The Lost Democratic Majority

This Sherlock political parody from “Sherlock Holmes Edwardian Parodies and Pastiches I” is one of my top 10 favorites. It required some in-depth research that unearthed the story behind the Hotel Burke (the promotional postcard I included not only for the beautiful image of the hotel but at the text below it that reflected the concerns of its guests), Arizona statehood, and the political rivalries that played out at the state and local level during the 1904 presidential election. One can imagine the residents of Prescott, Ariz., reading the Journal-Miner the day after, wincing or laughing at the discomfort of this poke at the local politicians’ success or failure at the polls.

The Lost Democratic Majority

“Dr. H.A.E. Watson”

Understanding this story requires a little historical and political background. In 1904, the United States consisted of 45 states, and Congress was considering statehood for the Arizona Territory, as well as what would become the states of New Mexico and Oklahoma. It was also an election year, when voters returned to office Republican President Theodore Roosevelt and widened his party’s majority in Congress. When this was reported in the Nov. 8 issue of the Arizona Journal-Miner of Prescott — then the territorial capital — an anonymous writer took the opportunity to rub salt into the Democrats’ wounds, starting with setting the scene at a hotel owned by a co-founder of the local party.

sherlock political parody hotel burke prescott ariz.

Hotel Burke envelope, promoting it as:
“Only absolutely fire-proof hotel in Prescott.
Lighted by Electricity.
White Help Only Employed.
All Stages Call at the Burke.
Headquarters for Mining Men.
Sample Rooms for Commercial Travellers.”

sherlock holmes political parody edwardian

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The day was drawing to a close on Monday evening, November 7th as Holmes and myself sat in the coffee room of the Burke. Holmes had just returned from a chemical test of some hash, a little of which he had reserved for this purpose from our supper the previous evening. He was looking pale but sat before the glowing steam register and was reaching for the cocaine, preparatory to relieving his depression. Just then, there was a rattle of wheels, and a coach drew up at the door.

“Ah,” said my friend, “a four-wheeler. It has a green blind.” I was somewhat startled, I must confess, but I knew my friend’s methods.

A man trembling, agitated, stepped from the carriage and exclaimed in a shaken voice, “Is — is a Mr. Sherlock Holmes here?” He brushed passed the bystanders and rushed into the coffee room. He was rather tall, had a thin face, aquiline nose and black mustache inclining to the French. His eyes were piercing and keen in the extreme. I withhold his name for delicacy’s sake.

“Is this Mr. Holmes?” he broke forth. “May I speak with you? I am limited to five minutes.”

Holmes frowned, but in a little time, we being alone, he told our visitor to proceed.

“There is a terrible calamity come upon me,” he said, “the democratic majority is missing.”

Holmes immediately brightened up and asked, “What have you done?”

“I have communicated with no one but Mark Smith,” said our guest, “but he knows nothing, as usual, and has wired to Colonel Wilson to find where he—”

“Colonel Wilson,” interrupted Holmes, “ah, that is an important factor.” Our visitor stared, but I was more accustomed to my friend. “But pray proceed,” said Holmes, laying down the cocaine bottle and falling fast asleep.

“The majority,” said our client “has been in the county for the months of August, September, and October, but as I returned to Prescott from Jerome this morning I was staggered upon going to my office. The majority was gone. I tell you, Mr. Holmes, this is killing. I can not, can not bear it.” His teeth chattered so that he bit a large piece out of a steak that had been brought in for our meal.

Holmes was deeply moved. “This may prove instructive,” he remarked. “Come at 1 o’clock Tuesday morning and Sherlock Holmes will reveal the mystery.”

“Is there nothing you can do to relieve me, Mr. Holmes?”

“Watson,” said Holmes, “give him a soda.” Our visitor was gone.

I heard nothing more of the matter that evening. Our agitated visitor returned a little before the appointed time, more excited than ever. As the town clock struck 1, a hand was laid on the door. It opened unsteadily, a coarse voice said, “I—I voted for Mike Hic-hic-hickey. I want two bits to get a hic-hand out.” Our client quickly turned away and grasped the Herald. I was about to show the drunken man out, when a well-known voice said, “Well, well, Watson, we have been successful.”

“Have you found the majority?” gasped our new friend.

“No,” said Holmes, with a chuckle, “it is gone forever, see CLARK, ROBERTS and the others.” Our guest fainted.

“Leave the poor follow alone,” said Holmes and we went to our room.

“You have solved a great mystery,” said I.

“Not much,” said Holmes.


[Return]Hotel Burke: A hotel built in 1891 in the heart of Prescott, Ariz., by Dennis Burke (1859-1918) and Michael Hickey. The three-story, 60-room hotel was outfitted with the latest conveniences, including electricity and full bathrooms. The large bar and billiard hall were soon joined by a barber shop, liquor store, and drug store, creating a prototypical shopping mall. Burke founded a Democratic Club there in 1896 and rose to become its president.

In 1900, a fire broke out in the business district. Despite its claim as a “fireproof” hotel, the Burke burned to the ground. It was rebuilt the next year and is still in business today as the Hotel St. Michael.

[Return]Aquiline: Crooked or curved like an eagle’s beak.

[Return]Mark Smith: Democrat Marcus A. Smith (1851-1924) served eight terms in Congress as a delegate from the Arizona Territory and became one of the state’s first two senators when Arizona was admitted to the union in 1912. As a delegate, he led the statehood fight in Congress and battled a plan to combine Arizona and New Mexico into a state called Montezuma. In 1902, Smith left Congress and Col. John F. Wilson was elected but left after serving one term. Smith ran again, and the Republicans attacked him for failing to secure statehood and the Democratic newspapers gave him only modest support. Smith still won but by the smallest margin of his career.

[Return]Colonel Wilson: At the time, Democrat John F. Wilson (1846-1911) was finishing his sole term representing the Arizona Territory in Congress. He earned his military title during the Civil War when he was lieutenant colonel of a Confederate regiment.

[Return]Jerome: A copper-mining town in the mountains of northern Arizona about 35 miles northeast of Prescott. After reaching its peak population of 5,000 in the 1930s, the town faded as the copper mines closed. About 450 people live there now, and the town promotes itself as an artistic and tourist destination.

[Return]Soda: Holmes meant bicarbonate of soda, used to treat acid indigestion.

[Return]Mike Hic-hic-hickey: The co-owner of the Hotel Burke, Mike Hickey had been nominated for sheriff as a Democrat in 1902 but lost the election. The joke is that he was not on the ballot, but the drunkard voted for him anyway. Hickey later headed a committee to build a monument for his friend, Bucky O’Neill, the town’s former mayor who died in 1898 fighting with Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in Cuba. The O’Neill monument stands today in Prescott’s Court-house Plaza.

[Return]Herald: A rival newspaper in Prescott that published both daily and weekly editions.

[Return]CLARK, ROBERTS: References to Democrats E.S. Clark, who lost the district attorney’s race, and Joseph I. Roberts, who lost the sheriff’s race. The capitalization was retained from the story.

sherlock political parody prescott arizona 1904

Arizona Journal Miner, Nov. 8, 1904, front page. Notice the editorializing against Democrats E.S. Clark and Mark Smith. (Click to embiggen)