Tweed’s classic question, “What are you going to do about it?” is the
most humiliating challenge ever delivered by the One Man to the Many.
But it was pertinent. It was the question then; it is the question now.
Will the people rule? That is what it means. Is democracy possible? The
accounts of financial corruption in St. Louis and of police corruption
in Minneapolis raised the same question. They were inquiries into
American municipal democracy, and, so far as they went, they were pretty
complete answers. The people wouldn’t rule. They would have flown to
arms to resist a czar or a king, but they let a “mucker” oppress and
disgrace and sell them out. “Neglect,” so they describe their impotence.
But when their shame was laid bare, what did they do then? That is what
Tweed, the tyrant, wanted to know, and that is what the democracy of
this country needs to know.

Minneapolis answered Tweed. With Mayor Ames a fugitive, the city was
reformed, and when he was brought back he was tried and convicted. No
city ever profited so promptly by the lesson of its shame. The people
had nothing to do with the exposure—that was an accident—nor with the
reconstruction. Hovey C. Clarke, who attacked the Ames ring, tore it all
to pieces; and D. Percy Jones, who re-established the city government,
built a well-nigh perfect thing. There was little left for the people to
do but choose at the next regular election between two candidates for
mayor, one obviously better than the other, but that they did do. They
scratched some ten thousand ballots to do their small part decisively
and well. So much by way of revolt. The future will bring Minneapolis up
to the real test. The men who saved the city this time have organized to
keep it safe, and make the memory of “Doc” Ames a civic treasure, and
Minneapolis a city without reproach.

Minneapolis may fail, as New York has failed; but at least these two
cities could be moved by shame. Not so St. Louis. Joseph W. Folk, the
Circuit Attorney, who began alone, is going right on alone, indicting,
trying, convicting boodlers, high and low, following the workings of the
combine through all of its startling ramifications, and spreading before
the people, in the form of testimony given under oath, the confessions
by the boodlers themselves of the whole wretched story. St. Louis is
unmoved and unashamed. St. Louis seems to me to be something new in the
history of the government of the people, by the rascals, for the rich.

“Tweed Days in St. Louis” did not tell half that the St. Louisans know
of the condition of the city. That article described how in 1898, 1899,
and 1900, under the administration of Mayor Ziegenhein, boodling
developed into the only real business of the city government. Since that
article was written, fourteen men have been tried, and half a score have
confessed, so that some measure of the magnitude of the business and of
the importance of the interests concerned has been given. Then it was
related that “combines” of municipal legislators sold rights,
privileges, and public franchises for their own individual profit, and
at regular schedule rates. Now the free narratives of convicted boodlers
have developed the inside history of the combines, with their
unfulfilled plans. Then we understood that these combines did the
boodling. Now we know that they had a leader, a boss, who, a rich man
himself, represented the financial district and prompted the boodling
till the system burst. We knew then how Mr. Folk, a man little known,
was nominated against his will for Circuit Attorney; how he warned the
politicians who named him; how he proceeded against these same men as
against ordinary criminals. Now we have these men convicted.

We saw Charles H. Turner, the president of the Suburban Railway Co., and
Philip H. Stock, the secretary of the St. Louis Brewing Co., the first
to “peach,” telling to the grand jury the story of their bribe fund of
$144,000, put into safe-deposit vaults, to be paid to the legislators
when the Suburban franchise was granted. St. Louis has seen these two
men dashing forth “like fire horses,” the one (Mr. Turner) from the
presidency of the Commonwealth Trust Company, the other from his brewing
company secretaryship, to recite again and again in the criminal courts
their miserable story, and count over and over for the jury the dirty
bills of that bribe fund. And when they had given their testimony, and
the boodlers one after another were convicted, these witnesses have
hurried back to their places of business and the convicts to their seats
in the municipal assembly. This is literally true. In the House of
Delegates sit, under sentence, as follows: Charles F. Kelly, two years;
Charles J. Denny, three years and five years; Henry A. Faulkner, two
years; E. E. Murrell, State’s witness, but not tried.[1] Nay, this
House, with such a membership, had the audacity last fall to refuse to
pass an appropriation to enable Mr. Folk to go on with his investigation
and prosecution of boodling.

Footnote 1:

See _Post Scriptum_, end of chapter.

Right here is the point. In other cities mere exposure has been
sufficient to overthrow a corrupt régime. In St. Louis the conviction of
the boodlers leaves the felons in control, the system intact, and the
people—spectators. It is these people who are interesting—these people,
and the system they have made possible.

The convicted boodlers have described the system to me. There was no
politics in it—only business. The city of St. Louis is normally
Republican. Founded on the home-rule principle, the corporation is a
distinct political entity, with no county to confuse it. The State of
Missouri, however, is normally Democratic, and the legislature has taken
political possession of the city by giving to the Governor the
appointment of the Police and Election Boards. With a defective election
law, the Democratic boss in the city became its absolute ruler.

This boss is Edward R. Butler, better known as “Colonel Ed,” or “Colonel
Butler,” or just “Boss.” He is an Irishman by birth, a master horseshoer
by trade, a good fellow—by nature, at first, then by profession. Along
in the seventies, when he still wore the apron of his trade, and bossed
his tough ward, he secured the agency for a certain patent horseshoe
which the city railways liked and bought. Useful also as a politician,
they gave him a blanket contract to keep all their mules and horses
shod. Butler’s farrieries glowed all about the town, and his political
influence spread with his business; for everywhere big Ed Butler went
there went a smile also, and encouragement for your weakness, no matter
what it was. Like “Doc” Ames, of Minneapolis—like the “good fellow”
everywhere—Butler won men by helping them to wreck themselves. A priest,
the Rev. James Coffey, once denounced Butler from the pulpit as a
corrupter of youth; at another time a mother knelt in the aisle of a
church, and during service audibly called upon Heaven for a visitation
of affliction upon Butler for having ruined her son. These and similar
incidents increased his power by advertising it. He grew bolder. He has
been known to walk out of a voting-place and call across a cordon of
police to a group of men at the curb, “Are there any more repeaters out
here that want to vote again?”

They will tell you in St. Louis that Butler never did have much real
power, that his boldness and the clamor against him made him seem great.
Public protest is part of the power of every boss. So far, however, as I
can gather, Butler was the leader of his organization, but only so long
as he was a partisan politician; as he became a “boodler” pure and
simple, he grew careless about his machine, and did his boodle business
with the aid of the worst element of both parties. At any rate, the
boodlers, and others as well, say that in later years he had about equal
power with both parties, and he certainly was the ruler of St. Louis
during the Republican administration of Ziegenhein, which was the worst
in the history of the city. His method was to dictate enough of the
candidates on both tickets to enable him, by selecting the worst from
each, to elect the sort of men he required in his business. In other
words, while honest Democrats and Republicans were “loyal to party” (a
point of great pride with the idiots) and “voted straight,” the
Democratic boss and his Republican lieutenants decided what part of each
ticket should be elected; then they sent around Butler’s “Indians”
(repeaters) by the vanload to scratch ballots and “repeat” their votes,
till the worst had made sure of the government by the worst, and Butler
was in a position to do business.

His business was boodling, which is a more refined and a more dangerous
form of corruption than the police blackmail of Minneapolis. It
involves, not thieves, gamblers, and common women, but influential
citizens, capitalists, and great corporations. For the stock-in-trade of
the boodler is the rights, privileges, franchises, and real property of
the city, and his source of corruption is the top, not the bottom, of
society. Butler, thrown early in his career into contact with
corporation managers, proved so useful to them that they introduced him
to other financiers, and the scandal of his services attracted to him in
due course all men who wanted things the city had to give. The boodlers
told me that, according to the tradition of their combine, there “always
was boodling in St. Louis.”

Butler organized and systematized and developed it into a regular
financial institution, and made it an integral part of the business
community. He had for clients, regular or occasional, bankers and
promoters; and the statements of boodlers, not yet on record, allege
that every transportation and public convenience company that touches
St. Louis had dealings with Butler’s combine. And my best information is
that these interests were not victims. Blackmail came in time, but in
the beginning they originated the schemes of loot and started Butler on
his career. Some interests paid him a regular salary, others a fee, and
again he was a partner in the enterprise, with a special “rake-off” for
his influence. “Fee” and “present” are his terms, and he has spoken
openly of taking and giving them. I verily believe he regarded his
charges as legitimate (he is the Croker type); but he knew that some
people thought his services wrong. He once said that, when he had
received his fee for a piece of legislation, he “went home and prayed
that the measure might pass,” and, he added facetiously, that “usually
his prayers were answered.”

His prayers were “usually answered” by the Municipal Assembly. This
legislative body is divided into two houses—the upper, called the
Council, consisting of thirteen members, elected at large; the lower,
called the House of Delegates, with twenty-eight members, elected by
wards; and each member of these bodies is paid twenty-five dollars a
month salary by the city. With the mayor, this Assembly has practically
complete control of all public property and valuable rights. Though
Butler sometimes could rent or own the mayor, he preferred to be
independent of him, so he formed in each part of the legislature a
two-thirds majority—in the Council nine, in the House nineteen—which
could pass bills over a veto. These were the “combines.” They were
regularly organized, and did their business under parliamentary rules.
Each “combine” elected its chairman, who was elected chairman also of
the legal bodies where he appointed the committees, naming to each a
majority of combine members.

In the early history of the combines, Butler’s control was complete,
because it was political. He picked the men who were to be legislators;
they did as he bade them do, and the boodling was noiseless, safe, and
moderate in price. Only wrongful acts were charged for, and a right once
sold was good; for Butler kept his word. The definition of an honest man
as one who will stay bought, fitted him. But it takes a very strong man
to control himself and others when the money lust grows big, and it
certainly grew big in St. Louis. Butler used to watch the downtown
districts. He knew everybody, and when a railroad wanted a switch, or a
financial house a franchise, Butler learned of it early. Sometimes he
discovered the need and suggested it. Naming the regular price, say
$10,000, he would tell the “boys” what was coming, and that there would
be $1,000 to divide. He kept the rest, and the city got nothing. The
bill was introduced and held up till Butler gave the word that the money
was in hand; then it passed. As the business grew, however, not only
illegitimate, but legitimate permissions were charged for, and at
gradually increasing rates. Citizens who asked leave to make excavations
in streets for any purpose, neighborhoods that had to have street
lamps—all had to pay, and they did pay. In later years there was no
other way. Business men who complained felt a certain pressure brought
to bear on them from most unexpected quarters downtown.

A business man told me that a railroad which had a branch near his
factory suggested that he go to the Municipal Legislature and get
permission to have a switch run into his yard. He liked the idea, but
when he found it would cost him eight or ten thousand dollars, he gave
it up. Then the railroad became slow about handling his freight. He
understood, and, being a fighter, he ferried the goods across the river
to another road. That brought him the switch; and when he asked about
it, the railroad man said:

“Oh, we got it done. You see, we pay a regular salary to some of those
fellows, and they did it for us for nothing.”

“Then why in the deuce did you send me to them?” asked the manufacturer.

“Well, you see,” was the answer, “we like to keep in with them, and when
we can throw them a little outside business we do.”

In other words, a great railway corporation, not content with paying
bribe salaries to these boodle aldermen, was ready, further to oblige
them, to help coerce a manufacturer and a customer to go also and be
blackmailed by the boodlers. “How can you buck a game like that?” this
man asked me.

Very few tried to. Blackmail was all in the ordinary course of business,
and the habit of submission became fixed—a habit of mind. The city
itself was kept in darkness for weeks, pending the payment of $175,000
in bribes on the lighting contract, and complaining citizens went for
light where Mayor Ziegenhein told them to go—to the moon.

Boodling was safe, and boodling was fat. Butler became rich and greedy,
and neglectful of politics. Outside capital came in, and finding Butler
bought, went over his head to the boodle combines. These creatures
learned thus the value of franchises, and that Butler had been giving
them an unduly small share of the boodle.

Then began a struggle, enormous in its vile melodrama, for control of
corruption—Butler to squeeze the municipal legislators and save his
profits, they to wring from him their “fair share.” Combines were formed
within the old combines to make him pay more; and although he still was
the legislative agent of the inner ring, he had to keep in his secret
pay men who would argue for low rates, while the combine members,
suspicious of one another, appointed their own legislative agent to meet
Butler. Not sure even then, the cliques appointed “trailers” to follow
their agent, watch him enter Butler’s house, and then follow him to the
place where the money was to be distributed. Charles A. Gutke and John
K. Murrell represented Butler in the House of Delegates, Charles Kratz
and Fred G. Uthoff in the Council. The other members suspected that
these men got “something big on the side,” so Butler had to hire a third
to betray the combine to him. In the House, Robertson was the man. When
Gutke had notified the chairman that a deal was on, and a meeting was
called, the chairman would say:

“Gentlemen, the business before us to-night is [say] the Suburban
Railway Bill. How much shall we ask for it?”

Gutke would move that “the price be $40,000.” Some member of the outer
ring would move $100,000 as fair boodle. The debate often waxed hot, and
you hear of the drawing of revolvers. In this case (of the Suburban
Railway) Robertson rose and moved a compromise of $75,000, urging
moderation, lest they get nothing, and his price was carried. Then they
would lobby over the appointment of the agent. They did not want Gutke,
or anyone Butler owned, so they chose some other; and having adjourned,
the outer ring would send a “trailer” to watch the agent, and sometimes
a second “trailer” to watch the first.

They began to work up business on their own account, and, all decency
gone, they sold out sometimes to both sides of a fight. The Central
Traction deal in 1898 was an instance of this. Robert M. Snyder, a
capitalist and promoter, of New York and Kansas City, came into St.
Louis with a traction proposition inimical to the city railway
interests. These felt secure. Through Butler they were paying seven
members of the Council $5,000 a year each, but as a precaution John
Scullin, Butler’s associate, and one of the ablest capitalists of St.
Louis, paid Councilman Uthoff a special retainer of $25,000 to watch the
salaried boodlers. When Snyder found Butler and the combines against
him, he set about buying the members individually, and, opening wine at
his headquarters, began bidding for votes. This was the first break from
Butler in a big deal, and caused great agitation among the boodlers.
They did not go right over to Snyder; they saw Butler, and with Snyder’s
valuation of the franchise before them, made the boss go up to $175,000.
Then the Council combine called a meeting in Gast’s Garden to see if
they could not agree on a price. Butler sent Uthoff there with
instructions to cause a disagreement, or fix a price so high that Snyder
would refuse to pay it. Uthoff obeyed, and, suggesting $250,000,
persuaded some members to hold out for it, till the meeting broke up in
a row. Then it was each man for himself, and all hurried to see Butler,
and to see Snyder too. In the scramble various prices were paid. Four
councilmen got from Snyder $10,000 each, one got $15,000, another
$17,500, and one $50,000; twenty-five members of the House of Delegates
got $3,000 each from him. In all, Snyder paid $250,000 for the
franchise, and since Butler and his backers paid only $175,000 to beat
it, the franchise was passed. Snyder turned around and sold it to his
old opponents for $1,250,000. It was worth twice as much.

The man who received $50,000 from Snyder was the same Uthoff who had
taken $25,000 from John Scullin, and his story as he has told it since
on the stand is the most comical incident of the exposure. He says
Snyder, with his “overcoat full of money,” came out to his house to see
him. They sat together on a sofa, and when Snyder was gone Uthoff found
beside him a parcel containing $50,000. This he returned to the
promoter, with the statement that he could not accept it, since he had
already taken $25,000 from the other side; but he intimated that he
could take $100,000. This Snyder promised, so Uthoff voted for the

The next day Butler called at Uthoff’s house. Uthoff spoke first.

“I want to return this,” he said, handing Butler the package of $25,000.

“That’s what I came after,” said Butler.

When Uthoff told this in the trial of Snyder, Snyder’s counsel asked why
he returned this $25,000.

“Because it wasn’t mine,” exclaimed Uthoff, flushing with anger. “I
hadn’t earned it.”

But he believed he had earned the $100,000, and he besought Snyder for
that sum, or, anyway, the $50,000. Snyder made him drink, and gave him
just $5,000, taking by way of receipt a signed statement that the
reports of bribery in connection with the Central Traction deal were
utterly false; that “I [Uthoff] know you [Snyder] to be as far above
offering a bribe as I am of taking one.”

Irregular as all this was, however, the legislators kept up a pretense
of partisanship and decency. In the debates arranged for in the combine
caucus, a member or two were told off to make partisan speeches.
Sometimes they were instructed to attack the combine, and one or two of
the rascals used to take delight in arraigning their friends on the
floor of the House, charging them with the exact facts.

But for the serious work no one knew his party. Butler had with him
Republicans and Democrats, and there were Republicans and Democrats
among those against him. He could trust none not in his special pay. He
was the chief boodle broker and the legislature’s best client; his
political influence began to depend upon his boodling instead of the

He is a millionaire two or three times over now, but it is related that
to someone who advised him to quit in time he replied that it wasn’t a
matter of money alone with him; he liked the business, and would rather
make fifty dollars out of a switch than $500 in stocks. He enjoyed
buying franchises cheap and selling them dear. In the lighting deal of
1899 Butler received $150,000, and paid out only $85,000—$47,500 to the
House, $37,500 to the Council—and the haggling with the House combine
caused those weeks of total darkness in the city. He had Gutke tell this
combine that he could divide only $20,000 among them. They voted the
measure, but, suspecting Butler of “holding out on them,” moved to

The citizens were furious, and a crowd went with ropes to the City Hall
the night the motion to reconsider came up; but the combine was
determined. Butler was there in person. He was more frightened than the
delegates, and the sweat rolled down his face as he bargained with them.
With the whole crowd looking on, and reporters so near that a delegate
told me he expected to see the conversation in the papers the next
morning, Butler threatened and pleaded, but finally promised to divide
$47,500. That was an occasion for a burst of eloquence. The orators,
indicating the citizens with ropes, declared that since it was plain the
people wanted light, they would vote them light. And no doubt the people
thought they had won, for it was not known till much later that the
votes were bought by Butler, and that the citizens only hastened a
corrupt bargain.

The next big boodle measure that Butler missed was the Suburban
Traction, the same that led long after to disaster. This is the story
Turner and Stock have been telling over and over in the boodle trials.
Turner and his friends in the St. Louis Suburban Railway Company sought
a franchise, for which they were willing to pay large bribes. Turner
spoke about it to Butler, who said it would cost $145,000. This seemed
too much, and Turner asked Stock to lobby the measure through. Stock
managed it, but it cost him $144,000—$135,000 for the combine, $9,000
extra for Meysenburg—and then, before the money was paid over and the
company in possession of its privilege, an injunction put a stop to all
proceedings. The money was in safe-deposit vaults—$75,000 for the House
combine in one, $60,000 for the Council combine in the other—and when
the legislature adjourned, a long fight for the money ensued. Butler
chuckled over the bungling. He is said to have drawn from it the lesson
that “when you want a franchise, don’t go to a novice for it; pay an
expert, and he’ll deliver the goods.”

But the combine drew their own conclusions from it, and their moral was,
that though boodling was a business by itself, it was a good business,
and so easy that anybody could learn it by study. And study it they did.
Two of them told me repeatedly that they traveled about the country
looking up the business, and that a fellowship had grown up among
boodling alderman of the leading cities in the United States. Committees
from Chicago would come to St. Louis to find out what “new games” the
St. Louis boodlers had, and they gave the St. Louisans hints as to how
they “did the business” in Chicago. So the Chicago and St. Louis
boodlers used to visit Cleveland and Pittsburg and all the other cities,
or, if the distance was too great, they got their ideas by those
mysterious channels which run all through the “World of Graft.” The
meeting place in St. Louis was Decker’s stable, and ideas unfolded there
were developed into plans which, the boodlers say to-day, are only in
abeyance. In Decker’s stable the idea was born to sell the Union Market;
and though the deal did not go through, the boodlers, when they saw it
failing, made the market men pay $10,000 for killing it. This scheme is
laid aside for the future. Another that failed was to sell the
court-house, and this was well under way when it was discovered that the
ground on which this public building stands was given to the city on
condition that it was to be used for a court-house and nothing else.

But the grandest idea of all came from Philadelphia. In that city the
gas-works were sold out to a private concern, and the water-works were
to be sold next. The St. Louis fellows have been trying ever since to
find a purchaser for their water-works. The plant is worth at least
$40,000,000. But the boodlers thought they could let it go at
$15,000,000, and get $1,000,000 or so themselves for the bargain. “The
scheme was to do it and skip,” said one of the boodlers who told me
about it, “and if you could mix it all up with some filtering scheme it
could be done; only some of us thought we could make more than
$1,000,000 out of it—a fortune apiece. It will be done some day.”

Such, then, is the boodling system as we see it in St. Louis. Everything
the city owned was for sale by the officers elected by the people. The
purchasers might be willing or unwilling takers; they might be citizens
or outsiders; it was all one to the city government. So long as the
members of the combines got the proceeds they would sell out the town.
Would? They did and they will. If a city treasurer runs away with
$50,000 there is a great halloo about it. In St. Louis the regularly
organized thieves who rule have sold $50,000,000 worth of franchises and
other valuable municipal assets. This is the estimate made for me by a
banker, who said that the boodlers got not one-tenth of the value of the
things they sold, but were content because they got it all themselves.
And as to the future, my boodling informants said that all the
possessions of the city were listed for future sale, that the list was
in existence, and that the sale of these properties was only postponed
on account of accident—the occurrence of Mr. Folk.

Preposterous? It certainly would seem so; but watch the people of St.
Louis as I have, and as the boodlers have—then judge.

And remember, first, that Mr. Folk really was an accident. St. Louis
knew in a general way, as other cities to-day know, what was going on,
but there was no popular movement. Politicians named and elected him,
and they expected no trouble from him. The moment he took office, on
January 1, 1901, Butler called on him to appoint an organization man
first assistant. When Folk refused, Butler could not understand it.
Going away angry, he was back in three days to have his man appointed
second assistant. The refusal of this also had some effect. The boodlers
say Butler came out and bade them “look out; I can’t do anything with
Folk, and I wouldn’t wonder if he got after you.” They took the warning;
Butler did not. It seems never to have occurred to him that Mr. Folk
would “get after” _him_.

What Butler felt, the public felt. When Mr. Folk took up, as he did
immediately, election fraud cases, Butler called on him again, and told
him which men he might not prosecute in earnest. The town laughed. When
Butler was sent about his business, and Folk proceeded in earnest
against the repeaters of both parties, even those who “had helped elect
him,” there was a sensation. But the stir was due to the novelty and the
incomprehensibility of such non-partisan conduct in public office.
Incredulous of honesty, St. Louis manifested the first signs of that
faith in evil which is so characteristic of it. “Why didn’t Mr. Folk
take up boodling?” was the cynical challenge. “What do a few miserable
repeaters amount to?”

Mr. Folk is a man of remarkable equanimity. When he has laid a course,
he steers by it truly, and nothing can excite or divert him. He had said
he would “do his duty,” not that he would expose corruption or reform
St. Louis; and beyond watching developments, he did nothing for a year
to answer the public challenge. But he was making preparations. A civil
lawyer, he was studying criminal law; and when, on January 23, 1902, he
saw in the St. Louis _Star_ a paragraph about the Suburban bribe fund in
bank, he was ready. He sent out summonses by the wholesale for bankers,
Suburban Railway officials and directors, legislators and politicians,
and before the grand jury he examined them by the hour for days and
days. Nobody knew anything; and though Mr. Folk was known to be “after
the boodlers,” those fellows and their friends were not alarmed and the
public was not satisfied.

“Get indictments,” was the challenge now. It was a “bluff”; but Mr. Folk
took it up, and by a “bluff” he “got an indictment.” And this is the way
of it: the old row between the Suburban people and the boodle combine
was going on in secret, but in a very bitter spirit. The money, lying in
the safe-deposit vaults, in cash, was claimed by both parties. The
boodlers said it was theirs because they had done their part by voting
the franchise; the Suburban people said it was theirs because they had
not obtained the franchise. The boodlers answered that the injunction
against the franchise was not theirs, and they threatened to take the
dispute before the grand jury. It was they who gave to a reporter a
paragraph about the “boodle fund,” and they meant to have it scare
Turner and Stock. Stock really was “scared.” When Mr. Folk’s summons was
served on him, he believed the boodlers had “squealed,” and he fainted.
The deputy who saw the effect of the summons told Mr. Folk, who, seeing
in it only evidence of weakness and guilt, sent for the lawyer who
represented Stock and Turner, and boldly gave him the choice for his
clients of being witnesses or defendants. The lawyer was firm, but Folk
advised him to consult his clients, and their choice was to be
witnesses. Their confession and the seizure of the bribe fund in escrow
gave Folk the whole inside story of the Suburban deal, and evidence in
plenty for indictments. He took seven, and the reputation and standing
of the first culprits showed right away not only the fearlessness of the
prosecution, but the variety and power and wealth of the St. Louis
species of boodler. There was Charles Kratz, agent of the Council
combine; John K. Murrell, agent of the House combine; Emil A.
Meysenburg, councilman and “good citizen”—all for taking bribes; Ellis
Wainwright and Henry Nicolaus, millionaire brewers, and directors of the
Suburban Railway Company for bribery; and Julius Lehmann and Henry A.
Faulkner, of the House combine, for perjury. This news caused
consternation; but the ring rallied, held together, and the cynics said,
“They never will be tried.”

The outlook was stormy. Mr. Folk felt now in full force the powerful
interests that opposed him. The standing of some of the prisoners was
one thing; another was the character of the men who went on their bail
bond—Butler for the bribe takers, other millionaires for the bribers.
But most serious was the flow of persons who went to Mr. Folk privately
and besought or bade him desist; they were not alone politicians, but
solid, innocent business men, eminent lawyers, and good friends. Hardly
a man he knew but came to him at one time or another, in one way or
another, to plead for some rascal or other. Threats of assassination and
political ruin, offers of political promotion and of remunerative and
legitimate partnerships, veiled bribes—everything he might fear was held
up on one side, everything he might want on the other. “When you are
doing a thing like this,” he says now, “you cannot listen to anybody;
you have to think for yourself and rely on yourself alone. I knew I
simply had to succeed; and, success or failure, I felt that a political
future was not to be considered, so I shut out all idea of it.”

So he went on silently but surely; how surely may be inferred from the
fact that in all his dealings with witnesses who turned State’s evidence
he has not made one misstep; there have been no misunderstandings, and
no charges against him of foul play. While the pressure from behind
never ceased, and the defiance before him was bold, “Go higher up” was
the challenge. He was going higher up. With confessions of Turner and
Stock, and the indictments for perjury for examples, he re-examined
witnesses; and though the big men were furnishing the little boodlers
with legal advice and drilling them in their stories, there were breaks
here and there. The story of the Central Traction deal began to develop,
and that went higher up, straight into the group of millionaires led by

But there was an impassable barrier in the law on bribery. American
legislators do not legislate harshly against their chief vice. The State
of Missouri limits the liability of a briber to three years, and the
Traction deal was outlawed for most of the principals in it. But the law
excepted non-residents, and Mr. Folk found that in moments of vanity
Robert M. Snyder had described himself as “of New York,” so he had
Snyder indicted for bribery, and George J. Kobusch, president of the St.
Louis Car Company, for perjury, Kobusch having sworn that he knew of no
bribery for the Central Traction franchise, when he himself had paid out
money. Kobusch turned State’s witness against Snyder.

High as these indictments were, the cry for Butler persisted, and the
skeptical tone of it made it plain that to break up the ring Mr. Folk
had to catch the boss. And he did catch him. Saved by missing the
Suburban business, saved by the law in the Central Traction affair,
Butler lost by his temerity; he went on boodling after Mr. Folk was in
office. He offered “presents” of $2,500 each to the two medical members
of the Health Board for their approval of a garbage contract which was
to net him $232,500. So the “Old Man,” the head of the boodlers, and the
legislative agent of the financial district, was indicted.

But the ring did not part, and the public faith in evil remained
steadfast. No one had been tried. The trials were approaching, and the
understanding was that the first of them was to be made a test. A defeat
might stop Mr. Folk, and he realized the moral effect such a result
would have. But he was sure of his cases against Murrell and Kratz, and
if he convicted them the way was open to both combines and to the big
men behind them. To all appearances these men also were confident, and
with the lawyers engaged for them they might well have been. Suddenly it
was decided that Murrell was weak, and might “cave.” He ran away. The
shock of this to the community is hard to realize now. It was the first
public proof of guilt, and the first break in the ring of little
boodlers. To Mr. Folk it was the first serious check, for he could not
now indict the House combine. Then, too, Kratz was in Florida, and the
Circuit Attorney saw himself going into court with the weakest of his
early cases, that of Meysenburg. In genuine alarm he moved heavy
increases in the bail bonds. All the lawyers in all the cases combined
to defeat this move, and the fight lasted for days; but Mr. Folk won.
Kratz returned in a rage to find bail. With his connections and his
property he could give any amount, he boasted, and he offered $100,000.
In spite of the protest of the counsel engaged for him, he insisted upon
furnishing $20,000, and he denounced the effort to discredit him with
the insinuation that such as he would avoid trial. He even asked to be
tried first, but wiser heads on his side chose the Meysenburg case.

The weakness of this case lay in the indirection of the bribe.
Meysenburg, a business man of repute, took for his vote on the Suburban
franchise, not money; he sold for $9,000 some two hundred shares of
worthless stock. This might be made to look like a regular business
transaction, and half a dozen of the best lawyers in the State appeared
to press that view. Mr. Folk, however, met these lawyers point by point,
and point by point he beat them all, displaying a knowledge of law which
astounded them, and an attitude toward the prisoner which won the jury,
and might well reform the methods of haranguing prosecutors all over
this country. Naturally without malice, he is impersonal; he did not
attack the prisoner. He was not there for that purpose. He was defending
the State, not prosecuting the individual. “The defendant is a mere
atom,” he tells his juries; “if we could enforce the law without
punishing individuals, we should not be here; but we cannot. Only by
making an example of the criminal can we prevent crime. And as to the
prisoner, he cannot complain, because his own deeds are his doomsmen.”
At one stage of the Faulkner trial, when ex-Governor Johnson was talking
about the rights of the prisoner, Mr. Folk remarked that the State had
rights also. “Oh, d—— the rights of the State!” was the retort, and the
jury heard it. Many juries have heard this view. One of the permanent
services Mr. Folk has rendered is to impress upon the minds, not only of
juries, but of the people generally, and in particular upon the Courts
of Appeal (which often forget it), that while the criminal law has been
developed into a great machine to preserve the rights, and much more, of
the criminal, the rights of the State also should be guarded.

Meysenburg was found guilty and sentenced to three years. The man was
shocked limp, and the ring broke. Kratz ran away. He was advised to go,
and, like Murrell, he had promises of plenty of money; unlike Murrell,
however, Kratz stood on the order of his going. He made the big fellows
give him a large sum of cash, and for the fulfillment of their promise
of more he waited menacingly in New Orleans. Supplied there with all he
demanded, this Council leader stepped across into Mexico, and has gone
into business there on a large scale. With Kratz safely away, the ring
was nerved up again, and Meysenburg appeared in court with five
well-known millionaires to give an appeal bond of $25,000. “I could have
got more,” he told the reporters, “but I guess that’s enough.”

With the way to both boodle combines closed thus by the flight of their
go-betweens, Mr. Folk might well have been stayed; but he wasn’t. He
proceeded with his examination of witnesses, and to loosen their tongues
he brought on the trials of Lehmann and Faulkner for perjury. They were
well defended, but against them appeared, as against Meysenburg,
President Turner, of the Suburban Railway, and Philip Stock, the brewery
secretary. The perjurers were found guilty. Meanwhile Mr. Folk was
trying through both Washington and Jefferson City to have Murrell and
Kratz brought back. These regular channels failing, he applied to his
sources of information in Murrell’s (the House) combine, and he soon
learned that the fugitive was ill, without money, and unable to
communicate with his wife or friends. Money that had been raised for him
to flee with had been taken by others, and another fund sent to him by a
fellow-boodler did not reach him. The fellow-boodler did, but he failed
to deliver the money. Murrell wanted to come home, and Mr. Folk, glad to
welcome him, let him come as far as a small town just outside of St.
Louis. There he was held till Mr. Folk could arrange a _coup_ and make
sure of a witness to corroborate what Murrell should say; for, secure in
the absence of Murrell, the whole House combine was denying everything.
One day (in September, 1902) Mr. Folk called one of them, George F.
Robertson, into his office.

They had a long talk together, and Mr. Folk asked him, as he had time
and again, to tell what he knew about the Suburban deal.

“I have told you many times, Mr. Folk,” said Robertson, “that I know
nothing about that.”

“What would you say if you should see Murrell here?” Mr. Folk asked.

“Murrell!” exclaimed Robertson. “That’s good, that is. Why, yes, I’d
like to see Murrell.”

He was laughing as Mr. Folk went to the door and called, “Murrell.”
Murrell walked in. Robertson’s smile passed. He gripped his seat, and
arose like a man lifted by an electric shock. Once on his feet, he stood
there staring as at a ghost.

“Murrell,” said Mr. Folk quietly, “the jig is up, isn’t it?”

“Yes,” said Murrell, “it’s all up.”

“You’ve told everything?”


Robertson sank into his chair. When he had time to recover his
self-control, Mr. Folk asked him if he was ready to talk about the
Suburban deal.

“Well, I don’t see what else I can do, Mr. Folk; you’ve got me.”

Robertson told all, and, with Murrell and Turner and Stock and the rolls
of money to support him, Mr. Folk indicted for bribery or perjury, or
both, the remaining members of the House combine, sixteen men at one
swoop. Some escaped. One, Charles Kelly, a leading witness in another
case, fled to Europe with more money than anyone believed he owned, and
he returned after a high time with plenty left. A leading financier of
Missouri went away at about the same time, and when he got back, at
about the same time with Kelly, the statute of limitation in the
financier’s case covered them both.

With all his success these losses were made the most of; it was remarked
that Mr. Folk had not yet convicted a very rich man. The Snyder case was
coming up, and with it a chance to show that even the power of money was
not irresistible. Snyder, now a banker in Kansas City, did not deny or
attempt to disprove the charges of bribery; he made his defense his
claim to continuous residence in the State. Mr. Folk was not taken
unawares; he proved the bribery and he proved the non-residence too, and
the banker was sentenced to five years’ imprisonment.

One other trial intervened, that of Edmund Bersch of the House combine,
and he was convicted of bribery and perjury. But all interest centered
now in the trial of Edward Butler, the boss, who, the people said, would
not be indicted; who, indicted, they said, would never be tried. Now
they were saying he would never be convicted.

When Boss Tweed was tried in New York, his power was broken, his machine
smashed, his money spent, and the people were worked up to a fury
against him. The most eminent members of the New York bar prosecuted
him. The most eminent members of the St. Louis Bar were engaged to
defend Butler. He was still the boss, he had millions of his own, and
back of him were the resources, financial and political, of the leading
men of St. Louis. That the people were against him appeared in only one
sign, that of the special juries, carefully chosen to keep out men
privately known to be implicated. These juries had invariably convicted
the boodlers. Butler asked to be tried in some other town. Mr. Folk
suggested Columbia, the university town of the State of Missouri.

Columbia was chosen, and Butler’s sons went up there with their heelers
to “fix the town.” They spent money freely, and because the loafers
drank with them plentifully, the Butlerites thought they “had the town
right.” But they did not know Columbia; neither did Butler. When he
stepped off the train, he asked genially what the business of the town

“Education,” was the answer.

“Education!” he blurted. “That’s a h—l of a business!” And he conducted
himself as if he did not understand what it meant. His friends having
prepared the way for a “good fellow,” Butler set about proving himself
such, and his reception in the bar-rooms and streets was so flattering
that it was predicted in his crowd that Folk would never leave Columbia
alive. But Mr. Folk understood the people better. Stanch as the leading
interests of St. Louis were against him, he always held that his
unflinching juries meant that the silent people of St. Louis were
against boodlers and out in the State he felt still surer of this. He
was right. There was no demonstration for him. He was welcomed, but in
decorous fashion; and all he saw by way of prejudice was the friendly
look out of kind eyes that went with the warm pressure of strange hands.
When the jury was drawn, every man on it proved to be a Democrat, and
three were members of the Democratic County Committee. Mr. Folk was
urged to challenge these, for, after all, Colonel Butler was at the head
of their machine. He accepted them. He might as well have objected to
the judge, John A. Hockaday, who also was a Democrat. “No, sir,” said
Mr. Folk; “I am a Democrat, and I will try Butler before a Democratic
judge and a Democratic jury.”

The trial was a scene to save out of all the hideousness before and
after it. The little old court-house headed one end of a short main
street, the university the other; farmers’ mule teams were hitched all
along between. From far and near people came to see this trial, and,
with the significance of it in mind, men halted to read over the
entrance to the court these words, chiseled long ago: “Oh, Justice, when
driven from other habitations, make this thy dwelling-place.” You could
see the appropriateness of that legend take hold of men, and in the
spirit of it they passed into the dingy courtroom. There the rows of
intent faces seemed to express that same sentiment. The jury looked, the
judge personified it. He alone was cold, but he was attentive,
deliberate, and reasonable; you were sure of his common sense; you
understood his rulings; and of his uprightness you were convinced by the
way he seemed to lean, just a little, toward the prisoner. I don’t
believe they will find any errors, however trivial, on which to reverse
John A. Hockaday.[2] Even the prosecutor was fair. It was not Edward
Butler who was on trial, it was the State; and never before did Mr. Folk
plead so earnestly for this conception of his work. Outside, in the
churches, prayer-meetings were held. These were private and
undemonstrative; the praying citizens did not tell even Mr. Folk that
they were asking their God to give him strength. Indirectly it came to
him, and, first fine sign as it was of approval from his client, the
people, it moved him deeply. And when, the plain case plainly stated, he
made his final appeal to the jury, the address was a statement of the
impersonal significance of the evidence, and of the State’s need of
patriotic service and defense. “Missouri, Missouri,” he said softly,
with simple, convincing sincerity, “I am pleading for thee, pleading for
thee.” And the jury understood. The judge was only clear and fair, but
the twelve men took his instructions out with them, and when they came
back their verdict was, “Guilty; three years.”

Footnote 2:

See _Post Scriptum_, end of chapter.

That was Missouri. What of St. Louis? Some years ago, when Butler was
young in corruption, he was caught gambling, and with the charge pending
against him St. Louis rose to challenge him. Meetings were held all over
the city—one in the Exchange downtown—to denounce the political leader,
who, an offense always, had dared commit the felony of gambling. Now,
when he was caught and convicted and sentenced for bribery, what did St.
Louis do? The first comment I heard in the streets when we all got back
that day was that “Butler would never wear the stripes.” I heard it time
and again, and you can hear it from banker and barber there to-day.
Butler himself behaved decently. He stayed indoors for a few weeks—till
a committee of citizens from the best residence section called upon him
to come forth and put through the House of Delegates a bill for the
improvement of a street in their neighborhood; and Butler had this done!

One of the first greetings to Mr. Folk was a warning from a high source
that now at length he had gone far enough, and on the heels of this came
an order from the Police Department that hereafter all communications
from him to the police should be made in writing. This meant slow
arrests; it meant that the fight was to go on. Well, Mr. Folk had meant
to go on, anyway.

“Officer,” he said to the man who brought the message, “go back to the
man who sent you, and say to him that I understand him, and that
hereafter all my communications with his department will be in the form
of _indictments_.”

That department retreated in haste, explaining and apologizing, and
offering all possible facilities. Mr. Folk went on with his business. He
put on trial Henry Nicolaus, the brewer, accused of bribery. Mr.
Nicolaus pleaded that he did not know what was to be the use of a note
for $140,000 which he had endorsed. And on this the judge took the case
away from the jury and directed a verdict of not guilty. It was the
first case Mr. Folk had lost. He won the next eight, all boodle
legislators, making his record fourteen against one. But the Supreme
Court, technical and slow, is the last stand for such criminals, and
they won their first fight there.[3] The Meysenburg case was sent back
for retrial.

Footnote 3:

See _Post Scriptum_, end of chapter.

Mr. Folk has work ahead of him for the two years remaining of his term,
and he is the man to carry it all through. But where is it all to end?
There are more men to be indicted, many more to be tried, and there is
much more corruption to be disclosed. But the people of St. Louis know
enough. What are they going to do about it?

They have had one opportunity already to act. In November (1902), just
before the Butler verdict, but after the trial was begun, there was an
election. Some of the offices to be filled might have to do with
boodling cases. Mr. Folk and boodling were the natural issue, but the
politicians avoided it. Neither party “claimed” Mr. Folk. Both parties
took counsel of Butler in making up their tickets, and they satisfied
him. The Democrats did not mention Folk’s name in the platform, and they
nominated Butler’s son for the seat in Congress from which he had
repeatedly been ousted for fraud at the polls.

“Why?” I asked a Democratic leader, who said he controlled all but four
districts in his organization.

“Because I needed those Butler districts,” he answered.

“But isn’t there enough anti-boodling sentiment in this town to offset
those districts?”

“I don’t think so.”

Perhaps he was right. And yet those juries and those prayers must mean

Mr. Folk says, “Ninety-nine per cent. of the people are honest; only one
per cent. is dishonest. But the one per cent. is perniciously active.”
In other words, the people are sound, but without leaders. Another
official, of irreproachable character himself, said that the trouble was
there was “no one fit to throw the first stone.”

However, this may be, here are the facts:

In the midst of all these sensations, and this obvious, obstinate
political rottenness, the innocent citizens, who must be at least a
decisive minority, did not register last fall. Butler, the papers said,
had great furniture vans going about with men who were said to be
repeaters, and yet the registration was the lowest in many years. When
the Butlerized tickets were announced, there was no audible protest. It
was the time for an independent movement. A third ticket might not have
won, but it would have shown the politicians (whether they counted them
in or out) how many honest votes there were in the city, and what they
would have to reckon with in the force of public sentiment. Nothing of
the sort was done. St. Louis, rich, dirty, and despoiled, was busy with

Another opportunity is coming soon. In April the city votes for
municipal legislators, and since the municipal assembly has been the
scene of most of the corruption, you would think boodling would surely
be an issue then. I doubt it. When I was there in January (1903), the
politicians were planning to keep it out, and their ingenious scheme was
to combine on one ticket; that is to say, each group of leaders would
name half the nominees, who were to be put on identical tickets, making
no contest at all. And to avoid suspicion, these nominations were to be
exceptionally, yes, “remarkably good.”[4]

Footnote 4:

See _Post Scriptum_, end of chapter.

That is the old Butler non-partisan or bi-partisan system. It emanates
now from the rich men back of the ring, but it means that the ring is
intact, alert, and hopeful. They are “playing for time.” The convicts
sitting in the municipal assembly, the convicts appealing to the higher
courts, the rich men abroad, the bankers down town—all are waiting for
something. What are they waiting for?

Charles Kratz, the ex-president of the Council, head and go-between of
the Council combine, the fugitive from justice, who, by his flight,
blocks the way to the exposure and conviction of the rich and
influential men who are holding the people of Missouri in check and
keeping boodling from going before the people as a political issue, this
criminal exile, thus backed, was asked this question in Mexico, and here
is the answer he returned:

“I am waiting for Joe Folk’s term to expire. Then I am going home to run
for Governor of Missouri and vindication.”

* * * * *

_Post Scriptum_, December, 1904.—The tickets were not “remarkably good.”
“Boodle” was not in the platform, nor “reform.” The bi-partisan
boodlers, with reformers and “respectable” business men for backers,
faced it out, and Boss Butler reorganized the new House of Delegates
with his man for Speaker and the superintendent of his garbage plant (in
the interest of which he offered the bribes for which he was convicted)
for chairman of the Sanitary Committee.

And the Supreme Court of Missouri reversed his case and all the other
boodle cases one by one, then by wholesale. The whole machinery of
justice broke down under the strain of boodle pull.

Meanwhile, however, Mr. Folk uncovered corruption in the State and,
announcing himself a candidate for Governor, has appealed from the Court
to the People, from the City of St. Louis to the State of Missouri.