Remembering Harry Cantwell



A spit from a surrey may have determined the location of a mine shaft and therefore explain the location of the part of Desloge known as Cantwell, according to a bit of family folklore from the Cantwell family.

H. J. Cantwell III of St. Louis, grandson of Harry J. Cantwell, founder of the area known as Cantwell, recounted the family story.

"They say that grandfather and Desloge (Firmin Desloge) were riding in a surrey one day trying to decide where to sink a shaft. Desloge spit off one side of the surrey and said there was where they would sink the shaft. Grandfather didn't agree with the location of the spit and split with Desloge to form his own company," Cantwell said.

When Thomas Wolfe said, 'You can't go home again,' he obviously didn't know the Cantwell family.

Harry J. Cantwell Sr., who made and lost several fortunes, returned to this area numerous times and finally purchased 3,000 acres of land in Washington County where he planted an orchard, employed laborers and used it for a summer home.

His son Harry J. Cantwell, Jr., attorney, Democratic Ward Chairman of the Twenty-fifth Ward in St. Louis, treasurer of the Central Committee and a power in the United Service Car Company which included taxicab and parking-lot enterprises, eventually retired to this home in Belgrade and died there in 1948 at the age of 49.

And his grandson, Harry J. Cantwell III, father of H. J. Cantwell IV and grandfather of H. F. [sic] Cantwell V, says he certainly plans to return to Desloge during their Centennial Celebration planned for the Labor Day weekend.

In addition to his prospecting in lead, silver and zinc, Cantwell Sr., a lawyer by profession, was a staunch supporter of William Jennings Bryan. Cantwell's colorful history includes owning and publishing The Evening Journal in St. Louis which Bryan himself wrote weekly editorials.

Cantwell's prospecting tendencies also gave way to speculating on the 'ponies' where which he once tried to meet his weekly payroll for the boys of the press after other 'silvermen' refused help in supporting his partisan newspaper.

Harry J. Cantwell Sr., was born Feb. 3, 1859 in Sonman, Penn., the son of Albert F. and Isabella Donnelly Cantwell.

He received a common school education and at the age of 13 went to work as a clerk in a railroad office where he stayed until 1884 when he commenced the study of law.

He was admitted to the bar in Mississippi County, Missouri, in 1885. After practicing law one year he entered the law department of Washington University of St. Louis and was graduated from there in 1888 afterward taking a postgraduate course.

After graduation he formed a partnership with Albert N. Edwards and engaged in successful practice until investments which he had made in lead-mining enterprises demanded his entire attention and caused him to abandon his professional labors.

His active efforts to develop the vast mineral wealth of St. Francois County began in 1888 with his operation of a diamond drill on what was known as the 'Crawley tract.'

Almost simultaneously in 1889, Firmin Desloge commenced operation on the old Mine A Joe tract, William R. Taylor on the track later owned by National Lead and H. J. Cantwell on the Crawley tract.

From the Crawley tract Cantwell went to the tract of the Central Lead Company where no development had been made and there he sunk shaft No. I.

In 1891 he was elected president of the Central Lead Company and between that time and his resignation in October of 1896 the complete plant was erected and equipped. During this period the price of pig lead was lower than it had ever been before in the history of that metal and many industries in Missouri were completely paralyzed.

It wasn't the lead industry that sent Cantwell into a financial tailspin. When his speculations in silver mines went sour in 1896 he returned to St. Louis to support the only man who could help him, William Jennings Bryan, a presidential candidate running on the free silver issue.

In an announcement of Cantwell's death in The Desloge Sun in 1917, it was reported that he had met with financial reverse in 1896. At that time he had acquired many options on silver mines in Montana which had made millions for many St. Louisians. Cantwell's holdings in other mines were not renumerative and he lost the fortune he had accumulated through his lead and zinc interests.

William Jennings Bryan in 1896 urged the 16-1 standard for silver. Many Democrats followed the gold standard, but Cantwell was a staunch supporter of Bryan in the 1896 campaign for obvious reasons.

Cantwell thought he should acquire a newspaper in St. Louis to support Bryan but at the time he had only about $100,000. He went to New York and tried to persuade William Randolph Hearst to join him in his plan to start a 'silver page' in St. Louis.

Hearst agreed to furnish $500,000 if the Granite Mountain mine owners would raise a similar sum. Cantwell tried without success to interest the St. Louisans.

At that time a cooperative newspaper, The Evening Journal, was being printed on Elm Street, between Fifth and Sixth Streets in St. Louis. The reporters, printers and other employees were paid mostly in stock.

Cantwell called on the manager and asked if he could buy the paper.

"Buy it!" retorted the manager. "We have nothing to sell but the type and our stock. The press work is done outside."

Cantwell went to the composing room and made a speech to the printers. "Boys, I'll buy your paper and pay you cash for your work if you will turn the plant over," he said.

There was a hurried meeting of the printers and they agreed to give the paper to Cantwell for $10,000 if he would assure each man a job.

"When you buy this paper," said the foreman, "you have got to take the printers and reporters with the type."

This was agreed to and the next day Cantwell sought a new home for the Evening Journal and leased the building at 105 North Sixth Street.

In two weeks Cantwell graduated himself into editorship. He wrote his own editorials and ran his paper as he saw fit. One editorial each day was written by Bryan himself and Cantwell began to advertise his publication as the only real Bryan newspaper in the nation.

All the type was set by hand and Cantwell's weekly payroll got ahead of his bank account. When the free-silver campaign was at its height, Cantwell tried to get more money.

The Democratic National Committee would not advance him a dollar. The 'silvermen' who had made millions in Granite Mountain refused to 'ante' to use Cantwell's favorite expression but The Evening Journal's owner never let his employees realize how near broke he was.

One Saturday Cantwell confided to his sporting editor that he must have $10,000 to meet expenses.

"I am going to the Fairground track with you and win enough to pay the boys off," the editor said.

He wagered $1,000 on the first favorite. He lost. He then bet Dick Roche $2,000 on the first choice in the second race. A nose finish prevented Cantwell from cashing. Then he plunged the entire bank roll on the favorite in the third race. He failed to even get a run for his money, as the horse was left at the post.

Cantwell instructed his sporting editor to go down to the newspaper office and tell the boys there would be no Sunday paper, as he was dead broke.

"Be sure and tell them," he said, "I'll dig up the money to pay the boys Monday."

He kept his word.

In August of 1897 Cantwell showed up in the Lead Belt area once again. The Columbia Lead Company was incorporated with himself as president. He called the attention of the National Lead Company (St. Louis Smelting and Refining Company) to the Flat River districts and as the agent for that company, negotiated the purchase of the Taylor tract.

In the same period he also became president of the Catherine Lead Company near Fredericktown.

His only remaining property in Missouri at the time of his death was more than 3,000 acres of land in Washington County.

He planted an orchard of 30,000 pear, apple, plum and peach trees and a grape vineyard. The fruit farm was named TOPOZARK ORCHARD. It had a post office for many years and there was a general store for the workers and their families. For trade a brass coin was issued.

Cantwell III said no one could figure out why he purchased this property because of the terrain. One half of it drained into Black River and the other half into the Meramac. He said it was rumored he planted the orchard to hide a potential mining site.

There was no transportation from the orchard to a market. The horse and wagon trip to the train station at Mineral Point or Bismarck was much too long for ripe fruit and there was no way to protect the trees from late frosts.

After trying to market the fruit for several years, Cantwell let the orchard go, allowing anyone passing by to pick the fruit.

The Desloge Sun reported that in about 1916 Cantwell heard of lead being discovered at Miami, Okla. He went there and obtained several options from Indians. Luck again was with him. He struck it rich and cleaned up $500,000.

When ill health came, he sold out his holdings. He died Aug. 21, 1917 at Hot Springs, Ark., and is buried in DeSoto.

Cantwell III, returning to the Cantwell area, said that when his children were young he brought them here to show them street signs named after their family.

At that time there was a Cantwell Lane, named after the family; Harry Jr., named after his father; Esther, named for a sister of Harry Senior; Catherine, named for Harry Senior's wife and daughter; and Blair, named for Harry Senior's brother. Today, only Cantwell Lane, Harry Jr., and Blair remain. Long time residents of the area say they suspect names like Cowling and Vandervoot were named for miners or superintendents in the area.

Cantwell III also says the town of Esther is named for Cantwell Senior's sister. At the time Esther was surveyed and platted, Cantwell owned a large tract of land extending from Esther, through what is now called Crawley's Bottom and into Cantwell.

"Sure, we're coming back," Cantwell III said proudly wearing his Desloge Centennial button. "It sounds like a great time."

Although Cantwell is no longer a town, its residents and the descendents of the man who founded it, still call it home.

Published by THE DAILY JOURNAL, Flat River, St. Francois Co. MO, Tues. Sept. 1, 1987 in a supplement "We Remember Desloge".  Article written by S. Greminger, Asst. Managing Editor.