“Crooked as Snively”

Visiting the University of Washington special collection on Friday, I was shocked to run across my great grandfather’s name in the old-fashioned card catalogue of regional newspapers:
UW Special Collection card for Snively scrapbook

According to my cousin Louise, Henry Joseph Snively was the inspiration for an old Yakima expression: “crooked as Snively.” H.J., a prominent criminal defense attorney in the early days of Yakima, and a Washington state gubernatorial candidate in 1892, used to pay my father 25 cents to rub his bald pate. There’s a visual I wish I didn’t have.

The yellowing scrapbook contains dozens of articles Great Grandfather carefully clipped and pasted onto pages with rubber cement. Some he must have saved for their legal possibilities — creative arguments and unusual precedents. Others spotlighted him in the era of yellow journalism. Like coverage of the Demerce divorce case, circa 1890:

Demerce divorce case Henry Joseph Snively 1890

“Well, that settles it; I’ll have nothing more to do with that woman,” said George Higgins Demerse, as Justice Rodman imposed a fine of $25 and costs on him for assaulting Belle Demerse, to whom he was married a few months ago. Mrs. Demerse claims to be the relict of David Seamon, whose tragic death occurred in the Caswell building in July-last. Seamon’s former wife who he abandoned some fourteen years ago in Missouri, to skip out with the present Mrs. Demerse, says there has been no divorce; but Mrs. Demerse claims that a divorce was granted in Pennsylvania in 1890, and that she and Seamon were legally married.”

Are you following this? This is reality TV before TV.

“At any rate her relations, marital or otherwise, do not seem to have been happy; for Attorneys Snively and [Fred] Miller are now preparing the papers to free her from her connection with Demerse… ”

The plot thickens:

“Demerse had been drinking steadily for the previous ten days, and on Saturday morning he struck his wife several times in the face and breast, threw the lamp from the center-table onto the stove, and in other ways demolished things. This was too much; and Mrs. Demerse went before Justice Clark and had him arrested on the charge of assault and battery…. [Demerse] asked for a change of venue, and said that he couldn’t get a fair trial in that court — which caused Justice Clark to grant the request for a change of venue, but to commit Demerse to jail for contempt. On Tuesday he was taken before Rodman, pleaded guilty to the charge, and was fined as before mentioned. …(He) is apparently content, for he says he would rather be there than living with his wife.”

Another article, about a horse thieving case, gave me an idea how Snively may have earned his reputation.

Fred Bickle was charged with stealing a horse owned by Dan Goodman. He posted $1,000 bond and was released from jail. Almost immediately, he was charged with stealing horses from William Buchholtz and was due to appear in court (busy guy); bail of $1,500 was set. Snively sued a writ of habeus corpus on the grounds that taking the horses to Oregon — no matter how many owners were involved — was still one offense, and thus should be one charge and not two (with two different bails). The court agreed. Bond was kept at $1,000.

But this was my favorite: “Last Saturday at North Yakima Judge Davidson released the bondsmen of J.K. Edmiston, the absconding Savings Bank swindler, on the ground that Edmiston was not in custody when the bond was executed. The reason given by the court for this outrageous decision is exceedingly weak and flimsy and bears the ear-mark of that shrewd manipulator H.J. Snively, the late attorney for Edmiston and at present the attorney for the bondsmen. That Snively himself had little faith in such a plea before the court is proven by his efforts to induce the commissioners of this county to compromise the case for $500. Failing in this after repeated efforts, Mr. Snively returned to North Yakima and by some hook or crook persuaded the court to make a decision that is lacking in common sense and wholly inconsistent with the facts of the case.”

Ah, the shrewd manipulator. His were the footsteps in which my father was supposed to follow. My father gave up on law school in 1941, when he joined the Marines, and never looked back.

(This bit of history is a byproduct of research I’m doing for my memoir project, The Henry Chronicles. Next stop: Yakima. Special thanks to Sandy at the U.W. Special Collections reference desk for her help in locating the Snively scrapbook.)

 

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