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JIM 

JLhe Career of 

an Improbable Rascal 



BOOKS BY 

W, A. SWANBEEG: 



JIM FISK*. The Carter o\ &n ImprobMe Ra 
FIRST BLOOD The Swry of Fan Sumter 
SICKLES THE INCREDIBLE 



JIM FLSK: 

T tie Career of 
an Improbable Rascal 



BY W. A. SWANBERG 



CHARLES SCRIBNER'S SONS - New 



COPYRIGHT 1959 W. A. SWANBERG 
A-iz. 5 8[H] 

THIS BOOK PUBLISHED SIMULTANEOUSLY IN THE 
UNITED STATES OF AMERICA AND IN CANADA- 
COPYRIGHT UNDER THE BERNE CONVENTION 

ALL RIGHTS RESERVED. NO PART OF THIS BOOK 
MAY BE REPRODUCED IN ANY FORM WITHOUT THE 
PERMISSION OF CHARLES SOUBNER'S SONS* 

PRINTED IN THE UNITED STATES OF AMERICA 

LIBRARY OF CONGRESS CATALOG CARD NUMBER 59-5787 

QUOTATIONS FROM COPYRIGHTED SOURCES 

Direct quotations from 'the following copyrighted books have been in- 
cluded in ]vm Fisk-~The Career of an 'improbable Jfcwca/, on pages 
indicated in parentheses following each source. These quotations are uiwd 
by special permission of the publishers and copyright holders listed 
below. 

Fuller, Robert H./tt6#ctf /w; The Life of Colonei fanc$ Fiji, /r, 
The Macmillan G>., New York, 1918. Used by permission of Mrs. 

Frances H. Savage. (P. 272) 

Grodinsky, Julius~-/a? Gould: Hit Business Career, if 67-1 $y, University 

of Pennsylvania Press, Philadelphia, 1957. <P, 89) 
Hesseltine, William B*-Ulys$es Grant, fotitifian, Dodd, Mead fc <X 

New York, 1935, Used by permission of Professor William B, Hoscl- 

tine, (Pp, i7 > 144) 

Lane, Wheaton $r~wmn0J0rc Vmttfi&t: An Epic of *ht 5rem A%e. 

Alfred A, Knopf, New York, 194*, (Pp x^-jo, 4*) 
Ncvins, Allan and Thomas, Milton Habey v editors Tfce [Nay &f 

George Templetm Strong, The Macmilian Co,, New York, 1952, 

Pp- 1, 160, 1179, 285) 

Sachs, Emanie~"'n* TrmMe Siren," Wriorur WooJbull, Harper Jk 
Brothers, New York, 1926* Used by pennission of Mrs, Emanie Arling. 
(P. uj) 



Van Wyck, Fredericlc Rtcotttctknu <?f <ra OW Nn y<?r*er, Liveright 

Publishing Corp., New York, 193*. <P. 175) 
Warshow, Robert Irving/^ Qrasbf, (Greenberg, New York, 1938), 

Used by permission of the present publisher, Chilton Company, 

Philadelphia, (P. 46) ' 

White, Bouck Tfee Book of Dmet Drew, copyright 1910 by Doable- 
day 3t Co M Inc. Reprinted by permission, (P, i) 



FOR 

Sara 



SOME STUDIED OPINIONS OF 

James FISK, Jr. 



"I was born to be bad." Fisk himself. 
"He was such a good boy!" his wife. 

"Morals! The man never had any; hasn't got any now, and 
will never have any this side of the bottomless pit." Attorney 
Thomas W. Pittmm. 

" . . his whole life, even those phases of life which decorum 
veils, [was] an acted comedy no more striking phenomenon of 
human nature has been seen in our time. . , ,** The Yctp York 
Herald. 

"What a scamp he was, but what a curious and scientifically 
interesting scamp!' 1 George Templet on Strong. 

"... as absolutely devoid of shame as the desert of Sahara is 
of gxass.''~jRw. Henry Ward Beecher. 

"He has done more good turns for worthy but embarrassed 
men than all the clergymen in New York/* Boss TVwrf. 

"Perhaps of him it may one day be said that he was first in war, 
first in peace and first in the pockets of his countrymen/' 7%i 
New York Times. 

"Colonel Fisk was generous to a fault/ jftw, Edw&rd Q* 
Fhgg, 



Contents 



1. ALL ABOARD! i 

2. PRINCE OF PEDDLERS 1 1 

3. THE SCARLET WOMAN OF WALL STREET 22 

4. THE GENTLE DOUBLE-CROSS 28 

5. WHO'S YOUR JUDGE? 36 

6. THE SIEGE OF FORT TAYLOR 46 

7. THE BLACK HORSE CAVALRY 54 

8. THUNDERSTRUCK AND DUMFOUNDED 64 

9. THE BIG Fix 73 
70. THE SKY Is THE LIMIT 85 

11. NOTHING Is LOST SAVE HONOR 91 

12. ORGIES UNSPEAKABLE 108 

13. THE GOULD PLAN FOR PROSPERITY 122 

14. IN UP TO THE HANDLE 134. 

15. COLLAPSE, AND COMPANY 142 

16. PROPAGANDIST FISK 156 

17. RAILROADER FISK 169 

18. IMPRESARIO FISK 179 

vii 



viii Contents 

ILLUSTRATIONS between pages 182-183 

19. COLONEL FISK 189 

20. STALE BEER AND ROTTEN CHEESE 201 
2L FISK AT BUNKER HILL 219 

22. THE COLONEL'S COMBAT FATIGUE 229 

23. THOSE DREADFUL BILLETS-DOUX 241 

24. WASHDAY IN YORKVILLE 254 

25. A SPECIAL STINKPOT 260 

26. SUCH A GOOD BOY! 267 

27. WHERE THE WOODBINE TWINETH 279 
BY WAY OF A POSTSCRIPT 289 
ACKNOWLEDGEMENTS 298 
BIBLIOGRAPHY 299 

INDEX 303 



JIM FISK: 

JLhe (Career of 

an Improbable Rascal 



CHAPTER 

i 



All Aloardl 



EARLY in 1869, the more sensitive citizens of New York 
became aware that an insufferable hayseed from Vermont 
named James Fisk Jr. was exceeding even his previous 
demonstrations of vulgarity. For two years he had done so 
well in this line that improvement was thought impossible. 
Yet, by fertile imagination and earnest effort, he had suc- 
ceeded. Just as some men are born athletes or intellectuals, 
Fisk seemed divinely fashioned for the function of giving 
offense to people of taste. Manhattan's upper crust was 
wounded to discover that such a buffoon could not only win 
wealth in the metropolis but could trample on men with 
college degrees and social prestige in pushing himself to 
frightening financial and political power. The elite would 
have liked to ignore him, but he could no more be ignored 
than a holdup man or a discordant brass band. The well- 
bred lawyer George Templeton Strong viewed him with 
revulsion: 

"Illiterate, vulgar, unprincipled, profligate, [he is] always 
making himself conspicuously ridiculous by some piece of 
flagrant ostentation. . . ." 

Fisk was thirty-three, short, rotund, merry and utterly 
shameless. His broad face, though the wide-set eyes were 
somewhat protuberant, was saved from unhandsomeness by 
its expression of twinkling humor. His reddish-yellow hair 
was parted just west of center, to flare at the temples into 
curls that looked like a barber's handiwork. His generous 
mustache, described as being "the color of a Jersey cow," 
was waxed at the ends to dangerous keenness. It was said 



2 Jim Fisk 

that he used perfume. Far from playing down his portly 
figure, he dramatized it with fancy suits and low-cut vests 
that allowed the cherry-sized diamond in his shirt bosom 
to blind the onlooker. 

While his appearance gave injury to men of discrimina- 
tion, his conduct added insult. He was noisy. He murdered 
the king's English. He \^ent to fantastic lengths to get public 
attention he who should have sought merciful conceal- 
ment. His open affair with an opportunistic beauty named 
Josie Mansfield was already the talk of the town. For him 
to keep a mistress in oriental splendor while his wife lived 
conveniently distant in Boston was only one of his trans- 
gressions. Everybody knew how he and his quiet crony, 
Jay Gould, had stolen the Erie Railway, bribed judges and 
legislators to make the robbery legal, and since then had 
milked millions out of the road and its stockholders. Gould 
at any rate had the grace to shun publicity. Fisk wallowed 
ink. 

Now he was splashing into a new sensation. He was 
moving the Erie offices uptown to Eighth Avenue and 
Twenty-third Street into the former Pike's Opera House, 
a four-story marble palace with 2600 seats. 

No one had ever heard of a railroad being run from an 
opera house, although it was conceded that the Erie, for all 
its size, was a comic-opera carrier with more farce than 
freight in its makeup. The former owner, S. N. Pike, had 
lost heavily in presenting grand and light opera and was 
glad to sell the building to Fisk and Gould for $820,000. 
Fisk was enthusiastic about the deal, pointing out that the 
building contained three floors of offices on the Eighth 
Avenue side that would accommodate the Erie staff at the 
same time as he was indulging his taste for the drama in the 
theater on the main floor. Workmen streamed into the place 
in January, and by the time they finished they had con- 
sumed $250,000 more, changed the name on the lintel to 
"Grand Opera House," installed a bronze bust of Shake- 



All Aboard! 3 

speare in the entrance, built a great staircase from the 
marble-paved lobby, frescoed the walls and ceilings, and all 
in all transformed a building which at its completion only 
two years earlier had been thought the last word in splendor. 

Indignant shareholders, who should have known better 
than to think they had any voice in affairs, were writing in 
to protest that holding Erie stock was gamble enough with- 
out getting involved in opera. Fisk brushed this aside as a 
misconception. The building, he repeated, was his property 
and Gould's. The railroad was merely renting the offices 
on a nineteen-year lease at $75,000 a year, the theater section 
being separate, his own private enterprise and responsibility. 

Still, there were critics who asserted that serving as vice- 
president and managing director of Erie ought to be a full- 
time job, and how could he conscientiously have the leisure 
to conduct real-estate and theatrical promotions on the side? 
Others, who construed an office as a mere shelter, grumbled 
at the expense of the new layout. Being a minor Erie stock- 
holder in 1869 was such a misfortune that none of them 
could be expected to take a bright view of things. 

Indeed, Vice-President Fisk's new office on the second 
floor gave no hint that Erie was too destitute to pay divi- 
dends. It was a great hall, entered through carved oak doors 
that led into an anteroom protected by a bronze gate 
guarded by ushers. In the inner sanctum Fisk sat enthroned 
in a huge chair studded with gold nails, before a broad desk 
raised on a dais, surrounded by mirrors and silken hangings. 
The cerulean ceiling was splashed with crimson ovals em- 
blazoned with the word "Erie" in gold. A gold-and-brown 
rug sank under the feet. Even the wash stand in the corner 
was a $1000 affair of marble and porcelain, a reporter noted, 
"the bowl being tinted with rose and gold, and displaying 
the figures of lovely nymphs in disporting attitudes." While 
Fisk obviously enjoyed this luxury, he seemed equally proud 
of the fine employes' dining hall, and the Erie safe, an in- 
novation costing $60,000. Rising seven stories in height 



4 Jim Fisk 

from sub-basement to roof, it was an individual safe on 
each floor, said to be so fireproof that if the entire building 
should burn down, the safe would remain standing, black- 
ened but intact. Faultfinders sneered at this. Of what use 
was a mighty safe so long as Fisk and Gould knew the 
combination? 

The Vermonter seemed impervious to criticism. If there 
was one facet of his personality that galled the sedate more 
than any other, it was a love of notoriety so extravagant that 
he preferred to be insulted than ignored. Strangely, the most 
important Erie property of all, a steam-operated printing 
press, was hidden away in the basement and not even men- 
tioned. This press, the foundation of the wealth of Fisk and 
Gould, had already printed upwards of $23,000,000 of 
counterfeit money in the form of watered Erie shares with 
which the two predators had slain uncounted lambs in Wall 
Street and fattened their own purses. It would print more. 
The ability of this machine to transform blank sheets of 
paper into certificates worth from fifty to seventy-five 
dollars each was a secret weapon that Fisk, always a joker, 
liked to call "the freedom of the press." 

He now went ahead with a series of moves calculated to 
show the big city what an up-and-coming country boy 
could do. Although he had never finished grammar school 
and had trouble with his spelling, he announced that the 
Opera House would present Shakespeare in March. He 
lured the producer G W. Tayleure away from a profitable 
connection with the Olympic Theater and sent him to 
Europe in search of talent. He next leased Brougham's 
Theater, an intimate little playhouse on West Twenty- 
fourth Street just behind the Fifth Avenue Hotel, where 
Fisk was living at the time. With it he acquired the services 
of the skilful actor-playwright-producer John Brougham, 
who stepped aside while the house was renovated with plush 
and gilt. Moving down to Fourteenth Street, Fisk leased the 
great Academy of Music, where the impresario Max Maret- 



All Aboard! 5 

zek had been presenting grand opera during the winter. He 
hired Maretzek as well. Within a few months his dollars 
had made him the biggest theater magnate in New York, 
owner or lessee of the three finest entertainment places in 
the city, boss of three producers of acknowledged prestige, 
a greasepaint guerilla ready to pick Europe clean. 

"With most of the past achievements of Fisk, jr., we have 
little sympathy," huffed Horace Greeley's Tribune. ". . . As 
to his opera-houses and the like, we don't feel the need of 
any more. Our French theater evinces such ability and skill 
in commending Adultery as a Fine Art, that it don't seem 
to need any assistance." 

Possibly this was a double-edged thrust by Greeley, for 
Fisk had long commended adultery as a fine art. While 
living at the Fifth Avenue Hotel, a hostelry opposed to sin, 
he had kept Miss Mansfield three minutes distant in a 
comfortable house just around the corner at 18 West 
Twenty-fourth, hard by Brougham's Theater. On estab- 
lishing Erie in the Opera House he took steps to keep his 
massive business and private activities centralized. He in- 
stalled Josie in a four-story brownstone dwelling a half- 
block west of the Opera House at 359 West Twenty-third, 
spending a fortune in decorating the place in Erie style. 
Knowing her aversion to toil, he supplied her with a butler, 
cook, chambermaid and coachman. 

Having bought a dozen houses adjacent to the Opera 
House along Twenty-third Street, he fitted up the second 
floor of 3 1 3 West Twenty-third, three doors removed from 
his office, as his own diggings. A lover of canaries, he had 
one in every corner. Being about halfway between the 
Erie palace and Josie's home, he lived midway between 
business and pleasure. He was content with this modest 
arrangement because 313 was used only during legal or 
romantic emergencies and he could usually be found at 359. 

In his brief New York career, Fisk repeatedly had been 
threatened with arrest and had been served with scores of 



6 Jim Fisk 

summonses, some of them costly and all of them causing in- 
convenience. At times he had been forced to lock himself 
in his office to escape process servers intent on dragging him 
into court. With this in mind he had carpenters build him 
an enclosed passageway that led from the back door of 
his home, across two intervening yards and into the Grand 
Opera House a contrivance some naive observers thought 
was designed to protect him from inclement weather. His 
domestic austerity ended at the threshold, for his stables 
behind the Opera House on Twenty-fourth Street were 
in the grand manner. This was an era when a man of fashion 
was marked by the smartness of his rig. Fisk had six, includ- 
ing a barouche, a phaeton and two clarences, one of the 
latter lined with gold cloth. He kept fifteen horses, all 
blacks and whites, requiring the attentions of five stablemen. 
A canary above each stall filled the steeds' leisure hours with 
song. A good reinsman, Fisk liked to drive six-in-hand, with 
black horses and white harnessed together in pairs, two 
Negro footmen in white livery at the front, two white 
footmen in black livery at the rear an outfit sure to be 
recognized when he rolled up the avenue with Miss Mans- 
field or a few chorus girls as passengers. 

At the time he acquired the Opera House, Offenbach's 
naughty opera bouffe, La Perichole, was on the boards 
with enough success so that Fisk continued it while Tay- 
leure was abroad planning greater things. He often doffed 
the cares of Erie to rush into the theater and give Adolph 
Birgfeld, the interim director, the benefit of his experience 
as a one-time circus menagerie helper. Since Mile. De Rosa 
and her ballet troupe were part of the cast, along with 
several ingenues and soubrettes, he bossed a whole posse 
of women performers. What with his free-and-easy way 
with females and his already gamy reputation, it was in- 
evitable that rumor should invest him with a bevy of 
theatrical concubines. Wide-eyed tales flew of Fisk inviting 
a score or more of half-naked dancers into his office, order- 



All Aboard! 7 

ing champagne and pickled oysters from Delmonico's, and 
indulging in orgies of the kind that brought Rome to ruin. 
It was generally believed that his licentiousness had so in- 
fected large segments of the railroad's personnel that the 
place was a nest of debauchery. Broadway jokesters had 
Erie clerks singing timetables drunkenly to opera-bouffe 
melodies. 

One stockholder brought suit against Fisk, asking his 
removal on the ground that he was simultaneously wrecking 
the railroad and all conceptions of decency in housing the 
line's main offices in a building devoted to song and dance, 
where hussies of the stage were as likely as not to seduce 
impressionable young male employes from their true allegi- 
ance to Erie and send them straight down the primrose path. 
The complaint read in part: 

". . . that it is injurious to the business of said corporation 
[Erie] to have its offices iii a building which in part is 
almost nightly occupied for operatic and dramatic per- 
formances; that the frequenting of said building and its 
approaches by the large number of young clerks in the 
employment of said Company, and by opera and theatre 
women at the same time, and the musical and dancing re- 
hearsals by day, with the tread of ballet girls and the echoes 
of operas and songs, and of all sorts of string and wind in- 
struments resounding in said building, within hearing and 
almost within sight of numerous young clerks at their desks 
. . . are demoralizing to said young men, destructive of the 
interests of said Company, and without a parallel in rail-road 
history." 

The plaintiff further alleged that this mixture of railroad 
administration with lutes, dulcimers and lovely women had 
"caused to be so confused and mingled in the thoughts and 
associations, especially of the New-York clerks . . . the ideas 
of 'Erie' and 'Grand Opera,' of work and amusement, of 
ballet girls and operatic spectacles, with trains, telegraphs 
and time tables, as to impair the sense of duty, and to injure 



8 Jim Fisk 

the business efficiency of said clerks and employees, and 
the good repute of said Company." He charged that Fisk 
himself, the author of all this delinquency, was adding to 
Erie's disgrace "by bringing or allowing to come into, and 
tolerating in the offices of said Company, and appearing with 
in said Grand Opera House, females of bad repute. . . ." 

Fisk was indifferent to such lawsuits, having the best 
attorneys in town to handle them. While the portrayals of 
sin in the Erie menage were exaggerated, a fair appraisal of 
his weaknesses would favor the opinion that improprieties 
occasionally took place. All questions of morality aside, the 
unanimous opinion in town was that Fisk, whose ability to 
assimilate corporations had set some sort of gastric record, 
was courting trouble in trying to swallow three theaters on a 
full stomach. Most New Yorkers, visualizing him at his Erie 
desk with a showgirl on each knee, never dreamed that 
when he put fun aside he worked with speed and efficiency 
in managing his complicated enterprises. 

"He comes to his office at 9^ in the morning with the 
promptness of a patrolman on his beat," wrote Matthew 
Hale Smith. "He takes off his coat and is prepared for his 
day's work. There are sixteen apartments in the Central 
Office, and by the side of his chair are sixteen telegraph 
wires, so that he can call any person into his presence whom 
he may wish to see. Telegraphic communication with every 
station on the Erie Road is complete. Jersey City and Wall 
Street are also connected with the Erie office. Letters are 
read the first thing in the morning and answers dictated. It 
is no uncommon thing for Mr. Fisk to dictate three letters 



at one time. . . ." 



Josie Mansfield heard the showgirl rumors and evinced 
some jealousy, although she well knew that she was the 
apple of Fisk's eye, the recipient of a large share of his 
immense fortune, and that if his esteem could be measured 
in dollars she was far ahead of the field. Known behind 
Fisk's back as the Cleopatra of Twenty-third Street, she 



All Aboard! 9 

admitted to twenty-two years. She had successfully con- 
cealed a vivid past. Yet she managed to convey an im- 
pression of soft innocence, and when it came to beauty she 
was more than a match for the Opera House belles. 

"Miss Mansfield is of full, dashing figure . . ." another 
journalist commented. "Her eyes are large, deep and bright, 
and inclined to Chinese in type. Her purple-black hair, 
worn in massive coils over a well-shaped head is a wonder in 
its luxuriance and native gloss . . . Her voice is very soft 
and sweet, but her smile that of a woman who grants it 
only after measuring its width and depth, and calculating 
its results to a nicety before bestowing it." 

Insofar as he could get away with it, Fisk treated Josie 
precisely as if she were his legal wife, even to the point of 
leaving her to make frequent business trips. When he was 
in town he took her on occasional drives in Central Park, 
shopping tours or excursions to Long Branch. But for all 
his brass, his social appearances with her were limited by 
the rigid code of the day. He did not dare to share his great 
proscenium box with her at the Opera House, since such 
open wickedness would drive away customers. She had 
her own private box directly above his. He could not take 
her to fashionable places like Delmonico's or the Fifth 
Avenue Hotel, knowing that if he did so he would no longer 
be welcome there himself. Since fashionable places had a 
magnetic attraction for him, this meant that he moved freely 
in circles where she was barred, further restricting their time 
together. As a fallen woman, she was sometimes put in the 
humiliating position of having to wait outside the door 
while Fisk quaffed champagne or transacted business in 
staid company, as evidenced by one of the notes he dashed 
off to her: "Dear Josie Get ready and come to the Twen- 
ty-third Street entrance of the hotel and take me down 
town " 

Having fair intelligence, Miss Mansfield must have under- 
stood that while Fisk was faithful to her in his fashion, she 



/a Jim Fisk 

would ever come second to his enormous ambition, which 
was the mistress that never left his side. Now that he had 
three theaters to operate in addition to a railroad and other 
enterprises, he was busier than ever, rushing from place to 
place, carrying the details of many diverse projects in his 
mind, a sharp fellow bristling with plots to get ahead of 
other sharp fellows. He often communicated with Josie by 
note, keeping a messenger handy for the purpose. But he 
still breakfasted and lunched with her whenever possible, 
and he made frequent use of her brownstone house as a 
place to entertain business and political associates at dinner 
and cards, with Josie acting as hostess. 

Thus she met privately many of the great and notorious 
with whom Fisk rubbed elbows publicly. But these occa- 
sional entertainments were scarcely enough for an ad- 
venturess who craved continuous excitement. There were 
signs, unseen by the preoccupied Fisk, that Miss Mansfield 
was growing bored. Emancipated from housework by a 
staff of servants, she was often faced by leisure she was not 
equipped to cope with, having little taste for reading or 
meditation. While it was true that Fisk had rescued her 
from poverty and decorated her with diamonds and sables, 
these adornments were like the lady herself, useless unless 
they were seen by somebody. Fisk, who had an uncanny 
ability to foresee pitfalls in business, never suspected that 
his gorgeous plaything might be a source of trouble. 



CHAPTER 



Prince of Peaalers 



EVEN as a boy in Brattleboro, Vermont, James Fisk Jr. was 
regarded as a curiosity, a character, a smart aleck who would 
have been annoying but for his boundless good nature. He 
was born on All Fool's Day, 1835, on the other side of the 
Green Mountains at Pownal. Possibly the date was signif- 
icant, as people said with a wink, but in later years no one 
could explain how such a person as Fisk could be the 
product of a center of New England honesty and thrift. 
His mother died when he was a baby, his father marrying 
Love Ryan of Putney after no more than a decent interval, 
and the family moved to Brattleboro, the bustling Connecti- 
cut River village that framed the boy's earliest memories 
and which he ever afterward looked back on fondly as his 
home town. 

The senior Fisk, always known as Pop, was pure Yankee 
descended from English forbears, an itinerant peddler who 
left with a loaded wagon on Mondays to return at week's 
end with diminished cargo but thicker wallet. In his spare 
time he invented contraptions, among them a copper light- 
ning rod and a safety device whereby a driver could pull 
a lever releasing the harness on runaway horses, thus freeing 
the wagon. His inventions were more singular than re- 
munerative. On one peddling trip, when he ran out of 
shawls and had an excess of small flowered tablecloths, he 
assured housewives that the tablecloths were the latest 
Boston style in shawls and sold them all. 

In Love Fisk he had a wife of warm maternal affection 
who reared young Jim as if she had borne him herself. "To 



12 Jim Fisk 

the stepson," records a Brattleboro historian, "Mrs. Fisk 
gave a mother's unstinted love and devotion, and in his 
mature years he repaid it with a devotion as strong." In 
1843, when he was eight, she had her own child, Mary 
Grace, whom Jim adored. 

While he was remarkable in filial attachment, without a 
mean bone in his body, he was a problem at school good 
only at arithmetic, execrable in spelling, grammar and gen- 
eral deportment. At twelve he quit or was ousted from 
school and began accompanying his father on peddling trips. 
He charmed rustics with a ready spiel and an endless stock 
of jokes. When a woman customer complained that his 
father had deceived her as to the value of a twelve-and-one- 
half cent piece of calico, he had an answer. 

"Well, now," he said, "I don't think father would tell a 
lie for twelve and one-half cents, though he might tell 
eight of 'em for a dollar." 

In 1849 Pop Fisk, an abstainer, showed a gambling streak 
by building a temperance hotel, the Revere House, on Main 
and Elliot Streets in Brattleboro, thereby saddling himself 
with an oppressive mortgage. Continuing his peddling, he 
hired a manager to run the hostelry, where young Jim often 
waited on table and regaled the guests with witticisms. 
"Jim was fond of reading the few papers that reached the 
village," relates a biographer, "and as his memory was good 
he always mastered their contents and could entertain a 
select company of travelers with an unfailing stream of 
news-items from all parts of the world, seasoned and spiced 
with his quaint comments." 

A born salesman and innkeeper, he had less taste for the 
concomitant chores cleaning the barn, washing dishes. He 
wanted to see the world. When he was fifteen, Van 
Amberg's Mammoth Circus and Menagerie played at Brat- 
tleboro, and when Van Amberg left town, so did Jim Fisk. 
For two or three years the records are vague he traveled 
with the show, helping tend the animals, doing roustabout 



Prince of Peddlers 15 

work and eventually rising to ticket collector on tours 
reaching as far west as Illinois. Gaudy by nature, he enjoyed 
the blare and bunting as well as the hokum of circus life. A 
willing twig, he was bent into permanent peculiarity by this 
road-show interlude so that ever afterward he seemed to 
regard the whole world as a circus, with all the people in 
it merely clowns, and Jim Fisk the biggest clown of all. 
While nothing on earth could have shaped him into con- 
ventional lines, it would seem that Van Amberg must share 
responsibility for the fashioning of one of the nation's 
most awe-inspiring eccentrics. 

About eighteen when he quit the circus and returned 
home, Fisk was a genial, stocky young man who favored 
blinding checked suits and bristled with get-up. Right away 
he rejoined Pop on the peddling route, and right away he 
let Pop know he was conducting his enterprise with a 
lamentable lack of acumen. His horses were spavined. His 
wagon, which had not been painted for years, could easily 
be mistaken for a manure hauler. The thing to do, Jim 
urged, was to spruce up the rig, make it visible from afar, 
a thing to excite admiration and promote sales. Besides, to 
his way of tiiinking the old man was too content with cover- 
ing his same old route within spitting distance of Brattleboro 
when he could easily add a couple of wagons, cover more 
towns, sell more goods and make higher profits. And why 
should he dress in farmers' overalls, giving people the im- 
pression that he was an ordinary tin peddler, when he could 
as well wear store clothes and uphold his dignity as a 
merchant of the road? 

Being an amiable man, Fisk pre did not clout his son, 
who offered these suggestions and many others with the 
best of humor. Pop allowed that he had been in business 
quite a spell, knew a thing or two about it, and considered 
the idea of primping a peddler's cart not worth a second 
thought. Jim proved his point by buying his own wagon, 
painting it red with yellow wheels, installing a bright yellow 



/ 4 Jim Fisk 

umbrella over the spring seat, donning top hat and striped 

coat and striking out on a route of his own. He so quickly 

outstripped his father in sales that the omen was plain to 

read. Pop Fisk bowed to progress and painted his wagon 

the same way. Business boomed so that they added a third 

wagon. 

Simultaneously Jim was courting Lucy Moore, a win- 
some, dark-haired girl a shade taller than he, who had come 
from Springfield, Massachusetts, to attend the Brattleboro 
Female Seminary. An orphan who was reared by an uncle, 
Lucy fell prey to the lively Fisk sales pitch. In 1854, when 
he was nineteen and she only a month over fifteen, they 
were married a union that did not unite but was fated to 
set some sort of record in continuous yet amicable separa- 
tion. During the eighteen years of their marriage, Lucy 
would see her husband only occasionally, becoming in fact 
a spinster with benefit of clergy. Fisk showered her with 
gifts and there seems no doubt that he loved her tenderly, 
though not exclusively. 

While the bride settled in Brattleboro, the groom was 
coining money on the road and spending it at country 
taverns where rustics hailed him with glee as a fellow who 
could make things crackle. His humor was so benign and 
free from malice that it filled any room with warmth. He 
delighted in telling jokes on himself, heaping ridicule on his 
own ineptitude until listeners were in stitches. His father, 
worried about the hotel, sold him his interest in the peddling 
business and retired to run the Revere House. Folks in 
Brattleboro, who always considered Jim likeable but loony, 
predicted his early failure. On the contrary, Pop Fisk's hare- 
brained boy combined shrewd management with medicine- 
show display to create markets for goods thrifty Yankees 
had got along without before. By 1856 he had five wagons 
on the road, each sporting the circus paint scheme, each 
drawn by four spirited horses with polished harness, spread- 
ing new tinware, yard goods, jews-harps and jewelry over 



Prince of Peddlers 75 

southern Vermont and New Hampshire and northern 
Massachusetts. In the circus tradition, he had placards 
printed announcing the date of arrival of a Fisk wagon at 
all towns on the route cause for excitement in any back- 
water village. He made frequent overnight buying trips to 
Boston. He originated an "Annual Spring Exhibit of Fisk's 
Peddlers," parading his decorated wagons down Main Street 
to the tune of the Brattleboro Cornet Band. Jim Fisk, it was 
said, would rather listen to a band than eat, especially if it 
was playing for Jim Fisk. 

What with his racetrack attire and endless japery, the 
buffoon in him was so visible that even men who thought 
they knew him well were unaware of the driving efficiency 
underneath. His four hired salesmen were not unaware of it. 
They had been coached in the Fisk method of merchandis- 
ing: If you can't sell them silks, sell them calico, or a frying 
pan, or a thimble but sell. He reserved the main highways 
for himself, sending the others on branch roads as skirm- 
ishers. The five wagons would separate for a week, each 
man on his own, to meet at a pre-selected railhead where 
Fisk took inventory, made each driver account for every 
penny, and had replenishments ready. The boss was a task- 
master with a long memory for detail, a rapid-calculating 
brain, warm approval for good work and little patience for 
failure. 

As time went on he branched out as a jobber, obtaining 
much of his goods from the large Boston house of Jordan, 
Marsh & Company, selling direct to small-town retailers. 
"He always drove in a dashing style at the rate of ten miles 
an hour," one historian commented, "and never failed to 
attract everybody's attention." Although he was a canny 
bargainer, he never sold wooden nutmegs or cheated any- 
one. The Fisk enterprise became a back-country institution, 
the flashy young proprietor being known as the Prince of 
Peddlers, "always jocose, scattering pennies and candy 
among die children, bewitching smiles among the sweet- 



1 6 JimFisk 

sixteens, and consternation among their mammas." His 
steady increase in sales made such an impression on Eben 
Jordan, president of Jordan, Marsh, that in mid- 1860 
Jordan offered him a job as a salesman in Boston. 

Ever stirred by restless ambition, Fisk snatched the op- 
portunity after only a show of deliberation. Since he could 
not possibly supervise more than five wagons, his peddling 
enterprise had reached its limit of expansion a limit that 
never in his life would he believe he personally had reached. 
Expansion was as necessary to him as breathing. Selling his 
business to a promoter from Troy, he moved with Lucy to 
Boston, taking with him a reputation for honesty that 
would never be the same again. In later years, he came to 
look back on his peddling career with a nostalgia similar to 
that of the fallen woman recalling her innocent youth. 

"Happy!" he said long afterward. "By George, them 
was the happiest days of my life! I had everything I 
hankered after, money, friends, stock, trade, credit, and the 
best horses in New England. Besides, by God, I had a repu- 
tation. There wasn't no man that could throw dirt onto Jim 
Fisk." 

Taking rooms at the fashionable Tremont House, the 
Fisk couple lived together as Mr. and Mrs. for some six 
months the longest period of conventional connubiality 
Lucy would ever know. Strangely, the man who had pried 
open the wallets of frugal Yankees was a failure as a whole- 
sale salesman. The glittering ringmaster of a merchandising 
circus had become a mere drummer among other drummers, 
a center-ring performer suddenly deprived of the spotlight, 
wheedling retailers who had no proper understanding of his 
importance. The congenital show-off was thrust into un- 
happy anonymity. "Unless nature has borned you with a 
dry-goods mark onto your back," he later said with scorn, 
"don't be a salesman." 

Jordan told him kindly he had better go back to peddling. 
Fisk, who would have preferred slow torture to returning to 



Prince of Peddlers 27 

the home folks in defeat, did some fast talking to avert this 
humiliation. Unlike Jordan and most other Bostonians, he 
sensed that the South would not swallow Lincoln, that a 
war was coming. In the merits of the North-South quarrel 
he took little interest, but it struck him that whatever they 
were fighting about would open vast new merchandising 
opportunities. When Sumter fell and the war did come, he 
persuaded Jordan to send him to Washington to see if the 
government might be interested in textiles. Lucy remained 
in Boston while Fisk took the best suite at Willard's Hotel, 
installed a bar and buffet and invited Congressmen and gen- 
erals to enjoy the hospitality of Jordan, Marsh & Company. 
No one could entertain with the rollicking bonhomie of 
James Fisk Jr., one of the first of the war profiteers. Jordan, 
Marsh had several thousand blankets which, though service- 
able, were of unappetizing color and somewhat mildewed. 
Retailers spurned them, but Uncle Sam snapped them up. 
Fisk began telegraphing orders for woollens, cottons, uni- 
forms, socks, underwear and other items that had Jordan 
goggle-eyed. The mill expanded, hired more help, but still 
it could not keep up. Buy more mills, Fisk wired. Jordan 
bought more mills, to find new orders swamping him. Fisk 
was living up $1000 a day in the capital and consummating 
deals in the hundreds of thousands. "It has always been 
shrewdly guessed," one observer commented, "that he paid 
liberally for the favors granted him, knowing that the 
profits on the transactions would be immense." Learning 
that a mill in Gaysville, Vermont, was the only producer 
of a type of needed textiles, he bought the mill for Jordan, 
Marsh and secured a monopoly his first corner. Perfectly 
aware of his importance to the firm, he let Jordan know 
that he would be pleased to become a partner. Jordan com- 
plied instanter. Fisk got jobs with the firm for dozens of 
Brattleboro friends. His success in wangling government 
contracts was due only in part to his free-handed enter- 
taining, for quartermasters found him a work-horse effi- 



1 8 JimFisk 

cient, conscientious, a get-it-done man who would have 
10,000 shirts ready on the day they were promised, shirts 
that would not melt in rain. "The man that will take the 
upper hand of a soldier in the field, is worse than a thief," he 
said with virtuous scorn for contractors who sold shoddy. 
In 1862, with cotton rotting in Southern warehouses and 
hard to come by in the North even at two dollars a pound, 
he set about to remedy the imbalance. While getting cotton 
out of the South involved trading with the enemy, violating 
the blockade, smuggling and possibly other illegalities, he 
justified it on the ground of patriotism, reasoning that it 
was ridiculous that soldiers should be deprived of essential 
clothing and merchants of profit because of a mere 
technicality. The details of this bootleg operation, with its 
attendant stratagems and bribes, remain dim, for he said 
little about it after the war. It is known that he continued 
it on an immense scale for two years. Already well liked by 
Washington officialdom, he threw glamour into the breach 
by hiring an adventurous actress named Lottie Hough to 
wheedle passes through the Union lines. Whether Miss 
Hough's methods were strictly proper is not known, but her 
success was so complete that she retired with a fortune after 
the war. 

Fisk had a platoon of agents risking their skins to buy 
cotton for him in Tennessee and Louisiana, one of them 
his own father, who was admirably trained for the job by 
years of Yankee bargaining. The senior Fisk headed a buy- 
ing group in Tennessee until the heat proved too much for 
him. He suffered a sunstroke and had to be sent home to 
Bratdeboro on a litter with icepacks on his head. Although 
he recovered physical health, his mind was affected, and 
he spent much of the rest of his life in a Bratdeboro asylum, 
a plaintive lunatic attended by two nurses hired by his son. 
Fisk himself, never lacking in courage if there was money 
in it, made several buying trips into the Dixie No Man's 
Land, once narrowly escaping capture by a Confederate 



Prince of Peddlers ly 

patrol. He was sending cotton north by the boatload, 
cargoes of fabulous value that kept the spindles whirring at 
Jordan, Marsh, now the nation's biggest enterprise of its 
kind. One of his biographers solemnly avers that his pur- 
chases of contraband cotton reached peaks as high as 
$800,000 a day, 

Fisk was indeed useful to Jordan, Marsh, but by 1864, 
with the war's end in sight, government buying tapered off. 
Possibly the Green Mountain boy would have stayed on 
had he not persisted in giving the impression, to Jordan as 
well as everybody else, that he and not Jordan was running 
the show. While they were still good friends, and remained 
so until Fisk's violent death, Jordan saw that one or the 
other would have to go. He bought out the younger man's 
interest for $65,000, and Fisk was a free agent again. 

Always a big spender, he had seen enough of frenzied 
wartime finance to develop contempt for a thousand-dollar 
bill. His taste for diamonds, waffle-weave suits and boned 
turkey had grown, as had his girth. Nowhere along the line 
had he felt any itch to shoulder a musket and help save the 
Union. The war was fought by enthusiastic volunteers and 
reluctant draftees, and he fell in neither category, possibly 
being one of those who bought his way out. The feeling of 
common responsibility to win victory was far from uni- 
versal, so that his non-participation implied a lack of na- 
tional zeal, an unwillingness to trade beans in the ranks 
for luxury and champagne, rather than cowardice, which 
was not among his weaknesses. Now twenty-nine, soft but 
enormously vital and healthy, he seemed to feel he had made 
an adequate contribution to the war effort by furnishing 
clothing to the troops and by supervising a great Boston 
rally that sent food and bandages to the survivors at Antie- 
tam. Since his lifelong aim was to win fame and attention, 
he might have taken a flyer in soldiering if he could have 
done so with suitable panoply say, as a general. Anything 
less was not for him. Other young men were doing the 



20 Jim Fisk 

fighting around Richmond when Fisk opened his own textile 
jobbing house on Sumner Street in Boston, found business 
poor and closed up in a few months. 

This was Lucy's second experience with conventional 
married life namely, having a husband who lived in and 
could be seen and spoken to. It was to be her last of any 
duration, for late in 1864 Fisk was off to New York. With 
his sublime self-confidence, his innate love of gambling and 
his experience at swinging heavy deals in Washington, he 
had no doubt that he could crack Wall Street like a nut. 

Opening gaudy brokerage offices on Broad Street, he 
followed his usual routine of holding open house and treat- 
ing fellow speculators to choice liquors. Possibly he was too 
breezy in his talk of bending the stock market to his will, for 
it seems that some of his listeners felt an impulse to ambush 
him if occasion offered. This was one of the few times when 
his confidence outrode his ability. He was ignorant of the 
pitfalls of speculation, a lamb fraternizing with wolves. It is 
written that "He launched out boldly and almost haphaz- 
ardly in all the leading stocks." Caught napping in a sudden 
bear movement, by winter's end he was all but fleeced. 

Having fought the war with telegrams, he saw an oppor- 
tunity to recoup his losses by capitalizing in a similar way 
on victory. Confederate bonds had fallen on the London 
exchange with Southern losses but were still selling at some 
eighty cents on the dollar. Grant now had Richmond in a 
vise. Victory seemed certain, and when the Confederacy 
met defeat her bonds would plummet in value. Not yet was 
there an Atlantic cable, so it would take more than a week 
for news of the war's end to reach England by fast steam- 
ship. If anyone could get to London be-fore the news, he 
could sell Confederate bonds short like mad at eighty cents 
on the dollar and reap a harvest when they sank. Fisk re- 
solved to get there first. 

Forming a pool with three capitalists, he furnished the 
scheme while they supplied the money. Chartering a fast 



Prince of Peddlers 21 

steamer, he sent it to Halifax, the nearest North American 
port to England, with orders to keep up steam for instant de- 
parture. Aboard the ship was his agent, a knowing New 
York broker named Hargreaves, who had instructions to 
speed to England when given the signal. One obstacle was 
the telegraph, which then fell fifty miles short of reaching 
Halifax. Fisk had the last fifty miles strung at his colleagues' 
expense, then watched Richmond with a cold, profiteering 
eye. 

On the historic day when Lee surrendered, the word sped 
over the wires to Hargreaves: "Go!" Hargreaves went. He 
reached Liverpool in six days and a half two days ahead of 
the arrival of the first ship from New York with the news. 
Speeding to London, he kept mum about defeat and duti- 
fully sold Confederate bonds short to all buyers. Alas! 
one of Fisk's partners, a conservative man, had privately 
telegraphed Hargreaves at Halifax not to sell more than five 
millions in bonds, so he limited his sales to that amount. 
When news of the surrender reached London, the bonds 
tumbled to $22. Hargreaves therefore collected the differ- 
ence between $22 and $80, making a handsome profit for his 
employers but missing the downright killing that would 
have been possible. 

Fisk, whose intention was to follow the London market 
clear down to zero, ever afterward lamented the timorous- 
ness he felt had deprived him of millions. He took his win- 
nings, entered the Wall Street lists with more boldness than 
discretion, and quickly lost every penny. Money per se 
meant little to him, but humiliation and defeat were galling. 
As he closed up shop and borrowed cash to get back to 
Boston, he let it be known that his retreat was only tempo- 
rary. 

'Til be back in Wall Street inside of twenty days," he 
said, "and if I don't make things squirm I'll eat nothing but 
bone button soup till Judgment Day." 



CHAPTER 



The Scarlet Tvoman 
of Watt Street 



So SOCIABLE that he would talk to himself if no one else was 
handy, Fisk struck up a conversation with a dejected-look- 
ing man aboard the Boston-bound train. The man turned 
out to be John Goulding, inventor of an improved device 
for the weaving of textiles whose value no one seemed to 
comprehend but he. Immediately interested, Fisk scanned 
Goulding's drawings, listened while the inventor described 
the advantages of his idea, and became convinced that its 
possibilities were enormous. In Boston he borrowed money 
to buy out Goulding's patent a purchase that would in- 
volve him in lawsuits for seven years but nevertheless would 
bring in a fortune on its own account. 

He also borrowed money from Eben Jordan and others 
to make a new start in Wall Street. Unlike many spend- 
thrifts, he had always paid his bills, building a credit rating 
so solid that no one seemed to regard him as a risk. Al- 
though he was known as a likeable, high-powered freak, his 
personal reputation was undamaged, for, to quote one biog- 
rapher, "his contempt for the most cardinal laws of decent 
social life had not then been openly manifested." He spent 
less than a month in Boston this time, so involved with the 
patent, the loans, a side trip to Brattleboro and in laying 
the groundwork for his counter-attack against Wall Street 
that Lucy probably saw little of him. Alert to all financial 
scuttlebutt, he learned that a group of Boston capitalists 
were anxious to buy the Stonington line of steamers, a fleet 
of nine vessels owned by Daniel Drew of New York that 

22 



The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street 23 

plied Long Island Sound between New York and Stoning- 
ton, Connecticut, connecting there with the railroad to 
Boston. He matched this with a rumor he had heard in New 
York that Drew wanted to sell if he could get a fair price 
and smelled a deal in the offing, with himself as middle- 
man. 

Returning to New York late in 1865, Fisk put up at the 
expensive Fifth Avenue Hotel, a hostelry favored by finan- 
cial moguls, and called on Daniel Drew. Drew was sixty- 
eight, tall, spare, illiterate, shaggy-browed and black-haired 
despite his years, the possessor of an expression of near- 
sighted venerability that concealed a killer instinct. A Wall 
Street original never duplicated, he was a multimillionaire 
gambler notorious for his willingness to break a promise 
or betray a friend if he could profit thereby. After a colorful 
career as menagerie flunky, drover, innkeeper and loan 
shark, he had emerged as a steamboat magnate, expanded 
to become the presiding desecrator of the Erie Railway, and 
found his true genius in gouging the stock market, leaving 
windrows of ruined speculators in his wake. Stooped, 
shabby, he lived in a mansion on Union Square, attended 
church faithfully, carried the stripped shaft of an old 
umbrella as a cane, and abused grammar whenever he 
opened his mouth. "I was wonderfully blessed in money- 
making," he later said. "I got to be a millionaire afore I 
know'd it, hardly." Now he was laying secret plans for 
another stock coup that would take extra capital hence his 
desire to sell the Stonington line, which was unprofitable 
anyway. 

Here Fisk struck a piece of luck. It happened that Drew 
had been born and raised at Carmel, New York, a vicinity 
used by a number of circuses as winter quarters. As a young 
man he worked for Howe's circus and later knew Isaac Van 
Amberg, with whose show Fisk had traveled. Drew, who 
loved to reminisce about his circus days, was delighted to 
find a man who knew the smell of tanbark and the pitch- 



2$ Jim Fisk 

man's lingo. He was further pleased when Fisk managed 
to sell his nine steamers to the Boston syndicate for $2,300,- 
ooo. Fisk wound up with a fat commission and, what was 
more important, the temporary blessing of the most power- 
ful and unscrupulous operator in Wall Street. 

Drew knew a shrewd fellow when he saw one. In his 
speculative machinations he could use another friendly 
broker. Shortly thereafter, Fisk joined forces with William 
Belden, son of an old friend of Drew's, and opened the 
brokerage offices of Fisk & Belden. Formerly an outsider 
in the Street, he was now an insider, an ally of Drew, which 
meant entree into the councils of Erie. With Fisk and Drew 
aboard, Erie was steaming up for a wild ride to places no 
respectable railroad ever went before. 

For more than a decade Drew had been a director of 
Erie, never once regarding it as an instrument of transporta- 
tion with a responsibility toward the public and its stock- 
holders. In his view Erie, which he called "Airy," was 
simply a financial fig tree to be shaken regularly so that its 
fruit fell into the waiting Drew baskets. One of the first 
of the robber barons a breed rapidly becoming numerous 
he had of late years been treasurer and acknowledged 
dictator of the road, subjecting it to awful abuse. Its sched- 
ules were fictional, its rolling stock ruinous, its iron rails 
so worn and chipped as to invite derailment. It was Drew's 
habit to issue new capital stock "to install steel rails," then 
use the stock for speculative profit and let the rails go hang. 
Steel rails were expensive. He instructed his general super- 
intendent to turn the old iron rails so that their chipped 
edges were outside, the less eroded edges inside to present 
some show of resistance to wheel flanges. Erie engineers 
complained that they were obliged to travel over two thin 
streaks of rust. 

If it was dangerous to ride Drew's railroad, it was as risky 
to joust with him in stocks. Known as Uncle Daniel or The 
Deacon, he was such a confirmed bear operator that he was 



The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street 2; 

also called The Great Bear, Ursus Major, The Speculative 
Director, and many unprintable appellations. His soul, it 
was said, bore the exact shape of a dollar sign. A psalin- 
singer every Sunday, he put aside all mercy the rest of the 
week. He had given the Methodist Church $250,000 to 
found the Drew Theological Seminary in New Jersey, not 
to soothe his conscience, critics said, since he had none, but 
to ingratiate himself with certain wealthy religious people 
whom he could use in his speculations. Fisk knew precisely 
the character of his elderly playfellow. Treacherous or not, 
Uncle Daniel was a power in the Street, a man with good 
coat-tails to cling to until Fisk could develop his own 
momentum. He took a good hold and clung. 

Early in 1866, Drew staged his coup. Erie as usual needed 
money, so he loaned his own road $3,500,000, taking as 
collateral 58,000 shares of Erie stock. Unknown to out- 
siders, he now had a huge block of shares for use as ammuni- 
tion in manipulating the market. Using Fisk as one of his 
brokers, he promptly launched a bear raid, dumping his 
shares and selling Erie short with such telling effect that its 
price plummeted from 80 to 55% while unfortunate bulls 
caught in the squeeze roared in agony. Ursus Major then 
bought back at low prices the stocks he had sold high, milk- 
ing the Street for a fortune in the process. He was 
delighted that one of the heaviest losers was crusty Com- 
modore Cornelius Vanderbilt, who had stung him for nearly 
a million in a similar ambush in 1863. 

Fisk rode the Drew coat-tails merrily, making a handsome 
profit in broker's fees and a far bigger one in "inside" 
speculation of his own. Erie, already known as the Scarlet 
Woman of Wall Street, found its reputation more lurid 
than ever. While Vanderbilt pondered revenge, there was 
a loud newspaper outcry against Drew that bothered the old 
sinner not a whit, since the stock market at the time was an 
unregulated financial jungle ruled by the sharpest tooth and 
claw. 



26 Jim Fisk 

The Vermont lamb who had been clipped clean only a 
year earlier was learning the tricks fast. At the same time 
he was displaying an uninhibited eccentricity of behavior 
that startled, annoyed or amused his sedate fellow specu- 
lators. To the stiff-collared gentry he was like a man who, 
looking for a saloon, had stumbled into church instead with- 
out discovering his error. Among the conservative financial 
tribe he stood out like a racetrack tout, his clothing vivid, his 
fingers flashing with rings, a huge diamond centered in his 
shirtfront. He was genial, uproarious, dripping with a patter 
of jokes good and bad, belching cigar smoke through brushy 
red mustaches. To watch Fisk in action was to develop an 
impression of being a spectator munching peanuts inside a 
tent. W. W. Fowler, a literate broker of the day, put this 
impression into words: 

"The blonde, bustling and rollicking James Fisk, Jr. ... 
came bounding into the Wall Street circus like a star- 
acrobat, fresh, exuberant, glittering with spangles, and 
turning double-summersets, apparently as much for his own 
amusement as for that of a large circle of spectators. He is 
first, last and always a man of theatrical effects, of grand 
transformations, and blue fire." 

Another broker who watched the Fisk antics with some 
wonder was a slight, intense-eyed, black-bearded man 
named Jay Gould. Gould had no blue fire at all, although 
a childhood of grinding poverty on the far side of the Cat- 
skills had made him burn with one inner determination: to 
get rich. Frail, quiet, shy, he had just turned thirty, a year 
younger than Fisk. As a boy he had written an essay titled 
"Honesty is the Best Policy," an admirable effort he soon 
forgot. He had invented an efficient mousetrap, worked as 
a surveyor, then entered the tannery business in Pennsyl- 
vania with a wealthy merchant named Charles Leupp, He 
speculated so heavily with his partner's money that when 
Leupp found out about it he feared he was ruined and shot 
himself dead. Coming to New York in 1859, Gould married 



The Scarlet Woman of Wall Street 27 

the daughter of a well-heeled grocer and discovered a fine 
source of quick gain railroads. Aided by his father-in-law's 
capital, he bought cheap control of several rusting short 
lines, worked hard to give them an appearance of solvency, 
then sold them at a profit. Like Fisk, he had been deaf to 
the call to 1 arms, spending the war years comfortably in 
Broad Street as a member of the brokerage firm of Smith, 
Gould & Martin. 

Otherwise faithful to his wife, Gould was now entering 
into a liaison with the Scarlet Woman. Like Fisk, he was 
trading briskly in Erie shares, seeking full entry into the 
boudoir where Daniel Drew was practically a fixture. 

In 1867 this got to be dangerous sport because several 
others were courting the hussy, topmost among them Com- 
modore Vanderbilt, When the burly Commodore headed 
somewhere, most men had sense enough to get out of the 
way. The former circus helper and the one-time mousetrap 
inventor seemed lacking in this elemental sense of self-pres- 
ervation. They had an idea that they could lick Vanderbilt 
and lick Drew too. 



CHAPTER 



The Gentle 
Daub le<~ Cross 



Cornelius, the great Cornerer, 
A solemn oath he swore, 
That in his trousers pocket he 
Would put one railroad more. 
And when he swears he means it, 
The stout old Commodore. 



BY 1867, Drew's young man Fisk was said to be a million- 
aire. Whether this was true or not, he acted like one. He 
owned a sizeable block of Erie stock, sported a gold-headed 
cane, became a regular at Delmonico's and bought his wife 
a $75,000, four-story mansion at 74 Chester Square in Bos- 
ton so that she could be comfortable though solitary. By 
this time he had not only entrenched himself in New York 
but had so fallen in love with the metropolis that it was clear 
he would stay there. Lucy's continued residence in Boston 
constituted an odd marital arrangement that caused com- 
ment. It was said that she liked Boston and had such an 
aversion for New York that the separation was her own 
choice. It is also possible that Lucy, being of a retiring dis- 
position, decided that daily life with the rumbustical Fisk 
would be more than her nerves could stand and preferred 
distant harmony to connubial chaos. Intelligible though this 
decision was, it placed on her some responsibility for the 
stupendous folly into which her footloose spouse would 
plunge. In Boston Lucy had an inseparable companion in 
Fanny Harrod, a childhood friend, while in New York Fisk 

28 



The Gentle Double-Cross 29 

was busy turning double-summersets and contemplating 
battle with some formidable adversaries, all of them with de- 
signs on Erie no more honorable than his own. 

That unfortunate road was one of the biggest of the day- 
It had 773 miles of broad-gauge track, its 459-mile main line 
starting at Jersey City, across the Hudson from Manhattan, 
to wind northeastward along Pennsylvania's corner bound- 
ary, swinging westward near Binghamton and traversing 
upstate New York's southern tier of counties to end at ter- 
minals in Buffalo and Dunkirk. Its 371 locomotives hauled 
more than two million passengers a year and almost three 
and a half million tons of freight in operations that employed 
more than 7000 people. The road even had a folklore, one 
of its items being the heroism of Mrs. Silas Horton, who 
lived beside the main line in Owego. Seeing a great tree 
fallen across the track, Mrs. Horton in 1854 sacrificed mod- 
esty in favor of humanity, stepped out of her red flannel 
drawers and waved them to flag down a speeding express, 
saving it from certain disaster a feat for which she was 
awarded a lifelong free pass. 

This kind of selfless devotion was unknown among the 
road's directors. The Erie was a misused giant, and no one 
knew it better than Commodore Vanderbilt. More to the 
point, Erie had become his direct competitor. Vanderbilt 
had recently gained control of the New York Central line, 
running between Albany and Buffalo. Since he already con- 
trolled the Hudson River and Harlem lines, both of them 
connecting New York with Albany, he was now a New 
York-to-Buffalo railroader just like Erie, with hopes of 
grabbing more lines reaching to Chicago. Being a man who 
liked to set his rates as high as the traffic would bear, he had 
an aversion for competition. He resolved to swallow Erie, 
and at the same time settle accounts with his old enemy, 
Daniel Drew. 

"I use the Harlem Road just as though it all belonged to 
me," he once told a friend, "and that is the way I shall con- 



50 Jim Fish 

trol every other road as long as I control any, as though it 
all belonged to me." 

White-haired at seventy-two, Vanderbilt carried his tall 
frame as erect as if he were thirty years younger. He was 
profane, efficient, ruthless in a direct and honest way, a man 
with a habit of kicking all obstacles aside. Heroically self- 
made, he had been fighting competitors ever since boyhood 
when he operated a small ferry from his native Staten Island, 
winning success in driblets, buying more vessels until he 
became the biggest of the steamship moguls. Of late years 
he had moved in on railroads with the same relentless power. 
Unlike Drew, he would buy steel rails and make the cus- 
tomers pay for them. He could not spell to save his neck, 
but he was one of the three richest men in the country with 
something like thirty millions, and he could write a check 
on a piece of butcher's paper which any knowing banker 
would honor. He once tried to cheat his son William in a 
contract for hauling manure to Staten Island, just to teach 
the young man a business lesson. Later, when his wife Sofia 
protested nervously against moving to a mansion on Wash- 
ington Place, he had her committed to an asylum for several 
months to eliminate her objections. He had known Daniel 
Drew for a quarter-century, since the time when both were 
in the Hudson River steamboat business, and the two men 
occasionally played whist together despite the Deacon's 
pious protests at Vanderbilt's swearing. Now Drew was in 
the way, and Vanderbilt was out to crush him. 

As the 1867 election for the Erie board of directors ap- 
proached, there were three parties jockeying for control of 
the road, each of them owning large blocks of stock but 
none of them alone possessing enough to assure a voting 
majority. 

The first was headed by Drew, who had looted the road 
for years and had a clique of shareholding directors on his 
side in addition to the support of a character new to railroad 
combat James Fisk Jr. 



The Gentle Double-Cross 31 

The second was led by Vanderbilt, an Erie director for 
seven years whose millions made him a potent contender. 

The third was a group of Boston speculators steered by 
John S. Eldridge and including Fisk's old friend Eben Jor- 
dan, who already controlled the unfinished and debt-ridden 
Boston, Hartford & Erie Railroad. The B., H. & E. had been 
completed from Boston to Hartford, with fine maps to show 
how it would push westward to Fishkill Landing, New 
York, where it would make connections via ferry across the 
Hudson with an Erie branch at Newburgh. This connection 
was entirely a paper myth of the future, never to be realized. 
The B., H. & E. was in corporate nightmare, gasping under 
ten mortgages it could never pay without manna from some- 
where. The Boston capitalists had come up with a solution 
to their dilemma typical of the foxy financing of the time. 
They aimed to gain control of Erie, then let Erie assume the 
debt in the dubious expectation that the B., H. & E. would 
give Erie a gateway to New England and a thriving business 
with Yankeeland when, and if, it was finished. In the be- 
ginning, Jay Gould was cooperating with the Boston group. 
However, the lines of battle were anything but clearly 
drawn, since many of the skirmishers were glancing un- 
easily over their shoulders, ready to jump to another side if 
they found it to their advantage. 

In this fluid struggle for power, any two of the contend- 
ing parties could combine to slaughter the third. Uncle 
Daniel, for a wonder, was caught napping. Behind his back, 
Vanderbilt conferred with Eldridge and his Boston cronies 
and formed a coalition with them aimed at kicking Drew 
clear out of Erie. The agreement between them was per- 
fected in detail, the Boston sharpshooters insisting on ousting 
the malodorous Drew as a move which in itself would lift 
much of the stigma from Erie's soiled reputation. A slate of 
directors was drawn up, omitting Drew and including Van- 
derbilt and Boston representatives. 

When the Great Bear learned of this, he was in panic at 



3-2 Jim Fisk 

the thought of losing his chief source of plunder. Although 
he never extended mercy to others, he was not too proud 
to beg for it himself when in travail. On the Sunday before 
the Erie election, Drew called at Vanderbilt's Washington 
Place home, asked him plaintively how he could be so hard 
on an old colleague and pointed out how profitably the two 
of them could work together. 

Drew could be persuasive when money was at stake. Van- 
derbilt, at first contemptuous, listened to the old buccaneer's 
representations and began to alter his Erie scheme. It struck 
him that it might be more advantageous to have Drew on 
his side as a lieutenant than on the outside as a sworn enemy, 
for with his large Erie holdings and his known speculative 
trickery he could cause trouble. In the end, Vanderbilt made 
one of his rare errors in judgment. He agreed to let Drew 
stay on the board if he would stop his infernal bear raids 
and join the Commodore in a bullish movement of the mar- 
ket. To this Uncle Daniel readily assented. Vanderbilt knew 
that a Drew promise was worthless, but he felt he had his 
rival in his power and could make use of him. 

When news of this reached Eldridge and his Boston mates, 
they were outraged. Vanderbilt had abrogated his bargain 
with them and was playing railroad whist with Drew, whom 
he had pledged to scuttle. They called on Vanderbilt to pro- 
test, and he joined them in a visit to Drew's Fourteenth 
Street residence, where the talk and the cigar smoke grew 
thicker as the night wore on. Things reached such a state 
that Vanderbilt and Drew got to hinting how they could 
freeze out the Bostonians entirely if they did not come to 
rime. Eldridge and his partners surrendered. The three 
parties drew up an agreement whereby all of them would 
have a hand in Erie, although the Commodore fondly be- 
lieved that his hand would be uppermost. However, since 
the Bostonians had been howling for Drew's scalp and had 
let it be known that he would be ejected, a bit of fakery was 
hit on to save them face. The slate of directors already 



The Gentle Double-Cross 3$ 

framed, free from the Drew contamination, would be 
elected. Then one of them, a Vanderbilt man named Levi 
Underwood, would resign, whereupon Drew would be 
elected in his place. 

This little hoax was enacted according to script when the 
election was held at the Erie offices at West and Chambers 
Streets on October 8, 1867. Underwood remained a straw- 
man director for two hours, when he dutifully withdrew be- 
cause of "pressing obligations" and Drew was named for 
the vacancy. Erie stock rose at the news that Uncle Daniel 
was ousted, only to slump again when it was learned that 
he had wormed his way back in via the trapdoor. There was 
a fluctuation of 3 1 / 2 percent in the stock quotations during 
the day, in which the connivers in the deal made fine specu- 
lative profits both on the rise and the fall. John Eldridge was 
made president, an office which in his hands would mean 
little, and Erie assumed the debts of the B., H. & E., while 
Drew was again named to his old post as treasurer. 

"The Erie election yesterday turned out to have been 
something very like a farce," snapped the Herald, not at all 
deceived; ". . . the new board of directors . . .is positively 
worse than the old one." 

By this the Herald meant no direct insult to two of the 
seventeen new directors, James Fisk Jr. and Jay Gould. In 
fact, this pair were so little known in railroad circles that 
the papers referred to Gould simply as "J. Gould," while 
Fisk was named as "Fiske" and even "Fish" an obscurity 
that would not cloud them for long. Vanderbilt himself was 
not a member of the new board, being satisfied to boss it 
from without. His nephew and broker, Frank Work, was 
a director, but Work was merely padding, for the Commo- 
dore felt he had the other two factions headed by Drew and 
Eldridge securely under his thumb. 

In this smug view he failed to take into account the capac- 
ity for intrigue of the Messrs. Drew and Eldridge, neither 
of whom was content to dance to the Vanderbilt tune. 



54 Jim Fisk 

Uncle Daniel, who had seen all along that if he could join 
forces with the Boston crowd he could freeze out Vander- 
bilt and once more run the Erie show, was busily buttering 
up Eldridge. Eldridge, still incensed at being euchred by 
Vanderbilt in the pre-election wirepulling, began to see use- 
ful qualities in the old gambler he had so righteously de- 
nounced. Within a few weeks the two were all but holding 
hands. 

The Commodore did not discover this until midwinter, 
when strange things began to happen to Erie stock on the 
market. According to the agreement, Drew was to combine 
with him in bulling Erie shares and taking profits on the 
rise. Frank Work and another Vanderbilt lieutenant, Rich- 
ard Schell, enthusiastically joined in a stock-buying pool 
with Drew aimed at kiting the price for their mutual ad- 
vantage. Work and Schell soon were puzzled because the 
Erie quotation showed no sustained advance. The price 
would rise a few points, then sag again in a most annoying 
way. When they consulted Drew about this, the old man 
made out to be innocently perplexed at the fluctuation. 

"I never seen sich a queer performance in my life," he 
said. "But keep on buying, boys, for it's sartain to raise. 
Don't be skeered." 

When another fortnight passed and Erie began to fall 
instead of rise, Work, Schell and their fellow bulls got the 
shakes, for their long contracts would soon become due and 
they stood to lose heavily. Some operator was confounding 
them by bearing Erie. They began tracing shares they had 
bought through brokers, and discovered that almost all of 
them had come from Drew. The Great Bear had been up to 
his old tricks. He had betrayed the members of his own 
pool, bearing while they bulled, raking in profits with every 
rise and fall. 

They descended on Drew with imprecations. He coolly 
told them not to use unchurchly language. To be sure, he 
had been bearing a mite, but he had done well at it, and he 



The Gentle Double-Cross 55 

proceeded to split his winnings with his disgruntled partners. 
While they emerged as gainers, they were smarting at being 
duped in a hoax that had Wall Street in stitches for days. 
This was just the sort of hocus-pocus that would appeal to 
the fun-loving Fisk, who was deep in the Deacon's con- 
fidence and undoubtedly profited in the deal. 

Vanderbilt was not amused. Yet he went ahead with a 
program indicating his belief that he was running the Erie 
board. Early in 1869 he raised the New York Central freight 
rates to Rochester, Syracuse and other cities where Erie 
competed, asking Erie to do likewise. At the same time he 
joined the Pennsylvania Railroad in a baldly monopolistic 
proposal that the three roads refrain from rate-cutting, 
gouge shippers to the utmost and pool their earnings from 
the New York City traffic, each road taking one-third. 

The Commodore, who could swear magnificently even 
when discussing the weather, must have loosed sulphurous 
oaths when the Erie directors he thought a parcel of obedi- 
ent clerks considered these proposals and turned them doim* 
The rascally Drew, whom he had saved from expulsion, had 
cheated him. What was worse, Drew now had a majority of 
the directors on his side, having convinced them that if it 
came to battle he had the heaviest guns. 

The Commodore declared war. He set out to take over 
Erie, to crush Drew, Fisk, Gould, Eldridge and all the rest 
of the traitors, as Charles Francis Adams later phrased it, 
"with the brute force of his millions." 



CHAPTER 



Tr no s Your Juagef 



EVER prone to live as if he were racing the clock, Fisk did 
not seem to regard his involvement with such contestants as 
Vanderbilt and Drew as a full-time job. Not long after he 
became a director of Erie, he acquired a new responsibility 
in Helen Josephine Mansfield, a woman one historian later 
dismissed with a line of crushing finality: "Perhaps a colder 
disgrace to her sex has never helped to ruin man since the 
world began." 

Born in Boston circa 1840-42, the daughter of a news- 
paperman, convent-educated Josie moved with her family 
in 1852 to Stockton, California, where her father soon was 
killed in a duel arising from a political quarrel. At an early 
age she discovered there was something about her the boys 
Eked. Described as "an incorrigible flirt," she was taken by 
her mother to San Francisco, where the widow Mansfield 
married a man named Warren. It was here that Josie caught 
the eye of a wealthy, middle-aged attorney named D. W. 
Perley, whose attentions to the young beauty precipitated 
a scandal about which the accounts of the time are delicately 
vague. It was said that Perley pursued her with such ardor 
that her stepfather Warren "on two occasions pointed a 
loaded pistol to his head, and forced him to take to his heels 
once with very little clothing upon him." 

Josie herself claimed that she was being used by her 
mother and stepfather as an innocent pawn in a blackmail 
plot. While her word was not invariably trustworthy, there 
is some evidence that her parents were indeed employing her 
as bait in squeezing hush-money out of the lecherous Perley. 

3* 



Who's Your Judge? 37 

She became acquainted with a strolling actor named Frank 
Lawlor who was playing at the San Francisco opera house 
at the time. As Lawlor later described it, she proposed that 
he marry her and rescue her from her stepfather, who was 
bent on ruining her reputation. "Finally I did marry her to 
save her from the evil influences of her own parents," he 
said. 

In the young lady's defense it could be pointed out that 
her home life was less than inspirational and that she had 
wed an impecunious actor even though her beauty was so 
overpowering that, to quote Lawlor, "she might have mar- 
ried almost whom she pleased in San Francisco." 

The young couple drifted east, living for a time in Wash- 
ington and Philadelphia before going to New York in 
1864. Lawlor described her as a virtuous wife for some two 
years, when, he said, "I found that she was going astray," 
whereupon they were divorced and Josie resumed her 
maiden name of Mansfield. Possibly she began to stray even 
before she met a former actress named Annie Wood, who 
lived on Thirty-fourth Street. While the newspapers of the 
day were squeamish about references to prostitution, they 
made no bones about referring to Miss Wood as "the notori- 
ous Annie Wood," and the inference is clear that her estab- 
lishment was a fairly exclusive bordello. Josie's penniless 
condition at the time seems proof that she was not one of 
the attractions at this palace of pleasure. Yet her intimacy 
with Miss Wood and the way she employed it suggests that 
whatever purity still lingered with her she jettisoned in 
favor of subsistence. Fisk was an occasional caller at the 
Wood menage, and it seems that Miss Mansfield was present 
often enough to take notice of the free-spending Vermonter, 
digest the fact that his wife was in Boston, and conclude 
that herein lay opportunity. 

According to Annie Wood's later account, which Josie 
denied only in part, Josie had failed to find employment as 
an actress and was in such poverty that she had only one 



38 Jim Fisk 

passable dress to wear and could not pay her rent, which if 
true indicates a willingness to depart from virtue only on 
fairly regal terms. She asked Miss Wood to arrange a meet- 
ing with Fisk. One night in November of 1867 he arrived 
at the Wood menage with a few companions, one of them 
George Butler a visit that would later prove embarrassing 
to Butler when he became United States Minister to Egypt. 
Josie was there, and Miss Wood obligingly introduced her 
to Fisk. Fisk was so delighted with her, and so moved by 
her genteel poverty, which to him meant at least an approxi- 
mation of purity, that he paid her overdue rent at her 
barren Lexington Avenue flat, installed her in a suite at the 
American Club Hotel at Broadway and Seventeenth Street, 
and thenceforth saw that she had plenty to wear. There is 
no record that Josie thereafter sought work as an actress, an 
indication that what she had been seeking was security 
rather than employment. Fisk's friends noticed a significant 
change in him. His pale red mustache, which had hitherto 
wandered over both sides of his lip in brushy anarchy, was 
now narrowed and brought into submission by sharp waxing 
at the ends. 

The Mansfield financial crisis must have seemed small 
potatoes to him in the winter of 1867-68 when he started to 
spend millions on another woman of dubious reputation. 
The war for Erie began officially on February 17, 1868, 
with Vanderbilt on the attack. The Commodore had no 
doubt of the power of his millions to defeat the stock- 
jobbing trickery of Drew, but he was always one for push- 
ing to victory at the cheapest possible price. He had 
expressed irritated curiosity about Fisk, and on being told 
that he was a Drew man said, "Then we must kill him off. 
He's too sharp for a greenhorn and too bold for an old hand. 
I don't know what to make of him." He had learned that 
Drew, in addition to other holdings, still had the 58,000 
shares of Erie stock he had received as security for his loan 



Who's Your Judge? 39 

in 1866. This would be a weapon in Uncle Daniel's hands, 
and Vanderbilt resolved to deprive him of it. 

The Erie board which Vanderbilt had believed his own 
property had so sadly defected to Drew that Nephew 
Frank Work was now the only director the Commodore 
could count on. He made Work live up to his name. On 
February 17, Work got an injunction from Supreme Court 
Judge George Gardner Barnard, sitting in Manhattan, re- 
straining Erie from paying interest or principal on the 
money borrowed from Drew, and restraining Drew from 
using the 58,000 shares for speculation. This was followed 
two days later by an even more sweeping Vanderbilt-in- 
spired injunction from Barnard that forbade Drew to have 
any transactions in Erie until he had returned to the com- 
pany the 58,000 shares, forbade Erie to issue any more stock 
or convertible bonds, and finished by suspending Drew as 
a director pending a hearing. Since this was a battle for stock 
control, many outsiders believed that Drew was mortally hit 
before he even got into the fray shorn of the stock he had 
and enjoined from issuing more. Vanderbilt meanwhile was 
buying Erie stock like mad. Even the Herald's financial 
editor was impressed, writing, "It is believed that he [Drew] 
is in what is generally called a fix, and that he will be sent to 
smithereens." 

The Great Bear seemed unperturbed. He even saw ad- 
advantage in a report submitted to the board by Hugh 
Riddle, general superintendent of Erie, portraying the con- 
dition of the road in terms so frightening that riding an 
Erie train seemed almost as risky a business as going over 
Niagara in a barrel. It read in part: 

We have passed through three months of unusually severe 
winter weather . . . with the road-bed frozen solid as a 
rock, the rails incased in snow and ice, so that it has been 
impossible to do much in the way of repairs; the iron rails 
have broken, laminated and worn out beyond all precedent, 



40 Jim Fisk 

until there is scarce a mile of your road . . . between Jersey 
City and Salamanca or Buffalo, where it is safe to run a 
train at the ordinary passenger-train speed, and many por- 
tions of the road can only be traversed safely by reducing 
the speed of all trains to twelve or fifteen miles an hour, 
solely on account of the rotten and worn-out condition of 
the rails. Broken wheels, rails, engines, and trains off the 
track, have been of daily, almost hourly, occurrence for the 
last two months . . . The condition of the iron at the present 
time is such as to give me much anxiety and apprehension 
for the safety of trains ... It has been only by the exer- 
cise of extreme caution that we have been able thus far to 
escape serious accident. 

Here, Drew said piously, was proof that Erie needed new 
equipment, especially steel rails. On February 19 he held a 
secret meeting of the board, with the traitorous Work ex- 
cluded. He persuaded the directors to issue $10,000,000 in 
convertible bonds on the old pretext the need for steel 
rails to replace shaky iron. Erie had needed steel rails for 
years, but precious few had been laid or would be laid while 
Drew was in charge. The efficiency or safety of the road 
was a trivial consideration with the directors, who knew 
that the $10,000,000 would be used not for steel rails but 
for fighting Vanderbilt in his bid to seize Erie. 

It was at this point that Judge Barnard's second injunc- 
tion, restraining Erie from issuing new capital stock, fell 
on them. Drew went right ahead with his plans, reinforced 
by a battery of lawyers headed by the eminent David Dud- 
ley Field. Vanderbilt's brokers were buying every share of 
Erie offered on the market, and Drew, a bear as always, was 
selling. Under the Vanderbilt onslaught the price was rising, 
so that the Commodore was paying more for every share 
while Drew was profiting heavily on stock he had acquired 
for a song. In defiance of court order he was already selling 
limited blocks of his 58,ooo-share kitty. His strategy was to 
create more stock and dump it on the market at the critical 



Who's Your Judge? 41 

moment so that Vanderbilt would be pouring money into a 
sieve as the price fell and would take terrible losses. Wall 
Street gazed in awe at this battle of titans, wondering if the 
Deacon was crazy to pit himself against the vast Vanderbilt 
resources. 

Drew now sent Fisk, Gould and several sharpshooting 
lawyers up to Binghamton, a strong Erie town, where they 
appealed to Justice Ransom Balcom for redress. To Balcom, 
Fisk and Gould represented the Drew party as the defenders 
of Erie's independence against the monopolistic designs of 
Vanderbilt, while Frank Work was nothing more than a 
Vanderbilt spy. Judge Balcom obliged with an order staying 
all proceedings before Judge Barnard and suspending Work 
from the Erie board. 

Returning triumphantly to New York, Fisk and Gould 
joined Drew in a stealthy visit to the cellar of the Erie office 
to meet with their most useful ally, a printing press. Some 
forty years earlier, when Drew was a drover, he was said to 
have invented the process of watering stock. Bringing a 
large herd of cattle into New York, he would feed them 
salt until their tongues were hanging out with thirst, but 
deny them water until shortly before they were weighed 
for sale. The cattle would drink water by die gallon, which 
buyers paid for as beef. Uncle Daniel had long since adapted 
this ruse to corporate stock. The press was soon clacking 
merrily, turning blank paper into Erie convertible bonds 
which would be worth easily sixty dollars each on the mar- 
ket. 

"If this printing press don't break down," Fisk chuckled, 
"I'll be damned if I don't give the old hog [Vanderbilt] 
all he wants of Erie." 

The press did not break down, turning out $10,000,000 
in new bonds without a hitch. Drew immediately converted 
them into 100,000 shares of Erie stock, negotiable in the 
market, keeping 50,000 himself and giving the other 50,000 
to Fisk, which each of them distributed with gteat secrecy 



42 Jim Fisk 

to their brokers "much as ammunition might be issued be- 
fore a general engagement," as one historian described it. 

Vanderbilt was likewise ready with some paper bullets of 
his own more injunctions from the agreeable Judge Bar- 
nard, who applied himself to corruption so whole-heartedly 
as to bring it near brilliance. The judiciary, with some ex- 
ceptions, was so venal that persons going to the law often 
"retained" judges much as they hired attorneys, but no 
judge could equal Barnard in cynical knavery. Laboring 
for the Vanderbilt cause as diligently as if he had a large 
financial interest in it as the Drew party said he did he 
fulminated a new order. He set aside the ruling of Judge 
Balcom, forbade the Erie board to meet without the pres- 
ence of Frank Work, and once more warned the Drew par- 
tisans not to issue any more stock something they had 
already done. 

". . . it is surprising," the Herald remarked, "to see the 
facility with which judges can be found who will do the 
things wanted at the proper moment." 

This was one result of a new state legal code which was 
largely the work of the same David Dudley Field, Erie's 
courtroom generalissimo. By its provisions, thirty-three 
justices sitting in thirty-three courts scattered over New 
York had equal jurisdiction in certain equity actions 
throughout the state. Thus, one judge could nullify an order 
of another judge, and could in turn find his own order set 
aside a spectacle the code's designers had never contem- 
plated. Attorney Field, who deplored this perversion of the 
law he had helped frame, was quick to resort to the same 
device. To counter Barnard's latest order, a body of Erie 
stalwarts marched over to Judge J, W. Gilbert's court in 
Brooklyn, peppered him with the same argument that Van- 
derbilt was out to swallow Erie and added a new one: that 
Judge Barnard himself was speculating in Erie stock on the 
Commodore's side and therefore was not a truly disinter- 
ested arbiter. Judge Gilbert complied with an injunction 



Who's Your Judge? 43 

forbidding Work to act as a director and ordering the Erie 
board to issue such stock as was felt necessary. 

Five contradictory injunctions had now been issued to 
the two sides. Judge Barnard ordered Erie to refrain, while 
Judge Gilbert ordered Erie to refrain from refraining. If 
the directors issued new stock, they were violating Barnard's 
injunction. If they failed to issue new stock, they were flout- 
ing Gilbert's order. Finding himself in contempt of court 
regardless of what he did, Drew naturally obeyed the judge 
who was on his side. Under the steady Vanderbilt buying, 
Erie shares had risen steadily until on February 29 the quo- 
tation was 68 % . Feeling that the decisive moment had come, 
Drew ordered his brokers to dump his newly-printed stock 
on the market a flood that washed the price down to 65. 
The Great Bear beamed. Every point that Erie sank meant 
the loss of a small fortune to Vanderbilt. 

"It'll git to 60 afore long," Drew predicted, "and I'm not 
afeard to venture that it'll go as low as 55 afore the day's 



over." 



He was wrong. The Stock Exchange was in a turmoil as 
the new stock poured in, but Vanderbilt's brokers bought it 
up with such speed that after its momentary slump Erie 
pushed steadily upward, reaching 73 by the day's end. By 
March 10 it had risen to 83, and Drew was beginning to 
sweat. Were Vanderbilt's resources inexhaustible? Opinion 
on the Street now was general that the Commodore had cor- 
nered control of Erie, and friends were pumping his hand. 

On that same day Fisk took the field and threw his 50,000 
shares on the market. The Vanderbilt brokers, still buying, 
tumbled to the awful truth when they noted that these new 
shares were dated only a few days earlier. Drew had violated 
Barnard's injunction he had issued more stock. How much 
more? There was no telling. The price dove to 71, ruining 
dozens of speculators. A frantic broker hurried to Vander- 
bilt and asked if he should sell and salvage what he could 
out of the debacle. 



44 Jim Fisk 

"Sell, you fool!" the Commodore thundered. "No! Buy 
every share offered!" 

He knew that Drew had beaten him by methods as pirati- 
cal as his own. He would seek legal redress later, but the 
law could not help him now, when minutes and millions 
were the only things that counted. Vanderbilt truly had a 
bear by the tail. He had no choice but to hang on, keep buy- 
ing, soak up all this pretty new paper with good money. 
Many of his henchmen, appalled at the turn of events, had 
abandoned him in a sauve qui pent rout and were selling, 
throwing more shares on the market that Vanderbilt had to 
buy or be inundated. Unless he kept buying, the bottom 
would drop out of Erie, the panic would strike the stock of 
his own three railroads, and the end would be ruin for him 
and hundreds of others. In the midst of the crisis his cash 
resources were exhausted. He sent his lieutenant, Richard 
Schell, to negotiate for credit with a group of bankers. 
Schell encountered a situation unheard of. The Commo- 
dore's credit was not good not with Erie stock as collat- 
eral. 

"We can't lend on Erie," the bankers told him. "There is 
an illegal issue of stock, and Erie isn't worth anything." 

"What will you lend on?" Schell demanded. 

"Central that's good." 

Schell did some quick thinking. He knew that almost all 
bankers had brokers' loans on which they had taken New 
York Central stock as security. 

"Very well, gentlemen!" he snapped. "If you don't lend 
the Commodore half a million on Erie at 50, and do it at 
once, he will put Central at 50 tomorrow and break half 
the houses on the Street!" 

Vanderbilt got his credit. Deserted by many friends, he 
stood like a rock, showing no outward perturbation, and 
kept buying. Virtually alone, a splendid example of ruth- 
less courage, he stemmed the Erie decline at 71 and even 
managed to push it up a few points. When the Exchange 



Who's Your Judge? 45 

closed that afternoon of March 10, the battle was over. The 
Commodore had lost his corner on Erie but saved his hide. 
He had bought some 150,000 shares without gaining con- 
trol of the road. Of these, the newly-printed 100,000 shares 
were useless to him, for the Stock Exchange stepped in and 
declared them illegally issued and valueless. Vanderbilt had 
lost eight million dollars. Worst of all, he had lost it to 
Daniel Drew. 



CHAPTER 

6 



The Siege of 
Fort Taylor 



ON THE merry morning of March 11, Fisk, Gould, Drew, 
Eldridge and other less notorious Erie directors gathered 
at the company offices to perform a joyous chore count 
the millions gouged from the Commodore. Aware that their 
maneuvers were open to legal question, they had snatched 
their loot out of the banks lest it be attached. They had also 
planted a spy at Judge Barnard's chambers to learn what was 
in the wind. 

These transportation moguls, some of whom had never 
boarded an Erie train, were busy tieing greenbacks in stacks 
when their sentinel hurried in. Judge Barnard, he said, was 
preparing writs for the arrest of the whole Erie board, in- 
cluding "the body of James Fisk, Jr.," for contempt of 
court. Drew, the church pillar, was appalled at the thought 
of going to jail. Fisk, who never favored losing control of 
his body, suggested moving across the Hudson to Jersey 
City, out of Barnard's jurisdiction. 

"Up in Brattleboro in my kid days," he said, "I used to 
see people avoid interviews with the sheriff by crossing the 
bridge over the Connecticut, and once there they would let 
the Vermont sheriff whistle for them. I always did like the 
air of Jersey." 

Drew was reluctant to leave his home and family, but 
anything was better than the Ludlow Street jail. It was re- 
called that Taylor's Hotel, hard by the Erie terminal and 
dock in Jersey City, was a comfortable place. Reservations 
were made there by telegraph for a whole block of rooms. 

4 6 



The Siege of Fort Taylor 47 

The plan was to move the entire Erie office staff, books and 
records, and operate the railroad from Jersey City which 
was its eastern terminus anyway until some program could 
be perfected to counter the contempt action. Packets of 
Vanderbilt money totaling some $8,000,000 were tossed into 
a trunk, Drew also taking his personal winnings. Drew, 
Eldridge and a half-dozen other directors left in a hurry 
along with a few clerks carrying trunks of money and 
records. They saw three policemen chatting on the oppo- 
site corner a sight so chilling that they broke into an un- 
dignified run to the nearby ferry, reaching it in a breathless 
condition and not feeling easy until the vessel made mid- 
stream. Other lesser employes followed on later ferries, all 
of them carrying ledgers, account books or office equip- 
ment. 

Fisk and Gould, feeling it would take some time before 
the writs could be acted on, stayed at the office all day, 
supervising the removal of equipment, ready to flee at the 
sight of a deputy sheriff. "... a regular stampede took place 
. . . among the [Erie] officials," the Herald noted, 
adding that "so complete a clearing out has not taken place 
since the Fenians fled from Dublin on the night of the sus- 
pension of the habeas corpus." 

Fisk and Gould even felt reckless enough to dine that 
night at Delmonico's, nearby at Broadway and Chambers 
Street. While they were over the meat course a tipster 
warned them that the law was moving. Fearing that the 
ferries would be watched, they jumped into a carriage and 
rode to the foot of Canal Street, where they dickered with 
an officer of the steamer St. John, offering him a gratuity. 
A boat was lowered for them, manned by two deckhands, 
and they headed across the river in a dense fog. "Mr. Fisk 
directed the men to head up the river, to keep out of the 
track of the ferry-boats," Harper's Weekly recorded, "but 
the fog was so thick that they lost their reckoning and 
rowed for some time in a circle. They were at one time 



48 Jim Fisk 

nearly run down, only saving themselves by the vigorous 
use of their lungs. Once they escaped from one ferry-boat 
only to see another bearing down upon them." Hopelessly 
lost in mid-river, they hailed another ferry but could not 
make themselves heard. "They made a clutch at the sup- 
ports of the guard, and were drawn so near the wheel as to 
nearly wash the whole party out of the boat. They however 
saved her from swamping, and climbed on board, arriving 
shortly after at Jersey City, safe and sound, but thoroughly 
drenched." 

Two directors who did not choose to run were arrested 
and released on bail. Wall Street, Judge Barnard and all of 
New York were exercised over the flight of a whole rail- 
road headquarters to New Jersey. The claims and counter- 
claims of the opposing sides, and the flood of writs now so 
labyrinthine that not even a Blackstone could pick his way 
through them, made mere laymen throw up their hands and 
conclude that none of the contenders were blameless. Cer- 
tainly the Drew crowd's hurried exodus did not betoken 
a clear conscience. Newspapermen, knowing the rascality 
of Drew and the ruthlessness of Vanderbilt, were hard put 
to choose between them. It had to be admitted that the Com- 
modore ran his railroads efficiently and could rescue Erie 
from the junk heap if anyone could, but the thought of al- 
lowing him a monopoly in the New York-to-Buff alo heart- 
land appalled shippers already aroused by his rate-boosting. 
The question seemed to be whether the road should remain 
in the hands of Drew, to sink into even worse decrepitude, 
or be handed over to Vanderbilt, giving him a stranglehold 
on the state's commerce. 

The Commodore was in a parlous condition, stuck with 
100,000 worthless shares and still forced to support Erie in 
the market lest he lose on his 50,000 valid shares. While he 
privately swore vengeance, he managed to keep an unruffled 
mien, playing whist and talking horses as usual, inspiring 
confidence among his badly shaken followers. Judge Bar- 



The Siege of Fort Taylor 4$ 

nard, who may have taken a speculative licking himself, 
made out to be outraged solely on the score of wounded 
justice, vowing that if he could get his hands on the Erie cul- 
prits he would hold each of them in $500,000 bail. He was 
agreeable to anything the Vanderbilt lawyers suggested. At 
their urging, he appointed George A. Osgood receiver for 
the money taken by Drew & Company in the sale of 100,000 
tainted shares hardly a display of judicial impartiality, 
since Osgood was his own close friend and a son-in-law of 
Vanderbilt. When the Erie lawyers replied with an injunc- 
tion against the Osgood appointment, Barnard junked Os- 
good and appointed Peter B. Sweeny, the sidekick of Boss 
Tweed, as receiver. All this was purely rhetorical, since the 
money was safely in Jersey where neither Osgood nor 
Sweeny could touch it. The next move was up to the Erie 
exiles, unless they wanted to stay in New Jersey perma- 
nently. 

Newspapermen who rushed over to Jersey City to view 
something new in their experience, an absconded corpora- 
tion, found to their surprise that it was neither Treasurer 
Drew nor President Eldridge who was doing the talking for 
Erie. Pudgy, jovial James Fisk Jr. was handling that end as 
if he had been born and raised on the line. He had already 
put in a supply of liquor and cigars for reporters and any- 
one else whose good-will was desirable. He waved a Park 
& Tilf ord perf ecto as he regaled newsmen with stories that 
Erie had simply been following Horace Greeley's advice 
about going west and expanding with the country. But he 
was careful to leaven his nonsense with a ringing reminder 
that Erie was fighting a holy war deserving the support of 
every honest man. 

". . . this struggle," he said piously, "is in the interest of 
the poorer classes especially." 

Knowing that the flight of the directors had a smell of 
guilt about it, he insisted that it would be the greatest of 
errors to surmise that they had fled justice. On the contrary, 



jo Jim Fisk 

he said, they had circumvented the illegal plotting of the 
villainous Vanderbilt, a man who set his freight rates so high 
that New York's poor were starving for want of grain, and 
was using the corrupt Judge Barnard as a well-paid tool. 
Erie, said Mr. Fisk, was the defender of the people and 
won't you have another drink? 

"We were satisfied," he went on, "that the Judge was 
under their [Vanderbilt's] influence, and that we stood 
no show of justice. Mr. Drew's opponents would have taken 
him by the neck and said, Tork over that $8,000,000 or go 
to jail.' In that case we should have been down on our knees 
at once, and the Erie road would have passed into the hands 
of a monopoly." 

"Suppose you don't get justice in New York?" the Trib- 
une man asked. 

"Then," Fisk replied firmly, "we shall stay here until we 
rot. This is a battle between right and wrong, and we have 
no fears as to which will win." 

While there might be some doubt that the decamped di- 
rectors were selfless martyrs to the public weal, it was 
evident that Fisk had whipped together an efficient standby 
organization on the second floor at Taylor's Hotel. Superin- 
tendents and clerks were functioning as usual so that Erie 
trains were running with hardly more than customary insult 
to schedules. The directors took quick steps to woo the state 
of New Jersey as an ally against tyrannical New York. The 
legislature at Trenton, happy to snatch a tax-paying rail- 
road, hurried through a bill giving Erie the benefits of Jersey 
incorporation a move menacing to Vanderbilt, since Erie 
could now issue more watered stock at its pleasure. To show 
how warmly they had the public interest at heart, the direc- 
tors with great fanfare lowered by one-third the Erie pas- 
senger and freight rates to Buffalo, Rochester and other 
points also served by the New York Central. This meant 
they were running at a loss, but they could afford to do it 
on their winnings from Vanderbilt. They loosed a fusillade 



The Siege of Fort Taylor 52 

of publicity about the rate reduction, picturing it as one of 
the glories of free competition and pointing out with some 
truth that if the Commodore owned both roads he would 
be boosting rates, not lowering them* 

Director Fisk, feeling lonely, battened down for what 
might be a long exile by sending a clerk across the river to 
fetch Josie Mansfield. Until then, her status as his mistress 
was not a matter of notoriety, but she seemed unafraid to 
publicize it, arriving by ferry to be escorted to a hotel room 
adjoining Fisk's. Drew, whose transgressions were mostly in 
the field of larceny, disapproved of this sinful arrangement, 
as did Gould, a faithful husband whatever his other derelic- 
tions. Uncle Daniel, in fact, was unhappy about the move to 
Jersey. He had taken it only as an alternative to jail, in the 
belief that the stay would be short. He felt that Vanderbilt, 
being in straits himself, could be persuaded to compromise 
a strategy Fisk and Gould violently opposed and his 
feelings were hurt because these two striplings seemed to 
think they were dictating Erie policy. 

On March 16 Drew got a shock. Groups of hard-faced 
characters from New York's Five Points began drifting over 
by ferry until about fifty of them were loitering around the 
hotel. The rumor spread that Vanderbilt had offered $50,- 
ooo to anyone who would kidnap Drew and spirit him into 
New York jurisdiction, and that these worthies were out 
for the prize. Fisk flew into action, ordering Hugh Master- 
son, head of the Erie detectives, to gather a defense force 
from the local shops. Jersey City's Police Chief Nick 
Fowler arrived with a platoon of bluecoats to safeguard 
the city's distinguished guests. Several of the roughs, when 
questioned, admitted they had come to seize Drew. 

Seeing themselves outnumbered, they gave up their mis- 
sion and retired across the river, but Fisk declared that this 
was only a scouting party sent out by the Vanderbilt camp, 
to be followed by heavy assault. He spoke gravely to Chief 
Fowler, who agreed to post a twenty-four-hour guard 



p Jim Fisk 

around the hotel as long as the crisis lasted. The demands 
on the police force were so great that twenty extra men 
were sworn in for emergency duty. It was arranged that in 
case of a Vanderbilt night attack, rockets would be fired 
from the hotel windows to summon policemen on beats else- 
where in the city. Erie clerks were mustered in as sailors, 
handed muskets and ordered to patrol the Jersey shore in 
rowboats after nightfall, while three twelve-pound cannon 
were mounted on the dock and the state militia and Hudson 
County artillery were alerted to be ready for instant call. It 
appeared almost as if a new War Between the States was 
brewing. Miss Mansfield nervously locked herself in her 
room with a sentinel at the door. Daniel Drew found himself 
shorn of privacy, guarded like a queen bee. 

"The head of the stairs was duly guarded," the Times 
noted, "a body guard of half a dozen men occupied Mr. 
Drew's room, to prevent his being spirited out of the win- 
dow, and a reserve force ready for immediate action oc- 
cupied an adjoining room." 

Fisk now christened Taylor's Hotel "Fort Taylor," an- 
nouncing that the defenders would sooner be annihilated 
en masse than surrender to the Vanderbilt legions. "The 
excitement of the situation was rather enjoyed ... by Mr. 
Fisk," another scribe observed, "who now bustled about 
with a most determined looking visage, mounted his guard, 
issued orders, puffed away at his cigar, kept up a constant 
discharge of puns [and] vowed he would never be taken 
alive " 

No attack came that night, but two days later another 
rumor of imminent action kept the defenders on the qui vive. 
Except for the night vigil involved, the city police and the 
Erie shock troops took pleasure in their assignments because 
of Fisk's generosity with liquors, and it was said that some 
of the defenders were not always strictly sober. To reporters 
covering the siege, Fisk described the kidnap plot as another 
evidence of Vanderbilt criminality and terrorism. Not until 



The Siege of Fort Taylor # 
later did some shrewd observer surmise-probably cor- 
recdy-that Vanderbilt had nothing to do with it at all and 
that Fiak hmsdf had hired the toughs and cooked up the 

' 1 good 



painted Vanderbilt as a thug, and was calculated to con- 
vince Drew whose devotion to a last-ditch fight against 
the Commodore was weakening fast, that he had better stick 
tight in Jersey Qty and rely on Fisk and Gould for protec- 

If so, it failed to rally Drew. The Great Bear missed his 
home and family, but most of all he missed the Wall Street 
chicanery that was meat and drink to him. The founder of 
the Drew Theological Seminary, surrounded by liquor 
rfireats of violence and sin in the pretty shape of Miss Mans- 
field, felt like a parson in a gin mill 

"I want to go home," he said. 



CHAPTER 



7 T 

nri T?/ 7 TT 

JLhe JjlacJk JuLorse 
Cavalry 



IT HAD already occurred to the Erie high command that 
since Judge Barnard could not be budged from his stand that 
what they had done was illegal, the thing to do was to have 
a law passed that would make it legal. The New York state 
legislature had expressed concern over the railroad collision 
in Wall Street and appointed a five-man committee headed 
by Senator A. C. Mattoon to investigate. The legislature was 
a glittering example of the carefree rapacity that could be 
found in officialdom almost everywhere during the postwar 
years. Its honest members were in such a minority as to be 
almost negligible. Legislators were paid $300 a year, and 
many of them scarcely bothered to conceal their conviction 
that it was only right for their labors in Albany to be re- 
warded by those who sought their votes. 

Senator Mattoon carried this philosophy to the point of 
religion. "A man more thoroughly, shamefacedly contemp- 
tible and corrupt," wrote Charles Francis Adams, " a more 
perfect specimen of a legislator on sale haggling for his own 
price, could not well exist." Arriving in New York to give 
the railroad crisis his on-the-spot scrutiny, Mattoon inter- 
viewed Drew before the exodus to Jersey City. Drew got 
the impression that the merits of the controversy, if they 
counted at all, came second to money with the senator. He 
later visited the directors in Jersey City, letting them know 
he was likewise conferring with Vanderbilt, so the opinion 
existed that he was bidding one side against the other, much 
like an auctioneer. There is no outright record that a roll of 

54 



The Black Horse Cavalry 55 

Erie currency was thrust into his hand, and perhaps it would 
be more correct to say that if this was not done a miracle 
came to pass, for when he left for Albany the directors had 
no doubt that he and his vote were with them. 

Still, there were other senators and representatives besides 
Mattoon, and it was well known that Vanderbilt liberality 
had kept the legislature favorable to him for several years. 
To make success sure, the Erie leaders decided to send an 
emissary to Albany to mix with the legislators and apply 
persuasion. Several Erie attorneys had already gone to the 
capital and whipped up a bill legalizing the watered stock 
and forbidding the New York Central and Erie roads to be 
controlled by the same financiers. If this bill were passed, 
the Erie moguls could keep the millions they had won via 
the printing press. None of the directors were inclined to 
go to Albany, where Judge Barnard's arrest warrant would 
be waiting when they set foot inside New York State. In- 
stead, they sent a lawyer named John E. Develin to the 
capital, armed with funds and instructions to push the bill 
through. 

But the directors misjudged the temper of the legislators. 
According to common report, Develin offered only $1000 
a vote to win over the Black Horse Cavalry, as the corrupt 
section of the Assembly was called. They felt this was nig- 
gardly when such a large issue was involved. On March 27, 
partly to teach Develin and his employers a lesson in the 
amenities of bribery, the Assembly defeated the Erie bill by 
the heavy majority of 83 to 32. 

Everybody understood that this was only a preliminary 
skirmish. All Erie had to do was draft a new bill containing 
the same key stipulations with minor falsework changes and 
try again, with a better understanding of the cost of votes. 
Erie's lawyers framed the new bill, while the directors in 
Jersey City selected Jay Gould to supplant Develin as vote- 
buyer. To make this plan feasible, steps were taken to keep 
Gould from being clapped into jail when he appeared in 



$6 Jim Fisk 

Albany. Erie's legal helmsman in New York, David Dudley 
Field, arranged a truce with Sheriff James O'Brien whereby 
Gould agreed to appear before Judge Barnard April 4 and 
would be immune to arrest before then. Just the same, the 
directors spread a fake report that Gould was off for a 
survey of the western lines when he left for Albany carry- 
ing a dozen checkbooks and a suitcase said to contain $500,- 

000 in cash. 

Albany was already teeming with Vanderbilt lobbyists 
fighting the Erie efforts. The small, bearded Gould, an easy 
man to recognize, had hardly poked his nose into the Dela- 
van House in the capital when he was arrested, proving that 
Sheriff O'Brien's attitude had been hardened by exposure 
to the Vanderbilt partisans. Indignant at the betrayal, Gould 
won temporary freedom by posting $500,000 bail, which 
was furnished by his friend Erastus Corning, Gould having 
other needs for his money. Surveying the scene, he found 
that Senator Mattoon, whom he thought Erie's friend, had 
gone over to the other side. 

Mattoon had returned to Albany to learn that of the four 
members of his committee, two were in favor of absolving 
Erie in the over-issue of stock while the other two were for 
punishing the directors with the full force of the law. Mat- 
toon held the deciding vote, which increased his obligation 
to view the matter correctly. Before committing himself, he 
did still more fieldwork in Albany that made him see virtues 
in the Vanderbilt arguments that had escaped him before. 
The Tribune said the argument that most impressed him was 
$20,000 in Vanderbilt cash. He voted against Erie, so that 
the majority report of his committee held the stock-watering 
directors to be outlaws a development that must have 
made Gould wonder whether his suitcase was large enough. 

Meanwhile, Fisk spent his thirty-third birthday on April 

1 in command at Fort Taylor, with Drew in a funk and 
President Eldridge demoralized by railroad maneuvers un- 



The Black Horse Cavalry 57 

known in Boston. The directors had made a great show of 
affection for Jersey City, representing themselves as happy 
to stay there eternally, and this fellow-feeling along with 
the free liquor won them many concessions. Police Chief 
Fowler was acting like an Erie employe, his men still guard- 
ing the hotel. Truthfully, the exiles were heartily sick of 
Jersey City even Fisk, who missed the Manhattan flesh- 
pots and were taking advantage of a New York statute 
forbidding arrests in civil suits on Sunday. On Saturday 
night they streamed out in a body to catch the New York- 
bound ferry at the stroke of midnight, Fisk with Josie on 
his arm, Drew to rejoin his family and pass the plate at St. 
Paul's Church on Sunday. The Vanderbilt-Barnard minions 
sullenly watched this exploitation of the Sabbath armistice, 
determined that anyone overstaying the twenty-four hours 
of grace would suffer. Director Henry Thompson made 
that error, arriving in New York before midnight Saturday, 
and was arrested at the Astor House. 

For all their outward accord in the struggle with Vander- 
bilt, the solidarity of the Erie leaders was shaky. They were 
men of some prominence and wealth whose flight to Jersey 
had not only deprived them of freedom and domestic com- 
forts but had also put them in disrepute. Substantial news- 
papers like the Times and Tribune were calling them 
outlaws. Their position was vulnerable and embarrassing. 
Each of them knew the others too well to be certain of un- 
dying loyalty, and underneath the superficial cheer among 
the fort's garrison were sharp glances of suspicion. With 
millions at stake, the knowledge that Vanderbilt was hard 
pressed and undoubtedly ready to compromise might make 
it profitable for any group of the directors to defect to the 
Commodore's side, and ruinous to the rest. Fisk and Gould, 
who had worked hand in glove almost from the start, were 
agreed that the war must be carried on from Jersey City and 
Albany until Vanderbilt was crushed. Fisk did not have the 



$8 Jim Fisk 

same faith in President Eldridge, who had flirted with Van- 
derbilt before. As for the mercurial Drew, no one in his 
right mind would trust him. 

Fisk was even making a joke that flattered their common 
enemy at Drew's expense, saying, "Vander built, but Dan 
just drew" He mistrusted his old mentor as an incurable 
turncoat who might attempt some traitorous negotiation 
with Vanderbilt. Drew, an inveterate Scripture-spouter, 
never seemed to take to heart the part about money being 
the root of all evil. 

Fisk's suspicions were justified. Vanderbilt, aware of 
Drew's homesickness and his love of secret deals without 
regard for anyone but Drew, was working on him. The 
Commodore, it was said, sent an agent across to Jersey Qty 
in the guise of a commercial traveler. The spy managed to 
bribe a waiter at Taylor's Hotel, who passed a note to the 
Deacon reading, "Drew: I'm sick of the whole damned 
business. Come and see me. Van Derbilt." Fisk stayed in 
Jersey City one Sunday and detailed an Erie detective to 
shadow Drew in New York. The sleuth followed the old 
man from his Union Square home to the Vanderbilt man- 
sion on Washington Place, where he rang the bell and was 
admitted clear evidence of treason that the detective tele- 
graphed to Fisk. 

The fat man was already in a towering wrath. He had 
discovered that Drew had quietly removed the Erie funds, 
doubtless taking them across the river with him. Since the 
money was precisely what they were fighting for, and what 
was keeping them alive and aggressive in Jersey City, no 
greater disaster could have occurred. Fisk, thinking fast, 
recalled that Drew had deposited his personal fortune in a 
Jersey City bank to save it from being seized in New York 
He wheedled a local judge into putting an attachment on 
Drew's money until he returned the Erie millions. Still, it 
was a question whether he would come back at all, since 
with all that capital he could easily work out some agree- 



The Black Horse Cavalry 59 

ment with Vanderbilt. The other directors were relieved 
when the Great Bear returned late that night. 

"How did you leave the Commodore?" Fisk purred. 

Drew started, gazing at him warily. 

"And what have you done with our money, you damned 
old hypocrite?" Fisk went on. 

"Why Jeems," Drew protested, "ain't I Treasurer of 
the Company?" 

He explained that he had felt the money unsafe at the 
hotel and had banked it in New York. Fisk, twirling his 
mustache and enjoying the situation, replied that he had like- 
wise felt Drew's money unsafe and had had it attached. The 
old trickster's jaw dropped. Seeing himself outwitted by 
his own pupil, he suggested a parley which ended in a com- 
promise: Drew returned the Erie funds in return for the 
removal of the attachment on his own. Tranquility was 
restored, but thereafter he was eyed as a renegade. 

The anxious Fisk, with Josie Mansfield at his side, was 
hanging on the telegraph wire from Albany to learn what 
progress Gould was making. According to Josie's later ac- 
count, Fisk put the outcome of the struggle in blunt terms: 
"It was either a Fisk palace in New York or a stone palace at 
Sing Sing." If he went to Sing Sing, he urged her to take a 
cottage nearby, saying that her presence would make his 
"rusty irons garlands of roses" and would make the stones 
easier to crack. 

In Albany, Gould had no such sweet delirium to spur him 
on, although money was causing a delirium of its own. Leg- 
islators were looking to the Vanderbilt-Erie quarrel as a 
bonanza. The amount of corruption was less astonishing 
than the openness with which it was practiced and com- 
mented on. The Erie bill, said the Herald, was "a godsend 
to the hungry legislators and lobbymen, who have had up to 
this time such a beggarly session that their board bills and 
whiskey bills are all in arrears." Rumor had it that Erie was 
willing to pay $2,000,000 for passage of the bill, while Van- 



6 o Jim Fisk 

derbilt might go higher to defeat it. Legislators were de- 
bating the tariff they should place on their votes, some 
declaring $3000 a fair price, others refusing to consider a 
penny less than $5000. One honest man, Representative E. 
M. Glenn of Wayne County, was so outraged and lonely 
that he got up in the Assembly to say that he had been 
offered money for his vote, charging widespread bribery 
and demanding an investigation. The House promptly ap- 
pointed an investigating committee, one of whose members 
was Representative Alexander Frear. Glenn said this was 
patently ridiculous, since Frear was the one who had offered 
him money. Mr. Glenn was entirely mistaken, said Frear. 
The committee went on to censure Glenn and whitewash 
the House members, causing Glenn to resign in disgust. 

Jay Gould was installed in Parlor 57 of the Delavan 
House, where liquor and other inducements were handed 
out to legislators who strolled in for advice. 'In this room," 
said the Herald, "... is a trunk literally stuffed with thou- 
sand dollar bills which are to be used for some mysterious 
purpose in connection with legislation." On the floor di- 
rectly above, the Vanderbilt forces were gathered in the 
magnificent seven-room suite of William Marcy Tweed, 
boss of New York City but now appearing in his role as 
state senator. It was said that six bars were set up in Tweed's 
rooms for the benefit of thirsty solons, and Tweed later 
recalled that he had spent $180,000 in buying votes for 
Vanderbilt. Amid cigar smoke and the fumes of alcohol, 
the bidding and counter-bidding reached something close 
to frenzy. Some legislators frankly shuttled from Tweed to 
Gould and back to Tweed again, to make certain they were 
getting the top price. Some were so bereft of principle as 
to accept money from both sides. According to one author- 
ity, a lobbyist arrived in town with $100,000 to spend for 
Vanderbilt votes, and was given $70,000 by Gould to dis- 
appear with the money, which he did, "and thereafter be- 
came a gentleman of elegant leisure." 



The Black Horse Cavalry 61 

Few of these lobbyists and legislators thought of the 
Erie road as anything but a vast paper contrivance of dollars, 
stock certificates and legal briefs. On April 15 something 
occurred that should have demonstrated otherwise. 

At 3:15 that morning the New York-bound Buffalo 
Express, nine cars long, was forty minutes late and trying 
not to lose more as it rounded a curve in the rugged coun- 
try around Carr's Rock, thirteen miles northwest of Port 
Jervis, New York. Its thirty-miles-per-hour speed was too 
much for the streaks of rust beneath it. Conductor Jasper 
Judd was horrified to discover that he had lost the kst four 
cars of his train, three of them sleeping coaches. The four 
cars had snapped their couplings, jumped the track and 
hurtled over a precipice to land with shattering impact in a 
ravine fifty feet below. One of the cars, heated with coal 
stoves, immediately caught fire. The darkness was il- 
lumined by the blazing coach as the screaming injured pas- 
sengers roasted to death and those akeady dead were 
incinerated. It was hours before doctors could reach that re- 
mote spot, to find it more in need of undertakers. The final 
toll was forty dead, many of them unidentifiable, and sev- 
enty-five injured, some of whom would never fully recover. 
This disaster, Erie's worst, caused a wave of public horror 
that was succeeded by indignation when an inspection of the 
tracks next day disclosed them to be in deplorable condi- 
tion. 

Superintendent Riddle's March 3 report about the 
"rotten" condition of the rails and equipment had been 
published by Drew as propaganda to justify his over-issue 
of stock for "steel rails" which he never intended to get. 
Riddle's "apprehension for the safety of trains" was seen 
to be well founded as the public was handed gruesome proof 
that the Erie directors notably Daniel Drew were more 
preoccupied with Wall Street profits than with any re- 
sponsibility toward passengers. There was a fusillade of 
outraged editorials against the Erie management. 



62 Jim Fisk 

"The Erie railroad has lately been playing all sorts of 
fantastic tricks before the multitude," snarled the New 
York Times, one voice among many. "Today it appears 
conspicuous in the role of public execution." 

The Vanderbilt lobbyists in Albany pointed gleefully to 
the wreck as a demonstration of the righteousness of their 
cause against the homicidal Drew regime, while the Erie 
supporters gave out dark hints that saboteurs were de- 
liberately wrecking trains. Yet the senators and representa- 
tives were less concerned about railroad disasters than about 
their own wallets. Gould, who was ordered to appear in 
New York City to answer contempt charges, evaded it with 
a physician's statement that he was too ill for the down- 
river trip. He could barely muster enough strength to keep 
his Delavan House liquor dispensary going and to confer 
with legislators who sought his counsel. "They all departed 
with smiling faces,'* one writer observed, "and Mr. Gould 
soon had little left of his check book except the stumps." 

The Erie bill that came up in the Senate was essentially 
similar to the one previously defeated in the House. It 
legalized Drew's over-issue of stock and forbade any com- 
mon ownership of Erie and New York Central. On April 
1 8, while the burying was going on at Carr's Rock, the 
Senate passed the bill by 17 to 12. Senator Mattoon, who 
had first seen things Erie's way, then veered to the Van- 
derbilt side, executed another flip and voted for Erie. With- 
out mentioning Mattoon by name, but making it clear they 
meant no one else, the newspapers said he had taken $15,000 
from the Vanderbilt side and $20,000 from the Erie side, 
also asking an additional $1000 honorarium for his son, who 
acted as his secretary. 

That left it up to the House, whose members were hap- 
pily anticipating their innings. There was brisk bargaining 
for votes, until a paralyzing report struck Albany. Vander- 
bilt had withdrawn his opposition to the bill. He would not 
bleed another dollar had even closed the liquor dispensary. 



The Black Horse Cavalry 63 

"The observer was reminded of the dark days of the 
war," wrote Charles Francis Adams, "when ridings came 
of some great defeat ... In a moment the lobby was smitten 
with despair, and the cheeks of the legislators were 
blanched. . . ." Members rushed to Gould's rooms, hoping 
to salvage something from the wreck. Those who had been 
demanding $5000 were now willing to settle for as little as 
$100. Some did not even get that, for Gould knew he had 
enough votes. In a rage, the House on April 20 passed the 
Erie bill by the whopping vote of 101 to 6 a bill almost 
identical with the one they had rejected three weeks earlier 
by 83 to 32. So furious were they at Vanderbilt for cheating 
them that they began looking for other bills that would hurt 
him and his odious New York Central. 

Fisk and Gould had won, at an estimated cost of $500,000 
in stockholders' money. But their victory was not as com- 
plete as they thought, for Vanderbilt had meanwhile staged 
a coup of his own. 



CHAPTER 



o 

Thunders truck ana 
Dumfounaea 



CORNELIUS VANDERBILT had known all along that he held 
a weapon over the Erie exiles' heads in the shape of Judge 
Barnard, whose thinking tallied so perfectly with the Com- 
modore's that onlookers were calling him "Vanderbilt's 
judge." While the legislature could legalize Erie's over-issue 
of stock, it could not lift Barnard's judicial curse. The 
directors had to perform some other magic to enable them 
to return to New York without facing heavy fines or even 
imprisonment for flouting Barnard's injunction. It was a 
safe bet that if Vanderbilt could be mollified, so could the 
judge, his mental counterpart. Drew knew it. Vanderbilt 
knew that Drew knew it. After talking with the Commo- 
dore, Drew knew that Vanderbilt knew that he knew it. 

At their first meeting, Drew, who could spurt tears at 
will, wept as he protested it was a terrible thing for old 
friends like him and the Commodore to be at loggerheads. 

"No one knows how my bowels yearn for you, Drew," 
Vanderbilt was said to have rejoined. "But as I understand 
it, this is a business interview. So if you'll wipe that tobacco 
juice off your chin and draw up here to the table, we'll 
talk." 

The Erie battle, he said, had taught him it didn't pay to 
kick a skunk. He could have licked Drew hands down in 
Wall Street, but he couldn't lick that infernal printing 
press. The two had several secret meetings, at which Van- 
derbilt outlined the terms on which he would persuade 
Barnard to let the exiles return without fear of imprison- 



Thunderstruck and Dumfounded 6$ 

ment. They reached agreement. Privately Drew communi- 
cated the terms to President Eldridge and his Boston coterie, 
who fell in with him. Not until Vanderbilt knew he had a 
majority of the Erie directors willing to compromise with 
him did he instruct his Albany agents to stop spending use- 
less money to defeat the Erie bill. 

It was while Fisk and Gould were rejoicing over their 
Albany victory that they got wind of this betrayal. They 
paid Vanderbilt an early-morning visit, Fisk with his usual 
cheek rushing into the Commodore's bedroom before he 
was fully dressed. Vanderbilt, pulling on his shoes, said 
bluntly that unless his 100,000 shares of watered stock were 
taken off his hands he would make the directors permanent 
outlaws in New York. Fisk, testifying in a later lawsuit 
against Vanderbilt, gave a vivid account of the talk: 

"[Vanderbilt] said I must take the position of things 
as I found it, he would keep his bloodhounds [the law] 
on us, and pursue us until we took his stock off his hands; 
he would be damned if he would keep it. I told him I 
would be damned if we would take it off his hands, and that 
we would sell him stock as long as he would stand up and 
take it; upon this, he mellowed down, and said that we must 
get together to arrange the matter; I told him that we could 
not submit to a robbery of the road under any circum- 
stances, and that I was thunderstruck and dumf ounded that 
our directors, whom I had supposed respectable men, would 
have had anything to do with such proceedings." 

Vanderbilt evidently formed a high opinion of the fat 
man's sagacity. After Fisk's death a few years later, Vander- 
bilt, a believer in the spirit world, occasionally urged his 
favorite medium to get through to Fisk in the Beyond and 
pump him for market tips. Now, however, Fisk and Gould 
saw that Drew had outmaneuvered them. They must go 
along with a majority of the directors in a settlement, to 
gain no more advantage than the miserable permission to 
return to New York as honest men not subject to arrest. 



66 Jim Fisk 

Their disgust at this turnabout arose less from their con- 
viction of the sanctity of their cause than from their belief 
that they were on the verge of gaining absolution in New 
York without paying Vanderbilt a penny. Aware of Barn- 
ard's formidable teeth, they had taken steps to pull them. 
The Tammany judge was known as a faithful follower of 
Boss Tweed. Fisk and Gould had already had several con- 
versations with Tweed, so pleasant in tone that friendship 
seemed in the offing. With Tweed about ready to accept 
inducements to shift from the Vanderbilt side to the Erie 
camp, Barnard would naturally do likewise, and all the 
Erie directors had to do was stand firm, man their guns at 
Fort Taylor for yet another campaign, and total victory 
would be theirs. Now Drew, in his sniveling anxiety to get 
back home, had spoiled all that. Fisk and Gould were 
disgruntled men when they attended a meeting a week 
later at the home of ex- Judge Edwards Pierrepont along 
with Vanderbilt, Drew, Eldridge, other interested parties 
and a covey of attorneys. Here a compromise settlement 
was ironed out with terms showing utter disregard for 
Erie's voiceless stockholders. 

Vanderbilt was paid $3,750,000 for 50,000 of his "worth- 
less" shares of Erie stock, and in addition was given a cash 
bonus of $1,000,000. His two lieutenants, Frank Work and 
Richard Schell, got $429,250 to repay their losses in specu- 
lating in Erie stock die previous winter, although as one 
observer commented, these private losses as well as Vander- 
bilt's were no more Erie's responsibility than were their 
butcher bills. 

Eldridge and his Boston group came out of it very well. 
They got $4,000,000 in cash for $5,000,000 in the dubious 
bonds of their Boston, Hartford & Erie Railway the road 
that was supposed to link up with Erie and give it a rich 
stream of New England traffic. Since the road was never 
completed to its junction with Erie, the latter road paid for 
a promise never to be fulfilled. 



Thunderstruck and Du?nfounded 6j 

Daniel Drew was rightly considered to have got his. He 
was allowed to keep his speculative winnings by paying Erie 
$540,000 in discharge of all claims against him. 

Tweed's henchman Peter B. Sweeny, who had been ap- 
pointed Erie receiver by Barnard, had nothing to receive 
and therefore did nothing, was given a $150,000 fee (paid 
for by Erie) for what he did not do. 

Erie's lawyers, headed by Field & Shearman and includ- 
ing a dozen others, drew fees running into the hundreds 
of thousands. 

Counting the estimated $500,000 which Gould had dis- 
tributed among the Albany legislators, it cost Erie close to 
$10,000,000 to have all lawsuits called off so the company 
could set up shop again in New York. Vanderbilt had lost 
both money and prestige. Erie had suffered so heavily that 
it would be impoverished for years, the burden being 
dumped into the laps of its stockholders. The only apparent 
gainers were Drew, Sweeny, the attorneys, and Eldridge 
and his Boston brethren, who walked off with $4,000,000 
in exchange for some B., H. & E. bonds no one else wanted 
anyway. 

Yet Fisk and Gould, who had borne the brunt of the 
battle and now seemed forgotten at the peace table, actually 
carried away the choicest prize of all. While they protested 
strongly against the settlement, they went along with it on 
being granted certain concessions. One of them was the 
retirement from the Erie board of Daniel Drew, for whom 
both had developed a lasting mistrust. Surprisingly, Drew 
agreed to get out, feeling that all the juice had been 
squeezed from the Erie plum. 

"There ain't nothin' in Airy no more, Cneel," he said 
privately to Vanderbilt. 

"Don't you believe it!" growled Vanderbilt. 

The Commodore was right. Late in April the flag at Fort 
Taylor was struck and its garrison crossed the Hudson to 
reopen the old offices on West Street, leaving a void in 



68 Jim Fisk 

Jersey City that would never be filled. Fisk and Josie, all 
thoughts of Sing Sing behind them, entrained for Boston, 
where they separated, Josie to visit relatives, Fisk to pay a 
call on his wife, who had been utterly confused by news- 
paper accounts of the Erie-Vanderbilt war. Fisk also took 
the opportunity to visit his family in Brattleboro, not for- 
getting his demented father. Though his sins were as the 
sands of the sea, his love for kin and friends would never 
change. Brattleborans would come to read many blood- 
curdling things about James Fisk Jr., many of them true, 
but would continue to regard him as their most famous 
semi-native son as well as the most incredible character out- 
side of Dickens. 

Returning to New York, he resumed residence at the 
Fifth Avenue Hotel and gave some thought to a proper 
establishment for his mistress. From all accounts he was 
smitten by her in an exuberant Fiskian way that did not 
visibly alter his esteem for his wife. There is no record of 
discord between Lucy and Fisk. He continued to support 
her in luxury and treat her with consideration and court- 
liness despite the distance and the woman between them. 
To Lucy he wrote frequent affectionate letters. He bought 
her a villa at Newport. It was with Lucy that he spent 
Christmas and such other holidays as he could spare. When 
she made one of her occasional trips to New York, he 
squired her around to the shops and theaters while Josie 
gnawed her nails in temporary eclipse. Friends who pond- 
ered this paradox speculated that Lucy, for all her sweet 
attraction, was very likely frigid a condition that was not 
believed to afflict Miss Mansfield. Yet Fisk seemed to have 
such reserves of affection that he could spread it out over 
two women and possibly more without skimping on any 
of them. 

"She is no hair-lifting beauty, my Lucy," he once said, 
"just a plump, wholesome, big-hearted, commonplace 
woman, such as a man meets once in a lifetime." Again, 



Thunderstruck and Dumfounded 69 

when a friend boasted of his wife, he rejoined, "Bring your 
wives along, I ain't afraid to measure my Lucy with 'em. 
For, look here, you mustn't judge Lucy by her James!" 

In New York he put Josie up at the Clarendon Hotel 
for a time, moved her to the Sherman House, then found 
just the thing for her a comfortable house at 18 West 
Twenty-fourth Street, right around the corner from his 
hotel. While it was said that he spent so much time at the 
Twenty-fourth Street house that he got little value out of 
his hotel suite, he maintained separate quarters and con- 
tinued to do so until he entered Commodore Vanderbilt's 
spirit world. 

Meanwhile, Judge Barnard had made such a huff-and- 
puff about the retribution he would visit on the Erie 
directors that he had to save face by exacting some punish- 
ment for their contempt. After long thought, he fined the 
lesser directors ten dollars each. The transgressions of the 
ringleaders, however Drew, Fisk and Gould were so 
heinous that their penalty required more deliberation. The 
judge thought that over so long that he eventually forgot 
about it entirely. 

On July 2, 1868, the Erie board of directors met to make 
official the settlement with Vanderbilt. Drew announced 
his resignation, and so did President Eldridge. Gould was 
promptly elected president and treasurer pro tern, while 
Fisk stepped up alongside his crony as comptroller and 
managing director. 

The sudden rise of these two back-country upstarts to 
leadership of a great railroad was so astonishing that no one 
on the outside could understand it at the time. Not until 
later, in one of Erie's interminable lawsuits, was an ex- 
planation made that remained unofficial but still convincing. 
According to this version, Fisk and Gould, having arranged 
the exit of Drew, had only to get rid of Eldridge to take 
command of a feeble board of directors. Knowing that 
Eldridge had entered Erie in the first place only to succor 



70 Jim Fisk 

the B., H. & K, and that he could get a $3,000,000 grant from 
the state of Massachusetts if he put up a like amount, they 
gave him a $4,000,000 ticket back to Boston at Erie's ex- 
pense. The way the other directors danced to the Fisk- 
Gould tune makes it plain that the pair convinced them it 
would be to their advantage, for the new president and 
comptroller immediately did away with the old board of 
auditors and concentrated all the power in their own hands. 
They found the treasury depleted, the road's equipment in 
ghastly shape, and the reputation of its management in bad 
odor. 

There was little they could do about the odor, nor indeed 
were they greatly concerned about that. But they had to 
do something about the treasury and equipment. Much as 
they may have disliked to squander money on prosaic roll- 
ing stock and rails when Wall Street beckoned with such 
allure, one Carr's Rock disaster was enough. Erie was a 
goose that laid golden eggs, but needed a little corn at in- 
tervals. Uncle Daniel had left a legacy of ruin. The mending 
would take capital. "We needed more engines, more cars, 
and the track was in bad order," as Fisk later put it. ". . . As 
we went on, our need for money became more pressing* I 
did not stop to run and ask my mother how I should get it 
the first thing was to get it get it. . . ." 

Getting money without asking mother was something at 
which this pair became proficient. Feeling out their new 
property, they saw that Erie had an agreement with the 
United States Express Company, When they told the 
express officials that their annual rent to Erie would be 
increased by $500,000, the officials protested that they could 
pay no such outlandish charge. Very well, said Fisk and 
Gould, you may get out and we will form our own express 
company. News of this reverse made United States Express 
stock dive from 60 to 16, and the two Erie leaders bought 
heavily at 16. Then they did a fast turnabout, signed a new 
contract with the express company at the old rate, and 



Thunderstruck and Dumfounded 71 

cleaned up an estimated $3,000,000 when the stock climbed 
as a result. 

They managed to sell the 50,000 shares of stock they had 
taken back from Vanderbilt at about 70, bringing some 
$3,500,000 into the coffers* Then they repaired to the 
Erie basement and put the printing press to such use as it 
had never known before, making Drew's previous stock- 
watering efforts pale by comparison. Within fifteen weeks 
after their accession to power, and without asking a by- 
your-leave from the board of directors, Fisk and Gould 
secretly issued 235,000 shares of new stock, raising the 
railroad's capital stock from $34,265,300 to $57,766,300, 
an increase of $23,501,000. Loosing such a flood of stock 
on the market even piecemeal would obviously lower the 
price a drop which only they and a few friends in on the 
deal could predict. Thus they were betting on a sure thing 
when they unloaded their new stock, sold Erie short in 
anticipation of the drop, and reaped millions when it plum- 
meted below 40. 

Some made the mistake of thinking that when Fisk and 
Gould grew richer, this would have the effect of lifting their 
railroad out of poverty. If ever there was any visible con- 
nection between the financial condition of these entre- 
preneurs on one hand and Erie on the other, it was in inverse 
proportion. As long as they remained in charge they were 
millionaires whose road wallowed in such a morass of debt 
that the prospect of Erie ever paying a dividend became 
the sourest of jokes in Wall Street. It was this apparent 
discrepancy between the wealth of the operators and the 
destitution of the road's treasury that would continue to 
puzzle and annoy the more naive of the stockholders until 
they tumbled to the fact that their road was not being run 
so much by railroad men as by stock market gamblers using 
the corporation as a handy tool for their manipulations. 

Fisk and Gould, who had already disproved Drew's judg- 
ment that "There ain't nothin' in Airy no more," were 



72 Jim Fisk 

hobnobbing frequently with Boss Tweed. Tweed, whose 
Duane Street office was only a stone's throw from the Erie 
building, was a busy man that summer. He was nominating 
District Attorney A. Oakey Hall, a jovial little fashion 
plate and sometime writer, for mayor of New York. He 
was nominating John T. Hoffman, the present mayor, for 
governor. He was nominating Horatio Seymour, a former 
governor, for President. Yet he was not too preoccupied to 
think of going into the railroad business. The two young 
Erie moguls were doing some nominating of their own, 
for full-year board members to be elected at the annual 
meeting scheduled for October 13. On August 19 Erie 
announced that its stock transfer books were closed to get 
ready for the election. This was a fast trick in violation of 
company rules, which said the books should be closed only 
a month before the election. It meant that Erie stock would 
be voted according to its ownership as of August 19, at 
which time Fisk, Gould and their friends knew they held a 
majority. Thus they had almost two months' grace during 
which they could speculate with their shares, dispose of 
them advantageously, and still vote themselves back into 
power with other peoples' stock. 

This they did at the annual meeting on October 13, 1868. 

Jay Gould was reelected director and president, 

James Fisk Jr. was reelected director and comptroller. 

William Tweed was elected a director, as was his Tam- 
many colleague, Peter B. Sweeny. 

When these men climbed into the Erie cab, they pulled 
the throttle wide open, let the whistle shriek and forgot all 
about the brakes. 



CHAPTER 



The Big Fix 



THE love affair between wispy Jay Gould and fat Jim Fisk 
has been called a puzzle because of their many visible differ- 
ences. The two were alike only in shrewdness and freedom 
from any hampering sense of business ethics. Gould was 
quiet, nervous, shy, conservative in dress, a family man who 
liked to raise orchids but found his greatest joy in com- 
pounding schemes for making money. Although he was 
pained by Fisk's diamond-studded vulgarity, the Ver- 
monter's good cheer brought warmth into his otherwise 
dollar-haunted life. Fisk loved money too, and a sprinkling 
of dollar signs on his velvet vest would have made him the 
archetype for the caricature soon to be adopted by car- 
toonists to represent bloated capital, but he loved money in 
a wide-eyed country-boy way for the show he could 
make with it, the things he could buy, the fun he could 
have. The two men realized that they complemented each 
other to make an efficient team. Gould, a genius at long- 
range strategy, was a poor tactician, awkward at handling 
subordinates, a downright liability in public relations. Fisk, 
who could be deficient in the long view, was an executive 
of unusual ability who kept employes happy and got things 
done, and when it came to opening the sideboard and enter- 
taining the press, he had no peer. 

But this was not entirely a marriage of convenience. Both 
men had emerged from a battle in which the double-cross 
had so prevailed that they trusted no one but each other. 
They saw eye to eye business-wise. They would be in- 
separable partners, attached by interest and affection for 

73 



74 Jim Fisk 

four years, and if Gould's loyalty would eventually waver 
it was because Fisk became so hopelessly enmeshed in scan- 
dal that no corporation could afford to own him as a 
director. 

Both were honor graduates of the Drew school of 
financial flimflam who had studied their mentor's tactics 
and spotted the fatal flaw. Drew was stock-foxy, to be sure, 
but when he came at odds with the law he had been caught 
miserably in the net Fisk and Gould had taken steps to 
remove this threat so that they could operate illegally while 
appearing to observe the forms of the law. They were not 
the first, but they were the largest and most thoroughgoing 
practitioners of the corrupt alliance between business and 
politics: the big fix. When they took Tweed and Sweeny 
into the Erie board, it was an amalgamation of the Erie 
Ring with the Tweed Ring, a sign that all of Tammany 
which included Judge Barnard had ushered them into the 
wigwam to smoke peace pipes. 

It was Fisk who had conducted much of the negotiation 
with Tweed and had developed a liking for the massive, 
big-nosed Boss and the sinister-looking Sweeny. On the 
day of the Erie election, Fisk was so delighted at the limit- 
less prospects ahead that he gave Josie an opportunity to 
play hostess to New York's emperor and other notables. 

"My Dear Josie," he wrote her, "James McHenry, the 
partner of Sir Morton Peto, the largest railway builder in 
the world, Mr. Tweed and Mr. Lane will dine with us at 
half-past six o'clock. I want you to provide as nice a dinner 
as possible. Everything went off elegantly [at the election]. 
We are all safe. Will see you at six o'clock." 

They were indeed all safe with Tweed on the board. 
Fisk and Gould had been printing so much new stock, 
throwing the market into such a turmoil, that there were 
threats of investigations and lawsuits. A worried Stock 
Exchange committee called on Jay Gould to ask if he had 
indeed issued new stock With Tweed on the board, Gould 



The Big Fix 75 

did not bother to fall back on the threadbare Drew alibi 
of the need for steel rails. He said yes, new stock had been 
issued for the improvement of the road, and he wouldn't be 
surprised if more might be necessary, which gave the gentle- 
men a chill. Now that Tweed was with them, Fisk and 
Gould were ready to spring a trap they had been setting in 
combination with Daniel Drew. For weeks they had been 
selling new Erie stock and systematically locking the money 
up, taking it out of circulation. By the end of October their 
bear movement had sunk Erie to 35, its lowest quotation 
in years. The market was in chaos, with brokers failing, 
caught not only by the drop in Erie but also by the short- 
age of currency. Drew, who had contributed $4,000,000 
to the pool, made enormous profits until he disagreed with 
his two young partners in its operation. The Great Bear, 
always a bear, felt sure Erie was going down still more and 
saw an opportunity to make a killing on his own. He 
deserted Fisk and Gould, withdrew his money and con- 
tinued selling Erie heavily short. 

The two younger men, out of patience with him, decided 
to give him a taste of his own Wall Street medicine. On 
November 12 they unlocked $12,000,000 they had been 
holding, put it in circulation and began buying Erie at low 
prices. The sudden flood of money in addition to the buying 
spurt made Erie shoot from 35 to 54. A day earlier the bulls 
had been in anguish. Now it was the bears who were suffer- 
ing, chief among them Drew. He had sold short some 70,000 
shares of Erie at an average price of 38. If he fulfilled his 
commitments by delivering at 54, he stood to lose more than 
a million. The crafty churchman, well knowing it was Fisk 
and Gould who were applying the torture, looked around 
for succor. He thought he found it in August Belmont, 
another wounded bear. 

Belmont, the wealthy, German-born New York agent 
of the Rothschilds, loathed Drew but welcomed any ally. 
Would Drew make an affidavit exposing the earlier Erie 



j6 Jim Fisk 

misdeeds participated in by Fisk and Gould? Much as he 
hated to confess his sins, the Deacon was even more re- 
luctant to lose a million, and he allowed he would. Lawyers 
were called in. With Drew's aid a long affidavit was made 
out narrating the illegality of the settlement with Vander- 
bilt, alleging that Fisk and Gould had illegally bought the 
resignation of Eldridge by paying him $4,000,000 of Erie 
money so that they succeeded to the leadership, and that 
since then they had issued millions in unauthorized stock and 
committed many other frauds. In order to incriminate Fisk 
and Gould, Drew had to admit that he was a willing party 
to much of this knavery. It was Belmont's plan to take the 
affidavit before a judge as grounds for the removal of Fisk 
and Gould as directors, a ban on their further speculation, 
and the appointment of a receiver for Erie. This would in- 
stantly send the Erie quotation downward and save the 
bears. 

This was on Saturday night, November 14. The court 
action could not take place until Monday morning. Drew 
told Belmont and several other bears in the deal that he 
would take the affidavit home to read it more carefully 
before signing it. He saw in the affidavit an opportunity to 
play both ends against the middle. He could either sell out 
Fisk and Gould, or Belmont and his allies whichever was 
most profitable to Drew. 

After attending church on Sunday, Drew went to the 
Erie building and found Fisk in his office, breaking the 
Sabbath in gainful toil. Drew put on a woebegone ex- 
pression and said pathetically that he was an old man. He 
dwelled on their several years of friendship and mentioned 
that he had been of considerable help in bringing both Fisk 
and Gould to their present prominence. He was caught 
badly short, he admitted. Would Fisk loan him 40,000 shares 
or so to get him out of the hole? 

Fisk grinned at him. "You're in and you can't get out," 
he chuckled, "bellow as much as you may." 



The Big Fix 77 

"Then, if you put up this stock [keep raising the price 
of Erie], I am a ruined man," Drew wailed. 

Fisk knew this was not true. Drew could lose a million 
or two and still have a dozen millions left. The Great Bear 
kept pleading for an hour, shedding a few ready tears. He 
went into Gould's office and implored him for a loan of 
"Airy sheers." Finding no compassion there, he returned to 
Fisk. At last, with both of them adamant, he brought out his 
secret weapon, the affidavit aimed at expelling Fisk and 
Gould from Erie. 

"You know," he said, "during the whole of our fight I 
objected to ever giving my affidavit, but I swear I will do 
you all the harm I can do if you do not help me in this time 
of my great need!" 

Now, he went on, he would betray Belmont, refuse to 
sign the affidavit, if he could only be loaned "them sheers." 
Although the Belmont move could be dangerous, Fisk was 
fed up with Drew's ingrained treachery and refused to 
make any deal with a man who might jump the other way 
the moment he was out of sight. He reminded Uncle Daniel 
how many rimes he had held others in precisely this same 
vise and squeezed them without mercy. 

"You are the last man who should whine at any position 
you have put yourself in with regard to Erie," he said. 

Drew left in despair. Yet, bearing in mind his standing as 
a churchman, he so cringed at the thought of publishing his 
own wickedness in the affidavit that he returned to Fisk's 
office that night with more pleas for stock. He groveled in 
vain. It was midnight before he gave up, clapped on his 
stovepipe hat with a pathetic effort at dignity, picked up the 
ancient umbrella he used as a cane, and said, "I will bid you 
good-night." 

Fisk and Gould, forced to move fast against the Drew- 
Belmont threat, knew that the courts would not open until 
10 Monday morning. Somewhat after 7 that morning, Fisk, 
along with the inevitable clutch of attorneys, got out of a 



7# Jim Fisk 

carriage at Judge Barnard's residence on Twenty-first 
Street. This was the same Barnard branded only seven 
months earlier by the same Fisk as the corrupt tool of 
Vanderbilt the same judge who had denounced Fisk and 
Gould as swindlers and fugitives from justice. Now that 
Tweed was on the board, the tall, elegant judge forgot all 
past unpleasantness and greeted Fisk genially, both of them 
being habitues of Delmonico's. Barnard, who had just got 
up and had not yet shaved, listened attentively to Fisk's 
story that the baleful Drew-Belmont combination was 
aiming to oust him and Gould simply to discredit Erie and 
manipulate the market in their favor. Barnard said that sort 
of thing could not be allowed. His solution showed that in 
the realm of legal witchcraft he was second to none. 

He directed all parties bringing suit against Erie to desist. 
He appointed a receiver for Erie Jay Gould. And he ap- 
pointed a bondsman for Receiver Gould Jim Fisk. 

Unaware of all this, Drew, Belmont and companions ap- 
peared later before Judge Sutherland and presented the 
Drew affidavit, claiming that its disclosures proved the 
unfitness of Fisk and Gould to head the Erie corporation. 
Sutherland complied with an injunction forbidding the 
Gould party from exercising any authority in Erie affairs 
and directing them to show cause why a receiver should 
not be appointed. 

The chagrin of these gentlemen was unalloyed when they 
discovered they had got up too late in the morning and that 
Gould had already been appointed his own receiver. Possi- 
bly Drew reflected that intrigue could sometimes boomer- 
ang. There was a continuing rattle of legal gunfire from 
both sides, but the Fisk-Gould forces had clearly stolen a 
march, and while the court orders ricocheted the real 
batde was going on in the market. Drew and his fellow 
bears, receiving no help from the law, had to fight it out 
with dollars. Drew, committed to deliver 70,000 shares at 
38, was forced to buy them at any price or default. He must 



The Big Fix 79 

have been reminded unhappily of a couplet he had once 
invented: 

He 'who sells what isn't his'n 
Must buy it back or go to prison. 

Drew was alternately weeping and praying as the price 
crept up to 62 and he was losing twenty-four dollars on 
every share he bought. Fisk and Gould were buying with 
everything they had, trying to back the old man into the 
same corner where he had mercilessly crushed so many 
others. They would have succeeded had not the high price 
lured hundreds of small shareholders into the market to sell 
and take their profits. Fisk and Gould tried at heavy cost to 
absorb these new offerings, but the desperate Drew managed 
to buy enough to cover himself. When the struggle ended 
on November 24, Drew had saved his skin at a cost of $i,- 
500,000, while Fisk and Gould had lost almost all they 
had won in their previous bear movement. For once, Erie's 
mistreated small stockholders had profited at the expense of 
the big manipulators. 

Although the Erie partners had a few wounds of their 
own, they had given the Great Bear the soundest licking he 
ever took, something Wall Street viewed without sorrow. 
Broker W. W. Fowler voiced amazement at the dash of 
Fisk's operations. 

"Boldness! Boldness! twice, thrice and four times," he 
wrote of Fisk. "Impudence! cheek! brass! unparalleled, un- 
approachable, sublime!" 

Veteran speculators saw that in the two young Erie 
moguls they had a formidable new force to contend with in 
the gambling arena. Within seven months they had made 
the nation's most powerful railroad operator, Vanderbilt, 
come to terms, and had whipped Drew, the nation's biggest 
railroad speculator. Uncle Daniel's humiliation was so com- 
plete that he became a laughingstock, a has-been who never 
recovered his touch, for thereafter his speculations were 



So Jim Fisk 

dogged by ill luck. Fisk and Gould merely had to parry a 
swarm of lawsuits a routine matter. Before the dust settled, 
Fisk, who had never ceased to describe the settlement with 
Vanderbilt as "the Great Robbery," took his attorney, 
Thomas G. Shearman, and called on the Commodore. 

"How are you, Commodore?" he said. "I've come on 
behalf of the stockholders of the Erie Railway Company 
to collect from you the four millions and a half of dollars 
which they were forced to pay over to you last July to have 
these suits discontinued." He opened his bag. "Here are 
50,000 shares of Erie, which you made us take off your 
hands at 70, which, I calculate, is $3,500,000. We want 
you to take this stock, and draw your check immediately, 
with interest from July n; and furthermore, we want 
another million from you, which was paid for no con- 
sideration; and please to make out your check for that 
amount also, with interest from the same date." 

Vanderbilt, aghast at the fat man's nerve, reddened. "I 
ain't sold no stock to the Erie Company, nor received any 
million bonus," he said untruthfully and ungrammatically, 
"so I shan't pay the money." 

"Well, Commodore," Fisk grinned, "we have come to 
make you a formal tender of the securities ... If you won't 
pay up, why, we shall have to sue you. Good-day." 

"Good-day, Jim," Vanderbilt roared. "You can sue and 
be damned." 

Shearman promptly brought suit against him for $4,500,- 
ooo. Suit was also instituted against Work and Schell for the 
$429,250 paid them in the same transaction, while still 
another action was brought against Drew for $1,000,000, 
charging him with defrauding Erie while a director. 

The air was so thick with lawsuits that Fisk donned a 
disguise "as of a man going to a masquerade" when he left 
his office at midnight of November 28 with two attorneys. 
He also disguised his voice as he ordered a cabman in loud 
tones to take them to the Fifth Avenue Hotel, rerouting 



The Big Fix Si 

him to the Cortland Street ferry after they got under way. 
Nevertheless, a suspicious process server followed in an- 
other hansom and presented him with a summons at the 
ferry house. He uttered mild imprecations, then crossed to 
Jersey City, where he and his companions were seen hur- 
riedly boarding a train which had been waiting there for 
them and which departed immediately. Weighing these 
stealthy movements, and recalling that Fisk carried a large 
bag, reporters jumped to hasty conclusions. Next day the 
Tribune, Herald and several other papers published a rumor 
that Fisk had fled to Canada with millions in Erie funds to 
escape prosecution for his illegalities. 

Actually he had only gone to Binghamton to confer with 
his old friend Judge Ransom Balcom about an injunction 
against the Drew-Belmont foe. On his way back, he stopped 
at Port Jervis and wrote a letter to the newspapers poking 
fun at them for suggesting that he was anything but the soul 
of honesty. He was impervious to ordinary insult involving 
mere reflections on his integrity, and indeed seemed to enjoy 
such attacks for their notoriety value. But when he returned 
to New York he executed a quick switch. It was an editorial 
in the Springfield Republican, edited by the eminent Samuel 
Bowles, that changed his mind. Charging that the canards 
had injured his good name and caused Erie stock to drop 
four percent, he filed suit against Bowles for $50,000. 

". . . Fisk has probably destroyed the credit of the 
[Erie] railroad, while piling up a fortune for himself," 
Bowles wrote in his November 28 issue in an editorial 
headed "The New Hero of Wall Street," continuing: "The 
multiplication of its stock has been fearful . . . The issue of 
new shares seems to have been wanton, and to no purpose 
in great part but to gamble in Wall Street with. Nothing so 
audacious, nothing more gigantic in the way of swindling 
has ever been perpetrated in this country, and yet it may be 
that Mr. Fisk and his associates have done nothing that they 
cannot legally justify, at least in New York courts, several 



82 Jim Fisk 

of which they seem wholly to own . . , Many even of his 
friends predict for him the state prison or the lunatic asylum; 
his father is already in the latter." 

Bowles went on to describe Fisk as a one-time peddler of 
"silks, poplins and velvets by the yard," adding: 

"He is almost as broad as he is high, and so round that he 
rolls rather than walks. But his nervous energy is stimulated 
rather than deadened by his fat, which gives, indeed, a 
momentum to his mental movement and his personal influ- 



ence." 



Had the Massachusetts editor called him a swindler and 
let it go at that, doubtless Fisk would have overlooked it 
just as he had already laughed off scores of New York news- 
paper aspersions on his character. While it was true that 
Bowles owned some textile properties and was fighting 
Fisk's suits in favor of the Goulding patent, Fisk never let 
a trifling lawsuit cause rancor. What incensed him was 
Bowies' descent to personalities, his derision of Fisk's di- 
mensions and the malicious editorial sneer about his father's 
insanity two sensitive spots in his otherwise invulnerable 
hide. 

Undisturbed by the suit, Bowles visited New York with 
his wife late in December, putting up at Fisk's own hostelry, 
the Fifth Avenue Hotel. Having first brought suit against 
Bowles in Massachusetts, Fisk dropped that action and to 
gain jurisdiction brought a new one in New York. On the 
evening of December 22 he had but to whisper into the ear 
of Judge John H. McGinn, a Tammany jurist, to cause him 
to hold a special after-hours session as a favor and issue a 
warrant for Bowies' arrest. A brief tete-a-tete with Sheriff 
James O'Brien, another Tammany official who was now a 
bosom friend, and the stage was set. Fisk and O'Brien then 
left to join Tweed and other Tammany sachems at the 
Fifth Avenue home of Augustus Brown, where a reception 
was being held to honor A. Oakey Hall, the pleasant quip- 



The Big Fix 83 

ster whom Tweed had just elected mayor by virtue of thou- 
sands of fraudulent votes. 

About 9 o'clock that evening, Samuel Bowles was chatting 
b the lobby of the Fifth Avenue Hotel with Murat Halstead 
when two sheriffs officers entered, flashed the warrant in 
the editor's face, then propelled him swiftly out the door to 
a waiting carriage. Almost before Bowles knew it, he was in 
a cell at the Ludlow Street jail. Not until then was he al- 
lowed to read the warrant charging him with criminal libel 
of James Fisk Jr. As jails went, the Ludlow Street institu- 
tion was a comfortable one, being largely for prisoners in- 
volved in civil suits. Yet Bowles did not want to stay there 
all night. He was anxious about his wife, who was an in- 
valid and would be alarmed at his mysterious disappearance. 
He demanded that he be freed on bail. Not a chance, said 
the jailer there was no one around empowered to accept 
bail. Bowles soon realized that he was the victim of a Fisk 
plot to keep him immured overnight. Halstead and others of 
his friends were busy during the dark hours trying to find 
someone to liberate him. Sheriff O'Brien, when located at 
the Tammany celebration, said it was after hours and be- 
sides, he had no authority to interfere. Those who did have 
authority seemed to have gone into hiding. The upshot was 
that Bowles remained imprisoned until morning, when he 
was released on $50,000 bail. 

Fisk had his revenge, and did not pursue the lawsuit fur- 
ther, but he lost rather than gamed by his spite. Bowles, one 
of the nation's most influential editors, had plenty of news- 
paper friends who denounced the proceeding as petty and 
contemptible, which it was despite the offensive remarks 
that caused it. This was one of the few instances when Fisk's 
good humor gave way to a malice normally foreign to him. 
In a letter he wrote to the Boston Evening Gazette in an 
effort to justify his move, he showed a remarkable unaware- 
ness that he might have violated any principle of decency. 



84 Jim Fisk 

Bowles, he complained, had published an editorial "devoted 
to a bitter, abusive, untruthful and unprovoked attack on 
my origin, vocation, habits, personal appearance and family 
afflictions," and went on: 

"Culpable as I am in selling 'silks, poplins and velvets by 
the yard,' the generous nature of Samuel Bowles, Esq., of 
Springfield, Massachusetts, is not finally and utterly turned 
against me until he has ascertained that I am guilty of 
having a father who is unhappily an inmate of a lunatic 
asylum ... and he prophetically consigns me to a 'mad- 
house or state prison.' Under the circumstances, Messrs. 
Editors, don't you think I had cause to feel vexed. . . ?" 

Truly he had cause to feel vexed. It did not seem to occur 
to him that the point at issue was the fitness of such a shabby 
revenge. Fisk sometimes had moral myopia. His letter was 
written from Boston, where the intermittent husband was 
spending the Christmas holidays with his wife Lucy. 



CHAPTER 

10 



The Sky Is the Limit 



THE student of the sinful Sixties is apt to throw up his hands 
and reflect that had Diogenes been extant then, he would 
have tossed away his lantern and given up all hope of finding 
an honest man. There were honest men, to be sure, for 
Horace Greeley was living, but few of them seemed to be 
heard. The upheaval caused by the war, the quick boom in 
railroads and industry at its end, and the vast opportunities 
for wealth offered by an expanding people, made the nation 
suddenly outgrow rules that formerly had sufficed to keep 
illegality somewhere within bounds. Self-sacrificial patriot- 
ism was out of style. The profit motive went on a glorious 
spree. With busy minds Hke those of Jim Fisk and Boss 
Tweed figuring angles never figured before, the moral at- 
mosphere became noxious. Almost before upright citizens 
knew about it, the stock market was a place of barrel- 
house, bare-knuckled combat, Albany was a legislative 
Sodom and New York City was Tweedville. 

The ponderous Tweed, a former chairmaker of meager 
education but gifted with magnetism and a talent for organi- 
zation, seized enormous power in the fall of 1868 with some 
financial help from Fisk and Gould. In addition to campaign 
funds, he was given, apparently gratis, a large block of Erie 
stock right off the press as well as a place on the board. He 
had elected his amiable lieutenant, the elegant Oakey Hall, 
as mayor of New York. He had elected the more prosaic 
John Hoffman governor. True, his candidate Seymour had 
lost out in the presidential canvass to General Grant be- 
cause of voting frauds, Tammany had the impudence to 

85 



86 Jim Fisk 

claim but Tweed was expecting to elect his President in 
1872 and to become boss of the nation as he now was in 
the Empire State. 

In New York, many of his votes came from "repeaters" 
at five dollars a vote, many from jocular election judges 
who threw away legitimate ballots and simply handed in 
fraudulent Tweed majorities, and quite a parcel through 
the aid of his loyal Judges Barnard and McGinn. For a 
fortnight before the election, Barnard gallantly sacrificed his 
own leisure, keeping his chambers open from 6 P.M. until 
midnight to naturalize 10,093 men, many of them from Ire- 
land, who must have been puzzled at the way they were 
herded into citizenship in batches of forty, then given closest 
individual attention by fast-talking gentlemen who handed 
them cigars and instructed them as good citizens to vote the 
Tweed ticket. "It is rumored," snapped the Tribune, "that 
Judge McGinn has issued an order naturalizing all the lower 
counties of Ireland, beginning at Tipperary and running 
down to Cork. Judge Barnard will arrange for the northern 
counties at the next sitting of Chambers." Civic leaders 
should have noted an arresting arithmetical anomaly that 
eight percent more votes were cast than the entire voting 
population but nothing was done about it. 

What the Tweed Ring was in government, the Erie Ring 
was in finance. Each paid lip service to legality, Tweed with 
crooked votes, Erie with foxy lawyers and accommodating 
judges. Each ring, in addition to full-blown rascals, num- 
bered men who shaded off in varying degrees toward some 
semblance of honesty. While Oakey Hall and John Hoff- 
man, for example, well knew that the machine that elected 
them was incredibly corrupt and were glad to collaborate 
with it, it was never proved that they personally stole any- 
thing. As for Erie, it had in the firm of Field & Shearman 
two of the most outwardly respectable lawyers of the time. 
The tall, imperious David Dudley Field, son of a clergyman, 
brother of Cyrus Field of Atlantic cable fame, was known 



The Sky Is the Limit 87 

as a law reformer, enjoyed the highest social standing, and 
in professional prestige was second to none. Thomas Shear- 
man, an undersized man who looked like a midget beside 
Field, was superintendent of the Sunday school at Mr. 
Beecher's church in Brooklyn and knew the Good Book 
almost as well as Daniel Drew. Shearman's services were in 
such demand that he had an office right in the Erie building. 
Although Field & Shearman had other clients, it was their 
labors for Erie that brought them into company not usually 
chosen by law reformers and Sunday school superintendents. 
Field himself, in fact, had time to attend only to the most 
important of Erie's legal work, leaving other matters to a 
host of lesser attorneys. As one stockholder remarked bit- 
terly, Erie must be an intensely law-abiding corporation 
since it had so many lawyers working in its behalf. In the 
year 1868 alone, the company paid out $330,5 10.70 to forty- 
one different attorneys, Field & Shearman collecting $48,- 
289.10 of this only a fraction of what they would collect 
in 1869. In addition to its own suits against Vanderbilt, 
Drew, Work, Schell, Belmont and others, Erie was con- 
stantly a defendant in actions brought by stockholders and 
market losers as well as by dozens of the injured in the 
Carr's Rock wreck and relatives of the dead. Although the 
railroad was clearly culpable, most of the blame resting on 
the neglectful Drew, it was claiming that the train was de- 
liberately derailed, even accusing a feeble-minded character 
named Bowen of the crime. On top of all this, Fisk had his 
occasional private lawsuits, not to mention the endless legal 
wrangling in several states over his Goulding textile patent, 
which would continue until his death. Litigation became 
such a part of his life that he employed a personal attorney, 
William H. Morgan, who served as a sort of legal dispatch 
bearer and liaison expert, coming in daily to keep him posted 
on what all the other lawyers were doing in various cases 
that dragged on for months or years. 



88 Jim Fisk 

"The lawyers lap up Erie money," Fisk observed, "like 
kittens lap up milk." 

Actually, Erie's own lawsuits were a matter of deliberate 
policy on his part and Gould's, designed less to seek the pro- 
tection of the law than to dodge it, circumvent it, find loop- 
holes in it, on the theory that their ultimate gains would far 
exceed their legal fees. Although the attorneys bore the 
courtroom brunt of these actions, it took considerable time 
and concentration for Fisk and Gould to keep abreast of 
them and to appear as witnesses. Yet they were not too pre- 
occupied to go shopping for new quarters and, in December 
of 1868, to astonish New York by the purchase of Pike's 
Opera House as the future offices of Erie. The old building 
was inadequate, they said, but critics who called the move 
corporate lunacy were not far from the mark. There 'was 
something preposterous about the amalgamation of a rail- 
road with play-acting that must have made engineers and 
brakemen out on the Erie line wonder if they were in safe 
hands. Catch Commodore Vanderbilt allowing his New 
York Central offices to be invaded by a parcel of dancing 
girls! 

The Opera House deal, by its very absurdity, was a sign 
that Fisk and Gould felt their power secure despite all the 
howls of minor stockholders. With Tweed on the board, the 
sky was the limit. It also was a sign that Fisk, nominally 
second in command to Gould, nevertheless had a strong 
voice in the direction. Although the two bought the build- 
ing jointly, it was Fisk's special plaything, and the fact that 
he could win over the self-effacing Gould to such a gaudy 
project is a measure of his influence. 

While workmen were refurbishing the Opera House, the 
Erie partners took steps to perpetuate their hold on the road, 
borrowing a page from the book of Tweed. To avoid being 
ousted at the next annual election, they aimed to control 
the election. Strangely, more than half of all Erie shares were 
owned by English stockholders who had naively expected 



The Sky Is the Limit 89 

good dividends and who rightly should have controlled the 
road by virtue of their majority. By this time most literate 
Americans with idle money understood perfectly that while 
Erie might be a passable stock for speculators with iron 
nerves, as an investment it was hopeless. The British, who 
had discovered this too late, were sending wrathful and 
futile messages across the Atlantic. So far, Fisk and Gould 
had managed by various legal subterfuges to keep most of 
them from voting their stock, but they could not depend 
on maintaining minority control forever. They took this 
problem to the pliable state legislature at Albany, where 
they introduced the Erie Classification Bill. 

This humbug classified the road's board of directors 
into five groups so that only one-fifth of them would be 
elected annually, the first group to hold office for five years, 
the second group four, and so on. While the stated purpose 
of the bill was to prevent a wholesale housecleaning of the 
board each year and assure an efficient continuity of man- 
agement, its real intent was to keep Gould and Fisk at the 
helm for a full five years. 

Boss Tweed now doffed his mantle as Director Tweed of 
Erie and donned his toga as State Senator Tweed. He re- 
opened several bars at his Delavan House suite and with 
the aid of free-spending Erie lobbyists cultivated the Bkck 
Horse Cavalry. The bill passed, causing Gould to utter a 
priceless quackery: 

"[The act will] secure to the property a responsible, 
experienced and intelligent management, and be the means 
of preventing in the future the sudden changes in the policy 
of this magnificent railway, peculiar to it in the past while 
it was a mere creature of Wall Street speculation." 

The classification bill was only part of the Gould-Fisk 
program to domesticate Erie, make it a more tractable crea- 
ture for their Wall Street speculations. Another step was 
to place their relations with Judge Barnard in a condition of 
even firmer rapport. There was a slight embarrassment here, 



$o Jim Fisk 

for during the Jersey City exile Fisk had caused Field & 
Shearman to bring charges of corruption against Barnard. 
The judge's term ended December 31, 1868, and Tweed 
thought it might look indecorous to re-elect him while such 
a shadow hung over him. Erie withdrew the charges, giving 
a statement to the newspapers informing the public what a 
grievous error it all had been: 

". . . whereas the complaint in such action charges the 
said Barnard with corrupt and improper action and conduct 
in his official capacity as a Judge of said Court; and, whereas 
we have become convinced, after a most ample and com- 
plete investigation that there is no foundation whatever for 
such charges; therefore 

"Resolved, That the said charges be and the same are 
hereby withdrawn as wholly groundless. . . ." 

With that misunderstanding cleared up, the said Barnard 
was re-elected for another fourteen-year term in a Tweed 
landslide of votes both single and repetitive. Having all these 
matters to attend to, perhaps it was no wonder that Fisk 
and Gould scarcely had time to give the railroad itself the 
attention it badly needed. All-steel rails being so infernally 
expensive, an arrangement was made for the purchase of 
cheaper steel-capped iron rails from the Trenton Rolling 
Mills, but it would be many months before any were laid. 
Erie's connections with the Pennsylvania coalfields were 
improved. Some new locomotives and drawing-room 
coaches were being built, some wooden bridges replaced 
by iron. But Erie, crying for an all-out program of rehabili- 
tation, was getting only a once-over-lightly treatment that 
nudged ruin back rather than defeating it. Instead of rescu- 
ing their own road from disrepair, its leaders were mapping 
a secret campaign to swallow another line, the Albany & 
Susquehanna. 



CHAPTER 

Nothing Is Lost 
Save Honor 



ONE of the saving graces of the Tweed and Erie rings was 
their capacity to admit past error and to breathe love into 
relations formerly darkened by discord. Thus Tweed, who 
less than a year earlier had fought tooth and nail for Van- 
derbilt, now sat happily on the Erie board and was glad that 
Vanderbilt had lost the fight. Field and Shearman, who had 
screamed at Barnard as corrupt and sought to impeach him, 
had the scales removed from their eyes and saw him as a 
benevolent dispenser of purest justice. Barnard himself, so 
lately moved by passion to brand Fisk and Gould outlaws 
and swindlers, found them simply charming fellows when 
he got to know them. Fisk and Gould were so delighted at 
the new Erie-Barnard entente cordiale that they presented 
a batch of Erie stock to the judge they had mistakenly called 
a bandit. Barnard took to dropping in at Josie Mansfield's 
occasionally for poker and champagne with Fisk, Tweed 
and other cronies. 

George G. Barnard, a merry fellow, brushed aside any 
scruples that his acceptance of stock might damage his im- 
partiality in presiding over Erie litigation. A native of 
Poughkeepsie, this thirty-nine-year-old Yale graduate had 
married the daughter of a tobacco millionaire and yet had 
pride enough to seek independent wealth. Tall, foppish in 
dress, he was a strikingly handsome man with black hair 
sprinkled with gray and a jet-black mustache some believed 
to be dyed. He was a regular at Delmonico's, the Astor 
House and other fashionable resorts, sometimes getting home 



$2 Jim Fisk 

so late that he was noticeably sleepy on the bench next day. 
Every morning his court officer had a stick of soft pine 
ready for him, along with a sharp penknife. All day long as 
he listened to arguments, Barnard whittled steadily, now 
and then amusing the court with witty or off-color remarks. 
Every night there was a heap of shavings to be swept up 
after him. In 1869, on behalf of his Erie friends and possibly 
after coaching at poker sessions, Barnard began whittling 
away at something bigger the Albany & Susquehanna 
Railway. 

The A. & S. was a brand new road, born to such grief as 
few carriers ever experienced. It covered 142 miles of pleas- 
ant hill country between Albany and Binghamton, being 
only a small local line in comparison with the great Erie 
network. Indeed, it had been planned primarily to serve its 
own area, with no delusions of trunk-line grandeur. Its presi- 
dent was a determined Scot named Joseph H. Ramsey, who 
had persevered through seventeen years of toil and disap- 
pointment that would have whipped a lesser man before 
he saw his dream realized with the laying of the last twenty- 
two miles of track. On January 15, 1869, there was quite 
a celebration to mark the final linking of Albany and Bing- 
hamton by rail, but Ramsey knew his troubles were not 
over. His treasury was bare, he owed several contractors, 
bankruptcy stared him in the face, and his board of directors 
had split into two warring camps. On top of that, he became 
aware that Fisk and Gould, the Erie carnivores, were out to 
eat him up. 

These two had been licking their chops in anticipation, 
for ownership of the A. & S. offered them several glorious 
opportunities. It connected with Erie at Binghamton and 
was built on the same broad six-foot gauge, allowing the 
transfer of trains from one line to another. It also connected 
with the Delaware & Hudson at Nineveh. But most im- 
portant of all, it would give Erie its long-sought gateway 
to New England and the eastern seaboard via connecting 



Nothing Is Lost Save Honor 93 

lines from Albany, opening a vast new market for Erie coal 
and produce. Nor did Fisk and Gould ever forget that pos- 
session of the A. & S. would also enable them to steal much 
of the through east-west freight now monopolized by Com- 
modore Vanderbilt and his New York Central. In seizing the 
new line they could at one stroke enrich Erie and bring 
woe to Vanderbilt, whom they were suing for $4,500,000 
as the author of the Great Robbery. 

The internal struggle in the directorate seemed provi- 
dentially designed for their purposes. The road's financial 
crisis had bred dissension. Of the fourteen directors, seven 
who were headed by one Walter S. Church were out to oust 
Ramsey. The other seven, including Ramsey himself, were 
fighting for his retention and for the expulsion of the Church 
group. The quarrel became so bitter that Ramsey let it be 
known that at the next directors' election in September 
either he or his opponents must go, so that the road could 
have a harmonious board. The election would therefore 
hand complete control over to one side or the other. It was 
said that in June the Church faction, fearing they could 
not gain a majority of voting stock, "invited" Erie to aid 
them another way of saying they favored Erie control of 
the road and Erie payment of its debts. It seems more likely 
that Fisk and Gould maneuvered the invitation, seeing their 
opportunity to divide and conquer, but at any rate they did 
not have to be invited twice into the road's humble parlor. 
They promptly sent agents carrying carpetbags stuffed with 
Erie money along the line to buy up stock for voting pur- 
poses. 

However, the carpetbaggers ran into a snag. There was 
very little floating stock in A. & S., most of the shares having 
been subscribed by towns along the route under an agree- 
ment that forbade town officers to sell it at less than par. 
Since par value was $100, and the stock was now quoted at 
only $20, the Erie treasury would be taking a quintuple 
licking at that rate. The Erie moguls hit on a better plan. 



4 Jim Fisk 

They gave a number of the town officers free passes to New 
York, where they wined and dined them, then proposed a 
bargain: They would pay the towns par value for their stock 
xfter the election provided that at the election the town 
shares would be voted as Erie wished. The town officers, 
charmed by Fisk's jovial entertainment, evidently did not 
smell anything fishy in the proposal, and some of them 
agreed to it. They should have known that since they had 
no power to sell except for cash, the agreement was illegal 
and could not be enforced against Erie after the votes had 
been secured. 

Joseph Ramsey got wind of this and knew he was in for 
the battle of his life unless he was willing to quit, step out 
of the road it had cost him seventeen hard years to bring 
into being. He also knew that he was a puny David to pit 
himself against two Goliaths like Fisk and Gould, who had 
beaten Vanderbilt, beaten Drew, and had all the resources 
of Erie behind them. But Ramsey was so infuriated at the 
invasion of his bailiwick by the New York Philistines that 
he resolved to fight even though his slingshot was small. By 
his order, on August 3 Treasurer William Phelps of A. & S. 
refused to transfer town-owned stock to Erie which he 
believed bought only by illegal bargain. The battle was on. 

Erie immediately got an injunction from Judge Barnard 
ordering the transfer of the stock. Ramsey countered with 
an injunction from an Owego judge forbidding it. Lawyer 
Shearman, deserting his Brooklyn Sunday school to serve as 
Erie's chief of staff in this phase of the conflict, rushed up to 
Owego with more Barnard ammunition an order removing 
Ramsey's injunction and going a lot farther than that. It 
suspended Ramsey as president and a director of the line 
and restrained him from issuing any more stock. 

Ramsey, being well acquainted with the history of Fisk 
and Gould, must have reflected that an order inspired by 
these busy printers restraining him from issuing more stock 
was much like a drunkard denying liquor to anyone but 



Nothing Is Lost Save Honor $5 

himself. A hard-fisted fellow, he was not above resorting to 
bamboozlement when assailed by brigands. He was in real 
peril. Since the board of directors was equally divided, 
Barnard's order removing him gave the majority to his 
enemies and also put them in charge of the books so they 
could make stock transfers to their own liking. In a word, 
it gave them control of the road. 

To prevent this, Ramsey took the stock transfer books 
from the company's offices in Albany and put them in the 
best hiding place he could think of a mausoleum in a local 
cemetery. He had plenty of unsold shares that would help 
him vote-wise if he could unload them on sympathizers. 
Working fast, he disposed of 9,500 shares to friends, a move 
that took some doing since they did not have the money 
to buy them. He solved this by furnishing his friends not 
only with the stock but also with the funds to make the 
necessary ten percent down payment. He raised the money 
by appropriating $150,000 worth of bonds in his own road 
a speedy piece of illegality worthy of Fisk and Gould at 
their slipperiest. Then, on August 6, he got an injunction 
from Judge Rufus Peckham, sitting in Albany, forbidding 
the Church-Erie party from acting as officers of the A. & S. 

This left the road in a managerial vacuum, with no one at 
its head. Attorney Shearman, now back in New York, rec- 
ognized the opportunity. He drew up a petition praying 
that receivers be appointed. It happened that Judge Barnard 
had hurried to Poughkeepsie, where his mother was dying. 
Although other judges were available, Shearman seemed to 
feel that this was a job no one else could perform with the 
Barnard finesse. A telegram was sent to the judge: 

"Come to New York without fail to-night. Answer care 
359 West Twenty-third Street. James H. Coleman." 

Coleman was a young lawyer who ran errands for Bar- 
nard, the latter in turn often referring legal work to him. 
The address given was interesting, being that of Josie Mans- 
field. Barnard left his ailing mother and caught a train to 



96 Jim Fisk 

New York with fireman urgency, but he later insisted he did 
not hold a special session of court at Josie's. One of Shear- 
man's legal staff met him with the petition ready for his 
signature. The two men darted into Fisk's bachelor dig- 
gings, which Barnard solemnly swore he believed to be a 
real estate office. There he signed the papers appointing 
James Fisk Jr. and Charles Courter receivers for the 
A.&S. 

Courter, a resident of Cobleskill, was- one of the dissident 
directors belonging to the Church faction, but he was only 
a straw man. Fisk was ready, his bag packed, his five-carat 
diamond shining in his shirtfront like an Erie headlight. 
Aware of hostility in Albany, he had rounded up a dozen 
Erie roughnecks as bodyguards. Bearing the Barnard-signed 
papers, he and his crew caught the n P.M. Vanderbilt 
train to Albany, which would allow him a few hours' sleep 
at the Delavan- House before assuming his new duties in the 
morning. 

The state capital was already in a ferment over the affair. 
Being served by the A. & S. and the New York Central, 
Albany was strongly loyal to Ramsey and Vanderbilt 
There was general indignation at Erie's attempt to muscle 
in on Ramsey's inoffensive little railroad, and also at the 
fusillade of scattergun injunctions fired by Judge Barnard, 
sitting more than 100 miles from any point of the A. & S. 
Vanderbilt, too, was eyeing the struggle as anything but an 
outsider. He well knew that "them blowers," as he charac- 
terized Fisk and Gould, were out to rook him of some of 
his most profitable traffic, and that Ramsey was fighting his 
fight. Ramsey was getting Vanderbilt's moral and financial 
support, but he was doing pretty well as it was. On the same 
evening that Barnard had made his fireman's journey to 
New York, Ramsey had gone to Judge Peckham in Albany 
and got an order naming Robert H. Pruyn of that city as 
receiver. This was blow for blow, since Pruyn, an A. & S. 
director, was stoutly behind Ramsey in his duel with the 



Nothing Is Lost Save Honor $7 

invaders. If tine meant anything, Ramsey and Pruyn had 
the edge, for Judge Peckham had signed his papers almost 
an hour before Barnard, and on top of that Receiver Pruyn 
got up a bit earlier next morning than Receiver Fisk. By die 
time Fisk and his attorneys picked up co-Receiver Courter 
and reached the A. & S. offices on the Albany riverfront 
with his detachment of Erie halberdiers, Pruyn was already 
installed. 

The Fisk party was met at the door by John W. Van 
Valkenburg, general superintendent of A. & S., a burly 
Ramsey man not easily intimidated. He admitted Courter, 
who was a director of the road and could scarcely be ex- 
cluded, but told Fisk bluntly to stay out. 

"This is my twenty-sixth raid," Fisk said, "and I'm going 
to take you fellows if it costs a million dollars." 

"You'll have a good time doing it," Van Valkenburg 
snapped. 

Fisk turned to his men. "Come on, boys," he said- 

They advanced on the door. However, Van Valkenburg 
had a platoon of his own railroad mechanics ready. They 
resisted with spirit. There was a brisk struggle accompanied 
by hard language at the entrance before Fisk and his out- 
numbered forces were shoved ungendy out the door, Fisk 
"with his spruce attire and toilet in a rather disordered con- 
dition." A pugnacious-looking man in civilian clothes who 
identified himself as a policeman strode up and arrested him* 
Fisk got all the way to the stationhouse with him before dis- 
covering that the man was no policeman at all, merely an 
A. & S. employe aiming to harass him. 

One of Fisk's redeeming qualities was an ability to see 
humor in his own discomfiture. He returned to the railroad 
office, where Van Valkenburg still denied him entrance, and 
laughed uproariously at the absurdity of the situation. He 
even complimented the superintendent for his grit, saying 
he would like to have Van Valkenburg working for him. 



$8 Jim Fisk 

"Get Ramsey out here," he suggested, "and I'll play a 
game of seven-up with him to see who runs this railroad." 

Neither Ramsey nor Pruyn were agreeable to this mode 
of arbitration. Returning to his hotel, Fisk telegraphed 
Shearman in New York, who referred the problem to Judge 
Barnard. Barnard, incensed at the circumvention of his 
brand of law, granted a new injunction restraining everyone 
from interfering with Receivers Fisk and Courter. He bol- 
stered this with a writ of assistance empowering sheriffs 
to impress posses to execute the injunction. He sent the 
orders by telegraph, something new in jurisprudence. Fisk, 
clad in new legal armor, went to the A. & S. offices once 
more, again getting no farther than the door. He waved 
the new Barnard injunction in Van Valkenburg's face and 
allowed that he would come in and take charge. 

Van Valkenburg snickered at him. He brought out some 
papers of his own an injunction from Judge Peckham re- 
straining everybody from interfering with Receiver Pruyn. 
This was followed by another Peckham order enjoining all 
sheriffs from taking action on Barnard's writ of assistance. 

No sooner was Fisk given a new weapon than the enemy 
contrived a defense against it. Indeed, so far the Ramsey 
forces had the upper hand, since they were in actual posses- 
sion of the road and its office and could not be dislodged. 
At this point the law had reached such intricacy that mere 
laymen scarcely pretended to understand it. Yet it would 
get worse. According to Judge Barnard, Receiver Pruyn 
was illegal. According to Judge Peckham, who held the 
Albany view of things, Receivers Fisk and Courter were 
illegal. Sheriffs were ordered by one judge to depose Pruyn, 
while another judge commanded them to protect Pruyn 
against the Fisk-Courter aggressions. The New York Law 
Code was reaching a slapstick level similar to that during 
the Vanderbilt-Drew imbroglio the previous year. 

Fisk retired to the Delavan House bar for refreshment 
and meditation. Balked on the legal front, he took recourse 



Nothing Is Lost Save Honor 9$ 

to propaganda, calling in newspapermen to tell them that 
the good people of Albany had the wrong idea of the ques- 
tion and were overlooking the great benefits of Erie con- 
trol of A. & S. 

"Look at the past," he urged. "Has not everything been 
done by the Central line to make you a mere local station, 
to ruin your shipping and wipe out your instruments of 
business. . . ?" 

It was here that he was struck by an inspiration of the 
most limpid clarity, the kind that was said to have burst on 
Napoleon in his moments of omniscience. He had, he saw, 
made the mistake of attacking the enemy at his strongest 
point, which was Albany. How could he have forgotten 
that the A. & S. was 142 miles long, with its far end at Bing- 
hamton, a loyal Erie town? He decided, in the phrase of a 
later strategist, to assail the foe's soft underbelly at Bingham- 
ton, take possession there, then work up the line toward 
Albany. 

He got on the telegraph wire to Erie General Superin- 
tendent L. D. Rucker, Riddle's successor in New York, or- 
dering him to speed to Bingharnton to take overall charge. 
He wired Erie's Division Superintendent H. D. V. Pratt 
in Binghamton, directing him to mobilize an assault force, 
capture the A. & S. terminal and all rolling stock in Bing- 
hamton, then move northeastward along the line. He like- 
wise telegraphed Judge Barnard's writ of assistance to 
Sheriff Browne in Binghamton, commanding Browne to 
support the Fisk-Erie forces in their flanking movement. 

Superintendent Van Valkenburg, field leader of the Ram- 
sey array, had not been blind to the possibility of some such 
maneuver. That same morning of August 8 he sent out a 
special train from Albany containing Lawyer Henry Smith 
of A. & S. along with almost 100 muscular railroad workers 
under Master Mechanic Blackall to strengthen his hand 
should need arise. This train was steaming toward Bingham- 
ton at a fast clip, stopping at stations along the route to 



wo Jim Fisk 

serve local officers with Judge Peckham's injunction in- 
validating Judge Barnard's injunction. 

At Binghamton, the Erie superintendent took possession 
of the A. & S. terminal with the aid of Sheriff Browne, who 
favored the Erie side of the quarrel. There were four A. & 
S. locomotives at Binghamton, three of which the sheriff 
captured in the name of Judge Barnard and Receiver Fisk. 
The engineer of the fourth, a loyal Ramsey man, sniffed foul 
play and was off in his iron steed before he could be seized, 
making good time toward Albany. The Erie party now 
made up a small special train, manned by an Erie engineer 
and conductor, having Sheriff Browne as its chief passenger 
along with a group of Erie employes. They set out eastward 
that afternoon, stopping at each station to carry out the 
orders of Receiver Fisk that is, to discharge the A. & S. 
station agents and other help and replace them with Erie 
personnel. The sheriff was so enthusiastic in the cause that 
he forgot that his jurisdiction was confined to Broome 
County. The train kept right on to Afton, in Chenango 
County some thirty miles from Binghamton, where die 
A. & S. employes were likewise fired and replaced by Erie 
men. 

The telegraph meanwhile was sputtering. Van Valken- 
burg in Albany knew that the tail-end of his railroad was 
in enemy hands. At Afton, Sheriff Browne and his party got 
a telegram from Van Valkenburg warning them that they 
were breaking the law and that any further advance would 
be at their own peril. Browne, uncertain of his ground, wired 
to Fisk in Albany for instructions. Fisk was delighted at the 
success of his strategy, which had already won him posses- 
sion of thirty miles of the road, and was impatient only be- 
cause there was no way he could reach the scene of action 
and take command in person. He telegraphed Browne, or- 
dering him peremptorily to continue the advance and re- 
minding him it was his sworn duty to carry out the mandate 



Nothing h Lost Save Honor 201 

of Judge Barnard. Browne and his dwindling forces pressed 
on. 

Although small, this war employed the most advanced of 
tactics, the opposing forces being entirely motorized and 
receiving their instructions from the two rival generals, Fisk 
and Van Valkenburg, by telegraph. Van Valkenburg, seeing 
that a clash was inevitable, began to worry about innocent 
A. & S. passengers riding the regular trains. He telegraphed 
a blanket order that all trains except those bearing the 
military be stopped on the nearest siding. All along the line 
wayfarers were marooned, many of them miles from their 
destination, as traffic halted. 

Late that afternoon, the Ramsey train carrying Lawyer 
Smith and his men reached Bainbridge, thirty-six miles from 
Binghamton, where Smith was informed that a train bearing 
Erie minions was coming at them. Deciding it was best to 
wait developments, Smith had his train backed into a siding. 
His men had with them a patent frog used for getting cars 
back on the track, which was equally effective for derailing 
cars. They fastened the device on the main line and waited. 
It was growing dark when the Erie train pulled into Bain- 
bridge, traveling at low speed because of possible tampering 
with the rails. The engineer did not see the frog. The Ram- 
sey men, watching from the siding, cheered lustily as the 
locomotive hit the frog and bumped off the track. Attorney 
Smith walked over and handed Sheriff Browne a copy of 
Judge Peckham's injunction warning all officers not to obey 
Judge Barnard's order. 

The sheriff was nonplused. One judge said Gee, the other 
Haw. No matter which one he obeyed, he was illegal in the 
other's view. As he pondered, Smith pulled out of the siding 
with his train and headed toward Binghamton, leaving 
Browne and his men prisoners cut off from their base. As 
the Smith party traveled westward, they stopped at each 
station, ejected the Erie employes Browne had installed and 



102 Jim Fisk 

reinstated the original ones. From Bainbridge, Browne tele- 
graphed news of his predicament both to Albany and Bing- 
hamton. 

In Albany, this tidings must have afflicted Fisk with a 
sense of disaster similar to Lincoln's on the news of Bull 
Run. Yet, according to one historian, "During all the in- 
tense excitement of this remarkable period, Jim Fisk was the 
same easy, jolly, rollicking creature of impulse that he ever 
was, and his jokes and champagne were lavishly distributed 
to the crowd of visitors who thronged his parlors at the 
Delavan House. Here he had a corps of clerks, hard at work, 
and [an] army of messengers rushing in and out all day 
long. . . ." Jolly or not, he knew that the thirty-six miles of 
track he had captured was dwindling by the minute. He 
wired urgent instructions to Binghamton to organize a mas- 
sive assault party and retake the lost ground. 

As luck would have it, Binghamton had only a small rail- 
road yard manned by a handful of workers, so Superinten- 
dent Rucker and Division Superintendent Pratt were going 
sleepless and unshaven while they strove to gather an army. 
They sent a special train to the town of Susquehanna, some 
twenty-three miles southeast of Binghamton, which brought 
back a load of recruits from the Erie shops there, and also 
some coal miners. Another train rolled in with several com- 
panies of skirmishers from the Erie yards at Owego, a simi- 
lar distance west of Binghamton. The logistical task of or- 
ganizing, arming and provisioning these raw soldiers was 
enough to drive Rucker and Pratt almost insane, what with 
frequent peevish telegrams from Fisk urging speed, but they 
persevered in a complex of troop movements almost as in- 
tricate as those preceding Second Manassas. Not until next 
morning, August 10, was the mobilization complete. Several 
hundred men, armed with shovels, wrenches, clubs and 
flasks of liquor crowded into a train and headed east for the 
front, shouting defiance although few understood what the 
quarrel was about. "They took a good supply of flour and 



Nothing Is Lost Save Honor 103 

beef with them," a Tribune reporter noted, reflecting that 
this seemed to presage a full-scale campaign. 

The oncoming A. & S. troop train meanwhile had lingered 
during the night at Af ton and other stations, awaiting day- 
light to make sure the track was intact. The two opposing 
hosts approached each other at the Long Tunnel, a 2 zoo- 
foot hole through a hill fifteen miles east of Binghamton. 
Each side appeared to regard the tunnel with misgivings, 
not knowing what dangers might lurk in its depths. Each 
stopped at its own end of the tunnel, sending out reconais- 
sance parties over the hill who discovered the enemy at the 
other end. 

Although there were uncomplimentary shouts, neither 
side seemed eager to come to blows. Hours passed in this 
stalemate, the A. & S. men seeing they were outnumbered 
at least two to one, the Erie men lacking a field officer with 
sufficient mettle to organize a charge. Superintendents 
Rucker and Pratt, who were in command, may have been 
too exhausted by their efforts to organize their unit to lead 
it effectively into battle. In fact, the Erie army was an un- 
disciplined mob, regarding the affair more as a holiday from 
routine toil than as a chance to smite the wicked hip and 
thigh. Sitting down under trees, they recalled the liquor 
they had brought, and as the day wore on there was un- 
soldierly drunkenness in the ranks. Colonel Rucker had 
brought a telegraph instrument with him, but some stealthy 
Ramsey zealots sneaked around and cut the wires both ways, 
leaving him bereft of communication with General Fisk for 
a time. Van Valkenburg had hurriedly sent another train 
from Albany with reinforcements that swelled the A. & S. 
army to some 300, a few of them carrying rifles or pistols. 
To this was added perhaps 100 residents of the area who 
were irate at the attempt of city-slicker guerillas to capture 
their railroad. The Erie army, much closer to its base, was 
reinforced several times during the day so that by late after- 
noon it was estimated at 800. The mayor of Binghamton, 



104 

fearing dreadful carnage, wired the state capital at Albany 
imploring that the militia be sent to the scene. 

"The Two Armies In Position," headlined the New York 
Times, adding with admirable restraint, "The situation at 
the tunnel at 2 o'clock today was very interesting." 

In Albany, Fisk was as puzzled and impatient at the delay 
as Lee had been at Gettysburg, waiting for Longstreet to 
charge. He sent imperative orders to advance if the enemy 
had to be scattered over the track. But it was nearing 7 
P.M. before some 250 of the more sober Erie stalwarts piled 
into their train and headed slowly through the tunnel. 
Reaching the eastern end, they stopped to repkce a rail 
removed by the Ramsey men. They had no sooner got 
started again than they saw the Ramsey train puffing up 
the curved grade toward them as if it meant to crash into 
them, which indeed was its intention. 

Here was a circumstance of awesome suspense, the sort 
of thing a railroad man might experience in a nightmare. 
There was also an element of pride and personal courage 
involved, since the engineer who first applied his brakes 
might be accused of cowardice. The gap between the two 
trains narrowed. Both engineers took to their whistles, set- 
ting up a piercing din. An observer noted that the Erie con- 
ductor leaned out and "gesticulated like a madman" as the 
Ramsey train kept coming with deadly inevitability. 

The Erie engineer's nerve snapped. He set his brakes. The 
wheels threw sparks, but he had a heavy load pushing him 
downgrade. He and his fireman jumped for their lives just 
before the two juggernauts collided head-on with considera- 
ble impact. The front wheels of the Ramsey locomotive 
jumped the track. The Erie locomotive remained on the 
rails, its cowcatcher, headlight and smokestack wrecked, 
a bullet through its cab. One of the whistles jammed in an 
endless shriek. Men swarmed off both trains with fierce 
yells and the Battle of the Tunnel began. 



Nothing Is Lost Save Honor 705 

Clubs and fists swung as the struggle developed into in- 
dividual hand-to-hand encounters attended by railroad ex- 
pletives. The Erie warriors, who had left two-thirds of their 
force behind them, were militarily in deplorable shape. 
Some of them were intoxicated, they had no effective lead- 
ership, and they lacked the esprit de corps that a worthy 
cause might have given them. The Ramsey men, on the con- 
trary, were imbued with a spirit of righteous crusade, as of 
men defending their homes. On top of that, they had a few 
firearms. When they essayed a charge, the Erie forces fal- 
tered, broke and fled ignominiously over the hill. Not until 
they reached the other end of the tunnel, where the re- 
serves waited, did their leaders manage to stem the rout and 
regroup them to face their pursuers. Here the battle re- 
sumed again, punctuated by curses, occasional shots and 
groans as clubs descended on skulls. "Threats, cries and 
horrid oaths were intermingled," wrote the Tribune scribe, 
"so as to be quite unintelligible except as to their hideous- 
ness and profanity." The fight was growing bloody when 
the combatants heard a sound familiar to those who had 
participated in the late War Between the States. It was the 
throbbing of drums. The militia was coming. 

The fighting ended by common consent as both sides 
picked up their wounded and decamped. While exact casu- 
alty statistics are lacking, no one was killed. Two Erie men 
had bullet wounds and there were a number of broken limbs 
and severe concussions, but the greater part of the injuries 
consisted of bloody noses and bruises. The Ramsey men 
got their locomotive back on the track and fell back to 
Harpursville for the night, firing a few bridges as they went. 
On the day of the battle, Fisk left the telegraph when he 
received another injunction from Barnard and took a car- 
riage to the A. & S. offices. He hailed Van Valkenburg, who 
was grinning at him from a window, and pointed to the 
papers in his pocket. 



w6 Jim Fisk 

"Here's an order and writ of assistance from friend Bar- 
nard/' he said, "fresh up from New York, It tells me to 
take possession." 

Van Valkenburg just kept smiling, for he had summoned 
the police, several of whom were waiting. They arrested 
Fisk on a warrant from Judge Jacob Clute charging him 
with disturbing the peace. That made the fat man goggle, 
since he had made not so much as a threatening gesture, but 
he took it philosophically as one of the concomitants of strife 
in hostile Albany. 

"All right! Git in here!" he said to the policemen, indi- 
cating his carriage. "Proceed, driver. Goodbye, Van Val- 
kenburg." 

They trotted off to the station, where he gave bail and 
was released. Returning to the Delavan House, he learned 
by telegraph that his military campaign had been broken up 
at the tunnel by the Forty-fourth Regiment of the National 
Guard. The railroad crisis had so frightened state officials 
that they called Governor Hoffman to Albany from his 
vacation at West Point. Although the governor was a 
Tweed man, he was annoyed at having his holiday inter- 
rupted and also impressed by the universal howl of protest 
from citizens along the A. & S. at the violence done to their 
railroad. Seeing that the two sides in the quarrel were hope- 
lessly deadlocked, Hoffman ordered the National Guard to 
operate the road until the courts could settle the matter 
an eventuality that seemed distant indeed, for Judges Bar- 
nard, Peckham and Clute were still sunk in a saturnalia of 
writs. 

Judge Peckham had set aside Barnard's order of the day 
before, to which Barnard replied with writs for the arrest 
of Ramsey, Pruyn and Van Valkenburg for contempt. 
When the trio were rounded up by a reluctant sheriff, Fisk 
laid elaborate plans to transport them to New York. He 
chartered the private steamer Erastus Corning Jr. to take 
them downriver into Barnard's clutches. Like any resource- 



Nothing Is Lost Save Honor 

ful commander he was quick to react to changes in the situa- 
tion. His military offensive had come to naught, but with 
Ramsey, Pruyn and Van Valkenburg in Barnard's hands the 
head and front of the anti-Erie forces would be hors de 
combat, the enemy bereft of its leaders. Here again his 
strategy was foiled, this time by the alert Judge Clute, who 
saved the three A. & S. officials with a writ of habeas corpus, 
To add to Fisk's chagrin, he learned that same evening while 
dining at his hotel that an order had been issued for his arrest 
for contempt. 

Fisk, who by this time must have cultivated a habit of 
selecting a table near the door, fled sans dessert, boarded the 
Corning and escaped to New York on the vessel reserved 
for his prisoners. Pruyn, Ramsey and Van Valkenburg were 
even more cautious. They hurried over the state line into 
Vermont until the smoke cleared away. 

Observers who thought this legal low comedy could de- 
scend no lower were soon proven wrong. Ramsey at last 
exhumed the transfer books from the grave. At the A. & S. 
board election held on September 7 by which time there 
were twenty-one lawsuits pending more injunctions flew 
along with occasional fisticuffs as the Ramsey and Church 
factions split in twain, each declaring the other illegal. One 
side elected Ramsey president, the other side Church. The 
issue was in doubt until the case came up before Judge 
Darwin Smith in Rochester. Judge Smith pronounced the 
Erie invasion unwarranted. He handed the railroad over to 
Ramsey. Ramsey, knowing that Judge Barnard still had 
many writs left in his quiver, hurriedly leased the A. & S. 
in perpetuity to the Delaware & Hudson Canal Company, 
taking it out of Erie's reach forever. 

Fisk's twenty-sixth raid ended in total defeat. Yet he had 
enjoyed the fight and he girded himself for his twenty- 
seventh without bitterness. 

'"Nothing is lost save honor!" he chuckled. 



CHAPTER 



12 

Orgies Unspeakable 



"The Erie Railroad ought to be regularly earning and paying fair 
dividends to its stockholders, and it is a burning shame to somebody 
that it isn't." HORACE GREELEY 



EARLY in 1869, Fisk, the lubberliest of landsmen, suddenly 
discovered a passion for the sea. He bought a controlling in- 
terest in the Narragansett Steamship Company, becoming 
the owner of two handsome vessels, the Providence and the 
Bristol, sailing between New York and Fall River. Undis- 
couraged by the fact that the line had been unprofitable for 
its previous owner, he refurbished the ships with new car- 
pets, plush upholstery, gilt decoration, bronze statues and 
brass spittoons. He bought 250 canaries, installing a bird in 
each stateroom, naming many of them after friends and 
national figures Jay Gould, William Tweed, Jeff Davis, 
General Grant and others. A lover of sounding brasses, he 
furnished each boat with a band to regale passengers as they 
sailed the Sound, an innovation regarded as sensational. 

Alive to the dignity conferred on him by this new prop- 
erty, he had his tailor, an artisan named Bell who had turned 
out dozens of uninhibited civilian suits for him, fashion a 
blue naval uniform with gold buttons and three gold bands 
on the sleeves surmounted by gold stars. It was identical with 
the dress uniform of a United States admiral except for the 
Narragansett monogram on lapels and buttons. Fascinated 
by his new toy, he paid a jeweler $2,500 for a music box 
topped by a scale model of the Providence in solid gold and 
silver. He formed a habit of driving to the Chambers Street 

108 



Orgies Unspeakable 109 

wharf a half-hour before his afternoon boat sailed. There 
he would pop into the steamship company office and emerge 
resplendent in his uniform, which still featured the non- 
nautical shirtfront diamond. "In this attire, which was quite 
becoming to him," relates a scribe of the day, "he took his 
place at the gangway, where he must be seen by all who 
entered." Although he did not know a compass from a cap- 
stan, he would stand there, arms folded, an expression of 
vigilant authority on his face as he watched the prepara- 
tions for departure, giving the impression that the success 
of the embarkation depended on him alone. 

One afternoon as he was thus engaged, a shambling, 
quaintly-dressed man walked up to the gangplank. Fisk im- 
mediately recognized him as Horace Greeley. Although 
Greeley had been assailing him in the Tribune, the admiral 
seized the editor's carpetbag and greeted him with cordial- 
ity. 

"Mr. Greeley, I am happy to see you; you are welcome. 
Come right on board. We shall be off directly." 

Greeley, taken aback, clung to his carpetbag as though 
he feared it might be stolen. 

"My name is Fisk," the admiral explained. "You have 
probably heard of me before, Mr. Greeley?" 

The philosopher of the Tribune pondered, then nodded. 
"Oh, yes; I remember you now. You were an ensign in the 
North Atlantic blockading squadron in 1864? I remember 
you very well. I had occasion to use your name while com- 
piling 'The American Conflict/ " 

Fisk drew back in astonishment, then laughed heartily. 
"You are much mistaken, Mr. Greeley," he said "I am 
James Fisk, Jr., of the Erie Railroad; you should certainly 
know me, for I have been indebted to you for several com- 
pliments in the Tribune on the conduct of that road." 

Greeley eyed him near-sightedly through spectacles as 
one might scrutinize a revolting museum curiosity. "Yes; 
it has been my opinion that the Erie road has been misman- 



no JimFisk 

aged. I am, and always have been a friend of the Erie. I 
urged the building of the road; I sank $10,000 in aid of it. 
The road should pay; there is no reason in the world why its 
stockholders should not receive a handsome yearly dividend. 
It runs through an agricultural section of country, and the 
milk-trains alone " 

Fisk interrupted the tirade by escorting his guest into the 
grand saloon, where he had the band play "Hail to the 
Chief" in his honor. Not even this hospitality could turn 
Greeley from his frequent editorial refrains: Erie should 
pay. 

One of the many reasons why Erie did not pay was em- 
bodied in several hundred skilled artisans working at that 
same time on the Grand Opera House. After some six 
months of labor the renovation was completed so that the 
Erie staff moved in at the end of August, 1869, just as the 
A. & S. war was reaching its climax. The architectural taste 
of the time tended toward the baroque, and the Erie castle 
was baroque at its heaviest. Purists sneered at it as a struc- 
tural extension of Fisk's diamond-and-checkerboard style of 
dress, but plain newspaper reporters were overwhelmed. 

". . , there are but few palaces wherein so rich a coup 
cFoeil could be presented as that of the main offices of the 
Erie Railway Company," one of them wrote. "The carved 
woodwork, the stained and cut glass of the partitions, the 
gilded balustrades, the splendid gas fixtures, and, above all, 
the artistic frescoes upon the walls and ceilings, create as- 
tonishment and admiration at such a blending of the splendid 
and practical . . . Mr. Fisk, who planned and has superin- 
tended the arrangement . . . has certainly reason to be proud 
of the result, there being nowhere in this country or in 
Europe anything of the kind to compare with these splendid 



rooms." 



The reporter must have had tongue in cheek when he 
added a significant line: 



Orgies Unspeakable in 

"There are in the basement very large and complete print- 
ing offices " 

At the same time, Josie moved into her house a half -block 
away at 359 West Twenty-third. Fisk, pampering her taste 
for luxury, had remodeled the place and commissioned dec- 
orators to run amuck with furniture, rugs and objets d'art 
said to cost $65,000. Gould, who heavily disapproved of her 
and particularly of having her so uncomfortably near the 
Erie offices, had joined other friends in urging him to discard 
her or at least keep her in distant privacy. As one commenta- 
tor put it, ". . . they finally resolved to endure what they 
could not cure [his] open attachment to Mrs. Mans- 
field." What puzzled them was his unimpaired admiration 
for his wife Lucy, for whom he was noisy in his praises. 
Doubtless it was because of her occasional visits that he 
maintained his own rooms at 313, which he seldom used 
otherwise. Once, in discussing a divorce case in which a wife 
had surprised her husband inopportunely, he said, ". . . 
that's not the kind of wife I have. Never, never does Lucy 
surprise me with a visit, God bless her! No, she always tele- 
graphs me when she's coming, and I I clean up and have 
a warm welcome for her." 

The uptown office location brought in its train other re- 
finements, among them a new Erie ferry plying between 
the railroad terminal in Jersey City and the foot of West 
Twenty-third Street in Manhattan. That summer two new 
1 7 6-foot ferryboats were commissioned, the biggest and 
finest yet seen on the Hudson, one christened the James 
Fisk Jr., the other the Jay Gould. The Fisk bore life-size 
portraits of her patron at either end of the grand saloon, the 
Gould doing similar honor to hers. Free omnibus service 
was offered from the ferry, passing the Opera House and 
ending at the Fifth Avenue Hotel. While Commodore Van- 
derbilt admittedly had an advantage in bringing his pas- 
sengers into the metropolis by rail, Erie was nevertheless 
getting them there in style. 



ii2 JimFisk 

The Fisk and Gould portraits in the ferryboats seemed 
to bring particular offense to stockholders who did not re- 
gard the pair as heroic. There were complaints that the Erie 
improvements were largely confined to their personal com- 
fort and glorification, that the marble palace in New York 
was a false front concealing a railroad fallen into ruin. There 
was some truth in this, although at Dunkirk, New York, a 
new locomotive was completed that was a thing of beauty, 
"It was the handsomest locomotive ever made up to that 
time," relates the Erie historian, Edward Harold Mott. "It 
was decorated by paintings in oil, on every spot where one 
could be placed, by the late Jasper F. Crapsey, the artist. 
There were fourteen coats of varnish on the boiler." This 
spectacular iron horse was named the "George G. Barnard," 
and bore a medallion of Erie's favorite judge between the 
drivers. 

Fisk's childlike pride in his new palace brought him a 
nickname Prince Erie that delighted him even though it 
was often used satirically. While his reputation as an amiable 
profligate was already well established, it was not until he 
installed himself at the Opera House that rumor painted him 
as a debauchee sunk in abandoned revels with squealing 
women of the stage. The employment of a half-dozen door- 
keepers under a muscular Erie employe named Tommy 
Lynch was intended primarily to protect Fisk and Gould 
from process servers, but there was suspicion that the 
guards were posted to give Fisk privacy in his wickedness. 
According to a book based on a fragmentary diary left by 
Daniel Drew, Fisk had numbers of "concubines" among 
his entertainers, two of them being identified as Nully Pieris 
and Bella Lane. The same source has it that when Drew 
remonstrated against his sinful ways, Fisk replied with a 
lesson in hedonistic philosophy: 

"No, Uncle, there isn't any hope for Jim Fisk. I'm a gone 
goose I am too fond of this world. If I've got to choose 
between the other world and this, I take this. Some people 



Orgies Unspeakable 113 

are born to be good, other people are born to be bad. I was 
born to be bad. As to the World, the Flesh and the Devil, 
I'm on good terms with all three. If God Almighty is going 
to damn us men because we love the women, then let him 
go ahead and do it. I'm having a good time now, and if I've 
got to pay for it hereafter, why, I suppose it's no more than 
fair shakes; and I'll take what's coming to me. As for the 
vain pomp and glory of the world, I have covetous desires 
of the same. So there you are ... I don't make any bones 
of saying that I like these scarlet women they're approach- 
able. . . ." 

George Templeton Strong called Fisk a "roue." Preachers 
all over the country used him as a horrible example in ser- 
mons, although Henry Ward Beecher waited until after his 
death to label him "shameless, vicious, criminal, abominable 
in his lusts." One of Fisk's biographers blames his licentious- 
ness on the insidious influence of Victoria Woodhull, who 
was then shocking New York with her free-love pronuntia- 
mento: "I have an inalienable, constitutional, and natural 
right to love whom I may, to love as long or as short a period 
as I can, to change that love every day if I please!" A stock- 
holder sued Fisk for harming Erie's good name by appearing 
in public with "females of bad repute." It was charged that 
General Superintendent Hugh Riddle, an Erie mainstay for 
twenty years, quit his job in disgust at Fisk's low character. 
Mott, the sober historian of Erie, said ominously of the 
Opera House, "Its inner history can never be written, but 
many were the strange and bizarre scenes enacted within 
the privacy of its splendid apartments. No drama ever repre- 
sented on its boards approached the unspeakable realities of 
its off-stage life." About Fisk himself, Mott wrote, "He 
shocked the country by the enormity and number of his 
transgressions against propriety. He housed gay women in 
splendid apartments, furnished and decorated to their de- 
sire." 

Under this black pall of smoke must have been some fire. 



JimFisk 

Yet a dispassionate observer may suspect that the hair-raising 
tales of the Fiskian revels were to a large extent conjecture 
and exaggeration. Since his affair with Josie Mansfield was 
unconcealed, it was easy to imagine others. The puritanical 
idea that play-acting was immoral and that women of the 
stage were necessarily promiscuous was strong. When 
Fisk, with his already gamy reputation, was closeted in the 
sinfully gaudy Opera House with a flock of actresses, the 
opportunities for excited speculation were boundless. Far 
from being concerned about the talk, he seemed to enjoy it 
as he enjoyed almost any notoriety, even going out of his 
way to foster rumor. He was the sort of man who, if he 
happened to have a showgirl on his knee, would not bother 
to remove her merely because a caller, whether he be re- 
porter or clergyman, was entering his office. He delighted 
in flouting convention. But whatever his willingness to dally, 
his intrigues were limited by the hard fact that he had only 
twenty-four hours a day, he needed considerable sleep, and 
he could not be consorting with droves of females in con- 
tinuous wassail at the same time as he was fighting Ramsey 
in Albany, playing admiral, buying real estate, supervising 
contractors, shouldering a dozen lawsuits, operating actively 
in Wall Street, attending the races, managing his three thea- 
ters and giving at least a modicum of attention to running 
his railroad. 

Fisk worked as he played hard. The liberality with 
which he dispensed liquor to callers nourished the mis- 
conception that he was a tosspot, a fat voluptuary who 
wallowed in champagne, so that to his sexual lapses was 
added the vice of drunkenness. Some upstanding folk, not 
entirely illogically, took the stand that he could not possibly 
dress and act the way he did if he were sober. Actually, 
while he enjoyed an occasional bracer, he was a moderate 
drinker. No record of Fisk in his cups comes to light. Three 
years later, when he was dead and Josie was inclined to do 
anything but defend him, she testified in court, "Mr. Fisk 



Orgies Unspeakable 115 

was not a drinking man; he never drank much. . . ." Living 
descendants of his half sister recall talk in the family that 
he was "an absolute teetotaller," but Josie must have known 
better. By this time he had become a living legend, a public 
property, a topic of conversation at a million dinner tables. 
His sins were so numerous and so prominently displayed 
that gossip embroidered them, ballooned them, multiplied 
them with endless fictions that would have infuriated an 
ordinary man but brought only amusement to him. 

The Fisk-haters in general were people who knew him 
only through the newspapers, the conservative and family- 
conscious old-liners who considered him a vulgar parvenu, 
upright citizens who were shocked by his immorality, and 
Erie stockholders who wanted a dividend. But at the same 
time as New York was building a strong anti-Fisk clique, 
an opposite or pro-Fisk faction was forming. The hard 
core of this circle was made up of his hundreds of friends, 
the men who knew him, did business with him and were 
warmed by his good cheer, his infectious euphoria. Out 
beyond, he had a multitude of admirers among the masses. 
Some of them naively believed him their protector against 
cutthroat monopolists like Vanderbilt, but the chances are 
that most of them saw in Fisk the American dream come 
true. He had risen from rags to riches, from a log cabin to 
a marble palace, from obscurity to fame. Fisk was success 
in the flesh, blowing a steam whistle. Far from being 
ashamed of his humble origin, he bragged about it. He had 
the common touch, the quip, the turn of phrase that or- 
dinary people could understand. Even the scholarly Henry 
Adams, who loathed him, admitted that Fisk's humor was 
"really American." Somehow, a trace of his magnetism 
reached out to touch and win over many who never saw 
him, many who knew he was not blameless. The essence 
of his personality was simple a genuine, boyish liking for 
people and an ability to express that liking but he possessed 
these qualities in a colossal degree. A Herald reporter tried 



n6 JimFisk 

to analyze the Fisk chaxm and gave up almost before he got 
started: 

"He is generous, social, and warm-hearted, and has a sort 
of winning way in his general deportment which it is im- 
possible to describe, and almost impossible to resist. . . ." 

Fisk's sunny grin helped to make his loud, high tenor 
voice sound pleasant. His style of utterance offended for- 
malists and delighted everybody else. His smooth flow of 
language included a surprising number of polysyllabic 
words, but he cheerfully committed grammatical outrage 
and interlarded his speech with colorful phrases picked up 
somewhere in Vermont or on the circus trail. "How's your 
old tin oven?" he would roar to a friend by way of asking 
how he felt. If a situation was highly confused, it was "like 
Bedlam in a breeze." A man in a tough spot was "forty 
miles down the Delaware." To indicate something that had 
vanished without trace, such as money in the stock market, 
he would say "It went where the woodbine twineth." He 
loved to scramble proverbs, saying "Honesty is worth two 
in the bush," and "Better to have lost and won than never 
to have played at all." When he became admiral of his 
own fleet he immediately invented nautical expletives to 
match his uniform, one of them being, "Well, shiver my 
mizzen-mast and rip my royal halyards!" 

Even as the Fisk-haters were piling mythical sins atop 
his real ones, the Fisk-lovers were building a folklore of his 
goodness. At the same time as he was looting corporations 
and demolishing Wall Street speculators, he was so touched 
by individual misfortune that he indulged a constant spree 
of disorganized but well-meant charity. While some enemies 
described this as a salve for his conscience, there are indica- 
tions that Fisk's conscience did not trouble him at all. He 
did not bring corruption to New York. He found it already 
well established, and in his amoral way he merely played 
the game according to the rules of sharpers who had pre- 
ceded him, adding a few refinements of his own. He had no 



Orgies Unspeakable 7/7 

sense of responsibility toward anything so impersonal as a 
corporation, nor did he waste pity on losing speculators, 
who to his mind had no business in such a risky enterprise if 
they could not take a licking without crying, as he had 
done in 1865. Yet any case of visible want moved him. One 
of his biographers wrote: 

"His personal expenses were, at a liberal estimate, not 
one-fifth as large as the amount which he spent in provid- 
ing for persons . . . who had seen misfortune in life." 

Noticing considerable poverty in the area around the 
Opera House, Fisk arranged through Captain Stephen 
Killalee of the local police precinct to send either a ton 
of coal or a barrel of flour to needy families both, if they 
were in dire straits. "I want what I do in this way kept 
out of the newspapers," he told Killalee. When his good 
friend John Morse of Boston died of a broken neck after 
diving into shallow water in Lake Ponchartrain, he provided 
for the widow thereafter as well as for the education of the 
two young daughters something that did not come out 
until his own death. He supported an entire family of blind 
persons "for some years." He contributed to a struggling 
Negro church on Eighth Avenue, telling the astonished 
pastor, "If there's anything I like to boost along, it's early 
piety and it's damned hard to have too much of it." When 
members of the Brattleboro Baptist Church asked him for 
money to build a new fence around the graveyard, he 
guffawed. 

"What in thunder do you want with a new fence?" he 
demanded. "Those that are in can't get out; and those that 
are out don't want to get in; so what's the use of it?" Having 
had his joke, he donated $500. 

Fisk was forever giving free railroad passes and market 
tips to friends, loaning them money, doing them favors or 
getting them jobs. He loaded so many cronies on the Erie 
payroll that efficiency suffered. His half sister Mary Grace, 
now grown to a strikingly beautiful young woman, had 



n8 JimFisk 

married George W. Hooker, a Brattleboran, after the war. 
Unlike many of Fisk's friends, Hooker had fought through- 
out the conflict, been wounded five times and won a medal 
and a colonelcy. He had settled with his bride in Wash- 
ington, but Fisk, who doted on Mary Grace, brought 
George to New York as a broker with his old partner, Wil- 
liam Belden, and saw the Hookers established in a comfort- 
able house on Thirtieth Street. For his stepmother, still 
proprietress of the Revere House, he demonstrated unfail- 
ing fondness, and was paying the bills for his father's care at 
the Brattleboro asylum. Pop Fisk, not at all violent, spent 
much of his time writing harmless letters. One of his 
delusions being that the Civil War was still in progress, he 
occasionally wrote Lincoln to advise him on strategy, 
not knowing that Lincoln was dead. Another of his fixed 
ideas was that his son was in mortal danger, causing him 
to write Jim warnings to exercise vigilance one instance 
in which a madman possessed clairvoyance. 

Among the Erie staff he was accused of debauching, Fisk 
was the visible and popular running head of the road, since 
the pussyfooting Gould was seldom seen among the lower 
echelons. "[Fisk] so dominated Erie affairs in the 
public mind," says one account, "that his name invariably 
was mentioned first in the combination. It was always Tisk 
and Gould,' never 'Gould and Fisk.' " At his desk he was a 
genial martinet. His private secretary was John Comer, an 
able upstater from Goshen a good Erie town with whom 
he was on terms of intimate understanding. In addition to 
handling high-level office detail, Comer assisted in the 
dispensation of charity. Fisk was paid a fifteen-dollar fee 
for each directors' meeting, a sum he instructed the secre- 
tary to give to the next worthy applicant. "The Lord will 
send somebody for it," he said, and the Lord always did. 
Comer had orders to let callers with hard-luck stories into 
his office if they seemed reasonably sincere. A procession 
of these candidates for bounty paraded into die Opera 



Orgies Unspeakable 11$ 

House an annoyance to Gould, who thought Fisk a sucker 
for panhandlers and disliked having the Erie palace littered 
with grimy mendicants. 

"There never was another just such character as James 
Fisk, Jr.," wrote the usually imperturbable Mott. ". . . The 
fact that half a score or more of needy families and hosts of 
unfortunate men and women, were pensioners on his un- 
stinted bounty, he would have cut his hand off rather than 
to have made known." 

This persistent depiction of Fisk as a secret donor blush- 
ing to have his benefactions known strains credulity to the 
breaking point. Yet, while he was flamboyant in all else, a 
virtual walking billboard, he was generally quiet about his 
charities. In his character, superficially so simple, there were 
startling complexities. But it was the simpler aspects of his 
makeup that struck the common people, built the Fisk 
legend, pictured him as a sort of corporate Robin Hood, and 
even inspired a ballad that appeared shortly after his death, 
reading in part: 

We all know he loved both 'women and wine, 
But his heart it was right I am sure; 
He lived like a prince in his palace so fine, 
Yet he never went back on the poor. 

In the busy summer of 1869, Fisk made what proved to be 
a fatal error when he formed a business connection with 
Edward Stiles Stokes, a Wall Street acquaintance. Stokes 
was twenty-eight, six years younger than Fisk, a social 
butterfly, sportsman, man about town and a splendid fashion 
plate who wore even more diamonds than Fisk, though none 
were as large as the famous Fisk shirtfront sparkler. One 
difference was that Stokes had a lithe, athletic figure to 
set off his fine raiment, another being that his gems were 
occasionally in pawn. Middle-sized, erect, with jet-black 
hair and mustaches and classic features, he was so handsome 
it was almost painful. It was said that he spent two hours 



720 Jim Fisk 

every day grooming himself. He was one of those to whom 
horse-racing was not so much a sport as an addiction. He 
followed the season from one track to another, flitting from 
Long Island to Saratoga to Narragansett and elsewhere, 
figuring the dope sheets with a dedication that did not 
prevent him from betting on slow horses. 

A Philadelphia!!, he had moved to New York with his 
family in 1860, his father being a rich produce wholesaler. 
He had married Helen Southwick, daughter of an equally 
rich furniture tycoon, and had a six-year-old girl. To Ned 
Stokes the Civil War was a thing of newspaper headlines 
that could mean profit if a man was smart. He had prospered 
in the Produce Exhange, then made a killing in the oil 
boom. Aided by capital supplied by his mother, he built 
an oil refinery in the Greenpoint section of Brooklyn. After 
the war, the oil bubble burst, the refinery was damaged by 
fire, and he was forced into bankruptcy. Possibly he signed 
the refinery over to his mother to avoid losing it to creditors, 
for she thereafter held tide to it. He borrowed heavily and 
was trying to rebuild the refinery and make a comeback 
a process that might have been faster but for his commit- 
ments at the racetracks and the Broadway sporting saloons. 
The possession of both a father and father-in-law of means 
enabled him to continue living with his wife and child at the 
luxurious Worth House at Fifth Avenue and Twenty-sixth 
Street and to act like a man without financial cares. 

Fisk, bearing in mind that an Erie branch line tapped the 
oil fields of northern Pennsylvania, saw possibilities for 
profit in the refinery. He formed a company with Stokes 
and several others, furnishing capital to refit the plant, 
which was leased from Stokes' mother for $12,000 a year. 
Stokes himself was paid a $27,000 annual rental plus a $6000 
salary and thirty percent of the profits. The Brooklyn Oil 
Refinery Company, with Fisk as president and Stokes as 
treasurer, was successful from the start, enjoying a two-way 
benefit from its connection with Erie special low trans- 



Orgies Unspeakable 122 

portation rates and the sale of much of its oil to the rail- 
road. This lucrative arrangement should have wiped out 
Ned Stokes' fiscal difficulties, but he had a propensity for 
incurring new debts before settling the old. 

For ail Fisk's capacity for overlooking human frailty and 
seeing the good in people, he was ordinarily a sharp judge 
of character who could spot an impostor from afar. Yet he 
took a liking to Stokes, even naming a canary after him. The 
young man began hanging around the Opera House, which 
had a convenient bar on the main floor in connection with 
the theater. Fisk gave fate a push. He introduced Josie 
Mansfield to Ned Stokes. ". . . from that time," as a con- 
temporary writer put it, "James Fisk was a doomed man." 



CHAPTER 

13 



The Gould Plan for 
Prosperity 



IT WAS early in 1869 that a minor miracle came to pass when 
little Jay Gould, of all persons, discovered in himself a civic 
conscience and began to worry about the good of the 
country particularly the farmers, workmen and other 
humble folk whose existence he had heretofore all but for- 
gotten. He took to talking in tones of far-sighted patriotism 
and public weal, much like a Congressman running for 
reelection. 

This came about because of a new interest of his gold 
as a commodity for speculation. Strangely, Gould's family 
name a few generations back had been Gold, and he had 
shortened his given name from Jason, the same as that of the 
fabled prince who had captured the Golden Fleece, so 
possibly his bent for bullion was written in the stars. During 
the war, the government had abandoned specie payment and 
printed so much shin-plaster currency that at one time it 
took $241 worth of paper money to buy $100 worth of 
gold. Now, four years after Appomattox, prosperity had 
engendered confidence. A hundred dollars in gold could be 
bought for only about $135 in currency, but the quotation 
was fluctuating and gamblers could bet on its rise and fall 
precisely as they speculated in stocks. That spring gold fell 
to 131, at which price Gould bought $7,000,000 worth. 
Thereafter, of course, it was to his advantage to have the 
price rise, but he made it perfectly plain that any selfish 
consideration was farthest from his mind and he was think- 



122 



The Gould Plan for Prosperity 123 

ing only of the broader good in preaching an economic dis- 
covery he had made: 

A rise in the price 'would benefit the whole nation. 

While Fisk and Gould were as one in Erie activities, they 
maintained autonomy in some of their other operations. Just 
as Gould had no interest in Fisk's theatrical ventures, Fisk 
did not immediately join Gould in the gold speculation. 
Gould wanted him to enlist in this financial crusade for the 
betterment of mankind, but the noisy Fisk in some respects 
was more conservative than his quiet colleague. Although 
their alliance with Tweed made them what Henry Adams 
called "a combination more powerful than any that has 
been controlled by mere private citizens in America," virtu- 
ally untouchable in New York, the federal government still 
stood above them. There were only about $15,000,000 of 
gold in circulation in New York, so that offhand it would 
appear possible for a bold operator to manipulate the metal 
and even to corner it. But the government was keeping 
something near $100,000,000 in the vaults, occasionally 
selling a few millions as needed for trade. Thus the ad- 
ministration was in a position to control the price. If it 
dumped more gold into the market, the price would drop. 
If it kept the gold locked up, the price would hold or rise. 
Since there was no telling what die administration would 
do, Fisk regarded gold as too unpredictable an article to 
play with. 

Here was where the long-headed Gould was far ahead 
of him. Gould's aim showed his colossal nerve. It was his 
intention to dictate the government's gold policy, if possi- 
ble by manipulating President Grant himself. Through 
Tweed, the Erie Ring had bought immunity in New York. 
Now Gould essayed the biggest fix of all an understand- 
ing with the White House. 

His medium of approach was a sixty-seven-year-old 
scalawag named Abel Rathbone Corbin, who a year earlier 
had married the President's middle-aged sister Jenny. Corbin 



had had a checkered career as a lawyer, editor, speculator 
and lobbyist, his activities in the latter field having once 
been shady enough to raise the ire of a Congressional com- 
mittee in Washington. Like Daniel Drew, he was a pious 
Methodist churchman, and although he perhaps could not 
quote as many of the Scriptures as the Great Bear, he was 
Drew's equal in his ability to keep religion strictly out of 
his secular activities. While he had accumulated a comfort- 
able fortune and was technically retired, there was one 
thing he would never retire from a chance to make easy 
money. The Corbin couple lived in a handsome mansion on 
West Twenty-seventh Street in Manhattan. They occa- 
sionally visited their distinguished relative in Washington, 
who had taken office on March 4 and was still new at his 
job. Corbin, who was a fluent speaker, liked to give the 
impression that he and Grant were on the warmest of terms 
and that the President, in fact, had great respect for his 
opinions on matters of policy. 

Fisk and Gould had become acquainted with Corbin 
when they bought a piece of land from him in New Jersey 
for railroad purposes. Gould now improved the acquaint- 
ance, cultivating him with the same intensity the Chinese 
devote to rice knds. When he dropped a hint that there was 
money to be made in gold, the old man's antennae were 
instantly vibrating for further signals from the foxiest 
operator in Wall Street. Soon Gould was filling him with 
his new economic philosophy which so wonderfully com- 
bined profit with patriotism. 

There was money to be made, Gould qualified, if the 
government did not commit the fatal error of selling gold 
and thus lowering the price. The crop outlook was ex- 
cellent, and if gold was kept dear the farmers would get 
high prices that would stimulate the whole economy. Grain 
would be shipped by the millions of bushels, the railroads 
would be bustling with long freight trains loaded with 
produce, the working people would profit, industry would 



The Gould flan for Prosperity 125 

be enkindled, and in addition there would be a tremendous 
export of breadstuffs to Europe that would bring another 
rich harvest in foreign exchange. It was as simple as A-B-C, 
according to Gould's theory, that all this would create an 
era of prosperity such as the nation had never before 
witnessed. It was equally clear that the reverse was true. 
If Grant heaven forbid! sold gold, purchasing power 
would shrink, the wheels of industry would stop and priva- 
tion would stalk the land. 

Gould, who could be very persuasive in his insinuating 
way, made that even stronger. Such a disastrous course, he 
was convinced, might very well end in revolution. 

Corbin, appalled at the possibility of such a dreadful thing 
happening to his brother-in-law, became a convert to the 
Gould Plan. It was cheering to him also that the course of 
national well-being in this instance could simultaneously 
enrich him personally through speculation in gold. Late in 
May, the Corbins went to Washington, where the old man 
advised Grant strongly against selling gold. Early in June 
the Presidential couple went to West Point for the com- 
mencement, dropping the Corbins off in New York on the 
way. Gould, further impressed by these signs of intimacy 
between Corbin and Grant, hovered about the old man 
and treated him with flattering cordiality. He learned that 
Grant was coming back to Corbin's briefly before leaving 
for Boston to attend the Peace Jubilee there. This seemed 
to open a wonderful opportunity. What could be better 
than for Grant to make the Boston trip in one of Fisk's fine 
steamers personally escorted by Gould and the admiral? 

Corbin thought it a splendid idea. The President, unaware 
of all this maneuvering in his behalf, arrived at Corbin's 
on June 15. He was there only a few hours, so there was 
no time for a full-scale gathering, but he did meet Jay 
Gould, whom he knew by reputation. Gould probably did 
not mention the subject of gold to him then, knowing he 
would shortly have the President as a captive audience. 



126 Jim Fisk 

Grant, undoubtedly looking forward to a pleasant voyage 
up the Sound, did not suspect that he was letting himself 
in for a propaganda campaign. The peerless military leader 
was surprisingly innocent when it came to financial matters, 
nor did he have a touchy sense of the dignity of his office. 
He had an ingenuous admiration for wealth, and it ap- 
parently never occurred to him that a good many sensitive 
citizens in New York and all over the nation would be 
pained at the spectacle of the President of the United States 
consorting with the likes of Fisk and Gould especially the 
fat man who openly broke so many of the Commandments. 

That afternoon Grant, accompanied by Gould, Treasury 
Secretary George Boutwell, Cyrus Field, the Atlantic cable 
genius, and other prominent personages, received a mili- 
tary escort to the Chambers Street pier where Fisk's Provi- 
dence was tied. The boat was festooned with pennants, her 
decks scrubbed clean and brasswork polished. Dodworth's 
band, the best in town, was playing a rousing march. Ad- 
miral Fisk, clad in full uniform and lavender kid gloves, was 
waiting at the gangplank to welcome his guests. This was 
his first meeting with the Chief Executive one the latter 
would come to rue. 

"His [Fisk's] mustache had paid a recent visit to his 
inimitable barber," said an account of the time. "His gold- 
trimmed uniform shone with extraordinary brilliancy, and 
his big diamond sparkled brighter than Venus on a frosty 
night. The Admiral received the party with that careless 
ease which always characterized him." 

Grant shook hands with him and strode aboard, the warb- 
ling of the Providence's 125 canaries doubtless lost on him 
in the din of the band and the booming of a cannon mounted 
on the wharf. In the saloon, cigars, champagne and other 
liquors were ready as the vessel slid away from the pier at 
5 p. M. It may be that Fisk and Gould, recalling tales of 
the general's occasional tippling during the war, were not 
above hoping that his tongue might be loosened about gov- 



The Gould Plan for Prosperity 127 

emment policy. If so, they were disappointed. Gould made 
short work of the necessary introductory conversational 
trivia, then steered into gold. The honored guest, never 
loquacious, seemed perfectly content to puff at his cigar and 
listen to the others without saying a word. 

"The President was a listener," Gould later testified 
before a Congressional committee. "The other gentlemen 
were discussing. Some were in favor of [Secretary of the 
Treasury] Boutwell's selling gold, and some were op- 
posed to it. After they had all interchanged their views, 
some one asked the President what his opinion was." 

Henry Adams, in a later essay, declared that the "some 
one" was of course Fisk, "who alone had the impudence to 
put such an inquiry." Grant's reply was like a dash of 
cold water. 

"There is a certain amount of fictitiousness about the 
prosperity of the country," he said, "and the bubble might 
as well be tapped in one way as another." 

Although this was a fairly guarded utterance, possibly 
containing a hint that the President suspected he was being 
pumped, Fisk and Gould took it to mean the worst that 
he was in favor of dumping government gold, reducing its 
price, perhaps even returning to eventual specie payment. 
Gould, never mentioning his own private speculative inter- 
est in gold, protested that such a course would be ruinous to 
farmers, railroads and prosperity in general. 

"I gave it as my opinion," he later said, "that if that 
policy were carried out it would produce great distress, 
and almost lead to civil war; it would produce strikes among 
the workmen, and the workshops, to a great extent, would 
have to be closed ... I took the ground that the govern- 
ment ought to let gold alone, and let it find its commercial 
level; that, as a matter of fact, it ought to facilitate an up- 
ward movement of gold in the fall. . . ." 

The conversation continued until after midnight, but 
never once did the taciturn President indicate that he fav- 



128 Jim Fisk 

ored the Gould Plan. By the time the party turned in, Gould 
must have been reflecting that his gold venture was beset 
by unexpected risks, while Fisk could congratulate himself 
for his own sagacity in standing clear. Next day he took 
a prominent place in Grant's retinue, entering Boston's 
Coliseum with the President and other notables to witness 
a great musical festival, one of the events of the Peace 
Jubilee. Lucy Fisk was among the admiring spectators who 
set up a thunder of applause as Grant, with the splendidly 
uniformed Fisk close beside him, marched down the grand 
aisle. 

"While he [Grant] reservedly acknowledged the cor- 
dial greeting," an observer noted, "Admiral Fisk, in the 
most gracious and unaffected manner, acknowledged such 
portions of the applause as he deemed intended for him, and 
his easy and profuse style left no doubt that he thought a 
large share of the plaudits meant for him." Some of the 
spectators, mistaking Fisk for the President, wondered who 
the unassuming man next to him was. Prince Erie's freedom 
from false modesty at the Jubilee won him a new nickname 
Jubilee Jim that stuck to him the rest of his short life. 

Fisk and Gould had not given up hope of disabusing the 
President of his faulty economic notions and swinging him 
around to the Gould blueprint for prosperity. Old Corbin 
was with them too, confident that Grant would see the 
light if given time and persuasion. When the President re- 
turned to New York on June 18, he was met there by his 
wife and daughter, and they put up once more at the 
Corbins'. One would have thought that after his experience 
aboard the Providence he would have viewed the Erie 
moguls with suspicion and dodged any further fraterniza- 
tion with them, but Grant could be marvelously obtuse. 
That night he went with his wife and daughter to Fisk's 
Fifth Avenue Theater, where they occupied Fisk's proscen- 
ium box in company with Fisk, Gould and the Corbins to 



The Gould flan -for Prosperity 129 

hear Irma and Desclauzas sing and watch the cancan in a 
performance of La Perichole. 

Doubtless there were those in the audience who gazed in 
nervous fascination to see if the unspeakable Fisk could 
possibly be so gross as to bring in his mistress to meet the 
President and First Lady. Their fears were unnecessary. 
Fisk's perceptions were not so blunt that he did not know 
that what might be appropriate for Boss Tweed or Judge 
Barnard would not do for his guests this evening. Josie 
Mansfield was there, gorgeously attired but at a safe dis- 
tance, experiencing another demonstration of the double 
standard of morality and the occasional mortifications a fal- 
len woman must accept as an occupational hazard. She sat in 
a box on the opposite side, watching Fisk play host to the 
Presidential party, watching Grant and his wife chatting 
pleasantly with him, watching with hundreds of others in 
the audience the social interplay between Fisk and the high- 
est political dignitary in the land, and possibly feeling some 
rage at the illogical proprieties that barred her. At the later 
impeachment trial of Judge Barnard, she appeared as a wit- 
ness and was asked if she had been received by the Presi- 
dent. 

"No," she replied. "... I contented myself by remaining 
opposite." And in reply to a question as to whether Grant 
treated Fisk with "hospitality and deference," she replied, 
"Well, I thought he was very cordial." 

At this same time occurred one of those fortuitous events 
that sometimes play into the hands of mischief-makers. 
H. H. Van Dyke resigned as Assistant United States Trea- 
surer in New York, the highest Treasury post in the city, 
whose holder kept in constant communication with Wash- 
ington on matters concerning gold. Gould, seeing what an 
advantage it would be to have an ally in this critical office, 
spoke to Abel Corbin about it. Did Corbin have enough in- 
fluence with Grant to get him to name a friendly Assistant 
Treasurer? Corbin was confident that he did. 



1 30 Jim Fisk 

The man he hit on for the post was his stepson-in-law, 
Robert B. Catherwood. Catherwood thought he would like 
the job until he found there were certain strings attached 
to it. "I went the next day to have a conversation with Mr. 
Gould and Mr. Corbin," he later testified, "and I found that 
the remark was simply this: that the parties could operate in 
a legitimate way and make a great deal of money ... I 
satisfied myself that I could not fill the bill ... It was under- 
stood that if I took the position, Gould, Corbin, myself 
and others, would go into some operations such as the 
purchase of gold and stocks, and that we would share and 
share alike." 

Not even Gould and Corbin's arguments about the im- 
mense national prosperity certain to accompany their gold 
speculations could budge Catherwood. They gave up on him 
and turned to another candidate dapper General Daniel 
Butterfield, a man whose considerable abilities were marred 
by a weakness for intrigue. Butterfield had fought well in 
the late war until he joined a nasty little plot to discredit 
General Meade, after which his star had dimmed. Since he 
satisfied Gould and Corbin, perhaps the general was not 
plagued by the persnickety considerations of probity that 
bothered Catherwood or possibly he saw the larger good 
and was willing against his will to profit so long as the whole 
nation would likewise benefit. In any case, he wanted the 
job. Corbin, the cunning old lobbyist, went to Washing- 
ton and pulled some strings. Butterfield seemed an ideal 
candidate in another respect, for he had headed a fund- 
raising campaign to buy General Grant a home in Wash- 
ington, an effort that was appreciated even though Grant 
sold the house soon after his inauguration. 

Sure enough, Butterfield got the appointment, beginning 
his duties as Assistant Treasurer on July i. Here was a 
development of the first importance to Gould, removing 
some of his misgivings about Grant and elevating Corbin 
several notches in his esteem. If Corbin could take the tram 



The Gould Plan for Prosperity 131 

to Washington and come back with the Assistant Treasurer 
in his pocket, did not that prove his power at the White 
House? Was it not reasonable to suppose that he could 
steer the President away from his erroneous opinions about 
gold? Corbin himself said he could in fact, that Grant's 
ideas already were changing in the right direction. For a 
sharper, Gould showed some naivete in putting any stock 
in the claims of that slippery old fraud. Until then he had 
been hesitating. Now he went ahead full speed with the 
Gould Plan. 

Strangely, he did so without the financial support of his 
Erie partner. Fisk, for once a pillar of conservatism, viewed 
the whole project with suspicion, vowed that you could 
never tell which way a politician would jump, and kept 
clear. Gould, somewhat hurt at this attitude, formed a pool 
with two Wall Street brokers, Arthur Kimber and W. S. 
Woodward. The three quietly began buying gold. Al- 
though Fisk was not buying, he was willing to help with 
propaganda, ready to climb on the bandwagon should he 
eliminate the doubts in his own mind. In mid-August, Grant 
arrived in New York and boarded a steamer for Newport. 
At Gould's suggestion, Fisk visited the President on board 
before sailing time and once more peppered him with argu- 
ments picturing the national disaster that would result 
should the administration make the mistake of selling gold 
and thus lowering its price. 

Bumper crops were maturing, far in excess of domestic 
needs, said Economist Fisk. If gold went higher, the farmers 
would get a good price and the nation would export grain 
instead of gold. Statistician Fisk doubtless waggled his 
finger as he warned that United States farmers were com- 
peting with cheap European labor, and that 300 sail of 
vessels were waiting in the Black and Mediterranean Seas, 
ready to supply the Liverpool market in the fall unless 
American grain got there first. Transportation Expert Fisk 
frankly admitted that as vice-president of Erie he was in- 



152 Jim Fisk 

terested in filling his freight trains with grain, but wasn't 
it plain as a pikestaff that this would mean full employment 
and was only one facet of the prosperity that would spring 
up across the land from the grass roots? 

Eloquent arguments, but Grant was a fellow who could 
listen, nod in an absent-minded way and never say yes or 
no. When Fisk ran out of breath and took his leave, he knew 
no more about the President's intentions than before. Grant 
himself later said that Fisk came "to ask that he would 
privately give them a little intimation as to what the ad- 
ministration was going to do on the financial question/' to 
which he replied that giving such information would not be 
fair. Fisk's resolution to stay out of gold was strengthened, 
and he warned Gould that there might be breakers ahead. 

Gould did not agree. He had entered his patriotic project 
with such enthusiasm that for the moment he forgot steel 
rails for Erie, the need for better freight facilities at Buffalo, 
and the fight that fellow Ramsey was putting up for his 
Susquehanna Railroad. As always with him, his interest in 
railroad operation came a poor second to the furtive thrill 
of manipulating, pulling wires, setting the stage for a vast 
gamble with the odds rigged in his favor. While he was 
thus preoccupied, another Erie disaster occurred that should 
have reminded him of his responsibilities as head of the road. 

On the night of July 14, 1869, Engineer James Griffin 
pulled his Erie freight into a siding at Mast Hope, Pennsyl- 
vania, twenty-eight miles northwest of Port Jervis, to let 
westbound Express Train No. 3 pass on the main line. 
Griffin fell asleep in his cab, then awoke in some confusion, 
believing that the express had passed. He headed out into 
the main line just as the express rounded a curve and bore 
down on him at top speed. The collision was frightful, 
spinning one locomotive around, spilling coals from the 
firebox and setting the station and one crumpled passenger 
car ablaze. Nine persons were burned to death in the car, 
one of them the Rev. Benjamin Halleck of New York, who 



The Gould Plan for Prosperity 

was uninjured by the crash but pinned by wreckage and 
held fast while rescuers vainly tried to save him. "He coolly 
gave directions as to the best way to extricate him," related 
a historian, "as the flames closed in about him, and he met 
his awful death without a murmur or groan." Ten passen- 
gers were injured, and among the dead were three burned 
beyond recognition, 

"The long, dismal and bloody catalogue of disasters that 
marks the history of the Erie Railroad," said the New York 
Herald, "is made again to bear another burden of human 
slaughter. . . ." 



CHAPTER 

14 



In Up to the Handle 



ANNOUNCED Vice President Fisk: "The accidents which 
have occurred are not attributable to want of care on the 
part of the company, but to the villainy of the man Bowen 
in the Carr's Rock disaster, and to the negligence of an 
engineer at Mast Hope." This was a weaseling subterfuge 
as to Carr's Rock, which was a clear case of rotten track, 
but Erie was determined to make a scapegoat of James 
Bowen, a man too feeble-minded to defend himself against 
the charge that he had wilfully derailed the train. It was true 
that the Mast Hope tragedy was not caused by decay but 
by human error. Yet a logical case could be made that this 
sort of human error was the natural end result of a manage- 
ment more interested in speculation and opera bouffe than 
in maintaining rigid operational standards. 

While the unfortunate Rev. Halleck and his fellow vic- 
tems were buried and a new crop of lawsuits loomed against 
Erie, Gould was not distracted from his Plan. He was now 
sending up a propaganda smokescreen. By subsidizing im- 
pecunious financial writers, he managed to plant stories in 
several of the minor newspapers to the effect that the 
Treasury would not sell gold. Minor newspapers, however, 
were not enough. He wanted to sneak a story into the 
respected New York Times, a paper that could not be 
bought, and the lengths to which he went to accomplish this 
fraud were typical of his genius at four-flushing. 

Everybody knew that when Grant passed through New 
York early in August, John Bigelow, editor of the Times, 
had interviewed him. Following this, on August 6 and 7, 

134 



In Up to the Handle 

two editorials appeared in the Times commenting on 
finance, and it was known that they represented Grant's 
views. Gould knew that the peripatetic President would 
again come through New York on his way back from New- 
port, as indeed he did on August 19. If another editorial 
could be smuggled into the Times shortly after this last 
visit, Gould reasoned, the psychology would be the same 
and the public would assume it to be genuine and official. 

Gould got Abel Corbin busy with pen and ink. Corbin, 
a lucid fellow with words, wrote a long and careful edi- 
torial titled "Grant's Financial Policy," embodying in it the 
Gould economic theories and giving the clear impression 
that the administration would allow gold to rise and thereby 
assure prosperity. Corbin, who had no qualms about com- 
mitting something near forgery in the name of his eminent 
brother-in-law, knew that the editorial if it could be 
wormed into the Times would serve a double purpose, 
New York speculators, accepting it as official, would rush 
to buy gold before it rose a buying surge that would make 
it rise. The administration itself, assuming it to be the views 
of the Times, could not fail to be at least partially impressed 
by such an influential newspaper. 

For a man with Gould's reputation to present the article 
in person would arouse instant suspicion. A stalking horse 
had to be found who could canter in with a minimum of 
clatter. Gould found him in his friend James McHenry, a 
British capitalist and stockholder in Erie, who was also 
president of the Atlantic & Great Western, a railroad in 
Ohio connecting with Erie. McHenry was a personal friend 
of Editor Bigelow. McHenry was willing to profit in gold 
himself, possibly on the theory that his Erie stock had 
never paid a dividend and he ought to get some good out 
of Gould. He called at the Times office and handed the 
editorial to Bigelow, telling him it was written by "one in 
the intimate confidence of the President." 

Bigelow, who had served his country ably as wartime 



Jim Fish 

Minister to France, seemed uncommonly naive for a news- 
paperman. He ordered the editorial printed in double- 
leaded type. When he read it over in proof, however, it 
struck him that the writer was singularly insistent that gold 
should be allowed to climb in price, as if he had an axe 
to grind. Instead of inquiring further into the source and 
determining whether Grant knew anything about it, Bige- 
low handed it to C. C Norvell, the Times financial editor, 
and told him he had better soften it a bit. Norvell, not 
knowing how far he should go, made only minor changes. 
The editorial appeared in the Times August 25 redded 
"The Financial Policy of the Administration" and con- 
taining a few other modifications. Still, in at least two state- 
ments it expressed the very idea Gould wanted to spread. 

". . . until the crops are moved," read one passage, "it is 
not likely Treasury gold will be sold for currency to be 
locked up." Another sentence made it stronger: ". . . the 
President will not send gold into the market and sell it for 
currency " 

Jay Gould must have been delighted when he read that. 
He acted like a man who had just read the newspaper when 
he wrote to Treasury Secretary Boutwell to pat him on the 
back, make sure he had read the editorial, and to fish for 
his reaction: 

"My Dear Sir, If the New York Times correcdy re- 
flects your financial policy during the next three or four 
months . . . then I think the country peculiarly fortunate in 
having, a financial head who can take a broad view of the 
situation ... It is only by making gold high and scarce 
that ... we are enabled to compete in the London and 
Liverpool markets " 

Secretary Boutwell, refusing to rise to the bait, sent only 
a formal and noncommittal reply. Still, he did not disavow 
the editorial, leaving Gould to reason by indirection that 
the administration did take the necessary broad view of the 
situation. The editorial created a stir in financial circles, 



In Up to the Handle 237 

causing some buying of gold by those expecting a rise. Yet, 
contrary to Gould's expectations, after a short rise the price 
sagged a bit, due to a factor he had forgotten to consider 
the influx of gold from elsewhere in the country. Frightened 
by this weakening, one of his associates in the pool, W. S. 
Woodward, lost his broad view of the situation. He quit 
and sold his holdings. Incensed at this betrayal, Gould had 
to buy some of Woodward's gold to sustain the price. 
Worse yet, his other crony, Kimber, was showing signs of 
fear. 

Gould, who had many millions involved, was beginning 
to sweat. Yet he was confident that if he could weather the 
storm gold was bound to rise and he would emerge tri- 
umphant always providing that the government would 
keep out. With the defection of Woodward, he badly 
needed financial help. Fisk knew this perfectly well, for his 
partner was abstractedly tearing paper into bits, an in- 
fallible sign of nervousness. Still, Fisk did not seem able to 
achieve a broad view of the situation, for he made no move 
to pitch in and help by buying gold. This was one of the 
few times when Gould was annoyed at his jovial partner, 
but it was the unjustified annoyance of a man in a tight spot. 
Fisk's attitude had been consistent throughout. He had been 
suspicious of gold in the first place, he had advised Gould 
against the speculation, and nothing since then had changed 
his mind. 

Even then Gould could have sold his holdings and escaped 
with a sizeable but not crippling loss. Pride prevented him 
pride and the gambler's hunch that courage during these 
critical days would swing the tide his way. He was dis- 
appointed in finding that General Butterfield was not quite 
as useful as he had hoped, for the Treasury Department in 
Washington was not confiding in Butterfield as to its gold 
policy. Nevertheless, should the Treasury abandon the 
broad view and sell gold in the New York market, it 
would be done through Butterfield, who would be the 



1 38 Jim Fisk 

first person outside Washington to know it. His loyally was 
therefore important, and Gould employed a familiar tactic 
to assure it money. He afterward said he loaned the 
general $10,000 he happened to need and also bought 
$1,500,000 in gold for his benefit, meaning that Butterfield 
would collect whatever profits accrued from any rise in 
price, 

Abel Corbin's influence with the President and editorial- 
writing abilities likewise merited reward. Gould, a bundle 
of nerves, was conferring with Corbin not merely daily but 
twice a day, discussing strategy and propaganda that could 
be aimed at Grant without arousing suspicion. This persist- 
ence seemed to pay off on September 2, when the President 
arrived in New York on his way to Saratoga and break- 
fasted with the Corbins. 

Grant would have had to be blind and deaf had he not 
become aware by this rime that Corbin and Gould were 
uncommonly interested in gold. Indeed, he had remarked to 
Mrs. Grant that Gould was "always trying to find some- 
thing out." Presumably, while they breakfasted, Corbin 
sang his familiar refrain about national prosperity and high- 
priced gold. It was true that some sincere civic spokesmen 
had likewise been preaching the advantages of a good price 
for gold, and that as an economic theory it had some valid- 
ity. In any case, while he was at Corbin's the President came 
to a decision, almost as if influenced by his brother-in-law. 
Then and there he wrote Secretary Boutwell instructing 
him not to sell any gold until further orders. And here 
Grant made a sad error he told Corbin about the letter. 

Not all the events of that busy day are clear. It is known, 
however, that Jay Gould called at Corbin's and was ad- 
mitted, although he did not see Grant. One gets a picture 
of Gould pussyfooting around like a gumshoe sleuth, hold- 
ing a whispered conference with Corbin while the President 
was in another room, and learning from Corbin that Grant 
had written Boutwell not to sell gold. 



In Up to the Handle 239 

Gould must have glowed. In addition to naming the 
Assistant Treasurer and seducing the New York Times, he 
could lay some claim to shaping the policy of the national 
government. More than that, he knew of that policy before 
Secretary Boutwell or any other government official did. 
He was so pleased that he offered to buy $1,500,000 in gold 
for Corbin's benefit, Corbin accepted, as he later put it, 
"for the sake of a lady, my wife," from which one must 
draw the conclusion that he never would have dreamed of 
taking it for himself. Gould bought the gold through his 
old brokerage firm of Smith, Gould & Martin so that Cor- 
bin's name did not appear in the transaction. 

That same day, spurred by the President's unwitting tip, 
Gould began buying more heavily on his own account. 
Recalling that young General Horace Porter was Grant's 
good friend as well as his military secretary, and feeling that 
it might be well to have a gold interest right at the Presi- 
dent's side, he wrote Porter, 'TDear General We have 
purchased half a million gold on your account." The price 
crept up. By September 6 it reached 137%. With the rise 
of every point, Abel Corbin or more properly, Mrs. 
Corbin was making a $15,000 paper profit. Gould paid 
him $25,000 on account. The outlook was rosy. The manip- 
ulators were congratulating each other until some gold 
holders began to sell and take their profits, believing the top 
had been reached, and a strong bear movement began to 
depress the price. 

The spirits of Gould and Corbin sank with every drop 
in the quotation. Gould was frantic by September 10, when 
Grant once more arrived in New York to put up with the 
Corbins for three days. One can imagine that the smooth 
Corbin, with years of lobbying behind him, worked on the 
President with the greatest circumspection, not pressing his 
points too hard and yet making it very clear what awful 
hardship would be visited on the nation's farmers and 
workers should the administration falter in its detennina- 



140 Jim Fisk 

tion not to sell gold. Grant was next going to western 
Pennsylvania for a few days, and Gould, in the midst of 
his panic, arrived at Corbin's to chat with the President and 
make arrangements to get him out of town in style. When 
Grant left on September 13, he rode in the luxurious Erie 
directors' car attached to a special Pennsylvania Central 
train. 

Gold was still sinking. By mid-September it was down to 
132, and Gould had lost a paper fortune on every point. 
Even in his extremity he was too proud to* ask Fisk point- 
blank for help, but the wish was apparent. 

"I could see by the way he would keep tearing up little 
pieces of paper," Fisk said later, "that he was in up to the 
handle. . . ." 

Around September 15 the two talked it over. Fisk would 
have been happy to join the speculation but for his appre- 
hension that the government would sell gold and collapse 
the market. Gould assured him earnestly that such mis- 
givings were ridiculous. Why? Because, he said, Grant 
'was financially interested in pushing gold higher. The Presi- 
dent was implicated in the plot or at least his wife was, 
which amounted to the same thing. Mrs. Grant, Gould 
declared, had a half million invested in gold through Corbin. 
Corbin had already sent her $25,000 as her profit in the 
recent rise. Even General Porter, Grant's sidekick, had sunk 
a half million in gold. 

"This matter is all fixed up," Gould said. "Butterfield is 
all right; Corbin has got Butterfield all right j and Corbin has 
got Grant fixed all right." 

Fisk was surprised. Even though this was their routine 
way of doing business with Tweed, he had not placed 
Grant in the Boss's class. Knowing Gould very well, Fisk 
was aware he was not a slave to the truth if the truth was 
a hindrance. Fisk hurried to Corbin's house to inquire into 
his partner's veracity. 

"Mr. Gould has lost, as the thing stands now," he told 



In Up to the Handle 241 

>in, "and it looks as if it might be a pretty serious busi- 
ness before getting it straight again. The whole success de- 
pends on whether the government will unload [gold] onto 



us or not." 



"You need not have the least fear," the old fox replied. He 
assured Fisk that Porter was in the deal, that Mrs. Grant was 
likewise in it and had already collected $25,000. "I tell you 
it is all right," he insisted. 

Someone was lying either Gould or Corbin or both 
for neither General Porter nor Mrs. Grant were involved 
in the gold movement, nor was the President himself any- 
thing but honest, however lacking he was in discretion. 
About that same time, Gould received a letter from Porter 
reflecting a most ungrateful attitude. It read bluntly: "I 
have not authorized any purchase of gold and request that 
none be made on my account. I am unable to enter into any 
speculation whatever." 

Gould did not bother to inform Fisk of this letter. Fisk 
left Corbin's convinced that the President was secretly 
involved, that the government therefore would refrain 
from selling gold, and that gold would rise as certainly as 
the morrow's sun if given sufficient pressure. 

He joined Gould in the movement, precipitating the na- 
tion's most fantastic financial hysteria as well as a first-class 
scandal. Yet he was still not quite at ease. 

"Somehow or other," he said later, "when I was not with 
Corbin, I always felt shaky about the old rascal. I had my 
suspicions all the time, and yet when he talked to me I 
thought he was as innocent and guileless as a baby." 



CHAPTER 



Collapse, ana 
Company 



EVEN for Jim Fisk, who could outdo Caesar in the matter 
of juggling simultaneous enterprises, the summer and fall 
of 1869 were unusually busy. His ventures into gold were 
concurrent and intermixed with trips to Albany in the war 
against Ramsey, the marshalling of forces at Binghamton, 
the head-on crash of locomotives and more than twenty-one 
lawsuits. At the same time he was presenting opera bouffe 
in one theater and East Lynne in another, serving as admiral 
of his fleet, forming an oil company with Ned Stokes and 
sponsoring other sizeable enterprises. On August 24 he 
traveled to Newburgh to join Mayor Hall and Governor 
Hoffman in celebrating the opening of a shorter Erie branch 
to that city, responding with a speech to the second toast: 
"The Erie Railway." He attended the opening of Lucille 
Western in Patrie at his own Grand Opera House, causing 
the Herald drama critic to grow a little facetious: ". . . we 
observed many lovers of the drama itself, among whom we 
must mention the modern Hudson, the Erie king, the genu- 
ine man of the period, Fisk, Jr., the observed of aU ob- 
servers." Somehow he still found time to take the evening 
boat frequently with Miss Manfield to Long Branch, then 
one of the nation's most fashionable resorts, where Gould, 
Corbin and Judge Barnard also escaped the heat and Presi- 
dent Grant had recently been presented with a cottage. 
Even granting Fisk the energy of a terrier and the per- 
ception of a chess wizard who defeats a dozen skilled op- 
ponents at once, he could not have indulged in drink and 

142 



Collapse, and Company 

lechery to the extent rumor suggested, nor could he have 
given Erie the attention it needed. In fact, the fat man was 
spreading himself too thin, for in the gold movement he 
was hoaxed by his own playmates. 

One point in the gold group's favor was that the President 
was now vacationing in remote Washington, Pennsylvania, 
southwest of Pittsburgh, at the home of W. W. Smith, 
Mrs. Grant's cousin. He was conveniently distant from 
Washington, D. G, as well as from telegraph facilities. He 
was separated from all his advisers and surely would make 
no drastic financial move until he returned to the capital. 
Yet Gould, who had told Fisk so confidently that "Corbin 
has got Grant fixed," was worrying about Grant and also 
about Treasury Secretary Boutwell. Boutwell was in New 
York to attend a dinner given in his honor at the Union 
League Club. Gould knew that the sponsors of the dinner 
were bears in gold in favor of lower prices. The bears of 
course would fill BoutwelTs ear with cheap-gold propaganda 
which might convince him, might make him send a message 
to Grant urging the sale of government gold. 

Gould, now jumping at shadows, committed an enormous 
boner. He resolved to get word to Grant through the in- 
dustrious Corbin to stand fast against all wicked bear bland- 
ishments. Fisk, who already had sunk at least $8,000,000 in 
gold, had no suspicions on September 17 when Gould pro- 
posed sending a letter by courier to Grant. 

"Who is the most confidential man you have got?" he 
asked. 

"I will give you Chapin," Fisk replied. He summoned 
W. O. Chapin, a trusted Erie employe, and told him to be 
ready at 6 o'clock in the morning to leave for Pennsylvania. 
Just to make sure he did not oversleep, Fisk had his brother- 
in-law, George Hooker, call at Chapin's lodgings next 
morning. The two drove to Corbin's house, where Corbin 
handed Chapin a letter for Grant. Chapin boarded the 8 
o'clock Pennsylvania Central train, reaching Pittsburgh that 



evening. Hiring a horse, he rode all night as if the nation's 
fate rested on his shoulders. He arrived in Washington, 
twenty-eight miles distant, on the morning of September 
19. He found President Grant and General Porter, two 
military men, playing a pacific game of croquet in the yard. 

Grant took the letter, read it and said there was no reply. 
Chapin, following instructions, rode to the nearest tele- 
graph station and wired Fisk, "Letter delivered all right." 
Perhaps because of a careless telegraph clerk, the message 
reached New York with a subtle change: 

"Letter delivered. All right." 

Never did a period, a small dot of ink, assume such im- 
portance. When Fisk and Gould read the telegram they 
immediately construed the "All right" as a reference to 
Grant's reception of the letter. Doubtless he had said, "All 
right," which meant that he agreed and everything was 
decidedly all right. They bought more gold with greater 
confidence. 

While Corbin's letter to Grant was not preserved, it was 
of course a fortissimo rendition of Corbin's save-the-nation 
aria: Do not sell government gold. Grant was irked a con- 
dition he had been a long time reaching. He must already 
have learned from Porter about the sly effort to buy gold 
for him. Grant spoke to his wife, who wrote Jenny Corbin 
in New York a brief note containing a significant sentence: 

"Tell Mr. Corbin that the President is very much dis- 
tressed by your speculations and you must close them as 
quick as you can." 

But that was a Sunday, and it would take three days 
before the letter reached New York, during which time 
Fisk and Gould bought millions in gold. By Tuesday, Fisk's 
misgivings had returned. He paid another visit to the 
Corbins. 

"If we should miss," he said, "if the government should 
sell this gold it would certainly be a serious matter." 

Corbin pooh-poohed such a thought, and his wife was as 



Collapse, and Company 

confident. "I know there will be no gold sold by the 
government," she said according to Fisk's later testimony. 
"I am quite positive there will be no gold sold; for this is a 
chance of a life-time for us; you need have no uneasiness 
whatever." 

This was the President's sister speaking. Fisk, reassured, 
continued buying through his brokers. Kimber, Gould's 
earlier partner, had taken fright and quit the pool the pre- 
vious weekend. By Wednesday morning, September 22, 
gold had risen to 137, and later that day it shot up to 141. 
This sharp advance, contrary to all natural causes, made it 
apparent that a combination of buyers as yet unidentified 
was bulling the market. Many small bears were already 
ruined, and Horace Greeley was blasting the "Goldbugs" 
in the Tribune, demanding that the government take action. 
Stocks, which always moved in the opposite direction with 
any marked change in gold, were sinking. Fisk and Gould, 
their suit against Commodore Vanderbilt still pending, 
seized the opportunity to whipsaw their old enemy. They 
engineered a quick bear raid in New York Central, sending 
that stock into a twenty-two percent dive and cleaning up 
while the cursing Commodore took a heavy loss. This was 
enough to make Fisk wildly enthusiastic about the scheme 
he had mistrusted, unaware that on that same day Mrs. 
Corbin had received paralyzing ridings from Mrs. Grant. 

Gould learned of it that night when he called at Corbin's 
home to find him in a swivet. He showed Gould the letter, 
with the ominous line: "Tell Mr. Corbin that the President 
is very much distressed by your speculations and you must 
close them as quick as you can." 

It did not say should, but must. To Gould that word 
carried fearful connotations, implying that Corbin's specu- 
lations were not merely unwise but might be ruinous finan- 
cially. It suggested that the government might step in 
sell gold and the phrase "as quick as you can" could mean 
that this would take place soon. 



146 Jim Fisk 

Corbin showed Gould another letter one he had written 
to Grant. In it this pious pettifogger assured the President 
that there was some mistake, for he had not a dollar's in- 
terest in gold. He aimed to make this good. With peerless 
effrontery he proposed that Gould take the $1,500,000 in 
gold off his hands at once and pay him $100,000 as profits 
this after he had already received $25,000. Gould balked at 
that. He knew that once he had paid Corbin any such sum, 
his hold over him would be lost. The old man was running 
for cover, trying to cash in before the expected crash. Yet 
he held a weapon over Gould's head the letter from Mrs. 
Grant, which would send the gold price spinning if its 
contents became known. The two larcenists, their mutual 
esteem crumbling, still found it expedient to observe out- 
ward politeness. 

"Mr. Corbin, I cannot give you anything if you will go 
out," Gould said. "If you will remain in, and take the 
chances of the market, I will give you my check [for 
$100,000]." 

"Mr. Gould, my wife says 'No!'" Corbin insisted. 
"Ulysses thinks it wrong, and that it ought to end." 

Gould eyed him mistrustfully. "Mr. Corbin," he said, "I 
am undone if that letter gets out." 

Corbin promised to keep it quiet. Gould left, saying he 
would think over the matter of the $100,000, a sum he 
never paid. He was running for cover too, but far from 
looking for profit he was hoping only to avert disaster. It 
was obvious now that Corbin's glib talk about his "influ- 
ence" over the President was humbug. Gould, the sharper 
who prided himself on covering all the angles, had made 
an amateur's error placed his faith in a fixer who could not 
fix. He was carrying some $50,000,000 in gold on his 
shoulders, bought on margin, and it would crush him unless 
he jumped from under it fast. If he and Fisk dumped their 
enormous holdings together, that of itself would break the 
market and ruin them. He had to sell, but at the same time 



Collapse, and Company 247 

he had to maintain a strong buying interest while he sold. 
Gould made a decision which on its face seemed the ultimate 
double-cross. He would keep the secret from Fisk, whom he 
had coaxed into the speculation against his better judgment. 
He would let Fisk be the catspaw let Fisk buy while 
Gould sold. 

On Thursday morning, when the two met at the Opera 
House, Gould said nothing to Fisk about the Corbin letter. 
Until now they had done their buying by wire from the 
Erie palace. Today, with great talk about a buying cam- 
paign in which only Fisk was sincere, they went down to 
the Street in person. Fisk began buying gold through his 
brokers, among them William Belden and Albert Speyers. 
Gould had forsaken the broad, patriotic view, the solicitude 
for farmers, wage-earners and general prosperity that had 
so long guided his economic thinking. He began to sell 
secretly, buying only enough openly to make it appear he 
was still a bull. Time was the vital factor. He was convinced 
that the miserably short-sighted administration was going 
to dump gold, but how soon? A day or two would give him 
time to unload. He kept several messengers breathless 
running back and forth to Butterfield's office to learn if 
there was word that Washington was selling. 

Because of the specialized nature of gold transactions, 
they were not conducted in the Stock Exchange but in the 
adjacent Gold Room at Broad Street and Exchange Place, 
an amphitheater with a bronze cupid-and-dolphin fountain 
gurgling in the center and a mechanical indicator to tell the 
current price of gold. Normally it was an uncrowded place 
where brokers handled buying and selling for principals 
who attended to other affairs elsewhere. On Thursday, with 
gold starting at 141, it was packed with tense humanity. 
Speculators were no longer content to let brokers alone 
do the work. They were there in person, watching the 
indicator, ready with orders to their brokers to buy or 
sell. When Fisk arrived, beaming as usual, onlookers at once 



148 ]im Fisk 

decided that he was the head and front of the bull brigade. 
Unlike his mousy partner, he leaned to the whoop-and- 
holler school of speculating, clapping acquaintances on the 
back as he told the world he was buying with everything 
he had and the bears had better watch out. 

Despite Gould's secret selling, the Fisk boom was strong 
enough and noisy enough to push up the price. Men stared 
pop-eyed as the indicator climbed. It took capital to buy as 
Fisk was buying, even though it was done on margin a 
problem he and Gould had solved by their recent purchase 
of a controlling interest in the Tenth National Bank, where 
they could get an endless stream of certified checks. The 
Gold Room was alive with rumors, the most persistent of 
them spread by Fisk underlings saying that the ad- 
ministration, including the President and Cabinet, were 
gambling on a further rise and aimed to make fortunes. 
Fisk himself exuded confidence. 

TU bet any part of $50,000," he said, "that gold will go 
over 145." 

There were no takers. Wild-eyed losers yelled curses at 
him. By now, all the small bears and some moderately large 
ones had gone under, either admitting bankruptcy or making 
disastrous settlements with the bulls. Everybody knew a 
financial crash was in the making. Stocks were skidding. 
Money was so scarce that domestic and foreign trade was 
hamstrung. The fever in New York was reflected in every 
other financial center in the country even in Europe. Suf- 
fering bears were sending telegrams to Washington, plead- 
ing that the government sell gold to avert national collapse, 
never suggesting that such a move would also save those 
bears still faintly alive. When gold closed that afternoon 
at 144, Fisk left with a cigar jutting jauntily from under 
his waxed mustache, shrugging off the maledictions of 
scores of losers who united in execrating him as the cause 
of their destruction. Wilted speculators made a dash for 
Delmonico's, a few blocks up Broadway, where straight 



Collapse, and Company 

whiskey was the rule among men ordinarily temperate. Fisk 
and Gould met at the Opera House that night with Belden, 
Speyers and other colleagues. Gould was tearing paper, 
keeping his secret from Fisk, whom he could thank for 
supporting the market while he sold at a vast profit. Both 
knew that Grant was back in the capital, under terrific 
pressure from the bears. 

The next morning, September 24, was bright and clear 
but would ever afterward be memorable as Black Friday. 
The Times that morning, still stung by the way it had been 
gulled the previous month, came out with an editorial de- 
scribing the activities of "the inevitable and irrepressible 
Fisk, Jr.," and daring to mention the rumors of govern- 
mental complicity: 

"His [Fisk's] presence in the gold-room was sig- 
nalized by the rapid rise in gold . . . The other engineers of 
the movement were not idle . . . They had not only bulled 
gold with a will, but talked freely of the warrant which 
they had from Washington that the government would not 
interfere with them. The highest official in the land was 
quoted as being ivith them, and he, of course, controls the 
action of the Secretary of the Treasury and the New York 
Assistant Treasurer. Although this must have been known 
to be false, there were abundant rumors and suspicions in- 
sidiously spread around the street to create the belief or 
fear with good men that the administration would Tiot in- 
terpose by further sales of gold from the Treasury . . . 
Among these rumors was one that the Gould-Fisk party 
were about to secure the services and influence of Mr. 
Corbin, (the brother-in-law of the President) " 

That rumor was a little late. Droves of bitter bears swore 
that the talk of governmental collusion must be true, not 
false that Grant and his cronies were reaping crooked for- 
tunes along with Fisk. More telegrams went to Washington, 
some angry, some pleading, some quoting the Times edi- 
torial on the theory that the administration would not dare 



750 Jim Fisk 

refuse action in the face of such scandalous talk. One reason 
why the resentment was centered on Fisk was his air that 
all this was a glorious lark an attitude that did not sit well 
with men who had lost everything, or even with the bulls 
who were holding their breaths for fear the market would 
break. That Friday morning, he arrived in the financial dis- 
trict in style, as one reporter noted: 

"James Fisk, Jr., came driving down and turned into 
Broad Street with two richly attired actresses, one of them 
chiefly known to fame through her charms as displayed in 
'Mazeppa' and The French Spy.' " 

This day he did not go to the Gold Room, knowing he 
would very likely be mobbed if he appeared there in person. 
He went to William Heath's brokerage office on Broad 
Street and conducted his operations from there. Mean- 
while Gould had a few whispered words with his chief 
broker, Henry Smith. 

"Sell, sell, sell!" he told Smith. "Do nothing but sell 
only don't sell to Fisk's brokers." 

According to all contemporary accounts, the Gold Room 
that morning was less rational than any well-managed mad- 
house. When trading opened at 10, the indicator had al- 
ready jumped to 150. The floor was jammed with 200 
brokers and a throng of speculators red-eyed, hoarse- 
voiced men, some of them intoxicated, others merely acting 
that way, "all wound up to a fearful pitch of excitement," 
one observer said, "yelling, screaming, jostling, crowding." 
Pickpockets took advantage of the crush, and some dealers 
were separated from their wallets in addition to their other 
losses. Little Albert Speyers looked clearly bereft as he 
shrieked offers to buy gold by the millions. 

Business was paralyzed from Boston to San Francisco be- 
cause of what was happening here. Stocks were still sink- 
ing because of what was happening here. The Union that 
had survived four years of bloody battle seemed shaken to 



Collapse, and Company 

its foundations by mere words spoken by a few determined 
gamblers in this grubby little room on Broad Street. Com- 
modore Vanderbilt came down to his bank and with an im- 
perturbability that must have masked inner rage at Fisk and 
Gould he spent a million shoring up his sagging New York 
Central shares and other holdings. In the ill-ventilated Gold 
Room the smell of sweat would have been unendurable had 
anyone been in a condition to notice such trivialities. Oc- 
casionally a speculator would slosh his fevered face at the 
fountain in the center. The disorder spilled out into the 
open, where hundreds milled around the outdoor gold in- 
dicator on New Street. One Major Bush, an officer of a 
National Guard detachment in Brooklyn, got telegraphed 
orders from Albany to hold his regiment in readiness to 
"quell the riot in Wall Street." Assistant Treasurer Butter- 
field was dutifully keeping Gould informed that there was 
no word from Washington. Butterfield was speculating him- 
self, but now he was on the bear side in the belief that the 
price must fall. He sent a telegram to Secretary Boutwell 
in Washington, who was conferring anxiously with Grant 
about the crisis: 

"Gold is 150: much feeling and accusations of govern- 
ment complicity." 

Edmund C Stedman, a young stockbroker with a flair for 
poetry, was observing antics he would soon set to verse, 
writing in part: 

Zounds! how the price went flashing through 
Wall-street, William, Broad-street, New! 
All the specie in the land 
Held in one ring by a giant hand, 
For millions more it was ready to pay, 
And throttle the Street on hangman' s-day. 
Up from the Gold Pifs nether hell, 
While the innocent fountain rose and fell, 
Loud and higher the bidding rose, 



75-2 Jim Fisk 

And the bulls, triumphant, -faced their foes. 
It seemed as if Satan himself 'were in it, 
Lifting it, one per cent a minute . . . 

Everybody was certain that Speyers was buying for Fisk 
and that Fisk alone held title to more gold than actually 
existed in circulation one of the paradoxes of speculation 
beyond a mere layman's comprehension. Weeks later, in- 
siders were convinced that by this time Gould had taken 
Fisk into his confidence and the two were playing a sharp 
game together. Now, on Black Friday, no one knew inner 
motives and could only guess from what they saw. As the 
morning wore on, with gold still climbing, fear rose to panic 
with the suspicion that Fisk and Gould with the adminis- 
tration's aid had all but accomplished a corner in the metal. 
Once achieved, this would mean that they could set their 
own price. Those bears still solvent went pale at the thought. 
As Fisk later explained it, ". . . there is no fright as great as 
the fright in Wall street when the bears become panicky. 
Burnt brandy won't save 'em, for the very reason that they 
have sold what they have not got." 

There was a throaty roar in the Gold Room around 1 1 
A.M. when the indicator touched 155. When it reached 160 
a half-hour later, some men were weeping while one fainted 
dead away. A broker named Solomon Mahler went home 
and shot himself dead. In his office in the Sub-Treasury, 
Assistant Treasurer Butterfield received a fateful telegram 
from Secretary Boutwell: 

"Sell four millions gold tomorrow, and buy four millions 
bonds.' 7 

Butterfield, the bear, knew he would make a handsome 
profit. He took care to adjust his own investments, then 
got the word to Gould some twenty-five minutes before it 
became general knowledge. It was almost noon by the time 
a messenger reached the Gold Room with the news. By then, 
Gould's heavy selling was having its effect. The quotation, 



Collapse, and Company 

which had risen to 164, teetered and dropped to 160. The 
tidings that the government was selling created bedlam 
among sweaty-faced operators who had become automatons 
rather than men. The government move meant that the ring 
was broken, the corner defeated, and the price would skid 
It did. Within thirty minutes gold plummeted to 135. It 
was said that a half-dozen victims went temporarily mad 
Albert Speyers was frantically offering to buy gold at 160 
when it was selling at 135 a few yards away. Observers 
tried vainly to describe this drove of haunted creatures who 
had lost all resemblance to humankind save the sense of 
profit or loss. "The spectacle was one such as Dante might 
have seen in inferno," one of them wrote. Stedman, the Wall 
Street bard, tried to capture it in verse: 

but listen! hold! 

In screwing upward the price of gold 
To that dangerous, last, particular peg, 
They had killed the Goose with the Golden Egg! 
Just then the metal came pouring out, 
All ways at once, like a water-spout, 
Or a rushing, gushing, yellow flood, 
That drenched the bulls wherever they stood! 

Little Speyers wandered about, glassy-eyed. "I am Albeit 
Speyers," he croaked. "Some persons have threatened to 
shoot me. I am here. Now, shoot, shoot!" 

Black Friday was over, and half of Wall Street was 
ruined. Investment houses that had been bulwarks for years 
were caught in the riptide and went bankrupt. Arthur Kim- 
ber was bankrupt. William Belden was bankrupt. Jim Fisk 
on paper was bankrupt. Jay Gould had made eleven 
million dollars real dollars. There was bitter anger against 
both of them especially Fisk, who was believed the archi- 
tect of the debacle. A mob of gamblers, many of them re- 
duced from wealth to penury that same day, burst into the 
Heath brokerage office with the sincere purpose of murder- 



ing him if they could lay hands on him. Fisk and Gould had 
already made a strategic retreat through a side door and 
were on their way up town to the safety of the Opera 
House. Gould, the winner, looked like a loser, so haggard 
and hollow-eyed that Fisk described him with vivid verbal 
caricature: 

"You won't see anything left of him but a pair of eyes and 
a suit of clothes." 

According to his later testimony, Fisk immediately fixed 
on Abel Corbin as the villain of the piece, the man who had, 
as he put it, "run a saw right into us." He called on Corbin, 
telling him in small part, "I suspect that the whole thing 
was a damned trick from beginning to end . . . We are forty 

miles down the Delaware " Rumors swept the town that 

Fisk was assaulted, Fisk was murdered, Fisk had fled the city 
to save his life. The Tribune printed one of them, admitting 
it was unverified: 

"Shortly after noon a carriage dashed rapidly down 
Twenty-third Street to the ferry house, and darting hastily 
through the gate the Admiral leaped upon the boat and 
shouted excitedly to the pilot, 'Cast off.' It lacks ten 
minutes of the rime, Mr. Fisk,' 'Cast off, d n you. Who is 
boss here?' Ting went the bell, and the boat started across 
the river. Mr. Fisk was in a tremendous state of excitement, 
ejaculating frequently, 'They are after me going to hang 
me. ..." 

Although there were plenty who wanted to hang him, he 
did not flee to New Jersey. He and Gould had taken refuge 
behind the marble walls of the Opera House. Even there, 
infuriated speculators howled at the door, which was 
guarded by a detail of policemen furnished through the 
intercedence of the kindly Boss Tweed. When a reporter 
from the New York Sun interviewed them, the statements 
of the two men were truly emblematic of their opposing 
characters: 

Gould: " I regret very much this depression in financial 



Collapse, and Company i ff 

circles, but I predicted it long ago. I was in no way instru- 
mental in producing the panic/' 

Fisk: "A fellow can't have a little innocent fun without 
everybody raising a halloo and going wild." 

In Wall Street, a few gaunt survivors of the financial Bull 
Run were poking among the ruins. One of them noticed the 
shingle of a brokerage house named Coe, Lapsley & Co. 

"A sign of the times," he muttered. "Collapse, & Co." 



CHAPTER 



16 

Propagandist Fish 



AFTER its Friday spree, Wall Street suffered a protracted 
hangover during which its denizens nursed aching heads 
and dyspeptic stomachs as they gathered in gloomy knots 
seeking to learn exactly what had happened while they 
were in their speculative cups. Strangely, gossip had it that 
Gould had lost his last dollar and that Fisk had made a 
fortune. Remarked the Herald: "It was curious to note how, 
here and there, wherever little groups of men were engaged 
in conversation, the name of 'Jim Fisk' was heard so fre- 
quently ... It was the general opinion that he had made 
an immense 'pile' by the gold fever of Friday. , . ." 

General Butterfield, who had gambled and won, said vir- 
tuously to a Tribune reporter, "No one has suffered but the 
gamblers." 

The final score was not yet known because the gears of 
the Gold Exchange had been pushed to such a fearsome clip 
that the whole overburdened machine emitted smoke and 
flew apart. Trading had been so frenzied on Thursday and 
Friday, with something over $500,000,000 in gold bought 
and sold on Friday alone, that it would take the Exchange 
more than a week, using up dozens of clerks and hundreds 
of pencils, to compile and figure out the flood of transac- 
tions. During this time of confusion, many jittery specula- 
tors did not know whether they had lost or won an 
uncertainty that dragged out the panic for days. Some who 
had won on paper eventually found themselves losers be- 
cause their debtors had gone bankrupt. The Gold Room 
meanwhile was closed while mechanics tinkered with the 
works. This sort of suspense did not engender good cheer. 

156 



Propagandist Fisk 757 

Since the Stock Exchange had suffered almost equal dis- 
turbance, the cloud of woe that settled over the financial 
district snuffed out almost everything but the imprecations 
against Fisk as the cause of it all. Few paid heed to clergy- 
men who preached that Sunday on the evils of avarice, 
among them Henry Ward Beecher, whose text was from 
Matthew VI: "Lay not up for yourselves treasures on earth." 

Fisk was easily the "goat" of Black Friday. Men cheered 
at a persistent rumor that he had been shot dead by John 
Morrissey, the burly prizefighter-turned-Congressman who 
was among the gold victims. Toasts were drunk to Morrissey 
at Delmonico's, and the disappointment was general when 
the report was exposed as a canard. Greeley's Tribune, com- 
menting wonderingly on this approval of homicide by ordi- 
narily law-abiding business men, laid it to 

". . . the feeling of the public that James Fisk is a man 
whose hand is against every man's . . . that a man who made 
sport of common honesty, of truth, of decency, in his own 
life and in his dealings with men, in some sort satisfied the 
claims of society upon him in dying the death of an outlaw." 

Edmund Stedman, in his Black Friday burst of poesy, 
rightly saw grave social implications in the disaster. With- 
out troubling to name Fisk, he suggested that there was not 
only something wrong with Fisk but also with a society 
that gave him free rein, countenanced him and even ad- 
mired him: 

But it matters most, as it seems to me. 

That my countrymen, great and strong and free, 

So marvel at fellows who seem to win, 

That if even a clown can only begin 

By stealing a railroad, and use its purse 

For cornering stocks and gold, or worse 

For buying a Judge and a Legislature, 

And sinking still lower poor human nature, 

The gaping public, whatever befall, 

Will swallow him, tandem, harlots and all! 



i$S Jim Flsk 

Fisk, skeptical of the rumors of his own murder and 
careless of Stedman's opinion of his morality, was conferring 
behind locked doors at the Opera House with Gould and 
Shearman. The fruit of this talk was a batch of injunctions 
handed down by Tammany judges Barnard and Cardozo 
that even further manacled the helpless Gold Exchange. 
The Exchange was forbidden to pay out any money except 
as permitted by the court, and was restrained from imposing 
any penalties until the snarl was untangled. The wrath was 
unmitigated when Fisk repudiated most of his gold con- 
tracts, claiming that he had not been buying for himself but 
for William Belden and producing a note from Belden that 
seemed to prove it. Speyers, he said, had also been buying 
for Belden. Since Belden had failed to the extent of $50,- 
000,000, many who thought themselves Fisk's creditors 
wound up losers instead. Prince Erie had resorted to a dodge 
several times used by Daniel Drew, known in Wall Street 
argot as "squatting." He had renounced his own deals and 
taken refuge behind the law. A swarm of lawsuits were 
brought against him that would continue for years. 

All this continued to make New York unsafe for him, a 
situation for which the Opera House was admirably con- 
trived. He remained a virtual prisoner there for more than 
a fortnight, a recipient of threatening letters, keeping be- 
hind locked doors not only to escape assassins but to foil 
process servers waiting outside. Among the many complain- 
ants were the Messrs. Orlando Joslyn and John Bostwick, 
who had a writ of attachment against Fisk's Opera House 
for $117,450. He and Gould made use of the palace's ex- 
cellent culinary facilities. The enclosed passageway to Fisk's 
house nearby also came in handy. Careful forethought 
against just such emergencies as this had equipped the bas- 
tion with everything but a moat and drawbridge. Fisk 
could even relax at theatrical performances within his own 
battlements, the annoying thing being that Lucille Western 
was still appearing in Patrie. He must have grown dreadfully 



Propagandist Fisk 

tired of the Sardou drama by October 4, when Miss Western 
gave him something different by opening with The Temp- 
est. All manner of luxury was within reach, including Josie 
Mansfield, yet his spirit rebelled at its cage. 

In his disgruntlement he betrayed some of his less lovely 
traits. Fisk was a poor loser when his pride was hurt. Ordi- 
narily careless of public opinion so long as his antics drew 
a fair share of applause from the galleries, he resented this 
universal opprobrium, seeing himself saddled with sole 
blame in an operation in which he felt he had been something 
of an innocent bystander, deceived by people he trusted. 
For four years he had trimmed Wall Street lambs and 
laughed uproariously while they bleated. Now that he had 
been tricked himself, he was getting ready for some stentor- 
ian bleating. Never did he blame his partner Gould. In his 
mind the double-crossers were Grant, whom he believed to 
have played false on a commitment to keep the government 
out of the gold market, and Corbin, who had miserably 
failed to deliver on his promise. He was aiming to nail their 
carcasses high on the night of September 29 when he sum- 
moned George Crouch, a Herald financial writer, and raised 
the portcullis to admit him. It was almost midnight when 
Crouch sat down under hissing gas lamps in the gilded Erie 
lair and poised his pencil for the most astonishing interview 
of his career. 

"Everybody lays the blame on me," Fisk complained. 
"I've had the whole load to bear so far. I am threatened with 
assassination, I'm caged up here like a tiger in a menagerie, 
enjoy just about as much liberty; can't go out even at night, 
and that's just when I want to go about a little, without 
running pretty considerable risk of getting shot for the 
doings of other people. Now I've stood this just about long 
enough, and Pm determined not to stand it any longer; so 
I'm just going to make a clean breast of it and expose the 
parties who got up the "corner/ I can make Rome howl at 
somebody else besides me somebody you would never 



160 ]im Fisk 

suspect of being connected with this affair. I have a most 
astounding revelation to make; but before I do so, you must 
promise that it shall be published. If the Herald won't pub- 
lish it, I shall give it to one of the other papers. You saw the 
Tribune man waiting. I've got the other reporters here too. 
They'd publish anything, but then they represent parties, 
and people would think it an election dodge if they brought 
it out. Now the Herald being the leading paper, and the 
only one that is independent, I should prefer you publishing 
it it would have more weight then." 

Crouch noted that Prince Erie was seated in his specially- 
constructed walnut throne, with the monogram "E.R." 
impressed in the leather cushion. 

"I do not deny that I was interested in the 'corner,' " Fisk 
went on. "Myself and my partner, Gould, were in the 'ring.' 
Now, then, we are speculators. I had nothing to do with the 
concoction of the 'corner' it was all fixed before I was let 
into the secret. Now, do you or does anyone else imagine 
that we should have risked millions, as we did, unless we 
had positive assurances that the government would not in- 
terfere with our operations? Of course we should not. Any- 
one can see that. Well, then, I now tell you that we had 
something more than an assurance to that eff ect. Mere as- 
surances would not have been sufficient. Members of the 
President's family were in with us. The President himself 
was interested with us in the 'corner.' That astonishes you, 
does it not?" 

"Well," Crouch admitted, "I must confess it does, 
slightly." 

"Slightly!" Fisk echoed. "Ah! you suspected it then? . . , 
I told you I could make Rome howl, didn't I? Well, won't 
that be sufficient to make Grant tremble in his boots?" 

"We shall see," the reporter replied, according to the 
Herald account. "Do you mean to assert that President 
Grant was aware of the nature of your intended operations 
to bull gold?" 



Propagandist Fisk 1 61 

"Why, of course he was, and with him members of his 
family and parties holding high offices. And now I will tell 
you how it originated and who started it. It was planned by 
Jay Gould and Abel R. Corbin, President Grant's brother- 
in-law. Why, damn it! old Corbin married into Grant's 
family for the purpose of working the thing in that direc- 
tion. That's all he married for this last time. Corbin's next 
move was to secure his son-in-law's appointment to the Sub- 
Treasury of New York. His son-in-law, R. B. Cath[er]- 
wood, you know. Ultimately Corbin got Cath[er]- 
wood to withdraw in favor of General Butterfield . . . Next 
the Tenth National Bank was bought, for a purpose which 
need not now be explained, it being a comparatively insig- 
nificant point. The first thing I did in the matter was to 
sound the President. I had several interviews with him on 
the subject, and finally, with Corbin's influence, everything 
was arranged and we set to work." 

Why, Crouch asked, was he exposing his confederates? 

"Because they went back on us and came near ruining 
us," Fisk said indignantly. "They would have ruined us had 
we not been smarter than chain-lightning and managed to 
turn when the log turned. We risked our millions on the 
assurance that the government would not interfere. Grant 
got scared, however, when the crisis came, and gave Bout- 
well instructions to sell. And now I'll tell you what scared 
Grant. Kimber, a man who was in the pool with us, backed 
out at the last moment. He sold out and got short. Discover- 
ing that he had deceived us, Gould 'put up gold" on him and 
broke him. Then Kimber leaked. Kimber's statement was 
telegraphed on to Grant, and the result was BoutwelTs 
order to sell. Now, up to the time the government interfered 
with our operations I held in my hands the cards for fifteen 
millions, and should have made that had they let us alone 
that day. But the crash came before I had made nine mil- 
lions even ... As I said before, I've borne the entire load 
long enough, and now my life is in danger and I'm going to 



162 Jim Fish 

make them take their share of the responsibility. Another 
thing, I am a speculator. There's nothing wrong that I can 
see in my being connected with the 'ring,' but I don't know 
about Corbin, Grant and the rest of them. Guess they've 
been going a little out of their line, ain't they? Won't this 
statement make Rome howl, aye?" 

Crouch had to agree on that. "So astounding a statement 
as this," he pointed out, "must be supported by proofs 
something in the way of 'confirmation strong as holy writ,' 
Mr. Fisk. Can you show me anything in that line? " 

Fisk told him to come back in the morning and he would 
have plenty of proof. When Crouch returned to his office 
that night, one can imagine the Herald city room convulsed 
by stop-press excitement. But the Herald was staffed by men 
much sharper than the sedate John Bigelow, and they did 
not stop the presses. They decided to play along with Fisk 
and see what developed. Crouch went back to the Opera 
House on the morning of September 30, picked his way 
through a group of men who were vainly trying to serve 
summonses on Fisk, and was admitted by the palace guard 
and escorted upstairs into the prince's chamber. 

"You come with me," Fisk said, "and I will show you 
something." 

The two men went down the grand staircase, walked 
through the empty theater and emerged at the stage entrance 
on Eighth Avenue, where a carriage was waiting in the care 
of Frederick Banfield, Gould's coachman. Fisk took a quick 
look around to make sure no sharpshooters or process servers 
were lurking here, then entered the carriage with Crouch. 
They drove to Corbin's home, a few doors west of Fifth 
Avenue on Twenty-seventh Street. 

Instructing Crouch to wait and watch, Fisk went to the 
door and was admitted. While he was inside a reporter from 
the New York Sun arrived and was likewise admitted. 
About an hour later Fisk came out and was driven with 
Crouch back to the Opera House. The reporter was puzzled 



Propagandist Fisk 16% 

by all this rigmarole until he discovered that Fisk was simply 
trying to establish his close intimacy with Corbin. Fisk even 
called in a notary public and had Crouch make an affidavit 
swearing that he had seen him enter the Corbin house and 
remain there for some time, and also that he had seen the 
Sun man arrive. 

Fisk had been involved in so many lawsuits and had con- 
sulted with so many lawyers that he had become something 
of a curbstone shyster himself, thinking illegally in terms 
of the law, often incorporating legal "to wits" and "herein- 
afters" in his ordinary conversation and showing a weakness 
for affidavits. He produced three more of them. One was 
from his good friend Charles Mclntosh, superintendent of 
the Erie ferries, swearing that he met Corbin at the Erie 
offices on Black Friday, that Corbin acknowledged himself 
"deeply interested" and expressed the hope that Fisk and 
Gould "would come out all right." Another was from 
Coachman Banfield, swearing that Fisk was at Corbin's that 
day and that during the past three months he had repeatedly 
driven both Fisk and Gould to Corbin's. The third was 
from William O. Chapin, telling of his grueling journey to 
Pennsylvania to deliver a sealed message from Corbin to 
Grant at Fisk's behest. 

With these in hand, Reporter Crouch next visited Gould, 
who had two items to add. Generals Butterfield and Porter 
were involved in the gold scheme, he said, along with "a 
number of prominent officials in this city." He also told of 
giving Corbin a $25,000 check for "securing government 
non-intervention" in the plot. 

When Crouch returned to the Herald office, he gave his 
editors a mass of material that must have simultaneously 
electrified and frightened them. Still, it was apparent that 
Fisk, for all his talk and affidavits, had produced no real 
proof of anyone's complicity. It was also evident that Fisk's 
brain, in the portion normally devoted to ethical considera- 
tions, contained only a large vacuum. He actually regarded 



Jim Fisk 

himself as a man with a legitimate grievance, deserving sym- 
pathy instead of condemnation because in winning only 
$9,000,000 instead of the $15,000,000 he had counted on he 
had incurred a $6,000,000 loss. "I am a speculator," he said, 
with the assumption that this gave him an unlimited license 
for fraud not enjoyed by others who were not speculators. 
He seemed perfectly unaware that in "exposing" his con- 
federates he was in reality exposing his own moral short- 
comings and that his tale of the trickery leading up to Black 
Friday only painted him as a greater rascal than had gener- 
ally been known before. 

Yet there had been rumors aplenty of governmental com- 
plicity. Grant had sailed in Fisk's boat, sat in Fisk's opera 
box, and his actions had been equivocal enough in other 
ways to arouse suspicion. The Herald was keen for a scoop 
if it could verify these suspicions, but it had a healthy fear 
of libel. Fisk had libeled President Grant, the President's 
family, Corbin, Mrs. Corbin and Catherwood, while Gould 
had libeled Butterfield and Porter. Any newspaper publish- 
ing all this without proof might as well shut up shop and let 
the lawyers take over. Very likely old James Gordon Ben- 
nett himself, now nearing the end of his career as the 
Herald's bitter genius, was called in to decide how to handle 
Fisk's package of dynamite. 

It was determined to play it safe and hold the story over. 
Propagandist Fisk, watching for its appearance, was so irked 
at the Herald's unwillingness to help him make Rome howl 
that he handed the story over to the Sun. That journal like- 
wise knew better than to publish unsupported charges 
against the President. It steered a safer course by ripping 
into Corbin, saying in part: "They [Fisk and Gould] 
found in Mr. A. R. Corbin, the brother-in-law of the Presi- 
dent of the United States, one who would answer as a cat's- 
paw between the bull clique of Wall Street and Washington. 
[The assurances from Washington were] arranged by 
Mr. Corbin. . . ." 



Propagandist Fisk 165 

The canny Herald, seeing its opportunity to play one 
scoundrel against another, sent an emissary to interview 
Abel Corbin. The newsman found Corbin so prostrated by 
his woes that he had taken to his bed. 

"Oh, yes," he groaned, "I have seen it [the Sun story] 
... It is dreadful, but I can say nothing about it." 

Surely, the reporter urged, he could at least make a 
formal denial of Fisk's charges. Corbin, who had made a 
good thing of his relationship to the President and was des- 
perately hoping to wriggle out of the scandal, allowed that 
he could. He called God to witness that it was all a pack 
of lies, that he was a staunch Methodist and had no dealings 
with gamblers of the stamp of Fisk and Gould. 

"I swear to you," he went on piously, raising his right 
hand, "that Fisk and Gould have never been to my house 
since Gould called last summer when the President was 
here. I have no connection with such men. When the Presi- 
dent was here my house was open, and I received all who 
came to see him with open arms." 

The reporter deftly laid a trap for the old rogue. "Then 
the statements published ... to the effect that Fisk was here 
on the 30th of September, last, are false?" 

"False, every word," Corbin said firmly. "I will solemnly 
swear that Fisk was not in my house on that day, nor was 
his carriage at the door." 

The Herald, now having ample proof that Corbin was 
a very monarch of mendacity, reached the conclusion that 
Fisk was lying too. On October 8 it published the Fisk in- 
terview, including the ticklish charges that "members of the 
President's family were in with us. The President himself 
was interested with us in the 'corner' . . . old Corbin married 
into Grant's family for the purpose of working the thing 
in that direction." But the Herald was careful to make it 
plain that it did not believe any of this nonsense about Grant 
and was presenting the story simply as a great joke on a 
parcel of conspirators who had fallen out among themselves. 



166 ]im Fisk 

"The only thing the President had to do with the 'ring' 
was to defeat its ends," it said, adding that Corbin must 
have owed Fisk and Gould money as a result of the gold 
collapse, and "Fisk and Gould originated the slanders 
against the President in order to force Corbin to pay up." 
The Herald laughed heartily at its own cunning in out- 
witting "the great gorilla of Wall street, the gold-gobbling 
Gould; the amphibious what-is-it? or 'ring'-tailed financial 
orang-outang, otherwise known to naturalists and the world 
at large as the 'irrepressible Jim Fisk Junior,' and last but by 
no means least . . . that Methodistical monstrosity and per- 
plexing nondescript, that outrageous freak of nature, woolly 
horse Abel R. Corbin." 

Gaily belaboring this menagerie of curiosities, the Herald 
went on: "Here, then, we have the explanation of the re- 
markable devotions paid to Mr. Boutwell by certain finan- 
ciers and lobby men on the occasion of his visit here a few 
weeks ago, and of the wonderful attentions of Fisk, Jr., 
and others to General Grant in his late summer excursions 
in these parts . . . Fisk may be an adept at manipulating gold 
stocks, shares and all that kind of thing, but he has a great 
deal to learn before he can manipulate the Herald" 

Thus did Propagandist Fisk see the stench bomb he had 
so carefully aimed at President Grant, bounce back and ex- 
plode with horrid aroma in his own face. Yet even in his 
malodor he had the satisfaction of seeing Corbin thoroughly 
drenched and noting that some of the taint reached the 
President's coat-tails and clung there. For all the Herald's 
quips, the rumors of administration involvement in the gold 
plot were too thick and persistent to ignore. The Demo- 
cratic New York World called Fisk's fulminations "The 
gravest charges ever made against a President of the United 
States." New York was buzzing with gossip. Abel Corbin 
was sicker than ever under a weight of demonstrated false- 
hood that would embarrass him at two of his favorite places, 
his church and the White House. The unhappy Grant in 



Propagandist Fisk 167 

Washington found it necessary to issue a statement relating 
how Fisk had tried to pump him for information but had 
failed to get it. Congress, aware of an unsavory odor and 
outraged at the ability of a few gamblers in the Gold Room 
to create national panic, asked for an investigation by the 
Banking and Finance Committee under Representative 
James Garfield, who would himself be President one day. 

In January, 1870, ring-tailed orang-outang Fisk, gold- 
gobbling gorilla Gould and woolly horse Corbin trooped 
off to Washington along with other unusual fauna to appear 
before the committee. The simians were no longer on nuz- 
zling terms with the horse, taking every opportunity during 
the testimony to nip his rump. Fisk, who may have been 
sincere in his belief that the President and First Lady were 
linked with the gold ring, admitted that his only grounds 
for this conviction were Gould and Corbin's claims to that 
effect and the fact that Corbin had received a $25,000 check 
to be paid Mrs. Grant as her "profits." That check immedi- 
ately became an object of nationwide curiosity. It was 
established that Mrs. Grant never got it at all. Corbin had 
cashed it himself, using the money to pay a debt. The check 
obviously was the one Gould paid to Corbin as his profit, 
and someone had been lying like thunder. 

Possibly the falsehood was not restricted to one person, 
for it appeared that Gould as well as Corbin had deceived 
Fisk, nor was there any guarantee that purest truth sat upon 
the lips of Fisk himself. Fisk and Gould insisted they had 
never dreamed of gaining a corner on gold. On the con- 
trary, their sense of civic duty had impelled them at great 
personal risk to strengthen the price of gold for the good of 
the Erie freight business and the country at large. 

The President, Mrs. Grant and Mrs. Corbin were not 
asked to testify. Abel Corbin, a pathetic old ruin already 
thoroughly discredited, quavered that he had speculated a 
mite in gold not for himself, mind you, only for his wife 
but never had he used any improper influence on his dis- 



i6S Jim Fisk 

anguished brother-in-law Grant, or suggested to anyone 
that Grant had an interest. Gallantry was the rule, for while 
Daniel Butterfield admitted making a $35,000 profit in only 
one of his gold transactions and a good deal more in others, 
he likewise declared it was done not for himself but for Mrs. 
Butterfield. 

Among this parcel of prevaricators, Garfield's committee 
found it impossible to achieve its goal, namely, the whole 
truth. The committee eventually threw up its hands and 
absolved Grant, who indeed seemed as innocent of guile as 
he had been of wisdom. It excoriated Fisk for his "singular 
depravity/' blasted Gould as the plot's ringleader and Cor- 
bin as an example of "that worst form of hypocrisy which 
puts on the guise of religion and patriotism. . . ." But no 
penalty could be exacted because there was no law against 
buying gold or pressuring the President. Only Butterfield, 
despite his denial that he had accepted from Gould the prof- 
its from $500,000 in gold which Gould swore he had ac- 
cepted received any punishment. He was allowed to resign 
as Assistant Treasurer. 

Historians have had as much trouble as Representative 
Garfield in finding the truth in this gold-plated maze of 
deceit. Some have even marvelled that Fisk, "ruined" on 
Black Friday because of Gould's duplicity, should have 
remained his friend, Surely this is an exaggeration of Fisk's 
forgiving nature. For one thing, since he repudiated his 
contracts, he was not ruined, although he probably made 
nowhere near the $9,000,000 he claimed. For another, it is 
a safe bet that Gould and Fisk, after wiping out Fisk's vast 
debts by letting Belden go bankrupt, divided the $11,000,- 
ooo profits and later remunerated Belden for his helpful 
insolvency an old custom among Wall Street's faster 
gentry. 

George Hooker, who was Belden's partner and Fisk's 
brother-in-law, must have seen enough in these transactions 
to make a Vermonter dizzy. 



CHAPTER 

17 



Railroader Fisk 



ALTHOUGH Fisk soon was able to come out of hiding and 
roam abroad in comparative safety, he was still a leper to 
the righteous. He loved to spend an occasional day at Long 
Branch, only a two-hour boat trip away, a seaside resort of 
ornate hotels fronting on Ocean Avenue, parks strewn with 
flower beds and benches, broad drives where men of fashion 
could race their trotters, and a genteel gambling place, the 
Pennsylvania Club, operated by Fisk's good friend John 
Chamberlain. Chamberlain hailed from Pittsfield, Massachu- 
setts, where Fisk had regularly sold tinware and silks a dec- 
ade earlier, so they had much to josh about. 

Fisk always put up at the glittering, 6oo-room Continental 
Hotel, run by another good friend, William Borrowes. 
After Black Friday, he was pained to note that when he 
arrived at the Continental, a goodly group of society people 
would immediately check out and move to the Stetson 
House, the Pavilion or some other hotel, letting it be known 
that they could not be happy under the same roof as Prince 
Erie. It was said that he scrupulously repaid Borrowes for 
every guest lost because of his contamination. 

However, these viewers-with-repugnance were the upper 
crust, the people who had always loathed Fisk and who 
loathed him now more because he was the embodiment of 
vulgarity than because he was a symbol of something far 
more sinister and dangerous than mere vulgarity corrup- 
tion so strongly entrenched and brazen that it hardly both- 
ered to conceal itself. Some of die linen-suited gentlemen 
who snubbed Fisk and enjoyed high social standing were 

169 



/yo Jim Fisk 

reaping fortunes in corporate and financial piracy almost 
as larcenous as his but less publicized. Corruption was in the 
air, a national disease. Corruption reigned in New York, in 
Albany, across the land, even in Washington. Corruption 
was headlined in a thousand newspapers, deplored in a thou- 
sand pulpits. The smell of it spread to every hamlet and farm, 
so that humble citizens tended to become cynical and con- 
clude that wealth, officialdom and rascality were synony- 
mous. This was par excellence the Era of Avarice. Edmund 
Stedman's warning that Fisk was less an evil in himself than 
a symptom of social and political sickness fell on ears not 
attuned to hear such talk. It was no mere unfortunate coin- 
cidence that some of the sharp fellows of the day, among 
them Daniel Drew, Abel Corbin and Thomas Shearman, 
were pious pillars of the church. Wrongdoing seemed to 
arouse little public wrath so long as it was conducted with 
a reasonable amount of style. So the nabobs and brahmins 
continued to shun Fisk less because of his blunted ethics than 
because they thought him socially revolting, and they con- 
tinued to pocket Boss Tweed and Judge Barnard, without 
whom Fisk might have approached some semblance of 
honesty, as honesty went at die time. 

Possibly in part because of this almost unanimous rejec- 
tion of Fisk by the elite, the less privileged classes were in- 
clined to view him with forgiveness and even fondness. 
Obviously he was a rascal, but he was the honestest rascal in 
sight The woods were so full of scoundrels subtle, scheming 
and sanctimonious that the hoi polloi had all it could stomach 
of that variety. Where else could you find a scoundrel as 
frank and merry about his misdeeds as Jim Fisk? It is a 
commentary on a time of copious f raudulence that Fisk won 
fame because he defined rascality in new terms, revolution- 
ized it, infused it with a fresh originality and picturesqueness 
never before seen. Many humble citizens, sick of cant, 
thanked him because he beat rich impostors at their own 
game, carried on his larcenies without simultaneous resort 



Railroader Fisk 171 

to scriptures or hymns, and seemed comparatively free from 
one prevailing sin hypocrisy. This socio-economic differ- 
ence in attitude was reflected in the newspapers, the staid 
Times and Tribune always condemning him while the more 
earthy Sun, Herald and World as often as not found praise- 
worthy qualities in him. 

Only a month after the Herald had ambushed Fisk in 
his own castle and labeled him "the ring-tailed orang-outang 
of finance," the same paper relented so far as to say, ". . . his 
acquaintance is sought by the very men who denounce him. 
His future career will be watched with great interest by the 
whole American people, and whether his life is spared for a 
longer or shorter period, he can make his exit with the proud 
satisfaction that he once made considerable stir in it." Since 
Fisk was then only thirty-four and almost indecently 
healthy, one has an eerie feeling that the Herald had a clair- 
voyant though dimly-perceived scoop on his coming violent 
death. 

Far from expecting an early demise, he was scorning the 
advice of the Rev. Beecher and laying up for himself treas- 
ures on earth. On October 12, while the financial district 
was still reeling from Black Friday, a carefully selected por- 
tion of Erie's stockholders met at the Opera House to hold 
what was euphemistically called an election of directors. No 
one was surprised when Fisk, Gould and Tweed were re- 
elected along with fourteen hand-picked and obedient pup- 
pets. Among the directors, four were salaried employes of 
Erie thoroughly trained to the leash, a fifth being Commo- 
dore M. R. Simons, who managed Fisk's Narragansett Line 
and was equally docile in harness. A half-dozen of the direc- 
tors were more substantial men, but they likewise tossed 
away any independence they might have felt when they 
signed a pledge to support Gould's policies or resign. 

Here was where the Erie Classification Bill, bought at 
Albany the previous winter with Tweed's help, showed its 
worth. The directors "drew straws" to see who should hold 



]lm Fisk 

the five-year terms provided by the law. With marvelous 
percipience Gould, Fisk and Tweed drew the longest straws. 
Barring a change in law, they could forget for five years 
the vexatious annual elections and devote their energies to 
printing and other cellar endeavors. These three, along with 
a strabismic lawyer named Frederick A. Lane, a Gould sub- 
altern, formed the executive committee, and thereafter they 
guided the road to their taste, dispensing with the formality 
of calling board meetings. 

"Indeed," one observer noted, "Messrs. Fisk and Gould 
have probably forgotten that there is such a thing as a board 
of directors of the Erie Railway, and practically there is 



none." 



Despite his ignorance of railroading, Director Tweed's 
services were so valuable that he kter estimated fiis profits 
from Erie for a three-month period as $650,000. The com- 
pany had a unique system of bookkeeping in which bribes 
were listed under 'legal expenses," better known by insiders 
as the India Rubber Account, but accountants later were 
able to piece together some astonishing figures. Between the 
time Fisk and Gould came into power and October i, 1869 
about fifteen months the printing press increased the 
capital stock of Erie by $53,425,700, according to one au- 
thority, who went on: 

"The amount spent in equipping and improving the road 
during the same time was $6,297,067, leaving $47,128,633 
wholly unaccounted for. No dividend was declared on any 
of the stock after the advent of Fisk and Gould; the debts 
of the corporation were largely increased, so that all the 
profits earned by the road, as well as the many millions re- 
ceived for new stock, remained unaccounted for. No one 
but Fisk and Gould knew anything about it." 

This systematic plunder so exhausted the road's resources 
that it became the basis for a famous Wall Street axiom: "On 
the day Erie declares a dividend, icicles will freeze in hell." 

With the waterlogged stock fluctuating dolefully be- 



Railroader Fisk 173 

tween twenty and thirty percent of its par value, there were 
sour jokes about people starting fires or lighting cigars with 
it. One New Yorker, Frederick Van Wyck, recalled a 
stockholder walking into the Hoffman House bar and of- 
fering Joe, the bartender, "a certificate for i share of Erie 
railroad stock in payment for a drink . . . Incidentally, the 
offer was refused by Joe." While this sounds apocryphal, 
stockholders were doing what they always did complain- 
ing and suing. One of them who sued to bring Fisk and 
Gould to account, found his suit switched to Judge Bar- 
nard's court in New York. Barnard issued an injunction for- 
bidding him from taking further proceedings, then fined 
him $5000 for contempt when he tried to continue his suit 
a discouragement to others so inclined. Railroader Fisk 
issued a long statement suggesting that the suits were in- 
spired by Vanderbilt, who made a handy ogre to be blamed 
for everything, and showing that Erie was in good hands: 

c We have never done anything . . . but there was some- 
body to find fault with it for the mere reason, as it seemed, 
that we had done or attempted to do it." Fisk, who may have 
been loose with his figures, declared that $14,000,000 had 
been spent in improvements, and went on: "These fourteen 
millions have been expended on the road, its equipment, its 
engines, its cars, its steel rails, its roadbeds, its connections, 
and in increasing its business convenience. This has been 
done notwithstanding the great plannings and plottings, 
mandamuses, and injunctions of our opponents. Mr. Gould 
has in all this been entitled to a great deal more credit than 
I. His head is long enough to control and carry out all the 
projects he undertakes; but it may be well enough, you 
know, to have a little assistance, and I have assisted him a 
little . . . The Erie is the greatest corporation on the Ameri- 
can continent, and is as vital to the welfare of New York 
City as the Croton water is to her comfort and safety." 

Despite this brave talk, Erie's treasury was bare an 
anomaly that generally existed in this whimsical railroad, 



Jim Fisk 

which could issue millions in stock and yet find it hard to 
meet current expenses. The wonder is that Fisk's popularity 
among the employes continued unimpaired although they 
were working on three-quarter time and even then their 
paychecks were slow 7 in coming. In November, 1869, the 
brakemen in the Port Jervis area struck for this reason, caus- 
ing a disastrous blockade of freight on the main line. Fisk 
hurried to Port Jervis with a gang of strikebreakers and 
special deputies who had orders to shoot anyone interfering 
with the movement of freight. The strikers were furious, 
says Mott, and "the peace of the community was greatly 
disturbed." Yet Fisk had the nerve to appear there in per- 
son, "and his very appearance was greeted with shouts and 
hearty cheers and expressions of delight from the very men 
he had ordered shot such was the magnetism, the personal 
power, of this inexplicable man." 

While Fisk always spent Christmas in Boston with his 
wife, New Year's was his own in New York. On New 
Year's Day, 1870, he and Josie entertained at an open-house 
reception at her Twenty-third Street house. ". . . There 
were hundreds of people there," Josie later testified. "I 
couldn't enumerate all of them." Among the hundreds were 
Judge Barnard, Judge McCunn, Boss Tweed, Edward S. 
Stokes, and "many bank and railroad presidents," guests 
she described as "some of the very best citizens of New 
York." Fisk, who had grown very fond of his oil partner, 
did not notice what some others did that Stokes was hov- 
ering around Miss Mansfield with what seemed more than 
casual interest. In time his attentions caused the kind of talk 
accompanied by knowing winks; yet Fisk, his eye on the 
horizons of commerce and navigation, seemed unaware of 
any betrayal at his own hearth. 

Although Judge Barnard had already been presented with 
some Erie stock and had a locomotive emblazoned with his 
name, his continuing friendliness won him other tokens of 
gratitude. Fisk waggishly sent him two stuffed owls to in- 



Railroader Fisk 775 

dicate how doubly wise he was. Gould "loaned" him $3000. 
Barnard took such a fancy to the walnut Erie office chairs 
with the tooled monogram "E.R." that a whole set of such 
chairs turned up in his own dining room, identical except 
that they bore his monogram, "G.G.B." Although he later 
swore he had paid for them, there was no record of this 
and he was widely disbelieved. It was at this rime that the 
Tweed Ring was building the New York County court- 
house, an edifice intended to be finished complete for $250,- 
ooo, but which had run into such "construction snags" that 
its cost already neared $10,000,000. A plastering contractor 
named Andrew J. Garvey had spread so many acres of 
plaster that his bill alone was nearly $3,000,000. According 
to Garvey, Judge Barnard met him one day outside of 
chambers and said, "I wish some work done at my house, 
and I can have any thing done I want. I have seen Mr. 
Tweed. ..." A Garvey crew thereupon did $1000 worth 
of frescoing and painting at Barnard's Twenty-first Street 
house without charge, presumably adding this trivial item 
to the courthouse bill. 

After Barnard's wife presented him with a son early in 
January, 1870, Fisk, Gould and many other notables were 
guests at the judge's home to see the baby christened John 
Charles Barnard. Fisk, embarrassed because others had 
brought gifts and he had not, later joined Gould in sending 
Mrs. Barnard a bankbook with a $1000 deposit for the son 
along with a formal note: 

"Dear Madam: A few days since we were much gratified 
at being present at the christening of your little son, and 
as a small memento of the pleasure we experienced on that 
occasion, we beg your acceptance, on his behalf, [of] the 
inclosed bank book. 
"With kindest regards, we remain, dear madam, 

"Very truly yours, 
"James Fisk, Jr. 
"Jay Gould." 



176 Jim Fisk 

Josie Mansfield, who had come to think in large figures, 
mistakenly thought the gift was $10,000. She congratulated 
the judge, saying, "Your little boy has been in luck. It will 
be a pretty good sum when your boy becomes of age; it is 
$10,000, ain't it?" 

"Not quite that," Barnard laughed. "Who told you so?" 
"Never mind who told me so; I understand it is $10,000." 
Barnard later showed her the bankbook to prove it was 
only $1000. 

Although Josie was easily the best-kept kept woman in 
New York, and had been apparently content for more than 
two years, she was showing signs of dissatisfaction. Fisk 
had already tossed away a fortune on her, but knowing her 
propensity for spending, he was hard-headed enough to keep 
a mild check-rein on her expenditures. He maintained her 
in luxury and paid all her current bills, balking only at her 
suggestion that he give her a bank account from which she 
could draw at her pleasure a wise provision in view of her 
weakness for diamonds and sables. She was forever in need 
of money. His letters show that he was constantly sending 
her sums of around $100 or $200, enough to tide her over 
but not enough to send her to Tiffany's. Possibly also he 
enjoyed these endless tokens of her dependence on him, for 
at times she was capable of a hauteur worthy of Mrs. Astor. 
To Josie, who forgot that she had come a long way finan- 
cially in two years, these driblets were niggardly and hu- 
miliating. Far ahead of her time, she favored a social 
security or pension plan for kept women. As one commen- 
tator said, "she was continually importuning Fisk to settle 
something on her to make her independent." 

She already regarded her four-story brownstone house 
as her very own, which technically it was. It was founded 
on a poker game at her previous house on Twenty-fourth 
Street, when Fisk and the other players had given her the 
night's winnings, some $2500. Fisk had invested the money 
for her in Erie, which he knew was then on the rise, and 



Railroader Fisk 777 

ran it up to $15,000. With this $15,000, plus $5000 he 
donated, she bought the brownstone in her own name, Fisk 
also carrying a considerable mortgage on it and spending 
some $65,000 for improvements and furnishings. Josie's 
blonde cousin from Boston, Marietta Williams, was living 
there with her as a companion and apparently also to lend 
an aura of respectability. Fisk probably paid her expenses 
as well. 

Since Josie's yearning for independence coincided with 
her new interest in Ned Stokes, there is a plausible theory 
that she was preparing to throw Fisk over and was seeking 
to make hay while the sun shone. In Wall Street terms, Fisk 
was a solid investment for a f oresighted young lady, while 
the spendthrift Stokes was the riskiest of gambles, and it 
seemed prudent to make one last killing in Fisk stock before 
taking a flyer on Stokes. Prince Erie, as yet unaware that he 
was being sold short by a secret Stokes-Mansfield pool, was 
wise enough in the tricks of the market to avoid any lump 
payment to Josie that would allow her to corner him. There 
were quarrels between the amorous speculators on this issue, 
with Josie using a familiar argumentative weapon, true only 
in reverse Fisk was growing tired of her. Late in January 
she put her foot down. She was leaving him, she said, because 
he so heartlessly refused to remedy her financial insecurity. 
Fisk replied with a flowery farewell: 

Sunday Evening, Feb. i, 1870 

My Dear Josie: I received your letter. The tenor does 
not surprise me much. You alone sought the issue, and the 
reward will belong to you. I cannot allow you to depart 
believing yourself what you write, and must say to you, 
which you know full well, that all the differences could 
have been settled by a kiss in the right spirits, and in after 
days I should feel very kindly toward you out of memory 
of the great love I have borne for you. I never was aware 
that you admitted a fault I have many God knows, too 
many and that has brought me the trouble of the day . . . 



/7 '8 Jim Fisk 

I will give you no parting advice ... A longer letter from 
me might be much of an advertisement of my weakness, and 
the only great idea I would impress on your mind is how 
wrong you are when you say that I have "grown tired of 
you." Wrong, wrong! Never excuse yourself on that in 
after years . . . 

No more. Like the Arabs, we will fold our tents and 
quietly steal away, and when we spread them next we hope 
it will be where the "woodbine twineth," over the river 
Jordan, on the beautiful banks of Heaven. From yours, ever, 

James 

In the creation of billets-doux, Fisk was unique, combin- 
ing in this one a spurious acceptance of the end of his affair 
with Josie along with the perfect assurance that he was 
aching to have her back. During the interim he retired to 
his diggings at 313 West Twenty-third along with his 
colored valet, John Marshall. It was of short duration. Josie, 
who knew him well, could see that her hold on him was still 
secure. Possibly she merely bided her time. In his next note, 
dated February 10, he unfolded his tent again: 

My Dear Dolly: Will you see me this morning? If so, 
what hour? Yours truly, ever, 

James 



CHAPTER 



18 



Impresario 



Fisk 



FISK dove head-first into the theatrical business with a 
naive belief that it had bogged down under old-fogy leader- 
ship and needed only a clever young man with ideas and 
circus experience to breathe life into it. He found the 
water rather cold. His failure to win immediate success as 
the new colossus of stagecraft riled him, ruffled his poise. His 
critics declared that his interest in the stage was motivated 
purely, or impurely, by his desire to surround himself with 
lovely women in tights, but this was an injustice. While 
such a thought may not have been repugnant to him, he sin- 
cerely felt himself the savior of show business and worked 
at it with dedication. 

In fact, he gave instructions and called the tune at rehear- 
sals with such a bull-in-china-closet impetuosity that his 
managers came to cringe at his approach. He was impatient 
with nuances of technique he never knew existed. He 
wanted to make a splash. For a manager like John Broug- 
ham, who had grown up in the theater and could write a 
play, direct it and enact several characters therein, it was 
hard to see eye to eye with a man whose previous training 
had been largely with the hyenas and kangaroos in Van 
Amberg's menagerie. Fisk's tenure as proprietor of New 
York's three handsomest theaters was short-lived. After ten 
losing weeks he walked backstage at Brougham's Theater 
and quarreled with the manager. "You have been chipping 
away at my money long enough," he said, waving a black 
bamboo cane. 

The Dublin-born Brougham, then appearing in Pocahon- 

179 



180 Jim Fisk 

tas, was clad as the chief Powhatan and carried a tomahawk 
which he later admitted he was tempted to put to practical 
use. Instead, he quietly resigned and later went on tour. 
William Winter, drama critic for the Tribune and a good 
friend of Brougham's, believed that Fisk's motive was less 
to save money than to make the theater available for the 
opera bouffe troupe of Mile. Irma, a French performer in 
whom he had grown interested. "A more obnoxious individ- 
ual never imposed himself upon the stage/' Winter said of 
Fisk. 

The critic was incensed when Fisk's good friend George 
Butler offered him an easy way to make $2500 a year. Win- 
ter asked what he would have to do. 

"Only to keep his [Fisk's] name before your read- 
ers," Butler said. ". . . anything pleasantly personal; anything 
that might do him good. There is no labor in it; all he wants 
is to have the good-will of the press." 

"You can tell Mr. Fisk," Winter snapped, "that I have 
never been carried in anybody's pocket, and that I don't 
intend to begin." 

Deficits dogged Fisk also at the huge Academy of Music, 
where he presented the opera Lurline to small houses. On 
the theory that the language difficulty was at fault, he tried 
having it sung on alternate nights in English and Italian, 
without noticeable improvement in receipts. After further 
unprofitable efforts with German and Italian opera, he al- 
lowed the Academy lease to lapse, taking a $20,000 loss. 

^ But to his own Grand Opera House, one floor down from 
his Erie office, he devoted the constant and often exasperated 
attentions of a father on a refractory offspring. It was at 
this time that Jacques Offenbach's operas bouffes, the musi- 
cal comedy of the day, were enjoying sensational success in 
Paris and had been tried in New York, one of them being 
on the boards at the Opera House when Fisk took over. 
While he liked the gay Offenbach operettas, he was smitten 



i$2 Jim Fisk 

While he could afford the loss, he had a business man's 
dislike for red ink. It became a point of pride with him to 
make the Opera House a commercial success. He worked 
at this with enough diligence to offend stockholders who 
accused him of neglecting the railroad, one of them com- 
plaining in a lawsuit that Fisk advertised special trains for 
theatergoers "and [has] erected in conspicuous places in 
said city, at the expense of said Company, showy and 
costly lamp-posts, whereon are advertised, in elaborate glass 
panels, on the one side the location of the said 'Grand Opera 
House' . . . and on the opposite and less conspicuous side, 
the offices and business of the Erie Railway Company. . . ." 
The complaint further alleged "That said Opera House has 
free boxes and hospitality from its owners for their male 
and female friends. . . ." 

Impervious to lawsuits, Fisk tried to lure crowds by low- 
ering general admission from a dollar to fifty cents during 
the summer of 1869, when Lucille Western and her troupe 
presented a succession of melodramas. That meant he had 
to pack the house to make a profit. He was still in the red 
when fall came, still planning greater things. That winter 
he produced his first smash hit The Twelve Temptations, 
a song-and-dance enormity that cost $75,000 to stage, 
boasted a cast of more than 200, a stage cataract with tons 
of real water, a rip-snorting cancan, and a truly Fiskian 
innovation one writer described with admiration: "A corps 
of beautiful blondes alternated with one of ravishing bru- 
nettes from night to night." Possibly later showmen like 
Ziegfeld and DeMille learned a few pointers from Prince 
Erie. One of the featured singers was a pretty, auburn- 
haired thing named Nully Pieris, said to be a special favor- 
ite of Fisk's. The impresario swelled with pride as The 
Twelve Temptations played to enthusiastic houses week 
after week. He racked his brain to keep it rolling, adding 
new dance sequences, bringing in an imported Spanish bal- 




fore he met Josie, Jim Fisk allowed his red mustache to wander untrammeled. 



u n Brother f 




Admiral Fisk, mustaches now 
tethered, sported gems even in 
nautical attire. 

SiU'~Yr>rk Hmorictil Soiiety, New York City 



Colonel Fisk somehow fell short of 
martial mien despite a $2000 livery. 

Neu'-York Historical Society, New York City 



h an eye for gain, Josie Mansfield 
?d passions that got out of hand. 





New York gasped at the splendor 
of the Opera House which housed 
the Erie offices and also a bevy of 
women in tights. Right: Detail of 
one of the great doors carved with 
the monogram "E.R." 

Both Photographs, Erie Railroad Co. 





Handsome Ned Stokes-or 
Fisk's bosom friend, he 
became his bitterest enemy 



Brown Brothers 



Commodore Vanderbilt came to respect Horace Greeley beat the drum for airing 
Fisk as a redoubtable enemy. the Fisk-Mansfield letters. 

New York Public Library Prints Dinsion New York Public Library Prints Dirision 





Daniel Drew knew more Bible and less 
pity than any operator in Wall Street. 

New York Public Library Prints Division 



Judge George Barnard could twist the 
law oddly in favor of Fisk and Gould. 

New York Public Library Prints Dt:ision 




Jay Gould-he quailed at Fisk's glitter but 
found him a perfect accomplice. 
Erie Railroad Co. 




'artoMiiUts had fun with Fisk. Above he appears in his four great roles, as Prince Eric 
\\ atcring the stock' 1 (note shirtfront diamond; ; as admiral; as maltre de ballet (note 
iamond * : and as colonel of the Ninth. Below, Nast caricatures him as FalstafT, with 
oundcd ankle bandaged after the Orange riot. 

,;''- >' ': \Vi Y f *L P:d.:: L;br,;r, Prints Division; Nast Cartoon from Harper's Weekly 





Satirist Nast proposed Tweed for 
President with a crew of fellow 
sharpers as his Cabinet. Above is 
Tweed, with Gov. Hoffman entirely 
in his shadow, then, reading clockwise, 
Cabinet Members Sweeny, Hall, Fisk 
(Secretary of the Navy), and Garvey 
(Secretary of the Interior;. Right: 
Another artist pictures Fisk as a 
juggler balancing his varied 
enterprises. 

Both Cartoons New York Public Librjry--Pnnts 
Division,' Nast Cartoon from Harper's It eekly 




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Impresario Fisk 

let troupe, increasing the army of leggy femininity from 
seventy-five to a hundred. He advertised like mad; 

THE DEMON CAN-CAN 

Received Nightly with Wild Enthusiasm 

TERPSICHOREAN AEROSTATICS 

The Mystery Sill Unsolved 

THE EGYPTIAN BALLET 

The Most Novel of Novelties 

THE GRAND 
TRANSFORMATION SCENE 

The Wonder of Wonders 

100 BEAUTIFUL YOUNG LADIES 

Contains Nothing Objectionable 

Impresario Fisk was so delighted that he hardly even 
winced at a nasty reminder of his railroad responsibilities* 
On March 29, 1870, an ancient iron rail gave way near 
Elmira, sending three Erie passenger cars catapulting off the 
track and over an embankment. Not a soul was killed, only 
fourteen people being badly injured a casualty list that 
seemed trivial after the previous massacres. Erie money 
rightly should have been spent on steel rails rather than 100 
Beautiful Young Ladies, but The Twelve Temptations clat- 
tered on like a well-oiled locomotive for three months more 
before it ran out of steam and closed, 

Augustin Daly, now renting Fisk's Fifth Avenue Theater, 
was a managerial autocrat fanatically opposed to outsiders 
coming backstage a privilege Fisk, as landlord, insisted 
on. Although forced to allow him the freedom of the green- 
room, Daly urged his players to have nothing to do with 
him. This warning went unheeded, for the company found 
him not only funnier than most stage comedians but also 
gripped by a genuine passion for the theater. ". . . They 
were all very fond of Jimmy Fisk," recalled Clara Morris, 
a minor member of the cast. ". . . He never forgot them on 



184 Jim Fisk 

benefit night; whether the beneficiary was a man or woman 

there was always a gift ready from the 'Railroad Prince.' " 

Miss Morris, who would later rise to stardom, at first 
obeyed Daly's dictum and shunned Fisk with such resolu- 
tion that he said plaintively, "I'd like to offer her a word of 
welcome and congratulations, but she won't give a chap any 
margin." She soon fell under the Fisk spell and was friendly 
with him for the rest of his short life. "His blue eyes danced 
with fun," she said, "for he was one of nature's comedians 
. . . No one could talk five minutes with him without being 
moved to laughter." 

She was fascinated by his atrociously showy clothing, his 
propensity for telling jokes on himself, his use of quaint rural 
phraseology. To her he seemed so much the soul of merri- 
ment that she could not believe the horrid stories about his 
immorality. Miss Morris was further impressed by his fre- 
quent praise of his wife, whom he pictured as a woman 
with a saintly ability to overlook his foibles. In illustrating 
this point, he told a story that was a mite risque for the time. 

On one occasion when Lucy visited him, he said, his 
valet was present when she noticed a hairpin on the sofa 
a crinkled hairpin of a kind she never used but which were 
favored by showgirls. The valet rolled his eyes appre- 
hensively. 

"I saw myself in court fighting a divorce like the devil," 
Fisk went on. "And then, after an awful, perspiring 
silence, my Lucy says she that has worn straight pins all 
her life: "James, that is a lazy and careless woman that 
cares for your rooms. It's three weeks to-day since I left 
for home, and here is one of my hair-pins lying on the sofa 
ever since!' . . . Oh, I tell you, my Lucy can't be beat!" 

No mere commercialism Fisk enjoyed the glamour of 
show business, the organized confusion of rehearsals, the 
tantrums and jealousies of the stars, the novelty of seeing 
a new audience every night. It flattered his ego to be boss 
over a regiment of performers, stagehands and musicians, 



Impresario Fisk 18$ 

and he relished taking a bow under a spotlight with the 
cast after a final curtain. He never lost the beaming attitude 
of a country boy delighted but not surprised by Ws success 
in the city. It gave him immense satisfaction to sit in his 
great, red-curtained proscenium box, look down on the 
stage on one side and row upon row of spectators fading 
off to the rear, and reflect that all this was his. In the box 
directly above him was Miss Mansfield, whom he also be- 
lieved to be his even though she was making as much fuss 
as a prima donna disgruntled with her salary. To him, every 
performance was a grand social occasion requiring his per- 
sonal supervision to assure complete success. He liked to 
station himself in the lobby for a quarter-hour before the 
overture, greeting hundreds of friends like a jovial boniface 
as they entered a hand-shaking ritual he continued be- 
tween the acts, flitting from one box to another, with 
maybe a side trip to the bar. 

Since most bluebloods shunned anything connected with 
Fisk on principle, the Grand Opera House could not be 
called a fashionable theater, but wealth and officialdom were 
there, wearing boiled shirts and pearls. Mayor Hall, himself 
a facile writer, occasionally was in the audience, as were 
Boss Tweed, Judge Barnard, Peter Sweeny, and a whole 
host of the Tammany faithful of great and small degree, 
including that record-breaking plasterer, Andrew J* Gar- 
vey. Ned Stokes, who had become a fast friend of Barnard, 
was often there. One of the town's best-publicized secrets 
was Josie Mansfield's status as Fisk's mistress, causing hun- 
dreds of necks to crane during intermissions to get a glimpse 
of the Twenty-third Street Cleopatra. Judge Barnard, a 
man with plenty of nerve, did not allow her notoriety to 
prevent him from going to Josie's box and chatting with 
her between the acts in full sight of the audience. 

All this glitter was meat and drink to Social Lion Fisk, 
but Impresario Fisk was never far behind. During his first 
theatrical year he had ridden off in all directions, scattered 



his energies, tried everything from broadest farce to toniest 
opera. Now he reviewed the field and decided that opera 
bouff e offered the best combination of pleasant music and 
fun and that it could be presented successfully with a tal- 
ented company despite some staid American opinion that 
it was wicked. Possibly his partiality came about, as some 
critics sniffed, because he was on opera-bouffe character 
himself. At any rate, he sent Max Maretzek across the 
Atlantic with instructions to wheedle away the brightest 
operetta stars of Paris if possible to snag the great Offen- 
bach himself. 

One reason why Fisk had some trouble in attracting Euro- 
pean talent was because he was known there as the bete noire 
of Erie, which had so grievously wronged European stock- 
holders. He even turned for help to the State Department, 
seeking the influence of Secretary of State Hamilton Fish 
in bringing over a famous Belgian orchestra. He wrote Gen- 
eral Daniel Sickles, an old Wall Street plunger who was 
now United States Minister in Madrid and a frequent visitor 
in Paris, asking Sickles to persuade Offenbach to come to 
New York under the Fisk banner. The irony of this was 
lost on Fisk, who was unaware that Sickles was then secretly 
organizing a movement sponsored by European stockholders 
and aimed at crushing Erie's Fisk-Gould leadership in a sur- 
prise attack. 

Maretzek could not lure Offenbach, but he did bring back 
a group of skilled French performers, among them Miles. 
Celine Montaland, Lea Silly and Marie Aimee. Aimee was 
the biggest catch, the second-best operetta diva in Europe, 
fetching both in voice and appearance as she strummed a 
guitar in the title role of La Perichole. Since this trio and 
others of the cast spoke little English, Fisk hired a multi- 
lingual Belgian named Georges Barbin as his full-time inter- 
preter. It was said that he paid romantic attentions to Celine 
Montaland, which if true must have placed M. Barbin in an 
interesting middleman's position. 



Impresario Fisk 187 

This far-flung search for expensive talent was a luxury 
Fisk could afford only because of his enormous stock win- 
nings and the fact that unlike other impresarios he got his 
theater virtually free. Although the Grand Opera House had 
been bought with Erie money, the elastic Fisk-Gould book- 
keeping system allowed them to collect $75,000 annual rent 
from Erie, at the same time drawing profitable rents from 
a row of ground-floor stores on the Twenty-third Street 
side. The corporation's stockholders were all too correct in 
assuming that they were supporting not only a debilitated 
railroad but also a flock of singers, dancers, musicians and 
scene-shifters, not to mention advertising lamp posts. 

Operating the only endowed theater in New York, Fisk 
produced a series of operas-bouffes directed by Maretzek, 
but showed as much temperament as his stars. While there 
was an understanding that Maretzek would conduct at the 
Opera House during the 1870-71 season, Fisk hedged on 
signing a contract with him, thereby holding the Austrian 
at the mercy of his caprice. When the brothers Strakosch 
brought Christine Nilsson to New York that winter, Fisk 
sulked in his tent at the knowledge that others had succeeded 
where he had failed. Hearing that Maretzek had agreed to 
conduct at Nilsson's first concert at the Academy of Music, 
he exploded, sending him a peremptory note forbidding him 
to take part in a rival show. Maretzek, feeling himself free 
so long as no contract had been signed, ignored the command 
and conducted for Nilsson in full dress. At the next day's 
rehearsal at the Opera House, Fisk burst in with blood in his 
eye. He pointed a stubby finger at Maretzek. 

"Swindler!" he roared. "Liar!" 

"This was more than Max could endure," says a con- 
temporary account, "and he immediately descended from 
his stand and levelled a powerful blow at Mr. Fisk's nose. 
The latter parried . . . and then the two closed in a fierce 
struggle and soon went down, Fisk coming on top. The 
corps de ballet and prime dorme were screaming. Bystanders 



i88 Jim Fisk 

separated them. . . No great damage had been done beyond 
a serious soiling of Mr. Fisk's tidy toilet and the making of a 
slightly black eye for Maretzek." 

Maretzek quit in a rage, threatening a lawsuit that never 
materialized. He was the last of Fisk's distinguished man- 
agers. Very possibly by that time Fisk thought he knew 
more than any manager anyway* 



CHAPTER 



19 



Colonel JLisk 



EARLY in 1870, Fisk, the Civil War contractor, felt his 
martial spirit so stirred by the throb of peacetime drums 
that he could not resist the call to arms. This came about 
because the Ninth Regiment of the New York State Na- 
tional Guard had fallen into such a moribund state that 
without an infusion of new blood and capital it would have 
expired. Its membership had sunk below 250, its uniforms 
and equipment were in sorry shape, its band was sour and 
its morale so low that even some of its officers saw dis- 
bandment as a possibility. 

Such a course was unthinkable to its commander, Colonel 
Charles H. Braine, who had fought with the Ninth during 
the war and cherished a fierce paternal pride in his outfit. 
It was going to take strong medicine, he saw, to save the 
Ninth. He dished it out with a steady hand. The thing to do, 
he said, was to elect Jim Fisk colonel if he would accept. 

The picture of Fisk as a military leader must have 
occasioned a few snickers among the officers, but Braine was 
serious. It was pointed out that he was already colonel. 
Braine gave the next-to-last full measure of devotion. He 
stood ready to demote himself to lieutenant colonel if Fisk 
would take command. It is safe to say that Fisk's services 
were sought less as a leader than as a sponsor, or what 
today would be called an angel, and it is probable that some 
combat veterans of the Ninth quailed even then at the 
thought of taking on a man who had worn silk underwear 
and patent leather shoes throughout the late conflict. But 
combat veterans were in the minority, the regiment's condi- 

189 



Jim Fish 

tion was critical, and the bitter draught was swallowed. 
Colonel Braine led a committee of officers to the Opera 
House to sound out Fisk. 

They found him refreshingly candid about his military 
inexperience. He admitted that while he liked to drive f our- 
or six-in-hand, sitting a horse at the head of a regiment 
was not for one of his dimensions. 

"I'm like one of our Erie locomotives," said the incurable 
punster. "I always have a tender behind. I never rode on 
horseback an hour in my life without having to take my 
meals from a mantelpiece for three days afterward." 

Braine assured him that the occasions on which he would 
be required to sit a horse would be few. Fisk thought it 
over for a moment. 

"You know I'm no military man," he said. "I've never 
trained a day in my life; never shot off a gun or pistol; and 
don't know even the A B C's of war, yet. Fact is, I doubt 
whether I could shoulder arms or file left, or make a re- 
connaissance in force, or do any of them things, to save my 
boots. And as for giving orders why, I don't know any- 
thing about it. Elect me, though, and then we'll talk about 



it." 



The election, held on April 7 at the Ninth Regiment 
Armory on West Twenty-sixth Street, only a few blocks 
from Castle Erie, was a mere formality. Of twenty officers 
present, only two possibly Erie stockholders failed to 
vote for Fisk. The new colonel, waiting in an anteroom, 
came out and was greeted with cheers by the soldiers. A 
Herald reporter, missing the solemnity of the occasion, 
referred to Fisk in his story as "the Mushroom Mars" and 
"Colonel Napoleon Fisk," going on: "The great god of war 
then mounted the dais and the trembling centurions were 
summoned before him. In a deep bass voice he then issued 
a pronunciamento, and to the obsequious satraps declared 
that there was a tide in the affairs of the militia which taken 
at the flood leads on to glory." 



Colonel Fisk igi 

Punctuating his remarks with taps of his gold-headed 
cane, Fisk drew a laugh when he admitted that it would 
be impossible for a man of his shape to execute marching 
maneuvers in any but a large hall. He became properly 
serious, paying tribute to Lieutenant Colonel Braine as he 
observed that all the Ninth needed now was more men and 
more gumption, and he would do his best to help get both. 
He started off by offering a $500 prize to the company 
enrolling the most new men by July i. This was going to 
take some doing in Company E, which had dwindled down 
to nothing and was at present a myth. 

New York, although expecting the unusual from Fisk, 
seemed uncertain how to take his rise to a colonelcy. It 
caused more comment than the elevation of General Grant 
to the command of all Union armies during the war. Some 
newspapers regarded it as the biggest joke since Daniel 
Drew endowed a theological seminary, while others viewed 
it as perilous rather than funny. What was Fisk doing 
getting ready to stage a military coup d'etat? Some thought- 
ful people recalled his frantic scramble to gather an army 
during the A. & S. hostilities the previous year and laid 
this new move to a determination on his part not to be 
caught short again when a crisis loomed. He was said to be 
the first person in history to hold simultaneously the tides 
of colonel and admiral There was speculation as to whether 
this new command did not imply some betrayal of his 
former dedication to the sea, and whether he should prop- 
erly be addressed as Colonel-Admiral or Admiral-Colonel. 
Fisk, enjoying the fuss, was measured once again by Tailor 
Bell, who, wiseacres said, had to use an extra-long elastic 
tape to gauge his girth. Bell fitted him with a uniform 
heavily festooned with gold braid which, one writer af- 
firmed, cost a cool $2000 and was as gorgeous as a Mexican 
general's. 

Fisk had compiled a list of 200 Erie and Opera House 
employes who were clearly able to shoulder a musket. He 



192 Jim Fish 

approached them with arguments about a man's duty to his 
flag, the ragged delights of soldiering and the many social 
diversions enjoyed by members of the Ninth. These 
representations were so convincing, coming as they did 
from the man who held their jobs at his pleasure, that few 
could resist them. There was a rush of Erie personnel to the 
colors, one of the recruits being Henry Page, business man- 
ager at the Opera House, who never suspected he was 
taking a fatal step. The colonel announced that the first 
moonlight parade would take place April 14, right down 
Fifth Avenue. 

To Fisk, Fifth Avenue represented the last and most im- 
portant citadel of success, the only one he had failed to 
storm and capture. He had whipped Wall Street, subdued 
Erie, triumphed over the theater, won wealth, power and 
intimacy with the mighty, and still Fifth Avenue turned 
back all his attacks. It was the street of fashion, shaded by 
huge ailanthus trees, lined from Washington Square to 
Fifty-ninth Street with the homes of the elect. Sixth Avenue 
had the shopping bazars, Ninth Avenue had the new and 
noisy elevated railway, Park Avenue was a grubby street 
filled with the din of Commodore Vanderbilt's trains, and 
Fifth Avenue stuck up its nose in the midst of it all, con- 
scious of its quiet elegance. To Fifth Avenue, Fisk was the 
mortal enemy who must be kept out at all costs. He would 
have dearly loved admittance there on his own terms but 
this was a dream never to be realized, the terms being un- 
acceptable. Since all of the Fifth Avenue gentlemen's clubs 
excluded him, he had joined with Gould, Mayor Hall and 
others in the formation of the Blossom dub in a former 
mansion on Fifth near Twentieth Street, where the sitting 
room was adorned with a large portrait of Boss Tweed. 

On the night of the i4th, he led his regiment down the 
avenue, a figurehead colonel on display, with Braine behind 
him giving the marching orders. The band was execrable, 
the uniforms shabby, and grandees in the clubs along the 



Colonel Fisk 

way gazed down on the commander with contempt. It 
was noted that scattered cheers came only from the Blossom 
Club. 

A lover of bands, Fisk aimed to improve the Ninth's if 
he had to hire an entirely new one. His advent as colonel 
had not only astonished the town but also injected a new 
element of interest into the regiment itself. Even the men 
in the ranks could see that he took his new duties more 
seriously than anyone had expected or even desired, and was 
determined to make his command the best in New York 
regardless of effort or cost. He promptly gave Braine and 
several other officers good Erie jobs* Out of the great Fisk 
coffers came money for new uniforms for the whole regi- 
ment. He lured a platoon of his skilled Opera House 
musicians into the colors, rebuilding the band virtually over- 
night. Recruiting was going on at a merry clip. Company E, 
reborn, was manned largely by Erie personnel and was 
christened the Fisk Guard. By May 13, when Colonel Fisk 
and his command were the guests of Impresario Fisk at a 
special showing of The Twelve Temptations at the Opera 
House, the regiment had swelled to almost 500 men. 

The colonel, in full panoply with sword and white kid 
gloves, his red mustaches waxed to points fit to run an 
enemy clear through the body, greeted his soldiers as they 
filed into the lobby clad in their new dress uniforms dark 
blue trousers with broad gold stripes, blue coats with gold 
lace, dark red epaulets. The Ninth had never had it so 
good. "In an anteroom hard by/' a reporter noted, "a corps 
of attentive waiters were kept busy icing champagne and 
dispensing it freely to all who called." There were plenty 
of calls. What other regiment offered free champagne? In 
the midst of this gaiety the colonel's brow darkened when 
a constable walked up and handed him a familiar paper a 
summons. It turned out to be a suit by a grocer over a $41 .25 
butter bill. To a man who had been and was being sued 
for millions, a lawsuit for a mere $41.25 over a prosaic 



item like butter was a studied affront. In a rage, he threw the 
summons on the floor and ground it under the heels of his 
shiny new fifty-dollar military boots. 

"It is a trick," he snarled, "to insult me in front of my 



men!" 



Loyal members of the Ninth advanced on the constable 
with such menacing aspect that he made haste to leave, but 
aside from this unfortunate incident the party was a huge 
success. Fisk and his officers retired to the Erie box, where 
they got a fine view of 100 Beautiful Young Ladies high- 
kicking over their heads and the colonel unloaded a joke 
on Braine: "That," he said, "is one movement the Ninth 
cannot perform, I'll bet." Down below, the soldiers admired 
the stage waterfall, cheered the Demon Can-Can and kept 
the waiters so busy that the regiment was in fairly ragged 
formation when it left the Opera House after the show. 
"After the performance," says a historian, "he [Fisk] 
entertained his officers and some of his chief danseuses at 
a sumptuous entertainment in his elegant banqueting hall." 

Fisk next scheduled a grand ball for the Ninth at the 
Academy of Music for May 27, inviting Boss Tweed and 
other luminaries. On the 2yth he sent Tweed a worried 
note: 

"My dear Tweed: ... I have all my arrangements for 
the Ball made for this evening, the Squire [Peter B. 
Sweeny] will be there, and also the Governor & Staff. I 
have just heard that you were not coming but I don't think 
this can be possible; and it would be a great disappointment 
to me not to see you there. . . ." 

Tweed failed to show up, but the Academy was a gor- 
geous place nevertheless, with a decor of stars and flowers 
and catering by Delmonico's. The colonel entertained Gov- 
ernor Hoffman and other notables with a private supper in 
the prima donna's room at midnight at which mutual toasts 
were drunk. "Mr. Director- Admiral-Colonel Fisk returned 
thanks in a neat speech," noted Leslie's, "in which, replying 



Colonel Fisk 

to some jocose allusions to his rotundity, he signified his 
intention to procure a curved musket to correspond to the 
proportions of his figure." Other National Guard groups in 
New York sneered at the Ninth and its tinsel colonel, sug- 
gesting that the regiment had traded its soul for tainted 
wealth, but there may have been envy mixed in with the 
jibes, for the men of the Ninth were discovering delights 
never before known in soldiering. 

It was at this time that Commodore Vanderbilt, still angry 
because of the loss he had taken in Fisk and Gould's Black 
Friday operations, and still being sued for millions by the 
pair, dealt them a mighty blow. He reduced the CentraPs 
rate on cattle between Buffalo and New York from $160 
to forty dollars per carload. Although Erie would lose 
heavily at the forty-dollar rate, Fisk and Gould felt they had 
to meet the reduction. No sooner had they done it than the 
Commodore, with the air of a man who has led his enemies 
into a trap, lowered his rate to one dollar a carload. 

One dollar a carload! Vanderbilt's moneybags could stand 
it, but Erie would be ruined. Fisk and Gould went into 
anxious conference, Gould tearing paper into bits. It was 
Fisk who saw that the Commodore, instead of backing them 
into a corner, had presented them with a glorious oppor- 
tunity. 

Erie did not reduce its rate further. Fisk got on the tele- 
graph to the road's Buffalo agent, ordering him to buy all 
beef cattle available in his area and ship them to New York 
on the Central. The agent rounded up 6000 head* Soon 
the Central's eastbound freights were choked with livestock, 
losing money on every carload a loss Vanderbilt shrugged 
off on the theory that he was giving Erie the coup de grdce. 
Erie meanwhile carried almost no cattle but was handling 
other freight at gratifying rates, and Fisk, having tempo- 
rarily gone into the beef business, was disposing of his live- 
stock to New York commission merchants at a handsome 
profit, thanks to the Central's philanthropic tariff. Not 



196 Jim Fisk 

until several days later did the Commodore discover that 
instead of smiting "them blowers," he was subsidizing them. 
"He very nearly lost his reason," said one observer, and 
hurriedly pushed the rate back to the old figure. 

Irked at the necessity of traveling to Long Branch in 
boats he considered shabby, Fisk had spent $94,000 the 
previous winter for the former Stonington steamer Ply- 
mouth Rock. He had the 345 -foot vessel refitted for the 
1870 season into a floating hotel with thirty-two apartments, 
a restaurant and a splendid bar finished in white marble and 
lined with mirrors. Fisk's likeness was painted "in rich 
colors" on each side of the ship's boiler. Thereafter he 
sailed to the New Jersey resort in style, sometimes accom- 
panied by Miss Mansfield, who, although her affections had 
strayed, liked Long Branch and other luxuries so well that 
she found it expedient to postpone a final break while she 
parleyed for her future security. The colonel-admiral, a 
confirmed hotel greeter ever since his boyhood when he 
worked at Brattleboro's Revere House, stood by the gang- 
plank when the boat docked and passed pleasantries with 
everyone who came off. Two years later, long after Josie 
had quarreled irrevocably with Fisk, she gave a revealing bit 
of testimony when questioned in court. 

"Was he [Fisk] hospitable and generous in character?" 
an attorney asked her. 

"Well, I always thought he was very open hearted," Josie 
conceded. 

"Had he many friends and acquaintances?" 

"A great many." 

"And exchanging acts of courtesy and kindness?" 

"Always," Josie replied. 

Now, in 1870, she was telling Fisk he was anything but 
generous and open-hearted was, in fact, a defaulter to 
his obligations, depriving her of moneys justly due her. 
Never, in her infatuation for Ned Stokes, did she forget 
that Stokes had trouble enough supporting his own family, 



Colonel Fisk 

that he had a wretched habit of losing money on the horses 
and was a slender reed for a non-earning young lady to lean 
on. She was not ready to sacrifice diamonds for love, want- 
ing both. All that summer she was waging a cold war, 
applying constant pressure, running the gamut from tears 
to threats, importuning Fisk for the sort of competence any 
lady expected. Fisk, still resisting, was occasionally exiled 
from her home at 359 West Twenty-third, taking refuge 
with Valet Marshall at his own diggings at 313, returning 
when the storm cleared. To bolster her case, Josie accused 
him possibly with some truth of having affairs with 
Nully Pieris and Mile. Montaland. The galloping Red 
Knight, invincible in Wall Street, seemed unhorsed and 
bereft of shield in Twenty-third Street. 

That summer he learned, doubtless from friends aware of 
it for some time, that his bosom comrade Stokes had been 
seen suspiciously often at 359. Incredulous, he must have in- 
vestigated and found cause for alarm. Yet the exalted Fisk 
ego came to his defense. Certainly it was in character for a 
ladies' man like Stokes to be smitten by Josie. But that 
Josie should prefer Stokes to him, Prince Erie unthink- 
able! He was an unhappy man nevertheless when he wrote 
her August i at Long Branch: 

My dear Josie: I send you letter I found to my care on my 
desk. I cannot come to you to-night. I shall stay in town 
to-night, and probably to-morrow night, and after that I 
must go East. On my return I shall come to see you. I am 
sure you will say, "What a fool!" But you must rest, and 
so must I. The thread is so slender I dare not strain it more. 
I am sore, but God made me so, and I have not the power to 
change it. 

Loving you, as none but you, I am, yours, ever, James. 

In analyzing the famous Fist-Mansfield correspondence, 
which contains unfortunate lacunae, some reading between 
the lines is required* Having informed Josie that he would 
be out of town, Fisk apparently detailed friends or opera- 



198 Jim Fish 

rives to keep a close watch. On his return he found that 
Nully Pieris, whom he now suspected of being in league 
with Josie, had driven to a telegraph office on Broadway and 
sent a message to Stokes, who was conscientiously follow- 
ing the horses at Saratoga Springs: "Pay no attention to 
former despatch. Come on first train." Fisk, suspecting that 
Josie had inspired the telegram, taxed her with deceit in a 
note reading in part: 

. . . Comment is unnecessary a plotting house, and against 
me. What have "I done" that Nully Pieris should work 
against my peace of mind? Yours truly, ever, James, 

Yet this mistrust, rather than causing an immediate break, 
was to lengthen out into a series of white papers much like 
those between two quarreling nations seeking to make 
known their stand while trying to avoid open war. Mean- 
while, life went on and Colonel Fisk had a job to do, arrang- 
ing the summer encampment for his regiment. As always 
during peacetime, the military establishment had tended to 
diminish the stress on the stern rigors of drill in favor of 
more social activities a drift with which the colonel was in 
hearty accord. The place where the regiment would camp 
came to him in an intuitive flash. Long Branch! The soldiers 
could go in Fisk's own boat, enjoy the hospitality of his 
favorite hotel, the Continental, and the colonel would have 
an opportunity to show off his revitalized command to the 
gay resort crowd. While Long Branch was not without 
distractions, and a fair comparison today would be to send 
soldiers to Las Vegas for undisturbed training, the Ninth 
cheered the idea. 

The regiment now had ten well-filled companies total- 
ing almost 800 men a gain of some 300 percent in the 
four months since the new leader took over but New 
York was still inclined to snicker rather than admire. 
Prominent among the belittlers was the city's famous Sev- 
enth Regiment, which had a fine war record, had kept many 



Colonel Fisk 

veterans on its roster and was known for spit-and-polish 
discipline with a minimum of monkey-business. To the 
veterans of the Seventh, the Ninth was known as the Opera 
House Army, Fisk's Footmen, and by other names even 
less flattering, so that the feeling between the two outfits 
was not cordial. 

On August 20 the Ninth left the armory in fine array, led 
by the colonel. "Prince Erie rode a splendid sorrel," noted 
the Herald, "and sat in the saddle as gracefully as though 
he had come fresh from Haguenau's bloody field" The men 
crowded aboard the Plymouth Rock, enjoying the white 
marble bar as they sailed out into the bay. Fisk, who had 
been studying up on the command routine, now was able 
to start and stop the regiment unaided. However, when the 
boat docked at Sandy Hook and the men flocked ashore, it 
took more complicated orders. The colonel made a valiant 
attempt to command the maneuver, with Lieutenant Col- 
onel Braine at his shoulder murmuring instructions, but the 
formation dissolved in such confusion that Braine had to 
bellow "As you were!" and take over. The regiment pressed 
on to Long Branch and pitched tents in the outskirts, a 
place Fisk named Camp Gould to honor his Erie colleague. 
Although the men slept under canvas, they made no pre- 
tense at mess-kit stoicism, taking all their meals on linen 
tablecloths at the Continental. 

While one historian says the excursion "turned into a 
monumental week-long drunk," this is an exaggeration. 
There was the usual skylarking to be expected on such an 
expedition, but in the main the colonel kept his men fairly 
well in hand, paying the fines for a few who had disagree- 
ments with the police. He had made elaborate preparations 
for the most magnificent encampment in Ninth annals, 
bringing along not only the regimental band but also the 
bands from two of his ships, the Plymouth Rock and Bristol* 
He had invited Governor Hoffman down to review the 
regiment. It happened that President Grant was then vaca- 



-200 Jim Fisk 

tioning at his Long Branch cottage. While Fisk had disliked 
Grant ever since Black Friday a feeling entirely mutual 
and the Tribune even reported with a shudder that he 
openly thumbed his nose at Grant's passing carriage, this 
probably was mere rumor, for he invited the President to 
join Governor Hoffman in reviewing the unit. This may 
not have been the sole reason why Grant left Long Branch, 
but the fact is that he did depart for Newport August 23, 
undoubtedly with a sense of relief. Governor Hoffman 
could hardly ignore an invitation from one who had con- 
tributed so liberally to his campaign, but he had presidential 
aspirations and he seemed to feel that close identification 
with Fisk might be politically hurtful. When he came, it 
was with a small entourage and the air of a man eager to 
finish his chore and begone. He reviewed the Ninth, then 
rushed off with almost indecent haste, saying he was too 
busy to stay for the regiment's grand finale, a ball at the 
Continental. 

Although aware of some snubs, the Ninth got a rousing 
reception when it paraded through town, the band was 
given free beer by the colonel, and even if the grand ball 
fell somewhat flat because of the failure of invited bigwigs 
to come and the presence of only one girl to every five 
troopers, it was an outing they would never forget. When 
they returned to New York on August 29, the colonel was 
beaming despite a face peeling with sunburn, and the regi- 
ment marched so smartly up Fifth Avenue that it actually 
drew cheers. "Indeed, the march was a perfect ovation from 
beginning to end," said the Herald approvingly. ". . . The 
Seventh has need to look to its laurels." 

Since an ovation was something Colonel Fisk rather en- 
joyed, it is safe to say that he forgot for the moment the 
pangs in the region of his heart. 



CHAPTER 

20 



Stale Seer ana 
Rotten Cheese 



HELEN JOSEPHINE MANSFIELD, an unemployed actress in 
1867 who owned only one passable dress and was behind 
on her rent, had made such effective use of her arrangement 
with Fisk that by the fall of 1870 she was living on a scale 
equaling that of some of the most famous courtesans of 
France's Second Empire. While an audited account of her 
personal and capital gains is unavailable, a description of 
her improved condition would have to include the follow- 
ing properties and perquisites: 

A $20,000 equity in her four-story house. 

Ownership of its improvements, furnishings and silver- 
ware, worth $65,000 by her own estimate. 

A collection of gowns, furs and similar finery that would 
have done credit to a Fifth Avenue grande dame* 

An impressive assortment of jewelry. 

Three house servants to wait on her* 

A carriage and coachman at her call. 

A private box at the Grand Opera House. 

Frequent all-expenses-paid trips to Long Branch. 

Free transportation on the Erie Railway or on any of 
Admiral Fisk's steamers. 

Some of the items represented privileges which would 
continue only at Fisk's pleasure. Others were outright 
property, hers to do with as she pleased* Bored with Fisk 
as she was, had she told him so frankly and put a quick end 
to their affair, it is safe to say that she could have realized 
at least $75,000 by the sale of her assets a substantial 

201 



202 Jim Fisk 

fortune at that time sufficient to keep her in comfort, if not 
luxury, the rest of her days. Miss Mansfield preferred to eat 
her caviar and have it too. For a solid year, after being 
smitten by Stokes in the winter of 1869-70, she continued 
to enjoy the Fisk bounty and ask for more. When he 
balked at this, she intimated that she was privy to Erie and 
Tweed Ring secrets that would embarrass him if made 
public. 

On September 11, 1870, their differences caused Fisk 
to pack up with Valet Marshall and retire to his own rooms, 
either voluntarily or on request. In a bitter letter he ad- 
dressed her shortly thereafter, he touched on the threats she 
had made: 

As far as the great exposure you speak of is concerned, 
that is a dark entry upon which I have no light; and as I 
fail to see it, I cannot, of course, understand it. 

In a revealing passage, he made plain that he regretted 
the disrepute that kept him out of the best circles, and 
blamed it surely not with entire justice on Josie: 

... All this time I showed . . . you, nothing but kindness both 
in words and actions, laying at your feet a soul, a heart, a 
fortune, and a reputation, which had cost, by night and 
day, twenty-five years of perpetual struggle, and which, but 
for the black blot of having, in an evil hour, linked itself 
with you, would stand out today brighter than any ever 
seen upon earth. 

The colonel did not underestimate himself. He sent back 
a ring Josie had given him, saying, "Its memory is inde- 
cent." He went on: 

I had a few pictures of you, but they have found a place 
among the nothings which fill the waste-basket under my 
table ... I fain would reach the point where not even the 
slightest necessity will exist for any intercourse between 
us. I am in hopes this will end it. 



Stale Beer and Rotten Cheese 

For all this blunt talk, Josie knew her man, knew that 
her hold on him was secure. She replied softly, saying that 
his letter was cruel and unwarranted. Then she returned to 
a Mansfield theme as recurrent as the familiar trumpet-blast 
in Beethoven's Fifth: 

You have told me very often that you held some twenty 
or twenty-five thousand dollars of mine in your keeping. I 
do not know if it is so, but that I may be able to shape my 
affairs permanently for the future [I point out] that a 
part of the amount would place me where I would never 
have to appeal to you for aught I have never had one dollar 
from anyone else, and arriving here from the Branch, ex- 
pecting my affairs with you to continue, I contracted bills 
that I would not otherwise have done . . . After a time I 
shall sell my house, but for the present I think it best to 
remain in it. The money I speak of would place me where 
I would need the assistance of no one. 

... I am sorry that your association with me was detri- 
mental to you, and I would gladly with you (were it possi- 
ble) obliterate the last three years of my life's history; but 
it is not possible, and we must struggle to outlive our 
past. . . . 

Fisk, who had called her Dolly and Dumplings, still had 
enough humor to give her a new nickname in keeping with 
her desire for a "settlement": Lumpsum. He replied with 
some logic: 

. . . Have I not furnished a satisfactory mansion for others' 
use? Have I not fulfilled every promise I have made? Is there 
not a stability about your finances to-day (if not disturbed 
by vultures) sufficient to afford you a comfortable income 
for the remainder of your natural life? You say you have 
never received a dollar from any one but me, and you 'will 
never have another from me, until want and misery bring 
you to my door, except, of course, in fulfillment of my 
sacred promise, and the settlement of your bills up to three 
weeks ago, at five minutes to eleven o'clock. 



204 Jim Fisk 

Keeping close tab on Stokes, Fisk had learned that he 
had been forced to pawn his gems, possibly because of mis- 
placed confidence in a horse. Taking this as his text, Fisk 
wrote that Josie was saying figuratively of Stokes: 

"Why, man, how beautiful you are to look at, but nothing 
to lean on." And you may well imagine my surprise at your 
selection of the element you have chosen to fill my place. 
I was shown to-day his diamonds, which had been sacrificed 
... at one-half their value . , , You will, therefore, excuse 
me if I decline your modest request for a still further dis- 
bursement of $25,000. 1 very naturally feel that some part of 
this amount might be used to release from the pound the 
property of others, in whose welfare the writer of this does 
not feel unbounded interest. 

While the Fisk-Mansfield correspondence lacks the liter- 
ary distinction of the letters between the Brownings, and 
is of interest chiefly to illuminate the motives of two 
quarreling sinners, there is a superficial polish to both 
Fisk's and Mansfield's missives suggesting that neither of 
them did their own writing. Fisk may have dictated the gist 
of his messages to his private secretary, John Comer, allow- 
ing Comer to weed out the more glaring grammatical errors. 
It was later speculated that Stokes, a smooth fellow with 
words, may have been Josie's epistolary tutor. 

The letters continued, with Fisk as always protesting too 
much. Had he sincerely wished to end the affair, he could 
have done so with a word. He kept the line of communica- 
tion open, sending his valet to Josie with further unneces- 
sary representations of his position, replete with such 
phrases as "the holy feeling I once had for you," and "We 
have parted for ever." Implicit in them all was his forlorn 
hope that they had not parted forever. He had agreed to 
pay Josie's bills up to "five minutes to eleven o'clock" on 
September 1 1. He was indignant when she used a sly trick 
on him, coaxing merchants to put earlier dates on bills in- 
curred after the nth. He ended up by paying them. He 



Stale Beer and Rotten Cheese 205 

even achieved a momentary attitude of detachment toward 
Stokes, writing Josie: 

. . . Cling to him. Be careful what you do, or he will be 
watchful. How well he knows you cheated me. He will look 
for the same. 

For Fisk to lose Josie to Stokes after the whole town 
knew he had set her up in luxury would be a supreme 
humiliation, a standing joke at Delmonico's and every 
drinkery along Broadway, a subject for delighted insinua- 
tion in the press, a belly-laugh for all of New York, a defeat 
so mortifying that even the brassbound Fisk could scarcely 
walk abroad without shame. Undoubtedly this was in his 
mind, but beyond the mere matter of public derision was 
a fact even more pathetic. He was still infatuated with Josie. 

The lady knew it just as surely as she knew that Ned 
Stokes wanted to get his diamonds out of pawn. She played 
on Fisk's weakness, not with great skill, for no artistry was 
necessary. A few soft words by mail, then her gracious 
permission for him to visit her, and she had disarmed the 
colonel of the Ninth. 

On November 7 he sent her $500. 

On November 10 he sent her $300. 

On November 19 he sent her $500. 

At this time the imported company was on the Opera 
House boards with the Offenbach operetta Les Brigands, a 
satire on the world of finance fully appreciated by Bandit 
Fisk. On November 14 the bemused opera-bouffe lover 
wrote his Lorelei: 

Dear Dolly, Do you really wish to see a "brigand" at 
your house to-night? If so, what hour, or from what hour 
and how late shall I call? for I might be able to come at 
eight, or, perhaps, not until ten. Say what hour, and how 
late is your limit after the time you first say. 

On January i, 187 1, James Fisk Jr. climbed into the hand- 
somest of his six carriages and was whirled away by four 



206 Jim Fisk 

high-stepping horses, with four footmen in flamboyant 
livery riding outside. As so often happened when he drove 
abroad, he was in reality taking others for a ride. He was 
paying his New Year's calls in the self-effacing Fisk tradi- 
tion. At each stop the footmen descended with a purple- 
and-gold carpet which they unrolled from carriage to 
door. They stood at attention, two on each side, as the 
master, blazing with diamonds, strode inside to pay his 
respects. This was the sort of display that made cultivated 
New Yorkers writhe, while the more free-and-easy yeo- 
manry laughed at it because Fisk laughed at it himself at 
the same time as he enjoyed it, and it seemed the logical 
self-expression of an eccentric who had made himself a 
distinctive part of the city. 

Yet the "Erie-pressible" Fisk exhibitionism, as one news- 
paper termed it, far more than being merely vulgar, was 
an outrage on good public relations that raised still further 
the choler of those who felt themselves wronged by the 
company. It was painful to Jay Gould, who had long since 
given up trying to slow down his gaudy partner. Creaky 
Erie had rolled up a good profit of $4,106,450.77 the 
previous year, but its common stock was selling at 21%, 
its lowest in a decade, and icicles were not forming in hell, 
for there would be no dividend all because, as Fisk ex- 
plained it, the road was still suffering from the monstrous 
Vanderbilt swindle not yet punished by the courts. A man 
named John Peck joined the army of stockholders who 
were suing the company for a dividend they thought due 
them. Many of the road's workmen, who labored a twelve- 
hour shift for $1.62 a day, had not been paid since Novem- 
ber. A reporter went over to the Erie Jersey City yards and 
talked to a brakeman who discreetly refused to give his 
name as he described the hardships of life without a pay- 
check. 

"And how could it be otherwise," the brakeman de- 
manded, "when so much money goes for women, wine, 



Stale Beer and Rotten Cheese 207 

horses and opera houses, full of disreputable actresses and 
dancing girls? Why, they tell me that Fisk was at a ball the 
other night and that he had a big woman on his arm . . . 
and they say that every bit of her dress was covered with 
pearls and her hair was full of diamonds diamonds, by 
G d! diamonds; and if you come down here a little way 
I'll show you a family who have had only one loaf of 
bread between five persons in two days. . . ." 

Fisk had his usual faculty for brushing such remote un- 
pleasantness aside as he dashed from house to house to wish 
his friends a prosperous New Year. What really worried 
him was Josie, who seemed unable or unwilling to slam the 
door on Ned Stokes. 

Although the relations between Fisk and Stokes had 
grown strained, they had not yet reached open warfare. 
For months they had conducted cautious negotiations in an 
effort to solve both their amorous and business differences 
in secret. On one occasion they called in Judge Barnard, a 
close friend of both, as arbiter. The three men parleyed for 
several hours in Josie's gilded parlor, but this was one 
instance when Barnard's favorite weapon, the injunction, 
was of no use at all and he had to fall back on wisdom, 
which proved unavailing. Twice Josie called on Boss 
Tweed, once traveling to Albany to visit him and ask 
him to persuade Fisk to accept the Mansfield terms in the 
controversy. Tweed, who could make mayors and gov- 
ernors, found this problem too much for him. The Fisk- 
Stokes quarrel was rendered all the more delicate by the 
vulnerability of both contenders. While Fisk's affair with 
Josie was New York's best-known scandal, the newspapers 
thus far had avoided open mention of it a condition of 
semi-secrecy Fisk wished to preserve, not only to spare his 
wife but also to shield the already bespattered Erie Ring 
from further odium. Stokes seemed less concerned about his 
wife's feelings than in maintaining his profitable connection 
with Fisk in the refinery business and in protecting his 



208 Jim Fisk 

social standing, which was precious to him and would be 
wrecked if his liaison with the notorious Mansfield woman 
became known. 

To muddy the picture further, the gay Stokes was said to 
be paying attentions to Mile. Aimee, the Opera House star, 
as well as to a Thirteenth Street beauty named Amelia 
Graham, while there were still rumors that Fisk had more 
than an impresario's interest in the brunette Celine Monta- 
land, the prima donna who sang the role of Fiorella in 
Les Brigands. Those who worried about mere love tri- 
angles could take heart from the multilateral Fisk-Stokes 
involvement. 

It appears that in November, 1870, Josie persuaded Fisk 
that she had cast off Stokes, thereby bringing in $1300 in 
largesse in twelve days. However, there were later disagree- 
ments, Fisk once visiting her house only to find that she 
had thrown his galoshes out the door and wanted none of 
him. He was still friendly enough with Stokes to discuss 
his problems with him. 

"See here, Ned," he said plaintively, "she won't even 
let me leave my gum shoes in the house!" 

It was a remark that would haunt him. Later, he became 
convinced that Josie was not only seeing Stokes but was 
funneling some of the Fisk funds his way. He was tor- 
mented by the suspicion that he was subsidizing his own 
rival, who now enjoyed the freedom of the mansion he 
had built for Josie. Striking back, Fisk cancelled the verbal 
agreement whereby the Brooklyn Refinery Company re- 
ceived preferred rates via Erie and also supplied the road 
with its oil. Since it was this arrangement alone that made 
the refinery profitable, Stokes' handsome income was wiped 
out He had taken more than $90,000 out of the refinery 
in a year and a half a good return considering that Fisk 
had supplied the capital and Stokes had been so preoccupied 



Stale Beer and Rotten Cheese 209 

with gambling and women that he had done little actual 
work. 

The Erie withdrawal was so disastrous to him that he 
arranged a meeting with Fisk at Delmonico's, where he 
made a sporting proposition. Why not put it up to Josie 
let her decide which it would be, Fisk or Stokes? Fisk, 
unaware that the cards were stacked against him, was 
willing. The two rivals took a hansom to the Mansfield 
residence and put the question to her. 

Josie, who may have been coached in advance by Stokes, 
took a line of peacemaking and masterly impartiality. It 
was ridiculous, she said, for two grown men to quarrel in 
such a schoolboy manner. She liked them both, and there 
was no reason in the world why they could not all be 
friends. 

"It won't do, Josie," Railroader Fisk insisted. "You can't 
run two engines on one track in contrary directions at the 



same time." 



But she was determined to do just that. The meeting 
ended on this equivocal note, leaving Fisk with the unhappy 
feeling that the issue was being evaded and he was being 
cozened. Still he seemed confident that if Stokes' financial 
props were kept out from under him, he would soon cease 
to be a serious rival. So the Erie custom was still withheld, 
the business of the refinery ground to a halt, and by the 
year's end Ned Stokes was in desperate straits. 

Shortly after New Year's, he went to the Devoe Manu- 
facturing Company and collected $27,500 the Devoe firm 
owed the Brooklyn Refinery, keeping it as his own. Hear- 
ing of this, Fisk exploded. On January 7, 187 1, he swore out 
a warrant charging Stokes with embezzlement. Late that 
evening & Saturday Stokes was lounging in the gorgeous 
bar of the Hoffman House at Broadway and Twenty- 
fourth Street when a pair of deputies arrested him and 
whisked him off to the Ludlow Street Jail. 



210 JimFisk 

It was Samuel Bowles all over again. Stokes was able 
neither to reach friends who would loan him money nor 
officials empowered to bail him out. He was forced to stay 
in jail over the weekend, missing his daily manicure and the 
scented Florida water with which he was wont to bathe. 
When he was released on bail Monday morning, he was 
bent on vengeance. It appears that he did some talking to 
newspaper friends, for a ditty about Fisk's cast-out galoshes 
appeared in the public prints, reading in part: 

The heart that once on Erie's walls 

The soul of greatness shed, 
Now sits as sad in Erie's halls 

As if that soul were fled. 

So sleeps the pride of former days; 

So glory's thrill is o'er 
When Josie, in her altered ways, 

Throws gum shoes out the door. 

New Yorkers guffawed over a cartoon of Fisk, weeping 
into his galoshes. The time of mediation had passed. It was 
James Fisk Jr. w Edward Stiles Stokes, and no holds barred. 
When Stokes came up for trial on the embezzlement charge 
before Judge Dowling, he won a technical victory. Dowl- 
ing ruled that while the Brooklyn Refinery Company was 
corporate in form, it was in reality a partnership, and that 
under the law appropriation of company money by a 
partner did not constitute embezzlement. Stokes walked 
out of court with a triumphant grin on his handsome face. 
Thinking to consolidate his gain, he dispatched eighteen 
men to the refinery to repel all invaders and to convey some 
$50,000 worth of oil away for sale. Fisk, toughened by 
combat in the A. & S. war, sent a larger force across the 
East River. They made a frontal assault, battered down 
the door, threw out the Stokes defenders and took possesion 
of the works. Stokes retained an attorney, Thomas W. 
Pittman, to devise legal action. He published an announce- 



Stale Beer and Rotten Cheese 211 

merit in the Herald simultaneously aimed at quieting his 
creditors and warning Fisk of exposure unless he backed 
down: 

". . . I shall show to the public, if it becomes necessary, 
the animus behind the scene and which has caused this 
litigation. The Brooklyn Refinery Company are now heav- 
ily indebted to me and I hold their obligations for a very 
large amount in all to a sum over $100,000 and other 
obligations to a large amount are daily accruing. I am 
ready and willing to give real estate security to the amount 
of the entire capital stock of the company for any in- 
debtedness that may be found against me. . . ." 

The Herald, possessor of the keenest journalistic nose for 
scandal of its day, caught the scent and decided it was 
high time to give its readers the lowdown on F affaire Fisk- 
Stokes-Mansfield. A reporter called on Stokes, who was 
conferring with Lawyer Pittman at the Coleman House, 
and found Stokes dressed to the nines as usual in a "black 
overcoat with handsome sealskin facings" and wearing 
"beautiful moss agate sleeve buttons." Pittman opened the 
assault. 

"I wonder how the newspapers can be humbugged into 
believing that there is anything in this bloated fellow Fisk," 
he said. "I have tested hun, and I've found him as thin as a 
sheet of ice in a tumbler that's been standing in a bachelor's 
chamber during a frosty night." 

"I don't for the life of me see," quoth Stokes, "how men 
of brains like Sweeny and Tweed can tolerate such a fellow. 
He's never had anyone to give him a good square stand-up 
fight until now. I shall push him to the wall this time sure. 
Unless he keeps very quiet I shall sue him for libel, and 
then we will see how he likes that. . . Jay Gould is tired 
of Fisk, for he is always getting Gould into hot water. * * ." 

"Fatty Fisk is trying to beg off as well as he can now," 
Pittman chuckled. "You may bet that this thing has shaken 
him all to pieces ... He is frightened to death lest Mrs. 



212 Jim Fisk 

Mansfield should tell all she knows about the Erie business. 
She was over with him that time in Jersey City at Taylor's 
Hotel . . . and she can smash him when she likes. It makes 
me laugh to hear how ready he is to whine when he's 
caught." 

"Come, Tom, let's drop poor Fisk for a while," Stokes 
suggested* "I may say, however, that all my claims have 
been settled with the firm of which I was a member, and 
I can say that I have been paid $50,000, as Fisk has been 
very glad to settle. They put up a job to arrest me at 
eleven o'clock at night and to keep me in all Sunday night 
so as to disgrace me. But what has been the result? I have 
come out all right, and New York is laughing at Fisk as it 
never laughed before. , . ." 

The reporter, with tongue in cheek, asked Pittman what 
he thought of "the morals and religious opinions" of Fisk. 

"Good God, sir!" the lawyer exploded. "You are jibing 
me. Morals! The man never had any; hasn't got any now, 
and will never have any this side of the bottomless pit. As 
for his religious opinions, they don't amount to a glass of 
stale beer or an ounce of rotten old Dutch cheese. I believe 
that he pretends to be a kind of a sickly Congregationalist, 
but he'd swing his coat inside out any day for a bad half 
dollar if he thought he could play it on a car conductor and 
beat the poor snoozer out of forty-five cents change in 
good money." 

"You're pretty hard on Fisk, Tom," Stokes reproved. 
"But I think he deserves it all." 

". . . Yes, sir," Pittman went on, warming to the task, "he 
has done more to debauch American morals and American 
youth than any man in the city. Why, every Yankee boy 
from the part of the country from which Fisk hails, on 
hearing of this bloat becoming so conspicuous in the news- 
papers and getting so much money and coming Sardan- 
apulus and Belshazzar with his harlots over the people of 
New York why, the innocent little boy in Yankee land, 



Stale Beer and Rotten Cheese 213 

with his stomach full of beans and his head full of Ralph 
Waldo Emerson, wants to go and do likewise, and become 
another Jim Fisk or a 'Prince Erie' or an 'Admiral of the 
Sound Steamboats/ Faugh! It makes me sick. He'd be shot 
in any other country.'* 

"What do you think of the physical courage of Fisk, Mr, 
Pittman?" inquired the scribe, thoroughly enjoying him- 
self. 

"I have never seen a bigger coward than that same Fisk. 
He'll weaken like a dog if you kick him, but if you stoop 
to him he'll sit on you." 

The Herald man, who knew a good burlesque when he 
saw one, grabbed his hat and hurried to Josie's mansion. He 
was admitted by a servant, and as he waited in the hall he 
noticed the thick rugs and rich appointments, "All the 
accessories that wealth and refinement could suggest," he 
noted in impetuous prose, "were heaped in this palatial 
apartment with a reckless profusion worthy of a squander- 
ing Goth or predatory Hun." When he was ushered into 
the dining room, where Josie and her cousin, Mrs. Williams, 
were enjoying dessert, he was inspired almost to poetry: 

"This [room] had been fitted up in the most gor- 
geous style. The ceiling and walls were painted and 
frescoed in the highest style of art; panels adorning the 
walls with trophies, game, birds, fish, and other indications 
of a refined taste, were as thickly strewed in the room as 
leaves in Vallambrosa . . . There were chairs around the 
table, caparisoned as if they had been intended for King 
William . . . These chairs had been pressed by the gawky 
form of Graf Von Fisk, and in the pillowy folds of the 
sofa the luxuriant limbs of the railway impresario had re- 
clined, and on the mat at its side the modern Menelaus had 
sobbed his heart wildly away before the unrelenting glances 
of the modern Helen, most destructive and seductive of her 
sex. In this saloon Menelaus Fisk had encountered the 
fiery assault of Achilles Stokes, and had been vanquished 



214 Jim Fisk 

by his death dealing spear ... It was here that great Achilles 
had rested on his ensanguined lance, as his foe, the hero of a 
hundred illicit fights, lay prostrate before him " 

Almost ignoring Marietta Williams, the reporter bent his 
attention on Josie Mansfield, who was clad in white silk. 

"She was tall and shaped like a duchess. Her skin was as 
fair in fibre and hue as the lily itself. Over a fair white fore- 
head hung a mass of jet, silky black hair, and from her small, 
seashell-like ears depended a pair of hooped rings. Her 
hand, white and smooth, which she off ered to the reporter 
as she rose gracefully from the table, was a hand from 
which a cast could be taken. The lady's eyes were of a 
peculiar gray, and lambent like the phosphorescent streaks 
of light that follow the wake of a ship in mid ocean. When 
she rose the folds of her dress fell in undulating waves to 
the richly carpeted floor." 

Transfixed by this beauty, the newsman, who was well 
grounded in the classics, was reminded of what Oliver 
Cromwell said when he landed in Ireland and gazed down 
on the level from a height: "This is a country worth 
fighting for." He asked her for a statement. 

"Well, I don't know that I can add anything to the com- 
ments and statements that have been made in the papers 
for the last few days," Josie said. "There has been a great 
deal stated that was false about me, and some little truth. 
I suppose it has made me somewhat notorious, and that I 
may have lost my reputation by the business. But I cannot 
blame myself for anything but my acquaintance or intimacy 
with Mr. Fisk. I do not wish to say anything unless he 
provokes me to a quarrel, and then I am perfectly sure 
that I can defend myself, or do more than that. I know Mr. 
Stokes very slightly." 

The reporter let that pass. He asked whether the house 
was a gift from Fisk. 

'^Nothing of the kind. The money which bought this 
house was made by me in Wall Street, through a mutual 



Stale Beer and Rotten Cheese 215 

friend, a third person, whom I do not wish to name . . . The 
money for the house and furnishings and frescoing which 
I have expended amounted, including repairs, to sixty-five 
thousand dollars and over." She added, as if to explain her 
disagreement with Fisk, "While acquainted with Mr. Fisk 
I was always supplied with silks, wines, food and everything 
that I could desire; but he would never allow me any 
freedom." 

"He wanted to keep you dependent on him entirely," the 
reporter suggested, "fearing he might lose you?" 

"Perfectly so," Josie nodded. "Fisk . . . said one day, 
'Josie, I'm making a good deal of money in the street, and 
I might as well make a dollar or two for you, and I can use 
your money to advantage through a friend.' And so he 
did, I'll say that for him. But he always wanted to keep me 
dependent. He had an atrocious taste in purchasing, and 
when he made me presents he used to select the loudest 
shawls and jackets and dresses that he could find for me. In 
his own person he was very neat and clean always." 

The newsman tried a new tack. "Mrs. Mansfield, do 
you think that Fisk is insane, from your knowledge of the 
man?" 

"It's more than possible," she conceded. "The disease is 
hereditary in his family. His father was insane." She men- 
tioned one annoying Fiskian foible. "He keeps his business 
engagements punctually enough, but he has kept this table 
waiting dinner for as much as five hours at a time, and 
during evenings he would issue a lot of the most crazy 
orders for things he wanted. . . ." 

"Don't you think Montaland is a coarse person in her 
way?" 

"I do not. I think she is very nice and pretty. I was 
present at her dinner the night he told her that he could 
have New York called Tiskville' if he so desired. That was 
like him all over." 



216 Jim Fisk 

The reporter remarked on how amusing it was that 
Fisk had been "sobbing at your feet to be taken back." 

"I don't know about that," she smiled. ". . . The funniest 
thing, perhaps, is about his gum shoes." She made it clear 
that she preferred to be known as Helen Josephine Mans- 
field, without the name of her former husband. "I would not 
give Frank Lawlor the satisfaction to think that I bore his 
name. It would please him too much." Then, with charming 
frankness, she went into a bit of personal history. 

"Frank Lawlor used me wrong and I came to New York 
and captured the landlady and the woman who was in the 
house with him at the time. Fisk was jealous and he got me 
to buy this house down here, so that he might always have 
me under his hand and near those whom he trusted. Jay 
Gould always disliked and hated me because he believed I 
had so much influence over Mr. Fisk . . . Mr. Fisk never goes 
in the street at all without a man to watch him, and he al- 
ways kept a man in this house at seventy-five dollars a 
month just to watch the house. When I went to a public 
place of amusement there were always at least twenty men 
whom I knew I could put my hand on at a moment's notice 
whom Fisk had detailed for the purpose. . . ." 

"Mrs. Mansfield," the reporter put in, "can you inform me 
who were the partners, the men behind the screen in the 
Erie Railway during its numerous vicissitudes?" 

"Oh, yes; you mean the persons with whom he has 
divided the spoils of war? I know all about that matter, but 
you must excuse me ... I do not care to betray any con- 
fidence placed in me by Mr. Fisk." 

Just to make sure that Fisk understood her power over 
him and her firm alliance with Ned Stokes, Josie fired a 
parting shot as the delighted newsman left: 

"I don't wish to take any step further unless I am pro- 
voked. Then I am ready for Mr. Fisk, if he makes the ad- 
vance against me or lays a finger on any friend." 

One suspects that Josie and Stokes had got their heads 



Stale Beer and Rotten Cheese 

together in advance and invited the Herald to interview 
them individually, for the story contained precisely the 
propaganda they wished to impress on Fisk. The statements 
of both of them contained bald threats of exposure and 
blackmail. Undoubtedly they thought that the newspaper, 
in return for their revelations about Fisk, would treat them 
sympathetically as his victims. They must have been af- 
fronted when the Herald, in its January 18 issue, handled 
the whole affair in uproarious burlesque style as given here, 
impaling Mansfield and Stokes on shafts of satire as merci- 
less as those aimed at Fisk, and setting the pace with a riot- 
ous quadruple headline: 

F IS KI AN A 

"Menelaus" Fisk, "Belle Helene" Mansfield, 
"Achilles" Stokes and "Ulysses" Pitt- 
man in an Infernal Quadrille. 



How Fisk and Stokes Quarreled, Fought 

and Did not Bleed About a Lady 

Fair With Jet Black Hair. 



The Wrath of Erie and the Humors of Stokes 

Sage Advice by "Ulysses" Pittman 

War to the Knife All Round. 

Stokes must have been aghast at the depiction of him as 
the new favorite in the Mansfield boudoir. Yet the message 
of menace got across to Fisk when he read the story. He saw 
Josie in a new light as a woman who not only made no pre- 
tense of virtue, but made no pretense of any pretense, an 
adventuress who had armed herself by tossing away what 
few shreds of semi-respectability still clung to her and 
publicly challenged him to battle. Her weapons, he well 
knew, were the letters he had written her and her asserted 
knowledge of Erie-Tammany secrets that would be ruinous 
if she exposed them. Fisk was already being blackmailed. 
Josie and Stokes had made good use of the Herald interview 



2i8 JimFisk 

to hint at what they might tell unless he met their terms. 
If he had any further hope of winning back La Belle 
Helene, he must have given it up then and there. 

As interested Manhattanites waited for more, the quarrel 
vanished from the newspapers in a lull that betokened move- 
ments behind the scene. Josie meanwhile had loyally sup- 
plied Stokes with ammunition by giving him the Fisk 
letters. Stokes, it was said, sent an emissary to Fisk demand- 
ing $200,000 as the price of silence a price Fisk refused 
to pay despite his yearning to get back the missives. Stokes, 
hounded by debts, finally agreed to sell his share in the 
refinery to Fisk for a fair price. To keep their private dif- 
ferences out of court, the two rivals settled on Lawyer 
Clarence Seward as impartial arbitrator to decide the mat- 
ter once and for all. 

One cardinal point Prince Erie insisted on that Stokes 
surrender to Seward the letters which would be a weapon 
so long as he held them. 

So Seward took custody of a parcel of letters which 
were, and would remain, as troublesome as they were un- 
inspired. After deliberating, the lawyer gave his decision. 
Stokes was entitled to no further payment in the refinery 
transaction, he said, since he had put nothing into it. How- 
ever, he could keep the $27,500 he had already withdrawn 
and receive an additional $10,000 for the indignity of his 
weekend imprisonment, plus $5000 for attorneys' fees. 
Seward then handed the letters over to Peter Sweeny for 
safekeeping and left for Europe. Stokes, despite his earlier 
demand for $200,000, signed a paper declaring that he did 
"remise, release and forever discharge" Fisk from further 
obligation. 

Menelaus and Achilles had reached a truce, but were 
watching each other warily for the next move. 



CHAPTER 



21 

F isk at Bunker Hill 



AFTER the emergence of the Mansfield scandal into the 
open, a change came over the attitude of the New York 
press toward Fisk. Seldom thereafter was he treated with 
the dignity one would expect to be accorded an entrepre- 
neur so versatile that he combined the functions of colonel, 
admiral, impresario and railroad mogul. He was regarded 
as a sort of civic clown, an incredible compound of fraud 
and farce who was counted on to furnish a laugh a day for 
the newspapers. His vulnerability was comforting. Com- 
ment true or false could be made about him with virtual 
impunity. He was public property, easily the most notorious 
man in the nation, the subject of more newspaper lineage 
than anyone in the country with the possible exception of 
President Grant. 

He had no privacy except when he was behind locked 
doors, and even then rumor made merry with him. Re- 
porters dogged him, seeking the latest Fisk bon mot, the 
latest gossip, the latest humiliation. The unhappy denoue- 
ment of his affair with Josie was considered the most side- 
splitting joke within memory. He could not complain, 
having laid himself open for this treatment, and on the sur- 
face his urbane jollity seemed unruffled* No one would 
have guessed that his booming laugh concealed inner sor- 
row, nor would he give any but his closest friends the 
satisfaction of knowing that he had a heart like ordinary 
men and it was bleeding. 

Always a hard worker, he managed to keep some control 
of his business enterprises as he beat off the Stokes-Mans- 

219 



220 Jim Fisk 

field sortie. He astonished theatergoers by presenting Offen- 
bach operettas not with one prima donna but three, Mile. 
Aimee taking the lead role in the first act, Mile. Silly in the 
second and Mile. Montaland singing the third. Planning to 
send the opera troupe on a summer tour, he was incensed 
when he tried to engage the Philadelphia Academy of 
Music and the sedate Philadelphians, knowing him by repu- 
tation and regarding opera bouffe as almost equally sinful, 
sent their regrets. He reached down into his fathomless bag 
of invective and hurled a Fiskian bolt, calling the Phila- 
delphians a crowd of "benzine galoots" 

He shrugged off still another lawsuit against Erie, this 
one brought by a group of English stockholders. Ebenezer 
Hoar, attorney for the Britons, charged that Fisk and 
Gould "have made away with $20,000,000 in a single year." 
The way these two had swallowed up Erie while share- 
holders vainly tried to curb them moved Hoar to apt meta- 
phor. "The only analogy I can think of," he said, "is that 
story of Baron Munchausen, whose horse was attacked and 
eaten up by a bear, until the Baron found himself riding 
the bear." 

Fisk, who would have found Munchausen excellent com- 
pany, was still strewing largesse on the Ninth Regiment, of 
which he was truly fond. "His growing stoutness annoyed 
him greatly," Actress Clara Morris recalled, "yet he was 
the first to poke fun at what he called his 'unmilitary fig- 
ure.' " Although he was no all-out trencherman, he did 
enjoy rich food that made it ever harder to get into Tailor 
Bell's magnificent uniform. "It takes two men's best efforts, 
while I hold my breath, to clasp my belt," he complained. 

Although the motives behind his selection as colonel of 
the Ninth had been largely mercenary, he had saved the 
dying outfit and given it vigorous health. The once-a-week 
soldiers found that in addition to mere cash, he poured into 
the regiment the warmth of an amiable personality, a leader- 
ship that was novel even if not precisely military, and also 



Fisk at Bunker Hill 221 

instilled a joyful feeling in the ranks similar to the antici- 
patory spirit of youngsters on Christmas Eve. Who could 
tell what events stupendous or madcap would happen next 
day or next week with Colonel Fisk commanding? 

The papers could laugh at him, but no one could say he 
did not get things done. True to his promise, he had rebuilt 
the regimental band in less than a year into an organization 
of musical brilliance. He had landed one of the best band- 
masters in town in Signor Carlo Patti, but not even Patti 
was up to the exacting Fisk standards and was succeeded 
by Carl Bergmann, the renowned conductor of the Phil- 
harmonic Society. One by one the sour-note blowers had 
been replaced by well-paid professional musicians. Fisk 
even lured Jules Levy, acclaimed as the finest cornetist of 
the day, into the fold by paying him $10,000 a year, an 
unheard-of salary for part-time work. By the spring of 
1871 the Ninth Regiment Band, 100 strong and arrayed 
in new scarlet uniforms bought by Fisk, was playing Sun- 
day concerts at the Grand Opera House to enthusiastic 
dollar-minimum audiences. The colonel-impresario adver- 
tised it sweepingly as 'Without Exception THE FINEST 
BAND IN THE WORLD 100 SOLOISTS." Listeners 
had to admit that he was not far wrong, although quibblers 
pointed out that what he had done was to organize a crack 
professional band and give it the regiment's name. Nully 
Pieris, who had convinced him that she was not in league 
with Josie, often appeared as soloist with the band. 

On May 3 1 occurred one of New York's most prodigal 
affairs of that or any other year, the marriage of Tweed's 
daughter Mary Amelia in a $5000 wedding gown to Arthur 
Ambrose Maginnis. Fisk and Gould were somewhat per- 
functory in their observance of the event, Fisk presenting 
the bride with a $500 silver ice bowl with polar-bear handles 
and Gould making do with a miserable set of silver nut- 
pickers costing only $200. Still, the young couple got an 
encouraging start in married life, receiving $700,000 worth 



222 Jim Fisk 

of gifts from public ofEcials and contractors doing business 
with the city. Police Superintendent James Kelso was notice- 
ably embarrassed because his gift, an ice bowl with polar- 
bear handles, was identical with Fisk's. Although Judge and 
Mrs. Barnard were niggardly, giving only a gold locket, 
Peter B. Sweeny made up the deficit with a gold bracelet 
encrusted with diamonds, and other jewelry valued at $40,- 
ooo. Andrew J. Garvey, grateful for plastering work, gave 
a huge silver coffee urn, salver and goblets. James H. Inger- 
soll, happy to be supplying furniture and rugs for the new 
courthouse, bestowed a sickle-shaped brooch with sixty 
diamonds. Gifts from hundreds of other admirers included 
a $5000 parasol and filled a room to overflowing in the 
Tweed Fifth Avenue mansion with so many gems and com- 
plete silver services that the bride and groom had stock 
enough to open several large jewelry stores. 

Yet the atmosphere was not as gay as it might have been. 
Some citizens had come to the belief that the Tweed regime 
was not honest. The New York Times was assailing the 
Ring daily with accusations of corruption. Thomas Nast, 
the biting cartoonist for Harper's Weekly, was caricaturing 
Mayor Oakey Hall as "O. K. Haul" and depicting the 
Tammany chieftains as civic vultures. Although the critics 
had no proof of fraud, there was uneasiness among the 
braves, some of whom realized the impolicy of parading 
that $700,000 in wampum before a public akeady wonder- 
ing where the money came from. The Times ironically 
headed its story on the diamond saturnalia "From Poverty 
to Splendor," and the Brooklyn Eagle, after asking rhetori- 
cally where the Tweed millions were made, answered its 
own question: "They were made in politics, by a few 
short years' occupancy of moderately-salaried offices." 

Signs were visible that the solidarity of the Ring was 
cracking, one of them coming only a few weeks earlier 
when the long-delayed lawsuit of Fisk and Gould vs Com- 
modore Vanderbilt over the "big swindle" of 1868 had 



Fisk at Bunker Hill 223 

finally come up before Judge Barnard. Barnard, who since 
his conversion had made no decision unfavorable to Erie, 
whittled a great pile of shavings as he listened to the tales 
of Vanderbilt's crimes recited by Erie's eminent David 
Dudley Field. Then he decided for the Commodore, utter- 
ing words of deepest treason. 

"There was no fraud whatever," he said. 

Attorney Field reeled out of the courtroom like a man 
stabbed by his own kin. This was such a stunning about- 
face that knowing observers laid it either to (i) Barnard's 
belated sensitivity to the rising public disgust at his habit 
of seeing everything Erie's way, or (2) a Vanderbilt bribe 
so enticing that the judge could not resist. The decision may 
even have been hurtful to the unoffending Mary Amelia 
Tweed, for who knows but what Fisk and Gould might 
have been more generous in their wedding gifts had Barnard 
forced VanderbUt to pay them the $4,500,000 they claimed 
he had extorted from them? 

That summer, Fisk lived alone at 313, having been per- 
manently expelled from 359 along with his gum shoes. To 
make him even lonelier, the opera bouffe troupe, including 
Mile. Montaland, was now on tour and would not return* 
which made the services of the interpreter, Georges Barbin, 
no longer necessary. Yet he had taken such a liking to Bar- 
bin that he kept him on at full salary, living in as a sort 
of general handy man but actually serving as companion* 
Fisk could not abide the thought of breakfasting alone, 
having no one to talk to. Barbin now sat at table with him 
while Valet Marshall served as cook and waiter, the Belgian 
on the receiving end of a stream of the master's conversa- 
tion. 

He made frequent trips to Long Branch, where he fore- 
gathered with his half sister Mary Grace and her husband, 
George Hooker. He still often called Mary Grace by her 
baby nickname, Minna. One of the most winning of his 
qualities was an affection for relatives and friends so deep 



224. Jim Fisk 

and genuine that he could not do enough for them. Al- 
though Mary Grace, the soul of probity, must have known 
that her half brother was not always above reproach, it was 
his warmth and kindness that was nearest to her and made 
her regard him with something close to reverence. The 
Hookers named their baby son James Fisk Hooker, and 
Mary Grace defended and praised Fisk for a half century 
after he died until her own death in 1922. 

Other Fisk friends at Long Branch were the society 
gambler, John Chamberlain, and the Morse family, whom 
he was still helping financially. Mrs. Morse and her daughters 
had recently returned from Europe, where she had been 
successfully treated for a serious eye ailment, with Fisk 
paying the bills. He was defraying the educational expenses 
of her two daughters. Her son John Morse was on the Erie 
payroll. All this came about not only because of Fisk's long 
friendship with her late husband but also because her eld- 
erly mother had loaned him money during an earlier stock 
market crisis. 

There were rumors in Manhattan that Ned Stokes was 
estranged from his wife. Mrs. Stokes, possibly taking of- 
fense at the racy newspaper stories about her husband and 
Miss Mansfield, had sailed with her daughter for Germany 
"for her health" with funds supplied by her father. Lucy 
Fisk, perhaps for similar reasons, had also gone to Europe. 
Stokes had moved into the fashionable Hoffman House, 
taking the best suite despite a bristling array of debts. In an 
effort to recoup, he had resorted to some questionable prac- 
tice at the racetrack in Providence, causing the Narragan- 
sett Racing Association to bring charges aimed at ruling him 
off the turf. He was telling his friends that Fisk had swindled 
him in the refinery settlement and that he intended to get 
much more out of him $200,000 or so. 

Meanwhile Colonel Fisk had opened a brisk skirmish 
with the city of Boston. Conceiving the idea of showing off 
his regiment and band to his friends in the Hub, he sent a 



Fisk at Bunker Hill 225 

committee of three officers to clear the way for the entry 
of the Ninth into Boston in celebration of Bunker Hill Day. 
The committee presented the following Fisk letter to Mayor 
William Gaston: 

Dear Sir: This will introduce to you Major J. R. Hitch- 
cock, Captain A. G. Fuller, and Lieutenant A. P. Bacon, 
officers of my regiment, and the Committee appointed by 
the Board to visit your city, and confer with you in regard 
to a proposed trip on the lyth of June, prox. They are em- 
powered to make all arrangements in behalf of the Ninth 
Regiment; and I would respectfully ask that the hospitality 
of the city be extended to the regiment. 

The arrest of Samuel Bowles and other acts of Fisk had 
not endeared him to proper Bostonians. When Mayor Gas- 
ton presented the proposition to the Common Council, 
several aldermen said they would sooner invite the plague 
and the subject was quickly tabled. The Boston Advertiser 
snorted that "The action of the Colonel of the Ninth New 
York Regiment, in asking for an official reception of his 
corps by the City of Boston, marks a new era in the history 
of effrontery. Such compliments are generally supposed to 
be tendered by the host, rather than asked for by the guest. 
. . ." Fisk was finding the galoots of Boston even more 
benzine than the Philadelphians. 

"Well," he said, "this is what you may call an attempt to 
snub me; but I think I can stand it. It ain't always the same 
dog that's the under one in the fight, and Pve knowed the 
sickest horse cured. I'm going to Besting, boys, as sure as 
Satan, and the Ninth is going along!" 

One of his officers pointed out that further requests would 
probably bring only further insults. 

"Look a-here, Doc," Fisk replied, banging the desk. "I've 
set my heart upon this trip; and I'll make it, by the Eternal, 
if I have to take the regiment on in citizens' clothes, and 
send the arms and accoutrements by express. We can ship 



226 Jim Fisk 

the muskets and things in coffins, you know, and consign 
'em to an undertaker . . . I'll try a little more persuasion. 
May be they'll mend their old tin oven, and not put on any 
more airs. . . ." 

He went over Mayor Gaston's head and wrote the gover- 
nor of Massachusetts, who quickly granted permission to 
parade in Boston. Triumphantly Fisk gave the mayor the 
back of his hand, informing him of the governor's consent 
and asking "that you will relieve the Common Council 
from further consideration of the subject, as their action or 
inaction is a matter of perfect indifference to the gentlemen 
under my command." 

This hauteur was premature, for he discovered that while 
the governor could permit entry into the city, only the 
mayor held jurisdiction over Boston Common. The colonel 
felt that only the Common would give his regiment the 
setting and audience it deserved. His "perfect indifference" 
gave way as he backed down and addressed the mayor once 
more: 

Dear Sir, As I am informed that your city ordinances 
prohibit the entry of any regiment upon Boston Common 
without permission from the Mayor, I respectfully request 
permission for the use of the Common by the Ninth Regi- 
ment, N. Y. S. N. G., on the lyth, for a dress parade, and 
on the 1 8th for public religious services. 

The mayor and aldermen enjoyed a chuckle over Fisk's 
discomfiture. They relented to the extent of permitting 
the use of the Common on Saturday, June 1 7, but still denied 
it for Sunday on the ground that the crowd and confusion 
attending such a military display would be a desecration of 
the Sabbath. 

"When the Ninth Regiment wants to pray," the colonel 
growled, "I'm damned if it won't do it!" 

With time growing short, he wrote the mayor of neigh- 
boring Charlestown, asking permission to use Monument 



at bunker tlttt 227 

Square for religious services. The Charlestown authorities, 
suspicious of any prayer meeting sponsored by the irreli- 
gious colonel, refused Nevertheless the Ninth, 733 men 
strong, with loo-man band and thirty-man drum corps, 
embarked on one of Fisk's Sound steamers on June 16. They 
were delighted to be met next morning by Boston's Fifth 
Regiment an honor they had never been accorded by their 
disdainful fellow units in New York. 

The Ninth made a splendid showing in the Bunker Hill 
Day parade, with Fisk in the van on a fine bkck charger. 
Yet die New York Herald could not take him seriously, 
remarking, "Although a bit too small in stature to appear 
to great advantage on horseback , . . still he bestrode the 
animal with a kingly grace and looked every inch of what 
he is reported to be a man fit to command any army of 
which he could obtain control." That evening an estimated 
50,000 Bostonians cheered as Fisk himself, without benefit 
of Braine, barked the commands that sent his regiment 
through a sparkling dress parade on the Common. But it 
was the band that sent the spectators into transports, with 
the London-born Levy sporting a monocle as he blew his 
cornet as only he could do. Boston, it was admitted, had 
no band in the same class. 

The colonel was a happy man, his circus blood coursing 
to the plaudits he lived for, his inner being warmed by the 
knowledge that the people of Boston were giving him a 
royal welcome regardless of the chill mien of die city 
fathers. What a pity that Lucy was in Europe, unable to 
witness this triumph! 

On Sunday morning, when he planned to hold regimental 
services in Franklin Square, he was faced by crisis a 
drenching rain. Surely, jokesters suggested, the great Fisk 
could cause the rain to stop with a sweep of his hand. He 
could not, but he acted quickly, rented the Boston Theater, 
moved the whole regiment there from the St. James Hotel 
in omnibuses and invited all and sundry to attend. He badly 



228 Jim Fisk 

wanted a sizable group of Boston celebrities to surround 
him with importance on the stage. The celebrities, however, 
were cool and the only one he won over was his old friend 
and former boss, Eben Jordan. 

For all that, the regiment's chaplain, sandy-bearded Rev. 
Edward O. Flagg, led divine services, the band played 
sacred music, and Colonel Fisk wound up the proceedings 
with a speech in which he thanked Boston and forgave the 
city officials, saying, "We will cherish no bad feeling." 
The Ninth left for New York in high spirits, feeling that 
they had won the battle of Bunker Hill and also that they 
had the craziest, most wonderful colonel in Christendom. 



CHAPTER 

22 



The Colonels 
Combat Fatigue 



IT WAS Fisk's habit to pass around a box of Park & Tilf ord's 
perfectos at staff meetings, so that his deliberations with 
his officers took place under a fragrant blue cloud. He had 
no reason to expect that his military service would involve 
the kind of smoke caused by hostile gunfire. The year 187 1 
was full of unpleasant surprises for the colonel both in love 
and war. It was as bad for his good friend Boss Tweed. 
Tweed, already beset by enemies, added to his own troubles 
and those of Fisk by a spectacular bit of mismanagement in 
a matter with which neither of them had close acquaintance, 
namely, religion. 

It was the custom of New York's Irish Orangemen, Prot- 
estants all, to parade on Orange Day, July 12, the anni- 
versary of the Battle of the Boyne in 1690 when Protestant 
King William of Nassau defeated Catholic James II of 
England. This was a celebration distasteful to the city's 
Irish Catholics, who far outnumbered the Orangemen, with 
whom they had feuded for 181 years since the battle. The 
Irish had always demonstrated against the parade. In 1870 
they had gone a good deal farther than that, charging the 
Orangemen and bringing on a pitched battle that left five 
dead and scores injured an affray that further impaired 
the relations between the two groups. Now, in 1871, there 
was loose talk among the Irish that if the parade were held, 
every vile Orangeman in it would be exterminated. 

Remembering the previous year's clash, Mayor Hall 
sought the guidance of Tweed and City Comptroller Rich- 

22p 



230 Jim Fisk 

ard "Slippery Dick" Connolly. These three were perhaps 
no more concerned about public safety than about their 
good standing with the heavier voting elements in the popu- 
lation. Irish Catholics and Germans comprised such an im- 
mense number of voters that Hall, despite his English Prot- 
estant ancestry, had always been careful to attend their 
national celebrations and praise them in well-turned 
speeches % trait so marked that some wiseacres called him 
"Mayor Von O'Hall." Votewise, the Orangemen were 
negligible. After some discussion among the three, it was 
decided to ban the parade. Knowing that this would cause 
resentment among the city's Protestants, the mayor tried 
to dodge the onus by having Police Superintendent Kelso 
issue the order forbidding the Orangemen to march. 

Both Tweed and Hall were astonished at the storm of 
protest. Newspapers and clergymen demanded to know 
what had become of the constitutional right of free assem- 
bly, and whether New York was being dictated to by a mob. 
Was Hall taking his orders from Dublin? It was recalled 
that Mayor O'Hall had sported a bright green suit and a 
sprig of shamrock as he reviewed the St. Patrick's Day 
parade only four months earlier. Mayor Von Hall had like- 
wise partaken of sauerkraut at German festivities. Now he 
was accused of hiding behind Kelso's coat-tails, denying 
the Orangemen the right to celebrate their traditional anni- 
versary. Catholic Archbishop John McCloskey himself 
bravely defended the Orangemen's right to march, and the 
tumult grew. 

It became audible in Albany, where Protestant Governor 
Hoffman, although he was Tweed's man, saw that Tweed 
was sponsoring an injustice. On top of that, Hoffman, who 
had visions of succeeding Grant in the White House, was 
not forgetting that the preponderance of the voters in the 
nation, unlike New York City, were Protestant and might 
turn against him should he permit the suppression of the 
Orangemen. The governor hurried to New York on July 1 1 



The Colonel's Combat Fatigue 231 

to point out these larger considerations to Tweed, Hall and 
other Tammany leaders. The Boss, nominally a Protestant, 
saw his point. Still, there was also the possibility that the 
Irish, jubilant at the prohibition of the parade, would be 
angrier than ever if the ban were lifted. Not until midnight 
did Hoffman have his way. He issued a statement: 

"I hereby give notice that any and all bodies of men de- 
siring to march in peaceable procession in this city to-day, 
the twelfth instant, will be permitted to do so. They will be 
protected to the fullest extent possible by the military and 
police authorities." 

All question of motive aside, Hoffman's move was a 
courageous one, for he knew he was courting trouble even 
though he was right in principle. He ordered the paraders 
surrounded by such a wall of armament that any citizens 
contemplating violence would be discouraged. He called 
in Colonel Fisk and the commanders of four other National 
Guard regiments, along with Kelso, to perfect the defense 
plans, depriving Fisk and his colleagues of all but a few 
hours' sleep that night. The governor's order appeared in 
the morning papers, causing wrath among the Irish. Feeling 
they had been cheated, they vowed to take the suppression 
of the heathen Orangemen into their own hands. A mob 
of them stormed the armory on Avenue A, aiming to seize 
the muskets kept there, and were turned back only after 
some stout clubbing by the police. Most of the Irish steve- 
dores at Piers 14 to 19 quit work and prepared for battle. 
Arms and green ribbons were handed out at Hibernia Hall, 
a green-painted structure on Prince Street also housing a 
well-patronized gin mill, until another detail of bluecoats 
raided the place. An orange-clad dummy was hanged in 
front of Owen Finney's saloon on Spring Street. Several 
scores of muscular sons of Erin toiling in the quarry at 
Central Park got news of the governor's order and quit 
work in a body, taking with them handy iron tools and 
heading downtown for the scene of the parade, stopping 



Jim Fisk 

at grog shops on the way to nurse potheen along with their 
grievances. 

Some officials, nervously recalling the Draft Riots, won- 
dered if they had the makings of a city-wide insurrection 
on their hands. Superintendent Kelso and General Shaler, 
who was heading the National Guard forces, were at police 
headquarters on Mott Street, keeping in telegraphic con- 
tact with every precinct station, ready to send reinforce- 
ments wherever needed. 

With the parade scheduled to start at 2 o'clock, a few 
Orangemen were collecting at their meeting place, Lamar- 
tine Hall, on Eighth Avenue and Twenty-ninth Street, 
guarded by 500 policemen. The governor's revocation of 
the ban had come so late that many of them were unaware 
of it and had scattered to their homes, while others were 
so intimidated by the warlike atmosphere that they volun- 
tarily relinquished the privilege of marching. Not until 
1 1 o'clock did the Orangemen decide to go through with 
their ceremony even though they would have only a cor- 
poral's guard wearing the colors. The line of march would 
start at flag-bedecked Lamartine Hall, proceed down Eighth 
Avenue to Twenty-third, turning at Erie's Opera House 
corner to reach Fifth Avenue and thence continuing down- 
town. 

Fisk was at the Ninth's armory on Twenty-seventh 
Street that morning with Major Hitchcock, giving the regi- 
ment marching instructions. The men were told that missiles 
might be thrown at them, but were warned to stand firm 
and not to fire unless ordered to do so. For many members 
of the Ninth, including the colonel himself, whose previous 
military experience had been gained in the benign sur- 
roundings of Long Branch and the Academy of Music, this 
was something new and perhaps a mite frightening. 

Toward r o'clock Fisk got word that a large body of 
Orangemen planned to come over from Jersey City via 
the Erie ferry to bolster their New York brethren. Cover- 



The Colonel's Combat Fatigue 233 

nor Hoffman had already ordered that no outsiders be per- 
mitted, knowing there would be trouble enough protecting 
the city's own paraders. The day was growing hot, so Fisk 
left his hat, coat and sword at the armory as he got a carriage 
and rode to Castle Erie to telegraph Charles Mclntosh, 
superintendent of the Erie ferries in Jersey City, to stop the 
boats until the crisis was over. He had trouble reaching 
Mclntosh. Fuming at the delay, he saw that it was well after 
1:30 when he put through the message and dashed out to 
hail a hansom. 

There were none in sight. Most hackmen being Irish, by 
this time they had stabled their rigs and were out gathering 
brickbats to throw at the Orangemen. Fisk, to whom his 
personal appearance was as important as the fate of his 
eternal soul, had a painful decision to make. He had to walk. 
If he went to the armory to retrieve his raiment he would 
be late for the parade. If he walked directly to the parade's 
starting point six blocks north, he would be on time but 
would appear before the public in humiliating deshabille. 
Duty won out over pride. He headed up Eighth Avenue 
at a smart trot for a fat man on a hot day. Ahead of him he 
could see the units of the procession getting into formation. 

It turned out that only ninety-four of the hardiest of 
the Orangemen were marching that day. The cavalcade 
was headed by a force of 250 policemen, followed by the 
crack Seventh Regiment, then the Orangemen, flanked on 
the left by the Eighty-fourth Regiment and on the right by 
the Twenty-second, with the Sixth Regiment, Fisk's own 
Ninth, and another battalion of policemen bringing up the 
rear. Unlike ordinary parades, this one sought not display 
but concealment. Being entirely surrounded by soldiers 
and policemen, the Orangemen were virtually invisible from 
street level, paraders behind a screen, marching for no 
other reason than to proclaim their right to march. Broad 
Eighth Avenue, lined on both sides by grubby four-story 
buildings, was packed with humanity on the sidewalks, in 



234 Y im 

the windows, even on the rooftops, many of them wearing 
green ribbons, hooting and jeering but so far hurling nothing 
more than insults, 

A few blocks away, Fisk was suffering grievous loss of 
dignity as he lumbered up the street in his shirtsleeves, 
puffing and perspiring* The sidewalks were so crowded 
that he had to take to the pavement. Bystanders eyed him 
scornfully, shouting suggestions that he get a horse. A few, 
seeing by his trousers and boots that he was of the military, 
flung rocks at him, but he reached the head of the column 
unscathed, his shirt soaked with sweat, his lungs wheezing. 
He threaded his way through the ranks until he reached 
the Ninth and was greeted by his men. He had only a 
minute or two to catch his breath before the parade, five 
blocks long, got under way. Fisk, heretofore the most splen- 
did colonel in the city, led his regiment bareheaded, coat- 
less, dirty-faced and carrying a sword borrowed from 
Major Hitchcock. 

The band struck up a tune somewhere in the bowels of 
the procession, and the hidden Orangemen, their gay re- 
galia going to waste, held aloft orange banners and a large 
transparency reading, "American Freemen, Fall In!" The 
paraders were lost among five regiments of infantry and 600 
billy-swinging policemen, a guard totaling over 3000 men, 
making more than thirty protectors for each Orangeman. 
It did not seem too many, considering the ill will of the 
spectators. The Celts along the walks broke into such a 
clamor of jeers and catcalls that the band was drowned out. 
Snatches of insult such as "Bloody traitors!" and "Cowards 
hiding behind the soldiers!" were heard along with curses 
in Gaelic and English. 

A shot rang out as the caravan moved southward, but 
apparently did no harm. Missiles began to fly stones, eggs, 
garbage. Colonel Fisk was becoming acquainted with some 
of the less romantic aspects of soldiering, but he knew that 



The Colonel's Combat Fatigue 235 

a few veterans of the Ninth had received even more hostile 
receptions at Antietam and other places he had read about. 
He marched stiffly on, his gaze straight ahead. A crew re- 
pairing Twenty-seventh Street had left a large stock of 
cobblestones, so ammunition was all too handy for the in- 
surgents, who seemed fully as antagonistic toward tie 
soldiers as toward the Orangemen themselves. The police 
in the van had to charge a determined group of xocl- 
throwers, but the procession moved on. Cunning Hibernians 
on the rooftops were dismantling mouldering chimneys and 
tossing bricks down on the paraders. One man was felled 
like an ox by such a missile, and to the marching thousands 
the thought of bricks dropping on them from a f our-stojy 
height was unnerving. 

The parade came to a stop when a solid mass of demon- 
strators blocked the way near Twenty-third Street. Tie 
police advanced with swinging clubs to clear a path. Tie 
members of the force, most of them good Irish Catholics, 
were true to their duty for all that. During the halt, a shot 
was fired from a window, wounding a soldier in the Eighty- 
fourth Regiment. 

The men of the Eighty-fourth, who had already taken a 
punishing shower of stones, were shaken. Some of them, 
furious, fired back into the crowd. Like an echo carne a 
rattle of gunfire farther up the street. Bullets plowed 
into Fisk's regiment. Private Henry Page, the Opera House 
business manager, fell dead, a Times reporter noted, "the 
top of his skull being entirely shot away, and the brains 
being scattered over his comrades." Private Walter Pry or 
collapsed with a mortal stomach wound. Sergeant Samuel 
Wyatt, who had emerged from the Civil War unharmed, 
crumpled to the pavement, slain by a peacetime bullet. 
Several other men were hit. One company of the Ninth got 
out of hand, broke ranks and fired a volley into the mob. 
Other regiments, their discipline snapping, began shooting. 



236 Jim Fisk 

Citizens more or less innocent fell wounded or dying on 
both sides of the street. Screaming, terrified spectators ran 
madly for cover, and there was panic on Eighth Avenue. 

Scores of fear-stricken people, seeking only safety, bolted 
through the interval between the Sixth and Ninth Regi- 
ments right where Colonel Fisk stood, trying to control 
his men. They bowled him over like a tenpin and trampled 
him under foot, bruising him painfully and breaking Major 
Hitchcock's sword in several pieces. When the crowd 
passed, he tried to get up but could not. His ankle, he bel- 
lowed, was broken. 

The colonel lay helpless on the cobblestones, his shirt 
dirtied and torn, his waxed mustache frayed. Around him 
were dozens of soldiers and civilians lying in pools of blood, 
some quiet, some groaning. The shooting ended as quickly 
as it started. Eighth Avenue was a scene of carnage which 
no one who saw it was likely to forget. "The gutters of the 
street ran with blood," one observer recorded, "and . . . 
the dead bodies were piled one upon the other." A group of 
Fisk's soldiers had their hands full carrying the weighty 
colonel up the stairs to a second-floor doctor's office nearby. 
There they left him, for the parade was starting again, mas- 
sacre or no. 

The doctor, finding Fisk's ankle not broken but dislo- 
cated, jerked it back into place, bound it up and loaned 
the patient a cane. By this time the parade had passed on 
and a bitter crowd of Ribbonmen, some with friends or 
relatives among the casualties, were looking for vengeance. 
The fat colonel whom they had seen carried up the stairs 
seemed as good a quarry as any. Fisk limped over to the 
window. He saw soldiers guarding the wounded and dead. 
He also saw an ominous-looking body of civilians gathering 
in front of the building. 

"That damned Fisk is in there/' they shouted. "Kill the 
villain! Hang him!" 

The colonel's martial spirit vanished, as he would have 



The Colonel's Combat Fatigue 257 

put it, to where the woodbine twineth. His tin oven had al- 
ready been battered enough. He made a strategic movement 
to the rear via the back stairway. He hobbled down an alley 
with considerable speed for a wounded man, the pain in his 
ankle assuming less importance because of hoarse shouts 
behind him. The alley was too open a place, aff ording a good 
line of fire. He flung away his cane, mounted an empty keg 
and hoisted his portly figure over a fence. 

The retreat of Colonel Fisk through the back yards be- 
tween Eighth and Ninth Avenues never got into the Official 
Records but was fraught with hazard as he dodged clothes- 
lines, ashcans and privies. Breathing hard, dripping with 
sweat, he finally burst into the back door of a tenement 
and collapsed gasping on a chair. The startled householder, 
taking pity on him after hearing his story, gave him a 
mouldy old coat and hat by way of disguise. Feeling safer, 
Fisk took to the open again, proceeding westward with 
caution until he gained Ninth Avenue, where he saw a car- 
riage and hailed it. To his surprise, its occupant was Jay 
Gould, who took one glance at the evil-looking figure and 
urged the driver on. 

"Hold on a minute!" Fisk roared, identifying himself. 

Gould recognized his grimy partner and took him aboard. 
They drove to the Hoffman House, which turned out to 
be a poor choice because the parade soon passed nearby on 
Madison Square and a crowd of shouting Irishmen gathered 
outside the hostelry. 

To the colonel, now clearly a victim of combat fatigue, 
every Celt was an enemy with a rope. He escaped by the 
back door, got a carriage, caught the next boat to Long 
Branch and did not remove his disguise until he reached the 
friendly asylum of Borrowes' Hotel Continental. There a 
Sun reporter found him kter, drinking lemonade and sur- 
rounded, the newsman reported, by a "bevy of females," 
and "a beautiful girl was fanning him." 

The parade ended without a single Orangeman scratched, 



238 Jim Fisk 

but the morgue wagons and ambulances were so overbur- 
dened with other casualties that grocers' and butchers' 
carts had to be impressed into service. Among the police 
and troops were four killed and twenty-four wounded. 
Forty-one citizens were killed one of them ten-year-old 
Mary Ann York, who had made the mistake of wearing an 
orange dress and sixty-one wounded. Some were unof- 
fending spectators cut down by wild bullets. Only the crack 
Seventh Regiment had kept its poise throughout, possibly 
in part because it sustained no serious casualties. Fisk's 
Ninth, with two dead, one dying and four wounded not 
counting the colonel's ankle had suffered by far the worst 
among the soldiery. Some of the Ninth's men bitterly 
blamed these losses on frantic shooting by the Sixth Regi- 
ment. The police accused the military of "reckless, whole- 
sale shooting," laying the casualties among the bluecoats 
to wild shots from soldiers' guns. It was charged that an 
officer in the Eighty-fourth, which started the shooting, 
was "staggering drunk." The confusion would never be 
straightened out, but the whole city, shocked at the toll, 
blamed the administration. Among the unlisted wounded 
were Boss Tweed, Mayor Hall and Governor Hoffman, 
whose political ambitions had been shot in the vitals. 

Three days later the Ninth Regiment suffered still another 
fatality in the person of Sergeant Edward Gaffney. Gaff- 
ney, an Irish Catholic, had stayed home on the day of the 
parade for religious reasons. Hearing some reflections on 
his courage as a result, he cut his throat and bled to death. 

Meanwhile, Colonel Fisk was still at the Continental, 
favoring an ankle that was already famous. News of his 
exit from New York in disguise caused scornful comment. 
Rumors flew about the time of his departure, the exact 
status of his ankle and the nature of his disguise. It was said 
that he had been too terrified to appear in the parade at 
all; that he had been in the parade but had fled at the first 
shot; that his ankle was no more injured than Mayor Hall's; 



The Colonel's Combat Fatigue 

that he had fainted from fright and been carried away; that 
he had escaped to Jersey concealed in an old woman's 
Mother Hubbard, etc. 

"The Colonel's valor is equal to his piety," sneered the 
Times. ". . . He has shown that he can fight and pray, and, 
when needful, run away in a manner surpassed by few 
soldiers of any age." "Jim Fisk's Wonderful Wound," head- 
lined the Herald, while the Tribune subtly made mention 
of his "wounded (?) ankle." Although pained at these im- 
putations of cowardice, unlike Gaffney he did not cut his 
throat. His ankle was badly injured, he said testily, and sent 
out an official communique via a Times reporter: 

"His ankle is greatly swollen, compelling him to send for 
physicians, who pronounce his wound still dangerous. The 
Colonel expresses his deepest regret at not being able to 
attend the funeral of the dead heroes." 

He must also have regretted that his wound was in the 
ankle, which, although similar to the trouble experienced 
by storied Achilles, seemed an absurd thing to lay low the 
puissant commander of the Ninth. Lieutenant Colonel 
Braine and Adjutant Edgar Allien hastened to Long Branch 
to commiserate with their chief, make plans for the funeral 
of Page and Wyatt, and also to counter the rumor that the 
colonel had run like a rabbit. Perhaps Braine and Allien 
could hardly blame him for his undignified back-yard flight, 
but they must have been irked that he continued his retreat 
clear into another state, which was so hard to explain con- 
vincingly to scoffers. A second communique was issued 
that day: 

"Lieutenant Colonel Braine takes occasion to deny that 
Colonel Fisk did not command the regiment, and asserts 
that Colonel Fisk did his full duty to preserve the public 
peace and was foremost in the fray . . . Colonel Fisk did 
not leave New York until he was informed that his com- 
mand was on the march to the armory and that the mob 
had been checked. Colonel Fisk is confined to his room on 



240 Jim Fisk 

account of injuries received, and will not be able to leave 
before a week." 

The colonel was still fretting at Long Branch, with his 
half sister Mary Grace Hooker to comfort him, when the 
combined funeral of Page and Wyatt was held in New 
York. The regiment's Chaplain Flagg, who officiated, did 
not forget him. "From your generous and gallant com- 
mander downward," he told the men of the Ninth, "you 
have shown most commendable bravery." 
But the Times had another word for Colonel Fisk: 
"Perhaps of him it may one day be said that he was first 
in war, first in peace and first in the pockets of his country- 



men." 



CHAPTER 

23 



Those Dreadful 
.BilletS'-Doux 



The City Hall 'was full of thieves, 
As autumn forest full of leaves. 



WHILE Boss Tweed was pondering the wisdom of that 
$700,000 wedding, and the unsuspected political repercus- 
sions in an innocent parade, a couple of disgruntled ex-con- 
federates gave him the finisher. They managed to smuggle 
copies of city records out of Comptroller Connolly's office 
and take them to Publisher George Jones of the Times. 
Jones long had been publishing accusations. Now he had the 
proof he needed. 

He also had something rare in that gluttonous era the 
stamina to withstand one of the biggest bribes ever offered. 
Tweed's henchman Slippery Dick Connolly, hearing of the 
defection, tried to buy Jones' silence for $5,000,000. "I 
don't think the devil will ever make a higher bid for me 
than that," said Jones. Cartoonist Nast, whose caricatures 
were damaging to the Ring, likewise proved that honesty 
was not dead. Offered $500,000 to "take a trip to Europe/' 
he stayed in New York and kept right on drawing. 

The Ring, described in a Nast cartoon as "True as Steal," 
had indeed been stealing so systematically in every city de- 
partment that its total loot was later estimated at something 
near $200,000,000. Its chef tfoeuvre of larceny was in the 
new courthouse, now nearing completion. This building, 
originally planned for a total cost of $250,000, had so far 

241 



242 Jim Fisk 

cost the taxpayers $i 1,000,000. Daily the Times ticked off 
the facts: 

Andrew J. Garvey had been paid $2,870,464.06 for plas- 
tering. 

The courthouse thermometers cost $7,500. 

Tweed's own printing company received $186,495.61 for 
an order of stationery. 

Three tables and forty chairs cost $179,729.60. 

John H. Keyser, the Ring plumber, collected $1,149,- 
874.50 for plumbing work. 

James H. Ingersoll, an old friend of Tweed's, received 
$4,829,426.26 for supplying carpeting. 

These were only a few of the examples listed by the 
Times. Wiseacres got busy with pencils and figured that 
Ingersoll could have covered the lower half of Manhattan 
Island with a high grade of Brussels carpeting for $4,829,- 
426.26, and that Garvey must have applied his plaster six 
feet thick and used gold mesh for reinforcing. The citizens, 
although their own apathy was largely to blame, were not 
amused. At long last a reform movement was on the march. 
Tweed, hoping to weather the storm, was so badgered by 
newsmen that his temper overrode wisdom and he uttered 
his famous retort: "Well, what are you going to do about 
it?" A new Nast cartoon showed Hoffman as President in 
1872, a mere shadow behind the vast frame of Tweed, with 
a Cabinet including Admiral Fisk as Secretary of the Navy, 
fast-figuring Comptroller Connolly as Secretary of the 
Treasury and Andrew Garvey manning a bucket of plaster 
as Secretary of the Interior. 

Fisk lingered at Long Branch, nursing his wound, visiting 
with the Hookers and Morses and donating a $3000 purse 
at the nearby racetrack. A reporter spied him at the Con- 
tinental "in command of a small regiment of feminines," 
noting that although he did not join in the dance he walked 
"without limp or halt." The colonel had a magic faculty for 
enjoying himself despite mounting woes. The Mansfield 



Those Dreadful Eillets-Doux 243 

scandal had spread in such widening circles that, like a 
small boy caught in naughtiness, he wrote to his wife in 
Europe confessing his errors and begging forgiveness. 

Being blackmailed now from two sides, he saw that his 
only chance to beat back the Mansfield-Stokes onslaught 
was to admit publicly his affair with Josie. This was a neces- 
sity so painful that he kept delaying. The lady was now 
bringing suit for $50,000 she claimed he owed her, the 
amount having doubled in a year. As for Stokes, he was 
taking action to have his previous settlement with Fisk set 
aside, declaring that Lawyer Seward "betrayed my con- 
fidence by making an award in the interest of Fisk." Stokes 
wanted $200,000 more. While both of these suits were 
ostensibly of a business nature, Josie's concerning funds 
she said had been invested for her, and Stokes' relating to 
the Brooklyn Refinery, it was well known on all sides that 
the plaintiffs' most dangerous weapons were the Fisk billets- 
doux. 

The letters had gone on an interesting tour. Josie had 
given them to Stokes. Stokes had surrendered them to 
Lawyer Seward. Seward, on compromising the quarrel, had 
handed them over to Peter Sweeny a friend of Fisk's for 
safekeeping. Josie and Stokes had been careful to make 
copies, but nevertheless were serving Sweeny with papers 
demanding the originals back. Exclusive control over the 
letters was basic in their strategy, for the newspapers were 
itching to get them and once they were published their value 
as a threat against Fisk would be lost. 

The many-sided affairs of Fisk were keeping scores of 
lawyers occupied and in funds. In addition to separate suits 
against him by Josie and Stokes, he was still being sued by 
the English stockholders. He was defendant in a suit brought 
by one John Ponton, whose boat had been rammed by 
Fisk's Bristol He was being sued by Isaac Davis and sixteen 
others for alleged swindles perpetrated on them in the 
Black Friday uproar. Several lawsuits still pended from the 



244 Jim Fisk 

Mast Hope wreck. There were others, probably many 
others. Fisk himself admitted he did not know how many 
there were, saying at one hearing, ". . . there are suits 
against me wherein large amounts are claimed; some gold 
suits are pending; I don't know how many suits there are 
against me, nor the amounts claimed against me." 

Still, he was trying to keep posted on them, conferring 
daily with tall, blond Attorney William Morgan, who 
served as his legal intelligence arm. Among Morgan's duties 
was to keep him informed as to the status of old lawsuits 
still in progress, new ones about to come to court, and 
threats of future ones which might or might not be settled 
out of court. Lawsuits were so common that he took them 
as part of the day's work, giving them an allotted portion of 
his time and no more. The disastrous Chicago fire that 
burned much of the city to the ground came during this 
welter of litigation. Fisk staged two benefit performances at 
the Opera House for the stricken Chicagoans and found 
time to drive his coach-and-f our around New York to pick 
up donations of food and clothing, filling a special Erie 
train sent westward with succor. "His relief train must be 
rushed through first," Clara Morris noted. "He must beg 
personally." 

At the same time, on October 10, Erie held its annual 
election, at which Fisk and Gould took occasion to answer 
complaints by the British stockholders and others that the 
Classification Act by which they held office for five years 
deprived the stockholders of their rightful control. It was 
farthest from their intention, said Fisk and Gould, to stay 
in power unless they were wanted. 

". . . we now lay before you our resignations as Directors 
of the Corporation," they said in a statement, "a trust which 
we shall not again take up unless freely restored thereto by 
the vote of the stockholders." 

They then left the room, but did not take their gum 
shoes with them. The stockholders present, carefully rigged 



Those Dreadful Eillets-Doux 245 

in advance, voted them back in for a five-year term, thus 
adding another year to their incumbency and extending 
their control to 1876. 

While other legal actions were routine to Fisk, not so the 
Stokes and Mansfield suits, which hurt his pride and men- 
aced what shreds of privacy remained to him. Above 
all he was bitter at the alliance of his former mistress and 
former friend against him, and their use of letters he con- 
sidered sacred. For a year he had been in constant retreat 
before Josie's assaults, giving ground, paying money, hoping 
to win her back. Now all that was over. At last the colonel 
was fighting, and the methods he used were no more delicate 
than hers. 

His lawyers dredged up every fact available about her 
scandalous background, doubtless learning things he had 
never known himself. Her former husband Frank Lawlor, 
now a theater manager in Albany, was interviewed. Lawlor 
told how D. W. Perley had been blackmailed in California 
by Josie's stepfather after Perley had been found semi-clad 
in Josie's company. Whether or not Josie was innocent in 
that instance and her entire innocence seemed hard to 
believe the blackmail idea may have been born in her then. 
A statement was taken from Annie Wood, the Thirty- 
fourth Street madam who had introduced Fisk to Josie in 
1867. Miss Wood related how her friend Josie, destitute at 
the time, had asked her to arrange the meeting, having 
heard of Fisk's free-handedness with $100 bills. Nully 
Pieris was persuaded to tell what she knew of the Mansfield- 
Stokes blackmail plans. Fisk lured away Richard E. King, 
a young Negro who had worked for a year as waiter in 
Josie's menage, and got an affidavit from him, doubtless pay- 
ing him well. 

"When I went to live at the house of Mrs. Mansfield," 
Bang's statement read in part, "I was told to keep away 
from John Marshall [Fisk's valet], and all Mr. Fisk's 
party, and Mr. Fisk, and have nothing whatsoever to do 



Jim Fisk 

with them, and that was a condition of my keeping my 
place. When I went there to live, I found that Mr. Stokes 
and Mrs. Mansfield were living there together as man and 
wife. . . . 

"The principal subject of conversation between Mrs. 
Mansfield, Mr* Stokes, and Mrs. Williams . . . was the man- 
ner in which they proposed to make money out of Mr. 
Fisk by means of letters from him to said Mansfield ... by 
selling the same to newspapers, or compelling him to pay 
them money to prevent the same from being made public, 
and they said they could get a large amount of money out 
of Mr. Fisk in that way." 

The imbroglio was now developing such a head of steam 
that those of Fisk's closest friends who knew the compara- 
tive innocence of the letters suggested an obvious remedy: 
Let him publish them himself, thereby disarming his enemies 
at one stroke. This he could not bring himself to do. 

"They may curse me for this, and damn me for that, 
and ridicule me for something else," he said, "but, by the 
Lord, this is my heart that you want me to make a show of, 
and I won't. " 

Jay Gould, who had shrugged off Fisk's eccentricities for 
four years, was aghast at the flood of scandal pouring on his 
partner and splashing on Erie and Gould himself. With the 
Tweed Ring reeling, Erie's staunchest protector was gone 
and the reformers were now snapping at the Erie Ring. Just 
when the corporation needed to put on its most pious front, 
its vice president was dragging it into a morass of muddy 
publicity, carrying his quarrel with the wretched Mansfield 
woman into tie courts, where she could say all sorts of 
things injurious to Erie. 

Gould was doubtless tearing paper into bits. It did him 
no good, for Fisk was determined to fight it out even 
though his private judge had turned traitor. Judge Barnard, 
foreseeing Tammany's downfall, had run full circle in his 



Those Dreadful Billets-Doux 247 

career of fraud by the most fraudulent gesture of all, an 
effort to appear virtuous, even granting an injunction in- 
jurious to Tweed himself. When Stokes' suit against Fisk 
came to court, it came before Judge Daniel Ingraham, a 
comparatively honest man. Claiming that the Fisk-Mansfield 
correspondence contained evidence about Brooklyn Re- 
finery affairs, Stokes managed to pry it loose from Sweeny 
and give it to Judge Ingraham. The judge apparently found 
nothing incriminating about it, for he read it, listened to the 
evidence, denied Stokes' appeal to reopen the refinery claim, 
and handed the letters back to Stokes* attorneys. 

The terrible-tempered young dandy was furious at his 
defeat. It meant that unless he could get a rehearing on some 
technicality, he would get not a dollar more out of Fisk 
legitimately. But he still held his trump card the letters. 
Fisk, who had developed such a fixation on this tender point 
that nothing else seemed as important, had won the decision 
without regaining control of his heart's outpourings. 

His next move was to bring an action before Judge Calvin 
Pratt in Brooklyn, claiming that Stokes had given the 
letters to a Brooklyn newspaperman for publication. He 
asked for an injunction forbidding Stokes or anyone else 
from publishing them, declaring that to do so "would ex- 
pose to public observation all his [Fisk's] private concerns." 

The newspapers had been watching this skirmish with 
delight. "Fisk Begs The Law To Save Him From Being 
Scandalized/' the Herald headlined, describing the corre- 
spondence as "a pillar of fire by night and a column of 
smoke by day to the redoubtable Fisk." Both Josie and 
Stokes, in legal complaints, by word of mouth and every 
other means of publicity, had insisted that the Fisk letters 
contained not only personal matters but also "inside" secrets 
of Erie and Tammany crimes. There was a general feeling 
that Fisk was fighting their publication not merely to pre- 
serve his privacy but to keep himself out of jail. 



248 Jim Fisk 

In Brooklyn, however, Judge Pratt proved almost as 
amenable to Fisk as Barnard once had been. He issued an 
injunction restraining any person from publishing, copying, 
reading or repeating the contents of the letters. Pratt was 
so accommodating that he appointed J. D. Tuthill to take 
custody of the correspondence an interesting choice since 
Tuthill was an employe of Erie and of Fisk. Although 
banned, the missives already had a respectable circulation, 
having passed from Josie to Stokes to Seward to Sweeny 
to Ingraham to Stokes to Pratt to Tuthill, with no one 
knows how many side trips along the route. 

Fisk's friends now suggested that, having won his point, 
this was the perfect moment for him to publish the letters 
voluntarily, thereby spiking his enemies' guns and demon- 
strating his own comparative innocence. Gould must have 
urged this advice on him strenuously, for rumor was rife 
that Gould as well as Fisk was compromised in them. The 
hard-pressed colonel, who had kept copies and knew that 
Josie, Stokes and possibly others likewise must have copies 
knew also that there was no telling how long the Pratt 
injunction would hold did some painful soul-searching. At 
last he agreed. He told his secretary, John Comer, to make 
transcripts of all his epistles to Josie and send them to the 
newspapers. Along with it he prepared a statement to the 
public, reading in part: 

This will amuse a great many heartless people, but I am 
satisfied to let them laugh. For much that I have done, I 
have been justly blamed, and have been ridiculed for much 
more. In this correspondence, which was an insult to one 
of the purest women that ever lived [his wife], I have 
been more guilty than in anything else. I have sought and 
obtained the forgiveness of my wife. Now let the world 
laugh. 

Then, in an unwise moment, he changed his mind. Had 
he gone ahead with this laudable resolution he would have 



Those Dreadful Billets-Doux 249 

saved himself a mountain of trouble, would have won some 
sympathy from a public now suspicious of him might even 
have lived to a ripe old age. Fisk, so long impervious to 
insult, had grown sensitive to newspaper ridicule of his 
private life. His vanity was wounded by his loss of Josie 
to Stokes a defeat that publication of the letters would 
bring to the joyful attention of every citizen in the land, 
as well as visit the ultimate humiliation on one citizen of 
Boston, Lucy Fisk. Fisk had no one but himself to blame 
for the pass he had come to, and yet his friends sympathized 
with him in his extremity. 

On October 27, 1871, Boss Tweed, who had quietly been 
transferring his property to relatives, was arrested for fraud. 
He was freed on $1,000,000 bail, most of it furnished by 
Gould. It was rumored that the Elegant Oakey was going 
crazy, tearing out his hair by handfuls. Andrew Garvey, 
the Prince of Plasterers, took a fast train to Canada. The 
brother of Peter Sweeny boarded a boat for Europe. Elbert 
Woodward, a Tweed underling, likewise sailed for the Con- 
tinent. On October 3 1, Deputy Sheriff Judson Jarvis walked 
into Fisk's Opera House office. 

"Mr. Fisk," he said, "I have an order for your arrest." 

Fisk laughed heartily, according to the Tribune, "as 
though the joke was too good to pass with ordinary merri- 
ment." 

"So it's Mansfield again, is it?" he said. "Well, I have 
bondsmen here." 

He furnished bail, bade Jarvis adieu and went on with 
his work, which was indeed necessary, for Erie could have 
been getting little of his attention in these stormy times. 
Next day, Josie assailed him in a letter addressed to him but 
printed in the Tribune and all other large papers and in- 
tended solely for newspaper publication. The Tribune, 
always Fisk's enemy, said archly that the letter had come 
"from an unknown source," knowing perfectly well that 



250 Jim Fisk 

it came from Miss Mansfield herself, although she had ex- 
pert help in its composition. It read: 

Sir: You and your minions of the Erie Railway Company 
are endeavoring to circulate that I am attempting to extort 
money from you by threatened publication of your private 
letters to me. You know how shamefully false this is, and 
yet you encourage and aid it. Had this been my intention, 
I had a whole trunk full of your interesting letters, some of 
which I would blush to say I had received. If you were not 
wholly devoid of all decency and shame, you would do 
differently. . . . Unfortunately for yourself, I know too 
well the many crimes you have perpetrated. Was it not only 
recently you bought over my servants, a negro boy, Richard 
E. King, also my cook, and bribed them to perjure them- 
selves to aid you in your villainy? . . . You surely recollect 
the fated Black Friday the gold brokers you gave orders 
to to buy gold, and then repudiated the same, because, as you 
said, they had no witnesses to your transactions. . . . 

It is an everlasting shame and disgrace that you should 
compel one who has grown up with you from nothing to 
the now great Erie impressario to go to the courts for a 
vindication of her rights ... It is only four years ago since 
you revealed to me your scheme for stealing the Erie books; 
how you fled with them to Jersey City, and I remained there 
with you nine long weeks, how when you were buying the 
Legislature the many anxious nights I passed with you at the 
telegraph wire, when you told me it was either a Fisk palace 
in New York or a stone palace at Sing Sing, and if the latter 
would I take a cottage outside its walls, that my presence 
would make your rusty irons garlands of roses, and the very 
stones you would have to hammer and crack appear softer 
under my influence. You secured your Erie palace, and now 
you use your whole force of Erie officials to injure and 
slander me. It is indeed heroic, and worthy of the hero of 
the memorable izth of July last. 

I write you this letter to forever contradict all the mali- 
cious, wicked abuses you have caused to be circulated, and 



Those Dreadful Billets-Dow 251 

at the same time fully state that I am willing to leave all 
matters in dispute and difference and forever settle any fur- 
ther controversy to our respective counsel 

If you feel your power with the Courts still supreme, and 
Tammany, though shaken, still able to protect you, pursue 
your own inclination. The reward will be yours. . . . 

Helen Josephine Mansfield 

Grand Duke Alexis of Russia was scheduled to visit New 
York soon, but the excitement over his coming paled beside 
that blown up by Miss Mansfield. The lady once again 
demonstrated the cool maneuvering of an adventuress who 
cared not a rush about her own reputation but was inter- 
ested only in money. As propaganda the letter showed able 
strategy, implying a knowledge of Fisk's "crimes" and 
making the most of his connection with whipped and 
bleeding Tammany. The Tribunes Horace Greeley, to 
whom Fisk was the living antichrist, began a sustained 
assault on him. Possibly Greeley, irked because the Times 
had scored a beat in its exposure of the Tweed Ring, was 
determined that his own paper should win credit for sky- 
ing the Erie dragon. 

"... it is a positive happiness," crowed the Tribune, "to 
behold in one week William M. Tweed, the master, and 
James Fisk, Jr., the man, in the Sheriff's hands." "DOWN 
WITH THE ERIE ROBBERS!" it headlined, demanding 
that the letters be published because they contained "well- 
nigh evidence enough to send half the Erie rogues and 
perjurers to State Prison." The Stokes-Mansfield lawyers 
meanwhile applied to Judge John Brady in Manhattan for 
an order lifting the ban on the publication of the cor- 
respondence. Probably never since creation did so many 
judges, lawyers, newspapermen and interested citizens 
expend so much effort and money over letters of so little 
literary or evidential value. 

In answer to Josie's lawsuit, Fisk submitted the affidavit 



252 ]vm Fisk 

of Richard King as evidence that he was being blackmailed. 
While he was being blackmailed, the King affidavit has a 
spurious ring. It seems doubtful that Josie and her lover 
would discuss their shakedown plans before the servants, 
and the disappearance of King after signing the affidavit 
makes it appear that it was contrived and paid for by Fisk 
to manufacture proof of a plot whose existence he too well 
knew. 

The publication of the affidavit made the combustible 
Stokes all but burst into flame. The job of squeezing more 
money out of Fisk was proving harder than he had antic- 
ipated. Worse yet, gobs of the dirt flung in the Fisk- 
Mansfield alley brawl were sticking to him. Proud Ned 
was at as much of a disadvantage as a boy in spruce Eton 
collar and white stockings fighting with grimy street 
urchins. He had his social standing to worry about some- 
thing neither of the other combatants could lose, since they 
had none. Much as he enjoyed Josie's charms, this was an 
aspect of his life he had meant to keep secret. Now even the 
Tribune was calling him Fisk's "too successful rival," the 
whole town was gabbling about his freedom of the Mans- 
field boudoir, and his reputation was suffering. 

He sued Fisk for libel. At his instigation, Josie also swore 
out a warrant charging that in the King affidavit Fisk had 
done the impossible damaged her good name. 

Two more lawsuits . . . Fisk, apparently unperturbed, 
went about his business as usual. Learning that his Brattle- 
boro friends, the Mixers, had become parents, he sent Mrs. 
Mixer a fine baby carriage with leather cushions and 
fringed canopy a relic still on display in Vermont. He 
donated $2000 to the New York Association of German 
Musicians. His outward aplomb, as well as his solvency, 
must have been maddening to the nervous, debt-ridden 
Stokes. On the evening of November 9, 150 grateful Ger- 
man bandsmen marched to Fisk's home and serenaded him 
with Weber's "Der Freischiitz" overture, attracting 5000 



Those Dreadful Billets-Doux 253 

spectators. Fisk peered through the shutters, then came out 
on the porch amid cheers, beaming at his audience. 

"From all this demonstration," he said in part, "I have 
no doubt that the people expect the Grand Duke Alexis, and 
I am sorry to be so poor a substitute. The musicians of New 
York have always been my intimate friends . . . and I have 
merely done what I could by giving what little I could from 
what little I have." 

The crowd guffawed at this implication of poverty. One 
bystander yelled angrily, "Well if ye're not poor now, 
ye soon will be." Fisk, ignoring the gibe, accompanied the 
bandsmen to Castle Erie, where they all had a splendid 
collation, compliments of the Erie treasury. 

A week later, a fire that broke out in the basement print- 
ing room in the Erie building was quickly extinguished. 
Jokesters in Wall Street had a good laugh about that. 
Naturally, they said, the overworked presses had got red 
hot and caught fire from printing all that spurious stock. 



CHAPTER 



24 

rVashaay in jLorkville 



MAGNIFICENT MANSFIELD 

The Falstaffian Fisk Routed Horse, Foot 

and Dragoons by the Late 

Partner of His Joys. 



The Dirty Linen of a Lifetime Washed 
Publicly in a Police Court, 



WITH this triple-bank headline did the irrepressible Herald 
mark the first head-on collision of Mansfield vs Fisk before 
Judge B. H. Bixby at the Yorkville Police Court on East 
Fifty-seventh Street on November 25, 1871. People fought 
so hard to get in and view the fray that one woman fainted 
on the stairway, an elderly gentleman had his spectacles 
broken and a squad of policemen had to restore order. 
Reporters were there by the dozen with pencils sharpened 
and ears flapping. The city's newspapers might disagree in 
politics but they joined unanimously in the journalistic 
pastime of making fun of Fisk, the fat rascal who could 
be ridiculed with such safety, the terror of Wall Street 
who turned out to be such a jackass in love. 

The Herald, a sheet lean on principle and long on scandal, 
had sent its most gifted satirist, probably the same bard who 
had sung earlier of the joust between Menelaus Fisk and 
Achilles Stokes. Now he had shifted from the Greek to the 
Roman era and as was apt to happen in the Herald he 
sometimes became so convulsed by the fun of it all that he 
forgot the facts. As the drama unfolded, he dashed off vivid 
prose: 

"Two great forces met yesterday ... in the Yorkville 



Washday in Yorkville 

Police Court. These two colliding forces were Marc 
Antony Fisk, Jr., who has offered up an entire railroad, 
with all its rolling stock, and an opera house, together with 
a fleet of Sound steamboats, at the feet of a woman who 
once toyed with his well-waxed mustache, and Cleopatra 
Helen Josephine Mansfield, the beautiful and gorgeous 
heroine of Jersey City and the owner of the palace in 
Twenty-third Street. . . ." 

Fisk, properly for one steaming into such a battle, arrived 
in his admiral's uniform. "His mustache bristled ferociously, 
in the fashion of General Bourn, and a big diamond pin 
shone out of his fat chest like the danger light at the Sandy 
Hook bar," continued the Herald scribe, who then turned 
his similes on another combatant: 

"The exquisite Stokes was all glorious in a new Alexis 
overcoat of a dull cream color. An elegant diamond ring 
glowed on his little finger like a glow worm in a swamp, 
and a cane was swung carelessly to and fro between his 
manly legs. Stokes looked so handsome that Mrs. Mans- 
field found it quite impossible to take her eyes off his face, 
while she directed only withering glances of contempt at 
the agonized Fisk." 

If it made any difference, this was Josie's libel suit, not 
her action to recover $50,000 she said Fisk withheld from 
her, which would come later. Appearing in her behalf were 
Assistant District Attorney John Fellows and Lawyer John 
McKeon, while Fisk was represented by William A. Beach, 
Charles Spencer and the faithful Thomas Shearman. David 
Dudley Field, who had suffered criticism and even heard 
some talk of disbarment because of his long labors for Erie, 
evidently decided that to appear in court vis--vis the Mans- 
field woman would be injurious to his dignity. Besides, 
Field was busy beating off the English stockholders. Fisk's 
lawsuits were so varied that his defenders tended to become 
departmentalized, each group of attorneys specializing in 
one type of action. Only the previous day he had testified 



]vm Fisk 

in a Black Friday suit, and within another week he would 
once more do battle with the British and also appear in 
answer to one of Stokes' suits. But today the foe was Mans- 
field, who, sitting beside her cousin, Marietta Williams, 
moved the Herald man to searching description: 

"Mrs. Mansfield looked so lovely that she created quite a 
flutter . . . This lady ... is now well known from Maine 
to Oregon from her connections with Marc Antony Fisk 
and Octavius Caesar Stokes. She is much above the medium 
height, having a pearly white skin, dark and very large 
lustrous eyes, which, when directed at a judge, jury or 
witness have a terrible eif ect. Her delicate white hands were 
encased in faultless lavender kid gloves, and over her 
magnificent tournure of dark hair was perched a jaunty 
little Alpine hat, with a dainty green feather perched 
thereon. Her robe was of the heaviest black silk, cut a la 
Imperatrice, and having deep flounces of the heaviest black 
lace over Milanese bands of white satin. At her snowy 
throat the only article of jewelry on her person, a small 
gold pin, glistened and heightened the effect.'' 

Josie was coolness itself as she took the stand and 
answered questions fired at her by Attorney Spencer, one 
of them relating to her age. "I will be twenty-four years 
of age on the ijth of December next," she said, thereby 
differing with other authorities, who added it up to at least 
twenty-eight. The strategy of the Fisk lawyers was to 
demonstrate that she had no reputation to lose. Declaring 
that she was blackmailing Fisk, Spencer introduced the 
King affidavit and proposed to show that she had had pre- 
vious experience in extortion by delving into the Perley 
scandal in California a move Attorney Fellows strenu- 
ously opposed. "The question is whether her veracity is to 
be confounded with her chastity," Fellows complained, as 
if she possessed either. But Spencer had his way, and Josie 
was forced to testify about this piquant episode in her life. 

"Can you not tell me," Spencer asked, "whether in San 



Washday in Yorkville 257 

Francisco a pistol was pointed in your presence at a man's 
head. . . ?" 

"There was a circumstance of that kind happened/' she 
admitted. 

"Was it a man by the name of D. W. Perley?" 

"Yes, sir." 

"Was it pointed at him by a person of the name of 
Warren [her stepfather]?" 

"Yes." 

"Did he [Perley] sign a check before he went out?" 

"Yes, I believe he did." 

However, she denied that there was anything improper 
between her and Perley, or that Perley had been clad "only 
in his shirt." Although the legal limits to the questioning left 
the incident hanging in mid-air, spectators gained the im- 
pression that the check was not in payment of an ordinary 
debt and that Perley had indeed been blackmailed, whether 
or not Josie had knowingly trapped him. She admitted 
meeting Fisk at Annie Wood's house. Here she may have 
repented her earlier Herald interview in which she said, 
"While acquainted with Mr. Fisk, I was always supplied 
with silks, wines, food and everything that I could desire," 
for now she portrayed herself in a new role a woman of 
independent means gained through stock speculation. 

Fisk had only been a friend, she suggested, and had never 
paid her a penny. Her money came rolling in as a result 
of lucky speculations in her behalf conducted by one 
Marston, a friend of hers and Fisk's. Right from the start, 
during her stay at the American Club House on Broadway, 
she had paid her own way. She even made a pretense at 
virtue, claiming that her expenses during the exile at Jersey 
City were not paid by Fisk but that "the money, I suppose, 
came from the Erie Railway." Lawyer Spencer made short 
work of that. 

"Where were you staying in Jersey City?" he demanded. 

"Taylor's Hotel, where I had a suite of rooms." 



258 Jim Fisk 

"Did anybody occupy them with you?" 

"All the time, do you mean?" 

"You know what I mean." 

"Mr. Fisk did, sometimes." 

"Anybody else?" 

"During the day/ 7 she said, "it was used as a sort of 
rendezvous by the officers." 

"During the night only by yourself and Colonel Fisk? " 

"Yes, that is all, I think." 

She was forced to admit that her "stock winnings" were 
paid to her personally by Fisk, that Fisk aided her in buying 
the Twenty-third Street house, that Fisk paid for the fur- 
nishings. She likewise conceded that she had given Fisk's 
letters to Stokes "because he told me it would benefit him in 
the case that was pending between him and Mr. Fisk" an 
admission damaging both to her and Stokes, showing them 
to be working in concert against Fisk. Josie was on the 
stand for three hours, and while her poise was as spectacular 
as her beauty, the Herald was incorrect in saying that she 
had routed Fisk "horse, foot and dragoons." On the con- 
trary, when court adjourned her veracity looked as shop- 
worn as her chastity, and Ned Stokes was grim as he strode 
out. 

Unlike most men, who would have sought seclusion 
during the breathing spaces between such scandal, Fisk 
had an India-rubber ability to rebound from his troubles. 
Between court appearances, the colonel took his staff and 
the entire Ninth Regiment Band, along with Cornetist 
Levy, to serenade Grand Duke Alexis at the Hotel Claren- 
don on Union Square. After the band played Meyerbeer 
and a Russian hymn for the royal visitor, Fisk went inside, 
chatted genially with Alexis and told him grandly, "I ... 
extend to you the freedom of everything I own on the 
American continent." 

The duke, who may have read the papers, did not return 
the compliment. When he gave a great ball a few days 



Washday in Yorkville 

later at the Academy of Music, Colonel Fisk was not among 
the 1000 guests invited. Nor was Admiral Fisk asked to 
attend a more intimate affair given for Alexis at Delmon- 
ico's by the seafaring men of the New York Yacht Club. 

To Ned Stokes, accustomed to deferential treatment in 
the society columns, the newspaper burlesques of his affair 
with Josie called for some reply. To point out his own 
rectitude and the innocence of his relations with her, he 
prepared another propaganda blast. On November 27 he 
sent a letter to all New York papers of large circulation, 
submitting a counter-affidavit by Maggie J. Ward, Josie's 
cook. Mrs. Ward deposed "that said Fisk repeatedly sent 
for me and asked me to swear to certain matters about 
Miss Mansfield and Edward S. Stokes." Like Josie, Stokes 
sought to purify his cause by aligning it with the forces 
of decency fighting the Tammany-Erie minions: 

"The lying affidavit of Richard E. King, the negro 
hireling of James Fisk, jr., who is now a fugitive from 
justice, submitted in the criminal suit of Mansfield agt. Fisk, 
jr., and in which my name was devilishly and maliciously 
introduced, was designed solely to intimidate and deter me 
from the further prosecution of my suits against Fisk 
I don't mean to be deterred either by his blackmail or his 
violence. 

"James Fisk, jr., has for the past four years defied all law 
through his connection with a demoralized Ring. I mean to 
determine whether, under the new administration of affairs, 
he still has the power to distort justice, and with his brag- 
gadocio beard an injured and outraged public, whose 
money he has used not only to debauch society, but to 
enable him to retain possession of a stolen railroad. . . ." 
As one observer truly said, Stokes had brooded so long 
over losses in money and repute that "it became a mono- 
mama with him." Possibly by this time he wished he had 
never gone to court about it, but he was too proud and 
too broke to quit. 



CHAPTER 



25 

A Special Stinkpot 



IN CONSIDERING the Fisk-Stokes-Mansfield controversy, 
which George T. Strong called "a special stinkpot," the 
relatively honest observer seeking for the right is struck 
by the scarcity of virtue on any of the three sides. None 
of the trio was blameless, nor could their testimony be 
believed without reservation. To find the truth amid such 
triple-decked bamboozling was asking a lot of a police court 
judge. The exact nature of the private relations among 
the three for more than two years was unknown except to 
them. The whole quarrel was so complicated and so cor- 
rupt that it furnished in social intercourse a close parallel 
to what the Tweed regime meant in politics namely, it 
was blemished all the way through. 

Yet even in sin there are degrees of guilt. Of the three, 
only Josie Mansfield, who had risen from poverty and 
amassed a fortune at Fisk's expense with no more effort than 
to manipulate her luxuriant eyelashes, could be said to be 
without reasonable complaint. Josie's glamorous exterior 
concealed the instincts of a hog at the trough. Stokes, al- 
though he had fattened on the Fisk oil arrangement until 
he stole the colonel's mistress, had one legitimate grievance 
his two-day stay in jail at Fisk's instigation. But he had 
been paid $15,000 for this inconvenience, and had agreed to 
a settlement on that basis as well as to surrender the letters 
he now sought to publish. Fisk's money, which the pair 
were scrambling for so indelicately, was in large part 
stolen from the Erie stockholders. Each side in the quarrel 
was ready to resort to any chicanery to defeat the other. 

260 



A Special Stinkpot 261 

Still, if in this three-cornered riot of delinquency it is 
possible to find one character worthy of sympathy, it 
would have to be Fisk. He had lost his pretty plaything, 
he had become a national laughingstock, he had paid out 
thousands and was fighting on the defensive, seeking to 
keep from paying more and from having his intimate letters 
published before the world. Although it was a trifle late in 
the day, he had shown manliness in begging his wife's for- 
giveness, something the egocentric Stokes would never do. 

Even Jay Gould, the faithful husband whose only back- 
street love was speculation, could sympathize with his 
partner. Yet to Gould, as president of Erie, Fisk and his 
everlasting scandals were more of a disgrace than the 
corporation could bear. Erie was in dire trouble, virtually 
bankrupt. It could find few buyers for a bond issue it 
floated. Years of neglect for maintenance had left the road 
in parlous shape. On one day, December 4, a worn-out 
locomotive exploded at Hawley, Pennsylvania, blowing 
out the roundhouse roof, and rotten rails gave way near 
Rutherford Park, New Jersey, wrecking a freight train, 
It was only through sheer luck that neither of these mis- 
haps involved passenger trains and that dozens were not 
killed. 

This internal decay worried Gould less than the menace 
from without. The English stockholders were showing 
frightening strength. With reform in the air, he was giving 
thought to changes in the Erie directorate that would lend 
it an aura of respectability, restore its credit and mollify the 
critics. He asked for the resignation of Tweed as a director 
and got it. But how could Erie attain any good repute with 
Fisk still vice-president, and Mansfield still telling the world 
how she had been virtually an ex officio director herself? 

To Gould, Josie represented a ghastly executive error 
come home to roost. She should never have been allowed to 
accompany the directors to Jersey City in the first place, 
nor to live next door to the New York offices, nor to enter- 



262 Jim Fisk 

tain Erie leaders at her home and hobnob with them at the 
Opera House and Long Branch. The scheming wench had 
become identified with Erie. She was conferring a bad 
name on the railroad as well as on Fisk. Gould, who had 
disliked Josie all along, had Fisk to blame for this scandal 
coming at a crisis in the corporation's affairs. Fond as he 
was of his plump partner, Erie had to be cleansed or his 
own control would topple. 

On December i Fisk was in Boston, where he must have 
had painful admissions to make to Lucy, recently back from 
Europe. Returning to New York, he went ker-plop into 
more trouble. Stokes and Josie were appearing in Judge 
Brady's court, demanding that the ban on the letters be 
lifted. Shouted Josie's attorney, Samuel Courtney: "The 
man [Fisk] whose public career, whose every-day, open 
exhibition of his life is as notorious as the career of any 
common prostitute known to the police that man comes 
here and asks the extraordinary relief of not having his 
crimes exposed. . . ." 

Judge Brady took the case under advisement. Hard upon 
this, the jury in the Black Friday kwsuit of Davis vs Fisk 
and Gould decided in favor of Davis. Three of the jurors 
said they had been approached by furtive strangers offer- 
ing them fat bribes to hold out, one of them whispering, 
"Name your sum for a disagreement; money is no object." 
David Dudley Field protested that his clients would never 
stoop to such tactics, called it a plot to discredit them and 
asked that a mistrial be declared. The sixteen other plain- 
tiffs in Black Friday suits, gleeful at Davis' victory, were 
clamoring for their day in court against Fisk and Gould. 
The suit of one of them, John Trevor, got under way. In 
still another court the English stockholders were pressing 
their suit against the same pair. Peter B. Sweeny, Fisk's old 
Tammany friend, suddenly departed for Canada, where he 
wrote back solemnly, "I came here simply for my 
health. . . ." One-legged General Daniel Sickles landed in 



A Special Stinkpot 263 

New York from Europe, and although he was not saying 
so, he came as attorney for still another group of English 
stockholders aiming to flay Fisk and Gould. Erie was so 
short of serviceable locomotives that there was a disastrous 
freight blockade at Port Jervis, where "the sidings were 
packed with trains for miles." A citizen of Binghamton 
wrote in to complain that the Erie depot there was not only 
unswept but was "frequented by lewd women." 

Fisk was a man who liked action, but possibly this un- 
broken fusillade grew provoking. One breathing spell was 
given him. His next court appearance in answer to Josie's 
libel suit was postponed until January 6. Meanwhile, court 
officers instituted a search for the famous letters, which 
had last been left in the hands of John D. Tuthill at 2 1 3 
West Twenty-first Street* A police sergeant spoke to Mrs. 
Tuthill, who said vaguely that she believed her husband 
was "somewhere in the country," and had no idea if or 
when he would be back. There was dark speculation that 
Fisk had probably paid TuthilTs passage to Tanganyika, 
but this really made little difference since Miss Mansfield 
and Stokes had certified copies and at least one New York 
newspaper likewise claimed to have copies. Already 
Greeley's Tribune had been daring enough to print a 
couple of minor excerpts that were reasonably correct. 
By this time the letters had been in so many hands that 
there is no telling what ignobilities might have been per- 
petrated with them, but there is a suspicion that Josie and/or 
Stokes may have furnished the texts to the Herald at a 
price, for publication as soon as the injunction against it 
was lifted. 

For weeks the Tribune had taken the stand that the 
free publication of the letters was as vital to the nation as 
the right to vote, and was getting almighty impatient with 
Judge Brady for his delay in releasing them. Now the 
Tribune flew into a rage at a new rumor: that Fisk had 
gone to Boston not to see his wife but to dicker with certain 



264 Jim Fisk 

well-known financiers of that city who were compromised 
in the letters. These financiers, said the rumor, were so 
aghast at the threat of publication that they paid Fisk a 
king's ransom in blackmail so that he could make an out- 
of-court settlement with Josie and thus destroy the in- 
criminating correspondence forever. 

"Fisk, jr., has robbed the woman whom he seduced," 
complained the Tribune, ". . . and now that he is on the eve 
of being forced by law to settle with her or go to jail, he 
attempts by his guilty knowledge of other men's secrets, 
gained by criminal association with them, to force them to 
pay his debts . . . Now let Judge Brady dissolve the in- 
junction, and the letters will be spread before the people, to 
whom, in view of the startling crimes they expose, they 
really belong. . . ." So many bigwigs were tarred by the 
letters, the Tribune said, that Fisk "has the whole gang of 
rogues in his power. Unlike some of his associates, his 
character for some time has been such that the scandal of 
belonging to the Ring seems his nearest approach to respect- 
ability." Fisk, the newspaper said, "is open to conviction 
on a score of charges," and added later, "As long as he was 
content to amuse with his buffoonery, this fellow was half 
endurable, but when he comes with his purchased testi- 
mony to confuse justice he becomes an insufferable nuis- 
ance of whom we demand to be rid." 

Fisk's old tin oven was catching it for fair. Unlike in 
earlier skirmishes, he issued no statements, perhaps feeling 
that the condition of his reputation was beyond his poor 
power to add or detract. He was busy trying to keep his 
railroad running, and also with a grand gala holiday enter- 
tainment at the Opera House, where the Ninth Regiment 
Band played on Christmas Eve with four soloists and Mr. 
and Mrs. William Florence took over the next night with 
The Ticket of Leave Man. Possibly he had little part in the 
statement by Gould, published December 29, that Erie 
business was now good enough so that a payment of three 



A Special Stinkpot 26$ 

and one-half percent on the preferred (not common) stock 
would be made for the last half of 1871. This, the first 
public report about Erie earnings since Fisk and Gould 
took over, was such a transparent bid to regain lost good- 
will that it aroused general sarcasm. "It ... is designed to 
blind the stockholders," the Tribune said, while the Herald 
commented, "But the people want to know when Fisk and 
the others are going to resign." 

Gould was taking care of that. He was planning a whole- 
sale housecleaning of the directors, not including Director 
Gould, who meant to retain control. There was a story that 
he nervously manufactured confetti as he broached the sub- 
ject to his partner. 

"Gould, blurt it out," Fisk said with considerable emo- 
tion. "Don't be afraid of hurting my feelings. Blurt it out!" 

"The time has come/' Gould said, "when we must set 
our house in order . . . the only thing that can prevent 
utter annihilation for the whole of us is your resignation as 
Vice-President of the Company." 

On December 31, 1871, Fisk resigned as vice-president, 
remaining as comptroller and a director but knowing that 
his days as Prince Erie were numbered. While it was a 
bitter blow, it was one he could hardly feel undeserved. His 
sins were coming back to plague him with such Biblical 
inevitability that it was petty anticlimax when Erie Engine 
No. 105 jumped the track near Hackensack, crushing the 
fireman's foot, and one Charles C. Allen brought suit for 
$50,000 against Fisk and Gould, charging false arrest in one 
of the many gold litigations. 

Yet even as Fisk's marble palace crumbled about him, he 
retrieved one victory from the ruins. On January 5, 1872 
the same day that Erie's Orange County Express jumped 
the track near Turners, New York, wrecking the engine 
and terrifying a score of passengers who were lucky to get 
off with mere bruises Judge Brady denied Stokes' plea to 
make use of the letters. The judge pointed out that he had 



266 Jim Fisk 

earlier entered into a settlement with Fisk, surrendering the 
letters "for a valuable consideration," and now was seeking 
to default on his own agreement. 

For Stokes, the decision was disastrous. He had one thing 
in common with Fisk: Josie Mansfield had brought him 
trouble. In a year's time he had paid, or owed, $38,000 to at 
least five different attorneys in his various actions against 
Fisk. So far he had got nothing for his pains but a load 
of debt and a mangled reputation. In addition, the grand 
jury was weighing Fisk's charge of blackmail against him 
a charge he might later have to fight in court. The young 
man from the Hoffman House was very nearly raving. 



CHAPTER 

26 



Such a Good Boy! 



"COLONEL STOKES was, as usual, fashionably attired," said 
the Herald, "wearing an elegant overcoat of Ulster frieze, 
with light pants and an immaculately polished pair of boots. 
He seemed more anxious than is his wont. . . ." 

This was at the Yorkville Police Court on Saturday, 
January 6, 1872, where the case of Mansfield w Fisk was 
coining up for its second hearing, proving untrue the 
rumors of an out-of-court settlement Fisk was not there, 
his testimony being scheduled for a later session. He was 
recovering from a minor bilious attack, something unusual 
in one so robust even though his difficulties were enough 
to upset a Neanderthal stomach. Doubtless he was glad 
to escape another rencontre with the woman who had 
shamed him. 

"The voluptuous charms of Miss Mansfield," the Herald 
went on, "were splendidly set off by a dress of black silk, 
velvet jacket, jockey hat and illusion veil." Her pretty 
cousin, Marietta Williams, was with her. But the star of 
the day was Fisk's attorney, silver-haired William A. Beach, 
a fellow who knew precisely how to insult an adventuress. 

He insulted Josie with pitiless politeness, dragging her 
through her career with Fisk since its inception, pointing 
out her economic gains, asking questions that painted her 
as a vampire not satisfied with blood but wanting flesh as 
well. She lost the poise that had marked her previous testi- 
mony. Her voice began to falter as she answered: "I don't 
remember anything of the kind ... I did not ask Miss Wood 
to introduce me to Fisk . . . The meeting was accidental . . . 

267 



26 '8 Jim Fisk 

No, I have no recollection ... I have never shown a dis- 
position to blackmail him. . . ." Finally the superb Mans- 
field burst into tears, and had to fight to regain her 
composure. 

"Stokes stalked through the room gloomy, and per- 
turbed-looking," wrote an observer, "evidently ill at ease." 
Josie got a needed respite when Mrs. Williams took the 
stand to tell how respectable the Mansfield household had 
been and to defend her cousin's character. "Her general 
habits " Mrs. Williams began, when Beach cut her oS. 

"I don't mean her general habits," he said dryly. "That 
would involve an extensive range of inquiry." 

Spectators roared as Stokes glowered and Josie again 
dove into her handkerchief, Fisk's turn would come later, 
but now it was Stokes who mounted the stand, struggling 
for urbanity. For him, everything had gone wrong since 
he first took up the cudgels against Fisk. Undoubtedly he 
had counted on a handsome settlement out of court, but 
somehow that had not come to pass and here he was, placed 
in this embarrassing juxtaposition with Josie and with Beach 
doing his level best to show that he had spent much of his 
time for the past two years sleeping with her and spending 
Fisk's money. 

Right at the start, in answer to a question, he made it 
clear that he did not hold with old-fashioned convention 
in regard to the relations between the sexes. Nevertheless, 
he insisted that his friendship with Miss Mansfield was an 
entirely innocent one, and that when he visited her, Mrs. 
Williams invariably sat there between them like a duenna. 
He denied that he had managed the household and com- 
ported himself as if he were married to Miss Mansfield, al- 
though he conceded that he had discharged her coachman, 
a man named Steers, saying, "I did it for Miss Mansfield." 
He stayed there overnight, he said, "only when it was 
very stormy," and he did not relish Beach's suggestion 



Such a Good Boy! 269 

that the weather must have been inclement much of the 
time. 

Stokes' self-control was shaky by the time adjournment 
came at i P.M. The titters that swept the courtroom indi- 
cated disbelief that he and Miss Mansfield had enjoyed only 
the delights of conversation. It took no great penetration 
to divine a general opinion that Josie was little better than 
a selective prostitute and that he had played the ignomini- 
ous role of fancy man, sharing the luxuries she had wheedled 
from Fisk. Rumor had it that one week hence Beach would 
question him about other disreputable friends as well as 
about his humiliating scrape at die Narragansett racetrack. 
"Stokes* own counsel/' one narrative says, "informed him 
. . . that his case was hopeless and must be abandoned." 

Ned Stokes borrowed Josie's large carriage the one 
Fisk had given her and drove downtown with his at- 
torney, John McKeon, and Assistant District Attorney 
Fellows to Delmonico's for oysters and ale. Josie, taking 
Fellows' rig, was driven home with her cousin. At Del- 
monico's, as Stokes and his legal companions were quaffing 
ale at the bar, Judge Barnard strode in. The handsome judge 
was in hot water, his betrayal of Tweed having come too 
late in the day, and proceedings for his impeachment were 
advancing. For all that he was still the breezy man about 
town. He saw Stokes, McKeon and Fellows, all of whom 
he knew. He had a bit of news. The grand jury, he was told, 
had just returned an indictment against Stokes and Miss 
Mansfield on Fisk's charge of blackmail. 

Stokes at this moment was somewhat separated from the 
others at the bar, and they kter said they did not know 
whether he had heard the judge. In any case, he left abruptly 
and hailed a carriage on Broadway. "Hoffman House," he 
said to the driver, Lawrence Corr. Corr drove up Broadway 
and stopped at the hostelry on Twenty-fourth Street, 
where he waited while Stokes went inside. Coming out a 



Jim Fisk 

few minutes later, he told Corr to take him to 359 West 
Twenty-third Josie's address. 

Fisk meanwhile got news of the morning's testimony 
from his legal bird dog, William Morgan, who had attended 
the hearing. He could scent victory in this skirmish a 
prospect that must have given him satisfaction even though 
he was in retreat at all other points of his complicated 
battle line. Rising late, he had found his health almost 
restored. He had breakfasted with Georges Barbin, then 
had Valet Marshall help him into fancy attire topped with 
a black, scarlet-lined military cloak, silk hat and gold- 
headed cane. He went to his office to attend to the com- 
pany payroll and another matter far out of the line of duty. 
While the investigation of the Tweed Ring continued, the 
reformers had taken care to prevent further robberies with 
an injunction tying up city funds so effectively that the 
police, among other municipal employes, were not being 
paid a salary blockade that had many of them in straits. 
Fisk, who knew scores of policemen by their first names, 
was arranging a $250,000 personal loan to pay them. 

As he worked at his desk with Secretary Comer, his 
friend John Chamberlain, the Long Branch sportsman and 
gambling impresario, strolled in. Chamberlain was a sky- 
larker who made his living by betting on everything from 
the deuce of spades to Wall Street stocks, and he often con- 
sulted with Fisk about the latter. During the off season he 
operated an elite gambling place at 8 West Twenty-fifth 
Street, only a few blocks from the Opera House. 

According to his later testimony, Chamberlain chanced 
to look out the window around 3:30, just as he was leaving. 
On the street he saw a horse-drawn coupe containing Ned 
Stokes, a fellow gamester he knew well. The carriage was 
crossing Eighth Avenue, going west on Twenty-third 
Street toward Josie's house. Stokes was craning his neck 
to look upward, straight at Fisk's windows. 



Such a Good Boy! 271 

A few minutes later Fisk washed at his $1000 nymph- 
ornamented sink, donned his military cloak, clapped on his 
top hat, stopped at the Opera House bar for a lemonade, 
then left to pay a visit to the Morses. Mrs. Morse, with her 
elderly mother and two daughters, were staying at the 
Grand Central Hotel at Broadway and Amity Street, an 
ornate hostelry that could boast that President Grant had 
once slept there although it had been completed only the 
previous year. The Bostonian Morses, to whom he had 
long played fairy godfather, were also good friends of his 
wife Lucy, and he had often been their host in his Opera 
House box. He got into his waiting carriage, driven by his 
colored coachman, Francis Houseman. However, they 
did not take the most direct route to the hotel, which would 
have been straight down Broadway from Madison Square. 
Instead, they drove east to Madison Square, down Fifth 
Avenue to Fourteenth Street, east on Fourteenth to Broad- 
way and thence down to Amity Street. 

Ned Stokes, who in some mysterious way knew or 
guessed his enemy's destination, took a shorter route. He 
got out of his cab a half-block from the Grand Central and 
made the rest of the distance on foot at a fast clip, dressed 
in his double-breasted gray overcoat, top hat, and carrying 
a cane. Richard Wandle, a gambler who knew Stokes by 
sight, happened to be lounging in front of the hotel at 
about 4 P.M. He saw Stokes coming at what he later 
described as "not quite a run, but between a run and a 
fast walk." The young sportsman was so intent on his 
mission that he bumped into a lady on the walk and, for- 
getting his usual courtesy, did not even stop to apologize. 
He darted into the hotel's ladies' entrance on Broadway, 
something gentlemen were not properly supposed to do. 
John Redmond, a young Irish porter, was just inside the 
door, but since he was atop a seven-foot ladder cleaning 
the gaslights, he did not bother to steer him to the main 



2^2 Jim Fisk 

entrance. Stokes hurried up the stairs, disappearing from 
view. Hotel employes later recalled him "pacing back and 
forth" in the upper lobby. 

Ten minutes later, Redmond was off his ladder but still 
tidying the hall when Houseman drove up and Fisk got 
out, walking in the same entrance. He was not supposed to 
use that door either, but he was a regular visitor, a man so 
free with jokes and tips, so accustomed to making his own 
rules, that Redmond would not have dreamed of correcting 
him. 

"Hello, John," he said. "Is Mrs. Morse in?" 
"No, sorr, she's gone out an' the oldest girl's gone with 
her," the porter replied. "But the other wan is in her grand- 
mother's room, sorr." 

"Tell her I'm here and ask whether she can see me." 
So saying, Fisk headed upstairs to wait in the second- 
floor sitting room. Redmond put his cleaning cloth in his 
pocket and started to follow. 

Fisk was halfway up, the boy a dozen steps behind, when 
he became aware of a figure at the top of the stairs. He 
looked up. It was Stokes, aiming a revolver at him. 

Thomas Hart, a bellboy on the second floor, saw Stokes 
standing there, gun poised, and later testified that he said, 
"I've got you now." 

The two men on the stairs were only a half-dozen steps 
apart. Fisk was trapped between two walls, at point-blank 
range. The fat colonel made a target that could not be 
missed. Stokes fired twice in rapid succession. 
"For God's sake," Fisk shouted, "will anybody save me?" 
John Redmond later was somewhat vague as to what he 
was doing at this moment. Possibly he had scrambled down- 
stairs to get clear of the bullets* Fisk staggered and grasped 
the handrail, but did not fall. A contemporary drawing 
shows him reeling on the stairway, silk hat flying, cape out- 
flung. As Stokes vanished into the upper corridor, Fisk 
recovered himself enough to walk down the stairs. By this 



Such a Good Boy! 

time the sound of the shots attracted a swarm of hotel 
employes to the ladies' entrance. A group of them helped 
the wounded man up the stairs, where the odor of gun- 
powder still lingered, and into Room 213, which was 
vacant. 

Bellboy Hart meanwhile followed Stokes at a safe 
distance, saw him cross the second-floor lobby, pause at a 
sofa, then go down the main staircase to the first-floor 
lobby. As he turned into the saloon, Hart pointed him out 
excitedly to H. L. Powers, manager of the hotel. Powers 
took after him with a small posse of citizens, shouting "Stop 
that man!" They caught up with him in the barber shop 
at the Mercer Street entrance, where several patrons with 
lather-covered faces stared in amazement from barbers' 
chairs as he was seized without resistance. Officer Henry 
McCadden, called from his beat nearby on Mercer Street, 
arrived to make the arrest official. He found no weapon 
on the prisoner. 

Dr. Thomas H. Tripler, the house physician, reached 
Room 213 on the double. He found Fisk on his feet, blood 
streaming from his right arm. Fisk said he was also wounded 
"in the belly." Tripler put him in a sofa, gave him some 
brandy and water and dressed the arm wound. He cut 
away the shirt and found a bullet hole above the navel. 
He probed the wound to a depth of four inches, but the 
slug was deep in Fisk's bowels and could not be found. 

"Doctor, if I am going to die, I want to know about it," 
Fisk said. "I am not afraid to die, but then if I am going to 
die I would like to know beforehand." 

"Colonel, you are not going to die tonight," Tripler 
replied with more assurance than he felt, "and not tomor- 
row either, I hope." 

Police Captain Thomas Byrnes entered the room with 
Stokes in tow. Byrnes later said, "Mr. Fisk laid there as if 
he had no pain at all." Stokes, an observer noted, "wore a 



rigidly dignified air, with a face perfectly immovable, ex- 
pressive only of intense passion strongly suppressed." 

"Colonel Fisk, you see this man," Captain Byrnes said. 
'Was it he who shot you?" 

Fisk nodded. "Yes, that's the man who shot me. That's 
Stokes." 

As the prisoner was taken away, Fisk asked, * When can 
Lucy get here?" 

A telegram had already been sent to Lucy. The hotel per- 
sonnel worked off its hysteria by sending messages broad- 
cast. Coachman Houseman went flying back to Castle Erie 
to spread the news. Doctors were summoned as though 
they could heal the wounded man by sheer weight of num- 
bers. Dr. Tripler was joined by Dr. Frank Fisher, then 
by Fisk's personal physician, Dr. John P. White, then by 
Drs. James R. Wood, Theophilus Steel, Lewis Sayre and 
Enos Foster. Seven doctors could do no more than one. 
They gave the patient chloroform and tried more ineffect- 
ual probing. 

Newspaper city rooms were electrified when the tidings 
reached them. Fisk, who had furnished them with so much 
intriguing copy for four years, had done it again, this time 
by getting shot by his rival. Reporters, friends and curiosity 
seekers stormed the Grand Central. Guards had to be 
posted to keep the sickroom from invasion. Fisk was moved 
to a bed in adjoining Room 2 14, which connected with 2 1 3 
by sliding doors. Gould arrived, George and Mary Grace 
Hooker, David Dudley Field, Thomas Shearman, Boss 
Tweed, Attorney Morgan, dozens of other friends. Up- 
town, Gambler John Chamberlain reacted skeptically to the 
report that Fisk had been shot. "Fll lay $500 against $100 
that it's false," he said. 

A Herald reporter dashed to the palais Mansfield and 
watched Josie go pale when he told her what had happened. 

"[Stokes] must have been insane!" she gasped. "... I 
wish vou to understand that I am in no way connected with 



Such a Good Boy! 

this sad affair." Then she uttered priceless irony. "I have 
only my reputation to maintain." 

At the hotel, Tweed insisted on sending for his own 
physician, Dr. John Carnochan, who arrived to make it 
eight. "Fisk maintained his composure," a reporter noted, 

"the muscles of his face never quivering " The squadron 

of doctors were cheery at the bedside but gloomy else- 
where. "Your client had better make his will," Dr. Wood 
said to David Dudley Field. 

Stokes' gun, a four-chambered Colt, was found tucked 
into a sofa in the second-floor lobby. The bloody slug that 
had pierced Fisk's arm was picked up at the foot of the 
stairs. Attorneys Field and Shearman sat at Fisk's bedside, 
assuring him that the will was merely a wise precaution. 
Another precaution was the removal of his huge shirtfront 
sparkler, diamond cuff links and gold watch, given to 
Manager Powers for safekeeping. He dictated his will, 
swearing to his estate as "not exceeding one million dollars," 
appointing his wife and Eben Jordan executors and leaving 
the bulk of it to Lucy, with generous bequests to his par- 
ents, his half sister and the Morses. In the outer room Gould 
sat quietly until "everyone was suddenly startled by seeing 
him bow his head upon his hands and weep unrestrainedly 
with deep, audible sobs." 

Tweed, still at liberty on bail, went in to sit with the 
patient. Many of the Boss's cronies had fled the country, 
but he had stayed to face the music. Fisk gave him a feeble 
smile. 

"Well, William," he said, "you have had a great many 
false friends in your troubles, but I have always stood by 
you. I'm afraid that you're going to lose another friend." 

"Are you in any pain, Colonel?" the fallen Boss inquired. 

'When you were a boy did you ever run away from 
school and fill yourself with green apples? I feel just as I 
used to feel when I filled myself with green apples. I've got 
a belly-ache." 



Jim Fisk 

The cautious Tweed gave thought to possible em- 
barrassing evidence. "Don't you think you had better send 
for Comer to take charge of any private papers that you 
may have in your pockets?" 

"No, I have no private papers with me," Fisk grinned. 
"They are all public papers and I don't care who sees 
them." 

It was the colonel's last joke. The public papers he 
referred to were fifteen $100 bills still in his wallet. His 
jocularity must have been chilled when an official with 
an ominous title Coroner Nelson W. Young arrived 
to take an ante-mortem deposition, but he refused to give up 
hope. To Young he gave a statement describing the shoot- 
ing and identifying Stokes as his assailant which according 
to law would be accepted as truth only if he believed him- 
self dying. 

"Do you believe that you are about to die from the in- 
juries you have received?" Young asked. 

"I believe that I am in a very critical condition," Fisk 
replied. 

"Have you any hopes of recovery?" the coroner pressed. 

"I hope so." 

The words invalidated the statement, but Young could 
do no more. At the Opera House the Florences were ap- 
pearing that evening in "The Colleen Bawn." There was 
talk of suspending the performance, but many tickets had 
been sold and the show went on, although one observer 
reported, ". . . it is doubtful if 'Colleen Bawn' ever received 
a more mechanical representation." 

In the hotel lobby, "it seemed as if the whole [Ninth] 
regiment had assembled," many of the soldiers muttering 
dark threats against Stokes. In the city rooms, newsmen 
were working on the biggest story in years, taxing their 
adjectives to do it justice and to fill not columns but pages 
in the Sunday morning papers. Cynical reporters agreed 
that Fisk could do nothing not even die in a quiet way. 



Such a Good Boy! 277 

Had the impresario staged his own shooting with the same 
care and expense with which he had staged The Twelve 
Temptations, he could hardly have wrung more dramatic 
sensation out of it. 

The newspapermen were aware of an absurd paradox. 
This night watch waiting for Fisk to die had an air of 
suspense and doom about it much like the night seven years 
earlier when Lincoln was shot. Who could commit the 
blasphemy of comparing Fisk with Lincoln, except possibly 
in native American humor? Yet there it was. Scribes who 
for months had treated the colonel with the newsprint 
sneers he deserved, now felt an inexplicable heaviness of 
heart, as if some great public benefactor were dying and 
they had in some manner wronged him in his lifetime. 

"Never since the memorable night that Abe Lincoln 
was shot was there such excitement throughout the city," 
the Herald would say, adding about Stokes, "He had very 
few friends in the city last night . . , The sentiment that 
was strongest was condemnation of the assassin." 

While being escorted to the Tombs, Stokes had asked 
permission to go into a bar for a drink, which was refused. 
He remarked that it was exactly a year since Fisk had him 
arrested for embezzlement. Locked in a cell, he called for 
cigars and "commenced smoking fiercely, as if for life. 
Cigar after cigar was lighted and flung away." He spoke 
to his keeper, asking, "What do you think, is the man 
seriously injured?" 

Fisk, brought up a Unitarian, had taken little part in 
formal religion, but he had never spoken ill of it and indeed 
had contributed liberally if sporadically to several churches. 
He had no spiritual adviser with him during his last hours. 
He showed no trace of repentance for his misspent life. 
Undoubtedly Chaplain Flagg of the Ninth would have 
been there to help him bridge the gap into eternity had 
not Flagg himself been too ill to get out of bed. As night 
came Fisk had with him his half sister, Mary Grace, Secre- 



Jim Fisk 

tary Comer, George Hooker, Mrs. Morse and a mere four 
physicians Drs. Sayre, White, Fisher and Tripler. He 
complained again of a "green apple belly-ache," and when 
Dr. Fisher gave him morphia he said, "I am as strong as an 
ox, and it takes four times as much medicine to affect me 
as ordinary persons." Outside the door, a flock of re- 
porters smoked and played cards as they waited. One of 
them, allowed into the sickroom after midnight when the 
patient was asleep, recorded, "His hair was neatly combed, 
and even his long mustache was waxed as stiff as when he 
left the Erie building in the afternoon." 

By morning Fisk was in a coma, pulse 130, respiration 18. 
When Lucy arrived at 6:20 with her companion, Fanny 
Harrod, after traveling much of the night from Boston, he 
was beyond greeting them. 

"Can nothing be done to save him?" she asked Dr. 
Fisher. 

"Alas! I fear not," he said. 

In her eighteen years of marriage to an absentee husband, 
brunette Lucy Moore Fisk had demonstrated rare under- 
standing and forbearance because she knew him in all his 
weakness and strength as a mother knows a son. He had kept 
her in luxury, treated her tenderly, bragged about her to his 
friends. He had humiliated her publicly as few wives had 
ever been humiliated. Like a boy, he had begged her for- 
giveness. Like a mother, she had given it. Now she was 
able to forget the bitterness and remember only that she 
had forgiven. She was at the unconscious man's side for 
more than four hours. When he died at 10:45 she kissed 
him and said: 

"My dear boy! He was such a good boy!" 

There was a world of significance in the words. Fisk 
was a boy who had never grown up, and she had always 
been a mother to him. 



CHAPTER 



27 

yynere the Woodbine 
Twinetn 



NEXT day, New York went to far more effort and expense 
to pay tribute to its most notorious rogue than it had con- 
ferred on many of its heroes. As propaganda, the manner 
of his death could not have been more skilfully contrived. 
It created sympathy even among some who viewed him 
with revulsion. Although the colonel had appeared a mite 
inglorious during the Orange riot, it was agreed that he 
had met death with admirable courage. The Fisk-hating 
Times called the shooting "brutal and cowardly," and con- 
ceded, "There was a grandeur of conception about 
[Fisk's] rascalities which helps to lift him above the 
vulgar herd of scoundrels." George T. Strong marveled, 
"What a scamp he was, but what a curious and scientif- 
ically interesting scamp!" The Herald, abandoning the 
Greek and Roman eras, likened his career to a tale from the 
Arabian Nights. Decent men, said the World, had an 
"instinctive contempt and loathing" for Stokes. 

Many humble folk, uninfluenced by headlined scandal, 
felt that they had lost a friend. Fisk's brother-in-law George 
Hooker, said one untrammeled reporter, "had become wild 
from grief and was a raving maniac." Hooker could hardly 
have been so far gone, but it was true that the whole city 
went a little wild. Lynch talk became so prevalent among 
Erie personnel and members of the Ninth Regiment that 
Police Superintendent Kelso rushed 250 police to guard 
Stokes at the city prison. A smaller guard was placed at 
Josie Mansfield's home because of threats against her. Gen- 

279 



280 Jim Fisk 

eral J. M. Variant of the Third Brigade had his staff sweat- 
ing over preparations for a military funeral. The Erie board 
of directors met under Gould and passed a resolution of 
regret. The Erie employes at Buffalo did likewise. The 
flag over the Delavan House in Albany was lowered to half 
mast, as was the flag at the Revere House in Brattleboro. 
Jim Fisk's stepmother, Love Fisk, had arrived from Brattle- 
boro two hours after he died, but she and other relatives 
were watchers as New York assumed its right to do him 
honor. 

Yet there were those who could not forget that the late 
colonel had seldom distinguished himself in public service 
of any kind had not even been a good railway executive 
and was famous chiefly for misdoing. The Burlington, 
Vermont, Free Press suggested that in view of his record, 
the safest thing that could be said for him was to repeat 
what the Mark Twain character had remarked of a dead 
malefactor: "He made a nice, quiet corpse." Officials at the 
Stock Exchange, remembering Black Friday, shed no tears. 
They were in a dilemma because Henry A. Heiser, a re- 
spected member of the exchange, had died the same day 
and they did not want to lower their flag lest "the honor 
should be attributed to Col. Fisk." They decided to wait a 
day to avoid such misunderstanding. Greeley's Tribune, 
Fisk's old nemesis, thought he had become such an em- 
barrassment to the Erie directors that his death brought 
them secret relief: "Mr. Gould, while naturally shocked 
. . . would probably, all things considered, be glad to be 
rid of such an incumbrance . . . Undoubtedly the present 
management will endeavor to hide all their crimes in his 
grave." 

Clergymen all over the land used the murder as a text in 
pointing out that sin inevitably brings retribution. In Brook- 
lyn, Henry Ward Beecher, whose Sunday school superin- 
tendent was Thomas Shearman, loosed a triumphant period: 

"And that supreme mountebank of fortune the astound- 



Where the Woodbine Tivineth 281 

ing event of his age: that a man of some smartness in busi- 
ness, but absolutely without moral sense, and as absolutely 
devoid of shame as the desert of Sahara is of grass that 
this man, with one leap, should have vaulted to the very 
summit of power in New York, and for seven to ten 
years [it was less than five it just seemed longer] 
should have held the courts in his hand, and the Legislature, 
and the most consummate invested interest in the land in 
his hand, and laughed at England, and laughed at New 
York, and matched himself against the financial skill of the 
whole city, and outwitted the whole, and rode out to this 
hour in glaring and magnificent prosperity shameless, 
vicious, criminal, abominable in his lusts, and flagrant in 
his violation of public decency that this man should have 
been the supremest there; and yet in an instant, by the hand 
of a fellow-culprit, God's providence struck him to the 
ground! Yet I say to every young man who has looked upon 
this glaring meteor and thought that perhaps integrity was 
not necessary, 'Mark the end of this wicked man, and turn 
back again to the ways of integrity!* " 

Fisk would not have minded that nearly so much as the 
betrayal by his own Erie stock, which offered him posthu- 
mous insult by rising four and a half percent due to a wide- 
spread belief that his violent removal promised the road a 
better future. 

His death left loose ends by the score. Several dozen lit- 
igants who had been suing him individually or together 
with Gould, found their lawsuits either wiped out or 
snarled in confusion. The libel suit of Josie Mansfield, now 
staying nervously behind locked doors, was shot full of 
holes by Stokes' bullets, as was her action to recover $50,- 
ooo. There was surprise that Fisk's estate was only a paltry 
million, most of this represented by real estate and stock. 
What had he done with all the millions he squeezed out of 
Erie and his other ventures? The only answer was that a 
share of it had gone to Lucy, who was now said to be 



282 Jim Fisk 

worth $2,000,000, and that he had sunk the rest on Josie, 
on luxuries, on lawyers and on charity. The lawyers 
how they must have mourned! 

There were indeed lessons to be drawn from the violent 
life and death of James Fisk Jr., but Beecher missed the 
important one: that Fisk was no isolated freak, no force 
running counter to his fellow men, but rather was a splendid 
reflection, a huge photographic enlargement, of the im- 
morality of the time. He was the logical extension of a 
decadent public state of mind, a national scramble for gain 
at any sacrifice of the eternal virtues. He was of a piece with 
the governmental corruption of the Tweed and Grant 
regimes, the business rapacity of Drew and Vanderbilt, the 
jocund prostitution of the law by Barnard, which were in 
the end blamable to the millions who tolerated and sup- 
ported them. "The Prince of Erie was representative," 
truly said the Herald, sober for a change. ". . . Society 
needs a general purification." To which the Times added, 
"a vicious state of society . . . has given opportunities to 
the unscrupulous." 

But few were seeking moral instruction. At the Tombs, 
Ned Stokes made himself as comfortable as circumstances 
would permit. He was allowed a carpet on the floor, and 
although the bedbugs were bothersome his meals were 
good, being brought in from Delmonico's. He had several 
bottles of his scented bath water. A Sun reporter found him 
wearing a handsome frilled shirt with three magnificent 
diamond studs. ". . . On the little finger of his left hand he 
wore a large and costly solitaire diamond ring. He wore a 
pair of lavender colored trousers [and] a silk velvet dressing 
jacket, whose sleeves, pockets, collar and lapels were trim- 
med with pink silk, heavily quilted. His feet were encased 
in silk stockings, and he wore a pair of slippers richly em- 
broidered with gold lace." The phrase "he wore" was a 
natural beginning for any sentence relating to him. 

Stokes' estranged wife and daughter were in Paris when 



Where the Woodbine Twneth 283 

they received news of the shooting. Miss Mansfield did not 
visit him, but Marietta Williams paid a call, certainly carry- 
ing a message. Throughout New York there was virtually 
no other topic of conversation as amateur detectives charted 
Stokes' movements. 

After hearing at Delmonico's about his indictment, he 
had driven in a rage to the Hoffman House, picked up his 
pistol, then proceeded uptown gunning for Fisk. He had 
paused in front of Josie's, said his coachman, but had not 
gone inside. Lurking around the Opera House entrance, he 
must have heard Fisk direct his driver to the Grand Cen- 
tral, for Gould said his partner invariably shouted such in- 
structions "in a tone loud enough to be heard across the 
street." Yet his apparent knowledge that Fisk would use 
the ladies' entrance his strategic emplacement of himself 
and his artillery at the head of the stairs made it seem that 
he had spied on his enemy during earlier visits to the hotel, 
which in turn indicated that the murder, far from being 
committed in sudden passion, had been planned for days. 
There was speculation about Stokes" remark that it was 
precisely a year since Fisk had him jailed for embezzle- 
ment. Had a queer sense of melodrama made him hit on the 
anniversary as the ideal date for vengeance? 

Jay Gould, obviously sorrowing, gave a cautious state- 
ment about his kte partner. 

"We have been working together for five or six years," 
he said, "and during that time not the slightest unpleasant- 
ness has ever arisen between us." He laid Fisk's troubles to 
"an excess of youthful spirits," and said that of kte he had 
achieved a new dignity of conduct. "Since the dissolution 
of whatever ties had existed between him and Mrs. Mans- 
field he has been a changed man. He had ceased to practice 
many of the old habits of which he has been accused, and 
was in every sense becoming what all who loved him de- 
sired he should be." 

Fisk's body lay that morning in a gold-handled rosewood 



284 Jim Fisk 

coffin at his rooms at 313, where the weeping mingled 
strangely with the twitter of a dozen canaries. Boss Tweed, 
one of the mourners, also had a word to say. Tweed had 
been struck down by the law rather than by an assassin's 
bullets, but the final effect would be the same. 

"[Fisk was] a man of broad soul and kindly heart," he 
said. "In his business transactions he was governed by prin- 
ciples which seemed peculiar, without being insincere, and 
were, perhaps, apparently dishonest, without being other- 
wise than enterprising . . . He has done more good turns 
for worthy but embarrassed men than all the clergymen in 
New York." 

It was noted that Tweed spoke as if he had no peculiari- 
ties of principle himself. While the physicians could not 
measure Fisk's soul, they had performed an autopsy and 
weighed his heart and brain. Both were big, the heart weigh- 
ing sixteen ounces, the brain a startling fifty-eight ounces, 
only four and a half ounces less than the record-breaking 
brain of Daniel Webster. An artist named John Young had 
taken a plaster cast of his face. At noon the body was car- 
ried to the great lobby of the Opera House, which was 
festooned with crepe and hung with a life-size portrait of 
Fisk. The grieving grew strenuous as the public was ad- 
mitted and a long line of citizens formed to view the late 
colonel, clad in his $2000 uniform with white kid gloves, 
his sword at his side, his red mustache waxed to perfection. 
Possibly Charley, who had been Fisk's barber for several 
years, was jealous of the undertaker's assumption of this 
rite, for he stopped by the coffin, took the ends of the mus- 
tache and twisted them expertly, saying, "One more twirl, 
dearest of friends, for the last time! " 

Outside, a crowd of more than 25,000 surged toward the 
entrance, blocking all traffic on Twenty-third Street and 
Eighth Avenue and giving a special detail of police a hard 
time. "So great was the crush," said a witness, "that five 
ladies fainted away." Policemen had to brandish clubs to 



Where the Woodbine Tivineth 28$ 

make room for the funeral procession to form in front of 
the Opera House at i o'clock. The cortege that wound 
its way through bitter cold across town to the New Haven 
Railway station at Fourth Avenue and Twenty-sixth Street 
was exactly as Fisk would have wished it huge, magnifi- 
cent, military. The shot-torn Civil War battle flag of the 
Ninth Regiment, draped over the coffin, covered a man who 
had not fought in that war but had enriched himself by it. 
Six colonels of New York regiments rode alongside, Gen- 
eral Varian to the rear. Among the marchers were the 
Ninth Regiment, the officers of the Narragansett Steamship 
Company, a mass of Erie employes, six pktoons of com- 
missioned officers of the National Guard wearing crepe on 
left arm and sword hilt, and a large deputation of German 
musicians. A quarter-mile of carriages brought up the rear. 
Fisk's riderless horse followed the coffin, led by a groom, 
the stirrup hoods reversed, the colonel's boots and spurs 
attached. The streets were lined with bareheaded watchers 
as the Ninth Regiment Band Fisk's own played the 
"Dead March in Saul" with muffled drums. 

"Never since the martyred Lincoln was borne through 
New York's streets was so impressive a spectacle witnessed," 
a reporter commented. It was an anomaly that puzzled 
Lawyer Strong. "His influence on the community was cer- 
tainly bad in every way," Strong noted in his diary, "but 
it is also certain that many people, more or less wise and 
more or less honest, sorrowed heartily at his funeral. . . ." 

Surely there were those among the mourners who felt 
the incongruity of lavishing this ceremony on such a scan- 
dalous, fraudulent man, and sought for reasons why they 
could with good conscience give him this royal farewell 
There were reasons. He had furnished the city with a con- 
tinuous circus performance for a half-dozen years, and 
now that the show was over they would miss it. They could 
forgive him faults they could have forgiven in no one else 
because he was friendly, because he told such wonderful 



286 Jim Fisk 

jokes, because he disliked sham, because he had the com- 
mon touch and was generous with Erie money. But most of 
all the reason was simply that they knew him and liked 
him. The warm, magic personality of Jim Fisk had touched 
them when he was alive, and now that he had gone where 
the woodbine twineth it lingered after him to belittle his 
badness. 

There must have been many who regretted his strange 
moral delinquency and pondered what he might have been 
had he turned his oversized heart and brain to better pur- 
pose. The newspapermen would miss him as much as any. 
Their sheets would be vapid from now on. New York 
would never be quite the same again. The Herald forgot 
all about Menelaus and Marc Antony and came near weep- 
ing in newsprint, voicing a sentiment that was general even 
if a trifle maudlin: 

"His vivacity ... his incessant, effervescing good humor 
... his bands of music and flocks of canary birds ... his 
boyish love of show, of colors and gems and golden braid; 
that reckless frankness, which made the world the confidant 
of his business, his dreams and his affections; his insatiable 
thirst for applause; the world to him a stage, and his whole 
life, even those phases of life which decorum veils, an acted 
comedy no more striking phenomenon of human nature 
has been seen in our time ... It is not for us to speak of retri- 
bution. And oh, friends, think that the poor always swarmed 
around his gates and never went hungry away, and that 
those who knew him best shed tears over his death bed!" 

The colonel was placed aboard a New Haven train 
swathed with crepe even to the locomotive, and was off for 
Brattleboro, off for home. It was as well that he was not 
traveling via his own Erie line, for he would be less sure of 
getting there. The Opera House was dark that night, but 
Augustin Daly, no admirer of Landlord Fisk, was showing 
Divorce at the Fifth Avenue Theater, with Fanny Daven- 
port, Nellie Mortimer, Clara Morris and others. 



Where the Woodbine Tmneth 287 

Even though she knew, Miss Morris was shaken when 
she came onstage and faced Fisk's box: "A shiver ran over 
me someone . . . had lowered the heavy red curtains and 
drawn them close together . . . The laughing owner would 
enter there no more, forever! ... I never knew a more 
trying evening for actors, for all knew him well liked him 
and grieved for him." Meanwhile a pair of scriveners were 
working furiously to capitalize on public sentiment, writing 
a play, Black Friday, which would soon appear at Niblo's 
Garden and would immortalize Robber King Fisk as "Rob 
King," a lovable scoundrel, Stokes being caricatured as 
"Dash Hoffman" and Josie as "Violet Spearheart." 

The funeral train was met by hundreds of people when 
it made stops at South Norwalk, Hartford and other sta- 
tions. Although it did not reach Brattleboro until 11:35, ^ 
station was jammed. Many of those present had known 
Pop Fisk's bully boy as the witling of the Revere House, 
as the Prince of Peddlers had held up their hands at the 
tales of his doings in New York. Now they saw his career 
run full circle with his return home as a corpse at the age 
of thirty-six. 

The body was removed to Room i at the Revere House, 
the same where Mary Grace Fisk and George Hooker had 
held their wedding reception. In the morning, citizens 
flocked in to snow-covered Brattleboro from miles around. 
"It is wonderful where all the people came from," wrote 
one reporter. "The principal street presented two long lines 
of sleighs throughout its whole length, and in the side 
streets stood unnumbered ox teams, and still they came 
dashing in. Hundreds arrived from Springfield and Boston 
and other large cities within easy reach. The hotels were 
filled to their utmost capacity." 

At the services, held on Tuesday, January 9, 1872, at 
the Baptist Church because it was the biggest in town, the 
Rev. William L. Jenkins prayed for a solid thirty minutes 
until listeners began to fidget. Possibly Jenkins felt that it 



288 Jim Fisk 

would take some powerful praying to purchase Fisk's ad- 
mission among the angels. But it was Chaplain Edward 0. 
Flagg of the Ninth, arisen from his sickbed, who preached 
the sermon. Flagg, an honest man, made no pretense that 
Fisk was unblemished. 

"He who lies before you was no common man," he said. 
"He was not like the mass. As to his faults, I will not speak 
of them. A censorious world will do them ample justice 
. . . When his good qualities are balanced against his bad, I 
venture to say that we will have at least an equipoise . . . 
He was magnanimous by nature, and never consulted his 
means when he wished to do a good deed . . . Colonel Fisk 
was generous to a fault. . . ." 

Then they took Jim Fisk a half-mile up the hill and buried 
him, along with his colonel's uniform and sword, in the 
same escape-proof graveyard he had furnished with a $500 
fence. 



Wa y of 
a Postscript 



THE FISK-MANSFEELD letters thirty-nine of them were 
published in full in the New York Herald on January 14, 
1872, one week after Fisk's death. Sensation-seekers were 
disappointed. While the letters gave ample evidence of 
Fisk's infatuation for Josie and his jealousy of Stokes, there 
was no compromising mention of any other person or of 
the Erie or Tammany Rings. The Herald did not say how 
it got possession of them, but there was a suspicion that 
Stokes had furnished the newspaper with copies of them 
weeks earlier. 

The Herald publication was on Sunday. The Tribune 
and Times published excerpts on Monday which may have 
been cribbed from the Herald. The Tribune, which had 
long claimed that the correspondence contained evidence 
enough to send many a rogue to jail, was embarrassed, say- 
ing, "They are evidently selected and printed by the friends 
of the late Vice-President of Erie, and (according to his 
slayer) do not include those damaging references to public 
and financial matters contained in other parts of the corre- 
spondence. . . ." Stokes, in his cell, said the letters pub- 
lished were only the "unimportant" ones. Gould, on the 
other hand, vowed that all of the letters had been published. 
He said Fisk had been anxious to prevent their publication 
simply because of their personal nature, not because they 
compromised anyone, 

A good case can be made that Stokes was lying and 
Gould was truthful. Since Stokes had copies of all the letters, 
if some had been suppressed it seems that he would have 
taken this opportunity to release those damaging to Fisk, 

289 



]im Fisk 

It is doubtful that Fisk would have been foolish enough to 
include incriminating business information in his billets- 
doux. While Josie probably heard enough talk to give her 
some inside knowledge of Erie-Tammany maneuvers, such 
hearsay evidence would be of dubious value in court. It 
would have been perfectly in character for Fisk, with his 
hatred for Stokes and his extreme sensitivity about his 
amorous defeat, to spend a fortune fighting publication of 
the letters merely to protect his own privacy and to check- 
mate Stokes. Nor does it seem that Josie and Stokes were 
too high-minded to hint untruthfully that the letters con- 
tained details of criminal transactions, knowing that this 
would spur the newspaper demands for their release and at 
the same time increase the pressure on Fisk to back down 
and pay heavy blackmail in an out-of -court settlement. 

EDWARD STILES STOKES went on trial for murder 
in June, 1872. District Attorney Garvin demanded that he 
be hanged, saying, "his hands are stained with blood to the 
very shoulders." Josie, appearing as a witness for the de- 
fense, was described by the newspapers as "a modern 
Desdemona," "a magnificent Medusa" and "this Aspasia," 
while the prosecutor simply called her "a harlot." The 
Herald said she "took a long, tender look at Stokes, and 
seemed for a moment to drink in his every feature." 

Stokes' defense was a complicated device with many 
escape hatches. He claimed (A) that he had shot Fisk in 
self-defense; (B) that he was driven insane by persecution 
when he shot Fisk; (C) that Fisk died not from the bullet 
wound but from the excessive probing of the wound by 
the doctors; or (D) if the doctors did not kill him in this 
way, they did so by giving him lethal quantities of mor- 
phine. Josie testified that Fisk kept "eight or ten pistols" 
and had repeatedly threatened Stokes' life. Witnesses for 
the prosecution declared that Fisk owned no guns at all. 

Stokes said with a straight face that his meeting with Fisk 



By Way of a Postscript 291 

at the Grand Central Hotel was purest coincidence. As he 
was walking by the hotel, he related, he thought he saw a 
woman waving at him from a second-floor window. Be- 
lieving her to be a woman he had met at Saratoga, he went 
upstairs and found he was mistaken. He was going down- 
stairs again when he was surprised to meet Fisk coming up. 
Fisk whipped out a pistol, but Stokes fired first. 

Although no weapon was found on Fisk's person or on 
the stairway, the jury disagreed. At least one juror was 
suspected of being bribed. At his second trial, Stokes was 
convicted and sentenced to be hanged. He won an appeal, 
however, and at his third trial was convicted of man- 
slaughter and sentenced to six years in prison. "Had Stokes 
been an illiterate laborer," Edmund Stedman commented, 
"he would have dangled in a noose two months later.** His 
legal expenses depleted his father's fortune, after which he 
had financial help from his cousin, W. E. D. Stokes, his 
millionaire uncle, James Stokes, and his old friend Cassius 
Read, proprietor of the Hoffman House. 

In a doggerel ballad about Fisk titled "He Never Went 
Back On The Poor," which had four stanzas and was pub- 
lished in sheet-music form, Stokes' light sentence got in- 
dignant comment: 

Now 'what do you think of the trial of Stokes> 
Who murdered this friend of the poor? 
If such men get free, is any one safe 
To step from outside their own door? 

He served four years at Sing Sing, where influence won 
him favors and he appears to have been treated more as an 
honored guest than an inmate. But when he was released in 
1877, the only person who met him at the gates was Cassius 
Read. He was something of an outcast, persona non grata 
at Delmonico's and other pkces he used to frequent. He 
suffered from the horrors afflicting some killers, fearing 
Fisk's ghost and Fisk's friends. He always left a light burn- 



Jim Fisk 

ing when he slept. "His manner was often described as 
that of a haunted man," said the Times. "He feared assas- 
sination . . . He always ate with his back close against the 
wall so that nothing could pass behind him." Read be- 
friended him, gave him a room at the Hoffman House and 
eventually took him in as a partner. They quarreled, be- 
came involved in lawsuits, and Read, later losing his share 
in the hotel and sinking into penury, said the younger man 
had ruined him. Stokes joined a business enterprise with 
John W. Mackay, the mining operator, which also ended 
in the courts when Mackay accused him of cheating. Stokes 
likewise quarreled bitterly with his cousin, W. E. D. Stokes, 
who had aided him at die time of his trial, and the two 
were courtroom opponents for years. 

Apparently Stokes' wife died or divorced him. He spent 
his last years in modest circumstances, operating two res- 
taurants in New York. When he died in 1901, aged sixty- 
one, it was found that he was living with a woman named 
Rosamond Barclay who claimed they had been secretly 
married a year earlier. 

JOSEE MANSFIELD, unpopular in New York, stayed 
long enough to testify at Stokes' first trial and to sue Fisk's 
widow unsuccessfully for $200,000 she claimed Fisk owed 
her, then took up residence in Paris. Still handsome, in 1891 
she married a rich, alcoholic, expatriate New York lawyer, 
Robert L. Reade, in London, Reade candidly telling a re- 
porter that he married her "because she is the only person 
who can save me from drink." Drink got him nevertheless. 
In 1897, when he was declared insane, Josie divorced him 
and went back home to Boston. Her health failing, she was 
described as "a semi-paralyzed wreck" in 1899 when she 
took refuge with a sister in Philadelphia. The record there- 
after is sketchy. Shortly afterward, she went with a brother 
to Watertown, South Dakota, where she was reported in 
dire poverty in 1909. Just how or when she recovered her 



By Way of a Postscript 

health and came into funds is not known, but somehow she 
returned to Europe to live in the American colony in Paris 
for many years, dying at the American Hospital there 
October 27, 1931, having outlived Fisk by fifty-nine years 
and Stokes by thirty. Apparently she was still coy about her 
age, given as seventy-eight when she died, which would 
have made her nineteen when Fisk was murdered and about 
eleven when she married Lawlor. She was buried in Mont- 
parnasse Cemetery in a drizzle with three mourners stand- 
ing by two serving women and one unidentified friend. 

JAY GOULD, only two months after Fisk's death, was 
ousted clear out of Erie in a surprise stockholders' coup 
engineered by General Sickles. A new regime took charge 
and found the road near financial and operational bank- 
ruptcy. The offices were moved from the sinful Opera 
House back to the old quarters on West Street. It would 
take years to nurse Erie back to health, but meanwhile 
Gould showed his magic in other stock operations. He was 
worth more than $70,000,000 when he died in 1892 at the 
age of fif ty-six. 

BOSS TWEED was finally convicted and given a twelve- 
year sentence. The term being reduced by a higher court, 
he served one year, then was arrested on other charges. 
Escaping, he fled to Cuba, then to Spain, where he was 
caught and returned to the United States. He died in prison 
in 1878. 

JUDGE BARNARD was impeached in August, 1872, 
stripped of his judicial robes and forever disqualified from 
holding office in the state. When he died in 1879, $*>ooo,ooo 
in cash and bonds were found among his effects. 

DANIEL DREW, following his stock market defeat by 
Fisk and Gould, suffered further reverses. After Fisk's 



2 $4 ]wn 

death, he took another speculative licking in railroad stocks 
at the hands of Jay Gould. Characteristically, he kept delay- 
ing his promised gift of $250,000 to the Drew Theological 
Seminary, feeling that he could do better with it in specula- 
tion. Instead, he paid $17,000 annual interest on the sum. He 
went bankrupt in 1875, so the seminary never did get the 
principal. He resumed friendship with his old enemy, Van- 
derbilt, during these later years, sometimes playing two- 
handed euchre with him. The sturdy Commodore left 
$100,000,000 and a dynasty to follow him when he died 
in 1877. Drew lived with a son in New York until he died 
broke in 1879. 

LUCY FISK retained an attorney to aid in the prosecution 
of Stokes and attended some of the hearings with Mary 
Grace Hooker. Mary Grace was so grief -stricken at the 
murder of her half brother that she could not bear to stay 
in New York. She and her husband returned to Bratdeboro, 
where Colonel Hooker became a civic leader and the pros- 
perous owner of an overall factory. Lucy returned to Bos- 
ton. Having no business sense, she dissipated her fortune in 
losing investments and unwise loans. Colonel Hooker 
begged her to allow him to handle her finances, but she de- 
clined until most of her money was gone. For years before 
she died in 1912, she lived with a sister in a South Boston 
cottage, scrimping along on fifty dollars a month she got 
in rentals from a few houses she owned in Bratdeboro a 
purchase Hooker had arranged for her. There is a story 
that she took to drink in her later years. 

Colonel Hooker died in 1902. His wife lived until 1922. 
Her granddaughters remember her as a charming, naive old 
lady who regarded her late half brother with unquenchable 
admiration. 

A month after Fisk's death, the 250 canaries belonging to 
the Narragansett Line were sold at auction by name. Jay 
Gould brought $8.50; Colonel Fisk Jr., $16.25; and Stokes, 



By Way of a Postscript 295 

$7.50, the others being knocked down for smaller sums. 
Fisk's $2,500 music box with the gold-and-silver model of 
the Providence went for $1,500, the buyer being Nully 
Pieris. 

The citizens of Brattleboro collected $25,000 for a monu- 
ment for Fisk. There was some semi-humorous opinion 
that the most suitable memorial would be the likeness of an 
old tin oven entwined with woodbine. However, Larkin 
Mead, the same sculptor who executed the Lincoln monu- 
ment at Springfield, Illinois, hewed a shaft of marble with 
a portrait medallion of Fisk on its face. At the corners of 
the massive base are four scantily-clad young women repre- 
senting railroading, shipping, trade and the stage. It is the 
grandest monument at die Brattleboro Protestant Cemetery, 
surrounded by the graves of Fisk's parents, his wife and the 
Hookers. Souvenir hunters have taken most of the fingers 
and toes of the four young ladies. An elderly Vermonter 
told this writer: "Never saw a more appropriate monument 
Fisk had trouble with naked women all his life, so they 
put four of 'em over his grave." 



Acm owleagmen ts 



MOST of the research for this book was done at the Yale Uni- 
versity Library, the New York Public Library, the New-York 
Historical Society and the Brattleboro Public Library, where 
many expert librarians were exceedingly helpful. The writer 
was fortunate in locating three granddaughters of Jim Fisk's 
half sister, Mary Grace Hooker Mrs. R. E. Palmer, Mrs. 
Henry A, Willard and Mrs. Fenton E. Batton all of whom 
searched their memories for recollections. In an interview with 
the writer, Mrs. Palmer recalled conversations with her grand- 
mother, "family talk" about Fisk, and cleared up several points 
that had been in doubt. 

Warm gratitude is also felt for help given in a variety of 
ways by Mr. Wayne Andrews of New York; Mr. Paul K. 
Swanson, Librarian, the Brattleboro Public Library; Mr. 
Richard G. Wood, Director, Vermont Historical Society; Mrs. 
Marjorie N. Layton, Librarian, Long Branch Public Library; 
Mr. R, H. Harm, Secretary, the Erie Railroad Company; Mr. 
Jason Bushnell of Vernon, Vermont; Mr. Robert W. Hill of 
the Manuscript Division, New York Public Library; Mr. 
Fenton E. Batton of Wickf ord, Rhode Island; and Mrs. Walter 
A. Nelson of Iron Mountain, Michigan. 



JD io liography 



THE WRITER has sought to present Fisk as a personality, a social 
phenomenon, a man whose wickedness was emblematic and in 
some respects almost endemic. There is no pretense at close 
analysis of his complicated financial maneuvers, which are 
given only in sufficient outline to explain his motives and 
actions. Fisk was so wedded to the bizarre that he was a subject 
of constant gossip which created a sizable apocrypha. The in- 
tent here has been to avoid tall stories and to rely on respon- 
sible record. All speeches given are direct or indirect quotations 
from newspapers or other sources. The leading newspapers, 
which gave Fisk such impolite scrutiny, were scanned from 
day to day during his New York career. The following sources 
were consulted: 

One Fisk letter at the New York Public Library; one Fisk letter at 
the New-York Historical Society; and "Jay Gould and the Erie Rail- 
way," the manuscript reminiscences of G. P. Morosini, ex-auditor of 
the company, also at the New-York Historical Society. 

NEWSPAPERS AND MAGAZINES 

The Bratdeboro Vermont Journal 

The Bratdeboro Vermont Phoenix 

The New York Herald 

The New York Times 

The New York Tribune 

The New York Sun 

The New York World 

299 



500 Bibliography 

American Heritage 

Frank Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper 

Harper's Weekly 

The Nation 



BOOKS 

Adams, Charles Francis, Jr., and Henry Adams Chapters of Erie, and 

Other Essays. Boston, 1871. 
Alexander, DeAlva Stanwood A Political History of the State of 

New York, 3 vols. New York, 1909. 

Andrews, Wayne The Vanderbilt Legend. New York, 1941. 
Anonymous James Fisk, Jr.: The Life of a Green Mountain Boy. 

Philadelphia, 1872. 
Anonymous Tfo Life and Assassination of James Fisk, Jr. Philadelphia, 

1872. 

Anonymous The Life of Colonel James Fisk, Jr., With Sketches of 
Edward S. Stokes, His Assassin, Miss Helen Josephine Mansfield, etc. 
New York, n.d. 

Anonymous Romantic Incidents in the Life of James Fisk, Jr. n. d., 
no publisher visible. 

Barnard, George G. (subject) Proceedings of the Court of Impeach- 
ment in the Matter of the Impeachment of George G. Barnard. 
Albany, 1874. 

Boutwell, George S. Reminiscences of Sixty Years in Public Affairs, 

^ vols. New York, 1902. 

Bowen, Croswell The Elegant Oakey. New York, 1956. 
Breen, Matthew P. Thirty Years of New York Politics. New York, 

1899. 

Cabot, Mary R. Annals of Brattleboro, 1681-1895. Brattleboro, 1921. 

Clapp, Margaret Forgotten First Citizen: John Bigelow. Boston, 1947. 

dews, Henry Twenty-Eight Years in Wall Street. New York, 1888. 

Crouch, George Another Chapter of Erie. Pamphlet, New York, 1869. 

Field, David Dudley The Duties and Rights of Counsel (Corre- 
spondence between Samuel Bowles and Field). Pamphlet, New York, 
1871. 

Fiero, J. Newton David Dudley Field and His Work. Pamphlet, 
Albany, 1895. 

Fifth Avenue Events (no author given). New York, 1916. 
Flick, A. G Samuel Jones Tilden. New York, 1929. 
Flint, Henry M.The Railroads of the United States. Philadelphia, 1868. 
Foord, John The Life and Public Services of Andrew Hasivell Green. 
New York, 1913. 

Fowler, William Worthington Ten Years in Wall Street. Hartford, 
1870. 



Bibliography 301 

Fuller, Robert H. Jubilee Jim: The Life of Colonel James Fisk, Jr. 

New York, 1928. 
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No. 31. Washington, 1870. 

Grodinsky, Julius /<ry Gould: His Business Career. Philadelphia, 1957. 
Headley, J. T.The Great Riots of New York. New York, 1873. 
Hesseltine, William B. Ulysses S. Grant, Politician. New York, 1935. 
Hicks, Frederick C. Finance in the Sixties. New Haven, 1929. 
Holbrook, Stewart The Age of the Moguls. New York, 1953. 
Hungerford, Edward Men of Erie. New York, 1946. 
Jones, Willoughby The Life of James Fisk, Jr. Philadelphia, 1872. , 
Josephson, Matthew The Robber Barons. New York, 1934. 
Kracauer, S. Offenbach and the Paris of His Time. London, 1937. 
Lane, Wheaton ]. Commodore Vanderbilt: An Epic of the Steam Age. 

New York, 1942. 
Lewis, Alfred Henry Nation-Famous New York Murders. New York, 

1912. 

Lynch, Denis Tilden- Boss Tweed. New York, 1927. 
McAlpine, R. W The Life and Times of Colonel James Fisk, Jr. New 

York, 1927. 

Medbery, J. K.Men and Mysteries of Wall Street. Boston, 1870. 
Merriam, George S. The Life and Times of Samuel Bowles, 2 vols. 

New York, 1885. 

Minnigerode, Meade Certain Rich Men. New York, 1927. 
Morris, Clara Life on the Stage. London, 1902. 
Morris, Lloyd Incredible New York. New York, 1951. 
Mott, E. H. -Between the Ocean and the Lakes: The Story of Erie. 

New York, 1899. 
Myers, Gustavus History of the Great American Fortunes. New York, 

1936. 

The History of Tammany Hall. New York, 1901. 

Nevins, Allan The Emergence of Modern America, 12 vols. New York, 

1927. 

Northrop, Henry Davenport Jay Gould. Philadelphia, 1892. 
Oberholtzer, E. P. A History of the United States Since the Civil War, 

5 vols. New York, 1922. 

O'Brien, Frank M. The Story of the Sun. New York, 1918. 
Otfenbach, Jacques Orpheus in America (his diary of his American 

visit, translated by Lander McClintock). Bloomington, Ind., 1957. 
Paine, Albert Bigelow Th. Nast, His Period and His Pictures. New 

York, 1904. 

Ruggles, Eleanor Prince of Players: Edwin Booth. New York, 1953. 
Sachs, Emanie^'Tfc* Terrible Siren n : Victoria Woodhull. New York, 

1928. 



302 Bibliography 

Satterlee, Herbert L /. Pierpont Morgan. New York, 1939. 

Seitz, Don C.The Dreadful Decade. Indianapolis, 1926. 

Smith, Matthew Hale Twenty Years Among the Bulls and Bears of 

Wall Street. Hartford, 1870. 

Stafford, Marshall P. The Life of James Fisk, Jr. New York, 1872. 
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Strong, George Templeton The Diary of George Templeton Strong) 

edited by Allan Nevins and Milton Halsey Thomas, 4 vols. New York, 

1950. 
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Van Wyck, Frederick Recollections of an Old New Yorker. New 

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Walling, George W. Recollections of a New York Chief of Police. 

New York, 1887, 
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The Story of Wall Street. New York, 1929. 

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Winter, William Other Days. New York, 1908. 

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The Career of Long Branch. Long Branch, 1940. 



Index 



Academy of Music, leased by Fisk, 

4; 180, 187, 194, 232, 259 
Adams, Charles Francis, quoted, 

35, 54> <*3 
Adams, Henry, quoted, 115, 123, 

127 

Afton, N. Y., 100, 103 
Aimee, Mile. Marie, 186, 208, 220 
Albany & Susquehanna Ry., 90; 

Fisk's efforts to capture it, 92-107; 

no, 132, 191, 210 
Albany, N. Y., 29, 54, 55, 56, 62, 

85, 92, 96, 99, 102, 104, 106, 142, 

170, 207, 280 
Alexis, Grand Duke, 251, 253, 258- 

259 

Allen, Charles C., 265 
Allien, Edgar, 239 
American Club Hotel, 38, 257 
American Hospital in Paris, 295 
Antietam, batde of, 19, 235 
Astor House, 57, 91 

Bainbrjdge, N.Y M 101, 102 
Balcom, Judge Ransom, 41, 42, 81 
Banfield, Frederick, 162 
Barbin, Georges, 186, 223, 270 
Barclay, Rosamond, 292 
Barnard, Judge George G., 39, 4, 
41, 42, 43, 46, 48-49, 50, 54, 55i 
56, 57, 64, 66, 67, 69, 74, 78, 86, 
89, 90; background and habits, 
91-92; aids in A. & S. war, 94- 
107; 112, 129, 142, 158, 170, 173, 
174, 175, 176, 185, 207, 222; turns 
against Erie, 223; betrays Tweed, 
246-47; 248, 269, 282, 293 
Barnard, Mrs. George G M 175, 222 
Beach, William A., 255, 267, 268, 
269 



Beecher, Henry Ward, 87, 113, 157, 

171, 280-81, 282 
Belden, William, 24, 118, 147, 149, 

153, 158, 168 

Bell, Tailor, 108, 191, 220 
Belmont, August, 75, 76, 77, 78, 87 
Bennett, James Gordon, 164 
Bergmann, Carl, 221 
Bigelow, John, 131, 135, 136, 162 
Binghamton, N. Y., 29, 41, 92, 99, 

loo, 101, 102, 103, 142, 263 
Birgfeld, Adolph, theater director, 

6 

Bixby, B. H., judge, 254 
Black Friday, 149, 152, 164, 168, 

169, 171, 195, 200, 243, 256, 262, 

280 

Black Friday, a play, 287 
Black Horse Cavalry, 55, 89 
Blackall, Master Mechanic, 99 
Blossom Club, 192, 193 
Borrowes, William, 169, 237 
Boston, Mass., 2, 15, 16, 19, 20, 21, 

22, 28, 31, 70, 84, 128, 174; visited 

by Ninth Regiment, 224-28; 262, 

287, 292 
Boston, Hartford & Erie Ry^ 31, 

33, 66, 67, 70 
Bostwick, John, 158 
BoutweU, George, Secretary of the 

Treasury, 126, 136, 138, 139, *43 

149, 151, 152, 161, 166 
Bowen, alleged derailer, 87, 134 
Bowles, Samuel, imprisoned by 

Fisk, 81-84; 210, 225 
Brady, Judge John, 251, 262, 263, 

264, 265-66 
Braine, Colonel Charles H., 189, 

190, 191, 192* *94i 2 39 



3^3 



304 



Index 



Brattleboro, Vt., Fisk's early home, 
11; 12 ff., 17, 18, 22, 46, 68, 117, 
252, 280, 286, 287, 294 
Brattleboro Cornet Band, 15 
Bratdeboro Female Seminary, 14 
Bristol) steamer, 108, 199, 243 
Brooklyn Eagle, quoted, 222 
Brooklyn Oil Refinery Co., 120, 

208-9, 210, 211, 243, 247 
Brougham, John, theater director, 
hired by Fisk, 4; fired by Fisk, 
179-80 

Brougham's Theater (see Fifth 
Avenue Theater), leased by Fisk, 
4; 5, 179, 181 
Brown, Augustus, 82 
Browne, Sheriff, 99, 100, 101 
Buffalo, N, Y., 29, 48, 50, 132, 195, 

280 

Bush, Major, 151 
Butler, George, 38, 180 
Butterfield, Gen. Daniel, 130, 137, 
138, 140, 147, 151, 152, 156, 161, 
163, 164, 168 
Byrnes, Capt. Thomas, 273, 274 

Cardozo, Judge, 158 

Carmel, N. Y., 23 

Carnochan, Dr. John, 275 

Carr's Rock disaster, 61-62, 70, 87, 

134 
Catherwood, Robert B^ 130, 161, 

164 

Central Park, 9, 231 
Chamberlain, John, 169, 224, 270, 

2 74 

Chapin, William O., 143, 144, 163 
Charley, barber, 284 
Chicago, HI., 29; fire there, 244 
Church, Walter S., 93, 95, 107 
Clarendon Hotel, 69, 258 
Qute, Judge Jacob, 106, 107 
Coe, Lapsley & Co., 155 
Coleman House, 211 
Coleman, James H., 95 
Comer, John, 118, 204, 248, 270, 276 
Confederate bonds, 20-21 
Connolly, Richard ("Slippery 

Dick"), 229-30, 241, 242 
Continental Hotel, Long Branch, 

169, 198, 237, 238, 242 



Corbin, Abel Rathbone, 123-25, 
128, 129, 130, 134; writes edi- 
torial, 135; 138, 139, 140, 141, 142, 

143, 144, 145, 146, 147, 149, 154; 
accused by Fisk, 161-68; 170 

Corbin, Mrs. Virginia Grant, 123, 

144, 145, 164, 167 
Corning, Erastus, 56 
Corr, Lawrence, 269 

Cotton, Fisk's purchases in, 18-19 
Courter, Charles, 96, 97, 98 
Cromwell, Oliver, 214 
Crouch, George, 159, 160, 161, 162, 
163 

Daly, Augustin, 181, 183, 184, 286 

Davenport, Fanny, 286 

Davis, Isaac, 243, 262 

Delavan House, Albany, 56, 60, 62, 
89, 96, 98, 102, 106, 280 

Delaware & Hudson Canal Co., 107 

Delaware & Hudson Ry., 92 

Delmonico's, 7, 9, 28, 47, 78, 91, 
148, 157, 194, 205, 209, 259, 269, 
282, 283, 291 

De Rosa, Mile., 6 

Develin, John E., 55 

Devoe Manufacturing Co., 209 

Diogenes, 85 

Dowling, Judge, 210 

Draft Riots, 232 

Drew, Daniel, 227-27; opposes 
Vanderbilt, 29-35; outwits Van- 
derbilt, 38-45; flees to Jersey 
City, 46-49; unhappy there, 51- 
53; plots with Vanderbilt, 56- 
59; 61, 62; settles with Vander- 
bilt, 64-67; resigns from Erie, 69; 
bested by Fisk and Gould, 73- 
80; 87, 94, 98, 112, 124, 158, 170, 
191, 282, 293, 294 

Drew Theological Seminary, 25, 

53, 294 
Dunkirk, N. Y., 29, 112 

East Lynne, drama, 142 
Eldridge, John S., 31-35, 46, 47, 56, 

58, 65, 66, 67, 69, 76 
Emerson, Ralph Waldo, 213 
English stockholders in Erie, 88- 

89, 220, 243, 244, 255, 256, 26l, 263 



Index 



305 



Erie Classification Bill, 89, 171 
Erie Ry. Co., stolen by Fisk and 
Gould, 2; its $60,000 safe, 3-4; 7, 
8, 23, 27; trackage, 29; battle for 
control of, 30-45; offices moved 
to Jersey City, 46-53; Erie Bill 
defeated, 55; disaster at Carr's 
Rock, 61-62; new Erie Bill passes, 
63; settlement of Erie quarrel, 65- 
67; Fisk and Gould take com- 
mand, 69-72; Erie's many lawsuits, 
87-88; effort to swallow A. & S. 
Ry., 91-107; collision and batde 
at Tunnel, 104-5; new Opera 
House offices, no-ii; 1870 board 
election, 171-72; looting of road, 
173-74; Elmira- wreck, 183; 190- 
95, 201, 206, 209, 216, 220, 223; 
1871 board election, 244-45; 246, 
248, 250, 257, 260, 261, 262, 281, 
286, 293 

Erie Ring, 86, 91, 123, 202, 207, 217, 
246, 247, 251, 264, 289, 290 

Fall River, Mass., 108 

Fellows, John, 255, 269 

Field & Shearman, Erie attorneys, 
67, 86, 87, 90, 91 

Field, Cyrus, 86, 126 

Field, David Dudley, 40, 42, 56, 67, 
86, 223, 255, 262, 274, 275 

Fifth Avenue Hotel, 4, 9, 23, 68, 80, 
82, 83, m 

Fifth Avenue Theater (see Broug- 
ham's Theater), 181, 286-87 

Fish, Hamilton, 186 

Fisher, Dr. Frank, 274, 278 

Fishkill Landing, N. Y., 31 

Fisk & Belden, brokers, 24 

Fisk Guard, 193 

Fisk, James Jr., description, 1-2; 
splendid office, 3; his canaries, 5; 
carriages and footmen, 6; 7, 8, 9, 
10; family and youth, 11-13; be- 
comes peddler, 14-16; in wartime 
Washington, 17-19; enters Wall 
Street, 20-21; meets Drew, 23-27; 
joins Drew in Erie scheme, 30- 
35; meets Josie Mansfield, 36-38; 
outwits Vanderbflt, 38-45; flees 
to Jersey City, 46-49; activities 



there, 50 if.; settles with Vander- 
bilt, 55-57; returns to New York, 
68-69; Fisk and Gould take over 
Erie, 69-72; Fisk and Gould 
whip Drew, 73-80; Fisk imprisons 
Samuel Bowles, 81-84; founder of 
Erie Ring, 85-90; battles to swal- 
low A. & S. Ry., 91-107; becomes 
"admiral," 108-10; moves Erie 
and Josie to new quarters, 1 10-11; 
his oddities and characteristics, 
112-119; meets Ned Stokes, 119- 
121; avoids Gould's gold specula- 
tions, 123; host to Pres. Grant, 
123-29; visits Grant, 131-32; 134, 
137; joins Gould in gold plot, 
140-41; his manifold affairs, 142- 
43; activities leading to Black Fri- 
day, 143-55; he charges govern- 
ment with complicity, 156-68; 
Josie cools toward Fisk, 169-78; 
his theatrical ventures, 179-88; he 
becomes a peacetime colonel, 189- 
200; tries to hold Josie and quar- 
rels with Stokes, 201-18; takes his 
regiment to Boston, 219-28; in 
Orange Riot, 229-240; struggles 
with Josie and Stokes over his 
letters, 242-52; serenaded, 253; 
attends hearing in Josie's lawsuit, 
254-58; his troubles mount, 259- 
264; resigns as Erie vice-presi- 
dent, 265; 266, 267, 268, 269; in- 
disposed, 270, 271; shot by Stokes, 
272; 273, 274, 275, 276, 277; his 
death, 278; elaborate ceremonies 
and burial, 279-88; 289, 290, 291, 
292, 293, 294, 295 

Fisk, James Sr. (father), 11, 12-13, 
14; loses sanity, 18; 118, 215, 275, 

287, 295 
Fisk, Love, mother (see Ryan, 

Love), 118, 275, 280, 295 
Fisk, Lucy (wife), 2, 14, 16, 20, 22, 

28, 68, 84, in, 128, 174; Fisifs 

praise of her, 184; 224, 227, 243, 

249, 262, 271, 274, 275, 278, 281- 

282, 294 
Fisk, Mary Grace, sister (see 

Hooker, Mrs. George), 12, 117- 

118 



Index 



Flagg, Edward O., chaplain, 228, 

240, 277, 288 
Florence, Mr. & Mrs. William, 264, 

276 

Foster, Dr. Enos, 274 
Fowler, Nick, police chief, 51 
Fowler, W. W., quoted, 26, 79 
Frear, Rep. Alexander, 60 

GafTney, Edward, 238, 239 
Garfield, Rep. James A., 167, 168 
Garvey, Andrew J M 175, 185, 222, 

242, 249 

Garvin, District Attorney, 290 
Gaston, Mayor William, 225-26 
Gaysville, Vt., 17 
German musicians, 252-53, 285 
Gilbert, Judge J. W M 42, 43 
Glenn, Rep. E. M., 60 
Gold Room (Gold Exchange), 147, 
148, 150, 151, 152, 156, 158, 167 
Gould, Jay, shuns publicity, 2; 
meets Fisk, 26-27; 31, 33, 35; joins 
Fisk in Erie intrigue, 41-45; flees 
to Jersey City, 46-49; sees eye to 
eye with Fisk, 51-53; in Albany, 
55-63; settles with Vanderbilt, 
65-67; becomes head of Erie, 69- 
72; Gould and Fisk whip Drew, 
73-80; founder of Erie Ring, 85- 
90; aims to swallow A. & S. Ry., 
91-107; 108, in, 118, 119; his op- 
erations in gold, 122-33; boat r *de 
with Grant, 125-28; tricks the 
Times, 134-37; deeper in gold, 
138-41; his speculations end with 
Black Friday, 142-55; 158, 159, 
160, 161, 163, 164, 165, 166, 167- 
168, 172, 173, 175, 187, 192, 195, 

206, 211, 2 1 6, 221, 222, 223, 2 37' 

244, 246, 248, 249; embarrassed by 
Fisk's scandals, 261-62; 263, 264; 
asks Fisk's resignation, 265; 274, 
275, 280, 281, 283, 289, 293, 294 

Goulding, John, 22 

Goulding patent, 22, 82, 87 

Graham, Amelia, 208 

Grand Central Hotel, 271, 274, 283, 
291 

Grand Opera House, renovation 
of, 2-3; 5, 9, 88, no, in, ii2 t 114, 



117, 119, 121, 142, 147, 149, 154, 
158, 162, 171, 80; Fisk's produc- 
tions there, 181-88; 190, 191, 192, 
193, 194, 199, 201, 205, 221, 232, 
235, 244, 262, 264, 270, 271, 276, 
283, 284, 285, 286, 293 

Grant, U. S., 20; elected President, 
85; 108, 123, 124, 125; rides in 
Fisk's boat, 126-28; 129, 130, 131, 
132, 133, 134, 135, 138, 139, 140, 
141, 142, 143, 144, 145, 146, 148, 
149, 151; accused by Fisk, 159-68; 
191, 199-200, 219, 230, 271, 282 

Grant, Mrs. U. S., 129, 138, 140, 
143, 144, 145, 146, 167 

Greeley, Horace, 5, 48, 85, 109-10, 
145, 157; his bitter campaign 
against Fisk, 251; 263, 280 

Griffin James, 132 

Halifax, N. S., 21 

Hall, A. Oakey, mayor, 72, 82, 85, 

86, 142, 185, 192, 222, 229-31, 238, 

249 

Halleck, Rev. Benjamin, 132-33, 134 
Halstead, Murat, 83 
Hargreaves, broker, 21 
Harlem Ry., 29 
Harper's Weekly, 47, 222 
Harrod, Fanny, 28, 278 
Hart, Thomas, 272, 273 
Hartford, Conn., 31, 287 
Heath, William, 150, 153 
Heiser, Henry A., 280 
Hibernia Hall, 231 
Hitchcock, Major J. R., 225, 232, 

234, 236 

Hoar, Ebenezer, 220 
Hoffman House, New York, 173, 

209, 224, 237, 266, 269, 283, 291, 

292 
Hoffman, John T., governor, 72, 

85, 86, 106, 142, 194, 199-200, 

230-33, 238, 242 
Hooker, Col. George, 118, 143, 168, 

232, 242, 274, 278, 279, 287, 294, 

295 
Hooker, Mrs. George (nee Mary 

Grace Fisk), 117-18, 223, 224, 240, 

242, 274, 277, 287, 294, 295 
Horton, Mrs. Silas, 29 



Index 



307 



Hough, Lottie, 18 
Houseman, Francis, 271, 272, 274 
Hudson County Artillery, 52 
Hudson River Ry., 29 

Ingersoll, James H., 222, 242 
Ingraham, Judge Daniel, 247, 248 
Irma, Mile., 180 

Jarvis, Judson, deputy sheriff, 249 
Jenkins, Rev. William L., 287-88 
Jersey City, N. J., 8, 29, 46, 47, 48, 

49, 54, 57, 58, 67, 81, in, 206, 

212, 250, 257, 261 
Jones, George, 241 
Jordan, Eben, 16, 17, 19, 22, 31, 

228, 275 

Jordan, Marsh & Co., 15, 16, 17, 19 
Joslyn, Orlando, 158 

Kelso, James, police supt., 222, 230, 

231, *3 2 2 79 
Keyser, John H., 242 
Killalee, Capt. Stephen, 117 
Kimber, Arthur, 131, 137, 145, 153, 

161 
King, Richard, 245-46; 250, 251, 256, 

Lamartine Hall, New York, 232 

Lane, Bella, 112 

Lane, Frederick, 74, 172 

La Perichole, by Offenbach, 6, 

129, 1 86 

Lawlor, Frank, 37, 216, 245, 293 
Lee, Robert E., surrenders, 21 
Les Brigands, by Offenbach, 205, 

208 
Leslie's Illustrated Newspaper, 194- 

195 

Leupp, Charles, 26 
Levy, Jules, 221, 227, 258 
Lincoln, Abraham, 17, 102, 118, 277, 

285, 295 

Lind, Jenny, 181 
Liverpool, England, 21, 131 
London, England, 20-21 
Long Branch, N. J., 9, 142, 169, 

196, 197, 198, 200, 201, 203, 223, 

224, 232, 237, 239, 240, 242, 262, 

270 
Long Tunnel, 103 



Ludlow Street jail, 46, 83, 209 
Lurline, opera, 180 
Lynch, Tommy, 112 

McCadden, Henry, 273 
McCloskey, John, Archbishop, 230 
McCunn, Judge John H., 82, 86, 

174 

McHenry, James, 74, 135 

Mclntosh, Charles, 163, 233 

McKeon, John, 255, 269 

Mackay, John W., 292 

Maginnis, Arthur Ambrose, 221 

Mahler, Solomon, 152 

Mansfield, Helen Josephine 
("Josie"), scandal with Fisk, 2; 
5, 6, 8; her beauty, 9; grows 
bored, 10; early history, 36-37; 
meets Fisk, 38; with Fisk in 
Jersey City, 51-53; 57, 59; returns 
to New York, 68-69; 91, 95, in, 
114-15, 121, 129, 142, 159, 174, 
176; dissatisfied with Fisk, 176- 
178; quarrels with him, 196-200; 
she favors Stokes, 201-18; 219, 
220, 224; seeks use of Fisk's let- 
ters, 242-53; sues Fisk, 254-58; 
259, 260, 261, 262, 263, 264, 266; 
in court again against Fisk, 267- 
269; 270, 274-75, 2 79> 281, 283, 
287, 289, 290; later years and 
death, 292-93 

Maretzek, Max, theatrical director, 
4-5, 186, 187, 188 

Marshall, John, Fisk's valet, 178, 
202, 223, 245, 270 

Marston, broker, 257 

Mast Hope, Pa., scene of Erie 
wreck, 132-33, 134, 244 

Masterson, Hugh, 51 

Mattoon, Sen. A. G, 54, 55, 56, 62 

Mead, Larkin, 295 

Mixer, Mrs., 252 

Montaland, Mile. Celine, 186, 196, 
208, 215, 220, 223 

Moore, Lucy (see Fisk, Lucy), 
marriage to Fisk, 14 

Morgan, William H., 87, 244, 270, 

274 
Morris, Clara, 183, 184, 220, 244, 

286-87 



308 



Index 



Morrissey, John, 157 

Morse, John, 117 

Morse, Mrs. John, 117, 224, 242, 

271, 272, 275, 278 
Mortimer, Nellie, 286 
Mott, Edward Harold, quoted, 112, 

113, 119, 174 
Munchausen, Baron, 220 

Napoleon, 99 

Narragansett Racetrack, 120, 224, 
269 

Narragansett Steamship Co., 108, 
171, 285, 294 

Nast, Thomas, 222, 241, 242 

Newburgh, N. Y^ 31, 142 

New Haven Ry., 285, 286 

Newport, R. I., 68, 131, 200 

New York Central Ry., 29, 35, 44, 
50, 62, 63, 93, 96, 99, 145, 151, 195 

New York Herald, quoted, 33, 39, 
42, 47, 59, 60, 81, 115-16, 133, 142, 
156; its Black Friday revelations 
about Fisk, 159-66; 171, 190, 199, 
200; its expose on Fisk, Josie and 
Stokes, 211-17; 227, 239, 247; 
lampoons Fisk-Mansfield trial, 
254-5<5; 257, 258, 263, 265, 267, 
274, 277, 279, 282, 286, 289, 290 

New York State Assembly, 55; cor- 
ruption in, 59-63; 250, 281 

New York Stock Exchange, 43, 44, 
45, 74, 147, 157, 280 

New York Sun, quoted, 154, 162, 
163, 164, 165, 171, 237, 282 

New York Times, quoted, 52, 57, 
104, 134, 135, 136, 139, 149, 171, 
222, 235, 239-40, 241-42, 251, 279, 
282, 289, 292 

New York Tribune, quoted, 5, 50, 
56, 57, 81, 86, 102-3, 105, 109, 145, 
154, 156, 157, 171, 180, 200, 239, 
249-50; violent attack on Fisk, 
251; 252, 263, 264, 265, 280, 289 

New York World, quoted, 166, 
171, 279 

Niblo's Garden, 287 

Nilsson, Christine, 181, 187 

Nineveh, N. Y., 92 

Ninth Regiment, National Guard; 
Fisk becomes colonel, 189-200; 



205, 220, 221; visits Boston, 224- 
228; in Orange Riot, 231-240; 258, 
264, 276, 279, 285 
Norvell, C. C., 136 

O'Brien, Sheriff James, 56, 82, 83 
Offenbach, Jacques, 6, 180, 186 
Olympic Theater, 4 
Orangemen, 229, 230, 231, 232, 233, 

234* 237 

Orange Riot, 234-40, 279 
Osgood, George A., 49 
Owego, N. Y., 29, 94, 102 

Page, Henry, 192, 235, 239, 240 
Patrie, drama, 142, 158, 159 
Para, Carlo, 221 
Peace Jubilee, Boston, 128 
Peckham, Judge Rufus, 95, 96, 97, 

98, 100, 106 
Pennsylvania Ry., 35 
Perley, D. W., 36, 245, 256-57 
Peto, Sir Morton, 74 
Phelps, William, 94 
Pieris, Nully, 112, 182, 196, 198, 22 i r 

245, 295 

Pierrepont, Edwards, 66 
Pike's Opera House, sold to Fisk 

and Gould, 2; 88 
Pike, S. N., 2 
Pittman, Thomas W., 210-13 
Plymouth Rock, steamboat, 196, 

199 

Ponton, John 243 
Port Jervis, N. Y., 61, 81, 132, 174, 

263 
Porter, Gen. Horace, 139, 140, 141, 

144, 163, 164 

Poughkeepsie, N. Y., 91, 95 
Powers, H. L., 273 
Pownal, Vt., birthplace of Fisk, n 
Pratt, Judge Calvin, 247, 248 
Pratt, H. D. V., 99, 102, 103 
Printing press (for printing 

watered stock), 4, 41, 71, in, 

253 
Providence, steamboat, 108, 126, 

295 

Pruyn, Robert H., 96, 97, 98, 107 
Pry or, Walter, 235 



Index 



309 



Ramsey, Joseph H., fights Fisk for 

control of A. & S. Ry., 92-107; 

114, 132, 142 
Read, Cassius, 291, 292 
Reade, Robert L., 292 
Redmond, John, 271, 272 
Revere House, Brattleboro, built 

by Fisk's father, 12; 14, 118, 196, 

280, 287 

Richmond, Va., 20 
Riddle, Hugh, 39; report on Erie 

condition, 39-40; 61, 99, 113 
Rochester, N. Y., 35, 50 
Rucker, L. D., 99, 102, 103 
Ryan, Love (see Fisk, Mrs. James 

Sr.), marries James Fisk Sr., 11-12 

Saratoga, N. Y., 120, 198, 291 
Sayre, Dr. Lewis, 274, 278 
Schell, Richard, 34, 43, 66, 80, 87 
Seventh Regiment, National Guard, 

198-99, 233, 238 
Seward, Clarence, 218, 243, 248 
Seymour, Horatio, 72, 85 
Shakespeare, William, 2, 4 
Shaler, Gen., 232 
Shearman, Thomas G., 67, 80, 87, 

94, 95, 96, 98, 158, 170, 255, 274, 

275, 280 

Sherman House, New York, 69 
Sickles, Gen. Daniel, 186, 262-63, 

293 

Silly, Mile. Lea, 186, 220 
Simons, M. R., 171 
Sing Sing Prison, 59, 250, 291 
Smith, Judge Darwin, 107 
Smith, Gould & Martin, 27, 139 
Smith, Henry (A. & S. Ry. at- 
torney), 99, 101 
Smith, Henry (Gould's broker), 

150 

Smith, Matthew Hale, quoted, 8 
Southwick, Helen (see Stokes, Mrs. 

Edward S.), 120 

Spencer, Charles, 255, 256, 257, 258 
Speyers, Albert, 147, 149, 150, 152, 

153, 158 

Springfield, Mass,, 14, 287 
Springfield Republican, libel against 

Fisk, 81 



Stedman, Edmund C, 151, 153, 157, 
158, 170, 291 

Steel, Dr. Theophilus, 274 

Stokes, Edward S., meets Fisk, 119; 
appearance and background, 120- 
121; 142, 174, 177, 185, 196, 197, 
198; steals Josie Mansfield and 
quarrels with Fisk, 201-18; es- 
tranged from wife, 224; sues Fisk, 
243-52; with Josie in court against 
Fisk, 254-58; 259, 260, 261, 262, 
263, 265, 266; at second court 
hearing, 267-69; 270, 271; shoots 
Fisk, 272; arrested, 273; 274, 275, 
276, 277, 281, 282, 283, 287, 289; 
later years and death, 29092; 293, 
294 

Stokes, Mrs. Edward S., 120, 224, 
282-83, 292 

Stokes, James, 291 

Stokes, W. E. D., 291-92 

Stonington steamers, 22-24, 196 

Strakosch brothers, 188 

Strong, George Templeton, quoted, 
i, 113, 260, 285 

Sumter, Fort, falls and begins war, 

17 

Susquehanna, Pa., 102 
Sutherland, Judge, 78 
Sweeny, Peter B., 49, 67, 72, 74, 

185, 194, 211, 218, 222, 243, 247, 

248, 249, 262 
Syracuse, N. Y., 35 

Tammany, 74, 82, 83, 85, 158, 217, 

222, 231, 246, 247, 251, 262, 289, 

290 
Tayleure, C. W., theater director, 

hired by Fisk, 4; resigns, 181 
Taylor's Hotel, Jersey City, 46, 50, 

52, 56, 66, 67, 212, 257 
Tempest, The, 159, 181 
Tenth National Bank, 148, 161 
Thompson, Henry, 57 
Tiffany's, 176 
Tombs, die, 277, 282 
Tremont House, Boston, 16 
Trenton Rolling Mills, 90 
Trevor, John, 262 
Tripler, Dr. Thomas H., 273, 278 
Tuthill, J. D., 248, 263 



Index 



Tweed, Alary Amelia, 221, 223 

Tweed Ring, 86, 91, 175, 202, 222, 
241, 246, 251, 259, 260, 264, 270 

Tweed, William ("Boss"), 49, 60, 
66; elected Erie director, 72; 74, 
75, 78, 85, 88, 89, 90, 91, 106, 108, 
123, 129, 154, 170, 171, 172, 174, 
185, 192, 194, 207, 21 1 ; daughter's 
marriage, 221-22; 229, 230, 231, 
238; illegalities exposed, 241-42; 
247; arrested, 249; resigns from 
Erie, 261; 269, 274, 275-76, 282, 
284, 293 

Twelve Temptations, The, 182, 
183, i93 277 

Underwood, Levi, 33 

United States Express Co., 70-71 

Van Amberg's circus, 12, 13 

Van Amberg, Isaac, 23 

Vanderbilt, Cornelius, 25, 27; char- 
acteristics, 29-30; aims to seize 
Erie, 31-35; fails in this, 38-45; 
48, 49, 50, 51, 52, 53, 54, 55; 
battles Erie in Albany, 56-63; 
settles with Drew and Erie, 64- 
67; 69, 76, 79, 80, 87, 88, 91, 93, 
94, 96, 98, in, 115, 145, 151, 1731 
192; his blow at Erie backfires, 
195-96; 206, 222-23, 282, 294 

Vanderbilt, Sofia, 30 

Vanderbilt, William, 30 

Van Dyke, H. H., 129 

Van Valkenburg, John W., leads 
A. & S. Ry. forces against Fisk, 
97-107 



Van Wyck, Frederick, 173 
Varian, Gen. J. M., 280, 285 

Wall Street, 8, 20, 21, 22, 26, 35, 41, 
48,54,61,70,71,75,89, 114, 116, 
124, 151, 152, 153, 155, 156, 159, 
164, 166, 172, 192, 214, 253, 270 

Wandle, Richard, 271 

Ward, Maggie J., 259 

Warren, Josie Mansfield's step- 
father, 36, 245, 256 

Washington, D. C.; Fisk's stay 
there, 17-19; 20, 118, 148, 149, 
164, 170 

Washington, Pa., 143, 144 

Watered stock, 4, 41, 71 

Watertown, S. D., 292 

Webster, Daniel, 284 

Western, Lucille, 142, 158, 159, 182 

White, Dr. John P., 274, 278 

Willard's Hotel, Washington, 17 

Williams, Marietta, 177, 213, 214, 
246, 256, 267, 268, 283 

Winter, William, 180 

Wood, Annie, 37-38, 245, 257, 267 

Wood, Dr. James R., 274, 275 

Woodhull, Victoria, 113 

Woodward, Elbert, 249 

Woodward, W. S., 131, 137 

Work, Frank, 33, 34, 39, 40, 41, 42, 
43, 66, 80, 87 

Wyatt, Samuel, 235, 239, 240 

York, Mary Ann, 238 

Yorkville Police Court, 254-55, 267 

Young, John, 284 

Young, Coroner Nelson W., 276 




105902