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1 The Romantic Legend of the Hearsts
On April 13,1919, Phoebe Apperson Hearst died quietly at La Hacienda del Pozo de Verona, her luxurious estate on the east side of the mountains at Pleasanton, thirty miles south of San Francisco. Although well known for her philanthropies to education--kindergarten programs, libraries, girls' training schools, and the University of California at Berkeley--she also contributed generously to orphanages, havens for unwed mothers, and hospitals, mainly in California but in other areas of the United States as well. In addition, she was the wife of the late George Hearst, an extremely wealthy miner and businessman who had been a U.S. senator from California. But more than anything else, she was the mother of newspaper mogul William Randolph Hearst.
After appropriate encomiums and profuse eulogies, Phoebe Hearst was laid to rest, and to a certain extent so were her wishes. To her only son she bequeathed most of her fortune, in excess of $25 million, and to relatives and close friends amounts ranging anywhere from $1,000 to $50,000. But her niece and confidante, Ann Flint, would not, as Phoebe had wished, receive Wyntoon Castle, her summer home on the McCloud River in northern California (Siskiyou County). Nor would Adele Brooks, her designated official biographer, write her obituary or publish a prepared manuscript. Hearst would dismiss the author, instructing her to "turn over to him" all notes and manuscript materials concerning his mother. Then nine years later he commissioned Winifred Black Bonfils, the original "sob sister, whose pen name was "Annie Laurie," to write his mother's biography. After twelve days and fifty-four thousand words, she completed her assignment, and Hearst published The Life and Personality of Phoebe Apperson Hearst.
* * *
The romanticized legend of the Hearsts thus began. In 1928, with journalist John K. Winkler's W. R. Hearst: An American Phenomenon, and in 1936, with Mrs. Fremont Older's equally favorable William Randolph Hearst: American, the legend became deeply ingrained and solidified as fact. As a result, Hearst was able to fashion and re-create his own ancestry, especially in regard to his mother and father. It went something like this. In 1850 thirty-year-old George Hearst, a poor, struggling, but ambitious farmer in Franklin County, Missouri, journeyed to the California goldfields and, after incredible hardships--contracting cholera, sleeping at times in mud with rain pelting down upon him, and having only "a five-franc piece" between him and bankruptcy--"he wanted to die." But he recovered from all such adversities and, upon enduring ten years of rugged prospecting in the Sierra Nevadas, "struck it rich" as a one-sixth owner of the Ophir mine, which was part of the fabulous Comstock Lode. In 1860 he returned to Franklin County to comfort his dying mother as well as settle family business affairs. During the next two years he met Phebe Elizabeth Apperson, a pretty, vivacious schoolteacher "whom he had carried on his shoulder" when she was just "a child." Although bearded and rough-hewn, somewhat unlettered, and more than twice her age, he dazzled her with stories of California, of adventure and romance in the Far West; he was "different from all other men she knew." And even though unaware of his wealth and despite initial protestations at first from her parents, who were "the richest ... in the county" and descended from a "long line" of Virginia and South Carolina landowners, the "inexperienced" Phebe announced her marriage plans. After elaborate wedding preparations--"people didn't step around the corner to the nearest Justice of the Peace & get married in those days, not people of the Apperson standing"--George and Phebe Hearst were joyously united at Stedville, Missouri (which was, and is, a nonexistent town in the state), then departed for California, where the next year their only son, William Randolph Hearst, was born.
* * *
So much for legends! More than sixty-five years and seven biographers later, here, according to extant data, is the story of William Randolph Hearst.
Late in the spring of 1803 Americans were jubilant, optimistic, ever aggressive about their future. With one stroke of the pen, President Thomas Jefferson doubled the size of the United States by purchasing the Louisiana Territory from Napoleon. Now, a foreign power and the Mississippi River were no longer barriers to settlement; now, virgin lands beckoned pioneer farmers westward. Quickly into the newly created Territory of Orleans the migration began, so much so that by 1812 Congress granted statehood to Louisiana. Farther to the north, and not quite as accessible, the land called Missouri, where Americans Daniel Boone and Moses Austin had earlier decided to take up residence, proved to be almost as inviting. Since the Northwest Ordinance of 1787 prohibited the transportation of slaves north of the Ohio River, Southerners sought other lands with a climate and environment conducive to their farming and herding practices. So within six years, from 1804 to 1810, Missouri doubled in population--10,000 to 20,845 people--with Americans swarming over the countryside, building their double-log cabins, clearing the land for planting, cultivating crops for harvest.
Into the grassy valleys and forested hills of the Meramec River, approximately fifty miles to the south and west of St. Louis, William G. Hearst, together with his parents and brother Joseph, migrated in 1808, following the American frontier patterns practiced by his ancestors for more than a century. Of English or Anglo-Irish descent, most likely from Lancashire or Yorkshire in northwestern England, but possibly from Ulster or Connaught in Ireland, the Hearsts or Hursts later confused the issue even more by saying that they were Lowland "Scotch" Presbyterians. They first settled in Isle of Wight County, Virginia, late in the seventeenth century, where a John Hearst (whose surname means "wood" or "thicket") died in 1727. One of his sons, also named John, moved to Abbeville, South Carolina, in 1766, where he and his kin, including another George Hearst, raised large crops of corn and children while investing in slaves and livestock and land. Then in 1808 William G., who was the fifth son of George, pushed forward into Missouri.
Settling on the Meramec in Franklin County across from the mouth of Indian Creek, the Hearsts survived on the Missouri frontier but did not prosper. Together with other Americans, they scattered in rather isolated farms, eking out a living from corn and wheat while trying at times to supplement their meager income by lead mining. But with Shawnee Indians ever threatening during those first years, with the climate hot and humid in the summer and penetratingly cold in the winter, they merely existed; and even after the marriage in 1817 of William G. Hearst to Elizabeth Collins, whose family was among the first pioneers in the area, conditions did not improve significantly. In fact, the Hearsts and Collinses left for Spanish Texas soon thereafter in hope of securing their elusive fortunes.
After two years of deprivation and sickness on the Texas frontier, this small group of Americans decided that, in comparison, conditions in Missouri were far better than in Texas. So they retraced their steps and, through determination and work, steadily enhanced their lives. William Hearst immediately purchased his old homestead from the U.S. government, then enlarged his holdings through inheritance (his father, George, died in 1822) and by buying out his brother's half share. To cultivate these lands as well as others acquired, estimated by written deposition at 703 to 843 acres, he bought nineteen slaves and hired a number of whites, easily outdistancing all others as the largest and wealthiest landowner in Franklin County. Hearst also engaged in copper and lead mining. As a result of his standing in the community he assumed a number of civic responsibilities. In 1828 he was appointed as one of three school-land commissioners for "Merrimac" Township as well as an overseer of the first road district; then in 1832 he served on a commission that selected the seat of government for neighboring Jefferson County.
In all this time William and Elizabeth Hearst reared three children--George, Martha, and Jacob--but the only one of historical significance was their elder son. Born on September 3, 1820, George Hearst had what he later termed "a wild sort of childhood." He had "to work very hard," he recalled, at first doing chores required of a young boy--chopping wood, gathering eggs, watching after the family geese, chickens, and livestock; then, in his teens, struggling with the unyielding earth, plowing and planting and harvesting. Consequently young George had little time for school, and throughout his life he demonstrated his lack of formal training, his deficiencies in education, almost to the point of illiteracy. As late as 1882, after being nominated for governor at the California Democratic Convention at San Jose, and in answering criticisms about educational inadequacies, he retorted: "My opponents say that I haven't the book learning that they possess. They say I can't spell. They say I spell bird, b-u-r-d. If b-u-r-d doesn't spell bird, what in hell does it spell?"
Yet Hearst had certain intuitive traits that benefited him tremendously throughout his fife. For instance, in arithmetic class he "never did a sum in the way the rule stated. I would always figure it out in my own way." And, when engaged in mining, he was a natural. He had an instinctive knowledge about geological formations, a mineralogist whose methods were "altogether practical." Reportedly he so impressed the neighboring Indians that they called him "Boy-That-Earth-Talked-To." Even more remarkable, he would visit mining sites or out-of-the-way locations and, years later, "see them," he candidly asserted, "just as vividly today in my mind as then."
In November, 1844, upon the death of his father, George Hearst was forced to assume much greater responsibilities; he was especially unhappy and insecure concerning such duties because, at age twenty-four, he believed that people "over thirty years old" knew much more than "anybody else." Although in 1848 his mother would marry Judge Joseph Funk, the postmaster at Traveler's Repose (now St. Clair), thereby freeing him from some obligations, Hearst still had to manage the family estate of more than eight hundred acres. He thus paid all past debts (except for $300 to $500); cared for his sister, Martha, and crippled brother, Jacob (who died in 1846); and tended to numerous daily tasks. He also operated mineral lands, which were generally known as the "Hearst Copper Mines," and with James N. Inge invested in a general store at nearby Virginia Mines. But seemingly he had to farm continually. To him such work was drudgery without much compensation. It left him little time to pursue his natural bent for prospecting and mining in the surrounding areas.
As a result, when gold was discovered near Sutter's millrace in California in 1848 and hence the subsequent mad rush of the Forty-Niners, George Hearst was also caught up in this national hysteria. For almost a year he withstood all irresponsible impulses, but with the urging and approval of his family and after Dr. William N. Patton, his personal physician and close friend, agreed "to handle his affairs," Hearst left for the "promised land" on May 12, 1850.
What a horrible ordeal the journey was! For five months he endured appalling hardships, quite similar to those others had experienced in traveling overland to California. At Fort Laramie in eastern Wyoming he contracted cholera, or so he believed, but dispelled the "first symptoms," he stated, by drinking brandy and taking "some pills which a man in St. Louis gave me." Joining a small wagon train of pioneers, he trudged laboriously over the Oregon Trail, from the rolling prairies alongside the North Platte River and in the Wyoming Basin through the rugged uplands of South Pass and thence over the California Trail to the barren, alkali wastes of Utah and Nevada. In the Humbolt region of dreadful sands and shadows, of cactus and tumbleweed and desert sage, he succumbed to a strength-sapping fever, but recovered in time to scale the steep slopes of the forested Sierra Nevadas and find his way to Hangtown (Placerville) on the western side of the mountains. And not too soon! He was in a weakened condition and had "just a five-franc piece left."
Hearst soon discovered, however, that California was not a land of gold just for the taking, at least not for a majority of migrants. At Grass Valley in the foothills of the Sierras, he practiced survival for nine years, hopeful of finding a huge bonanza. At nearby Nevada City he opened a general store with Hamlet Davis, who later became the town's first mayor. At every opportunity Hearst would placer mine, his tools for success being a pick and shovel, a wash pan, and endless optimism. Because of severe weather and lack of supplies in the fall and winter of 1853-54, he came out of the mountains and proceeded southwestward to Sacramento City, where he became involved in wholesale merchandizing and real estate. But the tantalizing lure of mining always drew him back to the Sierras. In the meantime, after having to sell one claim because of undercapitalization, he agreed to run a quartz mill in the Grass Valley-Nevada City area to accumulate funds so necessary for large mining ventures. And even after learning in February, 1858, that his sister, Martha, had died (in 1854) and that his mother was gravely ill, he refused to leave because, as he wrote his stepfather, Judge Funk, "to return home without money is out of the question."
But in 1859 Hearst seemed to make all the right moves and, even better, his luck improved. He obtained a share in a local mine called the Lecompton and was confident of acquiring considerable profits. Then, in July, Grass Valley assayer Melville Atwood excitedly revealed to him "in strictest confidence" a startling secret. Prospectors from across the mountains in the Washoe (the Virginia City area of Nevada), where gold had been discovered at the Comstock earlier in the year, had brought him some "blue stuff" to be assayed. "The ore is almost pure silver," Atwood gushed, "with a heavy percentage of gold. It's too incredibly rich to be possible. It's worth $3,000 a ton." And, what was even more incredible, the Washoe miners did not realize the "blue stuff's" value; they were "throwing it away."
Despite his dislike for what he considered to be a godforsaken region of crags and rocks, of torrid heat and desert vegetation, Hearst left immediately for the Washoe, with Atwood proclaiming: "You're bound to become rich." Within four days he arrived in Virginia City and thus began to build a fortune. He contracted to buy for $7,000 a one-sixth interest in the Ophir mine (which had a huge vein of the "blue stuff") before returning to Nevada City. Still undercapitalized, he obtained the necessary financing by selling his share of the Lecompton mine and by borrowing $1,000 from a local businessman. Then back across the mountains he went and, together with his partners, furiously mined thirty-eight tons of "selected ore," which they packed by mule to San Francisco before the winter snows set in. And the results! Hearst and his partners were $91,000 richer and a madness for the "ore of the Ophir" began.
The Ophir was not without problems, however--flooding by underground water, cave-ins, and several Piute Indian massacres near Virginia City in the spring of 1860, which threatened to scare away precious manpower as well as deplete supplies. But within a year, after such difficulties had been resolved, Hearst was ready to return home to Franklin County. He felt good about his fortune, his estimated worth in the vicinity of $200,000 after having made another lucrative investment, which cost him only $450, in the Gould and Curry mining properties. Remembering vividly his previous hardships, he was not about to go the overland route to Missouri. Instead, he sailed from San Francisco on August 1, 1860, via the Isthmus of Panama to New York City, thence by train to St. Louis, arriving in St. Clair on September 1 after a ten-year absence.
For the next two years George Hearst involved himself in family responsibilities and local activities. He immediately learned that his rather sizable estate had been mismanaged and that several former associates had judgments against his properties or, in some instances, had already taken them over. He therefore responded by instituting legal proceedings, which would continue until 1876. He was also deeply concerned about his mother, helplessly watching life ebb from her body until death on April 1, 1861. And being a former slaveholder and ardent Southerner, he became caught up in the 1860 presidential election and the subsequent disruption of American democracy, so much so that, while visiting St. Louis in the summer of 1861, he was arrested--and briefly jailed--for "opinions" Union authorities "deemed seditious."
Soon after his mother's death, Hearst became interested in Phebe Elizabeth Apperson. As far as her parents, Drusilla Whitmire and Randolph Walker Apperson, were concerned, she was far too good for him. Born on December 3, 1842, Phebe Apperson had ancestry that, if not exceptional, was surely commendable. One grandfather, George Frederick Whitmire, had arrived at Philadelphia in 1858 from Stuttgart, Germany. He then proceeded to Newberry County, South Carolina, where the Whitmires were "comfortable" economically until a "general exodus" occurred between 1800 and 1810, first to Ohio and then in 1820 to Missouri. Her other grandfather, John Apperson, was a medical doctor in Washington County, Virginia, and had surrounded his family in "relative elegance" before moving to Franklin County in 1829. Even though the Whitmires and Appersons did not attain either the economic or political successes of the Hearsts, they prided themselves in being better educated--George's mother, Elizabeth, signed her name with an "X"--and considered themselves culturally superior.
And in 1861 eighteen-year-old Phebe was the epitome of their union. Lithe and petite at five feet and under a hundred pounds, with dark-brown, curly hair, blue-gray eyes, and creamy skin, she may have been poor--in 1847 her father hired out to George Hearst over a two-day period for two dollars--but she had youth and education and gentility going for her. From early childhood she had exhibited an insatiable desire for knowledge, a fervent passion for a "more complete understanding of the world," indeed an intense longing to experience the existence that her books described. By sheer force of will and fierce determination, she became precise in English grammar and somewhat fluent in French. In fact, at age sixteen, she had enough formal education, and nerve, to accept a three-month teaching assignment at the Reedville School, some forty miles away from St. Clair, where she was both successful and popular.
While young Phebe was demure and soft-spoken, at times reticent and lacking confidence, although demonstrating good breeding both in dress and manner, George Hearst was, by contrast, quite a shock. A man large and rugged in appearance, twenty-two years her senior, his clothes often rumpled and shirtfront sometimes stained with tobacco juice, Hearst emphasized practicality over education, business and money over culture and refinement. He had no social graces or pretensions, and he wanted none--"hog and hominy," accompanied by a glass of bourbon, were good enough for him. After all he was a prospector who had not only survived rowdy mining camps such as Hangtown and Grass Valley and Virginia City but also had, by his own cunning and ability, "struck it rich." He was a self-made man--and obviously proud of it--boisterously loud, at times vulgar and crude, but assured of his opinions and comfortable with his prejudices. Although not handsome, he exuded a virility that some considered appealing, his high forehead and deep-set eyes and prominent nose framed by dark hair and a shaggy beard.
Yet George Hearst and Phebe Elizabeth Apperson shared certain character traits, and therein lay their bond of understanding, the glue for marital union. Both were willful and headstrong to the point of having "it my own way or not at all." Both were tough-minded, neither could be intimidated nor swayed by sentimentality. Both knew what they wanted out of life and, in their own way, strove to attain it. Desperately wishing to escape the provinciality of the Meramec Valley as well as the cultural and intellectual vacuum of her present existence, Phebe recognized the wealthy Hearst as a means of unshackling her hopes for a better life, as a passport to the exotic world of her dreams. In turn, George wanted Phebe for a wife, with all that she could bring to such a marriage.
So the two struck a deal. On June 14, 1862, they journeyed to Steelville (not Stedville), Missouri, where in the judge's chambers of the Crawford County Courthouse they drew up the following prenuptial agreement:
This marriage contract made & entered into this 14th day of June, 1862 between, George Hearst of the one part & Phebe E. Eperson [sic] of the other part both of the County of Franklin & State of Missouri "to wit." The parties to this instrument in consideration of the covenants & stipulation hereinafter mentiones promises & agrees to intermarry with each other within a reasonable and convenient time after the execution hereof. 2. The said George Hearst in consideration of said future marriage hereby for himself conveys assigns & sits over unto the said Phebe E. Eperson Fifty Shares of stock in the Goaldine & Curry Gold and Silver Mining Company of Virginia City Nevada Territory U.S. out of this interest which said Hearst had in said Mining Company to be held for & during the natural life of said Phebe E. Eperson and at her death revert to the said George Hearst his heirs or legal representatives.
[Signed] George Hearst
[Signed] P. E. Apperson
Although the contract had numerous spelling errors, the two signed the agreement. Then the next day, June 15, 1862, without any fanfare or elaborate preparations, "W. P. Renick, Minister" married nineteen-year-old Phebe Apperson and forty-one-year-old George Hearst.
During the next few months the newlyweds were difficult to trace. No question about it, however, George Hearst was going to leave Missouri and return to California. But how? Because of his "seditious" language the previous year in support of the Confederate States of America, travel clearance to New York City was questionable, that is, until Dr. Silas Reed, a former neighbor and close friend of the couple, who was attached to the military hospital at St. Louis, intervened in their behalf They therefore departed late in September for New York City, where on October 11 they boarded the steamer Ocean Queen. Ten days later they reached Panama, quickly crossed the Isthmus by train, took passage on the steamer Sonora that evening, and were once again on their way. While the Pacific leg of this trip remained relatively calm and uneventful, Phebe--already pregnant--was frequently ill but received both kindness and attention from Mrs. David M. Peck, who was also traveling to San Francisco with her husband and two-year-old son Orrin.
Upon arrival on November 6, George and Phebe once again left no trail. Although most Hearst biographers categorically concur that the couple went immediately to the Lick House before transferring to the Stevenson House at "California and Montgomery streets," San Francisco newspapers did not record their existence at either place, as was customary. They may well have gone immediately to the residence-office of Dr. Vincent Gilcich and, as suggested by researcher Vonnie Eastham, stayed there for an indefinite time. But regardless of the mystery about Phebe's pregnancy, the birth of a son did occur. And for posterity the couple established the date as April 29, 1863, and named their offspring after his paternal and maternal grandfathers, William Randolph Hearst.
Table of Contents
|1 The Romantic Legend of the Hearsts||1|
|2 The Rebel from California||11|
|3 The Newspaperman||37|
|4 "Monarch of the Dailies"||59|
|5 News War in New York||79|
|6 Yellow Journalism||95|
|7 The Journal's War||115|
|8 Political Activist||135|
|9 Running for President||163|
|10 "Uncrowned Mayor of New York"||193|
|11 "Patron Saint" of the Independents||229|
|Illustrations follow||page 150|