This is the first in a series of blog posts about my great-great uncle Richard T. Board, the uncle of my already infamous grandfather William Lyons Board. Many thanks to my friend Tessa Bishop Hoggard for discovering yet another curiously dissipated ancestor of mine. It is only because of her extensive research that I am able to share these startling stories with you.
The Republicans were outraged. Couldn’t this administration appoint any officials who weren’t already corrupt or proven criminals?
Grover Cleveland, the newly elected president, was the first Democrat to sit in the White House since the Civil War, and newspapers across the country railed against his inept hiring practices. The St. Albans [Vermont] Weekly Messenger repeated what was evidently a common refrain: “Another jail bird appointed to office by the democratic administration.” The article goes on to say that soon after Richard Board, age 25, was appointed clerk for the Rincon to Deming, N.M., route of the U.S. Railway Mail Service, prominent citizens in his hometown, Harrodsburg, Ky., notified the federal government that “Board was under three indictments for forgery, and had been three times arrested in Cincinnati for getting money under false pretense, once in Texas for robbery and twice for theft in Kentucky.”
I have not been able to corroborate all these claims. Nonetheless, how on earth had young Richard Board gotten this plum assignment in the 15-year-old Railway Mail Service?
Richard T. Board Jr. was the eldest of three sons of Richard T. Board Sr., the highly respected longtime circuit clerk in Mercer County, Ky. (county seat, Harrodsburg). The son had worked as the deputy clerk to his father for at least a couple of years. Richard Board Sr. was well known among Kentucky’s political powerbrokers. The First Comptroller of the Treasury in the Cleveland administration was Hon. Milton J. Durham, a native of Danville, Ky., one county south of Mercer. Durham had evidently sponsored Board’s appointment upon the recommendation of Kentucky’s Democratic U.S. Senator Joe Blackburn (younger brother of Kentucky Governor Luke Blackburn, whose term had ended in 1883). It probably didn’t hurt that the assistant postmaster general during the Cleveland administration was Adlai Stevenson, a Kentucky native who evidently was eager to fire Republican postal workers and replace them with Southern Democrats.
This was the machine behind young Richard’s federal appointment. Somewhere along the way, no one bothered to ask about his character.
Two weeks after Board was named to the post, Comptroller Durham, according to the St. Albans newspaper, “got a lively letter from a friend in Kentucky, reciting Board’s criminal record in full. The letter concludes with the prediction that Board would steal something before he had been in the service a month. The prediction was fulfilled. Before the warning note was written Board had stolen a money order for $163.”
Board had been appointed to the position on July 7, 1885, dismissed on July 30, and, on August 17, was arrested in St. Louis where he previously had been living with his wife of eight months, Fannie Mace. The St. Louis Globe-Democrat claimed he had illegally used his Railway Mail Service transportation card to travel back to Missouri after his dismissal.
Board was unable to pay the $1,500 bail and was remanded to jail in St. Louis. After being transferred to a Santa Fe jail, he stood trial in Socorro, N.M., in March 1886 and was found guilty of robbing a registered letter from a train heading to Santa Fe.
Never one to blame himself for his misfortunes, Board evidently claimed, and The Sierra County Advocate of Kingston, N.M., reported, that “His downfall [was] attributed to an immoral female.”
After the trial, federal marshals brought Board back to St. Louis and he was delivered to Southern Illinois Penitentiary at Chester (now Menard Correctional Center), 60 miles southeast of St. Louis, to serve a two-and-a-half-year term.
On February 7, 1888, while his oldest son was still in prison, Richard T. Board Sr. died of a paralytic stroke at age 62. According to the Stanford, Ky., Interior Journal, he had been “on the street apparently well an hour before.”
Newspaper documentation shows that Richard T. Board Jr. had indeed been arrested multiple times for forgery and theft before he was incarcerated in Illinois. Reports indicated that his father had done all he could to honor his son’s debts and rescue him from his scrapes with the law. In September 1883, records show Richard Board Jr. had been arrested in Cincinnati for forging his father's name to a check at the National Saloon. According to the Cincinnati Enquirer, “In his pocket was found a touching letter from his brother in Harrodsburg, Ky., begging him for the sake of his folks to behave himself.” That brother would be my great-grandfather, William Ellery Board, father of William Lyons Board.
A few months later, in January 1884—while working as a bookkeeper in St. Louis, a few months before marrying Fannie—Board passed a false $10 check written on a Harrodsburg bank to the Pacific Express Company. In lieu of an $800 bond, he went to jail.
I can only assume that Richard Board Jr. returned to his wife in St. Louis after he was released from prison on May 4, 1888. By June 1892, however, Fannie had filed for a divorce from Richard Board, accusing him of “brutality and general indignities,” according to the St. Louis Globe-Democrat.
By then, Board was already gone. On April 30, 1892, at 31 years old, he had enlisted as a private in the Army and was stationed at the Presidio in San Francisco. Richard Board Jr. had landed in the wild west, and he would spend the next 25 years wreaking havoc up and down the coast, leaving tragedy in his wake.