Monday, October 29, 2012

Govnor Teats (1858-1926)

   Possessing one of the more humorous names you'll read about here on the site, Washington state lawyer, legislator and judge Govnor Teats was a prominent political leader in the Evergreen State for over twenty years. His unusual first name (which I presume is pronounced like the British greeting "ello govna") and last name "Teats" make for a very funny name, and one can wonder if that was ever brought up by his political opponents! Despite being a state representative and candidate for Lieutenant Governor, little can be found online in regards to his life, with the exception being a write-up in the History of the Puget Sound Country, published in 1903. The rare picture of Teats shown above was located here, and it stands as one of a few available portraits of him.
   Govnor Teats was born in the town of Erie, Whiteside County, Illinois in 1858, the son of Judge Christopher C. and Cloe Warren Teats. Govnor attended school in Illinois and resided here until age sixteen, whereafter he removed to Kansas to take up farming. He eventually decided upon a career in law, and after a substantial amount of study, graduated from the Kansas State University at Lawrence with a degree in law. Teats married in Kansas in 1879 to Ms. Ella Reeves, who bore one son, Roscoe (1880-1945). Ella Reeves Teats died shortly after Roscoe's birth and Teats later remarried in 1883 to Florence Robb (1861-1943), with whom he had two more sons, Leo (1884-1964) and Ralph (1886-1977). 
   After passing the Kansas bar, Teats set up a law practice in Abilene and resided here until 1890, when he and his family resettled in Tacoma, Washington. His early years in Tacoma were spent practicing law, and over the following decades built a reputation as one of the "biggest personal injury damage suit lawyers in the state" and was described in the History of the Puget Sound Country as maintaining a large practice, while also being in the possession of "one of the most extensive law libraries in the city."
   Teats first became active in Washington state politics in 1910, mounting a campaign for the state house of Representatives from Pierce County (then the 36th district). His campaign platform (as featured in the Tacoma Times article below) makes note of his being a staunch advocate of the common workman, stating that "the time has come for the State of Washington to change from the present barbarous system of personal injury to a more humane system of compensation to the workman and their dependents in our industries." Teats also elaborates that he was in favor of a "State Compulsory Insurance plan" that would 
"Put all the money paid by the employer and workman in a fund under the control and management of the State Insurance Department, and pay all injured workmen a sum according to the injury, without the intervention of a casualty company of lawyers."

                                                From the Tacoma Times, September 3, 1910.

   The above-mentioned platform obviously resonated with Pierce County voters, as Teats (funny name notwithstanding) did win election to the Washington State House of Representatives that November! Taking his seat in January 1911, he served one term in the house that concluded in January 1913. 
  As his term in the legislature came to a close, Teats began a campaign for Lieutenant Governor of Washington, running on the then-popular Progressive Party (or "Bull Moose") ticket. He was unsuccessful in his attempt, losing by over 8,000 votes to Republican candidate Louis Folwell Hart (1862-1929), who later became Washington's ninth Governor, serving from 1919 to 1925.

                                                    From the 1913 Tribune Almanac.

  Despite his loss for the lieutenant governorship, Teats continued touting the "Bull Moose" agenda, mounting a campaign for a state senate seat in 1914. A Tacoma Times article on his candidacy (shown below) makes note that he wanted "to go to the senate to create a system of safety which will save life and limb of my fellow men." Despite having the best interests of his constituents at heart, Teats was again unsuccessful.

                  This article on Govnor Teats appeared in an October 1914 edition of the Tacoma Times.

   The life of Govnor Teats after 1915 is somewhat sketchy, with little being found that denotes what he was up to during the remainder of his life. A few newspapers of the time denote that he became a Superior Court judge in Tacoma around 1924 and it is in all probability that he served in this office until his death, which occurred sometime in 1926.
  Teats' exact date of death cannot be found, and his burial location is also unknown at this time. Seeing that he was a longtime resident of Tacoma, it is a good certainty that he is interred at a cemetery in this city, although a definitive location is lacking!

                                  A Govnor Teats Update...... January 8, 2013

    Our first "update" related article for the new year of 2013 is a brief return to a highly popular posting from October 2012 that highlighted the life of obscure Washington politician and lawyer Govnor Teats. Since putting his article up online a few months ago the humorously named Teats has become the single most viewed profile on the site, due to a number of interesting factors! In early December of 2012, a brief snippet on Mr. Teats (as well as his picture from the site here) was featured on the popular website, much to my great surprise! 
  I had never heard of but have since found out its one of the most popular sites on the web, and ol' Govnor Teats was featured in an article called a "quick fix" on that website under the header "the 5 Greatest Accomplishments By Men With Stupid Names". While Teat's name is certainly one of the funnier ones you'll read about here on the site, he is certainly amongst good company with four other funny named politicians on, including current U.S. Ambassador to Denmark Richard "Dick" Swett. You can see Teat's article on at the following address posted below.....

 While the TSNIAPH getting a mention on would make any writers day, it was numerous pieces of e-mail correspondence with Tacoma based genealogist and writer Greg Spadoni that truly made Govnor Teat's profile here one the site one of the most memorable I've yet written.
  Towards the end of October of last year, I completed the article on Mr. Teats and posted it on the site here. Little did I realize that on the opposite side of the country someone else was doing their own research on ol' Govnor, research that managed to fill in a few of the blanks in Teat's life while also helping to shape the overall character assessment of him. And now for the backstory!
  Within a week of completing Teats' profile, I received an e-mail from Greg, relating his research in regards to Gino Spadoni, who was accused (and initially convicted) in the shooting death of his ex-foreman Harry Hallen at the Griffin Wheel Co. in Tacoma. The murder itself occurred in March 1921 and Gino was eventually picked up on an unrelated charge of arson in San Francisco in 1925, and this is where the story (worthy of a movie screenplay in this authors opinion) takes a very interesting turn!

                                                         Enter Govnor Teats.........

  After being returned to Tacoma, Gino Spadoni underwent a substantial amount of questioning by Tacoma police, and a trial date for him was set for June 1, 1925. The judge in the case? Mr. Govnor Teats!
  As related in my article on him in October of last year, Teats became a Superior Court judge in Tacoma sometime in the early 1920s, and as Greg so eloquently put in his history of the Griffin Wheel Murder, the choice of ol' Govnor to head the trial "was unfortunate, for his less than stellar conduct of the trial, which began before the first juror had even been selected, was to have a profound impact on the ultimate outcome."
   Throughout the course of 1925, the Spadoni trial and its proceedings were front-page news in Tacoma newspapers. Closing arguments for the trial began in mid-June 1925, with Judge Teats reading instructions to the jury. After a lengthy deliberation, the jury deadlocked, and after further deliberation found Spadoni guilty of murder in the first degree. The story doesn't end there, however, as Spadoni's lawyer (S.A. Gagliardi), successfully appealed his conviction, making a point to state that Judge Teats had made thirty-eight points of error during the course of the trial!! Gagliardi's appeal eventually reached the Washington State Supreme Court, and after reducing the points of error from thirty-eight to eleven and finally to eight, Spadoni's conviction was overturned...mainly thanks to the judicial ineptness of one Govnor Teats.
  The second trial for Spadoni began sometime later in May 1926 under a new judge, Fred Remann. This trial eventually saw witnesses refuse to testify or change their testimony, with the end result being that Spadoni was acquitted of all charges, walking away a free man. He eventually relocated to California, where he lived quietly for the next five decades. He later died in Italy in 1979 at age 85 and is also buried here.
  Teats' tenure as a judge after the Spadoni trial is also under some scrutiny. Greg made note of another trial Teats was involved in, one in which he "outraged the defense", so it certainly seems that as a lawyer and judge, Teats fell short of the mark!

   After reading Greg's thought-provoking look at a forgotten piece of Washington history, it's quite interesting to note that a funny named man featured on the site played an integral role in letting a (probable) murderer go free. While Teats' involvement in the Spadoni trial encompassed a major part of our e-mail correspondence, Greg also clued me into a few new details on Teat's life that so far remained a mystery.
  The first was Teat's date of death, which as of my October article was listed as occurring sometime in 1926. The correct date of his demise was September 4th of that year at age 68. Greg also found that Govnor met his end as a result of an ear infection (of all things!), making him the first politician profiled thus far to die in this way! And to top it off, Greg found that Teats was cremated shortly after his death, with the location of his remains so far being unknown. I'd also like to note that the Teats great-grandchildren eventually changed their last name to Deitz some years after Govnor's death!
   While Teats obviously had to have some skill as a lawyer and politician (he was elected to the Washington State legislature after all) both Greg and I agree that Teats public career was tainted by acts of buffoonery, both as a judge and earlier. During our correspondence, I located even more damning evidence that Teats really wasn't a skilled public servant, as written in the below excerpts from the Revised Charter and Ordinance of the City of Tacoma, published in 1905.

   The above passages detail Teats' appointment to the Tacoma Civil Service Commission in April 1896 and his subsequent ouster from that office a year later in July 1897. It seems that Teats (as well as his two fellow commission members) weren't up to the task of performing their duties properly, and were dismissed from office. Charges were actually presented to then Tacoma mayor Angelo Fawcett siting Teats' "gross incompetency, neglect of duty and prostitution of a public trust for his private gain." Not exactly the kind of thing you want on your resum√©! 
   With all that being said, its quite easy to look back on Teats' career and nitpick due to various mistakes he may have made. These errors of judgment (as well as a very funny name) have led three separate parties (myself, Greg and to really take Teats to the proverbial woodshed, and even a near century after his death, it seems the poor guy still can't catch a break! 
 You can read all about the Griffin Wheel Murder, Gino Spadoni (and more on Judge Teats) at the following link! Please check it out!

  In this second update to the Govnor Teats article, SNIAPH site friend Greg Spadoni (mentioned above) has located even more interesting facts on ol' Govnor, including two different obituaries for him published in Tacoma newspapers after his death in September 1926. Greg also managed to locate the birth and death dates for Teat's wife Florence and his three sons, all of which have been added to the main article above. Through Greg's exhaustive research on Govnor, this article has grown exponentially, and will continue to do so as long as new tidbits on Govnor are discovered!

                                           This rare Teats' obit was provided by Greg Spadoni.

  As was mentioned in the previous installment, Govnor Teats was felled by an ear infection, or, to be more precise, a mastoid of the right ear. Judge Teats had evidently been ill for a few months prior to his death but still managed to maintain an active schedule, hearing cases up until a few hours before his death. This obituary mentions that in addition to his political and judicial activities, Teats was also involved in a number of local fraternal organizations, including the Elks Club, the Knights of Pythias and the Modern Woodmen of America. You'll also note that Teats is listed as serving a "hectic term as civil service commissioner", which (if you've read the previous update) is a very good way of putting it! 
  In addition to the above obituary, Greg also located two new portraits of Govnor, both of which are shown below.

    Teats is caricatured as a Roman gladiator (or rather a slightly out-of-shape Roman gladiator) in the above portrait, which was drawn around the time Govnor was serving in the legislature in 1911. Teats' was described in a passage that accompanied the portrait as "the doughty champion of labor. A hard stubborn fighter with a stinging blow that penetrates the vital heart and pierces the quick." While that passage makes Teats' sound like a championship boxer, he did indeed try to be a champion of the working man, eventually holding the chairmanship of the legislative committee on labor and labor statistics. The second portrait of Teats (shown below) appeared in the Tacoma Daily Ledger shortly after he was reinstated on the Tacoma Civil Service Commission.

                                           From the Tacoma Daily Ledger, October 22, 1897.

1 comment:

  1. It appears that in 1906 (future) Judge Teats built the very fine home in Tacoma, at 1218 North Alder Street, that was acquired for use as the house of the Kappa Sigma fraternity at the College of Puget Sound in 1948. It’s not clear whether KS bought the house directly, or the College bought it and leased it to the fraternity.

    Anyhow, when I entered the (by then) University of Puget Sound 30 years later, in 1978, the house was definitely a University property, and home to the “Living and Learning” academic enrichment program, for about a baker’s dozen incoming freshmen, of which I was one. A year later, the Living and Learning program was folded into the Honors Program (most of us in L&L were already members of the Honors Program, anyhow). Honors continues to use the house as the optional residence for freshmen in the Honors Program.

    We must note, however, that the school has always referred to the house by the name of the family it was purchased from, not by the name of its builder. Thus, I have always known it as Langlow House, as the school inexplicably neglected the opportunity to name it, “Teats House” . . . .

    Squib about the past and present of the house:

    A somewhat more expansive history of the house:

    Exterior view, looking west from Alder Street, and interior views: