CES Wood VI
Bill Long 2/19/12
Mr. Wood Goes to Washington
Wood took over the Lazard Freres representation in 1887. Before that time, as mentioned in an earlier essay, the Willamette Valley and Cascade Mountain Road Company ("WV") was represented by Morris Fechheimer, and when LF took over the company fully in 1879, it retained the services of Fechheimer. I don't actually know when Fechheimer's representation commenced. In any case, Fechheimer died at age 41 to stomach cancer in March 1886, Wood joined the partnership of Williams, Ach, and Wood in 1887 and the LF matter fell to him. In a 1933 article in the Oregon Historical Quarterly (vol. 34), pp. 97-102, the major burden of which is to tell the fascinating story of the construction of the Skidmore Fountain, Wood tells us that "at that time" (1888):
"the United States Government was taking testimony to forfeit the land grant of the WV, which had passed by purchase into the hands of Messrs. Lazard Freres. I, as their attorney and manager of the grant, went with the Government's representatives, taking testimony at various points along the grant."
He probably remembered the visit vividly because of his next line:
"At Prineville, Oregon, my leg was broken.."
Though Wood stresses that this was in 1888, others have claimed it happened in 1887. In any case we see, from the beginning of Wood's representation of LF in the WV matter, a diligent effort to gather data and, perhaps, oversee the improvements that the company was making.
The 1889 Law
There was much flurry of activity in 1888 because change, finally, was coming. After the two houses of congress decided to bury the issue in 1882, it had lain dormant for several years. Whether this is to be explained by dominant party (Republican) inaction or not, it wasn't until the administration of the only Democrat between Lincoln and Wilson, Grover Cleveland, that action heated up on the grants. This action happened because the Oregon Senate had passed a resolution in 1885, calling on Congress to act upon the fraudulent nature of the road construction (Amundson tells this history well on pp. 17-18 of his thesis). Finally in 1888 Cleveland pressed Congress to pass legislation that would enable suits against the road companies and their owners. This would lead, eventually, to "Mr. Wood going to Washington"--the catchy title of this essay, though he won't actually get there until next essay!...
The enabling statute was passed just days before Cleveland left office. On March 2, 1889, Congress passed an act (25 Statutes at Large, 850), ominously entitled, from the perspective of the WV, "An Act Providing in Certain Cases for the Forfeiture of Wagon Road Grants in the State of Oregon." It had several "whereas" clauses, the most telling of which is:
"and whereas the legislature of the state of Oregon has memorialized Congress and therein alleged that certain of said wagon roads, in whole or in part, were not so completed, and that to the extent of the lands coterminous with unconstructed portions the certifcations thereof by the Department of the Interior were unauthorized and illegal..."
Then follows the actual authorization or assignment:
"Therefore....(we) direct the Attorney General of the United States within six months to institute suits in the Circuit Court of the United States for the District of Oregon against all firms, persons, or corporations claming to own or have an interest in (said) lands...to determine the questions of the reasonable and proper completion of said roads in accordance with the terms of the granting acts...the legal effect of the several certificates of the governors of the state of Oregon for the completion of said roads, and the right of resumption of such granted lands by the United States, ....and to obtain judgments, ...declaring forfeited to the United States all of such lands as are coterminous with the part or parts of either of said wagon roads which were not constructed in accordance with the requirements of the granting acts, and setting aside patents which have been issued for any such lands, saving and preserving the rights of all bona fide purchasers of either of said grants..for a valuable consideration, if any such there be."
As to the mode or manner of the lawsuits, this requirement was given:
"Said suit or suits shall be tried and adjudicated in like manner and by the same principles and rules of jurisprudence as other suits in equity..."
This last point is significant, and has not been noted in the secondary literature on the issue, because it affected the way that issues were framed and presented at trial. More of that in a subsequent essay.
Finally, a quarter-century after the land was first granted, we finally have authorization for the grantor, the US Government, to pursue a case to preserve its interests. The "big three" road companies in Oregon (Dalles Military Road, "WV" and the Oregon Central Road) all would then be sued by the United States within six months of the law being passed. The next essay will show the progress of one of the cases, but suffice it to say in conclusion that on August 30, 1889, just four days short of the six months that the law stipulated, a bill in equity was filed in the Circuit Court of the US for the District of Oregon against the road companies. The road companies would respond within a few months, and the cases were joined. The years 1890-93, then, would be the years in which complex litigation would proceed. The next essay tries to unravel these cases and indicate the basis on which they proceeded.