our ruin. This must be done: Let him be a witness in all the big bribery cases. Let the French restaurant case be pending the while, and then when he has made a good witness, let him come into court and plead guilty on the French restaurant case, let the district attorney state to the judge that Ruef has been a good witness for the state and ask leniency for him, and then the judge will let him off with a year.

"But one year at least he must serve in the penitentiary, to save our reputations."

I agreed with Lawlor, and Burns went away much disappointed. Later, there came the well known midnight meeting between the rabbis and Heney, and the obtaining of such concessions as the judges would make, sufficient, apparently, to satisfy Ruef.

Ruef then appeared before the grand jury, and gave the evidence necessary for the indictments of himself, Schmitz, John Martin, De Sabla, Frank Drum, and Patrick Calhoun, and some others, on the big bribery charges. That day the foreman of the grand jury telephoned Cornelius, president of the carmen's union, and asked him to be very careful to prevent any disorder of the strikers. We knew from this that the grand jury was about to indict Calhoun.

After he was indicted, however, he crushed the strike. The men went back to work, the streetcars were running again, and Calhoun had become a great, public-spirited figure in men's eyes. He loomed as the savior of the city, once ruined by fire and threatened again by labor-unionism. His indictment made no dent at all upon his popularity. The prominent men of San Francisco stood before him and said: "Let's see you convict him!"

"But don't you want him convicted if he is guilty?"

"NO!" one of them said. "If I were on the jury I'd vote to acquit him if he were guilty as hell! He's the man that saved San Francisco!"


Source: Library of Congress. California As I Saw It, 1849-1900. Vol. 194. [database online] Washington: Library of Congress, 2000. Older, Fremont. My Own Story. San Francisco, CA: The Call Publishing Co., 1919.

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