- Jennifer Anderson
- Portland Tribune - News
Every Friday in Stumptown Stumper, the Portland Tribune offers a trivia question and answer that helps you boost your Rose City IQ.
Q: Which early 20th-century senator from Oregon was convicted of land fraud but died in the dentist's chair before he could be sent to jail?
A: That would be John Hipple Mitchell, a Republican who served 22 years in nonconsecutive terms in the U.S. Senate, amid much controversy.
According to a historical account in the Washington Law Review, Mitchell - born John Mitchell Hipple - began getting into trouble when he remarried without divorcing the 15-year-old student he had seduced.
In 1860 he took a local schoolteacher with him to California, where he abandoned her, 'ostensibly because she was sick and her medical expenses had become too burdensome.' He then moved on to Portland, where he changed his name to John Hipple Mitchell and took up a law practice that specialized in land litigation and railroad right-of-way cases.
In 1872 he was elected to the Senate, but opponents tried to prevent his seating, charging him with bigamy, desertion and living under an assumed name. A Senate committee decided the charges did not merit investigation.
Apparently his past didn't stand in the way of getting business done in Congress, where he secured funding for building the Cascade Locks, Oregon lighthouses and improving the state's river channels. He also promoted the Lewis and Clark Centennial exposition and served on several Senate committees.
Mitchell is most infamous, however, for his role in Oregon's land-ring scandals. According to the Oregon Historical Society, an investigation by the U.S. Department of the Interior in 1903 revealed that three Portland timber barons had filed false land claims in remote areas of the Cascade Mountains with Mitchell's help, in exchange for $2,000.
He was found guilty of fraud and conspiracy two years later, but maintained that he was innocent and appealed the decision. Before his appeal was heard, he died in Portland during a tooth extraction on Dec. 8, 1905, at age 70.
Next week's Stumper: Which public art piece in Portland plays a 35-minute musical composition that was inspired in part by Asian temple music?