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“Many other questions have presented and discussed by council with great ability.  We have endeavored to notice those matters, which struck us as most important and difficult. We have examined the others, and see nothing, which would seem to us to justify a reversal.

Indeed, reading the story of the defendant’s acts and conduct as told by himself, his dereliction of duty presents a crime which no smoothness of words or politeness of language can obliterate or cancel.  The judgment will be affirmed.” (1) Thus ends the Supreme Court of Kansas’ opinion in the embezzlement case of E.P. Bancroft.  This case proved to the people of Kansas that even in the mid west the corruption of the Gilded Age was present.  The regents were not doing their job of staying well informed of the progress of land sales by Bancroft was the lesson of this case.

 

In 1863, the Kansas State Legislature founded Emporia State University as a School for training teachers.  The school received sixty sections of saline lands for its maintenance and upkeep from the state.  These lands were salt springs located in Saline, Cloud, Republic, and Mitchell counties of Kansas.  The school would reimburse the State’s loan of ten thousand dollars through the sale or lease of these lands. (2)

 

The saline lands, granted by the Kansas legislature on 7 March 1863, are located west of Emporia Kansas.  The purpose of the land grant was to derive income from the sale, lease or rent.  The board was required to invest the income in stocks of the United States, the state of Kansas, or other reliable stocks.  The legislature could determine the placement of the investment provided it was at no less than six percent annum upon the par value of the stocks.  The Normal schools support and maintenance came from this perpetual fund. (3)

 

On 2 October 1865, the Emporia News ran this advertisement for the first time, “60 sections of state Normal School lands, located on the Republican, Solomon and Saline Rivers – good lands, timber, water and stone; will be sold on ten years time.” –E.P. Bancroft (real estate agent, Emporia)(4)  Ten years later on 8 March 1878, the first report of embezzlement came into light in the Emporia News. The admitted culprit was one E.P. Bancroft, real estate agent and one-time Board of Regents member for the Normal school.  This man had honorably served the state and the city would fall to the temptation of money.

 

The story although incredible, but true proved to the people of Kansas that one man entrusted with many duties stopped the checks and balances system of American government by preventing such a thing from happening.  For this system had broken down because of the bad management of the board in general and Bancroft in particular.  The Saline land's scandal had a definite impact upon the State Normal School.  The overall lesson learned was that one man with many positions in the same job means inadequate checks and balances.

 

 The Saline lands granted by the Kansas Legislature to the Normal School are located west of Emporia in Cloud, Mitchell, Republic and Saline counties of Kansas.  In all toll, the whole grant was 60 sections of prime farming land.

 

The Kansas Legislature granted these lands to the Normal School on March 7, 1863.  The purpose of the land grants was to derive income from the sale, lease or rent of these lands. The board then invested in stocks of the United States, the State of Kansas, or some other reliable stock.  The investment was to be a perpetual fund, used by the Normal School for support and maintenance.

 

E.P. Bancroft, before the scandal had an unblemished reputation in the community.  He was a real estate broker and one-time secretary for the Normal school board of regents.  He may have been mayor of Emporia but this cannot be determined or verified due to the lack of evidence.  We do know that he was the county of Breckinridge’s, now Lyon County, first state Senator in the Kansas Legislature.  He also served in the ninth Kansas infantry Regiment during the Civil War from 1861 to 1862.  He had obtained a rank of Major before he resigned from the service.

 

As early as 1873, the minutes of the Regents board meeting show that the Board authorized the executive committee to hire Major E.P. Bancroft as the land agent for sale of the Normal School lands provided his fees were reasonable.  During the next four years, the board did not discuss the lands because there seemed to be no market for the lands.  The previous action of the board was forgotten because the membership had changed considerably.

 

Then during the 16 November 1876 board meeting, the new board discussed putting up for sale the school lands.  They appointed Bancroft as agent.  He told them that he held the commission as agent from 1872.  The board meeting minutes of that year (1872) show no such appointment.  However, the 6 May 1873 minute’s show that Bancroft appointed as said agent.  Bancroft was the secretary of the board of Regents himself at the time and the records of the period are not in an entirely satisfactory condition.

 

The board members understood that before 21 March 1877, there were no land sales.  One regent member in consulting the state auditors office, discovered the sale of a tract of land by Bancroft.  The owner received the patent illegally from Bancroft.

 

At the same time, knowledge of Bancroft’s irregularities came to the board’s attention for the first time from parties living on lands near Salina, Kansas.  They were holding a contract given to and signed by Bancroft. They became alarmed about the legality of this contract because different parties having recent prices direct from the board had come to view the lands for purpose of purchase.

 

Bancroft had sold several tracts of land and appropriated the money to his own use.  On demand of settlement by the board, he made a certified report and turned over $2,828.68 to the Board of Regents.  Upon further investigation, it came out that he made a fraudulent report and that he continued to receive money to transact business when parties did not know about his suspension from his office of agent. (5)

 

On 8 March 1878, the scandal broke in the newspapers.  The headline in the Emporia News read, “Agent in Trouble, E.P. Bancroft discovered embezzling Normal school funds.”  The newspaper reported that the school lost about ten thousand dollars.  The sheriff arrested Bancroft on 3 March 1878.  The arrest caused much surprise and excitement among his neighbors and friends.

 

The newspaper then gave a quick rundown of the trouble.  The Board of Regents appointed Bancroft as their land agent in 1872.  Under the law, he was supposed to provide security for his services but there is no record of him doing so.  The board believed at the time that the lands were of little value and previous attempts to sell them failed.  They discovered that in March of 1877 that Bancroft had sold a quarter section of land in February of 1876 for $1,280.  Bancroft sold the land on a certificate of his own, when by law only the secretary and the treasurer of the Board of Regents could give certificates of ownership.  This is how he kept the sale of the land secret from the officers.  The board appointed Senator Crichton, a member of the board, to investigate the matter. He took two weeks investigating the case in Saline County by interviewing the occupants of the land that Bancroft sold.  Crichton discovered that Bancroft sold all but two quarters in the county.  There were ten sections in the county that belonged to the State Normal School.

 

In April of 1877, the board ordered Bancroft to stop selling the lands owned by the School because they wanted to reappraise them.  At the same time, the committee demanded a report from Bancroft.  His report said that 1293 acres were sold and $2,828.68, principle and interest, received from said sales.  At the next meeting, Van R. Holmes replaced Bancroft as agent for the Normal school. However, Bancroft continued to sell school owned lands up until January 1878.

 

When Crichton returned from Saline County, The Board members ordered Bancroft to appear at the next board meeting.  The findings of the investigation were as follows: amount collected for lands sold by Bancroft including interest, $15,816.10.  Amount paid over by him at various times, $3,943.46, leaving the amount embezzled or misappropriated $9,872.55.

 

Caught, Bancroft virtually confessed the whole thing, stating he had nothing to reserve.  Bancroft said that his business was in trouble because of the hard times and he used the money expecting to return it.  The board decided to act against him since he could not give security.  The Sheriff arrested Bancroft on Sunday afternoon but he allowed Bancroft to stay at home overnight.  On Monday at 3:00 p.m., he went before justice Bacheller, who set bail at $10,000. Bancroft could only raise half of this amount so, he had no choice but go to jail. (6)

 

The 22 March 1878 edition of the Emporia News reported that the Winfield Courier had accused that the members on the Board of Regents knew about the embezzlement and that the entire board save one opposed criminal prosecution.  The editor of the Emporia News said in order to do the Regents justice, that Bancroft had concealed his crime from 1872 until he was finally exposed by purchasers applying for patents in 1877.  No member of the board knew about Bancroft’s dealings except the few sales that he reported.  Bancroft made no statements until found out by Senator Crichton’s investigation.

 

The Emporia News editor continued to say that it was absurd to think that Bancroft’s arrest was political in nature.  No blame goes to the Courier because they were misled into making such a statement, continued the editor.  He also wrote that the statement was an attempt to bring down the board with Bancroft.  The editor prejudged Bancroft guilty and that Bancroft was the only person involved in the scandal. (7)

 

The 29 March issue of that same year reinstated that the board had no part in the scandal.  The editor wrote that the old Board of Regents and Bancroft shared the blame for the scandal. Because this was the board, in which Bancroft was a member and the records of this old board do not show Bancroft as the appointed land agent for the school. (8)

 

The trial did not start until September. On 7 September 1878 was the Bancroft embezzlement trial date.  The court issued a venue for 145 special jurymen and postponed the case until 10 September 1878 to allow time for delivery of the summons. The jury members chosen on this date were as follows: Edward Davis, J.J. Swan, William Burns, Philip H. Horst, Richard Hughes, W.O. Ferguson, O.M. Johnson, M.C. Stark, Hugh Williams, W.H. McMullen, T. McDonald, and John T. Galbreth.  Gillet and Forde, Attorney General Davies and J.H. Crichton acted for the prosecution, and Ruggles, Scott and Lynn for the defense.

 

The following day the testimony for the prosecution began.  Senator Crichton was the first witness called to the stand.  He stated that he was an appointed Regent of the Normal School in1873 and first attended meetings of the board in 1874.  He would continue to testify later.

 

H.C. Cross testified that he had a conversation with Bancroft early in 1873; he said that he notified Bancroft of his appointment as the land agent for the school.  Bancroft had told Cross-that he already had an appointment from the old board of directors.  Cross also testified, that he had three other conversations with Bancroft about the lands.  Bancroft told Cross, that the lands were appraised too high and thus they could not be sold.  Cross knew of no land sales.  He resigned from the board in January or February 1877. A Dr. Wright was appointed to take Cross’ place. The board had discussed the lack of land sales.  Moreover, the last conversation with Bancroft in1876 left the impression that there were not any sales.  Because of this, they would not take a bond from Bancroft.  They had talked of reappraising the lands.

 

Dr. Pomeroy testified for the state.  He said that Bancroft was the agent for the land sales and continued to be the agent until removed by the board.  Pomeroy further testified by saying that in the spring of 1875 he called at Bancroft’s office and the defendant told him that there was no demand for the lands; therefore, there were no sales.  It was brought up in court over the legality of the executive committee’s duties concerning the land.  The court ruled that the board had the right to appoint anyone as a committee and that the board was to ratify their acts.  Gillett offered in evidence the above-mentioned testimony as facts.  After Pomeroy testified, Ruggles for the defense asked the court to throw out the evidence presented because it was past the statute of limitations.  The court barred the evidence before 3 March 1876 from the case.  Upon hearing the evidence and argument for the prosecution, the court decided that two facts had to be proved.  First the sale of the land and second the reception of the money.  The charge of embezzlement is not valid until the prosecution proved that Bancroft used the money for himself.

 

The first question brought up was whether Bancroft was a State agent or an agent for the Board of Regents.  The ruling of the court was that Bancroft was an agent for the state of Kansas because when the Federal Government divested itself of the title to the lands in question it passed to the state of Kansas.  Thus, the state was the legal owner of the lands.  The agent for the sale of the lands was agent for the state.

 

When Crichton testified, he said that Bancroft did not deposit the money with the treasurer because Bancroft said he was afraid that Sam Lappin (treasurer) would steal it.  Therefore, he deposited the money in a Topeka Kansas Bank.  Crichton told the jury that Bancroft said many times that he did not sell any land.

 

On the following Wednesday the chief clerk of the State Treasury testified that no money was deposited.  Crichton further testified that when confronted with the matter, Bancroft promised to pay.  However, the board did not take him seriously because he did not pay any security.  M.M. Murdock testified that the board were not desirous of entering criminal prosecution but were anxious to get out of it to save the state themselves.

 

Documentary evidence given by the prosecution was as follows:

  1. An exemplification from the general land office, a statement of lands held in trust for the Normal School by the state.
  2.  Reports to state auditor of sale to Patrick Hull, signed by Bancroft.
  3.  Patent for the land mentioned above.
  4.  Contracts and receipts of those land sales that Bancroft misappropriated.

 

Murdock further testified that the board as individuals had no personal feelings toward Bancroft but in their official capacity, they had no choice but to prosecute.  The state treasurer’s record offered proof of Bancroft’s hiring.

 

Crichton testified that the agent for the Normal School was required to deposit all monies received from the sale of the lands to the State Treasury as the law provides. (9)

 

Bancroft testified that from time to time, the state treasurer received and deposited from a portion of money, in small amounts, to his credit together with other monies; the state treasurer refused a portion of it.  Other portions Bancroft used for personal reasons and at the time, he was unable to replace it. He was cross-examined on Thursday and Friday of the next week. (10)

 

After Bancroft, Crichton and Cross testified, the judge read his twelve part instructions as well as the charges that Bancroft was facing to the jury. These instructions ranged from making unbiased, emotionless decisions, using common sense etc. in deciding whether the defendant was guilty or innocent according to the evidence brought up in court. There were two counts, number one, Bancroft embezzled about $9000 while in his official capacity as land agent, and number two, failure to hand over the money while it was in his possession when the board demanded that he pay.  The defendant concealed his crime.  The jury deliberated for four hours on 14 September 1878.  They came back with the verdict of guilty on both counts.  The judge sentenced Bancroft to five years hard labor and ordered him to pay the cost of prosecution.  The judge denied the defense motion for a new trial.  The case eventually went to the Kansas State Supreme Court, which upheld the verdict.  Bancroft served two of the five years of his sentence at the Leavenworth State Penitentiary. (11)

 

Reaction across the state varied.  Some people thought it was a political persecution, others felt this was going to happen because of bad commissioners.  Still others thought Bancroft guilty and justice prevailed.  Some people said that we should have known that one man in many positions weakened the checks and balances system.  Someone suggested a way to curb this type of corruption was to have one treasurer’s position for all agencies under the government’s control. (12)

 

The Emporia News held of comment until after the trial.  The paper wrote that their sympathy must go to the settlers whom Bancroft cheated. These people had to repay to the Board of Regents, what Bancroft took or they would lose their claims.  The efforts of the prosecutors in the case should meet with “outspoken approval of every honest citizen and newspaper.”  The paper continues to state that no matter what position one holds in society, he cannot escape justice.  This case was both a lesson and a warning to all who felt tempted to use money not authorized for their personal use.  This presents a moral well worth remembering, that is, honesty is the best policy. (13)

 

The impact upon the Normal School was embarrassing at best and damaging at worse for it proved that the members of the board were not doing their job.  The board members did not keep tabs with the progress of the land sales.  Nobody bothered to ask for regular reports of progress from Bancroft until the discovery of his crime.  The board hastily made a record of the land sales when the scandal went public.  There were no records kept until then either by the board or by Bancroft.  The school was out $10,000.  Some settlers, who renewed their contracts, received credit for the money they paid to Bancroft.  The board hired a new agent and this time, they demanded and received bond from him.  By 1880, the school had sold all of the land.

 

This scandal happened during the Gilded Age, the decades following the Civil War, marked by materialism, ruthless exploitation of the environment and the lower classes by the so-called Robber Barons.  These men pursued profits with methods that were unethical and dangerous to the public.  The upper classes displayed vulgarity of taste.  Political and business corruption was rampant throughout the nation, the Saline land scandal being a prime example.  It proved to Kansans that the corruption that existed back East, existed in their own backyard.

 

 

Sources

 

  1. State v. Bancroft, 22 Drassler, 130, 156-57. (1879)
  2. Emporia News Extra, Report of the executive committee. 1868: A History of the first one hundred years of Emporia Normal School, Wyat p. 4, 8.
  3. 3. Legislative acts of Kansas, 94-95., 1863.
  4. 4. Emporia News, 2 October 1865.
  5. 5. A history of the state Normal school for the first 25 years, Kansas publishing house, 1889, pp. 104-105.
  6. Emporia News, 8 March 1878.
  7. Emporia News, 8 March 1878.
  8. Emporia News, 29 March 1878.
  9. Emporia News, 13 September 1878.
  10. Emporia News, 20 September 1878.
  11. Emporia News, 20, 27 September 1878.
  12. Emporia News, 10 March 1878, Topeka Commonwealth, 4,6, 8 March 1878.
  13.  Emporia News, 27 September 1878.