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A Benson log raft is turned out, ready to be shipped down the Columbia River and out to sea

How Oregon built the city of San Diego:

It took about 100 of the oceangoing log rafts invented by Simon Benson of Portland; no one had ever been able to invent a seaworthy log raft before. Here's the story.

Legendary Coast Guard rescue-boat man Tom McAdams.

Newport's legendary cigar-chomping Coast Guard lifesaver:

In one famous incident, he saved four drowning people and earned a lifesaving medal — but the Coast Guard had wanted to reprimand him for risking their nicest boat to do it. Here's the story.

Jonathan Bourne Jr., the rascally and creative political mastermind behind the 'hold-up session.'

The legislature's notorious 40-day drunken party

Lawmaker Jonathan Bourne Jr. knew if the state House convened, it would elect his opponent. So he held things up for six weeks — with a Bacchanalian bender. Here's the story.

Title screen from a Bugs Bunny cartoon. Mel Blanc, the legendary Looney Toons voice man, grew up in Portland.

The voice of Bugs Bunny went to high school in Portland

Legendary Hollywood voice man Mel Blanc's teachers weren't too impressed with his voice talents, but Oregon radio listeners and cartoon fans sure were. Here's the story.

This hunk of pallasite came from the same 1820 meteor strike in Chile that many scientists believe was the source of the 'sample' Dr. John Evans claims he chipped off the Port Orford Meteorite when he found it. Was the meteorite a fraud? Many think so; others think not.

port orford meteorite: a hoax? or is it still out there somewhere?

The man who found it was in financial trouble; did he really find an 11-ton, $300-million rock, or did he make it all up so he could stay employed? Here's the story.

This is not a picture of the Sunshine; it's a lumber schooner of a similar type, the Wawona. The Sunshine, on her way home from her maiden voyage to San Francisco, vanished and then reappeared, upside down, 200 miles off course.

Gold was gone when schooner washed ashore ... empty

The fate of the Sunshine's passengers and crew is unknown ... did somebody wreck the ship on purpose?. Here's the story.

One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

Sammy Davis Jr. used to regularly play portland clubs.

Many consider him the coolest member of the Rat Pack. Sammy caught his big break while he was in Portland. Here's the story.

One of Conde McCullough's bridges -- the steel one linking Oregon City with Gladstone. he's better known for the Oregon Coast bridges.

The man behind Oregon's most famous bridges.

Conde McCullough's genius was in getting the most gorgeous bridge to also be the cheapest, over the long term. Here's the story.

The steamer Telephone, fastest boat on the river in the 1880s and possibly the world -- until it burned to the waterline one day.

riverboat captain had to choose: save passengers, or save his boat?

The steamboat Telephone caught fire at the widest spot in the Columbia; the decision must not have been too tough, because Captain U.B. Scott didn't hesitate for a moment. Here's what happened.

A shallow-draft riverboat of the type pioneered by Uriah B. Scott, on the river at Albany around 1900 or so.

Turns out the 'ignoramus from back east' knew what he was doing.

The big steamboat outfits laughed at the crude, ugly riverboat Uriah B. Scott was building ... until he used it to eat their lunch. Here's how.

The gravestone of Ame, who despite having died 10 years after the Civil War, was still considered a slave.


Ame came over the Oregon Trail from Missouri. But when the North won the Civil War, her status as a slave didn't change. Here's what happened.

Ray V.B. Jackson in a booking photo from the Oregon State Pen, in 1896. Four years after this photo was taken, he was teaching grade school in Silver Lake.

Is this the face of oregon's first serial killer?

Like an "angel of death," ex-con Ray V.B. Jackson just happened to be at the scene of at least five Central Oregon homicides. What are the odds? Here's the story (in two parts).

Offbeat Oregon History: Album cover art

Oregon man’s Supreme Court confirmation scotched by his wife

Senate committee went from a solid consensus to confirm George H. Williams, to a firm determination not to, in just one week. The cause? Most believed it was because of the arrogant attitude of Mrs. Williams toward the senators' wives.

A formal portrait of Attorney General George H. Williams.
A portrait of George H. Williams from the time of his tenure as
attorney-general in the Grant Administration. (Photo: Matthew Brady/
Library of Congress)

In November of 1873, Salem resident George H. Williams was about to be confirmed as Chief Justice of the United States Supreme Court. The president seemed to want him in the job, and the senators on the Judiciary Committee didn’t feel like taking on the White House over it. So they voted to confirm him.

But then, before they could make it official, something happened. For no reason that anyone could (or would) articulate, the senators suddenly decided they needed to reconsider the nomination, and look more closely into the background of Judge Williams — who, at the time, was the U.S. attorney general, and a former U.S. Senator himself.

They found some irregularities there — notably, they learned that during a bank panic when he couldn’t draw on his bank accounts, Williams had paid some bills using government funds, although he’d reimbursed them as soon as his bank reopened its doors. There were also rumors of “gifts” being accepted in exchange for lack of prosecution, although nothing definite.

Nothing that they found was, by the standards of the day, enough to disqualify Williams. And yet, one by one, the senators changed their minds until the committee was unanimous. Williams would not be confirmed. Grant, when he heard, feared another scandal — his administration suffered through several of them — and asked Williams to decline the nomination. Which, with a reluctance bordering on bitterness, he did. He really had no choice.

So, why had this happened?

Washington insiders had a ready answer to that question. It wasn’t Williams’s alleged financial improprieties. It wasn’t Williams’s alleged intellectual inadequacy. It was Williams’s wife.

Pride goes before a fall

Kate Ann Williams was described by nearly everyone, friends and enemies, as a strikingly gorgeous and very intelligent thirty-something lady. Her enemies, though — a category of people that grew with alarming rapidity while her husband was in office — added a few more adjectives to that roster, the most popular of which was “arrogant.”

Letter signed by President Grant asking the Senate to withdraw Williams from consideration as Chief Justice.
The letter, signed by President U.S. Grant, asking the U.S. Senate to
remove George H. Williams for consideration as a nominee for U.S.
Supreme Court chief justice. (Image: Daniel Rice/riceonhistory.

After her husband had left the Senate and been named to the cabinet position of attorney general, Kate almost immediately made a bitter enemy of virtually every other senator’s wife.

“Mrs. Williams, through her inordinate desire to dominate the social life of Washington, had flaunted her status as the wife of a cabinet member over the wives of lesser official standing, particularly the wives of senators,” historian Sidney Teiser wrote. “She had just moved into a great house on Rhode Island Avenue … which she furnished extravagantly. There she held receptions of regal splendor, announcing, to the ire of the Senate ladies, that as a Cabinet wife she would expect the wives of senators to call on her first. And further, it was said of her that she accepted ‘presents’ from those who had cases before the Department of Justice.”

Victorian women’s real power

The 1870s were, of course, not a time of great empowerment for women. Women were half a century away from having a vote, and were mostly treated by the men — as Frances Fuller Victor remarked in 1875 — with a kind of pat-on-the-head condescension, like children or idiots. But they were hardly without real power — as George Williams was now learning the hard way.

As word spread around the social circles of Senate wives that Williams was on the cusp of joining the Supreme Court, it’s not hard to imagine the response. If these women found Kate Ann Williams insufferable now, just think how much worse she’d be after her husband was one of the Supremes — in fact, the supreme Supreme.

To judge from the results, the response was swift, canny and coordinated. The members of the Judiciary Committee went from a consensus to confirm to a firm, unanimous determination to not confirm — in less than a week.

Response makes things worse

Kate’s response played right into her new-found enemies’ hands. She immediately launched rumors of financial impropriety by other senators. This not only stiffened their determination to take her down, it also was something like a tacit confession of real wrongdoing — as any parent of more than one child who’s ever heard “But Sis did it too!” will immediately understand.

So Williams, reluctantly, turned down what would have been the crowning achievement of his political career (and a major feather in the cap of the new frontier state of Oregon), at the specific request of the president.

He was still attorney-general of the U.S., and Grant was happy to have him stay on — at first. But it seems Kate, trying to make things better in what seems to have been the only way she knew how, now gave full rein to her talents for malicious gossip, and thereby came to the wrathful attention of the First Lady, Julia Boggs Grant. History got busy repeating itself. Under the guidance of his wife, Grant’s conviction that Kate was a liability grew and his faith in the legal and intellectual abilities of her husband waned. Soon Williams was on the brink of dismissal, and everyone knew it.

Then a fairly credible rumor arose — a rumor of a $30,000 bribe accepted by Kate, it was said, in exchange for her husband not prosecuting a pending case. Pressure started building for an investigation.

Blackmailing the President?

That’s when the first of several “anonymous and scurrilous letters of a blackmailing nature written for purposes of keeping Attorney General Williams in office” (Teiser’s words) arrived in the mail, addressed to the President of the United States.

Now, conventional wisdom was (and still is) that these letters originated from Kate. Appealing as this interpretation is, it’s not very likely. Kate may have been an insufferable, prideful prig, but she was not an idiot; she would have known those letters could only have come from her. It’s far more likely that they were a frame-up created by someone who wished her ill, to make a new and powerful enemy for herself and her husband.

If so, they worked great. Grant, as Teiser puts it, became “convinced of the unconscionable viciousness of Mrs. Williams.” And so, in early 1875, the president asked for Williams’ resignation.

The comeuppance was devastating for Kate, who reportedly went to bed and stayed there for a long, long time. Williams stayed in Washington for a few more years, practicing law, before returning to Oregon in 1881 and settling in Portland.

Defeated and humiliated, Kate was no doubt glad to be back home.

(Sources: Teiser, Sidney. “Life of George H. Williams: Almost Chief Justice,” Oregon Historical Quarterly, Sept. and Dec. 1946; Logan, Mrs. J.A. Reminiscences of a Soldier’s Wife. New York: Schribner, 1913)

TAGS: #PEOPLE: #schemers #women #crazy #politicians :: #EVENT: #historyChanged :: # #cultureClash #fail #hubris :: #177