Albert B. Fall
|Albert B. Fall|
|28th United States Secretary of the Interior|
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
March 27, 1912 – March 11, 1921
|Succeeded by||Holm O. Bursum|
|Born||Albert Bacon Fall
November 26, 1861
|Died||November 30, 1944
El Paso, Texas
|Spouse(s)||Emma Garland Morgan Fall|
|Children||John Morgan Fall
Alexina Chase Fall
Caroline Everhart Fall
Jouett Elliott Fall
|Service/branch||United States Army|
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
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 nation in 1918. The family lived at the Three Rivers Ranch in the Tularosa Basin. Fall also had a home in El Paso, Texas.
Fall was admitted to the bar in 1891 and started practice immediately. He was appointed judge of the third judicial district in 1893. During the Spanish-American War, Fall served as captain of an infantry company.
Albert Jennings Fountain murder case
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." 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.
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.
Pat Garrett case
Election to the Senate
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 his own election. 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. It didn't work; Fall won the special legislative election. When re-election came up in 1918, Fall was ambivalent about running, but nonetheless accepted the Republican nomination. In the general election he overcame a bitter challenge from Democrat William B. Walton, even though Fall never made a campaign speech. 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.
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.
After Catron retired following the 1916 Congressional elections, Fall lost his only local political ally. 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
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."
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.
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.
Further reading on the Fountain murder case
- Murder on the White Sands: The Disappearance of Albert and Henry Fountain by Corey Recko, 2007, University of North Texas Press
- Murders of Albert Jennings Fountain at www.desertusa.com
- Twitchell, Ralph Emerson (1911) The Leading Facts of New Mexican History, Volume V. Torch Press, Cedar Rapids, Iowa, p. 122, OCLC 3828708.
- Twitchell, op.cit. p. 203
- 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.
- 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.
- Stratton, op.cit. p. 151.
- Owen, op.cit. p. 399, ISBN 1-881325-20-2.
- Berg, A. Scott (2013). Wilson. New York, NY: G.P. Putnam's Sons. p. 661. ISBN 978-0-399-15921-3.
- Rosenstone, Robert A., & Parvulesu, Constantin (2013). A Companion to the Historical Film. Malden, MA: Wiley-Blackwell. pp. 319–320. ISBN 1118322665.
- "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.
|United States Senate|
|United States Senator from New Mexico
1912 – 1921
Holm O. Bursom (R)
John B. Payne
|U.S. Secretary of the Interior
Served under: Warren G. Harding
This article incorporates public domain material from websites or documents of the Biographical Directory of the United States Congress.