28 February 2020

Estelle V. Collier: First Woman Nominated & Confirmed as Customs Collector

Image from: The Independent Volume 102,
May 8-15 1920. Available on Google Books.

Today in History. 100 years ago, Sat Feb 28 1920, a Salt Lake woman- Mrs. Estelle V. Collier- was nominated by U.S. President Woodrow Wilson to hold the position of Customs Collector for the states of Utah and Nevada.

This was the first time a woman had been nominated by a Untied States President (and later confirmed by the U.S. Senate and appointed) to this position in the United States.

Estelle V. Collier was active in civic affairs and was well-connected in the Utah Democratic Party. She had been the Utah State Chair of the Women's Democratic Committee where she worked for women's suffrage, was Chair of the Women in Industry during WWI, and also worked with the Red Cross during WWI. All this while she raised 4 children.

In response to the nomination Mrs. Collier said "It is a feather in the cap of the women of this state and of all the states who are working for advancement of women's rights. I am as much pleased for the sake of the women generally as I am for myself personally." And "...I am confident that I can discharge all of the duties efficiently, even to directing raids on opium dens." Deseret News March 1 1920 p3.

In the 1920s, the duties of the Customs Collector were a combination of overseeing law enforcement and collection of import duties of foreign goods. Customs Special Agents investigated smuggling and other violations of customs, narcotics, and revenue laws... hence the comment about opium dens.

Later, I found that Mrs. A. J. Harris (Victoria Bell Shuman Harris) succeeded her husband as Collector of Customs when he was forced to step down due to ill health. This was in Fairport Ohio in 1901. So it seems Estelle Collier was the 2nd woman to hold this position. 

26 February 2020

Jitneys: Early Automobile Ridesharing

Car sharing is not a recent phenomenon, it is as old as the automobile industry itself. One of the more interesting events was the Jitney episode of 1914-1915, wherein private automobiles were used as rivals to street railways.

Jitney was slang for a nickel or five cents, the common fare for these services and as the craze quickly swept the nation these cars and busses became known as “Jitneys.”

The Jitney phenomenon was said to have started in Los Angeles on July 1 1914 when L. P. Draper picked up a passenger in his Ford Model T touring car and accepted a nickel fare as payment. Draper insisted this action was legal as he held a chauffer’s license.

The idea of Jitneys soon came to SLC and by January 1915 they were seen by many as a nuisance and a threat to the railway street cars, although others defended the Jitney as faster and far less stinky than the alternative. In SLC there were a number of independent operators as well as one company, the Street Auto Service Co, Inc., which operated 15 Jitney busses.

As with other cities in the nation, the SLC Board of Commissioners (now called the City Council) unanimously passed a special Jitney ordinance designed to vastly limit the Jitney’s ability to compete with public transportation. SLC regulation was swift and harsh: 
  1. A special Jitney license was required at more than double the rate of a normal taxicab; 
  2. Routes of Jitneys were fixed and drivers could not deviate; 
  3. Jitneys could not operate on Main Street; 
  4. Drivers must be at least 21 years old and a registered chauffer; 
  5. Special signage and lights must be added to each Jitney car; 
  6. Jitneys could not charge more than 5 cents fare; 
  7. Fire, police, and other city employees could ride for free; 
  8. Jitneys must be in continuous operation for 16 hours a day between 6am and 12 midnight; 
  9. A $5,000 bond per vehicle in case of accident must be secured (this was later reduced to $2,500)
This new city ordinance went into effect on April 1, 1915, and by April 4 nearly all of the SLC Jitney operators surrendered their licenses leaving only 2 Jitney busses in operation out of previous fleet of nearly 40 (Salt Lake Tribune 1915-04-10). 

The Street Auto Service Co also struggled and the company was eventually acquired by a package delivery service. The requirement for the bond and the high license fee proved to be too costly for the SLC Jitneys to operate and the surviving Jitneys soon morphed into taxi or package delivery services.

By comparison, SLC’s ordinance was among the strictest in the nation, especially the high fees and requirement for 16 hours of continuous operation. Jitney drivers could no longer squeeze in a few hours of driving just before or after work, it had to be an all day job.

Of note, Salt Lake County also regulated the Jitneys but the ordinance was not as strict as SLC and was developed in consultation with the County’s Jitney drivers; as a consequence, Jitneys were still in operation in Salt Lake County jurisdiction for another year until the Utah Legislature decided it needed to get involved.

A Jitney bus operated by the Street Auto Service Co, January 13 1915.
Note rail streetcar in background. This is a Studebaker touring bus operated
by a corporation but most independent Jitney operators used
their own Ford Model T automobiles. Image from UDSH.

Showing the rear of the Studebaker bus that will seat 10 people.
This is a pay-as-you-enter with the entrance in the front and the
exit at the rear. The rear door is operated by the driver and the rear
steps drops when the door is opened. Image from UDSH.

Advertisement for the Auto Street Service,
Salt Lake Tribune 1915-01-16.

25 February 2020

Isolation Ward of the Salt Lake County Hospital was a Scientific Building

Isolation Ward at the Salt Lake County Hospital. 
From The Salt Lake Tribune Feb 26 1920.

Today in History. 100 years ago, Wed Feb 25 1920, Salt Lake County was able to declare the 1919-1920 flu season over and it closed the isolation hospital for the season.

The isolation ward of the Salt Lake County Hospital was originally constructed in 1917 to treat scarlet fever. It was located to the rear of the main County Hospital building at 2100 S. State Street (now where the Salt Lake County Government Complex is situated). Future plans called for other isolation wards to be built to treat diphtheria, measles, and smallpox. But these were never constructed.

The building was entirely scientifically modern for the time. It was one story high with a special composition roof of colonial design. The building materials were concrete and tile so that it could easily be washed out with a disinfectant hose every day. The floors were constructed of enamel and concrete and were without corners so that dirt could not accumulate. The furnishings were also entirely of metal. One nice feature, a sun porch was built into the design to allow for patients to receive fresh air.

The isolation ward was renovated in 1919 in anticipation of the flu season - the first flu season following the deadly Spanish Flu global pandemic. One of the new innovations of the 1919 renovation were the screens that were put in the wards to separate the patients, an idea adopted from U.S. Army hospitals.

The first patient of the season was received December 26, 1919 and there were an average of 50 cases of influenza and 9 cases of pneumonia treated each week. The local newspaper praised the healthcare workers for their diligence and efficiency in preventing another pandemic.

Sources: Deseret Evening News Dec 22 1917 & Salt Lake Tribune Feb 26 1920, p20.

Isolation Ward at the Salt Lake County Hospital. 
From The Salt Lake Tribune Feb 26 1920

Sanborn Map 1950

12 February 2020

Utah Territory Grants Suffrage to Women in 1870 and Deseret News Bemoans Voting Rights for Black People

Today in History. February 12, 1870, the Utah Territory grants suffrage to women.

But don't get too excited thinking Utah was progressive for 1870, the second image shows the Deseret News opinion (Editor George Q. Cannon) that White women should have the vote because they are intelligent but Black people should not have the vote because they are ignorant.

Source: Deseret News, Feb 16, 1870

Deseret News, Feb 16, 1870

Deseret News, Feb 16, 1870

11 February 2020

SLC's First Black Police Officer: R. Bruce Johnson

R. Bruce Johnson.
From The Salt Lake Herald Apr 3 1904

Salt Lake City’s actual first (as far as all my research can determine) Black police officer was R. Bruce Johnson (1849-1921) rather than Paul C. Howell (see my previous post). 

R. Bruce Johnson (1849-1921) was Salt Lake City’s first Black police officer, although in reality he was of mixed ethnicity with African ancestry making up a minority of his heritage.    

Johnson self-described himself as one-eighth African heritage that he inherited from his maternal line. He was light skinned and could certainly pass for White (and maybe he did when he lived in New Orleans). However, while he lived in SLC, he primarily associated with the African American community and was well known as a member of it. 

In a 1904 newspaper article he stated that his mother was ¼ African heritage and ¾ Choctaw Native American heritage while his father’s line and his maternal grandfather’s line were both White.  He was described in the same newspaper article as “Tall and broad, with straight hair of medium hue, a strong nose and light complexion, he would never be taken as a colored leader by a person who did not know him… [but] the law of radical distinction has thrown him with the men of African extraction ever since he attained manhood.” (SL Herald Republican 1904-04-03 p 1).

Johnson was born in 1849 in Little Rock, Arkansas.  It is unclear if he was born into slavery but his father was a slave dealer in Little Rock while his mother was a person of color, as described above.  

When Johnson was a boy his father died and soon after a law passed in Arkansas mandating all free blacks (were he and his mother slaves who were freed upon the death of his father?) to move out of state, so Johnson’s mother packed up her family and moved to Indiana.

While in his 20s, Johnson moved to New Orleans where he became active in local politics, was appointed to the police force, and was a saloon owner.  He also met and married a White woman, Christine, whose family was from France. 

In 1891, Bruce Johnson arrived in SLC with a letter of recommendation from the recently murdered, and internationally famous, New Orleans Police Chief David Hennessey.  Johnson immediately got himself involved with local SLC politics being closely associated with the Black Republicans.  This letter and his political connections got him out of some minor trouble with SLC police for disturbing the peace and got him placed on the Salt Lake City Police Department in the fall of 1891. 

Local newspapers initially praised Bruce Johnson for his qualifications and his work on the police force and often referred to him as a Detective, although I could not find any specific evidence that he was ever formally made that rank. (Hence why it is likely that Paul C. Howell was SLC's first Black Detective). 

By June 1892, the newly elected non-Mormon and liberal Mayor Baskin removed Johnson and others from the police force during a “cleaning house,” likely for his continued associations with saloon keeping and renting rooms to ladies of “questionable morals.”  Johnson’s defense of such associations was that he learned valuable information through his association that lead to several convictions and imprisonments.

Paul C. Howell, another person of color, replaced Johnson on the SLPD in 1892, beginning a tradition, for a time, of having one Black man on the Salt Lake Police Force.  William H. Chambers followed Howell. 

After leaving the Salt Lake police force, Johnson mostly kept to saloon keeping and politics.  More information about Bruce Johnson’s political life and his ability to “deliver the Black vote” for SLC politicians can be found at “The Boss of the White Slaves” by Jeffrey Nichols Utah Historical Quarterly V74 N4 2006 p349-364.

Another scandal in 1904 caused Bruce Johnson to finally leave SLC. Johnson shot at a White man after being called a “nigger” by him while drinking in the Red Onion Saloon on Commercial Street (now Regent St).  

The White man was lightly wounded on the scalp and Johnson offered to pay all of the man’s medical bills. To the dismay of the local conservative newspapers, Johnson got off fairly lightly with no jail time and only needing to pay a hefty fine. 

This latest controversy and the slanderous newspaper articles about him were finally too much for him and he left SLC and settled in Los Angeles, where he lived a quiet life and died in 1921 at the age of 71. 

Bruce Johnson and the Red Onion Saloon on what is now
Regent St. From Salt Lake Herald Jan 2 1904.

Bruce Johnson, officer at the 1895 Constitutional
Convention. Image from UDSH.

Update 8 Feb 2021:
Check out this SLC History Minute video about Bruce Johnson:

Paul Cephas Howell: First SLC Black Detective

Detective Paul Cephas Howell
Who was Salt Lake City’s first Black police officer? 

Most references will name Paul Cephas Howell (1855-1915) but it seems like he is actually the second Black SLC police officer (Although, see note* below about Police Officer vs Detective and why Howell is likely the first Black Detective but not the first Black Police Officer).

R. Bruce Johnson, the first Black police officer in SLC will be my next post.

Paul C. Howell was born in 1855 and spent most of his early days as a farmer in Louisiana after the Civil War. He moved with his wife and children to Salt Lake City in 1889. 

He served on-and-off the Salt Lake City Police Department between 1892 and 1911, attaining the rank of Detective in 1908 (1st image). Howell’s great-grandson Jake Green Jr. also served on the SLC police force beginning in 1968.

Howell was a prominent and respected leader in the Salt Lake Black community. As examples, in 1894 he served as president of the Colored Voters Organization and in 1902 helped establish the Cooperative Commercial and Investment Co., an establishment to buy and sell real estate for people of color in SLC.

Segregation and racism were rampant in SLC and although Howell was well respected and believed to be a man of principle, he was also demeaned for his skin color and tall frame: he was described by the Deseret News as a “Darkey of mastodon proportions” (Deseret News 1892-06-22 p5).

Paul C. Howell died on February 11, 1915 at his home at 138 East 800 South SLC of Bright’s Disease (a kidney disease).

*Note: It is possible (and perhaps very likely) that Paul C. Howell was the first Black Detective on the SLC Police Force.  Although his predecessor, R. Bruce Johnson, was sometimes called a detective in the press I could not definitively find evidence that Johnson was formally promoted to that rank. Whereas, Howell attained the rank of detective in 1908.

Paul C. Howell house at 138 East 800 South SLC. Feb 2020.

Paul C. Howell house at 138 East 800 South SLC. Feb 2020.

04 February 2020

Sale of the Spoils From the Bear River Massacre

The Bear River Monument at the Fort Douglas Cemetery, after the
restoration project by the Corps of Engineers. Photo taken Feb 2021

Today in history, February 4 1863, Col. Patrick Connor and his Soldiers returned to Fort Douglas (then Camp Douglas) after the massacre at Bear River- which took place on January 29 1863 near present day site of Preston, Idaho.

The Deseret News printed quite the summary of the battle describing the Shoshone winter camp as “excellent winter quarters in a deep ravine” and the battle initially in the Shoshone’s favor but “soon the Indians were completely broken and in full retreat; but very few of them escaped… From 250 to 300 were undoubtedly killed in the fight or in the river in the attempt to escape. The Chiefs Bear-Hunter, Sag-witch, and Lehi were among the slain. A thousand bushels of wheat a large amount of beef and provisions, together with an abundant supply of powder, lead, bullets, and caps were found in the encampment… What the command thought worth bringing to camp they took, and destroyed the balance, leaving enough only for the preservation of the squaws and papooses."

Two things I found interesting in the Deseret News report, first was that there was a public “Sale of the Spoils: The arms, mules, horses, ponies, and other property taken from the Indians” were sold at public auction at Fort Douglas on Feb 12 1863.

Secondly, the number of US Army Soldiers whose feet were frozen outnumbered the killed and wounded, combined. Soldiers with Frozen Feet=79, Killed=22, Wounded=49.

Funerals for the deceased Soldiers started on February 5 1863. The Bear River monument at the Fort Douglas Cemetery is currently undergoing preservation efforts.

Source: The Deseret News, 11 Feb 1863, p4-5

The Deseret News Feb 11 1863

The Deseret News Feb 11 1863