Sign of the Times

For months the distant rumblings of financial unease rolling across the country were allayed in Republic County and neighboring Jewell County by a steady stream of reassuring news about the solvency of local banks and the solidity of the banking system in general.  Their fool’s paradise was shattered with a single issue of the Courtland Register, the one dated August 11, 1893.

The following card was attached to the front door of the State Exchange Bank Tuesday morning; “The continual withdrawal of funds for the past two months, compels us, for the protection of all concerned to suspend until we can realize upon our securities.  This bank is now in the hands of the state bank commissioner.”  C. Everest, Cashier.

The news, although not entirely unsuspected, was startling never-the-less.  We are informed that the deposits are very small, and will be paid in full.  While it is impossible at this time to get any clew to the real financial condition of the bank, depositors have every assurance that they will be paid dollar for dollar.  The bank has thousands of dollars of good security, ample to pay off every cent, and we have faith in the honesty and integrity of the Everests to do so.

Since writing the above the Bank Commissioner has arrived, and although he has not yet made any statements concerning the condition of the bank, it is well understood that things are awfully rotten.  The cashier C. Everest, has not been seen in these parts, and many of his transactions which have recently come to light, would indicate that he will not return.  It is now a question whether depositors will receive anything at all.  The whole affair savors of rottenness to the core.  Mr. Everest is also short about $700 as treasurer of the school district, and has never given bonds to the district.  We hope all will yet be right, and until the commissioner makes his report, little will be really known of the real condition of affairs.

The editor’s use of the archaic spelling “clew” points to the word’s original meaning, a ball of yarn, perhaps suggesting that readers needed to follow a string of evidence laid out in tangled bits on the front page of the current week's Register.  There was a lot to take in on that page, including information that “the State Exchange Bank of Jamestown suspended Wednesday at 4 p.m.  It is understood here that that institution was in bad condition financially when it suspended.”  Jamestown lay fifteen miles south of Courtland, a wholly separate trade center, but one with a bank in distress which, like the recently shuttered bank at Courtland, was affiliated with Col. Aaron Everest of Atchison. 

The bad news for Courtland had started on Monday, as another story explained, when an attorney for the Exchange National Bank of Atchison had locked the doors of Elliott’s Drug Store and Pinkerton’s Hardware.  The bank in Atchison held mortgages on the stock of both Courtland enterprises. 

Two small social items planted near all of this somber financial news, took note of the fact that Col. Everest had returned to Atchison on Sunday following a visit to Courtland, and that “Sherry and Frank Everest left for Kansas City Monday night.”  Frank Everest was Aaron S. Everest’s son, a profligate spender who was ostensibly president of the Courtland Bank.  Frank would drink himself to death five years later.  Sherry Everest was the Colonel’s nephew, a brother of Carroll Everest, the same cashier who had fled the region after tacking a card to the front door of the State Exchange Bank of Courtland on Tuesday.

The Exchange National Bank at Atchison was not one of those controlled by the Everest family, but it may have invested in local enterprises on Aaron Everest’s recommendation.  The Atchison Daily Champion, a mouthpiece for Everest’s views, had been running favorable reports on business conditions in both Jamestown and Courtland, burgeoning Kansas towns where Aaron Everest had opened his small, state-chartered banks with a bare minimum of capital stock.  By calling in its loans the Atchison bank seemed to signal a loss of confidence in the business climate at Courtland.  It was a signal that was being echoed around the country.  

The picture painted by that Friday’s edition of the Register was one of rats scurrying for high ground after abandoning a ship which, if not sinking, was certainly taking on water.

When the dust settled the following year, the state banking commissioner’s report listed over a hundred Kansas banks that had suspended operations in 1893, including a second bank in Courtland, as well as banks at nearby Belleville, Esbon, Burr Oak, Clyde, and Clifton.  The failure of so many others may have masked the fact that Everest’s State Exchange Banks had been looted and scuttled.  The state-appointed receiver at Jamestown claimed that "the bank was managed in the interests of Everest,” who had withdrawn the capital and other valuables before slinking back to Atchison.  As for the State Exchange Bank at Courtland, the notation in the commissioner’s report, “Cashier Absconded,” told the whole story.  

The term “absconded" occurs only twice in the entire 1894 document, the other instance being in connection with the failure of the State Exchange Bank of Esbon.  What is not mentioned in the report is that Carroll Everest had been cashier at both the Jamestown location and the one in Courtland.  Aaron Everest’s hand-picked lieutenant, F. P. Kellogg, had taken his nephew’s place at Jamestown and dutifully went down with the ship.

While 1893 is remembered as the panic year, it was only the start of economic doldrums that settled over the country through the end of the decade.  America had weathered a few severe recessions since the Civil War, but it was suddenly in the grip of a genuine depression that sank fortunes and ruined lives.  

There may have been some gleeful spite in a report carried by the Courtland Register in 1900 concerning the former cashier whose note attached to a bank door had proved to be a signal of doom.

Carroll Everest, a nephew of the late Colonel A. S. Everest, and well known in Atchison, suffered an $8,000 loss by a fire which destroyed his lumber mill at Schuyler Fall, N. Y., a few days ago.  Mr. Everest was connected with the Everest bank at Courtland, Kansas, and went into business since its failure.

 So there.

© Dale Switzer 2023