Albert B. Fall

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Albert B. Fall
Albert B. Fall.jpg
28th United States Secretary of the Interior
In office
March 5, 1921 – March 4, 1923
President Warren G. Harding
Preceded by John Barton Payne
Succeeded by Hubert Work
United States Senator
from New Mexico
In office
March 27, 1912 – March 11, 1921
Succeeded by Holm O. Bursum
Personal details
Born Albert Bacon Fall
(1861-11-26)November 26, 1861
Frankfort, Kentucky
Died November 30, 1944(1944-11-30) (aged 83)
El Paso, Texas
Political party Republican
Spouse(s) Emma Garland Morgan Fall
Children John Morgan Fall
Alexina Chase Fall
Caroline Everhart Fall
Jouett Elliott Fall
Profession Politician, Lawyer
Military service
Service/branch United States Army
Rank Captain
Battles/wars Spanish-American War

Albert Bacon Fall (November 26, 1861 – November 30, 1944) was a United States Senator from New Mexico and the Secretary of the Interior under President Warren G. Harding, infamous for his involvement in the Teapot Dome scandal.

Early life and family[edit]

Fall was born in Frankfort, Kentucky, to William R. and Edmonia Taylor Fall. He attended schools as a child in Nashville, Tennessee, but was primarily self-educated. By age eleven Fall was employed in a cotton factory. This is most likely the cause of respiratory health problems he suffered throughout his life. Due to his illnesses, Fall moved west as a young man to seek a better climate. He tried Oklahoma and Texas, but eventually he settled in Las Cruces, New Mexico Territory, where he practiced law.

Between 1879–1881, he was a teacher while he studied law. On May 7, 1883, Fall married Emma Garland Morgan in Clarksville, Texas. They had four children: a son, Jack Morgan Fall, and daughters Alexina Chase, Caroline Everhart and Jouett Elliott. Jack Fall and his sister Caroline died within a week of each other during the influenza epidemic that swept the world in 1918. The family lived at the Three Rivers Ranch in the Tularosa Basin. Fall also had a home in El Paso, Texas.

Career[edit]

Fall was admitted to the bar in 1891. He served in the New Mexico House of Representatives from 1891 to 1892. In 1892 and 1893 he served on the territorial council. Fall was appointed judge of the third judicial district 1893, and associate justice of the New Mexico Supreme Court later the same year.

Fall served on the Territorial Council again from 1896 to 1897, the territory's attorney general in 1897.

During the Spanish-American War, Fall served as captain of an infantry company.

He again served on the Territorial Council from 1902 to 1904. He served as attorney general again in 1907. In 1910 he was a delegate to the territory's constitutional convention.

Albert Jennings Fountain murder case[edit]

Fall and his neighbor, Oliver M. Lee, were land owners in the area and were rivals to attorney Albert Jennings Fountain. Fall's association with Lee began when Fall helped Lee in a criminal case. Lee employed Billy McNew and Jim Gilliland, both known as gunmen. "In return for the legal services of Fall, Lee and his men terrorized men and voters on the lawyer’s behalf."[1] By the late 1890s, Lee was rustling cattle from other ranches in the area, altering the brands to resemble his own. When Lee and his gunmen were arrested, Fall handled the legal issues.[1]

Fall disliked Fountain, who showed little fear of the Fall-Lee faction, and challenged them openly in the courts and political arena. On February 1, 1896, Fountain and his eight-year-old son Henry disappeared near the White Sands on the way to their home in Mesilla, New Mexico. Fall successfully defended the men accused of the murder—Oliver Lee, Jim Gilliland and Billy McNew—at a trial in Hillsboro, New Mexico.

Evidence at the trial suggested Lee was involved in Fountain's murder and disappearance, but investigators had to deal with a corrupt court system and Fall's legal skill. The bodies of Fountain and his son were never found, which hampered the prosecution. The charges against McNew were dismissed by the court, while Lee and Gilliland were acquitted.[1]

Pat Garrett case[edit]

In 1908 Fall successfully defended the accused killer of former Sheriff Pat Garrett. Garrett, famous for killing outlaw Billy the Kid in 1881, had pursued the suspects in the Fountain murders.

Fall (center) with U.S. Senators Marcus A. Smith (left) and Frank B. Brandegee (right) in 1918

Election to the Senate[edit]

As a member of the Republican Party, Fall was elected as one of the first U.S. Senators from New Mexico in the year 1912. It was widely known that he made a political alliance with Thomas B. Catron, the man who served alongside him, to ensure that both would be elected. This controversy made Fall a target of the local Republican Party, as they believed Fall had not contributed sufficiently to their efforts to secure New Mexico's statehood, and was not worthy of their nomination. Fall was also severely disliked by Democrats. This came to a head when, under Senate rules, Fall's term was over in March 1913, so his name was again up before the legislature for re-appointment. After various votes, the legislature sent Fall's name to the governor. Governor McDonald, on the advice of his Democratic legal advisor, Summers Burkhart, said that the legislature's procedure had been illegal, and failed to sign the credentialing papers in an attempt to oust Fall by forcing a special session of the legislature and a new vote.[2] It didn't work; Fall won the special legislative election.[3] When re-election came up in 1918, Fall was ambivalent about running, but nonetheless accepted the Republican nomination.[4] In the general election he overcame a bitter challenge from Democrat William B. Walton,[5] even though Fall never made a campaign speech.[6] Some commentators suggest that it was sympathy for Fall's tragic loss of his two children in the flu epidemic that won him the election.[7]

In the Senate, Fall served as chairman of the Committee on Expenditures in the Department of Commerce and Labor, was noted for his support of the suffrage movement and his extreme isolationist tendencies when the U.S. entered World War I. As a leading antagonist to Democratic President Woodrow Wilson, Fall was permitted to visit the stricken President in his White House bedroom in October 1919, hoping to gauge whether the Chief Executive was well enough to remain in office. "I have been praying for you, Sir," Fall sought to offer sincerely. "Which way Senator?" Wilson replied, drawing laughter from his rival.[8]

After Catron retired following the 1916 Congressional elections, Fall lost his only local political ally.[citation needed] However, while in the Senate he had become close friends with the people who would later make up the infamous Ohio Gang, which secured him a cabinet position in March 1921. While local politicians may have opposed him, his popularity with the residents of New Mexico was reportedly very high.

Teapot Dome scandal[edit]

Main article: Teapot Dome scandal
Albert Fall's Secretary of the Interior nomination
Swearing-in ceremony for Secretary of the Interior Albert Fall

Fall was appointed to the position of Secretary of the Interior by President Warren G. Harding in March 1921. Soon after his appointment, Harding convinced Edwin Denby, the Secretary of the Navy, that Fall's department should take over responsibility for the Naval Reserves at Elk Hills, California, Buena Vista, California, and Teapot Dome, Wyoming. This last setting became the namesake of the scandal to erupt in April 1922 when the Wall Street Journal reported that Secretary Fall had decided that two of his friends, oilmen Harry F. Sinclair (Mammoth Oil Corporation) and Edward L. Doheny (Pan-American Petroleum and Transport Company), should be given leases to drill in parts of these Naval Reserves without open bidding.

His acceptance of bribes for the leases resulted in the Teapot Dome scandal. During congressional hearings concerning the scandal in 1924 he said something which was later adapted into the 2007 film There Will Be Blood:

"Sir, if you have a milkshake and I have a milkshake and my straw reaches across the room, I’ll end up drinking your milkshake."[9]

The investigation found Fall guilty of conspiracy and bribery, $385,000 having been paid to him by Edward L. Doheny. Fall was jailed for one year as a result—the first former cabinet officer sentenced to prison as a result of misconduct in office.[10]

Doheny was not only acquitted on the charge of bribing Fall, but Doheny's corporation foreclosed on Fall's home in Tularosa Basin, New Mexico, because of "unpaid loans" which turned out to be that same $100,000 bribe. Harry Sinclair was fined and served six months for contempt of court.

Albert Fall died, November 30, 1944, after a long illness, in El Paso, Texas. He was buried in Evergreen Cemetery in El Paso.[11]

Further reading on the Fountain murder case[edit]

  • Murder on the White Sands: The Disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain by Corey Recko, 2007, University of North Texas Press

See also[edit]

Notes[edit]

  1. ^ a b c Murders of Albert Jennings Fountain at www.desertusa.com
  2. ^ Twitchell, Ralph Emerson (1911) The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Volume V. Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, p. 122, OCLC 3828708.
  3. ^ Twitchell, op.cit. p. 203
  4. ^ Stratton, David H. (1998) Tempest over Teapot Dome: The Story of Albert B. Fall. University of Oklahoma Press, Norman, Oklahoma, pp. 146-152, ISBN 0-8061-3078-4.
  5. ^ Owen, Gordon R. (1996) The Two Alberts: Fountain and Fall. Yucca Tree Press, Las Cruces, New Mexico, USA, p. 398, ISBN 1-881325-20-2.
  6. ^ Stratton, op.cit. p. 151.
  7. ^ Owen, op.cit. p. 399, ISBN 1-881325-20-2.
  8. ^ Berg, A. Scott (2013). Wilson. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons. p. 661. ISBN 978-0-399-15921-3. 
  9. ^ Rosenstone, Robert A., & Parvulesu, Constantin (2013). A Companion to the Historical Film. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 319–320. ISBN 1118322665.
  10. ^ "Senate Investigates the "Teapot Dome" Scandal". Historical Minutes: 1921–1940. Art & History, United States Senate. http://www.senate.gov/artandhistory/history/minute/Senate_Investigates_the_Teapot_Dome_Scandal.htm.
  11. ^ Biographical Directory of the American Congress, 1774-1971. U.S. Government Printing Office (1971).

External links[edit]

United States Senate
Preceded by
None
U.S. Senator (Class 2) from New Mexico
1912 – 1921
Served alongside: Thomas B. Catron, Andrieus A. Jones
Succeeded by
Holm O. Bursom
Political offices
Preceded by
John B. Payne
U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Served under: Warren G. Harding

1921–1923
Succeeded by
Hubert Work

 This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.