Researched and written by Bill Novarese
This story is based on facts taken from newspapers of the day. It is a true story. Memphis was a wide open town in 1912 when the story begins. It had much to offer from providing entertainment to the river men who moved the barges up and down the Mississippi to the high class citizenry who had lavish parties and attended opera. It was a time of the suffragettes marching for the vote and the temperance movement intensely focused on making liquor illegal. Liquor was big business in Memphis and bootlegging operations were a major employer. The city had more Saloons than churches and all of it together was a big part of the economy. Local officials simply ignored the illegal liquor operations that fueled it. Memphis was called the hardwood capitol of the world with thousands of board feet of lumber shipped daily on the Mississippi along with huge amounts of Cotton. A better way to ship goods by rail East and West was needed. Memphis central location made it a perfect shipping point for goods and the bottleneck of the one bridge was an issue. In 1912 the Rock Island railroad proposed the building of a double track bridge at Memphis with side roads for automobiles. It was an economic boom for the city and city officials were immediately interested. From these events the situation would arise that lead to an upheaval in Memphis politics and the end of the Political career of some.
Confronted with the impossibility of remaining faithful to one’s beliefs, and the equal impossibility of becoming free of them, one can be driven to the most inhuman excesses
~James Arthur Baldwin
On April 23, 1917, Thomas Edward Dies, Former Memphis Commissioner of Public Utilities, was found lying on the floor of his business with a single gunshot to the head. On the floor next to his body lay a pistol that was later identified as belonging to Mr. Dies. He had been sitting on a stool at a long table with an oil can, oily rags and a few unspent cartridges lying nearby. The appearance was that he was cleaning his gun at the time of the shooting. There was some blood near his head and a gash on the side of his face. Employees working in an adjacent room found him shortly after 7:00 am. None reported hearing a gunshot.
Police arrived at the scene and made an investigation. Captain Condon and Officer Sanderson were the investigating Officers. The Police reported that it appeared Mr. Dies was oiling his Harrington Richardson .38 Caliber handgun when it discharged. A single round struck him in the temple ending his life. There was one load in the handgun when it discharged.
News articles contradicted the official police report. The Commercial Appeal reported that it appeared that Mr. Dies was shot through the mouth. The bullet passed through his palate and lodged at the base of his skull. The official Coroners report listed Mr. Die’s death as an accidental homicide. Thomas Dies did not leave a note or letter indicating an intention to take his life.
He opened the Eureka Laundry at 672 ½ South Main St. in 1916, after resigning his position as Commissioner of Public Utilities. Reelected to another four year term in January 1916 he resigned immediately after taking the oath of office. Mr. Dies was also a candidate for Mayor in the fall of 1915 and he dropped out of the race at the same time.
Thomas Dies gave 12 years of dedicated, unblemished public service to the citizens of Memphis. He served on the legislative Council from the 10th Ward beginning in 1904. He remained in City Government until January of 1916. In 1909 he became Commissioner of Public Utilities under Mayor E.H. Crump. Commissioner Dies held that office until his resignation in January 1916.
He began in the grocery business in the 1890’s in Memphis. He worked hard and made his business profitable. He invested his profits in local real estate, Commercial and Residential. By the time of his death he held approximately 50 pieces of property in the Memphis area. He was at the time of his death financially secure and in good health. He spent most of his life in Memphis in the 10th ward. His businesses, his home, and most of the Grocery Stores he worked in early in his life were all in the 10th ward. He began his political career representing the people of that area of the city.
Political turmoil had surrounded Mr. Dies during the fall of 1915. An event from the past had surfaced during his campaign for Mayor that aroused his opponents and the local media. The incident went back several years from 1911 to early 1913. It partly involved the announcement by The Rock Island Rail Road of their intention to build the Harahan Bridge across the Mississippi. The other portion involved a group of local real estate investors and a document called the “Rock Island Letter”.
During his term as Commissioner, Thomas Dies had the final say on buildings projects, improvements of city services and zoning. All proposals had to pass through him for approval before the other Commissioners could look at them and decide how they would vote. He had total control over any and all construction projects that were feasible and improved daily life in the City of Memphis. He was very good at his job and always acted in the best interest of the city. His reputation was sound and his opinions were well respected. He was known to be an honest man and without controversy.
In late 1910 or early 1911, the Southern Railroad asked permission to build a spur off of their section of track called Broadway leading to and from the Frisco Bridge. This spur would give rail road access to the area of Georgia and Rayburn, Georgia and Fourth St., Georgia and Rayburn St. north to Calhoun. At that time the area was undeveloped and with rail road access, had great potential for commercial development.
One group of investors, including Herman Bluthenthal, Max Hellbronner and Jerry Toohey purchased several lots allowing 780 feet of frontage on Georgia from Fourth St. to Rayburn St. They submitted plans to build a section of warehouses on that property facing Georgia. When the plans were submitted they already had portions of the proposed buildings reserved by tenants, according to statements by the investors.
The track plan submitted by Southern RR was looked at by Commissioner Dies. Part of the plan included a crossing at Third Street. The city did not want RR Crossings on major streets in Memphis. Southern RR was told they would have to build an overpass at Third Street or an underpass or tunnel; otherwise the track plans would not be approved. Southern RR decided not to go forward with the project and it died.
The plans for the warehouses were reviewed by Commissioner Dies and Mayor Crump. It was decided the plans for the warehouse project would be approved and sent to the other Commissioners for a reading. Before the plans could be approved and voted on, Rock Island Railroad submitted a proposal to build what would come to be called the Harahan Bridge.
Officials from the Rock Island RR came to Memphis and met with Mayor Crump on February 5, 1912 to discuss the Bridge Proposal. Rock Island’s plans included the construction of a terminal (rail yard). They proposed to construct the terminal from Broadway to Calhoun in the area of Georgia and Fourth Street. The location was largely undeveloped and did not interfere with any major roadways. It would have an access point off of Broadway with one track in and out. Webster Street and St Paul would be cut. The north end of the Terminal would end at Calhoun. It would be what was commonly called a “Stub Yard”. The area selected for the terminal also included the property owned by the investors, Bluthenthal, Hellbronner and Toohey.
At that point the plans for the warehouses were not yet approved. Mayor Crump and Commissioner Dies decided in the best interest of the citizens of Memphis to wait before approving the plans. The importance of the proposed new bridge to the Memphis economy overrode any other project. They wanted to do nothing that might discourage the Rock Island RR from moving forward with building the bridge and terminal. Approval of the warehouse plans went on hold.
Within months of the meeting the bridge construction began moving forward. Rock Island RR began making offers to the property owners in the area of the planned terminal. The price offered by the railroad was $60 a foot. This offer was readily accepted by most of the land owners. The majority of the property had sold by fall of 1912 and only the owners of the property at Fourth and Georgia were holding out.
Bluthenthal, Hellbronner and Toohey wanted more than was offered. The offer of $75 a foot was not acceptable to them. In addition, the railroad only wanted 520 feet of the frontage leaving the investors with approximately 260 feet considered unusable by the railroad.
The Georgia Street investors went to City Hall to meet with Mayor Crump and Commissioner Dies seeking help with their negotiations with the railroad.
If they accepted the offer, they would lose money, based on their initial investment, and be stuck with several feet of unusable property. The investors asked the Mayor and Commissioner Dies to intervene on their behalf with the railroad. They believed they should get $120 a foot so as not to lose money on their investment and that the railroad company should buy all the frontage they owned at Georgia and Fourth
Mayor Crump and Thomas Dies decided they were obligated to help the investors. They had invested in the city with the plan to build the warehouse in good faith and were victims of bad timing. The Mayor and Commissioner felt morally obligated to help having held up approval of their warehouse plans in order to make sure the Rock Island bridge project became a reality. They began questioning the representatives of the railroad during meetings and negotiations about their offer to the investors.
On January 10, 1913, Mayor Crump, Commissioner Dies, representatives of the Railroad Terminal Company, local attorney Lovick P. Miles, City Attorney Bryan, City Engineer, Weatherford and all other Commissioners met to go over the ordinance in detail before it was submitted for the first reading.
The ordinance was gone over paragraph by paragraph and was approved. During the meeting the Mayor and Commissioner Dies again questioned the railroad representatives about the settlement with the Georgia Street investors.
Mayor Crump suggested that they set up a meeting with representatives of the Bridge Company and the Georgia Street investors to work out the problems. Attorney for the railroad, L.P. Miles, set up a meeting on January, 1913. It was held in Mayor Crump’s office and attended by Commissioner Dies, The Georgia Street investors minus Mr. Toohey. Representing the RR company were Mr. Lee Mallory, Mr. Ridgeway and L.P. Miles.
The initial offer by the RR Company at the meeting was the original $75 an acre proposed by Mr. Mallory. Mr. Ridgeway immediately complained and stated the amount should be $60, the same amount offered the other landowners in the area. They negotiated for several hours with no progress. Finally, Mr. Ridgeway raised the offer to $90 a foot but would only buy 580 feet of the 720 foot frontage. If that were not satisfactory, the matter would have to be left to arbitration or the decision of a jury.
Mr. Dies and the investors moved to the farthest area of the room to discuss the offer. After few minutes they returned. Mr. Dies stated that he did not believe the offer to be fair and that in order for it to be so, they should receive $120 a foot and the railroad should buy the entire frontage. If this was not acceptable the meeting should adjourn. At that point the meeting broke up without a resolution.
At this point the ordinance had passed on two readings. The first reading was on January 14, 1913 and the second one week later on January 21. Both Mayor Crump and Commissioner Dies had voted yes to the each of those readings.
The following information is from a Commercial Appeal article published 12/17/1915. The person relating the information is Attorney Lovick P. Miles.
On January 23, 1913, Mr. Lee Mallory met Commissioner Dies on the street and during a discussion Commissioner Dies stated that he intended to delay the passage of the ordinance until Rock Island Railroad paid the price asked by the Georgia Street investors.
Mr. Mallory then went to the office of Attorney Lovick P. Miles and informed him of his conversation with Commissioner Dies. Attorney Miles told Mr. Mallory that he did not believe Commissioner Dies would fall for what he was about to do, but that he would try.
Attorney Miles contacted Commissioner Dies on the phone. Miles informed Commissioner Dies that Mr. Mallory was unhappy about his intention to delay the final reading on the ordinance. Mr. Mallory believed that until the Georgia Street investors received a settlement on their property the ordinance would not pass. Commissioner Dies then verified with attorney Miles that Mr. Mallory’s belief was correct. The ordinance would not pass until they “got together”.
Attorney Miles advised Commissioner Dies that if he would write a letter defining his terms, he would send it to Chicago special delivery and there should be an answer from the Rock Island main office on Monday. This would allow the ordinance to be published by the Tuesday commission meeting for a final vote on the ordinance. Commissioner Dies agreed to write the letter. Attorney Miles sent a courier to Commissioner Dies’s office to retrieve the letter and had it in his possession in 30 minutes. This letter would come to be known as the “Rock Island Letter”.
According to the Commercial Appeal, when Mr. Miles received the letter he turned to Mr. Mallory and said “The Ordinance is safe and it will pass on Tuesday”. It was later argued that Attorney Miles had no intention of sending the letter to Chicago. Attorney Miles contacted Commissioner Reichmann and he came to his office. Reichmann was shown the letter and advised that the company did not want any negative publicity about what he described as, an official attempt to hold up the bridge construction. Attorney Miles said to Commissioner Reichmann that if the ordinance did not pass on Tuesday, he would publish the letter and let the public know that Mayor Crump and Commissioner Dies were blocking the ordinance on which they had twice before voted yes. It was an ordinance that had huge implications for Memphis, the surrounding area, and nationally.
Commissioner Reichmann asked Attorney Miles to wait until Mayor Crump returned from Nashville on Sunday so he could speak with him on the matter. Attorney Miles agreed. Sunday night Commissioner Reichmann advised Mayor Crump of the situation and a meeting was scheduled for Monday morning.
At some point, possibly the 24th of January, after Attorney Miles received the letter, City Attorney Bryan went to his office and asked that the letter be returned. Miles said he would return the letter if Bryan would write a separate letter stating his reason for wanting the letter returned and confirming that the copy retained by Miles was a true copy of the original. Mr. Bryan refused and left Miles’s office.
The meeting took place at Mayor Crump’s office January 27, 1913. Present were Attorney Miles, City Attorney Mr. Bryan, Commissioner Dies and Mayor Crump. Attorney Miles reviewed the situation and repeated the offer of $90 a foot for 520 of the 780 total feet. He stated that if this offer is not satisfactory it will have to be decided by a jury.
Commissioner Dies replied that the matter might be decided if the company would buy all the available property at $90 a foot. Mr. Miles replied that the company would not buy an inch more than it required. According to Attorney Miles, Mayor Crump replied to Commissioner Dies that the offer of the bridge company seemed fair and he would have to tell the Georgia Street investors they could not stand behind them any longer. Mr. Dies bowed in acceptance and the matter was closed. The ordinance passed on a third reading on Tuesday the 28th and the Arkansas, Memphis Railway Bridge and Terminal Company began preparations for the construction of the Harahan Bridge.
None of the information about the Rock Island Letter or the negotiations regarding the Georgia Street property was published at the time. The Railroad Company wanted all publicity regarding the construction of the bridge and the terminal to be completed on a positive note. The Harahan bridge was a very important project for Memphis and the surrounding area.
The details of the Rock Island Letter were kept quiet. Everybody moved on from this and the bridge was built. The Rock Island Letter faded into the background, but it did not go away completely.
During the negotiations, the railroad Company people and others questioned why Mayor Crump and Commissioner Dies put so much energy into negotiating in favor of the Georgia Street investors. There were many others whom the Mayor and Commissioner Dies did not negotiate for. Most sold their property in the same area and settled quickly with the railroad company, taking their offer without negotiation. The valuation of the properties in the area was below the offering price of the railroad company. The properties were mostly undeveloped and unimproved.
Mayor Crump and Commissioner Dies never gave an explanation to the railroad for their energetic negotiations in favor of the Georgia Street investors but none of the other property owners. It left unanswered questions. For now the Rock Island Letter would remain a rumor. But soon, it would resurface due to events that were at this time unforeseen.
Mayor Crump and Thomas Dies resumed their responsibilities as city leaders and the bridge company moved forward with the construction of the Harahan Bridge.
On January 29, 1915, Tennessee Governor Ryes signed the Elkins Ouster Bill into law. This bill was aimed at local officials who were derelict in the performance of their duties. It gave the state the power to remove by court action any official who failed to enforce the law, or failed to act on the responsibilities of their office. It was a very broad law that was at its base a way to deal with the failure of local officials to act on the state prohibition laws. It was not long before this law would be enforced in Memphis.
The Prohibition Movement had a lot of backing in Tennessee. It was supported by many in high office and by people with influence outside of politics. Tennessee was in the heart of the Bible Belt and many religious leaders were pushing to ban alcohol completely.
Attempts to control the sale of alcohol had been popping up in state law for years. A law called the Four Mile Law was enacted to ban the sale of alcohol within four miles of a country school. In many rural counties this eliminated the opportunity to legally sell alcohol. It was amended several times over the years, but remained in effect into the 1900’s.
Local attorney and former State Representative, P.W. Lanier, obtained the 10 signatures needed to file a Petition of Ouster against Mayor E.H. Crump and others. On September 7, 1915 the ouster suit was filed in Chancery Court in Memphis. Named in the suit were Mayor Crump, Commissioner R.A. Utley and Police Inspector O.H. Perry. The charges included dereliction in enforcing the Four Mile Law.
Legal actions from both sides of the ouster went back and forth for weeks. The Chancery Court in Memphis finally on November 4, 1915 found Mayor Crump, Commissioner and Vice Mayor R.A. Utley and City Judge Stanton in violation of the ouster law. This permanently removed them from office. An immediate appeal was filed by their attorneys challenging various areas of the ouster law. Should they win the appeal, they would be eligible to return to office on January 1, 1916 and serve out the terms they were elected to in April 1915.
An interim election by the remaining Commissioners was needed to fill the vacancies until the end of the year. The elections that had taken place in April 1915 would then take effect. The Commission did not have the power to permanently replace Mayor Crump or the other duly elected officials for the new term beginning January 1, 1916.
A new election would be necessary depending on how the State Supreme Court ruled in the ouster appeals of Crump, Utley and Stanton. Should they win their appeal, they could be eligible to resume their office on January 1, 1916 and finish out the terms they were elected to in April 1915.
The remaining three Commissioners, Love, Dies and Douglas, made up a quorum and had the authority to fill the vacant positions of Mayor, Vice Mayor and City Judge on an interim basis expiring at the first of the year.
On November 4, 1916, Commissioners Love, Douglas and Dies met for the purpose of filling the vacant positions. Commissioner Love was elected to the position of Interim Mayor, W.T. McLean as Vice Mayor and Fire and Police Commissioner. Thomas Ashcroft elected as Commissioner of streets and bridges to fill the position vacated by Commissioner Love and Robert H. Stickley elected to the Position of City Judge to replace Judge Stanton. Commissioner Ennis M, Douglas will temporarily take over Commissioner of Finance duties.
All of this could be undone should the State Supreme Court rule in favor of the ousted defendants. If that happened before the end of 1915, they would be returned to office and all pay and allowances would be restored. Although it was possible they might return to office, most people in political and business circles in Memphis sensed a change was coming.
Almost immediately the political maneuvering began. Politics in Memphis went into full play. Various circles began to try and exert influence over the operation of city government. Influence they had not had access to under Mayor Crump and what they referred to as “The Crump Machine”.
The broad authority of the ouster law along with the refusal of Mayor Crump to enforce the state prohibition laws played right into their hands. The people who wanted him out of office used it very effectively to remove him as Mayor of Memphis.
Thomas Dies would later refer to them as “The Interlocking Interests”. Political alliances would affect the flow of politics and influence the decisions. It had always been that way with Memphis politics.
A good many of the more influential business people and others in Memphis wanted Mayor E.H. Crump and his loyal followers gone from public office. Anyone still holding any public office who could be influenced by him they wanted out of office also.
Thomas Dies was very loyal to Mr. Crump and he would soon be a target of those Memphians and the influence they could exert. Most of it would be from behind the scenes. They were the ones he called “The Interlocking Interests” Memphis Politics could be down and dirty and the media always became deeply involved in reporting all the details of the election process.
Most newspapers of that time were locally owned. Today the majority are syndicated or nationally owned by a single company and supervised by local editors. There were two major newspapers in Memphis, The Commercial Appeal, the morning paper, and the News Scimitar, the afternoon paper. They were in direct competition with each other for readers. Most Memphians read both papers although each had a preference. The News Scimitar had an advantage of reporting news that was slightly more current as it was published in the afternoon. The difference was not that noticeable as it evened out with the Commercial Appeal having more opportunity to gather facts and publish them the next morning. The news they reported was usually several hours old before it was available in either case. Today we are used to instant news and having many choices of who we get our news from. In fact, we are inundated with news that is often only minutes old. That was not so in 1915.
Now as then, everyone has a preference of what source they got their news from. People depended on newspapers for all local and national news in 1915.
The news media then, as now, had a large influence on public opinion. Whichever newspaper you tended to believe was the most accurate and dependable could influence your political preferences. It was the only source of information available with the exception of opinions you might hear on the street from strangers, relatives and friends, or at work.
If a newspaper decided to turn on a candidate or public official, they were able to exert tremendous pressure on the unfortunate party. The local owners of newspapers were also residents of the city as a rule. City politics most often effected local business owners and public companies.
The Commercial Appeal was locally owned. The president of the company was Memphis Attorney, Luke E. Wright. Mr. Wright was the lead partner in his law firm based in Memphis, the firm of Wright, and Miles. His son in law, Lovick P. Miles was also a partner in his firm.
The News Scimitar was privately owned by various investors. It was in competition with the Commercial Appeal in those days. The Commercial appeal was a bit more flamboyant with words and style of reporting. The News Scimitar was more reserved and less wordy. Both gave close scrutiny to the political events surrounding the ouster.
Attorney Miles would often represent clients who were in negotiations or conflict with the city. Companies local or from out of town often hired a local attorney to represent them when conducting business with the Memphis City Commission.
The Wright Law firm was highly respected and was often chosen to represent organizations in dealings with the Memphis City Commission. L.P. Miles was always the firm’s choice to represent these clients based on his experience in negotiating with the Memphis city officials. Thomas Dies and Attorney L.P. Miles were often on opposite sides during negotiations and were not friendly towards each other.
While the ouster and realignment of the Memphis City Commission was in progress, daily city business continued. Two items that were in discussion were the control of the power company responsible for the street lighting and the addition of Jitney buses to public transportation.
The lighting changes and the addition of the Jitney buses were ongoing and had been in discussion for months. The city needed to improve the street lighting and had an option to take over the company responsible for operating it. The Jitney buses were motorized and an added form of public transportation. The approval of both fell under the jurisdiction of Commissioner Dies.
The Jitney bus issue garnered the most attention. It offered a major change in the way Memphians traveled about the city. The term “Jitney” was a synonym for a nickel. The original idea of the Jitney buses derived from people giving rides to others for a nickel. It began during a recession in 1914 and quickly caught on in many northern states. The buses and vehicles were owned by individuals and had great flexibility of movement. Most were regular sedans and could transport about 6 people at a time. It varied by the different owners. They were similar to a modern version operating today called Uber. The difference was the Jitneys would operate on a scheduled route.
The Jitneys, in 1915, were in direct competition with the already established streetcar companies. When several people applied to the City of Memphis for a license and franchise to operate Jitney buses in Memphis. The issue immediately came under fire from the Memphis Street Railway Company. They hired local Attorney Lovick P. Miles to represent them. The Street Railway Company began a fight against the Jitneys that questioned the need for them and broke down the ordinance allowing them to operate in detail.
Once again Commissioner Dies and Attorney Miles were head to head over an issue that had a direct effect on the Citizens of Memphis.
Thomas Dies initially had mixed feelings about the Jitney buses. There was a lawsuit that went to the State Supreme Court. Thomas Dies was quoted as saying he hoped the court would decide the issue. Unfortunately that did not happen. It would have to be debated and discussed in meetings and discussions between commissioners, representatives of the Street Railway Company and the lawyers.
Thomas Dies took a stand on the Jitney bus negotiations. He decided to vote in favor of the Jitneys. He stated he believed the Jitneys would give better service to the citizens of Memphis who had only the street railway available as a means of travel to work and other destinations.
The Memphis Street Railway Company was the only means of public transportation in Memphis. Although they were monitored by the City Commission, they were not closely controlled. The fare was 5 cents; transfers were available with the rate at no charge. They offered a bulk purchase of tickets for those who rode the cars everyday to work. Riders could purchase 11 tickets for 50 cents. The average work week was 6 days in 1915 and .50 would buy a week’s worth of tickets at a reduced rate short one ticket. Another problem was that the tickets were not eligible for a free transfer. If you lived in the outer areas of the city and needed to transfer, you were forced to pay another .05 cent fare.
Commissioner Dies apparently felt this was unfair given the fact that riders had no other public travel option. He made it clear that he was for a second option for those who depended on public transportation and that he would vote for the Jitneys.
One of the main issues in discussion was if the Jitney’s would be allowed to operate on the same streets as the existing streetcar tracks. This was a huge area of contention. It placed the Jitney’s in direct competition with the street car company for ridership. The Streetcar Company representatives argued this topic during several meetings. Realizing this, Commissioners Dies decided to offer them an option that would resolve this issue and benefit the riders.
He proposed to the Streetcar Company that they offer riders 6 tickets for a quarter and allow transfers. He told them if they would do this, he would vote for the Jitney’s to not be allowed to operate in areas where the Streetcar Company had existing tracks. If they refused, he would vote to allow Jitneys to operate in any area a route was assigned regardless of any existing streetcar tracks.
This brought an immediate reaction from the Memphis Street Railway representatives. The president of the company and others complained that such a change would put them in serious financial difficulty. Supporters of the Railway Company came forward at public meetings explaining how the Street Railway company had a positive effect on Memphis and played a large part in the economy.
Prominent local citizen General Sam T. Carnes spoke at a public meeting on December 2, 1915 in support of the Railway Company and against the current Jitney ordinances. Mainly the section that allowed the Jitney’s to operate on streets where streetcar railway tracks already existed. He gave the presence of the Street Railway credit for the growth in Memphis by providing a reliable means of getting around the city. He stated he did not feel the current ordinances were acceptable as written.
During this meeting General Carnes brought up the proposition put to the Street Railway Company by Commissioner Dies regarding the sale of 6 tickets for a quarter and allowing transfers. Thomas Dies made the proposition many times in the previous months during talks regarding the Jitneys. He maintained this stance repeatedly to no avail.
The Commercial Appeal commented that they believed he was being told what to vote for and that the idea of six tickets for a quarter came from former Mayor Crump. There was no proof it was true, but the Commercial Appeal stayed with that theme all through the discussions regarding the Jitneys.
When the subject of the suggested fare change by The Memphis Street Railway was brought up by General Carnes, he was interrupted by Commissioner Ashcroft. Commissioner Ashcroft questioned what the General was saying and stated he had not heard of the Jitney’s not being allowed to operate unless the concession of 6 tickets for a quarter were not made.
At this point Commissioner Dies interrupted to correct what General Carnes and Commissioner Ashcroft said about his stance on the 6 tickets for a quarter fare change. He stated: “during the first meeting down in the basement, I stated that if the Memphis Street Railway Company did not offer the 6 tickets for a quarter and allow transfers on these tickets, I would vote to allow the Jitney sto run on streets were Streetcar tracks existed.”
The Commercial Appeal stated that Thomas Dies was not acting on his own and that he was following instruction from former Mayor Crump without actually mentioning Mr. Crump’s name. The article stated that Thomas Dies was “fetching and carrying and not representing his own views”. That he was merely a “go between who was merely doing what he was told”.
It was clear that the Commercial Appeal was focusing on Commissioner Dies and attempting to label him as a puppet for former Mayor Crump.
On the afternoon of December 2, 1915, Commissioner Dies gave a statement to the News Scimitar regarding his stance on the question of the Jitney buses. It was reprinted in the Commercial Appeal on December 4, 1915. The article began by saying that the statement originated in a private room at City Hall “not now occupied by a city official”, meaning former Mayor Crump and that Thomas Dies, “had submitted to the statements emanating from that office”’. It further stated that the statement represented the controlling powers behind the Board of Commissioners.
This is the article printed by the Commercial Appeal containing the statement Thomas Dies gave the News Scimitar. The Commercial Appeal referred to his statement at the meeting as an admission. Commissioner Dies gave this statement to the News Scimitar to clarify his position.
The Jitney bus issue was drawing to a head in early December 1915. It had to be decided by January 1, 1916. Readings on the Jitney Ordinance began on November 30, 1915. At the first reading all Commissioners voted yes to the ordinance. Mayor Love voted no to the ordinance as written without explanation. This was new to the Commission voting process. During Mr. Crump’s time as Mayor the differences were usually worked out prior to the public readings.
The Commercial Appeal accused Commissioner Dies of changing his position to a positive vote and inferred that he was acting on instruction from Mr. Crump.
Attorney L.P. Miles appeared before the Commission again questioning the need for the Jitneys and asked changes in the ordinance. There was a question about it being legal to change the ordinance after the first reading. He also stated that a public meeting had not been held where all parties might be present.
Thomas Dies disagreed with this and stated that public meetings had been held. Miles stated only the Jitney people were invited to the meeting. Thomas Dies countered saying he had not specifically invited anyone. Mayor Love entered the discussion saying that he had heard Commissioner Dies on the phone inviting the Jitney people. The back and forth ended and the meeting continued.
Attorney Miles also complained that Commissioner Dies had given an interview stating that the Jitney ordinances would be passed and that the “die was cast”. Miles complained that the statements of Commissioner Dies were inconsistent with the fair and impartial temper of the Board of Commissioners. Miles explained why he believed the Commissioners should go slow with the passage of the Jitney ordinances.
This argument continued with the question of if the Commission could legally change the ordinances after the first reading. City Attorney Bryan beloved the ordinances could be amended without beginning the voting process over again.
Several changes were suggested and were voted on. Mayor Love voted no on all with the other four Commissioners voting yes. The ordinance passed on the first reading.
The building tension between Mayor Love, Thomas Dies and Attorney Miles was being picked up by the Commercial Appeal. The constant vague accusations by the morning newspaper of Thomas Dies being led and influenced by former Mayor Crump contributed to this tension.
It was no secret that the behind the scene powers in Memphis wanted Crump and his loyal followers out of any position of influence with City Government.