Feeling a Little “Bugged”: Part IV

 (Part I may be found here; Part II may be found here; Part III is here)

When last we left our less-than-happy band of Socialist politicians; the conservative socialists were worried about radicals taking over not only the Socialist Party, but also the City of Davenport.  Re-election time for city supervisors was approaching and something had to be done.

Re-election time for city workers came in early December of 1921.  With a majority vote, the Socialist aldermen expected another easy sweep for Socialist employees of their choice to fill prime positions.  What they didn’t know was a revolt had taken place within their party.  The conservative Socialists had met, condemned the radical direction the party was taking, and selected Third Ward Socialist Alderman George Koepke to make a deal with the three Republican Aldermen to make sure the radicals were not kept in office.

Not surprising, the one request the Republicans had was for the ousting of Harry Strong, who was up for re-election for position of City Electrician.  A deal was struck.  Now with the vote running four against four, Mayor Barewald would hold the deciding vote on three major employee re-elections at the December 8th council meeting.

The remaining four Socialist aldermen did not have a clue what was coming.  They sat in stunned silence as Alderman Koepke, who did not have a desire to be re-elected as an Alderman in the 1922 election, sided with the Republicans.  Barewald followed suit by siding with the Republican nomination for commissioner of public works, street commissioner, and city electrician.  Losing Sam Murray, the commissioner of public works and a radical Socialist from Milwaukee, and James Selman, the commissioner of streets, was a major power loss to the Socialists.  

The newspapers reported Mayor Barewald had a small smile throughout the process.   

The Socialist party continued to spiral downwards.  On December 13, 1921, newspaper headlines accused the remaining four Socialist aldermen and soon-to-be-former Commissioner Murray of graft and giving preference to I.W.W. (Industrial Workers of the World) members over local residents for city jobs.  City Attorney Screechfield and Harry Strong now changed direction and sided with the city against the Socialists.  Everyone was out for the radical Socialists.  Murray and Alderman George Peck (considered the head of the radical branch) were top targets.

Commissioners Murray and Selman were suspended immediately from their jobs.  A special council meeting was called for December 21st to decide the fate of the two men and others who were accused in charges.  The meeting opened with Mayor Barewald serving as Justice of the Peace while the aldermen served as jury.  Every sordid detail possible was outlined against the men.   Charges including threat of kidnapping an alderman to keep him away from a council meeting to “protection” offered to establishments serving alcohol illegally were presented. City employee after city employee testified about these charges and more.

But after two days, the aldermen suddenly voted to drop the charges—even before the defense had even presented their case.  Alderman Koepke, who had switched political sides to help roust the men from their city jobs, had apparently switched back to side with the Socialists.  A majority conviction was impossible.  The Republicans agreed if the Socialists allowed Murray and Selman to be fired immediately they would drop the case (instead of waiting until their terms expired on December 31st). 

City Attorney Screechfield and Mayor Barwald seemed at a loss to explain what had occurred over the two days.   All the frustrated citizens knew was that the city had spent $500 on a “whitewash” trial.*

On April 3, 1922, the Socialist party was officially swept out of office.  Republican Alfred Mueller, mayor from 1910 – 1916, won by 795 votes over Mayor Barewald, who was now a Democrat.  Socialist Lucy Claussen came in last place with only 1,377 votes.  Police Magistrate Harold Metcalf was the only Socialist re-elected in 1922, largely because he had not participated in the chaos of the previous administration. 

First Ward Alderman Peck, Third Ward Alderman Koepke, and Aldermen-at-Large Feuchter and Stout did not run for re-election.  Only Second Ward Alderman Bracher ran for another term; he came in last in his ward with 423 votes compared to 1,176 in 1920. The Socialist power house was finished; the city had turned to the Republican Party to lead them on a quieter path.    

After the 1922 election, now former Mayor Barewald returned to his medical practice.  He remained a well-liked fixture in the community before passing away on April 14, 1932 from a heart attack while at work.  Both papers ran front page headlines reporting on his death and even carried full funeral coverage.  Walter Bracher lived a quiet life working as a truck driver for the Kohrs Packing Company until his death (also from a heart attack) on March 13, 1947 while driving on his route.  Harry Strong stayed in the newspapers for various run-ins with the police over the years.  He worked for many years as an electrician for private companies.  He passed away on June 4, 1967 in Davenport. 

As for the infamous light in the mayor’s office, it is long gone as well. 

One wonders how many people in 1967–the height of the Socialist scare–remembered the political events of 1920 – 1921.  Did they remember the drama and emotion that took place during what must have been considered by then to be the “good old days?”  

One thing is certain: there is no need for embellishment in these posts–Davenport history is never dull! 

(Thanks for staying “tuned in” to this blog article.  I didn’t know when I started that the Socialist council would be so lively!)


*Davenport Democrat and Leader and Davenport Daily Times, December 23, 1921, Front Page.

(posted by Amy D.)

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One Response to Feeling a Little “Bugged”: Part IV

  1. Adrian says:

    Wow!! What a great end. What a colorful and amazing story. So full of intrigue and backstabbing! Wow!

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