An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Eighty-Two

Above, 1915 newspaper advertisement placed by Anheuser-Busch for Budweiser

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Eighty-One

Former Governor Thomas Mitchell Campbell, September 1915

“‘Work is His answer to prayer. Work is reward for faithful work. Work His expression of care. Work is iron to human blood. Work, the crown of all mankind.’” Thomas folds the newspaper up so he can eat his eggs and bacon without having to read more of Pa Ferguson’s Labor Day speech.

“I can’t stand having that peanut politician in the governor’s mansion, Fannie. Not sure whether he tries to portray himself as a preacher or Henry Wadsworth Longfellow.”

“Well, his words lack the eloquence of ‘The Village Blacksmith,’ and he is a far cry from a blessing sent by God.”

“He’s nothing but the brewers’ pawn, Fannie. And the news out of Austin indicates mountains of proof that the beermen across the country have all been in cahoots. Finally, someone is investigating their interference in elections. Evidence indicates their illegal activities have blocked prohibition and turned politicians into mere marionettes since as early as 1898.

“Under questioning, the Vice President of the Houston Ice and Brewing Company is having trouble persuading the Attorney General’s office that their activities, such as territorial allotment and coincidentally uniform prices for products, aren’t antitrust violations. Claims their partnership with the San Antonio Brewing Association in El Paso is not a trust, but is a necessity caused by competition from outside Texas.

“Mister Autrey admitted that during the campaigns of 1912 and 1914, individual officers and stockholders—mind you as private citizens passionate about Texas politics—gave donations. He refused to divulge how much because they represented personal choices that had nothing to do with the Houston brewery.”

“Oh, Thomas. Why did no one heed your warnings about their illegal shenanigans earlier?”

“Special Commissioner Keasler referenced amounts paid directly to several prominent political figures. Mister Autrey claimed, why those were not bribes but loans, installments for oil stock or payments for legal services provided. And Mister Morgan of Dallas admitted in years past that money was paid to an unidentified San Antonio brewer who spent much time in Austin. Certainly sounds like Colonel Wahrmund to me. Then Mister Morgan had the nerve to shrug that off as irrelevant because ‘nothing of that kind goes on now.’”

“Can they brush off those serious charges so easily?”

“The Attorney General needs to keep pressing. They’re as slippery as eels. August Busch failed to show up for testimony this week. Sent a telegram instead claiming effective immediately he resigned as president of American Brewing in Houston. Therefore, he need not appear.”

“But aren’t the investigations to show their past criminal activities? A man can’t be absolved of a crime by simply saying that’s not my company any longer, can he?”

“August Busch pulled the same stunt for his other beer holdings in Texas as well. He gave public notice of his resignation from both the Lone Star Brewing Association and Texas Brewing. His position is this lack of ownership frees him of any obligation to heed the summons. Attorney General Looney must find out just how bona fide those resignations are. It seems unlikely the Busch family would relinquish control of their Texas investments without strings attached.

“August Busch is cut from the same cloth as his father. The Attorney General has letters written by the late Adolphus to the president of the Texas Brewers’ Association. Before the 1911 prohibition proposition was submitted to voters, Adolphus had no hesitation in committing $100,000 to the ‘noble fight.’ The next year he declined to contribute because, with Governor Colquitt’s election, he thought Texas would remain safely wet. The ‘fanatical parties’ were weakened and no longer in charge.”

“Fanatical? Since when is an honest man, a man with integrity like you, Thomas, branded fanatical?”

“But the affairs of the San Antonio Brewing Association are the most revealing so far. Otto Koehler’s younger brother Henry was forced to appear. A brother hardly should be considered much of an impartial auditor of a business, and the Attorney General caught him time and time again with irregularities in the books.

“The minutes of the Board of Directors fixed the salaries of the late brewer as President at $10,000 and the Colonel as Vice President at $7,500 per annum. Yet they actually were paid $35,000 and $20,000 annually. Why? Simply because the vouchers were drawn under the direction of the officers.”

“So, they were paying themselves around three times as much as authorized by their board?”

“Yes. But the interesting part is the connection back to St. Louis. It appears Otto Koehler and Adolphus were not as competitive as they claimed publicly. In fact, they were quite chummy. The original bond of $450,000 to found the San Antonio Brewing Association was held, at least on paper, by the Commonwealth Trust Company of St. Louis. But Henry Koehler admitted that the vouchers for interest on these bonds always, for years, had been paid directly to the Anheuser-Busch Brewing Association.”

“Is that an obvious violation of antitrust laws?”

“So it would appear. But the key to the government’s case is getting Otto Wahrmund to the witness stand.”

“He can’t ignore a subpoena, can he?”

“So far, he’s been successful in doing so. His doctor pronounces him too ill. Traveling to Austin and sitting in the witness chair would endanger his health.”

“Is this a new condition for him?”

“Oh, yes. It came upon him rather suddenly this month. I penned a letter to the Attorney General suggesting he have the court appoint physicians to examine the man with such a convenient ailment. Otto Wahrmund was in the thick of all the scheming and conniving. He must be compelled to testify.”

“You don’t think the Attorney General will let him get away with this, do you?”

“No. He seems determined to see his investigations through, and the violations are flagrant.”

Thomas glances at the advertisement on the back of the folded newspaper.

“The nerve of those Busches. Right smack in the middle of these hearings examining their corruption, Anheuser-Busch runs an advertisement invoking Thomas Jefferson.”

Thomas picks it up and reads: “None of the fathers of the Republic were more far-seeing than he and none knew better than he that a mild brew of barley-malt and hops is truly a temperance drink.

“Hence, in 1816, he wrote President Madison: ‘A Captain Miller is about to settle in this country and establish a brewery. I wish to see this beverage become common.’ Jefferson lived past his 83rd year and all his life he was a moderate user of light wines and barley brews.

“It is unimaginable that were he alive today he would vote otherwise than NO to proposed tyrannous prohibition laws. Anheuser-Busch – brewing the kind of honest barley and hop brews which Jefferson hoped in his day to see the national beverage of Americans. Budweiser means moderation.”

“Oh, Thomas. That’s sinful for them to insinuate that the father of the Declaration of Independence would condone their continual thwarting of the law. Sometimes, I wonder if passing prohibition would matter. The brewers always find devious ways to skirt the laws and evade any penalties.”

“Maybe not this time, Fannie. They’ve been caught with their pants down. My sadness is that the deaths of Adolphus and Otto Koehler let them escape with impunity.”

“Whatever happened to that nurse who shot Otto Koehler?”

“Once she fled, I don’t think the Koehlers’ friend, Sheriff Tobin, devoted much time or energy to locate her. Otto Koehler’s friends and his widow prefer to whitewash his reputation. To paint him as an outstanding citizen. A family man. His relationship with that nurse shatters that image. They wish her side of the story buried.”

“Thomas, maybe you should take a train to Austin to try to light a fire under the Attorney General and his assistants. You’re like Longfellow’s blacksmith. You’ll not rest easy until justice is obtained:

            Toiling, rejoicing, sorrowing,

            Onward through life he goes;

            Each morning sees some task begin,

            Each evening sees it close.

            Something attempted, something done,

            Has earned a night’s repose.”

Footnotes

Hard to imagine that Tom Campbell would not be jumping up and clicking his heels over the official investigations into the breweries’ antitrust violations and illegal campaign contributions.

Continue to Chapter Eighty-Three

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