Railroads Torment Colfax

On March 6, 2014 · 1 Comments

I mentioned Colfax, Louisiana in "Just the -fax, Ma’am." Something rang in my mind with a sense familiarity. Where had I heard of the town’s namesake, Schuyler Colfax before? I combed through the 12MC archive and discovered he’d made an appearance in a different context, mentioned originally by reader John Deeth and then featured in First Name, Surname Symmetry. Mr. Deeth noted that there was a town of Schuyler that served as a seat of local government for Colfax County, Nebraska. This was intentional; both the town and the county were in fact named for Schuyler Colfax.

Schuyler Colfax portrait
Schuyler Colfax
Wikimedia Commons, in the public domain

If I could be bold or perhaps exceedingly lazy, I think I’ll quote from myself as presented in that earlier article.

Schuyler Colfax isn’t exactly a household name, however he was quite accomplished during his lifetime. He rose to Speaker of the House of Representatives and then became Vice President when he was only 45 years old. There’s no telling how successful he may have become had he not been implicated in one of the many scandals of the Reconstruction era. His downfall came during the Crédit Mobilier of America scandal which involved gifts of stock to influential government officials from a construction company helping to build the transcontinental railroad.

I then went on to reference the irony of Schuyler, the town in Nebraska, having been situated along the Transcontinental Railroad so that the man and the scandal would be link forevermore. Actually the town was founded two years before the Crédit Mobilier scandal broke in 1872 so the irony didn’t come until later. However it served thereafter as a visible reminder of Colfax’s political demise, certainly visible to Colfax personally and to those who happened to possess knowledge of an obscure Nineteenth Century bribery scheme like the members of the 12MC audience.

That would become prescient. Railroads, as I noticed once I began to reacquaint myself with the life and times of Schuyler Colfax, would continue to trail him to his death and beyond.

Cold and Alone

Where Colfax Died, Mankato, Wisconsin, USA

I featured Mankato, Minnesota recently in the Blue Earth series. Little did I realize that I’d return to Mankato for its prominent role in the death of Schuyler Colfax. An historical marker sat in a public park although it wasn’t always a park. It was once an railroad depot. Waymarking.com recorded the Washington Park Historical Marker, including the key paragraph.

… On January 13, 1885, Schuyler Colfax, former U.S. Vice President and Speaker of the House, was traveling in Mankato, Minnesota. In order to get from the depot located along the Minnesota River to the depot on Fourth Street, he had to walk three quarters of a mile in 30 degrees below zero weather. After he arrived at the depot on Fourth Street, he collapsed and died…

His biography on the United States Senate website attributed his death to a heart attack and duly noted, "Unrecognized by those around him, the former Speaker and vice president was identified only by papers in his pocket."

Rest in Peace?

City Cemetery, South Bend, Indiana, USA

Schuyler Colfax, recently departed, was delivered to the place where he’d spent much of his adult life, and he was interred in the City Cemetery in South Bend, Indiana. Always a popular figure in Indiana, Colfax was further honored by town officials when they renamed a street Colfax Avenue adjacent to the cemetery.

Notice, however, the proximity of several nearby rail lines and railyards. They practically extend all the way to the cemetery gates, no doubt their warning whistles and clacking tracks taunting his gravesite.

Colfax Gets a Statue

Schuyler Colfax Statue by Jimmy Emerson on Flickr
via Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 2.0 Generic (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) license

Undoubtedly, Colfax would have been pleased by the statue of his likeness placed prominently in a town named for him in California. However, the location added to the irony. Take a look at a map in Street View. Colfax town officials placed the Colfax statue on Railroad Street at the Amtrak train station. This line also formed part of the original western route of the Transcontinental Railroad.

On March 6, 2014 · 1 Comments

One Response to “Railroads Torment Colfax”

  1. Bo says:

    Here in the Denver (CO) metro area, Colfax is best known for having Colfax Avenue named after him, supposedly one of the longest streets in the country. (There’s a subject for you to look into, if you haven’t yet!)

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