Monday, November 30, 2015

J. E. Raht and the Union Consolidated Mining Company - A Case History from the Tennessee Supreme Court Case Files

As the project manager of the Tennessee Supreme Court Records Project, Kim Wires performs daily quality control and spell checks on the Supreme Court database. In the last year, Kim had noticed a recurrence of cases involving J. E. Raht and the Union Consolidated Mining Company. There were multiple entries, with each entry representing only a tiny fraction of a seemingly much larger one. The body of Raht case files consisted of exhibits, correspondence, briefs, and other court maneuvers - but the actual trial transcript hadn't been located. This led Kim on a mission to pull all the disparate pieces of evidence together into one case file, to make researching the case much easier for our patrons.

Supreme Court Records Project case file J. E. Raht v. The Union Consolidated Mining Company. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

First, a bit of historical context: Julius Eckhardt Raht was born in 1826 in Germany and immigrated to the United States in 1850, where he made his fortune in the mining industry. In 1854, Raht decided to seek his fortune wealth in copper mining near Cleveland, in an area known as Ducktown. After six successful years, he became the chief of operations for all mines and smelting works in the area.

Julius Eckhardt Raht (1826-1879) from Ducktown Back in Raht's Time by R. E. Barclay, 1945.

Shortly after the Civil War began, the Confederates confiscated all the mines in Ducktown, bringing hardships to Raht and the mining community. In a letter to the managing director of the company, Raht wrote “I have written Cap’t. Tonkin to engage teams to haul the copper to Cleveland as soon as the Rebels & robbers have left that section of the country.” Soon thereafter, Raht’s communication with the mine owners, who lived in the North, was cut off. Raht continued to try and operate the company until the war made that task impossible. Raht decided to leave Tennessee for Cincinnati until the war ended.

The Isabella Smelting Works in 1875, from Ducktown Back in Raht’s Time by R. E. Barclay, 1945.

After the war, Raht returned to Ducktown mines and began to personally finance much of the recovery work. He made good progress until 1875 when things turned sour between Raht and the Union Consolidated Mining Company. Raht claimed that the company had become financially indebted to him to the sum of $84,711.61 - equivalent to $1.7 million in today's dollars! However, the mining company claimed that Raht had built an illegal personal fortune by converting the company’s assets to his own. John Baxter, a lawyer for the Union Consolidated Mining Company, stated: “This record is an interesting one. It displays a capacity for original, intricate and far reaching fraud, beyond anything that has hitherto come under the judicial observation of this court . . . He never neglected an opportunity to drain any and every one that came within his reach…”

And so a long trial began. One of Raht’s lawyers later commented: “The pleadings and proof make a transcript in the Supreme Court of 6,000 pages, and, together with exhibits, make a record which surpasses in size any record ever seen in the Supreme Court of Tennessee.” Raht passed away in 1879 before the case was decided. Ultimately, the Tennessee Supreme Court decided in Raht’s favor and the mining company went bankrupt.

Receipt book used as an exhibit in the court case, J. E. Raht v. The Union Consolidated Mining Company. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

After learning about the case history, Kim's next step involved locating the actual case file with the hope of uniting it with all the other pieces that archivists had already discovered. She decided to start with the State Library and Archives' card catalog, which contains a rudimentary inventory of most unprocessed Tennessee Supreme Court cases. Kim found a card that identified the case in a box that had more random exhibit pieces and only volume - No. 8 - of the actual case file. She still needed the first seven volumes and possibly additional volumes after the eighth one.

As luck would have it, one of our processors came across the case in its entirety while shifting boxes soon thereafter. We were able to confirm Kim's research with the actual case file, and combine and house everything together. The processed case now resides in five boxes totaling more than 7,000 pages.

A page from Supreme Court Records Project case file J. E. Raht v. The Union Consolidated Mining Company. Tennessee State Library and Archives.

The case files of the Tennessee Supreme Court, like this one, represent an especially valuable resource for historical and genealogical research at the State Library and Archives. To learn more and to search our database, please visit our Tennessee Supreme Court Cases web page at:

The State Library and Archives is a division of the Tennessee Department of State and Tre Hargett, Secretary of State

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