An Ostrich-Plumed Hat: Chapter Eighty-Three

Above, German Ships, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress

an ostrich-plumed hat

Begin with Chapter One ~ Return to Chapter Eighty-Two

Andrew Stevens, December 1915

John smacks his hand down on the Colonel’s desk. “On top of everything else, now we’re subjected to insinuations of wrongdoing at our copper mines.”

“People forget,” says the Colonel, “that the United States remains neutral in the European conflagration. There are no laws prohibiting us from selling Germany anything we choose. And trading originates from our holdings in Mexico anyway. It is tempting. Kaiser Wilhelm’s willing to pay above the going rate in his desire to keep the pace of production of shrapnel shells matched with his army’s rapid deployment of them. American withdrawal from Vera Cruz leaves the port wide open for merchant ships sailing under the German flag.”

John shakes his head. “Even if we wanted to engage in trade with the evil Kaiser, we couldn’t. There’s no way possible to safely extract our copper from Coahuila. President Wilson might have recognized General Carranza’s declared presidency, but what of others within Mexico’s own borders?”

“Governor Ferguson couldn’t race fast enough to meet el Presidente Carranza on the International Bridge,” says the Colonel. “The General assured him border problems would be resolved. American businesses in Mexico would be respected. But he certainly stopped far short of recommending that any Americans should feel invincible enough to return to operate them.”

“Pa Ferguson acts as though everything is just hunky-dory now,” John snorts. “If Pancho Villa releases all his banditos masquerading as soldiers tomorrow, they will resume their prior pursuits. Raiding ranches on the border and demanding bribes from legitimate businesses like our own. The newspaper might be close to on target in reporting the Jimulco Mine has paid us in the neighborhood of a million dollars through the years, but they ignore how much we’ve lost because of instability in Mexico.”

“And what the brewery is about to lose in fines,” adds the Colonel, “to the State of Texas.”

“How bad do our attorneys think it will be, Colonel?”

“The Attorney General refuses to talk compromise, John. In addition to forfeiture in the outrageous neighborhood of $250,000, he’s demanding payment of all court costs and departmental expenses in connection with his case against the breweries.”

John shifts his eyes to the ceiling, calculating in his head. Slam, back down goes a hand. “Why, that would make our share above $50,000 before those add-ons, and they’ll be hefty penalties to pay. The absurd mountain of so-called evidence assembled by the state fills some twenty-five bound volumes of at least 800 pages each.”

The Colonel wags a finger at Andy. “And, thanks to your brother here, my assembled files are the largest of any witness summoned.”

“I apologize, sir. I promise I never take notes unless requested.”

“No need to be anxious, Andy,” says John. “The Colonel’s not blaming you. Otto always insisted all files be in order. All copies of correspondence saved. Our policies of record-keeping are also why his brother Henry’s financial testimony was so damaging.”

The Colonel actually shoots a smile his way. “But, Andy, what a stroke of genius you had this week! Andy borrowed Emma’s wheelchair and parked it in here for my testimony. He even applied, very carefully, some of Sophie’s palest powder on my face.”

“I came in midway to bring in a glass of water and administer an impressive assembly of pills to the Colonel. He appeared so pale and shaky, I was startled. I asked him if I needed to summon the doctor to return, but the Colonel waved me away. His questioners seemed eager to finish quickly before he died in front of them.”

“Good job, Andy,” says John. “And, Colonel, I’m pleased you appear robust and healthy now.”

“Well, I’m not sure Emma is as pleased. Sometimes I feel her nephew, Corwin—whom she insisted we hire—is more a spy than a functioning officer. He brought zero brewery expertise with him. And Emma continues to behave as though this whole investigation is my fault. That all of what the Attorney General deems infractions were of my doing. Missus Koehler appears to forget it was her own husband in charge of all our political activities. I certainly signed no unauthorized correspondence. Otto would be facing the prosecutors right alongside me.”

“Ah, but you, Colonel,” says John, “were probably a much better witness on our behalf, squirming your way out of as many questions as possible.”

“The settlement will change everything.” The Colonel shakes his head. “The terms mandate that our counsel abandon our attack on the constitutionality of the antitrust act. Even worse, we can’t fight to overturn the law authorizing the Attorney General to examine our corporate books and records at any time.”

“The Attorney General has us beaten for now, Colonel. But if everything is pretty much settled, why schedule a trial in district court?”

“Attorney General Looney wants every shred of testimony entered in the court record. He wants it all made public. To humiliate us. If the law allowed, John, he’d have us pilloried on the grounds of the state capitol.”

“Grandstanding,” huffs John. “Is the date set?”

“January 24 in Sulphur Springs.”

John presses the tips of his fingers to his temples and gazes into a spherical glass paperweight near the edge of the desk. “I foresee a relapse in your condition, Colonel. Your illness might render you unable to travel again. Or maybe you’ll have to persuade Emma to lend you her chair once more.”

“I doubt that Emma would do without her chair overnight. Besides they already have wrung every word I plan to utter about the charges out of me. And I definitely am much too frail to travel more than 350 miles to afford the Attorney General the pleasure of sneering and snickering at me.”

Footnotes

“How much would the war department of Germany give to delve into Mexican copper properties owned by San Antonians?” cropped up in the November 28, 1915, edition of the San Antonio Express. The article identified the owners, and the profits, of the Jimulco Copper Mining Company in Otto, Coahuila (obviously named for one of the pair or both of the San Antonio brewers); and Continental Copper Mining Company near Monclova.

The Author feels somewhat guilty picking up the tone from the media speculating that Otto Wahrmund might have been feigning the severity of his illness during the period he was summoned to testify in Austin. Assistant Attorney Generals did finally travel to San Antonio to question him. The wheelchair and makeup are not mentioned anywhere aside from these pages.

$250,000 would be equal to more than $6.3 million in today’s dollars. 

Continue to Chapter Eighty-Four

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