Wild West


The asthma attack that killed Senator John F. Miller in Washington, D.C., on March 8, 1886, created an opportunity for California’s chief executive. Though Miller had been a Republican, Governor George Stoneman—a Democrat—was permitted under state law to appoint someone from his own party to replace the senator. Stoneman knew just the man—a self-made millionaire with political ambitions, owner of The San Francisco Examiner and a favorite of Free Silver Democrats. On March 23 the governor appointed George Hearst to the U.S. Senate.

Mining magnate Hearst was on a business trip in Mexico City, nearly 2,000 miles as the crow flies from Washington, when word reached him he’d been appointed senator. On April 9 Leland Stanford presented the appointee’s credentials to the U.S. Senate, and Hearst took the oath of office.

Senator Hearst proved an oddity in the nation’s capital. Newspapers giddily reported that “Uncle George,” renowned for his Western-style barroom manner, frequently visited Washington’s watering holes, where he would slap a $20 gold piece on the bar and invite all patrons to drink with him. The routine became so commonplace that military men hanging around the Capitol would send out scouts to follow Hearst after the Senate adjourned. The bars he frequented were filled, along with the men’s beer and shot glasses.

Hearst was clearly enjoying himself. But his freewheeling style took a hit in the press. “Senator Hearst is evidently a noted in a backhanded compliment. “He is a politician without prevarication, and a Democrat in whom there is no guile.” Though the was often in league with Hearst’s , the article warned his methods would “work him out of office in a short time.” The guileless senator desperately needed someone at his side who could guide him through Washington’s social wilderness. To that end he summoned Edward Waterman Townsend, a politically astute reporter with whom he was cordial.

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