Home / General / Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,187

Erik Visits an American Grave, Part 1,187


This is the grave of the Hearst family.

Born in 1820 near Sullivan, Missouri, George Hearst was an uneducated man of the frontier who didn’t read well, but got interested in mining and learned much of his reading from mining journals. He wanted to be rich and you had to read at least a little bit for that. He was still unmarried in 1846 when his father died and he had to take care of his mother and younger siblings. He was farming mostly at this time and poking around the ground a bit trying to find minerals. When he heard about gold in California, he immediately prepared to leave to make his claim, though he didn’t get there until 1850. By that time, most of the really big veins were already discovered and claimed. But Hearst did alright. His first decade in California was reasonably successful but not notably so. He had some success prospecting, but he also ran a store and that mostly supported him. It was almost always a better business proposition to supply the suckers rather than be one yourself. He farmed a bit, raised livestock, did this and that.

Hearst entered into public consciousness in 1862 when he heard of good potential in new silver mines in Utah. He went there and made his fortune in the Ophir Mine, which he owned 1/6 of. This was high grade silver. He and his partners did very well. Hearst knew Marcus Daly, later the Butte copper king, and they went into another big mine, the Ontario, near Park City, Utah. This also made everyone a ton of money. Hearst would make even more money when he became one of Daly’s investors in the Anaconda mine in Montana.

By the early 1870s, Hearst was among the very small group of men dominating the mining of the West. That included the Homestake Mine in Deadwood, South Dakota and for those of you who have watched the sublime show Deadwood, Gerald McRaney’s performance as Hearst, just the biggest murderous awful son of a bitch in the world was…pretty accurate. The real Hearst was probably a little more distant in having unionist miners murdered in his camps than the Hearst in the show, but to be clear, there were plenty of mine union organizers murdered and Hearst at the very least didn’t care that they were. Hearst’s men in Deadwood absolutely did kill people who wouldn’t sell out their claims and he took over newspapers to promote his own interests. When a newspaper editor didn’t say what Hearst wanted, he had the man beaten on the street. Hearst’s thugs attacking opposing newspaper editors was in fact a storyline in Deadwood.

Hearst did however understand how to make “friends” among the business class, by which we mean bought and sold business partners with similar interests rather than “someone I like.” He took over the San Francisco Examiner to promote his business interests, that of his friends, and the broader Democratic Party. Despite what we often think about California being a Union state in the Civil War, it was a very conservative Democratic dominated state through much of the nineteenth century and while most of your Gilded Age capitalists were Republicans, one could easily navigate that world as a Democrat too.

Now, most of your rich dudes from this era were happy to buy their politicians, but every now and then one really wanted the role for themselves. William Clark notoriously just paid off the Montana legislature to get into the Senate, which was the final big kick for the Seventeenth Amendment. Hearst one of this type. He ran for governor of California in 1882 but lost. However, when John Miller died, California needed a new senator and Hearst got to finish his term. He then got his own term starting in 1887. He was basically a nothing as senator. He took on an anti-railroad position because a mine owner, he had little love lost for that industry and it played with the rural electorate, especially attacking the Central Pacific but that was about it. He died while in Washington in 1891. He was 70 years old.

Hearst did not marry until he was 42 and he and his wife Phoebe, who was all of 18, had one son. That was William Randolph Hearst, also buried here.

William Randolph Hearst….well, I’ve said most of what I needed to say in the American Experience documentary I was a talking head for last year. I still can’t believe they let me get away with just savaging Hearst through the whole thing. You don’t see that very often in this kind of documentary. The basic facts are so well known–the young scamp newspaperman, the creation of a reason to invade Cuba, the pretend populism, the failed political career, having Marion Davies as a kept women, the move toward fascism as he aged–all of this has received plenty of attention and for once, I don’t think I need to provide a full bio, considering I did the film and that we are also discussing George here. The only real error in Citizen Kane–and it’s entirely forgivable because it’s not a documentary–is that the portrayal of the Hearst character as a tragic figure is pretty heavily overplayed. He wasn’t tragic. He was just an asshole who became an even bigger asshole as he aged. There might be something interesting about a man who so desperately wanted to be liked retreating to his castle, but really there isn’t in this case. He was just an awful man.

The other thing I find worth mentioning here is to compare William Randolph Hearst to William Henry Crocker, yesterday’s grave subject. I mentioned that Crocker was typical of second generation new money, in that they had that sense of class and high culture that comes with old money. Well, Hearst was a complete parody of that, just using his wealth to buy everything, show nothing, and keep it all instead of his isolated weirdo castle. Whether that makes Hearst one of the most American people in the history of Americans is a possible question. But there was nothing classy about old Will Hearst. To an extent, one can almost want to sympathize with a rich kid who really did want to make his own way and not just be a banker and actually did it to a certain extent, but the issues Hearst had make it hard to sympathize much with him.

I suppose there are other things to say here and maybe other Hearsts buried here, but I have things to do and places to go (and unpleasant middle aged medical procedures to undergo) so we’ll leave it at that for now. Who knows, maybe Patty will end up there eventually and I will stop by again.

George Hearst and William Randolph Hearst are buried in Cypress Lawn Cemetery, Colma, California.

If you fucking squarehead cocksuckers would like this series to visit other real people who were portrayed on Deadwood, to use the rather colorful language of the show, you can donate to cover the required expenses here. Seth Bullock is in Deadwood, South Dakota and Al Swearingen is in Leighton, Iowa. Previous posts in this series are archived here.

  • Facebook
  • Twitter
  • Linkedin
This div height required for enabling the sticky sidebar
Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views : Ad Clicks : Ad Views :