Tuesday, May 1, 2018

Investor, Political Operative ... and Alleged Smuggler ... Alonzo Cruzen [otd 05/01]

A. R. Cruzen. Family archives.
Boise capitalist Alonzo R. Cruzen was born May 1, 1858 in Oskaloosa, Iowa, about fifty miles southeast of Des Moines.  In 1886, he opened a small town bank in southwest Nebraska and invested in real estate around the state. Starting in 1890, he also “commuted” to Idaho to handle real estate investments in and around Boise.

Cruzen took an active role in Nebraska politics, serving on the Central Committee of the Republican party. In 1889, he became the youngest member of the state House of Representatives and was immediately made chairman of the Ways and Means Committee.

In 1901, Cruzen’s political connections won him an appointment as Collector of Customs in San Juan, Puerto Rico. However, in the spring of 1903, a major smuggling scandal hit the news. By that time, goods could move duty-free from the island to the mainland states (and vice-versa). Thus, contraband that had been successfully smuggled into Puerto Rico was “home free.”

The Independent, of New York City, reported (Oct 29, 1903) renewed interest in possible smuggling into Puerto Rico. In the spring, the Grand Jury there had leveled smuggling charges against Cruzen, along with a naval officer and a civilian contractor. However, the United States District Attorney claimed that the accusatory testimony was “corruptly fabricated” and ordered a nolle prosequi (will not prosecute).

The Grand Jury brought new charges in October, and again the DA ordered them quashed. Much evidence indicated that smuggling did take place, even if Cruzen was not directly involved. In any case, Cruzen resigned in December. At some point, the Treasury Department sent a Special Investigator to Puerto Rico to look into the case.
Plaza in San Juan, ca. 1905. Archives of Puerto Rico.

In the end, it does not appear that authorities ever prosecuted anyone. When the Senate passed a resolution asking to see the Special Investigator’s results, President Theodore Roosevelt endorsed the Treasury Secretary’s refusal with the statement that, “I deem it incompatible with the public interest to forward the report.”

In 1904, Cruzen settled permanently in Boise. His firm profited greatly from various real estate dealings, and he added a two thousand acre ranch to his personal holdings. In 1907, the company bought a canal system to, in part, supply piped water to many users in Boise. By around 1920, Cruzen had acquired or started a bank in the town near his big ranch.

As in Nebraska, Cruzen became very active in politics. He led the Idaho delegation to the 1912 Republican Presidential Convention. When Teddy Roosevelt bolted the convention, Cruzen averred that Idaho’s Republicans “would not follow any third party or candidate.”
Roosevelt campaigning in 1912. Library of Congress.

His prediction proved to be accurate. Progressive Party, or “Bull Moose,” candidate Roosevelt ran third behind Wilson and Taft in Idaho. Although Roosevelt and Taft between them received 56 percent of the Idaho vote (the Socialist candidate polled 11.5 percent), the split gave Wilson the win and Idaho’s 4 electoral votes.

Although he remained interested in politics, Cruzen never held public office in Idaho. The investment company still owned irrigation properties in 1927, when Cruzen was 69. He passed away in 1942.
References: [Brit], [Hawley]
"Porto Rican Collector Out," The New York Times (Dec 24, 1903).
Theodore Roosevelt, "Special Message To the Senate, January 27, 1904," American Presidency Project.
"Roosevelt Camp is Gloomy," The New York Times (June 22, 1912).
"Survey of the World: Porto Rico," The Independent, New York (Oct 29, 1903).

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