The Definitive Dwiggins no. 49—Political Satire in 1896

Richard Sheaff, the inveterate ephemera collector, has a small section on his Sheaff: Ephemera website devoted to Salt River ephemera, most of it from the collection of Ron Schieber. He says that the phrase “Up Salt River” was used in the 19th century to refer to political defeat. Going up Salt River meant the wrong way on a tributary to an isolated and irrelevant headwaters. The expression apparently originated in the 1832 election in which Henry Clay was taken up Salt River and thus missed an important speaking engagement. [1] He lost the election to Andrew Jackson. The Salt River (and Salt Lake) ephemera shown by Sheaff runs chronologically from 1853 to c.1920 (one example is set in Cheltenham and ATF Garamond Italic). The Salt River Packet Co. ticket of 1884 for The Steamer James G. Blaine is of especial interest because it is visually very similar to a piece of juvenilia by W.A. Dwiggins.

Salt River Packet Co.

Salt River Packet Co. Steamer James G. Blaine ticket. From the Ron Schieber Collection.

In 1896, at the age of 16, Dwiggins designed a crude ticket for the Salt River Packet Co. that mimics the Blaine one. [2] It is missing the woodcut of a steamer at the left and the rooster at right is replaced by an eagle, but in all regards it is a close copy—enough so that one wonders if Dwiggins had somehow seen the Blaine ticket, even though he would have been only four years old during the James G. Blaine/Grover Cleveland presidential campaign.

Salt River Packet Co. Ticket designed by W.A. Dwiggins (1896). Boston Public Library, 1974 Dwiggins Collection, Box 35, Folder 14.

Salt River Packet Co. Ticket designed by W.A. Dwiggins (1896). Boston Public Library, 1974 Dwiggins Collection, Box 35, Folder 14.

In Dwiggins’ design the Steamer James G. Blaine becomes the Steamer W.J. Bryan. Instead of being chartered by the G.O.P., it is chartered by the Democratic Party “from and after Nov 4th ’96.” Thus, it is William Jennings Bryan who went “up Salt River,” losing the election of 1896 to William McKinley. Dwiggins makes a mistake in the signatures at the left. Where the Blaine ticket says, “Not good unless countersigned by Steve Elkins”, his ticket says, “Not good unless signed by Marcus Hanna.” (With G.O.P. punched below.) Elkins (1841–1911) was Blaine’s close friend and campaign manager; Hanna (1837–1904) was William McKinley’s campaign manager in 1896. Dwiggins should have had the ticket signed by Bryan’s campaign manager, Senator James K. Jones (1839–1908) of Alabama.

The passenger on Dwiggins’ ticket is F. Belford Amos, his high school friend and son of the publisher of The Cambridge Jeffersonian newspaper. The disembarkation point is Cambridge, Ohio (“No stop over”) and the account is signed by Dwiggins himself. Below that the connection information is by annex boat “A. Sewall” instead of annex boat “J.A. Logan” but it is still via the “Star Route, Little Rock and Ft. S.R.R.” Star routes were steamboat routes. “Little Rock, and Ft. S. R.R” was the Little Rock and Fort Smith Railroad. Dwiggins must have copied this text without understanding it as the railroad ceased operations in 1875. It was part of the original Blaine ticket because its bonds were the subject of a scandal involving Blaine during his attempt to secure the Republican presidential nomination in 1876.

J.A. Logan (1826–1886) was a former Union general who ran for Vice-President on the 1884 Republican ticket with Blaine. A. Sewall refers to Arthur Sewall (1835–1900), Bryan’s 1896 running mate for Vice-President. In place of Grover Cleveland and Thomas A. Hendricks as the operators of the Salt River Packet Co. Dwiggins has Captain Jones, a reference to Senator James K. Jones.

In place of “Old Hickory Still Lives,” a Democratic slogan on the Blaine ticket referring to Andrew Jackson, Dwiggins has “Old Baldy Still Lives.” I can find no slogan in the 19th century about Old Baldy, only a reference to Old Baldy, General George Meade’s warhorse who was put to death in 1884. It is unlikely that Dwiggins had the horse in mind. The text below it is identical to that of the Blaine ticket: “Beware of Forgeries / As you are not expected to return, checks will be issued for unlimited baggage.”

Dwiggins has included a seal as part of his design, something which does not appear on the Blaine ticket. It is inscribed, “Republican Party of Ohio.”

What compelled Dwiggins to make this political bit of satire? Did he fully understand what the ticket represented? He was certainly sharp enough to know how to substitute names from the 1896 election for those from the 1884 one—with the exception of his Mark Hanna faux pas. But including Hanna on a piece of political satire in 1896 would have been essential, especially for someone like Dwiggins living in Ohio. It is likely that Dwiggins, although too young to vote, was a supporter of McKinley (1843–1901) in the election since he was a native son of Ohio. The ticket may have been part of a private joke between Dwiggins and Amos since The Cambridge Jeffersonian was the local Democratic paper. Perhaps it was Dwiggins’ way of ribbing Amos over McKinley’s defeat of Bryan.

There remains the mystery of where Dwiggins saw the 1884 Blaine ticket. The only theory I can posit is that his father acquired a copy following the campaign and that it remained in the family after his death, perhaps saved originally by Dwiggins for its graphic appearance rather than for its political content.

[1] The Salt River begins near Danville, Kentucky and flows north to the Ohio River near West Point. For more on the origins of Salt River as political satire see “‘Ho for Salt River!'” by Liz Hutter in Common-Place vol. 7, no. 3 (April 2007).
[2] Boston Public Library, 1974 Dwiggins Collection, Box 35, Folder 14.