What is it that connects a very old and respected
Crieff family with a former President of the United States of America?
This is not a question that you will find in any quiz
books, and of course it is not something that is widely known.
Nevertheless, such a connection does exist and makes for a fascinating
In 1841 a 19-year-old working class youth from Crieff,
Perthshire, Scotland, by the name of David Jack, decided to leave his
hometown and sail for the brave new world of the United States of
America. For a number of years he worked and resided in New York on the
east coast of that great burgeoning country. He gained work at the US
Army establishment of Fort Hamilton as a clerk to a wheelwright and
quickly gained a reputation for being able to handle money. It was
around this time that young Jack made the acquaintance of Robert E. Lee
the future American Civil War Confederate Army General, who at that time
was a Captain at the Fort.
Lou Henry Hoover
He also met a young man by the name of James Clair
Flood, a tradesman working for the same company as Jack, and who will
feature later in this story. In 1848 news began to filter through from
California on the west Coast, about a gold strike in the northern part
of that State, and both Jack and Flood decided to make their way there
to try their luck.
Jack set off on a perilous journey in an army ship
around Cape Horn arriving in San Francisco in 1849, the journey taking
138 days. Jack abandoned his interest in going to the Gold Mines and
found employment gathering taxes at the army Presidio in San Francisco.
A business trip took Jack to Monterey, the former state capital, but
since the Gold Rush a sleepy coastal town. He liked what he saw in
Monterey and moved there in 1850.
Jack’s talent in handling money was also recognised
in Monterey, and by 1852 he was county Treasurer. Jack along with his
east Coast friend James Flood began a money lending enterprise loaning
money to the indigent Mexican population and charging interest on the
loan. These loans were often secured on land granted to Mexicans by the
former Mexican Government and Jack often had to foreclose on loans that
were not paid off, thus securing title to many acres of land.
The Mexicans were also lax in paying their land taxes
and the law at that time stated that after a set period, tax delinquent
land could be sold off to others. As the county Treasurer, Jack was
ideally placed to follow these sales and make his bid. By this and other
shrewd and sometimes controversial means, Jack secured title to many
thousands of acres of land, eventually becoming one of the largest and
richest landowners in California.
Jack and Flood also speculated on the Mining Exchange
in San Francisco buying shares in the silver mines of the Nevada
Comstock Lode. James Clair FLOOD went on to become one of the fabled
‘Silver Kings’, and with his other business partners, William O’BRIEN,
John MACKAY, and James FAIR, his mining company struck a massive deposit
of silver ore in the Nevada Comstock, making the four men
multi-millionaires, and among the richest men in the world at that time.
Indeed, it was this silver strike that largely financed the development
of San Francisco into the metropolitan city it is today.
David Jack married and had seven children, five
girls, Louisa (known as Lee), Margaret, Mary, Janet, and Vida, and two
boys Will and Romie. While his family were growing up in Monterey they
made the acquaintance of a young woman by the name of Lou Henry, the
daughter of a local bank treasurer.
Lou had moved from Iowa to California with her family
in 1885 eventually settling in Monterey, where her father Charles Henry
helped set up a local Bank. She initially attended Los Angeles Normal
School in 1891, but transferred to San Jose Normal School in 1892 where
she received her teaching degree. Lou taught in Monterey for a while and
at one stage was a private tutor to Vida Jack who was lame as a child.
Lou Henry was closely associated with the Jack
family. She was particularly friendly with Romie Jack and the two
enjoyed fishing trips and horseback rides together. The closeness of
their association is highlighted in this letter Romie wrote to her when
he was at school in San Rafael.
Rafael March 12, 1895
I have just received your letter. I am sorry but my
school does not close until June 7, so you would have to wait over two
weeks for me; Could you wait that long?
I have ten days at Easter, couldn’t we do something
then? Trout season will be open and we could go down to the Little River
or some such place.
I expect to spend the first part of my vacation in
Monterey, but I want to spend a part of it somewhere else.
I am very anxious to go to Yosemite this summer, but
I don’t know whether I can or not.
I would like to go to Monterey in April while the
Knights of Pythias are there. It will seem kind of funny to see the town
with a little bit of life in it.
I will address this letter to the University as I
suppose you still go there for your mail even if you do live in the City
of Palo Alto.
I have been riding my bicycle a good deal lately, a
week ago last Saturday I rode from here to Petaluma and back. It is
about twenty-five miles to Petaluma, so I made over fifty miles going
I am writing this at night and I can only see about
every other word and I can’t tell till I get to the end of the page
whether the lines are straight or not, and if you can’t read it send it
back and I will translate it for you.
Romie C. Jack.
Lou Henry was also a close friend of Romie’s sister
Margaret and she and Margaret are credited with forming the Monterey
Chapter of the American Red Cross in 1898. In 1912, the American Red
Cross instituted the rural nursing service, and Red Cross nurses spent
considerable time travelling by car on rough country roads to visit
patients in their homes; and undoubtedly, nurses like Margaret Jack
carried out this function within Monterey County. The famous American
writer John Steinbeck was born and raised in the town of Salinas in that
county. In 1933, Steinbeck spent considerable time at the family home;
nursing his ailing parents, and would have received assistance from
these rural nurses. Indeed, Margaret Jack may have received a mention in
one of the short stories Steinbeck was writing around this time. In the
short story ‘The Harness’, which appears in his book ‘The Long
Valley’, the main protagonist Peter Randall suffers a mental breakdown
following the death of his wife:
“The morphine didn’t put Peter to sleep. He sat
hunched in the corner, breathing heavily and staring at the floor.
“Who’s going to stay with him?” The doctor asked. “Miss Jack?” to the
“I couldn’t handle him doctor, not
Margaret’s brother Romie receives a more obvious
mention in Steinbeck’s novel ‘Sweet Thursday’, which is a sequel
to the better known ‘Cannery Row’:
“Hazel was going into a slow but luminous burn. He
gazed about the whitewashed walls of the Palace Flophouse, at the
Coca-Cola calendar girls, at the great ancient woodstove, at the
grandfather clock, at the framed portrait of Romie Jack. There were
honest, unabashed tears in Hazel’s eyes. “The son of a bitch” he said.
“After all our work he takes away our home-the only place where I ever
been happy. How can a guy be so goddam mean?”
Lou Henry attended a lecture at Stanford University
by Professor J.C. Branner, a well-known geologist at the establishment.
The lecture impressed her greatly, and afterwards she approached and
explained to him her love of the outdoors and her wish to study geology;
a subject not pursued by women at Stanford at the time. She subsequently
enrolled in the Department of Geology at the university and became the
first woman to major in the subject there.
At Stanford, Lou met future President Herbert Hoover,
who was a senior assistant of Dr. Branner. Hoover was a pioneer student
at Stanford, being a member of its first graduating class. Lou and
Herbert found they had much in common. They had been born within 100
miles of each other in Iowa, were both Geology majors, and like Lou,
Herbert had a love of fishing. The two got to know each other well
during various field trips and romance blossomed.
Lou completed her degree in 1898. Whilst she studied
for her degree at Stanford, Herbert gained employment with the British
mining company in Australia and was sent out there to work. After her
graduation from Stanford, Lou returned to the family home in Monterey
where she received a cabled proposal of marriage from Herbert. She
accepted and Herbert travelled back to Monterey from Australia, via
London, to marry her on February 10, 1899.
They embarked almost immediately on a trip to China
where Lou put her geology degree to good use assisting her new husband
by mapping the parts of China he would visit, researching mining laws,
assisting with reports and visiting mines.
Herbert HOOVER entered politics and in 1921 the
couple, who now had two sons, Herbert Jnr. And Allen Henry, moved to
Washington D.C., where Herbert became Secretary of Commerce.
In March 1929 he succeeded Calvin Coolidge and became
31st President of the United States of America, Lou becoming First Lady
of the country. However, only seven months after his inauguration, the
stock market crashed and the depression years followed. Rightly or
wrongly, Hoover was largely blamed for this crisis, and he served only
one term in office before being succeeded by Franklin Delano Roosevelt.
Following his presidency, Hoover became associated
with another great American institution, The Huntington Library and Art
Gallery, and served on the Board of Trustees of that establishment. Also
serving with that institution as Chairman of the Advisory Finance
Committee, was one Allan C Balch, who just happened to be the husband of
family friend Janet Jack. Balch was also President of the Board of
Trustees of the California Institute of Technology (Cal Tech), another
great American institution, from 1933 to 1943, and he and his wife Janet
donated millions of dollars there.
David Jack was the inventor of 'Monterey
Jack' cheese which was named for him. This is an image of him carved in
cheese. Courtesy of the sculptor Sarah Nep.
Many of those involved as trustees of The Huntington
Library and Art Gallery were also trustees of Cal Tech, and Balch and
his associates were prime movers in the development of both these
institutions, which effectively existed as a result of the confluence of
distinguished scientists and rich business tycoons. Science luminaries
such as Albert Einstein, George Ellery Hale, and Edwin Hubble (Hubble
Telescope) were involved with Balch, Hoover, and their various
business associates in these endeavours.
Allan Christopher Balch had worked in the Jack family
business for a time before borrowing money from David Jack and branching
out on his own. He was an engineering graduate and along with business
associates William G. Kerckhoff and Henry E. Huntington, became a major
player in Southern California business history, and a pioneer in Hydro
Electric Power as well as other public utilities, particularly around
Los Angeles. Balch was a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Freemason,
a member of the York Rite, and of the Masonically-related, Order of the
Nobles of the Mystic Shrine, Al Malaikah Shrine in Los Angeles; which
famous actors including John WAYNE would also belong to. He was also a
member of the elite Pacific Union Club which coincidentally was based in
the former home of aforementioned James Flood, in the Nob Hill District
of San Francisco.
Lee L. Jack
Balch and President Herbert Hoover were also members
of the Bohemian Club, a controversial and very influential group of
politicians and businessmen from around the globe; founded in 1872 and
which is headquartered in San Francisco. The Club holds annual outdoor
gatherings at what is known as Bohemian Grove in Northern California,
and it is said that every American Republican President since
Herbert Hoover has been a member. Balch was a member of ‘The Lost
Angels’ camp, and Hoover a member of the ‘Cave Man’ camp.
Nowadays, Bohemian Grove is the subject of much
fevered speculation by so-called conspiracy theorists who believe that
matters as serious as war and peace are discussed at these meetings; and
some believe that the ‘Manhattan Project’, America’s development of the
Atomic Bomb was first conceived within the Redwood trees of the Grove
summer encampments. Whilst much of this speculation is overblown, given
the status of those attending these meetings; it is almost certain that
matters of great political and economic import are discussed over a
drink or two, within the quiet seclusion of these summer camps. Indeed,
Balch provides some evidence of this himself. In a history of his
‘The Lost Angels Camp’ written in 1958, he is quoted describing an
incident during the Presidential contest between Woodrow Wilson and
Charles Evans Hughes in 1916:
‘Probably no other camp in the Grove has had more
incidents of nationwide or even worldwide significance take place than
Lost Angels. Again let the words of Allan C. Balch tell of them as he
described them in his prized letter previously quoted in part. He said:
“There have been two extremely dramatic
things in the camp- first of which had an enormous bearing upon the
welfare of the whole world. In the campaign between Hughes and Wilson,
Hughes made a speaking tour around the country, coming into California
from the north and speaking in San Francisco and Los Angeles. Will
Crocker was the chairman of the Republican State Committee. Hughes wired
Will Crocker to know how he should treat Johnson.
Crocker asked Nicholas Murray Butler and Fred Henshaw to discuss the
matter with him and prepare a telegram to Hughes. Fred Henshaw hated
Johnson, and those of you who knew him there remember that he had a
strong character. He influenced Crocker, with Butler’s approval, to send
a telegram to Hughes to ignore Johnson. When Hughes reached San
Francisco, he ignored Johnson and he refused, or at least did not meet
him when they were at the same hotel in Long Beach a few days later.
Naturally, Johnson was furious and turned all the votes he could against
Hughes. The result in California was that the majority for Wilson was
about 1000. Certainly Johnson turned a good many more votes than that
against Hughes. California was the pivotal state and as a result of this
telegram and its influence on Hughes, Hughes was defeated and Wilson
elected President, with all that followed. Dr. Bryant, John Gaffey and
myself saw the telegram and knew what was going on and deprecated it
very greatly, but we were unable to stop the telegram or prevent Fred
Henshaw’s prejudice wrecking Hughes’ election.”
The letter from Romie Jack TO Lou Henry Hoover is
reproduced with the kind permission of;
Matthew T. Schaefer, Archivist
Herbert Hoover Presidential Library and Museum,
210 Parkside Drive
West Branch, IA 52358