San Francisco History

My Own Story


AS I have said, Tirey L. Ford, chief attorney for the United Railroads, who had passed the bribery money from Calhoun to Ruef, was indicted with Calhoun. He was put on the calendar for trial before Calhoun, because we hoped after convicting him to make him confess and turn evidence against Calhoun.

A short time before his case was to be called in Lawlor's court, an old friend of mine called on me at the Bulletin office and asked if I was still friendly to Ford, as I used to be. Suspecting that something was about to develop that would be helpful, I dodged the direct answer and said that I was sorry for him.

"Why?" I asked.

My friend said: "Well, I thought if you were still friendly with him you might be willing to sit down with him and talk this thing over."

I told him I would be very glad to talk with Ford, and I would go still further. If Ford was willing to make an affidavit that he had received money from Calhoun for the purpose of bribing the supervisors through Ruef for the overhead trolley franchise, I would guarantee that he would never be tried at all.

I said that I was strong enough with the other members of the graft prosecution to promise this without consulting them. My friend replied that he would arrange a meeting between me and Ford very soon.

A few days later my friend returned, and said: "We have decided that it is dangerous for you and Ford to meet. Ford is being shadowed by Calhoun. Calhoun is fearful that Ford is about to make some statement. We have decided that a very close relative of Ford will call on you. He has full authority from Ford; everything he says will be just the same as though Ford said it."

"All right, have him call," I said.

The close relative and friend of Ford was Louis F. Byington, a well known attorney of San Francisco. He came into my office not long afterward, and asked me what I wanted from Ford.

I said I wanted the truth about Ford's connection with the bribery of Ruef and the supervisors for Calhoun. Byington said: "Ford is perfectly willing to give you that. He will make an affidavit that he employed Ruef as an attorney and paid him a fee of $200,000, Ruef's employment being the getting of an overhead trolley franchise for the United Railroads. That is the truth," said Byington.

I was very indignant. No one could possibly believe such a story as that, I said. Every one knew that Calhoun had intended to bribe the supervisors, that he had paid the $200,000 to Ford knowing that it was bribe money; that Ford had paid it to Ruef knowing it; that Ruef had paid it to the supervisors knowing it.

And now Ford came forward with this story of Ruef being employed as an attorney, and paid an attorney's fee. Even if I were willing to accept a statement like that, none of my colleagues would consider it for an instant.

"It is the truth," Byington insisted.

I told him the story was useless to us. We might as well stop negotiations right there, if they began that way. I promised him, however, that I would not publicly use the statement he had made to me, and I never did.

After Judge Lawlor refused to agree to Burns' plan to let Ruef go free on the French restaurant case, Burns had gone ahead and with the help of Dr. Nieto and Dr. Kaplan the two Jewish rabbis, he had succeeded in obtaining a statement from Ruef which involved the big magnates of San Francisco.

I knew nothing of the details of obtaining this statement, and nothing of the inducements held out to Ruef, until during the Schmitz trial.

One day while Schmitz was being tried Burns and I were sitting in an automobile in front of the courtroom. Ruef was on the witness stand, and Burns was uneasy, nervous and absentminded. At last he said: "I hope to God they don't ask Ruef anything about what he has been offered in this case."

I said: "What has he been offered?"

Burns replied: "He has an immunity contract in all the big cases."

"You don't mean that he has in his possession written and signed a contract giving him immunity on all the big cases?"

"Yes," said Burns, "that's the truth. I am afraid they will bring it out in court. If they do, we're gone."

But they did not bring it out, and Schmitz was convicted and sentenced to five years in the penitentiary.

After this it was Heney's intention to use Ruef as a witness against Ford, but suddenly, without explanation to me, he changed his mind. All that he told me was that he had a new plan for trying Ford. I said: "In what way?"

"I'm going to use Ruef as a witness," Heney said, "I have worked out a scheme by which I can convict Ford without using Ruef."

I wondered at this. It seemed to me strange that Heney should cut Ruef's evidence. I asked Burns why Heney was doing this.

Burns said that Ruef had fallen down, had broken his agreement with us. Jim Gallagher had taken a letter from Ford to Ruef warning Ruef of the possibility of a grand jury investigation of the United Railroads, and warning Ruef to beware, to be on his guard. Ruef had testified to this letter before the grand jury, but when the evidence was being worked up against Ford, Ruef said he couldn't recall the letter.

This was Burns' story to me, and I accepted it without question. I felt that Ruef had played us false, and I was in favor of prosecuting him most bitterly, giving him as long a sentence as possible.

Ford was tried without Ruef's evidence, and was acquitted. Ruef was tried, the jury disagreed, and he was held for a second trial.

It was in this second trial that the greatest sensation of the graft prosecution occurred.


DURING the second trial of Ruef, we received several intimations that men on the jury panel had been approached and bribed to vote for acquittal. We were unable to get hold of facts that would definitely prove this, until we came to Haas.

Haas was an ex-convict, and a lover of a married woman. Bragging to her one day, he told her that he was to be on the Ruef jury, and would get several thousand dollars out of it. She repeated this to her husband, and he, furious with rage and jealousy against Haas, sent the information to District Attorney Langdon.

When Haas was placed in the jury box for examination, Judge Lawlor called him up and asked him if there was any reason why he should not serve as a juror. Haas replied that there was not.

Heney, not wanting to waste a peremptory challenge upon him, and seeing that he would not take advantage of the loophole given him, then exposed the fact that he had done time in the penitentiary, and he was dismissed.

He was shamed and humiliated by this exposure. The United Railroads detectives seized on this fact, taunted and laughed at him for lying down under such an injury, and at last worked him into a desperate frame of mind. He became obsessed with the idea that he could wipe out the injury only by killing Heney. Just before the court was called to order after recess, he walked up behind Heney and shot him through the head.

The town went wild with excitement at the news. Haas was carried off by policemen and thrown into jail. Heney was placed in an ambulance, supposed to be dying, and was heard to say in the ambulance, "I'll get them yet!"

I was, of course, pretty nearly insane. I followed the ambulance to the hospital and got such news as I could of Heney's condition. The surgeons could not say whether or not he would live. I rushed back to the hall that was being used by Judge Lawlor as a courtroom, crying out for Ruef, trying in my half-mad condition to further infuriate the already infuriated crowd there into taking some violent action.

The streets were flooded with extras, and the city was for once thoroughly aroused. Crowds gathered on the streets and in the hotels, the air was electric. Phelan rushed up from San Jose, found me in my office and wanted to know what should be done. Hiram Johnson appeared, pale, trembling, earnest, and said, "I'm ready for anything that it is decided is the thing to do. If it's the rope, I'm for that."

San Francisco's mood was dangerous that night, and the slightest impetus would have precipitated the crowds into mobs, ready for lynching. A wildly excited mass meeting was held. However, cooler counsels prevailed, and nothing was done.

We made every effort to get a statement from Haas as to who had inspired him to do what he had done, but a few days later he was found shot in his cell in the city prison. He had obtained a gun from some source and committed suicide.

The town was still aroused to a point where it seemed we could go ahead with the trial of Ruef and convict him. Hiram Johnson and Matt I. Sullivan volunteered their services in Heney's place, and the trial went on, while Heney lay on his back at the Lane Hospital.

Burns had reported that four of the jurors had been fixed, and he gave us their names. Hiram Johnson made most effective use of this information in his dramatic talk to the jury. He called each of these men by name, pointing to him, and said, "YOU, you DARE NOT acquit this man!"

We hoped to get a quick verdict, but we didn't. The jury retired to a room over the courtroom in Carpenters' Hall and were out all night. There was a meeting that night and all sorts of wild plans were discussed, but nothing came of it. None of us slept.

The next morning the jury was still out. After a sleepless night I went to the courtroom, in a very overwrought condition of mind, and insisted upon the making of an outcry in the court in case the jury came in to ask for instructions. I would demand that justice be done, and the crowded courtroom should let the jury see its temper.

I was talked out of this foolish idea by another man no less overwrought than myself, who ended by saying that he would make the outcry himself. But the jury was not brought in.

The day dragged on. The jury was still out in the afternoon. At about 2 o'clock Heney telephoned me that he was well enough to come down to the courtroom and pay his respects to Judge Lawlor. I thought I saw in this a chance to get a verdict.

I telephoned Heney to wait until I came for him. Then I telephoned to the League of Justice, a group of people organized to support the graft prosecution. They had a number of men, called "minute men," whom they could get at a minute's notice. I asked for as many as could be mustered to come at once to Carpenters' Hall. Fifty, or perhaps a hundred, came immediately, and I told them to jam the courtroom, which was immediately under the jury room, remain there until I arrived with Heney, and as we appeared in the hall to shout as loud as they could.

I reasoned that while the shout could be considered merely a welcome to Heney, it would have the effect of so thoroughly scaring the jury that it would bring in a verdict.

Heney came. I walked in with him, and I have never heard such a roar as went up. It lasted for five minutes. Twenty minutes later the jury came in, some of them white, shaking and with tears on their cheeks, and returned a verdict of guilty.

This was our first big victory. We had convicted Ruef. Judge Lawlor gave him fourteen years at San Quentin, the utmost penalty the law allowed.

Ford had been acquitted of the charge of giving the bribe money to Ruef, but Ruef had been convicted of taking it. It only remained to try Calhoun. This was to be our big star performance.


THE conviction of Ruef was our first great definite triumph. It exalted us. For days I refused to entertain any misgivings, or allow anxiety to dilute the unrestrained pleasure I felt. Soon, however, came the worry about the upper courts. Would the appellate or supreme court dare to upset our work of years and save Ruef from the penitentiary? We hoped not, but we feared. Their previous rulings had all been against us.

Henry Ach was Ruef's leading attorney, and we knew his remarkable ability and resourcefulness. He prepared the appeal to the appellate court, working on it for months. It was said to contain more than a million words. It had the record for size and hair splitting technicalities.

To our astonishment and satisfaction, the appellate court made short work of it. In an amazingly brief space of time after the case was submitted, a decision came down upholding the verdict in the lower court. This lessened our fear of the supreme court. We reasoned that it would not have the courage to interfere.

In time Ach petitioned the supreme court for a rehearing, and to our horror it was granted, four of the seven justices voting for it. Were we to be thus balked of our prey? Enraged, I assigned several men to the work of attacking the decision, the justices, the lawyers, and everyone remotely connected with it. I realized that it would accomplish nothing in legally altering the status of the case, but perhaps I could arouse public indignation, and failing in that, at least I could have revenge. The article that I prepared covered every possible angle of the case, including interviews with attorneys favorable to our side, and vicious attacks upon the justices.

At an early hour on the morning following this publication, Charles S. Wheeler, the well known attorney, called on me.

He said, "I read the article in the Bulletin last evening, and I have come to you because you are the only member of the graft prosecution in the city. Spreckels and Heney are in the East. Do you want to send Ruef to the penitentiary on a technicality?"

"Yes, I do," I replied.

"I think myself that it is only poetic justice that he should go over on a technicality," he said. "He has used so many of them himself. Now is the time to decide. If you would rather not, say so now and we will let the matter drop."

"I think he ought to go," I said.

"Very well, then," said Wheeler. "Make an appointment for me with Governor Johnson in Sacramento for this evening and have Attorney General Webb present, and I will explain how it can be done. In your paper last night you had a story that after Justice Henshaw signed the order granting a rehearing, he left for the East, and when the decision was rendered he was not in the state. You probably are ignorant of the legal significance of that fact, but it means that when Henshaw left the state, he was legally dead. Therefore, only three members of a court of seven justices affirmed the decision. It required four. I will explain it all to the governor and the attorney general this evening."

At that time the legislature was in session and John Francis Neylan was the Bulletin's legislative correspondent. I telephoned him to make the appointment.

Wheeler and I took the 5 o'clock train, and we were in the governor's office a little after 8. The governor and the attorney general were waiting for us.

I was, of course, in a great state of excitement. In a few words I explained the reason for our visit and asked Wheeler to state the case. He was very cool, calm and brilliant. In the fewest words possible, he outlined the law pertaining to the absence of Henshaw from the state and he made it quite clear to Governor Johnson that the decision of the supreme court was worthless, and that if the attorney general would follow his instructions, it would be upset.

The governor and I were enthusiastic. The attorney general was not. He raised many objections. This aroused the governor and in one of his characteristic speeches, he pointed out to Webb just what his duty was in the matter, and that this was not the time to quibble or hesitate. When the governor finished, I broke into the discussion with a violent tirade about the enormity of Ruef's crimes, and being very angry at Webb's apparent hesitancy, said many foolish things which later I regretted.

The meeting ended, however, by Webb agreeing to do what Wheeler said could be legally done, which was to appear before the supreme court and point out to that body that Henshaw's signature to the order was non-existent after he left the state.

The attorney general carried out the program to the letter, and the court, with Henshaw acting, reversed itself.

All obstacles were thus cleared away and Ruef entered the penitentiary under a fourteen year sentence.


JIM GALLAGHER was our big witness in the trial of Calhoun. Shortly before the case came to trial, Gallagher's house was dynamited, at a time when he and seven other people were in it. No one was killed, although the building was wrecked. Almost immediately afterward, some flats he owned in Oakland were dynamited.

Gallagher began to waver. There was no question that he stood in hourly danger of death because of his value to us in the Calhoun case. He was badly frightened.

We were doing our best to hold him in line, but this was naturally somewhat difficult. Burns said that if something was not done to satisfy him, Gallagher would go away and leave us in the lurch, and we would fail in the Calhoun trial, our biggest case. I asked what I could do, and Burns said that Gallagher felt he should at least be reimbursed for the destruction of his flats.

He wanted me to promise that after the Calhoun case was finished, Calhoun either convicted or acquitted or dismissed, that I would pay Gallagher $4500 for the destroyed flats. Neither the district attorney, nor Heney, nor Burns, nor anyone officially connected with the prosecution, could offer Gallagher that money, but as a free lance I could do so.

I asked Burns if Gallagher would take my word for it. Burns said he would. So I sent for Gallagher and promised him the $4500 definitely, and he said, "I'll take your word, Mr. Older. I'll remain and testify."

In doing this, I was not troubled by any finely construed points of law. We knew that Calhoun was guilty, we felt that he ought to be punished. If we could have convicted him without using any questionable methods, openly and above board, of course we would have preferred to do it that way. But we could not, and since we had to fight fire with fire, and meet crookedness with devious methods, we did that. The big thing, the only important thing, was to convict. Everything else was lost sight of in that one intense desire, born of the long, hard fight.

When Calhoun came up for trial, Gallagher stayed with us, and testified. The case dragged on, through all the delays and vexations and squabbles of such a case.

I was very anxious that Roy tell on the stand the story of Calhoun's many efforts to bribe him, of the trip to Luther Brown's father in law's house in Alameda, and the promised $150,000, and the affidavit that Brown had signed on the bottom. But Roy was reluctant.

He said: "If they bring it out in questioning me, I'll tell the whole story; but if they don't I'd rather not."

They didn't, of course. Calhoun's lawyers treated him very gingerly. His examination was continued from one day to another, and before he was to go on the stand the second day I talked with him very earnestly. I urged him to blurt out the whole affair, and I thought that I had got him to the point where he would do it.

I went with him into the courtroom. When Calhoun's attorneys saw me in the court, they felt sure that I had persuaded Roy to tell the story, and they did not call him to the stand at all.

The jury finally came in with no verdict. They stood 10 to 2 for acquittal, and were unable to reach a nearer agreement.

It was hard to say why juries do these things. The long, tiresome delays and arguments over minor and confusing points of law, the innumerable wearisome details, questions of exact time, of the character of witnesses, of precedents and procedures, undoubtedly wear out a juror's patience and exhaust him mentally. But in this case there is no doubt money was used.

In addition to this, the excitement over Heney's shooting, and over the dynamiting of of Gallagher's house, had long died down when at last the Calhoun case went to the jury. The graft prosecution had been fought for two long years. People had tired of it. They wanted it ended, no matter how, only that it was finished and done with.

The property owners of the city still regarded Calhoun as something of a hero for killing the street car strike, and also they felt that all this agitation about graft was not good for San Francisco's reputation. Public opinion was setting hard against us. The Calhoun disagreement really ended the graft prosecution, although we did not know it.

It was the fall of 1909. The city elections were coming on, and again the fight became a political one.

The Calhoun people brought Charley Fickert into the fight as candidate for district attorney, obviously with the understanding that if he were elected he would dismiss the charges against Calhoun and all the other defendants. Francis J. Heney ran against him.

For mayor, those favoring the grafters put up William Crocker, a planing mill man. He was a Republican and it was thought by the powerful people here that he would be a safe man, and if elected would assist in stopping any further prosecution of the big malefactors.

Crocker's candidacy brought the fight into my own office, and I found myself beset from both sides, trying to contend against enemies both outside and inside the Bulletin. The trouble ran back directly to the old Tobin-Wells fight for mayor.


DURING the entire progress of the graft fight the ghost of the old Tobin-Wells fight for Mayor haunted me.

In my arrangements with Spreckels, before he agreed to help finance the graft fight, he insisted that he would not go into it unless it led to Herrin.

"Herrin is the man behind the corruption of our whole state," he said. "Herrin is the man who has broken down the morals of thousands of our young men, debauched our cities and our towns and our villages, corrupted our legislatures and courts. I will not go into this thing unless it is understood that it doesn't stop short of dethroning Herrin."

I had promised that the trails would be followed, clear to their center in the Southern Pacific ring, and from that it followed naturally that the Bulletin was making a vigorous campaign against the head of the law department of the Southern Pacific.

Crothers became very nervous about it and suggested several times to me that he didn't want Herrin attacked. I felt then that he feared Herrin would expose the Wells money paid the paper, but in spite of that power which Herrin held over us, I continued to go on with the campaign against him.

Frequently Crothers would go into the printing office and look over the headlines himself, and if he discovered Herrin's name, would insist on its being lifted out of the paper, but even with this interference I managed to keep up the fight.

Finally, he told me flatly that he wanted the attacks on Herrin stopped, the criticism of Herrin to cease. I replied frankly that it was impossible for me to do that, that the entire reportorial force was under full headway in the fight, and they were writing, all of them, from the angle of the paper's policy as it appeared to them, and I could not go to each man and tell him that he must not criticise Herrin.

"I can't do it, Mr. Crothers, because I am ashamed for you. If it's to be done, you'll have to do it yourself. I can not."

He did not have the courage to do it, and it was never done. However, all the time our opponents were trying to reach into the office. They succeeded in getting the business manager at that time to undertake to break me down, but I resisted all his efforts. The fight become more burdensome, because it extended into the very building in which I worked. It was hard enough to fight the outside world, and the struggle with the men inside added to the difficulties.

After the friends of the big grafters put up Crocker for Mayor I heard that some of them were working on Crothers to get him to support Crocker. Again I found myself in the same position I was when I opposed the Bulletin's supporting Wells. I was quite sure Crothers would not switch the course of the paper in the midst of a big fight such as we were waging, for any other reason than the old reason.

However, as he said nothing to me about it, I hoped for the best. Then one day he told me he thought we ought to support Crocker. To do it meant to go over to the enemies of the graft prosecution, meant to support men who were pledged to dismiss our indictments and destroy the result of all our labor. I told Crothers that I would not do it.

He replied that he owned the Bulletin, and that it would support whomever he chose. I grew very angry and excited and replied, "Yes, what you say is perfectly true. You do own the Bulletin, but you don't own me, and I won't stand for Crocker."

I walked out of the room, very angry, determined never to return. I went to my wife and told her that I was through with the Bulletin. She wanted to know the reason, and I told her that Crothers had gone back to his old methods. He was determined to get behind the candidate who represented the men we had been fighting, and I could not bring myself to continue in my position.

Later I had a talk with our attorney, who was a friend both of Crothers and myself, and he persuaded me to talk again with Crothers. This time Crothers spoke in a very mollifying way, urging that we ought not to quarrel over such a small matter. We were both very nervous. What he said at the time gave me the impression that he had abandoned Crocker, but a day or two afterward he brought Crocker up to my office and introduced him to me.

I asked Crocker whether or not he would support the graft prosecution if he were elected. He evaded the subject, quibbled and dodged, while I became more insistent upon a direct answer. He would not give it, and at last I lost my temper and dismissed him very curtly.

The interview was so stormy and I was so determined not to stay with the paper if I were to be forced to change my attitude, that Crothers finally yielded and I had my way. The Bulletin supported Heney and Leland, the opponents of Fickert and Crocker. Leland wrote for us a strong, unqualified endorsement of the graft prosecution, and I felt that he would be sincerely with us.

So we went into the final battle of the graft prosecution. It was fought bitterly.

Labor, because their Mayor, Schmitz, had been exposed by our investigation, was, I think, largely on the side of Fickert. The bribery and graft and rotten city conditions that we had revealed did not greatly concern them. It was too far removed from their own personal, immediate interests for them to become partisans in the struggle. And the clear issues had been very skillfully clouded by Calhoun's efforts.

Of course, we believed that two-thirds of San Francisco would be in our favor. We did not dream until the day of the election how greatly mistaken we were. All through the campaign our meetings were largely attended. Heney spoke to packed audiences in every district in the city. There was great enthusiasm wherever he appeared, and he was working like three men in his enthusiasm for our cause.

The United Railroads made a wonderful campaign. Money was poured out with no thought of cost. The Post and the Oakland Tribune issued big editions which were left at every doorstep in San Francisco. Women's clubs were organized and women went about among the people whispering the vilest scandal about Heney.

The United Railroads had a complete card index of every voter in the city, and toward the close of the campaign the betting at the poolrooms should have shown us that Fickert would win. But we could not believe it; I refused to believe it. I still had too much faith in the people to believe that such a calamity could possibly happen, that any city could actually vote for men who had been proved to be exploiting it.

Up to the day of election I was certain that Heney would win. Late in the afternoon, however, Burns and Spreckels came into my office, both of them white. They had been out in one of the Mission districts where only laboring people lived, and they had been jeered from the sidewalks as they drove along in an automobile. That convinced them that we had lost.

It was a terrible blow, but we bore it as best we could. The returns came in that evening, showing Fickert far in the lead. Heney, I think, polled only 26,000 votes; Fickert beat him by ten or twelve thousand.


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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