VERDE HERITAGE 1894: COTTONWOOD NEWS; School Fraud
William "Bucky" O'Neill's report dated October 31, 1893, showed a disgraceful state of affairs in school matters during the administration of County School Superintendent E. W. French, an ex-Probate Judge. Official corruption is a mild term to express the condition of the office of the County School Superintendent. An investigation was followed by a trial during November.
SINGULAR FOLKS! "They Insist on Honesty and in Punishment of Violators of Law. Our Cottonwood Correspondent Touches on Facts, News, Gossip, and Sentiment."
"Your request that I write a news letter from the Verde Valley reached me some time ago, but owing to a protracted spell of 'la grippe' I was unable to accommodate you."
"Our valley is very quiet now."
"The indignation felt among us at the acquittal of French has settled into a deep seated disgust in the minds of our citizens. We are a singular people down here. We haven't a bit better sense than to think that Yuma [penitentiary] is the proper place for criminals. We don't care a nickel wither whether the offender is the son of a veteran or the son of a tinker."
"The first thing anybody knows we'll be thinking that a man should be hung for killing another man. I never saw anything to beat it. They go around here insisting that their children shouldn't be robbed of a legitimate way to get an education. They even contend that when a man forges a paper he intended to do it. I don't know what they mean by saying that we need a vigilance committee to look after the school funds. Who ever heard of an educational vigilance committee? Where are we, anyway? And whither are we drifting?"
"I want to say, and had as well say it, though I may get scalped for it, that a very bad precedent has been established in this county in regard to certain offenders. During the 15 years that I have been in the territory 3 offenders have been patted on the head and told to go and sin no more. What can we expect in the future? Certainly nothing very hopeful. How would it do, friends, to erect a statue of Justice on one corner of your plaza up there, with a step ladder attached, so that some honest man could climb up and tie a veil over her face on 'state occasions' of this kind? It might relieve the feeling of the people to be able thus to testify that a long time ago there used to be such a thing as justice abroad in the land. As I have said, we are a singular people down here. When a man defrauds his fellow man we jump right up and sit down on him."
"A few weeks ago a certain traveling party stopped among us and made certain purchases of one of our citizens, promising to pay before he left. Instead of doing so he drove on to Jerome and pulled out from there to Phenix [old spelling]. Now when our neighbor heard of it he arose in righteous indignation, got out an attachment and warrant for arrest and sent his son and an officer after the fugitives. They were overtaken on Lower Agua Fria and the gentleman (who was an artist) was relieved of his watch and camera. He was given 30 days in which to redeem his property, and all the time he wished to consider, that honesty was the best after all."
"Christmas passed pleasantly with us. We had an entertainment and tree at the school house, thanks to Miss Baker, our teacher."
"It seems our Central Verde neighbors were somewhat unlucky. They had a Christmas tree, a wedding, and a shooting scrape combined at their school house. One young man cut the top off the rig in which another young man had brought some girls to the entertainment. Young man No. 2 beat young man No. 1 over the head with his pistol. No.1 retaliated by shooting No. 2 in the arm. This is as it was told me --- I presume it is correct."
"Miss Birdie Scott [the future Mrs. George MacDonald "Mac" Willard] has just got back from Tempe. She was not able, owing to her health, to attend the normal school at that place.
"Misses Stanley [future teacher at Cottonwood and Jerome] and Alice Windes are still diligently and successfully pursuing their studies at that institution of learning."
"Several parties have committed matrimony recently in our valley. Four weddings have taken place since Thanksgiving and 2 more will soon follow."
"Very truly, John Cephas Jones."
(Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; Prescott; January 10, 1894; page 1.)
Report of William "Bucky" O'Neil dated October 31, 1893: "To the Hon. Board of Supervisors of Yavapai County, Prescott, Arizona."
"Gentlemen: I have the honor to submit the following supplemental and final report of the result of my investigation of the affairs of the office of the County School Superintendent under the administration of Judge E. W. French."
"Of the 38 school districts in the county, complete reports have been received from but 24, chiefly because the records of the remaining districts from various causes are so incomplete or otherwise so unreliable as to prevent full reports, the law requiring annual reports from trustees and teachers having apparently never been enforced since 1889."
"Of the districts reporting, delinquencies have been found in those specified in the following statement in which is set forth only those disbursements which the trustees of the several districts have pronounced unauthorized and fraudulent. In each instance where this has been the case, the reports of the trustees are herewith submitted, together with complete lists of warrants drawn against the funds of such districts since January 1, 1889."
"District No. 26, BEAVER CREEK. --- Warrant No. 72, issued February 13, 1892, for $75, to Fred Stephens, for teachers' salary, cashed by E. W. French, appears from the records of the district fraudulent, no voucher for such a warrant having been issued by the trustees. During the school year in which such warrant was issued 5 months of school were taught, while warrants in payment of the services of a teacher for 6 months of school were issued."
"District No. 6, COTTONWOOD. --- Warrants No. 479, Nov. 19, 1890; No. 28, Jan. 12, 1891; No. 254, May 23, 1891; No. 336, June 30, 1891, issued to F. H. Mason, aggregating $266.50, reported by the trustees as unauthorized, no such teacher having taught in the district. While on the journal such warrants have been noted as charged also to District No. 19. No record exists in the office of the County School Superintendent showing the existence of District No. 19, and in the books of the County Treasurer as well as the County Superintendent of Schools there is nothing to show that there was ever an appropriation of school funds to District No. 19, if such a district did exist."
"District No. 14, CHERRY CREEK. --- Warrant No. 352 for $55 issued Sept. 1, 1891, to Bank of Arizona on an assigned account is reported by the school trustees as having been issued on a voucher which originally called for $38. The trustees report that owing to incomplete records they cannot arrive at any further conclusions as to the correctness of the accounts charged against the district."
"District No. 16, OAK CREEK. --- Warrant No. 211, issued May 19, 1890, in favor of A. M. McElwee, for charts for $125, and warrants Nos. 488, 555, and 563, issued in the same year and aggregating $46.40, are reported as unauthorized by the records of the district." ...
"District No. 3, LOWER VERDE. --- Warrant No. 302, issued July 17, 1890, for $75, to McElwee & Pierce for charts, is reported fraudulent by the board of trustees, no voucher for such warrant having been issued, and the charts claimed to be thereby paid for, having never been received by the district."
(Arizona Weekly Journal-Miner; November 29, 1893; partial list; page 1.)