Saturday, December 16, 2017

The Misadventures of Mike Brannigan (Part Fourteen)

The Worst Cabdriver in Galveston

A hack waits in front of a Galveston hotel (Galveston History)
(Read Part Thirteen: Pimpin' Ain't Easy)

On the afternoon of September 29th, 1874, a young woman stepped off a train in Galveston, Texas. Mary Burton was 22 years old and a seamstress by trade. She was a stranger to Galveston, with nowhere to stay, and had little more to go on than a list of potential employers.

She hired a hack from the cab line outside the depot, and asked to be taken to the first address on her list, one Mrs. Brown. Unfortunately, Mrs. Brown was not able to give her work. She rode the hack to two more addresses on the list, but neither of these employers were able to offer her a position.

Galveston in the 1880s (Library of Congress)
The hackdriver expressed some qualms over her ability to pay the mounting fare; she assured him she could pay. Yet it was beginning to get dark, and she had nowhere to stay that evening. The driver, Mike Brannigan, kindly offered to take her to a respectable boarding house.
“I will take you to a private family—a very respectable family, where you will be cared for.”

Downtown Galveston in the 1880s (Galveston History)

Galveston in the 1870s was a booming port city, rapidly growing in both population and importance. A center of trade and finance, it boasted a diverse populace and a reputation for vice. It must have felt a lot like early San Francisco. Mike Brannigan fit in just fine.

His attempt to reinvent himself in a new city where nobody knew his past was meeting with mixed success. He became part-owner of a livery stable, cycled through a series of co-owners, sold out his interest, and then ended up as owner again. He must have had a sizable fleet of hacks, because he remained in business after having to sell off several (Hacks 20, 21, 36, 45, and 46) to pay debts.

He was probably also back in business with the ladies of the evening. His livery stable at 25th and Postoffice streets was at the edge of the Line, a red light district that would become particularly notorious some decades later. The house to which he took Mary Burton was just a few blocks away at Postoffice and 29th, and belonged to a Mrs. Cockrill. As Mary later testified:
He said, you stay here, you can have all you want. This woman is poor but respectable. I know it, he said. In this town you must go to the poor to get shelter.

Twenty-Ninth and Postoffice in 1871 (Detail of map by C. Drie; Big Map Blog)

Mary entered the house, a “neat little cottage,” and Mike left her there, saying he would return later. She began to have doubts:
I was not there two minutes before I saw that the place was not such as I liked. I saw something spilt on the floor which attracted my attention, and caused me to look around. ... I saw the woman was intoxicated. I did not know what to do. I thought best to wait until he (the hackman) stepped out. I did not see where he put my things. He said, take a seat madam, I will be back soon. Then the thought entered my head, what have I to do with a hack-driver. I began to realize where I was. I said, madam, give me my basket, I want to go.

It was sundown when Mary left the house. Mrs. Cockrill made no attempt to stop her, or was too drunk to do so. Mary went to a neighbor’s house and asked the way to the Ursuline convent, where she hoped she could stay the night; they sent their teenage boy with her to see her safely there. The next day, she reported Brannigan to the police.

Had Mike’s motives been kind, or callous? Was he simply offering her a place to stay, if a bit humble? Or was he trying to lure her into a career of prostitution? As we know, he had been tried, and acquitted, of just that very thing a few years before in San Francisco.

Most of the titillating court case that ensued focused on just what sort of house Mrs. Cockrill ran. Witnesses were called, primarily neighbors, who described the reputation of the Cockrill home:
The next witness for the prosecution was Mrs. J.M. Malley: "I reside at the corner of Postoffice and Twenty-ninth street. … I told her I knew nothing of the house, only that the inmates bore the name of beer-jerkers, and I supposed that they were women of ill fame."
Mrs. Jenkins was the next witness for the prosecution: ... "Men and women visit there. Among the neighborhood the belief is that the house is one of assignation. ... Can not say in regard to the reputation of Mrs. Cockrill. She is regarded as a woman of loose habits."

Other testimony was riddled with words the papers were unwilling to print:
The fourth witness for the prosecution was J.M. Malley, who testified as follows: ...
"In the neighborhood the reputation of the house is not very good—it bears the reputation of being a ---- house, and everything else. I have seen young ladies go there. Have overheard their conversation. These are not such as would come from any decent house. I have noticed hacks going there early and late at night. ... I saw men go there frequently then. The character and general reputation of Mrs. Cockrill are that she is a regular -----. That is what I judge from what I can gather."

The judge determined that
The testimony proves conclusively and beyond a doubt that the house to which she was carried was one of assignation and public prostitution. There is only one question to be taken into consideration, and that is does taking a woman of respectability to a house of ill fame bring shame and reproach upon her.

Unfortunately, it was not clear what law Brannigan could be charged under. The prosecution tried to convict him of assault and battery—upon Mary’s reputation. In the end, Mike was let out on bail, and the case against him essentially vanished.

Mike had escaped justice once again. Or perhaps he was innocent, after all. But certainly his reputation in his new adopted city must have suffered from the court case.

Maybe Mike saw the need to turn a corner in his life story. In any event, just a few months later, he got married.

St. Mary's Cathedral, Galveston (Wikipedia)

On December 13, 1874, Michael Brannigan wed Mary O’Connell at St. Mary’s Cathedral in Galveston. He was forty-five years old; she was nineteen.

Very little is known of Mary O’Connell before her marriage to Brannigan. Like him, she was an Irish immigrant. Unlike Mike, she had a large family, living on the East Coast.

Somehow, under Mary’s influence, Mike changed. His court appearances for fighting and violating the hack regulations became less frequent. In 1877, he even joined a number of other hackmen in signing a letter denouncing the over-charging of passengers.

Could it be that Mike Brannigan—THE Mike Brannigan—was at last, becoming... respectable?

Next time: The Best Cabdriver in El Paso

But first an Interlude: Mike Goes to the Fair

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