UA Journey

1925-1927 Thomas Marquam

Fairbanks

The Lawyer Who Flouted Convention and Almost Got Away With It

Condensed from chapter 13 titled "Tom Marquam" in the Book "Good Time Girls" by Lael Morgan. (Reprinted with permission)

Few had more reason for optimism than young Tom Marquam. Articulate and tall, he was extremely handsome with striking blue eyes and a peachy complexion. His father, Judge Philip A. Marquam, was the largest landholder in Multnomah County, Oregon. Marquam Hill, crowing 298 acres that the judge owned in Portland was named in his honor, as was the magnificent Marquam Theatre downtown.

Tom, the youngest of the judge's four sons and seven daughters, became a barkeeper in 1881, but he aspired to emulate his father's career and soon enrolled at the University of Oregon, from which he graduated with high marks, and Stanford, where he excelled in Spanish, theater, and sports. His classmates included Herbert Hoover, later president of the United States.

But his father had gotten his start by going west for the California gold rush of 1849, and Tom was excited by news of the Klondike stampede. Half a dozen young Portland lawyers also contracted "gold fever," and in the spring of 1897 they headed north together to pioneer jurisprudence. Tom valued his American ties and liked the look of Alaska.

At age twenty-six, Tom enthusiastically welcomed the start of the twentieth century with a group of fast friends.

Nicknamed "Fighting Tom," he was elected to represent Republicans from Skagway and Haines at the 1900 territorial Republican convention in Juneau.He lost his bid to become Alaska's delegate to the National Republican Convention, but represented Haines as a witness before a U.S. Senate subcommittee investigating conditions in Alaska in the summer of 1903.

Somewhere along the way-probably in Skagway at the start of the new century-he met Iowa Allman, a handsome brunette with social grace and a perfect hourglass figure. She had a seven-year-old son, Stanford "Jack" Allman, whom Tom came to love even more than Iowa, but he feared marriage would damage his political future and she was not insistent. Although she came from a respected Iowa family, much of her past was murky, and it was rumored that she had been a sporting woman before becoming Tom's mistress.

For both, Fairbanks seemed a perfect place to make a fresh start.

Tom quickly established himself as the most popular criminal lawyer in the territory, becoming the first choice for prostitutes, gamblers, and bar owners, not only because he ran with that crowd, but because he usually won. When he defended a major case business men closed their offices to attend. His enviable success record did not endear the articulate attorney to self-righteous citizens, however, and Tom made additional enemies by becoming the editor of the Fairbanks Times in 1908 and using the newspaper to badger his opponents.

Revenge came swiftly when District Attorney James Crossley, an ambitious political opponent, engineered an arrest to publicly embarrass Tom. Tom was arrested with nearly a dozen other prominent citizens who were not given to church-going. The majority, charged with cohabiting in a state of fornication, quickly pleaded guilty and paid the fifty-dollar fine, but Crossley had singled out Tom to indict for adultery with his mistress. The crusading D.A. had discovered that Iowa had previously married a local man and failed to divorce him before moving in with Tom. (court proceedings removed)

The News Miner reported. "He stands cleared on a bad charge and his friends congratulate him on the outcome of the trial."

Two years later Thomas Marquam married Mrs. Iowa V. Allman in a quiet ceremony performed on the Marquam residence at Ninth and Lacey. Together Tom and Iowa journeyed to Portland to attend the huge funeral of Judge Philip Marquam, who had suffered financial ruin shortly after Tom settled in Alaska.

Iowa moved to Seattle in 1916 to seek medical attention for a severe illness, leaving Tom alone. Rumors circulated that he had divorced her, but her death in February of 1917 apparently came as a shock, and he listed her as "the beloved wife of Thomas A. Marquam" in her funeral announcement.

Tom sought solace in Fairbanks's red light district, which increasingly became the focus of his private life and his law practice. "There are dozens of lawyers in town but every time there is a hooker, I get to defend them," he told a family member, bemused. But in truth, he still found the demimonde more exciting than straight-laced society.

Surprisingly, this was not a stigma when Tom reentered politics in 1920 as a candidate for city council. A top vote-getter, Tom was subsequently elected mayor, which proved how desperate Fairbanks was for leadership. Tough times had come to the former boomtown. In ten years the population of Fairbanks had dropped from 9,320 to 1,100.

Salvation lay in cheap transportation which would make it possible to import coal from Healy and successfully lobbying congress to build a railroad to Fairbanks from the port of Seward. As an unexpected side effect, the Fairbanks Exploration Company undertook an extensive exploration and drilling project, buying out small mining companies to launch large-scale operations that ultimately put the town back on its feet.

With prosperity in sight and the election of Warren G. Harding as U.S. President, Tom's star ascended. City fathers decided to invite the new president to Fairbanks to drive the final golden spike in the railroad, and Tom persuaded Harding to make the long, difficult trip.

The only problem was that, for a year or so, Tom had been enjoying an affair with a prostitute named Ray Alderman, and everyone in town knew it. A delegation of irate matrons demanded that, as presidential host, Tom abandon his illicit union. Since the respectable women of the town had clout, he promised to end the clandestine relationship. They were less than pleased when they discovered he'd quietly married Ray before Judge Charles E. Bunnell in February 1920.

Tom's cherished dream was to become a judge as his father had been, and in 1921 the Fairbanks Republican Club nominated him for the federal post. Tom was surprised when the appointment failed.

Tom took consolation in an appointment to the Board of Regents of the new Alaska Agricultural College (later the University of Alaska). He easily won reelection as mayor, and unbeknownst to his Fairbanks constituents, he had a tentative promise of a South American ambassadorship from Warren Harding.

When it became obvious that Dan Sutherland, Alaska's delegate to Congress, was at odds with the president and would not escort Harding on his visit, Tom happily volunteered to do it himself, with his bride at his side. Harding, a man of the world with a mistress of his own, appreciated the mayor's pretty wife. He invited the Marquams to accompany him in his private railroad car, and Tom's appointment as ambassador seemed assured until Harding died less than three weeks later.

Undaunted, Tom quietly began laying the foundations for a congressional campaign by hosting a dinner for Alaska Governor Scott Bone and his wife. Governor Bone appointed Tom to the board of the Governor's National Aeronautical Association, and Tom soon became Fairbanks's delegate to the Republican National Convention.

In 1925, amist grateful tributes, Tom Marquam retired as mayor and announced he would run as an independent candidate for Congress. He had not only brought Fairbanks out of debt but left it with a substantial cash balance, and he easily found support from the voters of Interior Alaska. Tom's enemies moved to make an issue of Tom's private life. They used personal letters to attack the character of the Marquams. The letterwriting, word-of-mouth smear campaign was so effective that Tom lost, 6,960 to 4,242.

In the fall of 1928 a federal grand jury in Washington, D.C. indicted him on four counts of election fraud on the technicality that he failed to file returns on his election expenditures, and a bench warrant was issued for his arrest. Judge Cecil Clegg fixed bail at $5,000 and ordered his removal to Washington D.C., for the trial.

Tom pleaded not guilty, and although there wasn't enough evidence to convict him, the case dragged on for a couple of years. In March of 1928 Tom moved to New York City, apparently for medical treatment and to be closer to his adopted son Jack.

Despite the fact that Tom Marquam had been battling heath problems, his death on November 23, 1931, at age fifty-seven was not well explained. One newspaper reported he had died of a heart attack; another referred to several operations and a long illness. There were rumors that he had been murdered and it was also suggested that he had committed suicide in a fit of depression over the still unsettled charges against him.

Jack Allman held a memorial service in New York, and the Marquam family in Oregon held a quiet funeral.

Tom's widow, Ray, short of funds, mortgaged their home and entered a relationship with a Fairbanks carpenter who eventually walked out. In 1935, she sold out, disappearing from Alaska record.


Link:

This link is the history of the Marquam family in Oregon.

He resigned from the Board in 1927. John H. Kelly was appointed to take his place on the Board.

Sources:

BOR file

Morgan, Lael. Good time girls. Canada: Epicenter Press Inc., 1998.