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OPINION

A Pratt banker's fortunate escape in 1912

Lyn Fenwick
Pratt Tribune
This icon home of the 1912 president of People's Bank still stands regal and proud on Jackson Street in Pratt.

Knowing of my interest in local history, a friend recently shared two news articles with me, both dealing with the the attempted shooting of a Pratt, Kansas banker in 1912!  The intended victim was Thaddeus C. Carver, President of the People's Bank at the time of the shootings.

Thaddeus C. Carver, known as Thad, was a prominent citizen, not only in Pratt but also throughout the state, having been elected and served four years in the Kansas State Senate.  His District served Reno, Kingman, and Pratt Counties, and he was Chairman of the Committee on charitable institutions and a member of the committees on Banks and Banking, as well as the Penal Institutions.

He had come to Pratt in September of 1884, working first in a general store, then the following year joining the Farmers and Merchants Bank as a bookkeeper and advancing to assistant cashier for three years.  In 1889 he accepted the position of bookkeeper at the People's State Bank, advancing as a cashier, and being named President of the bank in 1898.  He held that office on the night he was shot!

According to the May 17, 1912 Wichita Daily Eagle newspaper, Carver was at home reading when he answered a knock at the door at 10:30.  As he opened the door, he saw "a man behind a pillar on the porch."  The man began firing, one shot entering the jamb of the door and the other striking Carver, although he didn't realize he had been hit at the time.

Apparently the man fled after firing the shots, and Carver walked to the telephone to call the sheriff, realizing only then that he had been shot.  Fortunately, the wound was not considered serious.  The newspaper concluded the report by saying:  "There are many Socialists in Pratt.  A paper similar to the 'Appeal to Reason' is published here and it is believed that a crank fired at the banker."

The Kansas Historical Society's collection of socialist newspapers from that period contains 29 different papers, but none is listed in their collection as having been published in Pratt.  'Appeal to Reason,' specifically mentioned in the newspaper article, was a national newspaper published in Kansas.  The University Press of Kansas published a book, "Talkin' Socialism: J.A. Wayland and the Role of the Press in American Radicalism, 1890-1912" in 1988.

Apparently having suffered no severe injury from the shooting, Thaddeus C. Carver was in Chicago when a second intrusion at his home occurred three weeks after the shooting.  The intruder broke the screen door, entered, and while walking about the house in the dark fell and "broke a plate glass window in the parlor."  A neighbor, L. D. Farmer, heard the falling glass and crossed the street to investigate.  He recognized tracks in the wet ground around the house which he thought resembled the tracks seen the night of the shooting.

The next morning, police arrested Earl Swingle, 30 years old, as he was attempting to board a train leaving Pratt.  The news article in the June 7, 1912 Wichita Daily Eagle stated that Swingle "is said to be insane."  The year of 1912 was the height of the Socialist movement, which had gained membership after the decline of the Populist Movement.  There was a small resurgence during the Great Depression, but never again did it reach the success of 1912.  Hard times had led to the appeal of socialism, which included the idea of social ownership of production by workers, with the capacity for self-management, supported by social political systems.

Julius Wayland's 'Appeal to Reason' was read by many people whose names are familiar, and well known writers published in the paper.  Upton Sinclair's "The Jungle" was first published serially in 'Appeal to Reason,' (February 1905-November 1905).  Sinclair's photograph appears at left. The comics published in 'Appeal to Reason' are said to have contributed to Walt Disney's interest in art when he was young.  Socialist ideas were not all radical, nor were readers of 'Appeal to Reason' all Socialists nor extremists.

I was unable to find any information about Earl Swingle, neither in newspapers nor on ancestry.com, although I did discover a surprising number of men about his age with the same name.  If, as the newspaper reported, Earl Swingle suffered from a mental illness, it would have been easy for him to become lost in the records.

Thad Carver apparently suffered no serious consequences from the failed attack.  He and his wife Minnie Ann Starr had three children--two daughters and one son, all of whom are now deceased.  His wife Minnie predeceased him (1863-1929) and he remained in Pratt until his death three years after his wife (August 1, 1865-December 1, 1932).  He is buried in Pratt.