Stephen A. Douglas Puter
Stephen A. Douglas Puter (January 6, 1857 – ?) was a criminal and author from the U.S. state of Oregon. After being convicted of land fraud, he lived as a fugitive for several months before capture, wrote a book after conviction, received a Presidential pardon, and later was convicted of mail fraud.
Puter was born on January 6, 1857 in Trinity County, California, and moved with his family to Humboldt County, California two years later. As a young man, he worked as a surveyor and a logger. He left California in 1888 and moved to Portland, Oregon.
Oregon land fraud scandal
Early in the 20th century, Puter was instrumental in carrying out the Oregon land fraud scandal, which transferred tens of thousands of acres of federal lands given to the Oregon and California Railroad to private hands, ultimately benefiting large timber companies and some Oregon politicians, including U.S. Senators John H. Mitchell and Binger Hermann, who was later exonerated. Puter was considered the kingpin of the scandal. In 1902, he took his family to Berkeley, California. He was indicted early in 1905; allegations besides the land schemes included bribing then-Senator Mitchell $2,000.
Puter fled Oregon before being sentenced as had two of the other defendants. While they fled to China on a steamship, Puter was in an armed confrontation with two U.S. Secret Service officers in Boston, Massachusetts in March and was subsequently a fugitive for several months before being captured in late May 1906 by the Alameda, California police who also discovered weapons in his rented room. After his capture and return to Oregon he served two years in the Multnomah County Jail.
In 1906, while incarcerated, Puter co-wrote the book Looters of the Public Domain with Horace Stevens, a former land office clerk. In the detailed tell-all, Puter both confessed to and accused others of their role in the scandal, and in it were portraits of his co-conspirators and copies of documents confirming their criminal acts. In his book he wrote a clear statement of the scope of the scandal:
Thousands upon thousands of acres, which included the very cream of timber claims in Oregon and Washington, were secured by Eastern lumberman and capitalists,…and nearly all of the claims, to my certain knowledge, were fraudulently obtained.
The timber land scandals were not limited to Oregon. The California Redwood Company in Humboldt County had also been running a claim scheme to secure title to thousands of acres of redwood timberlands.
President Theodore Roosevelt pardoned Puter after he had served 18 months of his sentence so that he could turn state's evidence. His testimony led to the indictment of Mitchell, Hermann and John N. Williamson, who made up three-fourths of Oregon's congressional delegation, as well as a number of other prominent Oregonians and federal officials. In 1907 he testified to having bribed a grand jury during the land schemes in Oregon.
In July 1916, he was indicted, along with his sons and a son-in-law, for "Illegal Use of the Mails and Fraud" during the perpetration of the land fraud scandal. He and his sons were listed as residents of Berkeley, California, the son-in-law was from San Francisco. Puter was on a train headed to Portland at the time of the indictment and was to be arrested on arrival. Puter and some of the codefendents pleaded guilty to the charges.
Later life and death
Puter's date of death remains unknown.
- Puter, S. A. D.; Horace Stevens (1908). Looters of the Public Domain: Embracing a Complete Exposure of the Fraudulent Systems of Acquiring Titles to the Public Lands of the United States. Portland, Oregon: The Portland Printing House.
- Engeman, Richard H. (2009). The Oregon Companion: An Historical Gazetteer of The Useful, The Curious, and The Arcane. Portland, Oregon: Timber Press. pp. 280, 318. ISBN 978-0-88192-899-0.
- "Oregon History: The Oregon System". Oregon Blue Book (online). Oregon Secretary of State. Retrieved 2011-01-23.
- "Mitchell Indictment Stirs All Oregon; Government says Senator took Bribe in Land Cases" (PDF). The New York Times. January 2, 1905. Retrieved February 16, 2014.
- Sydney Russell Wrightington; Horace Williams Fuller; Arthur Weightman Spencer; Thomas Tileston Baldwin (1905). The Green Bag. Boston Book Company. pp. 485–488.
- "Burns Comes After Puter: Ready to Take Fugitive Who Escaped Him to Oregon". San Francisco Call. 24 May 1906. p. 7. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- "S.A.D. Puter arrested by Alameda Police". San Francisco Call. May 22, 1906. p. 7. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- Cain, Allen (2006). "Land Claims in T.11S R.7E". Oregon Historical Society. Retrieved April 5, 2018.
- "An Oregon Century: 100 Years of Oregon". The Oregonian. Retrieved 2011-01-23.
- Fred Albert Shannon (1977). The Farmer's Last Frontier: Agriculture, 1860-1897. M.E. Sharpe. pp. 62–. ISBN 978-0-87332-099-3.
The California Redwood Company, Puter says, ran "men into the land office by the hundreds." Twenty-five alien sailors at a time were marched from their boardinghouses to the courthouse to file their first citizenship papers; then to the local land office to take out claims; next to a notary public to "execute an acknowledgement of a blank deed"; thence to the paymasters for their fifty dollars each; and finally back to their ships or boardinghouses."
- "Tried to bribe GrandJury --- Puter; Land Fraud Witness tells of his corrupt transactions in Oregon" (PDF). The New York Times. March 22, 1907. Retrieved 16 February 2014.
- "S.A.D. Puter and 2 Sons are Indicted: Son-in Law Is Also Indicted: Fraud Conspiracy Charged: Illegal use of Mails is Specific Accusation". The Morning Oregonian. July 26, 1916.
- United States. Dept. of Justice (1920). Annual Report of the Attorney General of the United States. U.S. Department of Justice, Office of the Attorney General. pp. 127–.
- "Stephen Puter (1857-?)". The Oregon Encyclopedia. Retrieved November 23, 2014.