As I covered in a previous post, Aaron R. Titlow is responsible for the area in Tacoma that bears his name–Titlow Beach. Among other things Mr. Titlow was the Pierce County Prosecutor in 1897 and 1898 and I wanted a better picture of what he did, which led me on a search for some cases he handled while in that office. Ahhh, what fun.
If you have never gone on such a search, let me tell you a bit about it. I started with the misconception that records of that vintage would no longer be stored at the Pierce County Courthouse, my experiences with another county years ago being that most of the cases that old had been forwarded to the State Archives. Should you decided to do research of this type, be advised, Pierce County has theirs in their own house.
When entering a courthouse in America in 2013 one must expect to pass through security and I planned for this. On my first visit I carried a camera on a tripod, the gradoo in my pockets, a small briefcase with my netbook and a tablet and pens. The security officer was quite efficient, everything went well and I headed to records.
Once there I stated my mission and asked for records from 1878 1879. The clerk was baffled…young and baffled. He talked to a more experienced clerk…who was also baffled. They only knew of records going back to 1890. I assured them I had called the day before to make sure they were there, they agreed to look into it. I went home, pulled out my notes and discovered that I had asked for the wrong dates. As I indicated above, I was looking for 1897 1898, not 1878 1879.
The following day I returned, with the same equipment, and arrived at the same security checkpoint. The officer (not the one from the previous day), looked at my camera and said, “What’s that?”
“A camera,” I replied.
“What do you need that for?”
Resisting the urge to just say, “to take pictures,” I explained my project and that I was headed for the records dept.
“What’s that attached to it?”
“A tripod,” I replied
“What do you need that for.”
Not wanting to go into deep photographic technical stuff I said, “Well, there’s not a lot of light in there and this helps keep the camera steady so I can get clear pictures”
Meanwhile, everything else had passed through the appropriate scanners and all my pocket contents, belt, watch, etc. had passed muster.
“You can take the camera in, but I’m keeping the tripod here,” he said. And he did.
Tome and Tomes and more Tomes
The big book of case files
There is a system to the huge tomes stored in records. As near as I can figure, when the project to archive court records was conceived, each case was issued a number and they are listed in those big books numerically by that numbering system. Unfortunately, the numbers have no logical system attached to them and the book I needed covered from 1890 to 1912. Each case is listed, apparently, in order by date although the dates do not appear in the book. Each case is listed alphabetically by the name of the plaintiff followed by the name of the defendant or defendants. They do not indicate what kind of case–civil, criminal, what kind of crime was involved–but list only the names of the parties involved, leaving the records clerk to guess which numbers applied to the years and criminal cases I wanted.
After some trial and error, we got ourselves to the microfilm for the relevant years, but I was looking for criminal cases and the big books didn’t give us that information. Finally an older, more experienced, clerk took pity on us and told us to look for cases listing the State of Washington as the plaintiff. Done and done. The clerk got the right microfilm reels and I spent the next five hours reading through them. As I did so two things became obvious; the chairs at the microfilm viewers and my butt were not meant to be together that long and people were doing the same stupid and dishonest things a hundred years ago that they do today…it just took longer for the news to get out and it didn’t go nearly as far as it does today.
There was the case of William Londerville who was accused, on the 28th of December, 1896, of, “with intent, attempting to kill and murder” a miner named Brotten. Worse yet he did it in a “rude, insolent and angry manner.” In fact, he was accused of, “striking, beating, shooting and wounding the said miner Brotten with a revolver loaded with lead bullets and powder.”
Revolver with lead bullets and powder.
Not any of those non-lethal bullets we have today, these were real lead bullets propelled by real [gun, we assume] powder. And let us keep in mind that he wasn’t out to kill or murder Brotten, he was dead set on doing both.
Now this was not just a he-said-he-said, William had a list of witnesses for his defense. According to his attorney, J. O’Brien, he needed W. S. Josh, L. P. Ferguson, Lewis Evans, John Warner, Julius Nelson, Warren Miller, Charles Pollard, Chas Shaw, Chas Stevenson and S. C. Chase, all of Anacortes, for his defense. For some unexplained reason none of these gentlemen could make it to court so Mr. O’Brien moved for a dismissal, and got it.
A. R. Titlow, the prosecutor, and Hugh Farley, the deputy prosecutor, dismissed the case on March 11, 1987 and Mr. Londerville apparently went on his merry way, undoubtedly avoiding a long stint in an anger management class.
Then there was Henry Flannigan, who, on April 15th, 1897, committed an act that might be right out of today’s headlines. Henry was just walking along the road between Wilkison and South Prairie when James Shaw and John Carpenter, riding their bikes toward Wilkison, spotted him. Nothing unusual there, right? Except that they noticed he had an upset seven-year old girl with him and he took her across the road and into the woods. Now that they thought that was unusual.
Shaw and Carpenter were suspicious and followed the pair. When they found them Flannigan had the little girl sitting on a log and they decided some surveillance was in order. As they watched, they noticed the girl crying and trying to leave while Flannigan “fetched her back,” telling her he would go home with her. Shaw said Flannigan “had his hand under the girl’s clothing fooling around with her.” He said she was crying, saying she’d get spanked if she didn’t go home and she got up and headed for the road again.
Mr. Carpenter made the same observations from his and Shaw’s place of concealment. After the girl and Flannigan made it back to the road, Carpenter confronted the creep and asked what he was doing. Flannigan apparently replied, “it would not hurt any to play with her little ‘c**t’ a little.”
Mr. Flannigan had no technicalities to fall back on. He was charged with Assault with intent to commit rape, made a plea bargain wherein he pleaded guilty to assault and was sentenced to six months in the county jail.
My guess is Mr. Flannigan appeared in court for similar reasons at some time in the future.
So while Mr. Titlow was a prosecutor, a businessman, and even the receiver of the failing United States National Bank in 1915, his cases tell us that life in 1897 was in many ways not so different from 2013. He made money, built and ran a luxury hotel and raised a family and the world proceeded much as it does today…just at a slower pace.
You can see more of my photography by visiting my Flickr acct.