San Francisco History

My Own Story



"MY OWN STORY" could hardly have been a simpler or a more appropriate title for the series of reminiscences by Fremont Older, following as it did so many stories about other people that he had helped to inspire. Those stories prepared the way for this swift narrative, scene after scene almost bewildering in variety and interest. Whatever else life may have been for Older it has never been dull. The excitement and the glow are reflected in every chapter.

Writing about oneself is pretty difficult business. There are so many pitfalls. Few could hope to escape them all. Older wrote as if he thought very little about them one way or the other. He was concerned mainly with the story as something to be told concisely, directly and frankly. There were times when another writer would have spared himself and he spared himself not at all. Each scene he described as he saw it and felt it and he let it go at that. There are not many who would have dared to speak so freely. And yet it was this freedom that did most to make his work valuable. He wrote out of a full mind, like one that found expression easy.

Long before "My Own Story" was begun some of us had tried again and again to persuade Older to write his memories. But he never showed much interest. When he withdrew from the Bulletin, however, he felt that he had made a break in his career. He had reached a point where he was tempted to look back. His quarter of a century spent in building up the paper was full of dramatic incidents. They were associated with an important period in the history of San Francisco. They involved the earthquake, the fire, the political corruption that led to the graft prosecution, the emancipation of California from forces that had so long preyed on her political and social life, the imprisonment of Ruef. For Older all the incidents had a deeper meaning than was revealed on the outside. They helped to open his eyes. They trained his understanding. They widened his sympathies. They gave him his social vision.

Any self-revelation worth being published at all has two phases, the one that presents the outer circumstances and the one that gives the inner reactions. Many autobiographies are insignificant because they have one of these two phases only. In "My Own Story" both phases are remarkable. The surface narrative alone is absorbingly interesting. It offers us intimate glimpses into public characters and public events associated with San Francisco during the past twenty-five years. Every figure presented is lifelike. Every incident rings true. The conversations are to the last degree realistic. The references to McKinley early in the book give a remarkably vivid reflection of his character, seen through an observer whose insight was made all the clearer by his humor. In Older a mind naturally receptive and keen had been made impressionable by training in newspaper reporting. Moreover, it was capable of retaining impressions. But for this faculty, these records could not possibly have been made so lifelike.

If Older had not gone from reporting into editing he might have developed into a writer of distinction. He had all the qualities requisite for the making of a novelist. Those first chapters show how strongly life attracted him, how he reveled in it as he sought his material for writing. Chance that made him a reporter with a nose for news might just as well have made him a story teller with a genius for characters that expressed themselves in dramatic plots. But if he had became a story teller he would probably have withdrawn from active participation in public life; he would have missed much of the experience that made this record so rich.

While the story ran in The Call it was interesting to all of us associated with the paper to observe the way it affected readers. As might have been expected, it attracted notice at the start and had a wide reading. No surprise was felt at the excellence of the narrative style. Hadn't Older been a newspaper man all his life? Yes, but for many years he had been concerned mainly with planning for his paper and directing the work of others. Only those on the inside knew that in an almost incredibly short time he had dictated most of the narrative to a stenographer. He had gone at the job like a whirlwind, as he usually did when he became interested in any job. His newspaper sense made him feel that he must keep it moving and moving fast. Only an accomplished writer could have reached such speed and, at the same time, kept the continuity so clear and the incidents so realistic. Throughout the reader could have the feeling of intimacy, always so attractive in writing, as if the writer were addressing the talk to him personally.

As the story went on public interest grew. Those who missed issues of the paper began to ask for back numbers at the office. Readers who began late wanted to go back to the start. Then some of us suggested that the series ought to be brought out in book form. But Older didn't agree. Newspaper publication was enough, he insisted; the book wouldn't make any appeal. Already he was planning for the next serial feature, to be started soon after his story ended. As usual, his mind was galloping ahead. From day to day his argument was refuted by the letters that came in expressing interest and urging book publication. It became plain that this record would have to be preserved.

I don't think that Older had any idea, as he wrote, of working for cumulative interest. While the chapters toward the end were running, those about his interest in prisoners and his efforts to understand them, he was astonished by the public response. Of all the chapters they made the biggest hit and caused most discussion.

And they were successful, I believe, not merely because they were in themselves so interesting, but also because of the way they were told and because of the story teller's humane spirit.

I suspect that one explanation of the cumulative interest in the narrative was due to its being the record of a mind that kept growing. The Older reflected in those first chapters was a very different Older from the man in the last chapters, and yet with essentially the same qualities, softened and broadened through experience and reflection. The man of action became the philosopher without losing any of his vitality and enthusiasm. One of the younger attorneys in the Mooney case tells about the end of a day spent with Older in work that had worn out everyone concerned, except Older himself. At bed time, Older ran his hands over his face, yawned and exclaimed, "I'm losing my pep."

I predict that he will never lose his pep. No one can read this story without finding it there and finding with it a mellowness that gives it a rare flavor. Something of the Older the public hasn't known in the past and is just finding out and that those of us who work with him know has got into those memories. The last chapters are Older to the life as he is today, the doer and the philosopher who looks at the world with intense curiosity and with a good deal of sadness over what he sees and frankly says he doesn't know how we can make it what it should be. He is bewildered by the plight of those people who can't keep out of prison and by those who, while keeping out of prison, help to make the world ugly. But if he has no solution to offer he lets us see that he is still bent on finding a solution and he makes us want to help. That eager mind of his still has some tall traveling to do. There is big work for him ahead.

San Francisco, January 3, 1919.


FOR some years I have wanted to write a frank story of my experiences as an editor of a newspaper in San Francisco. I couldn't. I was not allowed to. Such a story, to have any value, implied a confession, and I was not free to confess.

This I learned when in an address before the Council of Jewish Women, in March, 1914, I approached as near as I dared in a statement of a part of the truth. Guarded as that attempt was, a lifting of the curtain the least little bit, my temerity was bitterly resented. The owners of the paper I served wished to cling to the halo the Bulletin had set upon us all in the graft prosecution. No doubt entered our minds. We had performed a high public service. The dark forces of corruption had fought us savagely. We had encountered danger, financial reprisal, and the cold stare of former friends and acquaintances. We had bravely faced it all. Why shouldn't we enjoy the daily thrills, and proudly wear the decoration bestowed upon us by a righteous people? But time and reflection cooled me until the poor little halo had lost its value. I wanted to strike deeper, and dig at the very roots of the causes of evil which I had become convinced jails would not cure.

I wanted to tell why I was making so hard a fight for the parole of Abraham Ruef. I couldn't. I realized that I was in an utterly false position, and I couldn't say so. Not the owners alone deterred me from frank expression, but I knew my old associates would resent any word of mine that would taint the glory they felt they had achieved in so hard a struggle. Also the people who had been sympathetic with the prosecution had a fixed opinion that newspapers that made their kind of fight were incapable of doing wrong. If the end we were striving for was "noble," we also were "noble." Unconsciously the old idea that the king can do no wrong had been handed down to us, and is made to apply to those who lead and win a popular fight. That is why I based my appeal for Ruef upon sentimental grounds. I could only urge that now since Ruef had gone to the penitentiary, had been shaved, striped and numbered—one poor, helpless being crushed—why not be merciful? That was what I said in a big, flaring page editorial.

That wasn't the whole truth. Fighters, fanatically sure they are right, are likely to be without the restraint of conscience, and in battling against evil, become careless of the methods employed, firmly believing that the means justify the end. Thus we, the reformers and the lawyers, and the officers of the court, and the detectives, the courts and the law had to do whatever it seemed necessary to do to win. I realized that we had to get down once or twice to Ruef's level to prove him guilty and get him into the penitentiary, where later I hated to see him, knowing what I knew, knowing what I propose now to tell. For with Ruef out of the penitentiary, and I myself out of my prison, I can tell this and all the other stories of my life as an editor.

It is difficult, it is almost impossible, for any one to talk about himself and his actions without unconsciously trying to excuse wrong doing or to exaggerate his better motives. I may not be able to entirely avoid these errors, but I shall try to avoid them. I shall try to tell without concealment or evasion, either for myself or others, the whole truth behind the most important chapters in San Francisco's life as a city.

While I shall call this my own story, it will be the story of many editors, many reformers, many righteous crusaders against graft and crime, vice and bad people. I shall start the story when I became editor of the Bulletin in 1895. Worldly success was my only ideal. I knew nothing of life as it is really lived. I saw only shadows of men, believing that the villain, as in the plays of that day and, unfortunately, of this day, was thrown from a bridge, and the hero in evening dress married the perfect lady in the last act. Passionately fighting in many battles what I conceived to be evil, I gradually discovered that it was the evil in me that brought defeat. It was evil fighting evil. This truth took possession of me. I wanted others to know it. I believed it could best be understood by asking bad people who knew they were bad, and good people who thought they were good, to tell their stories.

For some years I devoted much time and energy to this work. Their stories took on the character of confessions and were published as serials in the Bulletin. In this confessional have stood Abraham Ruef, political boss; Donald Lowrie, ex-prisoner; Jack Black, ex-prisoner; A Baptist Clergyman; Alice Smith, a prostitute; A Sure-Thing Gambler; A Bunko Man; A Prominent Physician, and Martin Kelly, political boss.

These confessions were all intended to help other people to see themselves and to recognize themselves, but there were always some who thought I inspired these confessions, and wondered why I, too, did not confess. I received many letters asking me why I didn't tell my story as fully and frankly as I urged others to do. I invariably replied that I wanted to, but that I couldn't. But now that I am free to write it, I hope that my readers will try to find themselves in my story and recognize that it is really the story of all of us.


I BECAME managing editor of the Bulletin in January, 1895. Before that time I had been a reporter on various San Francisco newspapers, and had acquired a local reputation as a young man with a "nose for news." In addition to this news instinct, I had a great deal of enthusiasm for my work, a persistent desire to run down every story until I had exhausted every possible angle of it. As an alert and enterprising young newspaper man, I had been chosen by R. A. Crothers to be city editor of The Morning Call.

At that time The Call and the Bulletin were both owned by the estate of Loring Pickering, the estate of a man named Simonton, and George K. Fitch, then living. There was a great deal of friction between Fitch and R. A. Crothers, who represented the Pickering estate, and shortly after I went on The Call as city editor, Fitch brought proceedings in the Federal court to have both papers sold at auction, as a means of settling the difficulties.

I had been on The Call less than a year when the sale occurred. The Call was sold to Charles M. Shortridge for $361,000. A few days later R. A. Crothers bought the Bulletin for $35,500.

The paper was at very low ebb, having a circulation of perhaps nine thousand, and advertising insufficient to meet the expenses. I think it was losing about $3000 a month. But Loring Pickering, before his death, had expressed a wish that his widow should hold the Bulletin for their son, Loring, then about 7 years old. The father's idea was that The Call in competition with the Examiner would be a difficult property to handle successfully, and he felt that the Bulletin could be developed into a paying paper.

Before Loring Pickering died he gave his brother in law, Crothers, a very small interest in The Call, a twelfth of his one-third interest, which, when the paper was sold, realized a few thousand dollars. This sum, added to Crothers' savings as a lawyer in Canada, was sufficient to enable him to pay one-half of the Bulletin's purchase price. The other half was paid by his sister, Mrs. Pickering, who held her share in trust for her son, Loring. The purchase was made in Crothers' name and he became the ostensible owner of the paper.

After the sale he found himself in possession of a property which was losing a large sum monthly. It was necessary immediately to turn this deficit into a profit, in order to save the capital invested. Crothers offered me the managing editorship, which I accepted.

As I remember, at that time I had no ideals whatever about life, and no enthusiasms beyond newspaper success. I was vain of my newspaper talent; that is, the talent that made it possible for me to succeed in getting hold of news and features that would interest the public and increase circulation.

Neither Crothers nor myself had any other view in the beginning than to make the paper succeed financially. It had to be done quickly, too, because Crothers had no money and the Pickering estate consisted largely of real estate, so that we could get no help from that source.

The office of the Bulletin was on Clay street, between Sansome and Montgomery, in an old building that was almost on the verge of tumbling down. It had been there for more than thirty years. We had only one old press that was wholly inadequate for handling a circulation of any size, and our type was set by hand.

It was almost impossible to make any improvements, because we had no money. We were running so close on revenue that Crothers was constantly worried for fear we would encounter losses that would entirely destroy our hopes of success.

I worked desperately hard in the beginning. I had a staff of only five men besides myself, and I acted as managing editor, city editor, book reviewer, dramatic critic and exchange editor, thus doing the work of several men. I lived, breathed, ate, slept and dreamed nothing but the paper. My absorbing thought was the task of making it go.

I was perfectly ruthless in my ambition. My one desire was to stimulate the circulation, to develop stories that would catch the attention of readers, no matter what was the character of the stories. They might make people suffer, might wound or utterly ruin some one; that made no difference to me, it was not even in my mind. I cared only for results, for success to the paper and to myself.

It was not long before the paper began to respond to the strong pressure I put upon it. We had only two competitors in the evening paper field, the Post and the Report, and I had the satisfaction of seeing our circulation slowly creep upward, until we had passed the Post and were becoming a serious rival of the Report.

Meanwhile I had been urging that we move away from the old quarters, to get a new press and install linotype machines. Crothers and I decided that five linotypes would do the work of twenty-six compositors, and that the saving made would perhaps help to keep us on the right side of the financial line. Five months after we took charge we moved to Bush street above Kearny, and installed the five linotypes and a new press, which was only partly paid for.

In my ceaseless efforts to make the paper attractive and to do unusual things, I undertook art work on chalk plates, which was a novelty at the time. A plate of chalk was used, the artist making his drawing upon it with a steel tool. With Will Sparks as artist, we produced some very good effects. This was before we were able to install a photo engraving plant.

I was working under heavy pressure, trying to overlook nothing that would help the paper. I watched the circulation, the street sales, the art work; I wrote several departments of the paper myself, and I was avid in my search for news scoops. One of my typical stories, through which ran the same overwrought enthusiasm that characterized the later and more important ones, was the fight against the pastor of the First Congregational Church, Reverend C. O. Brown.

Brown had been accused of having improper relations with a young woman, a member of his church, and we made quite a scandal about it. The preacher, of course, denied the story, but I was able to stir up enough discord in his church to cause some of the members to ask for an investigation. The investigation resulted in a trial of Brown by a jury of preachers from other churches.

I made desperate efforts to get condemning evidence, and succeeded to quite an extent, running big stories with flaring headlines daily during the trial. During this fight Brown, in order to frighten me into abandoning the fight against him, caused to be written to me a forged letter signed by John J. Valentine, the manager of the Wells Fargo Express Company and a prominent member of his church. The letter asked me to drop the matter, saying that Brown was a very fine man, and undoubtedly innocent and persecuted.

As soon as I received the letter I immediately rushed down to Valentine with it. He said that it was a forgery, that he had never written it. This made what I considered a great story. I published a facsimile of the letter, with a heading across the page, "Brown, the Penman," and a handwriting expert's testimony added.

Brown was acquitted by the friendly jury of preachers, resigned and went East, and nothing was heard of him for more than a year. Then he reappeared in San Francisco, hired a hall, and in a public speech admitted his guilt. No one seemed to know why he made the confession.

By this time, however, my work as an editor was beginning to involve me in larger questions. I had come into direct contact with national politics, and my first experiences were illuminating.


IN 1895, during my first year as managing editor of the Bulletin, McKinley was beginning his campaign for the Presidency. In our harassing need for money to keep the paper going, searching in every possible direction for means of increasing our slender revenues, Crothers insisted that some money ought to be forthcoming from the McKinley forces.

In my endeavor to make this money as legitimately as possible, I hit upon the idea of getting out a special McKinley edition. Fifty thousand extra papers, boosting McKinley, distributed throughout California, should be worth $5000 to the Republican committee. Crothers had always been a Republican; so far as I had any political convictions they were in harmony with those of the Republican party. The special edition would not only be in line with the Bulletin's editorial policy, but with its business needs. I eased my conscience with the thought that we were only asking the normal price, 5 cents a copy.

Crothers approved the idea, and I went to Chicago, where I saw Mark Hanna and urged the plan. He was willing; the matter was referred to Judge Waymire, who was in charge of the campaign on the Coast, and on my return to San Francisco he approved it.

Before we could print the edition, however, a tremendous protest went up from other San Francisco papers, led by the Argonaut. They were getting no money; they violently opposed our getting any. Senator Proctor of Vermont came West, representing the National Republican committee, and there was a vigorous controversy which ended by our being paid $2500, half the sum agreed upon. The other $2500 was repudiated. But Judge Waymire said he would personally assume the debt. He failed soon after, leaving the balance unpaid.

Dropping into my office, one day, during the course of these negotiations, Judge Waymire showed me a letter which he had received from Mark Hanna, in which the great Republican boss promised Waymire an appointment in McKinley's Cabinet as Secretary of the Interior.

I had a brilliant idea. If the Bulletin were to come out editorially urging Waymire's appointment we would gain immensely in prestige when later he was appointed. It would appear that we had waged a successful political fight for Waymire. And we risked nothing because the appointment had already been promised him, behind the scenes.

I set to work on the editorial, was engaged in finishing it, when Senator Perkins came in to bid me goodby before leaving for the East. I showed him the editorial.

"Fine!" he said. "I love Judge Waymire. He's the dearest friend I have in the world. There's nothing I wouldn't do for him. I'm just on my way East now; I'll stop off at Canton, if you like, see McKinley, and urge him personally to appoint the judge." He was most enthusiastic.

I told him he need not do that. I was satisfied to know that he would be strong for Waymire.

Much encouraged by his enthusiasm, I ran the editorial, while Perkins went on to Washington. Immediately upon his arrival there, the Associated Press brought back an interview with the senator in which he declared himself for Horace Davis for the Cabinet position. Davis had been president of the University of California and was a commanding political figure.

This jarred me considerably. I was not yet accustomed to the ways of politics, and I was astounded by Perkins' action. Moreover, the Bulletin was committed to Waymire's cause, and I began to be troubled with fears that he would lose the appointment. Rumors came to me that Judge McKenna, then occupying the Federal bench here, was also a candidate for the position, and had good hopes of getting it.

I had become very well acquainted with Waymire and when he learned that Judge McKenna was likely to be appointed to the Cabinet, instead of himself, he told me that, of course, the Southern Pacific railway was the controlling influence.

He told me that when McKenna was first appointed to the Federal bench, he also had been a candidate for the same position, and knowing that Leland Stanford, at that time a United States Senator, would say the ultimate word in the appointment. Waymire had called on Stanford and asked him if he would not consider him for the place.

"Senator Stanford was very frank," Waymire said. "He told me that he liked me very much indeed, admired me greatly. He also liked and admired McKenna equally with me. The senator said, `If all things were equal, I would have difficulty in deciding which one should have this position of Federal judge. But while I like you both, I can't overlook the fact that your mind leans more to the protesting people, the people who have made it difficult for our corporations to be successful here in California.

"`You tend more to the side of the agitating public than McKenna does,' Stanford said. `McKenna is equally honest, but his mind naturally tends the other way. He honestly believes that corporate interests should be protected and that the sacred rights of property should be carefully safeguarded. Therefore, between the two, both of you being equally honest, I feel I must decide in favor of McKenna.'

"So," Waymire concluded, "if McKenna is appointed Secretary of the Interior, no doubt it will be for the same reason, because he is friendly to the Southern Pacific organization."

Apart from my personal feeling toward Judge Waymire, I might have wished myself well out of the situation, for the Bulletin was in no condition to make a losing political fight. However, we were definitely committed to Waymire's candidacy, so friendship and self-interest pulled together. I determined to do my utmost to force his appointment.

Judge Waymire thought McKinley would hesitate to appoint McKenna to a Cabinet position which was connected with the schools, because of his religion. McKinley was a devout Methodist, and Waymire sought a prominent local Methodist clergyman and asked him if he would be willing to help. The clergyman at once called upon Bishop Newman of the Methodist Church, who was at that time in San Francisco. He was keen to help, and wrote a stinging letter to McKinley, rebuking him for having even entertained the idea of McKenna for such an important position. He even told him that he should not listen to either Archbishop Ireland or C. P. Huntington, both of whom the bishop said had called on him in McKenna's behalf.

With this letter in hand, I telegraphed McKinley, asking for an appointment.


ARMED with the letter from Bishop Newman, I went East to see McKinley personally in regard to Waymire's appointment as secretary of the interior. McKinley had most cordially telegraphed me the time at which he would see me, and upon my arrival in Canton he received me at his home, in his drawing room. I had traveled through ice and snow across the continent for this interview with the future President, and was nervous and keyed up with excitement.

McKinley's face lighted up when I mentioned Judge Waymire.

"Oh, yes, the dear judge!" he said. "How is he? I love Judge Waymire."

I seemed to hear a sinister warning in these words. I had heard them before. Senator Perkins had used them. They had cheered me then, and I had believed them, but now I was doubtful.

"Waymire is one of my dearest friends," said McKinley. "How is he getting along? Tell me all about him!"

I approached the question of the appointment to the cabinet, and McKinley, saying that we could talk better upstairs, led me up to his bedroom and closed the door. I produced the scorching letter from Bishop Newman, protesting against the appointment of McKenna.

"The dear old bishop!" said McKinley. He read the letter without a change of expression, bland and smiling. "Now he raises here what seems to me a very trivial point," he said. "Of course, I'm a deacon in my church—I love Newman, I love the dear old bishop—but he says here that I should not appoint McKenna because he is a Catholic. Would that make any difference to you, Mr. Older?"

"Not any at all," I said. "But that's because I have no feeling about any church. They all mean the same to me. Of course I believe in the doctrines of Christ. I consider His message the most beautiful ever given the world. But I have no feeling about sects. However, if I had—"

"Now, the bishop says here that Archbishop Ireland has been to see me—and that Huntington has been to see me. That is true, and I have talked with them both. But they have had no influence with me, no influence at all. You know, Mr. Older, a Cabinet is a family matter—one might call the Cabinet a large, harmonious family. In picking a Cabinet you choose men whose work you know—now wouldn't you, Mr. Older?"

"You have McKenna in mind, no doubt," I said.

"Yes," he replied. "When I was chairman of the Ways and Means Committee, McKenna, then in Congress, was on the committee with me. Thus coming in close contact with him I came to know him well. If you were going to employ a writer on the Bulletin, Mr. Older, wouldn't you pick a man whose work you knew?"

"Probably not," I said, "if there were two men whose work was equally good, and this man had tried to prevent me from holding the position that made it possible for me to give him the job."

"What do you mean?"

"McKenna was against you for the nomination," I said. "He openly urged his political friends in California to support Tom Reed."

For just an instant this seemed to disconcert McKinley, but he rallied quickly and said, "No doubt Reed at some time has done McKenna a favor. That should not count against him."

Then I spoke about Waymire and his ability and talents. McKinley agreed to all I said, and repeated that he loved Waymire. He said also that he had not fully decided to give McKenna the place. McKenna would not take it unless the President would promise to put him on the Supreme Bench later. McKenna would not give up a $6000 a year life job on the Federal bench for a four-year job at $8000 a year as Secretary of the Interior. He would not take the Cabinet position unless McKinley would promise him a life job later, which McKinley told me he hesitated to do. However, he would make no promises for Waymire.

McKinley later appointed McKenna attorney general, thus avoiding offense to his Methodist friends who didn't want McKenna in the Department of the Interior, which has something to do with the schools. He subsequently elevated him to the Supreme bench.

I wired Waymire the result of my interview and he advised my seeing Mark Hanna. I went on to Cleveland and called on Hanna. I told him what McKinley had said about McKenna and Waymire.

"Why do you come to me?" he inquired.

"Because," I replied, "you wrote a letter to Waymire before the election saying he would get a Cabinet position, and knowing that you are the politician of the firm, I thought you would decide it."

"So I am the politician of the firm, am I?"

"You are so regarded all over America."

Hanna rose from his chair and came over close to me and said: "Mr. Older, I am a baby in politics compared with our good friend in Canton. He has already decided upon McKenna. If you had understood the language of politics you would have saved yourself this trip. Give my love to Waymire and tell him I am sorry, but it can't be helped."

I returned to California. My first experience in politics had ended disastrously for my hopes. But the local election of 1896 brought me other and more encouraging experiences. It was an important election from my point of view, because from the beginning of the campaign I felt that it would help the Bulletin tremendously if I could win a political victory in which a mayor would be elected.

The entire state at that time was politically controlled by the Southern Pacific. In order thoroughly to dominate the state it not only controlled the Legislature, the courts, the municipal governments, the county governments, which included coroners, sheriffs, boards of supervisors, in fact, all state and county and city officials, but it also had as complete a control of the newspapers of the state as was possible, and through them it controlled public opinion.

There was hardly an editor who dared criticise to any extent the railroad domination. Country editors, many of them, were satisfied with an annual pass for the editor and his wife. Some of the larger ones expected and got money for advertisements. Some of the metropolitan papers fared better, and among these was the Bulletin.

This use of money and favors was quite open. No one seemed to criticise it. At every session of the Legislature, in addition to the secret money that was distributed, blue tickets were openly handed about. On Friday or Saturday when the Legislature adjourned until Monday, railroad lobbyists passed these blue tickets around among all the members and all the newspaper men and all the attaches of both houses. These tickets entitled the holder to a free passage to San Francisco and return.

Even Supreme Court judges traveled on annual passes and made no secret of it, and all influential people traveled to and from the East without any cost. I have been on an overland train when there were only three or four people on the entire train that had a ticket they had paid for. In the Pullman I was in none had even paid for their berths. One man, a cigar drummer, had a pass for meals at the eating stations.

I remember one session of the Legislature in the early nineties, when a certain assemblyman from San Francisco told me that all of his leading constitutents had told him to get all he could up there, and he was quite open in taking money, discussing boodle in committee meetings, and rising to make inquiries as to whether or not there was any money coming up from Fourth and Townsend. The railroad building was located there at that time.

No fight of any consequence had been made against this state of affairs. Corporations were regarded as legitimate business enterprises bound up with the welfare of the community, and people believed that they should have special privileges, that they must have special privileges in order to succeed, and that they must succeed if the community was to be prosperous.

This was the state of affairs when I began casting about for a candidate for mayor who could make a conspicuous, winning fight, and reflect credit upon the Bulletin. I had sense enough to know that there would be nothing brilliantly conspicuous in getting behind Herrin, the railroad boss, and helping him to put his mayor in. What I wanted was a fight against the machine, and it must be a winning fight.

Earnestly considering the situation, I thought of James D. Phelan. He was rich, which gave him leisure and made him independent of money considerations; he was of Irish stock and a Catholic. I thought that if the Bulletin, which had been a very solemn, conservative paper under the old management, were to take up a political fight for a popular, clean young rich man, it would help the paper tremendously.


AT that time the Southern Pacific Railroad dominated not only the Republican party, but also, to a large extent, the Democratic organization. Practically every one of influence supported the railroad, because it was in control, and thus the sole dispenser of political favors.

A man who wanted anything that political power could give went to Bill Higgins, the Republican boss, who responded to Herrin, or to Sam Rainey, the Democratic boss, who responded to Herrin, or he went to Sacramento to the railroad lobbyists, who were henchmen of Herrin. The rest of the people did not count.

The Southern Pacific was openly the Republican party. When there was a Republican governor in Sacramento the office of the governor was Herrin's office in San Francisco. If a group of men wanted anything from the governor, they did not go to see the governor; they went to see Herrin. He would put it through for any one whom he liked; that is, for any one who would be useful to him.

So far as I know, this control of Herrin's was absolute in California except in San Francisco. Here there was a small rebellious group of Democrats, headed at that time by Gavin McNab, a young and ambitious clerk in the Occidental Hotel, who was studying law in his spare time. He had a great deal of energy and dash and spirit, and was strong against crooked politics. While he was a hotel clerk, with no money except his salary, he already had a small but growing influence, and I took him into account in considering my problem.

There were many angles to my difficulty. Politically, the Bulletin had always been Republican. R. A. Crothers had very strong Republican convictions, and, as I have said, so far as I had any political opinions at the time, they were also Republican.

In addition to this, the Bulletin was on the payroll of the Southern Pacific Railroad for $125 a month. This was paid not for any definite service, but merely for "friendliness." Being always close to the line of profit and loss, it was felt the paper could not afford to forfeit this income. Yet I felt strongly the advantage to our circulation which would come from a startling political fight in which we should be victorious, and in order to make such a fight it was necessary to back a candidate outside the Southern Pacific ring.

It was a delicate situation. However, I reasoned that I could count upon a certain indifference to purely local affairs on Herrin's part, and I believed that if I could find the right candidate I could make the fight successfully.

At this time I had never met Phelan, but I knew that he had taken considerable interest in civic affairs. He had been a director of the World's Fair at Chicago; he had made some contributions of works of art to San Francisco; he was a good public speaker, and a very rich man. I felt that his being wealthy would prevent him from following the corrupt practices that had always been in vogue in San Francisco, would enable him to make a fight against the Republican machine, and would leave him free, if elected, to give the city an independent government.

With these things in mind, I called upon Phelan in his office and introduced myself. I told him that my name was Older, that I was managing editor of the Bulletin, and that I thought he ought to run for mayor.

He looked at me sharply and said, "Why, what put that in your head? What gave you that idea?"

I said that I understood that he was a man of leisure with an interest in civic affairs, that he had ability, that he would give the city a good, clean government. I made a strong plea to him to run for the nomination. I told him that I knew it would be very difficult to persuade the owner of the Bulletin, Crothers, to permit the paper to support any one not a Republican, but I thought it could be accomplished if he would ask a friend of his who had great influence with Crothers to talk with him.

Phelan was noncommittal, but I saw that I had made an impression on his mind.

A few days later Phelan's friend called at the Bulletin office and talked with Crothers.

After he had come and gone I approached Crothers myself and urged that the paper support Phelan. At first he demurred at leaving the Republican party and supporting a Democrat, but I insisted that the election was only local. We could still be Republican nationally and in state affairs; we could go so far as to be Democratic locally and it would not be held against us. I argued strongly that a successful city campaign would largely increase our circulation and aid in putting the paper on its feet. I minimized the possibility of resentment on the part of the railroad.

Finally he reluctantly consented, and on the following day I published the first article suggesting Phelan for mayor. His being a millionaire, of course, made him popular at once. All the politicians felt it would be a fat campaign and there was much enthusiasm for him.

This feeling permeated Crothers' mind also. He felt that our scant finances should be somewhat improved by our support of Phelan. I feared this thought in Crothers' mind because of the public-spirited attitude I had taken with Phelan. I felt ashamed that Phelan should ever know that we would take money from political candidates or from any source other than the so-called legitimate sources.

I hoped to convince Charley Fay, Phelan's manager, to accept the same plan in Phelan's fight that I used in the McKinley campaign; that is, to get Phelan to buy a certain number of extra Bulletin editions. I suggested the idea to Fay that if I could be allowed several 10,000 editions of the Bulletin in addition to our regular circulation, for which we would charge $500, I thought I could hold the paper in line throughout the campaign.

Fay agreed to the plan, and it was understood that a certain number of Saturday nights would be selected for this extra Phelan edition of the Bulletin. I promised him that we would have our regular carriers distribute them and the cost to Phelan would only be 5 cents each, our regular retail price on the streets.

This arrangement seemed to me quite legitimate. I trusted that it might meet Crothers' hope that some money would flow in from Phelan. As the campaign progressed this sum did not entirely satisfy him. It was not the custom at that time to give something for nothing in political affairs, and he felt that the Bulletin's support was worth more than an occasional $500.

His pressure upon me for more money finally became so strong that I called on Charley Fay and told him that I would have to get out another extra edition to the number agreed upon between us. Otherwise I was afraid that Crothers could not be restrained from sending some one from the Bulletin office to make a demand upon Phelan personally. Fay agreed to allow me to get out the extra edition, and by doing so I prevented Phelan from being directly importuned for money. We got through the campaign with no other contributions from Phelan except the payments for these editions.

For years a great many people believed that Phelan had subsidized the Bulletin. Many thought he owned it. These amounts, however, were the only sums paid the Bulletin by Phelan through that campaign. He was elected and, as I had hoped, the fight gave us some standing in the community and materially increased our circulation. Many of our readers believed that we were a free newspaper, as free, that is, as any newspaper could be.

The campaign had not been so seriously opposed by the Southern Pacific as to disturb our place on its payroll, and up to this time nothing had appeared in the paper to indicate that the railway was controlling us. I felt that I had handled a difficult situation with a great deal of ability and finesse.

A situation was coming, however, that was much more difficult to meet.


SAN FRANCISCO, of course, was locally controlled by the corporations, which, while they worked in harmony with the Southern Pacific machine, had their own separate organizations in the city. The labor unions were quite strong and were gaining in strength, but as yet they had made no determined effort to dispute the power of the corporations.

So far as I had any attitude toward labor unions at that time I was against them, because they annoyed the paper with demands, and, in my narrow view, made our success more difficult. They insisted upon more money than I thought we could possibly afford to pay.

When we put in linotypes the work seemed so simple and easy that Crothers regretted that we were compelled to pay men four dollars a day. "It's a girl's work," he said. "We could get women to sit there and tap those keys for $1.50 a day. That would be ample. Think of those creatures getting $4 a day for that." I had been a printer in my younger days and had sufficient trade sympathy with the men to resent this suggestion. In the main, however, I held at this time the employer's views on union labor.

It was Phelan's administration that gave me my first social sense. It was not a conspicuously revolutionary administration, but it was conventionally honest, and Phelan felt a genuine desire to serve the people and safeguard their interests.

A Board of Supervisors had been elected with him who responded to him and were incorruptible in the sense of not taking bribes, as nearly all boards prior to this time had done. The administration was based on economy and upon constructive work for the city, for beautifying the streets, building, parks and playgrounds, putting up fountains. Phelan had a deep love for San Francisco and dreamed of making it a clean, beautiful city, worthy of its magnificent natural advantages, its hills and its great bay.

Nearly every step brought him into contact with the old regime. For example, the gas company in lighting the streets charged excessive rates, and the more lights there were the more money flowed in. Naturally it had put in as many gas lamps as it could possibly plant. Phelan in one stroke eliminated 600 of them, cutting the gas company's revenue in proportion. For this he was ostracised by the Pacific Union Club, which could not tolerate as a member a man who had torn up 600 gas lamps to save money for the people at the expense of the gas company.

However, he continued to watch the people's interests, building better streets, better pavements, striking at graft wherever it showed its head, scanning city contracts closely, and keeping the railroad's hand out of the Board of Supervisors as much as possible.

I began to admire his attitude greatly. Up to this time I had concealed from him and his followers the fact that the Bulletin was not free, that we were on the payroll not only of the railroad, but of the gas company and the water company. I wanted Phelan to think that I was an honest newspaper man. Of course, I dimly realized that I was not, because part of my salary came from these corporations. However, I had it in mind to try to eliminate these subsidies if I were ever able to do so. Meantime my earnest effort was to keep them from coming to Phelan's knowledge.

Then Phelan began his fight for a new city charter. He had found that the old charter was inadequate for the reforms he contemplated, and he proposed the election of a Board of Freeholders who would draft a new one. His administration was popular with the people, and their support was behind the plan for a new charter.

The railroad immediately came into the fight with a nominated Board of Freeholders, known as the Martin Kelly Board, but in reality controlled by Herrin. The Bulletin supported the board nominated by Phelan and it was elected.

The Phelan board drafted the charter, and then came its election. By this time the railroad was really fighting in earnest. The new charter, as drafted, spread political power too much for the Southern Pacific's purposes. It provided for many commissions—the police commission, election commission, and others—which would be difficult to control.

The fight had barely started when Crothers came to me and said that W. H. Mills, who handled the newspapers of California for the railroad company, had agreed to raise the Bulletin's pay from $125 to $250 a month if we would make only a weak support of the new charter.

I saw that it would be almost impossible for me to maintain my reputation for honesty with Phelan and his followers and at the same time not offend Mills to the point of his withdrawing his subsidy.

I went ahead desperately, doing my best to satisfy both sides, and daily feeling more self-contempt. Phelan, expecting me to be loyal to the charter, forced me by his very expectation to run several editorials supporting it. I was checked by Crothers, who told me that Mills had complained.

Then I killed several articles that had been prepared by the editorial writer favoring the charter. For several days we were silent.

This brought Charley Fay up to the office. He said: "What the hell's the matter with the Bulletin?" That frightened me.

I went to the editorial writer and told him to write a strong editorial supporting the charter. He looked at me strangely and said: "What's the use? It will be killed."

"No," I replied. "It will not be killed. This one won't. You write it and I'll publish it tomorrow."

The next day I published it in the Bulletin without consulting the owner. The campaign was so nearly over that I was able to finish it without any further complaint from Mills. We won the charter fight and the paper and I came out of it clean, so far as Phelan's knowledge went.

Phelan's first administration was a huge success. The people greatly appreciated the little he had been able to do for them and he became very popular. He was elected a second time under the new charter, to administer it, and then he was elected a third time. It was during these years that Henry T. Gage was picked by Herrin as Republican candidate for governor.

By this time the Bulletin was prospering. The circulation had gone over 20,000; we had cut out the losses and were showing a profit every month. So when it came to a question of supporting Gage, although the Bulletin was a Republican paper and Gage was the nominee of the Republican party, Crothers felt that the influence of the Bulletin was worth more than the Southern Pacific had been paying.

He insisted that I go to Mills and demand $25,000 from the railroad for supporting Gage. I told him that this was ridiculous, that they wouldn't consider such a sum for a minute. He insisted that he would have $25,000 or he wouldn't support Gage, and demanded that I tell Mills that.

I knew Mills very well socially and liked him. In fact, our families were friends. Mills knew how I felt about this sort of thing and he knew Crothers' attitude, so I could be perfectly frank with him. I called on him and said, laughingly, "How much do you think Crothers wants to support Gage?"

He said, "I haven't any idea. Why, how much?"

"Twenty-five thousand," I said.

Mills laughed aloud. He said, "He's joking, isn't he?" I said, "No, he wants that."

"Well," he said, "he won't get it. You can tell him that from me. I'll see Boyle, the business manager, and fix things up a little better for him."

I learned later that they increased the Bulletin's subsidy to $375 a month. The first $125 was for friendliness, the next was to go light on the charter, and the last was for supporting Gage for governor of California.

We were in this position, and I was still maintaining my reputation for honesty with Phelan and his group, when the teamsters' strike occurred, out of which came Eugene E. Schmitz as a political figure in 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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