- Associated Press - Tuesday, July 28, 2015

July 28—Not all the early investors in Stutsman County were upstanding characters. Some could be downright crooked and seemed to be just one step ahead of a jail sentence.

From what I can tell, Charles Yerkes never lived in Stutsman County and was an absentee investor who learned about the area in a most bizarre way.

Yerkes was a investment broker in Philadelphia in the 1860s. By all reports he was successful and was moving in all the right society circles.

His position made him the obvious choice to serve as the broker handling the finances of the city of Philadelphia. This evidently worked well until he apparently invested most of the city’s resources in stocks of companies in Chicago in 1870 and 1871.

When the Great Chicago Fire came along in October 1871, those companies all went bankrupt, and the city of Philadelphia lost a big hunk of its money.

This resulted in grand larceny charges against Yerkes, who was found guilty and sentenced to 33 months in prison. Yerkes paid some bribes to a couple of Pennsylvania officials but was still hauled off to jail.

Oddly enough, when the bribes came to light, he was given a pardon in exchange for a promise not to admit to making the bribes. He was pardoned after seven months in prison so, in an odd way, paying the bribes actually did get him out of prison.

Once a free man, Yerkes set about getting rich again. He was most noted for his ownership of streetcar lines in Chicago and other major cities. An 1899 Jamestown Alert article referred to him as a “streetcar magnate.” The article was prompted when his private railcar passed through Jamestown while traveling on the Northern Pacific.

He also contributed to science. His contributions to the University of Chicago astronomy department got its observatory named after him. At the time it was the largest telescope in the world

Yerkes’ personal life was also a bit of a mess. In 1889, he moved temporarily to Fargo in order to get a divorce under the Dakota Territory’s liberal divorce laws. It is likely that he invested in Dakota lands, including a couple of sections of Stutsman County property during this period.

He also found his next wife. The Alert article notes that Mr. Yerkes had met the second Mrs. Yerkes when she was a school teacher at Valley City.

The online biography of Charles Yerkes notes he married a Mary Adelaide Moore and that he was 20 years her senior at the time of the nuptials.

Through his career, Yerkes continued to specialize in streetcar and subway lines. He was a financier involved with the London subway system and a few other places around the world. While his assets were several million at the time of his death in 1905, his net worth was less than $1 million because of his large debts.

Adjusted for inflation, that is about $27 million today so I guess he wasn’t doing too bad.

Some people consider Yerkes at least somewhat corrupt and a bad example of the business barons that Theodore Roosevelt would later fight as part of his trust-busting efforts.

On a positive note, he was recognized for his contributions to the exploration of space through his sponsorship of the University of Chicago observatory. The astronomers there named Yerkes Crater on the moon in his honor.

That I believe, makes him the only former Stutsman County landowner to have a feature on the moon named in his honor.

Author Keith Norman can be reached at

[email protected] books.com


(c)2015 The Jamestown Sun (Jamestown, N.D.)

Visit The Jamestown Sun (Jamestown, N.D.) at www.jamestownsun.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.


Topics: t000003087,t000026905,t000002537,t000141029,t000026911,t000030407,t000002707,t000002458,t000002478,g000362661,g000065564,g000066164,g000216305,g000065560,g000225747

Copyright © 2018 The Washington Times, LLC.

The Washington Times Comment Policy

The Washington Times is switching its third-party commenting system from Disqus to Spot.IM. You will need to either create an account with Spot.im or if you wish to use your Disqus account look under the Conversation for the link "Have a Disqus Account?". Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.


Click to Read More and View Comments

Click to Hide