Slipping Through the Cracks

In January I called the idea that Thomas Lovewell’s son-in-law T. C. Smith, in his role as local agent for the Santa Fe Railroad, may have first pilfered company funds in 1890, “something worth looking into.”  Smith, who served time in Lansing in 1897 for doing that very thing when he worked for the Rock Island Railroad in Dodge City, was not implicated in the earlier theft, at least not by name, though there were a few obstacles on my way to getting to the bottom of the story.

Of all newspapers with online archives, apparently only the May 2nd 1890 edition of Gomer T. Davies’ Republic City News carried the scoop that “The station agent at Lovewell absconded with about $300 of the funds of the railroad company.”  No combination of key phrases from the News nugget yielded further results from any other source.  I did have a hazy memory of reading something about the case a few years ago in the Courtland Register, so I put in two separate requests to the library for reels of microfilm, one about the embezzlement case, and one for further information on the failure of the State Exchange Bank at Courtland.

Two weeks had elapsed when I received an email message to the effect that one of my requests had gone into the library’s junk folder, where it languished until being fished out and processed.  The other had been received in good form, only to be lost.  I needed to resubmit.

The library called one day this week to inform me that the film had arrived, but their call went into a queue of voice mail messages which my wife only got around to sorting through on Saturday.  It was a cold, windy day with a threat of late-winter ice pellets, so as good a day as any to spend hunched over a microfilm reader on the cozy second floor.  

The reader is a spiffy new machine that makes part of the chore of searching microfilm records a piece of cake, but another part nearly impossible.  Once a page yields fruit, snapping a high-resolution picture of it and transferring this to a thumb drive takes two clicks of a mouse button.  Finding it in the first place is another matter.  In the creaky old analog days I could roll through issues in a flash, my eyes trained to light on particular names through years of practice.  Thanks to the lag-time on those crisp new video monitors, every paragraph must now be combed with patient diligence.  My wife kept dropping by to adjust her specs as she looked over my shoulder and asked, “Seriously - can you actually read that?”  I could, just barely.  Fortunately, I knew the approximate date of the issue I needed to search.  And there it was.

The young man Baldwin, recently agent of the Santa Fe at Lovewell, who absconded with about $1,000 applied for work in the company’s office at Denver, last Saturday, when he heard the order for his arrest come over the wire, and pulled out.

So, armed with the identity of the culprit I went back online.  Had area papers colluded in a conspiracy of silence surrounding the theft from Lovewell station?  Hardly.  Once connected with the newspaper archive database, I immediately pinpointed the reason no other newspapers seemed to cover the story.  Plenty of them featured news about young Baldwin and his theft, although there were disagreements about how much he took, but almost every news outlet gave the wrong name for the new town on the Santa Fe Line.  While the Republic City News correctly named the scene of the crime as Lovewell, even it neglected to include the name of the suspect.  Only the Courtland Register contained both pieces of information.

A few papers, including the Belleville Telescope, had the theft occurring at a mythical place called “Loneland.”  The majority of news outlets devoted more space to this story, which did include an interesting twist, and edged a trifle closer to putting the right name to the town.

W. B. Baldwin, agent of the Santa Fe at Lovelle, absconded the other day with $1,000 belonging to the road.  Through some means it became known to the officials of the road in Topeka and they immediately telegraphed their agent at Denver to have him arrested.  Just before the message was received Baldwin entered the general offices of the Santa Fe at Denver and asked for employment as a telegraph operator.  While he was in the office the message asking that the absconder be arrested began to come in over the wire.  He quickly detected the purport of the message, and clearing the railing about the telegraph desk made his escape.

A week later, listed among the White Rock items in the Courtland paper was news that, after he vaulted over the railing and dashed out of the Santa Fe office building in Denver, Baldwin’s freedom did not last long.  

The Santa Fe agent at Lovewell, who it is said, got away with about $300 was captured, and last Friday brought back.  It is reported he says there are others in the muss.  LATER - In lieu of bail he was taken to Mankato

It seems that Adaline Lovewell’s husband, Thomas Clinton Smith, is off the hook for that one, unless he was one of those implicated as being “in the muss.”  There remains some question about his being the first station agent at Lovewell, as some family history books maintain, but it’s dead certain that there was an opening for the position in 1890.  Perhaps he was the second agent.

© Dale Switzer 2023