Dusting Off the Old Ones was published in 1961 by W. B. Clarke, Miles City, Montana.
The Land Office Story
These stories are usually dated during that period when the folks of the community looked forward to the coming of summer and the usual chautauqua, which was the educational highlight of the year. To-day, we will begin telling of an incident of Custer County's politics as told in a recent publication, Historical Essays on Montana and the Northwest, edited by K. Ross Toole and J. W. Smurr. Among the essays in this book is one entitled "Congressman Joseph M. Dixon and the Miles City Land Office, 1903" written by Professor Jules A. Karlin of the Department of History in the Montana State University at Missoula. Just the title makes it interesting, inasmuch as it mentions Miles City, and we are always looking for a good story about the home town. And more so, this one, as the principal aspirants for the position in the land office which was to be filled, as well as the major portion of the "powers behind the scenes" were personally known to Shade Tree Bill, who is responsible for bringing these stories to you. Joe Dixon was elected to Congress in November, 1902. He served two terms as Congressman, was elected to the United States Senate in 1906, served one term, and in 1920 was elected Governor of Montana, serving until January, 1925. His political experience prior to being elected to Congress consisted of one term as county attorney of Missoula county, and one session in the Montana State Legislature. In order to get himself better oriented in Washington before the convening of the December 1903 session of Congress, Dixon left Montana and journeyed to the nation's capital in September. At that time he was the only Republican from Montana in either body of Congress, Senators William A. Clark and Paris Gibson, both being Democrats. With the national administration being Republican, Dixon had the political patronage of Montana practically snubbed to the saddle horn. Among the federal appointments that affected the local scene here during the early part of the century, besides the post office, the two jobs in the United States Land Office at Miles City were considered the political plums. In 1903, Sam Gordon, editor of the Yellowstone Journal, was Register of the Land office, and Jim Rhoades, an insurance and real estate agent, held the position of Receiver. Each job paid the munificient salary of $3,000 per annum. Gordon and Rhoades, both Republicans and both Miles City residents, had been appointed through the efforts of Tom Carter, a Republican power in Montana politics.

In 19O3, Rhoades, for reasons best known to himself, decided that he would break camp here in Miles City and move to the west coast. He had his insurance business to dispose of before he could leave and, in looking over the prospects for a sale of that business, he got together with Jim Calvin, who had recently come to Montana from Pennsylvania for his health. After working out in the country for a while, Calvin had located in Miles City and was working on a set of abstract books covering the Custer County records, besides doing some record work for the county itself. The county's delinquent tax records were not in too good shape, and it was on this that Calvin had been putting his time. He also had served as Secretary of the Republican Central Committee. Being active in county politics, Calvin was a "natural" to be recommended for the receiver's job. Perhaps Rhoades had this in mind in trying to sell his insurance business to Calvin. At any rate, late in September, a letter of resignation signed by Rhoades and accompanied by an application for the forthcoming vacancy signed by Calvin, together with letters from local Republican leaders, endorsing Calvin, were received by Mr. Dixon. These letters were from such Republicans as Kenneth McLean, Custer County's representative on the Republican State Central Committee and a member of the State Senate, Sam Gordon, Dr. T. G. Mathews, Chairman of the Republican County Central Cornmittee, and William Lindsay of Glendive, who was at the time Chairman of the Republican State Central Committee. Evidently, Calvin had good backing, and to Dixon it must have looked like an ideal opportunity to rope his first major patronage calf and tie him in record time.

Things looked rosy for Calvin and Rhoades, but there was one small item, just a few words in Rhoades' letter of transmittal that were innocent enough, but were to come back and give him considerable trouble--and these words were to the effect that Rhoades did not want his resignation presented unless Calvin's appointment was assured. Dixon was contemplating a visit to North Carolina in early October. In order to get his fences in order so that there would be no delay in the land office matter, he visited the White House to discuss Montana patronage in general and the Miles City land office appointment in particular. After getting the President's approval, Dixon went to the office of the Secretary of the Interior, through which the appointment had to be made. E. A. Hitchcock, then Secretary of the Interior, was in Vermont and was not to return to Washington until the day after Dixon left for his North Carolina trip. This turned out to be unfortunate for Calvin. Had Hitchcock been in his office at the time of Dixon's visit, Calvin, with all those endorsements, would probably have been appointed. But in some way, word got around the home camp that there was to be a vacancy in the land office. And with it, word also leaked out that it looked like Rhoades was trying to tie the sale of his insurance business agency in with his resignation.

The Miles City Land Office served the area included in Custer, Rosebud and Dawson counties, just three counties but quite a substantial territory when you consider that this was before Eddie Booth got his county division machinery in motion. Naturally there is considerable jealousy between communities, and especially was that situation between Forsyth, Miles City, and Glendive. So it was a foregone conclusion that efforts would be made to break up Miles City's "monopoly" on these two $3,OOO plums. Aspirants from each community began to put in their appearance--J. B. Collins, a former forest reserve superintendent, and at that time engaged in the insurance business in Forsyth--J. C. Auld, a former state senator from Dawson County and recently chairman of the Republican State Central Committee--Ira Cole, editor of the Forsyth Times and a staunch Republican, and lastly Colonel F. M. Malone of Miles City, a Civil War veteran and a Republican Presidential elector from Montana in 1892. With the entry of these additional candidates for the office, the Calvin support began to wane. Thus developed a situation for Congressman Dixon that would have tried the patience of Job and needed the wisdom of Solomon. Collins, while he was in the forest service, had had a "run-in" with Secretary Hitchcock of the Interior Department, and that lessened his chances. Collins, Auld and Malone each contended that the Calvin appointment, if made, would, in fact, be a sale of the job in connection with the sale of the Rhoades' insurance agency. And about the time when things were going the strongest in the political battle, Rhoades made up his mind that he was going to Seattle anyway, and sent in his resignation to Hitchcock, asking that he be relieved of his post by November 15th. Gordon, McLean and Lindsay withdrew their support for Calvin, leaving Dr. Mathews his sole support. And this was the situation when Dixon returned to Washington from his North Carolina trip.

Besides all the correspondence relative to the development on the Montana front that Dixon found on his desk, he also had an invitation from Secretary Hitchcock to visit him at the Interior Department to discuss the appointment of Rhoades' successor. The two men met on a Friday and discussed the situation. On the following Monday, November 2nd, they met for the second time and clinched the appointment for Auld. This, however, did not end Dixon's troubles. Dixon immediately notified the aspirants of the decision reached--Collins was told that his former misunderstanding with Hitchcock had eliminated him from the race. Calvin and Malone were told that the Secretary (Hitchcock) was not disposed to have both land office executives from Miles City. Cole, the Forsyth newspaperman, never having been seriously considered, the powers that be tried to place him elsewhere, but he ended up by retaining the editorship of the Forsyth Times, which undoubtedly was patronized with legal publications. They tried to find a position for Malone in Washington, but he did not respond to their efforts. In fact, Malone wrote Dixon a letter in which he said: "I am not after any old position just to make a living--the position you speak of in Washington is not to my taste...understand that I am not a mendicant and compelled to have an office in order to make a living." Among the defeated candidates only Calvin retained an outward equanimity. He organized the Calvin Investment Co. and sent Dixon a prospectus. Dixon wrote Calvin a letter of condolence, and Calvin concluded the correspondence on December l0th with a handsome gesture. He thanked Dixon most sincerely "for his efforts in my behalf." Do any of you readers remember the incident?