A woman claims Romney owes her a $25,000 debt for his great-grandfather, Miles P. Romney jumping bail,in the 1880's. Does she have a legitimate claim?
MITT ROMNEY OWES ME money. Not a lot of money by his standards, but a fair little chunk of change by mine. It’s an old debt, in fact a family matter, and I’d like to say right here and now that I think it’s high time it was repaid.
Here is the story of that indebtedness:
In the 1870s, Mitt Romney’s great-grandfather, Miles P. Romney, and my great-grandfather, William Jordan Flake, were patriarchs of adjoining Mormon communities in the high, cold, hard country of northern Arizona, a region known as Apache County. They had been sent to northern Arizona by the prophet Brigham Young to settle new communities and expand the kingdom of Deseret, which was the name the Mormons liked to use for their fiefdom in the West (it’s the word for honey bees and meant to evoke their ceaseless industry).
Both Romney and Flake were descendants of early English converts to the Mormon Church: their fathers had made the great trek westward in the late 1840s and settled in Utah, where Miles Romney became known for his roles in amateur theatricals while Flake was celebrated for his horsemanship and frontier skills. A few years before they were called to become part of Brigham Young’s plan to establish a corridor from Utah to Mexico, both Romney and Flake had been told to take additional wives, much to the chagrin of their original spouses. But because polygamy was considered to be the “Divine Principle,” a commandment revealed by God, and because one did not disobey the Prophet Brigham Young, both Romney and Flake added wives to their households. As it turned out, Flake married, as his second wife, a young family friend, 16-year-old Prudence Kartchner, my great-grandmother.
Shortly after William Jordan Flake arrived in Arizona, he bought up a very large tract of land from a white settler named Stinson – the first white settler, in fact, in that part of Arizona – and founded a new town, called Snowflake, named after himself and an apostle of the church, Erastus Snow. Miles P. Romney landed in a community not far away called St. Johns, a settlement on the Little Colorado River described by one writer as a “wild amalgamation of gun-toting immigrant farmers, Native Americans, and Mexicans, many of whom despised the Mormons.”
There were complaints about the newcomers, not only over whether they actually owned title to their land (Flake could prove he did, Romney was less lucky) but also about their scandalous practice of polygamy. A new anti-polygamy law, much tougher than an older one that had rarely been enforced, had been enacted by the U.S. government in 1882 and federal marshals were under orders to make it stick this time. The marshals began rounding up the Arizona polygamists and arresting them. Both Romney and Flake became targets. But Flake, as it turned out, had become a deeply respected man, much more so than Miles Romney. One newspaper editor wrote of Romney, who had a well-known fondness for wine in spite of the Mormon prohibition against drinking, that he considered him “a mass of putrid pus and rotten goose pimples; a skunk, with the face of a baboon, the character of a louse, the breath of a buzzard and the record of a perjurer and common drunkard.” In other words, he didn’t like him.
Eventually both Romney and my great-grandfather were arrested – Flake on polygamy charges, and Romney on charges of polygamy and some related to false land claims. He beat the polygamy charge by sending two of his three wives into hiding, but not the accusation about having no title to his land, and he was arrested again. Because Romney had no money and my great-grandfather Flake did, Flake posted bail for both of them. The bail was $1,000 each, a considerable sum in the 1880s.
Now we come to the matter I’d like to bring up with Mitt.
Miles P. Romney skipped out on his bail, fleeing across the border into Mexico with his three wives, Hannah, Annie, and Catharine, and their children. He landed in Colonia Juarez where he helped establish a new sanctuary for Mormon polygamists. He left my great-grandfather Flake holding the bag. Flake, on the other hand, was eventually sent to the Yuma Territorial Prison where he served out a six-month sentence for polygamy, after which he returned to Snowflake and his two wives and children and continued to lived happily with them, undisturbed by the law, a revered leader of the community. He later became one of the first Arizona state senators, and died at the age of 94, having produced an extraordinary number of progeny. Romney stayed in Mexico, where Mitt’s father George was born.
Fig. 2. Miles Park Romney, here pictured in theatrical costume, was said to be a "colossus of the stage." Photograph courtesy of the Special Collections Department, J. Willard Marriott Library, University of Utah, Salt Lake City, Utah.
The point is Miles P. Romney never bothered to repay my great-grandfather Flake the thousand dollars he owed him for posting his bail. Since it’s never too late to make a situation right, and since Mitt Romney seems to have sufficient funds now to cover his ancestor’s old debt, I’d like to call upon him to do so. I’ve done some calculation, and $1,000 from the 1880s would today be worth about $25,000, not counting interest (and since I’m not a smart enough to figure up the interest, I’m willing to let that part slide). Because William Jordan Flake has about 15,000 descendants living at the moment, I realize I’ll have to divide up the money should Romney do the right thing and write out that check.
However, I want to assure Mitt that I’m more than happy to be the disperser of the funds and I guarantee that all the Flakes of the world will get their fair share the moment he does the right thing.
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