A. A. Ames

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Doc Ames

Albert Alonzo "Doc" Ames (January 18, 1842 – November 16, 1911) held four non-consecutive terms as mayor of Minneapolis, Minnesota. Dr. Ames was known for his service to his country and assistance of the poor, sometimes giving medical treatment to those who could not afford it. However, he became exceedingly more famous by creating the most corrupt government in the city's history. The story became known across the United States when muckraking journalist Lincoln Steffens wrote an article in 1903 for McClure's Magazine about the corruption and the efforts of a local grand jury to stop it. The article, The Shame of Minneapolis, was later included in a collection of similar exposes in the book The Shame of the Cities, published in 1904.

Early life[edit]

Ames was born in Garden Prairie, Boone County, Illinois, on January 18, 1842. Ames was the fourth child to a family, soon to be, of seven. At the young age of ten, Ames relocated with his father, Dr. Alfred Elisha Ames, and mother, Martha A. Ames, to Fort Snelling located in the Minnesota Territory.[1] At this time during the spring of 1852, Minnesota was still young—the locality was nameless and resided in a portion of the Fort Snelling reservation. Ames attended local public schools, which were partially run by the federal government. His particular public school was at the time a department of the Washington school, located on the block now occupied by the city hall and court house.

Starting in 1857, while still in high school, Ames became employed as a "printer's devil" and a newspaper carrier for the Northwestern Democrat. The Northwestern Democrat, published by W.A. Hotchkiss, was the first paper issued in Minneapolis that served the west side of the river; the original publishing building used to stand on the southeast corner of Third Street and Fifth Avenue South. It was through his efforts as a "printer's devil" that Ames attained his first dollar. After graduating from high school at the age of sixteen, Ames jumped on the opportunity to become immersed in the medical field alongside his father. Though he received much of his experience and training by observing and working with his father, Ames attended Rush Medical College in Chicago and received his M.D. on February 5, 1862, at the age of 20. Soon after, April 21, 1862, the established Dr. Ames married Sarah Strout, the daughter of Captain Richard Strout of Minneapolis.


According to Harold Zink:

Although the elder doctor had been active in the Episcopal Church, his son had no love for religion. As he advanced in years, his bitterness toward the church increased in intensity until it finally burst out into open hostility. However, he interested himself in fraternal orders and occupied a place of some prominence in various Minneapolis lodges. As a Mason he stood forth as master, high priest, and commander; as an Elk he held the office of first exalted ruler; as a Knight of Pythias he filled the offices of grand chancellor and chancellor commander, and he also belonged to the George Morgan Post of the G.A.R. His chief hobby was game hunting.[2]

Military career[edit]

In August 1862, after graduating with his M.D, Dr. Albert Alonzo Ames returned to Minneapolis to start practicing medicine. However, this aim was cut short due to rising Indian troubles on the frontier. The new doctor was not able to settle down for long with his degree. In August 1862, Ames, along with a few others, raised Company B of 9th Minnesota Volunteer Infantry and became involved in the Dakota War of 1862. This small war erupted between the white settlers of Minnesota and the local Dakota population. Dr. Ames was appointed orderly sergeant and was ordered to gather up the men for active duty. During this spur of enlistments, the men of the 9th regiment were allowed fifteen days of leave in order to gather their things and settle their affairs before each was rushed to the front lines where the Indians were rapidly advancing on Minneapolis.

In the fall of 1863, Dr. Ames accompanied his regiment south to Fort Rigdely, a hot spot for Indian invasion. Luckily, during his participation with Company B, Ames gained experience in surgery which helped advance his talent and studies. A few days later, Ames was commissioned assistant surgeon to the Seventh Minnesota Regiment Infantry Volunteers. After witnessing combat at the Battle of Acton in 1863, Ames was shipped south to provide medical services during the American Civil War.[3] He served with this regiment for three years, eventually being promoted to the rank of surgeon major in July 1864. He returned to Minneapolis when hostilities ceased on August 18, 1865.

Political career[edit]

Following the war, Albert Alonzo Ames briefly returned to Minnesota to engage in the medical field with his father. Though his intentions in Minnesota might have not been those of a political endeavor, his popularity among Civil War veterans was such that he was elected to the state legislature. In November 1866, Dr. Ames was elected to serve in the Minnesota House of Representatives, on a soldiers' ticket, as a representative from Hennepin County. He was instrumented in the creation of an Old Soldiers Home in Minneapolis.

However, two years later, he took a leap and traveled west to California.[4] Here he joined the newspaper business, becoming managing editor of the Alta California—the leading newspaper on the Pacific coast. Albert Alonzo Ames maintained his residence out west from 1868 until 1874, the year his father became terminally ill. After his father's death, he was persuaded by relatives to take over his father's medical practice. In 1880, when a tornado devastated both St. Cloud and Sauk Rapids, "Doc Ames" arrived at the scene in order to treat the injured. This brought him to nationwide attention.


Albert Alonzo Ames maintained an interest in politics, conforming with the beliefs of the "war democrats".[5] he served on the Minneapolis City Council in 1875-1876. In 1876, Ames was elected centennial mayor of Minneapolis; however, if he wanted to be reelected, Ames must re-run each year. The following year, in 1882, he ran unsuccessfully for lieutenant governor. Therefore, in 1882 he was reelected to the same office, the position of centennial mayor of Minneapolis; again, in 1886, he was reappointed for a third time. For each of Ames's mayoral terms, he also served as a Democrat.

Though Ames showed success during his service as Mayor, he was not as successfully with his national endeavors. In 1886, he accepted the nomination for governor. With this, he asked the Democratic convention to pledge party support for a bill establishing a Soldier's Home in Minnesota. The resolution was recognized by members of the party and received support from the left and the right.

A.R McGill, his Republican opponent, was named governor elect by a very small margin. This sparked controversy over who was the actual winner, and was contested until Ames decided the effort was not worth the time.[6] Though Ames did not win the election, the Republicans accepted his suggestions about a Soldiers Home and appointed a retreat for the aged and indigent veterans to be placed where the Minnehaha river and Mississippi river converge.

He then ran as the Democratic nominee for congress and lieutenant governor; these attempts failed, largely due to the fact that Democrats were the minority in Minnesota.[3] Thoughtfully, in the late 1890s, Ames directed a more independent stance regarding politics—following Jeffersonianism and allowing his viewpoints to be directed chiefly by his sympathy for the masses. In 1900, he was elected as a Republican, taking office in 1901.[5]

Political corruption[edit]

Planning for the new administration began soon after election results were known. Doc Ames installed his brother Frederick W. Ames, "a weak, vacillating individual," as Minneapolis' police superintendent.[7] Using the spoils system, the Ames brothers fired officers appointed under the previous mayor and sold their badges to known crooks.[8] The Minneapolis police began operating like organized crime, extorting protection money from illegal businesses of various kinds.[8] They also released many criminals from the jail, and promoted Minneapolis to robbers across the country.[9] The mayor's bagman, a medical student named Irwin A. Garndner, later testified that most of the money obtained from this were delivered to the Ames' bank account. Gardner also stated, however, that the mayor was suffering from alcoholism and that his envelopes had to be delivered at carefully chosen times.[10]

Through his final term as mayor, illegal businesses multiplied. There were more saloons than churches in the City of Minneapolis.[8] Opium joints, gambling parlors, and houses of prostitution blossomed, many in the Gateway district.[8] It was speculated that women were setting up candy stores to run a legitimate business to children and workers out front, but providing the services of prostitutes in the back. A professional gambler named Nathaniel "Norm" King served as detective, and for a time Chief of Detectives in the Minneapolis Police Department.[8] The police collect "fines" from these businesses in a way that would more closely resemble the intake of Mafia protection money today.[8] Brothel madames made monthly trips to the city court's clerk to pay $100.[8] Vast amounts of money were taken in at all levels.[8] However, Ames' organization began to swirl out of control as the cops and politicians began to turn on each other.[9]


In April 1902, a new grand jury handled many normal activities, but under the leadership of foreman Hovey C. Clarke, an investigation began into the Minneapolis city government and its officials. Through the summer, the grand jurors paid private detectives, both locally known men and others from out of town, with their own money to document everything suspicious. By the end of the summer, these investigators submitted numerous indictments; and when the county prosecutor proved unwilling to indict, Clarke excused him and took over the role. The grand jurors had even succeeded in tracking down crooks and witnesses who had fled the state. In one trial, a man thought to have been a thousand miles away in Idaho or Mexico, suddenly appeared, leading the defendant to jump to his feet in the courtroom and then, later in the evening, flee the city.

Mayor Ames was finally located and cornered; therefore, he fired his brother as chief of police before resigning and then left for the remote town of West Baden, Indiana. In February 1903, he was arrested at the house of Rev. C. H. Chapin in Hancock, New Hampshire.[11] Despite a "strong fight on the part of the fugitive,"[12] Ames was extradited to Minnesota and put on trial for receiving a bribe of six hundred dollars from a prostitute.[13] Based on the testimony of his co-conspirators, including his bagman Irwin A. Gardner, Ames was found guilty and sentenced to six years in the Minnesota State Prison at Stillwater.[14]

The sentence was overturned on appeal and, after five mistrials, all legal action against him was ceased. Through all this, Albert Alonzo Ames served no time in jail. His brother Fred was sentenced to several years in the state prison, and many others were also put behind bars. City council member D. Percy Jones took over as acting mayor until the term was complete. Jones succeeded in cleaning up much of the mess in about four months of work and non-corrupt actions. The next elected mayor, J. C. Haynes, continued the cleanup process.[15]

Later life[edit]

After the end of the final trial, no further charges were filed and Dr. Ames returned to Minneapolis to practice medicine. He died quite suddenly during the night on November 16, 1911. His obituary in the Minneapolis Morning Tribune described Ames as a 33rd degree Scottish Rite Freemason, and a Knight Templar. He was also a member of the Knights of Pythias.[16][17]

After a service inside his home by a Unitarian minister, his body was cremated in Minneapolis's Lakewood Cemetery. Albert Alonzo Ames left his widow a sum of $1,410.94 and a sum of $1 to each of his surviving children.


  • "The trouble with you people is that you are trying to improve on the plan of the Creator and the Christianity of Christ. If you had been running things when our first parents were setting up housekeeping, you would not have removed Adam and Eve from the garden - you would have uprooted the Tree of Knowledge and let Adam and his wife live along without temptation."

    Addressing an assembly of ministers and laymen who demanded that he enforce the Sunday closing law for saloons.[16]


  1. ^ "Albert Alonzo 'Doc, A.A' Ames". Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. 2/29/2011. http://www.leg.state.mn.us/legdb/fulldetail.asp?ID=10892
  2. ^ Zink(1930), City Bosses in the United States, page 343.
  3. ^ a b Shutter, Marion D. "Progressive Men of Minnesota." Minnesota Legislative Reference Library. Web. 20 Apr. 2011. http://www.leg.mn/archive/LegDB/Articles/10892ProgMenMN.pdf.
  4. ^ City Bosses in the United States, Duke University Press, 1930
  5. ^ a b "Hubbard / Holmen Family History - Person Page 4." Dixie Hansen's Family History Collection. Web. 10 Apr. 2011. http://www.dxhansen.com/SSHubbard2-o/p4.htm.
  6. ^ Submission to New York Times. "DR. ALBERT A. AMES DEAD. - Indicted While Mayor of Minneapolis -- Took Court Oath as Governor. - View Article - NYTimes.com." The New York Times - Breaking News, World News & Multimedia. New York Times, 18 Nov. 1911. Web. 24 Apr. 2011. http://query.nytimes.com/mem/archive-free/pdf?res=FA0710FC355517738DDDA10994D9415B818DF1D3.
  7. ^ Steffens, Lincoln (January 1903). "The Shame of Minneapolis" (PDF). McClure’s Magazine (Minnesota Legal History Project) XX (3): 13. Retrieved March 4, 2013. 
  8. ^ a b c d e f g h Nathanson, Iric (2010). Minneapolis in the Twentieth Century. Minnesota Historical Society. pp. 44–45. ISBN 0-87351-725-3. 
  9. ^ a b Steffens, The Shame of Minneapolis.
  10. ^ City Bosses in the United States, Duke University, 1930.
  11. ^ New York Tribune, February 16, 1903.
  12. ^ Zink (1930), Page 348.
  13. ^ Zink (1930), page 348.
  14. ^ Minneapolis Tribune, May 17, 1903, page 1.
  15. ^ [1]
  16. ^ a b "Life of Doctor A. A. Ames a Political Tragedy," Minneapolis Morning Tribune, November 18, 1911, pages 7-8.
  17. ^ City Bosses in the United States, Duke University Press, 1930, p. 343, cited in Ames, Albert Alonzo "Doc, A.A.", Legislators past and present, Minnesota Legislative Reference Library

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Political offices
Preceded by
Orlando C. Merriman
Mayor of Minneapolis
April 11, 1876 – April 10, 1877
Succeeded by
John De Laittre
Preceded by
Alonzo Cooper Rand
Mayor of Minneapolis
April 11, 1882 – April 8, 1884
Succeeded by
George A. Pillsbury
Preceded by
George A. Pillsbury
Mayor of Minneapolis
April 13, 1886 – January 7, 1889
Succeeded by
Edward C. Babb
Preceded by
James Gray
Mayor of Minneapolis
January 7, 1901 – August 27, 1902
Succeeded by
David P. Jones