A contentious 1888 election tainted by voter fraud | PostIndependent.com

A contentious 1888 election tainted by voter fraud

James Hodges was a Republican force in local and Colorado politics for nearly 30 years. From 1884 to 1893 he served as register of the U.S. Land Office in Glenwood Springs, and was Garfield County judge and mayor of Glenwood Springs. Courtesy Frontier Historical Society
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A politician thinks of the next election. A statesman, the next generation.

— James Freeman Clarke

Election Day, Nov. 6, 1888, dawned in Glenwood Springs, signaling the beginning of the end of a contentious election season. During the previous month, Republican James L. Hodges had vigorously challenged Democratic incumbent Thomas A. Rucker for judge of the 9th Judicial District. Allegations flew between the candidates and the parties. Now, it was time to for the voters to make the ultimate decision.

Hodges was the current Garfield County judge, a seasoned politician, and a force that invoked ire among Democrats. Born April 1, 1833, in rural New York state, Hodges and been a teacher, superintendent of schools, and Minnesota farmer. With the coming of the Civil War, Hodges enlisted in the Union Army, rose to the rank of captain, and saw action against Confederate forces. His growing passion for politics ignited at the end of the Civil War when he relocated to Pulaski County, Ark. As a Republican from the North, he was known as a carpetbagger, and was one of the delegates involved in the ratification of the Arkansas State Constitution in 1868. He was admitted to the Arkansas Bar, landed a lucrative contract to construct an addition to the Arkansas State Penitentiary and to board its prisoners, and then was appointed Postmaster of Little Rock, Ark., by President Ulysses S. Grant. In 1878 he came to Leadville, where he was an Internal Revenue Collector, and then in 1884 was appointed United States Land Office Register in Glenwood Springs by President Chester A. Arthur. Hodges’ passionate active dedication to the Republican Party elevated him into leadership positions within the party in Colorado.

In contrast, Rucker had held the district judgeship since early 1886. An attorney by profession and former Pitkin County judge, he was a Missouri native born May 1, 1844. Also a Civil War veteran, he had served in Bledsoe’s Light Artillery on the Confederate side. He attended Bethany College in West Virginia, and was admitted to the Missouri Bar. During his short time on the bench of the District Court, Rucker worked to expedite the languishing trial of Elijah Cravens, and was presiding over the new trial of Herman Babcock in the murder of James Riland.

As the autumn of 1888 progressed, Colorado’s Democratic newspapers unleashed a campaign against Hodges, discrediting his work in Arkansas, questioning his credentials as a lawyer, and attempting to cast doubt upon his morals. Hodges in return, criticized Rucker’s handling of the Cravens murder case.

On Election Day in Glenwood Springs, men began to cast their ballots. In the 1880s, each party printed their own ballots, and voters picked up the ballot corresponding to their party affiliation. If they chose not to vote for a candidate on the ballot, they drew a line through the name. Henry Arney, a middle-aged and unmarried miner, canvassed those on the street, asking if they had voted. When he received a no as a response, he thrust a Republican ballot into their hand and said that $2 would be paid to them for the vote. When questioned further about the source of the money, Arney stated the funds came from candidate Hodges. In one case, Arney allegedly disappeared into Hodges’ office and returned with payment. Unfortunately for Arney and for Hodges, some of the men paid were deputies hired to look for voter fraud. Arney was tried for vote buying. Hodges responded, “Anyone who endorses such stuff is an infamous and willful liar and slanderer.” However, when the votes were counted, Rucker won the election by a good majority.

Hodges was later elected mayor of Glenwood Springs. He dedicated the Grand Avenue Bridge in 1891, and then a few days later, welcomed President Benjamin Harrison to Glenwood Springs. He moved to Denver, and in 1898 was appointed chief assayer of the Denver Mint by President William McKinley. However, Colorado’s Republican Party was changing in philosophy as younger politicians sought to take power and control. Members of Colorado’s Republican Party met with President Theodore Roosevelt, pressing for Hodges’ removal from his position at the Denver Mint. President Roosevelt concurred, relieving Hodges of his duties in 1903.

Hodges died in Denver on Dec. 5, 1905, from the effects of a paralytic stroke. Judge Rucker served as District judge until 1901, when the Colorado Democratic Party asked him to step aside. He continued the practice of law, and died in Aspen, on March 6, 1918. At their passing, both men were thanked for their dedication to their passions. Both left their indelible marks on the history of Colorado.

Willa Kane is former archivist of and a current volunteer with the Frontier Historical Society and Museum. “Frontier Diary,” which appears the first Tuesday of every month, is provided to the Post Independent by the museum, 1001 Colorado Ave., Glenwood Springs. Fall, winter and spring hours are 1-4 p.m. Monday, Thursday, Friday and Saturday. For more information, call 945-4448.

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