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Background photo of the beach at Whale Cove was made by Bryce Buchanan in 2004. (Via WikiMedia Commons, cc/by/SA)
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As Bourne knew, if the state legislature never actually voted one way or the other on Mitchell’s appointment, the nomination would fall to the governor. And the governor, William P. Lord, was one of Bourne’s friends….
A FEW DAYS LATER, a somewhat curious article appeared in the Oregonian — which, like everyone else in the state, thought the Bourne-Mitchell alliance was still rock-solid.
“MR. BOURNE’S FIGHT,” the top headline shouted; followed by two sub-headlines: “Senator Mitchell Will Help Him to Be Speaker” and “Being Assured of Desired Support, He Renews His Campaign with Great Energy.”
“SALEM — The engagement by Mr. Jonathan Bourne of 19 rooms in the Eldridge Block, Salem, as well as the lease of the handsome Keller House, on State Street, has created uncommon interest in political circles in this city,” the article begins. “It would appear that he is entering upon the fight with a degree of ostentation unusual in speakership contests, and it is not easy to see on the surface why quarters so extensive should have been engaged. The real reason probably is that the Eldridge Block will be used during the season as supplementary Mitchell headquarters.”
One imagines Mitchell reading this article with mounting anxiety. What, he must have wondered, could that rascally Jonathan Bourne be scheming at?
Meanwhile, Bourne was putting a few other pieces in place. The president of the Senate, Joseph Simon, was a solid silver man and could be depended on. But he needed a good ally in the House. So Bourne reached across the aisle and connected with an earnest Populist Party reformer named William U’Ren — who must have been very surprised to hear from him; although both favored silver, the two of them had not been allies prior to this.
U’Ren was happy to help defeat “Benedict Arnold” Mitchell, and the two of them made some plans for U’Ren to implement some parliamentary delaying tactics while Bourne deployed the main thrust of his audacious plan — a plan to literally get the 1897 Legislative session canceled.
Remember those mysterious 19 rooms in the Eldridge Block? They were about to become the scene of probably the most magnificent and longest-lasting house party in the history of the state of Oregon.
“I hired the best chef in the state of Oregon,” Bourne recalled; “sent him to Salem to fix up apartments in the Eldridge Block; things to eat and drink and entertainment. I said to the chef: ‘I pay all expenses. I want to take care of all my friends in the lower House who signed pledges with me, the friends of Silver.”
The whole undertaking cost Bourne $80,000. It lasted for 40 days, in an ironic and presumably unintentional echo of the account of Jesus’s time of temptation in the wilderness. And by the time it was over, the Eldridge Block had some colorful new nicknames: “Bourne’s Harem” was one, and “The Den of Prostitution and Evil” was another — apparently when Bourne mentioned “entertainment” he wasn’t just talking about checkers and Scrabble.
When, a day or so later, the state House of Representatives tried to convene for the opening day of the session, all Bourne’s “Friends of Silver” were several blocks away, gulping down Scotch and enjoying the company of dancing girls and other friendly ladies. As Bourne had planned, there were not enough legislators left to form a quorum.
Mitchell’s supporters formed a “rump session” and tried to elect him; U’Ren got on the record pointing out that their vote had no legal weight. The Oregonian’s editoral writers roared with baffled fury.
Inauguration Day approached, and still nothing was coming out of the state house — on Mitchell’s appointment or on any other topic. Finally, the state senate announced it was giving up and canceling the session; and Governor Lord announced he was appointing Henry Corbett to Mitchell’s Senate seat.
Bourne had won.
CORBETT WAS DELIGHTED; he’d been a Senator before — it was he who Mitchell had defeated way back in 1873 when he first got appointed as Senator — and had long cherished hopes of getting back. But when he arrived in D.C., Southern Pacific pulled some strings and the Senate refused to seat him. For the next two years, Oregon had just one U.S. Senator.
As for Mitchell, he had to sit the whole dance out. He was returned to the Senate, again with the Southern Pacific’s help, in 1900. He was still in office when he died of a dental abscess in 1905.
As a side note, Bourne and U’Ren must have liked working together, because a few years later the two of them became the founding fathers of the Oregon Initiative and Referendum system. Bourne himself, in 1906, was the first Oregon Senator elected by popular vote.