Hillsdale County has seen its share of scandals. Here's a sample involving people from opposite ends of the social spectrum.
Scandal I: In the early 1900's, during one Fair Week it was apparent that a lot more than genteel conversation over tea had been going on at the Tally-Ho Inn, owned by May Wheeler. Complaints of "drunken revelry" from the cottagers near May's establishment were numerous. Inquiries from unknown drunken men about the location of the Tally-Ho Inn both aggravated and frightened residents in the neighborhood. Complaints poured into the Sheriff's Office. Sheriff Keas, as reported in the Camden Advance,"stated that he had been for a long time trying to get evidence that would lead to a conviction" (for unlawfully selling liquor). City police reported that they had observed a load of beer being taken from the fairgrounds, but they couldn't verify where it went.
On Thursday of Fair Week, around 11:00 p.m., Deputy Sheriffs J. Witney Watkins of Allen, Horace Kline of Camden and Harvey Helmick of North Adams were on duty at the Sheriff's Department. The sheriff himself was also present, deeply perplexed. The three deputies proposed a little impromptu sting operation at May Wheeler's establishment. All three were strangers to the owner of the Tally-Ho Inn and to its employees. They would enter the inn as customers and see if they could find the evidence that so far had eluded Sheriff Keas.
The sheriff took them in his car to the water works and the deputies walked from there. They entered the Tally Ho Inn behaving as though already under the influence. Whitney was apparently the star performer. The boys reported that "he played the part to perfection and acted for all the world just like 'a gosh darn rube from a high grass town.'" He fell off his chair and then tripped over it, precipitating a disgusted remark from the "girl inmate" who had been sitting on his lap. She announced that Whit was drunk and transferred her bottom to the lap of another deputy.
One of the deputies had brought with him a bottle from the jail, and he had no trouble having it refilled with whiskey. The boys bought one round of three drinks for forty cents and another round of four drinks for sixty cents. (May Wheeler had an understanding of how to make money. Once a man was on his way to alcoholic relaxation he wouldn't recognize the increase in the cost of the drinks.)
When the three "rubes" left about midnight they were invited to return the next night and told they would have "a h___ of a time" (whatever that implied). Sheriff Keas got his evidence. May Wheeler was convicted in the Circuit Court on a criminal charge, sentenced on July 27, 1906 and spent nine months in the Detroit House of Correction.
Scandal 2: Henry Waldron came to Hillsdale County as a surveyor in 1839. By the mid 1800's he was an honored and valued member of the county, serving several terms in the U.S. House of Representatives. His brother William followed Henry to Hillsdale County in 1841 and eventually entered the banking business.
It was William's first child, Charles W. Waldron, who besmirched the family's good name. Following his father into banking, Charles owned a controlling interest in the Second National Bank of Hillsdale by the time he was thirty years old. Seemingly a young man on the way up, he voluntarily liquidated the bank and went into partnership with Ezra L. Koon to found the Waldron Bank while maintaining an interest in another savings bank in Reading.
In his mid-30's, Charles enjoyed an "unblemished reputation," being rated by Dun and Co. as "of the highest credit" when he suddenly behaved in a reckless, unethical way. Although his behavior surprised his friends and customers, his scheme to abscond with a large amount of money had been carefully planned. The previous year he sold the entirety of his Hillsdale property, asking the Detroit buyer to keep the sale secret until "a certain occasion should arise." Then, in lightening succession two weeks before he disappeared, he attempted to defraud F.W. Stock of Stock's Mill of $10,000, secured money from various sources in Detroit and Chicago on the basis of his sterling financial reputation and withdrew about $100,000 from his two banks in Hillsdale County. His wife was left with $25,000, a small house, a bruised ego and two children. With his dastardly acts, Charles achieved a questionable fame when his transgressions were displayed for the world byThe New York Times. The salacious part of the story (and probably what caused The New York Times to pick it up) was that Charles became "unnecessarily intimate" with a married woman who was identified as Mrs. Nellie Bidwell of Quincy. He eloped to Canada with Mrs. Bidwell, leaving his partners Ezra Koon and Burr Northrup in the lurch. Quickly tiring of Mrs. Bidwell, Charles left her in Montreal with a small amount of money.
Charles's former partners hastened to take care of their depositors. Then they sent their lawyers after Charles, who kept one step ahead of them by traveling to Europe. The lawyers finally found him in London and were able to get enough money (which he carried with him) to pay off all his debts. Charles also promised to return to Hillsdale County. It was not to be. As The New York Times put it, "(T)he restless ex-Banker Waldron of Hillsdale, whose sudden flight to Europe with a large amount of securities in his possession and subsequent return and settlement with most of his creditors still fresh in the public mind, has not settled down in his old home after all. It now turns out that between fear of his wife and his former partner, the Hon. E.L. Koon, he is still a wanderer and is said to be putting in his time between New York and Montreal." Charles had received about $75,000 in his father's will, which was increased to about $100,000 with a bequest from his uncle Henry Waldron. He had plenty of money to continue to live an affluent life.
The result of these two stories should give us pause. May Wheeler sold liquor without a license (and probably sold the services of her employees as well). Charles Waldron stole thousands of dollars and abandoned his family. May paid for her crime with time in prison. Charles, after being hounded across the Atlantic Ocean to Europe by lawyers intent on getting the money back, continued to live a life of comfort and freedom.
JoAnne P. Miller