Black crepe in the Silver city: Argentine goes dry

KS Prohibition statute

Distant view of Argentine from river

Argentine, Kansas, the “Silver City,” was very much a company town in 1893, dominated by the giant Consolidated Kansas City Smelting and Refining Company, whose smelter was said to be the largest in the world.  As many as half the town’s population of about 6,000[1] worked at the smelter.[2] Until June 1, 1893, seventy saloons provided refreshments to smelter workers.[3] Then Argentine went dry for the first time since prohibition came to Kansas in 1881.American Smelting & Refining Co. 1901

The closing, partial though it was – “joints” closed their front doors but kept the back ones open for business -- caused “considerable merriment” on city streets and attracted the fascinated attention of newspapers on the wet side of town, in Missouri. Black crepe was hung on Argentine “joints” and on empty beer buckets.  After one man was arrested and fined $20 for selling a pint of beer near the depot, even back doors were closed; “an actual drouth” prevailed in Argentine, reported the Times.[4] Not even a liquor wagon was permitted in the streets.

The mayor, Frank “Pop” Willard,[5] a building contractor[6] known jokingly as the only high official in the country who could pull his own leg since he had a wooden leg,[7] was a Populist who had been elected on April 4 after what one newspaper described as a “very hot” election fight. Soon after his April 15 inauguration he’d attempted to remove the Chief of Police, Harry Higginbotham, perhaps at the instigation of the state’s Populist governor, Lorenzo Lewelling, since Higginbotham had been a Republican partisan during the so-called “Populist insurrection” when Republicans and Populists fought for control of the legislature. [8]

Willard declared that when he’d taken the oath of office in April he’d promised to uphold state law but some saloon keepers charged the mayor’s crackdown was aimed at bringing his City Councilmen, who unanimously opposed the mayor’s choices for city offices,[9] into line. There were also rumors his order was at the behest of certain “jointists” trying to forestall injunctions against them by the County Attorney, a Republican.[10] Still other rumors circulated that the jointists themselves were divided between Populists and those who had worked for the Republican side, with the latter scrutinizing their victorious colleagues “like hawks and will not allow them to sell a drop without being reported.” [11]

Smelter workersThe “drouth” did not last long: within three days jointists said they were selling liquor again, though chief of police Higginbotham denied it. Within a week, they were advertising for sale something called “hop tea,” claiming authorities couldn’t touch them.[12] The Mayor disagreed and ordered police to close the offending joints. Soon after, it was reported that a number of jointists had called on the Mayor, for what purpose was not clear[13] but may well have had to do with the mayor’s continuing row with his Council over appointments to city offices. After two months in office, not one of his appointments had been confirmed and Willard was contemplating calling mass meetings to get citizens to pressure the Councilmen. Reported the Times, “the citizens who are behind Mr. Williard [sic] will be urged to storm the City hall at the next meeting of the Council and demand a change in the tactics pursued by the Council….” [14]

No sans-culottes or partisan jointists stormed Council chambers, but Willard continued the battle by refusing to pay a Councilman, David West, for his duties as sewer inspector, until required to do so by a mandamus order. The two had a heated exchange which ended with each having warrants issued against the other for disturbing the peace.[15] West promptly marched into court, pled guilty and paid his $1 fine; the next day, withdrawing his complaint against the mayor, he admitted he had been drunk and had “used some pretty rough language.”[16] The Times optimistically, perhaps tongue in cheek, predicted harmony would now prevail.

It did not. The mayor continued to order “hop tea” joints either to close or pay a hefty fine of $26.75, roughly equivalent to $600 in contemporary dollars;[17] it’s a measure of saloon business profits that five jointists paid the fine and continued to operate until Willard ordered them closed as well. They appeared in Police court where the judge ordered their fine returned, saying “it looked too much like dark robbery to take the money and then close them up when they had been informed they could run.” [18] The judge took a different view of the matter a few months later when four jointkeepers, including one “Captain Richardson,” were fined without being given the choice of closing. When one of them reopened his joint he was fined a second time. He was said to be “very much surprised” at the second assessment.[19]

Suspicions that Willard was favoring saloon owners with Populist connections were fed by his appearing in court to secure the release from custody of a beer wagon driver and the return to the driver of liquor seized by Policeman Fenwick.[20] Subsequently, Fenwick and another patrolmen were suspended by the mayor for showing “favor to certain jointists,” probably Republican ones,[21] creating yet another sensational scene in the city Council, as Councilman Keys introduced a resolution calling for the reinstatement of the two and suspension of replacements Willard had chosen to “repay his political debts,” or so the Councilman alleged in his resolution.

The mayor “abused Mr. Keys and Keys abused him,” reported the Times. Keys called for passage of the resolution or Willard’s departure from the chair: “He got the latter…. and the resolution passed, minus the charge that the Mayor’s act was a political account. During the progress of the argument Williard [sic] made the statement that he had not been in a joint since election, and thought the police had no right there. His memory was somewhat refreshed on that score by the Councilmen,” suggesting that the mayor had remained a patron of local joints since his election.

Defeated on the resolution, Willard refused to approve pay warrants for city officers, including police and fire departments, then promptly departed for the World’s fair in Chicago, leaving behind speculation that Argentine was broke or that this was another ploy in his fight with the Council,[22] a “scheme of the mayor to get rid of the present efficient officers and install his friends in the salaried offices by ‘starving them out,’” speculated the anti-Populist Daily Journal.[23]

In late August, the Wyandotte County Attorney, Alfred Cobb, began filing injunctions against jointists,Alfred Cobb, Men of Wyoming p. 59 creating “no end of consternation” among them, according to the Journal. Mayor Willard’s order closing the joints was said to have been quietly revoked: “In order to seem consistent, [Willard] unloaded all the blame on County Attorney Cobb by furnishing to that official the names of a lot of witnesses, on whose testimony the suits have been begun.” Once again, the suspicion was that Willard’s target was his Republican enemies since none of the saloons run by Populists had been troubled before Cobb entered the picture: “Mayor Willard,” wrote the Journal, “is a strong Populist, and a number of the leading workers of the party in Argentine are ‘jointists’…. Both sides are mad, and there is no telling where the wrangle may lead to.”[24]

What the wrangle led to, to Willard’s surprise, was his own arrest. Willard was called to Cobb’s office in connection with the fifty witness statements he’d presented that offered testimony against various jointists. Cobb examined a number of the witnesses, and “naturally supposed that Williard [sic] knew something himself, and had him subpoenaed.” The mayor claimed to have no information the County Attorney could use to issue warrants,[25] and said he knew nothing of any joints in the city and “had never been inside any of them, nor at any time was he a patron.”

Cobb’s investigations – involving “half the populace of Argentine”[26] according to the Times -- suggested otherwise. The ex-barkeeper of a Populist joint testified that the mayor was a frequent visitor and patron; he said he could easily remember the mayor’s visits because “he drank sherry and egg, while most of the other parties drank beer.”[27] The mayor’s distinctive drink preference became a key point in his trial.

In early September, Cobb issued twenty-five arrest warrants, including one for Mayor Willard under section 2532 of Kansas prohibition law requiring stipulated municipal officials who knew of a place where liquor was being sold to report it to the county attorney, on pain of a fine and forfeiture of office.

Section 2352 Kansas Statutes 

The mayor’s scheme to shut down joints that were obstructing his appointments to city office backfired as Cobb found evidence that Willard knew from personal experience that his friend L.G. “Captain” Richardson, was selling liquor on Silver Avenue  but had failed to report the fact,[28] giving Cobb the opening he needed to prosecute Willard. It was a sensation in Wyandotte County: although prohibition was widely flouted, the section had never been enforced.

Silver Avenue, Argentine 1912The Times predicted that if the mayor were convicted, other government officials would be liable to get into trouble: “If this law applied to all county officers no one knows but what the county attorney would be called upon to prosecute himself….”[29]

Probably other Kansas officials had little to fear, since the mayor’s arrest was primarily a political move by a Republican County Attorney against a Populist mayor who had not only been “too stingy with his knowledge” about the operation of joints in the city but had offended the town’s political establishment by quarrels with the Council and by continuing to resist approving July and August pay warrants for city officers: “He is trying to get revenge,” a Councilman told a Times reporter, “and will attempt to force the city’s officers to resign so he can install his favorites. We don’t propose to let him do that. The city officers will give him a very short time to sign them, after which they will institute mandamus proceedings to compel him to sign the paper.”[30]

If these were not enough reasons for Cobb to attempt to embarrass the mayor, Willard provided him with another inducement by virtually blackmailing the County Attorney in public, boasting the case would be dropped since, Willard said, he “knows too much” about the affairs of Wyandotte County. If Cobb prosecutes him, the mayor told the Times, he will lose his job: “We used to have some gambling houses in our city, and if the case against me is pushed I may be compelled to make public a little understanding Cobb and I had in reference to them just after he was elected, but previous to my election as Mayor. I may also tell about a mining company of which I declined the presidency, which office is now held by Cobb.” The Mayor refused to provide further information on the company, but another source alleged that the company’s stock was sold to “jointists,” and that “with each share of stock goes a guarantee that ‘we will take care of our friends.’” Willard claimed to be collecting affidavits on certain such shady deals, to be presented after disposal of the case against him.

Commented the Times, Willard’s accusations put Cobb in a “bad box”: if he dropped the case he would confirm Willard’s insinuations; if he pursued it, he risked being ousted.[31] Cobb was described as “somewhat aroused” by the Times article and went ahead with impeachment proceedings against the mayor for malfeasance, calling as witnesses people who could testify that Willard knew of the existence of joints in town and had not notified the county attorney. Meanwhile, Willard was continuing to collect affidavits for use against Cobb, some of them “very rich,” he claimed, but Cobb’s partisans believed the affidavits were mostly from jointkeepers, whose word would not influence a jury: “they consider a jointkeeper’s oath,” said the Democratic Times, “about as sacred as the oaths of the Republican county officials who testified before the Senate investigating committee last winter that they did not use any money in the Legislature to defeat the fee and salary bill,”[32] a reference to the debate in the Missouri legislature on paying Kansas City officials a fixed salary rather than with fees, which encouraged extortionate “fee grabbing.”

Willard’s attorney, John Hale, described as “unswerving in his allegiance to the Democratic party,”[33] then in an uneasy alliance with Kansas Populists, tried various delaying tactics, including applying for a continuance on the grounds that witnesses who could show that County Attorney Cobb was a patron of Captain Richardson’s place were absent from the state. Willard also claimed that witnesses who could challenge the testimony of the bartender who claimed to have served Willard the sherry and egg concoction were likewise not present.

The prosecuting attorney, N.B. Carskadon, a Republican,[34] agreed not to bring the bartender to the stand, and the Judge, Thomas Anderson, denied the continuance request.[35] As the case opened, Hale attempted to remove Carskadon from the case, claiming he was not a resident of Kansas[36] and had not been properly employed by the county attorney but by certain citizens of Argentine.  This appeal too was overruled.[37] It was later revealed that the citizens who’d employed Carskadon included both of the policemen Willard had attempted to dismiss, the previous Argentine mayor, a Democrat, Police Chief Higginbotham, and Frank Goodway, chief of the Fire Department. Editorialized the Democratic Times:

To anyone who is the least bit posted on Argentine politics it is apparent that Willard’s arrest was a political scheme and, for that reason, it is the opinion of many, it will be extremely difficult to convict him. If the State intends to go after all the officials in this county who have violated the law that Willard is charged with violating nobody has any objections, but to single out one man looks more like persecution than prosecution, so many claim.

In the event that war was declared on all the officers in this county for violating that particular provision of the law and convictions secured, a new election would have to be held and every office in the county from dog catcher up, with the probable exception of the judges of the two courts, filled with new men.[38]

The trial went relentlessly ahead, regardless, with testimony from several witnesses[39]that Willard had not only witnessed the sale of liquor at Captain Richardson’s joint since his election but had bought liquor for himself and others and was seen playing “a game of cards called ’peaknuckle’ three or four thousand times”[40] in a room to which drinks were delivered. One of the Mayor’s confreres alluded to a drink of malt tonic and liquor named in honor of the Mayor:

He said that there was a common expression there that men used: ‘Have you taken the Willard cure?’ He said that at the time the ‘peaknuckle’ game was in progress he winked at the man who used the expression not to use it again, as he thought the speaker had overlooked the fact that the mayor was present and could hear the remark. He said there was a great deal of sport over the ‘Willard cure’ remark.

The former bartender at Richardson’s, described in the Times as an “ignorant German,” also appeared, despite earlier promises not to call him, to tell of having seen the Mayor “very frequently” in the place, drinking sherry and egg. His testimony was later discounted by other witnesses as unreliable; one of them characterized him as a “common saloon ‘bum’”[41]. County Attorney Cobb also took the stand to explain how he’d come by his evidence. Hale, in the Journal account, vaguely insinuated bribes may have been involved, provoking a “passage of words” between the two which passed away “very quickly.”

The accounts in the Democratic Star and Times were more detailed. In the Star story, Hale charged the caseLooking south on Speer Avenue Argentine 1890 had been brought at the instigation of Peter Kline, who had been prevented from establishing “policy shops”[42] in Argentine. With Cobb on the stand, Hale accused him of accepting bribes from jointists to keep from being prosecuted. Cobb jumped to his feet and, in the Times account, “took a striking attitude, pointed his finger at Mr. Hale, and said, ‘Hale, you are a liar.’” The two headed for each other with Hale preparing for combat in “regular Corbett style,” until the judge intervened.[43]

Two days later Hale had another, more amiable run-in with another of the State’s attorneys, Getty, this time over the location of joints in the town; Hale claimed that knowledge of the location of joints was very general and that “he could stick his head out the window and call for five beers and get them in two minutes.” Getty put Hale’s claim to the test, opening a window and calling out loudly “Bring me five beers and be quick about it.” The beers did not come; Getty returned to his seat, pleased he had showed up Mr. Hale.[44]

There were witnesses on the other side as well, testifying the mayor had not been in Richardson’s place since taking the oath of office.[45] Hale continued to claim the mayor’s trial was part of a conspiracy to oust Willard so joints could operate unhindered and that “certain county officers,” no doubt including the Wyandotte County Attorney, were in cahoots with the joint owners. As the trial concluded, the mayor testified, saying the charges were the outgrowth of a bitter fight between political factions and that his efforts to enforce the prohibition laws had made him many enemies He admitted he had been in Captain Richardson’s during the mayoral campaign, but not since, with the exception of two visits on business matters, when he did not have a drink or see others do so, nor had he played cards.[46] Cross examined by Carskadon, Willard attributed his constant fights with departments of city government to his efforts to close the joints, while “’the gang fighting him” wanted to keep them open.

Every day the court filled with interested citizens. As the Journal pointed out, the political contest had been going on so long that “almost everybody there has become identified with either one side or the other and there has been a great deal of very bitter feeling worked up over the matter.”[47] A witness for the prosecution was alleged to have referred to the trial as a “persecution and not a prosecution,” and to have said that as far as he was concerned “the saloons could run and that he took a glass of beer at times and liked it…. the complaint had been made and it looked as though it was the only way they could get at Willard.”[48]

After four days of conflicting, politically tinged testimony, the trial of Frank Willard ended in a “not guilty” verdict. Now Argentine taxpayers faced an estimated $600 in court costs, not including several hundred more in attorney’s fees on both sides, for settling the question of whether the mayor played cards and drank sherry and egg at Richardson’s after taking the oath as mayor. To the Times, it all seemed rather absurd.[49] Later it was discovered by the county auditor that at least a quarter of the court costs in the case were fraudulent, some of the witnesses who came from Argentine having charged mileage ranging from ten to thirty-eight miles.[50]

Even as the trial proceeded, what the Times called Willard’s “harmonious discord” with the Council and city officers continued. Councilmen convened a special session in Willard’s absence that appointed the previous mayor to handle the sale of a batch of special improvement bonds; Willard said the session was illegal and suspended sale of the bonds.[51] And after his acquittal, Willard accused the chief of the fire department, Frank Goodway, of neglecting his duties by attending the trial; the chief responded that he had hired someone to take his place.[52] The Times came to Goodway’s rescue, praising him as a man “to whom the people of Argentine point with pride.” He is, the paper said, “a Democrat of the old Jeffersonian stripe,” actively involved in the “political fights” of county and city, and a member of the Democratic county central committee.  His department “should never be hampered by the removal of its chief and men for political reasons,” a reference to Willard’s campaign to replace salaried city officials with Populist appointees.[53]

The Times also offered a paean to another Argentine city official, Chief Harry Higginbotham, calling him “one of the best known and most highly respected citizens in the county” and a power in local Democratic politics. Mayor Willard was “quite anxious to remove Harry and place a calamity howler” – the paper’s epithet for Populists – in his place, but the Councilmen “defeated all efforts in that direction. This goes to show Mr. Higginbotham’s great popularity,” the editors concluded, with questionable logic.

Mr. Willard may have been acquitted, but Argentine’s factional wars were far from over. The Times end of year review devoted a page to Argentine, “the richest town of its size in the United States,” offering a “panorama of thriving industry and prosperity … on every side.” Included were reprints of the tributes to Higginbotham and Goodway, along with laudatory profiles of other city luminaries: the former mayor, the current postmaster, a real estate investor, the city’s oldest barber, dealers in coal, ice and furniture, a butcher, grocer, J.P., lawyer and police judge. [54]

Noticeable by his omission: the city’s mayor, Frank ‘Pop’ Willard.



[1] Kansas City Times, December 31, 1893, p. 30.

[2] Centennial History of Argentine: Kansas City, Kansas, 1880-1980. 1980.

[3] “To oust Mayor Willard.” Kansas City Star, September 2, 1893, p. 3.

[4] “The saloons closed.” Kansas City Times, June 2, 1893, p. 3.

[5] There was disagreement in the papers about the mayor’s name: he’s identified as Willard and Williard; his initials are given variously as F.O., F.A., F.L., and P.O.

[6] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, October 11, 1893, p. 9.

[7] Kansas City Times, June 29, 1893, p. 4.

[8] “May lose his office.” Kansas City Daily Journal, November 17, 1893, p. 5.

[9] "The saloons closed.” Kansas City Times, June 2, 1893, p. 3.

[10] “Argentine is dry.” Kansas City Times, June 1, 1893, p. 3.

[11] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, June 5, 1893, p. 3.

[12] Kansas City Times, June 14, 1893, p. 6.

[13] “Argentine.” Kansas City Daily Journal, June 29, 1893, p. 5.

[14] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, June 14, 1893, p. 6.

[15] “Argentine.” Kansas City Daily Journal, June 29, 1893, p. 5.

[16] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, June 30, 1893, p. 6.


[18] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, July 1, 1893, p. 6.

[19] “Argentine.” Kansas City Daily Journal, July 26, 1893, p. 5.

[20] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, July 1, 1893, p. 6.

[21] “Removed two patrolmen.” Kansas City Times, July 20 1893, p. 3.

[22] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, August 3, 1893, p. 6.

[23] “Argentine.” Kansas City Daily Journal, August 12, 1893, p. 5.

[24] ”Enforcing the law.” Kansas City Daily Journal, August 24, 1893, p. 5.

[25] “Willard was examined.” Kansas City Times, August 26, 1893, p. 7.

[26] “Whiskey information filed.” Kansas City Times, September 2, 1893, p. 7.

[27] "Argentine’s mayor.” Kansas City Daily Journal, September 2, 1893, p. 5.

[28] “Willard arrested.” Kansas City Times, September 3, 1893, p. 6.

[29] “Willard gives bond.” Kansas City Times, September 5, 1893, p. 3.

[30] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, September 5, 1893, p. 3.

[31] “From Kansas City, Kansas.” Kansas City Times, September 19, 1893, p. 7.

[32] “From Kansas City, Kansas.” Kansas City Times, September 21, 1893, p. 7.

[33] Perl W. Morgan, ed. History of Wyandotte County Kansas and its people.Chicago: Lewis publishing company, 1911. p. 893-895.

[34] “Kansas for M’Kinley.” Kansas City Journal, October 23, 1896, p 2.

[35] “From Kansas City Kansas.” Kansas City Times, October 10, 1893, p. 3.

[36] “From Kansas City, Kansas.” Kansas City Times, November 17, 1893, p. 6.

[37] “May lose his office.” Kansas City Daily Journal, November 17, 1893, p. 5.

[38] “From Kansas City, Kansas.” Kansas City Times, November 17, 1893, p. 6.

[39] “From Kansas City, Kansas: A Lively Tilt.” Kansas City Times, November 18, 1893, p. 6.

[40] “An exciting time in court.” Kansas City Star, November 18, 1893, p. 2.

[41] “From Kansas City, Kansas: The Case against Mayor Frank Williard.” Kansas City Times, November 19, 1893, p. 6.

[42] “Policy shops” sold tickets for illegal lotteries; in both Kansas Cities they were linked to corruption of public officials and the police.

[43] “From Kansas City, Kansas: A Lively Tilt.” Kansas City Times, November 18, 1893, p. 6.

[44] “Willard acquitted.” Kansas City Daily Journal, November 21, 1893, p. 5.

[45]Willard testifies.” Kansas City Daily Journal, November 19, 1893, p. 12.

[46] “Willard testifies.” Kansas City Daily Journal. November 19, 1893, p. 12.

[47] “Willard in a joint.” Kansas City Daily Journal, November 18, 1893, p. 5.

[48]Willard testifies.” Kansas City Daily Journal. November 19, 1893, p. 12.

[49] “What the Willard Case cost.” Kansas City Times, November 22, 1893, p. 6.

[50] “Will cut the Willard fee bill.” Kansas City Times, December 22, 1893, p. 6.

[51] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, October 27, 1893, p. 6.

[52] “Argentine: Mayor Willard Complains.” Kansas City Times, November 29, 1893, p. 9.

[53] “An efficient fire chief.” Kansas City Times, December 31, 1893, p. 30.

[54] “Argentine.” Kansas City Times, December 31, 1893, p. 30.

August 13, 2012