Weekly Intelligencer reports false rumors that Seattle Mayor Corliss P. Stone has swindled $15,000 and fled with another man’s wife on March 10, 1873.

  • By Casey McNerthney
  • Posted 5/10/2024
  • HistoryLink.org Essay 197
See Additional Media

On March 10, 1873, The Weekly Intelligencer in Seattle writes of "An Astounding and Inexplicable Affair," alleging that Seattle Mayor Corliss P. Stone has swindled $15,000 of his business partner’s money, abandoned his mayoral position, and left Seattle with another man’s wife. The Weekly Standard in Olympia aggregates the Intelligencer’s story of the "scandalous proceeding" and the Puget Sound Dispatch in Seattle repeats the rumors. Readers wonder if Stone had abandoned his own wife and son. In 1988, an anniversary edition of the Seattle Post-Intelligencer reprints the rumor, but omits followup information, incorrectly claiming, "it’s not known what became of the mayor." That leads to a new generation of misinformation. While Stone did abandon his mayoral post, this tale of Seattle lore ignored the fact that Stone came back to the city, re-established himself as a successful businessman and developer, and when he died in 1906, six Seattle mayors were his pallbearers.

Pioneering Projects and Public Life

Corliss P. Stone was born on March 20, 1838 in Berkshire, Vermont. For years he ran a dry goods store in Vermont, left for San Francisco in 1861 following a friend’s recommendation that he could find good business opportunities out west, then came the following February to the Pacific Northwest, where he started a mercantile business. Stone’s first work in Washington Territory was in Port Madison, where he was a store salesman for five years before coming to Seattle. Stone married Frances K. Boyd (1839-1923) in Seattle on March 11, 1865, and they had two sons: Corliss Lathrop Stone (1869-1943) and George P. Stone (1870-1890).

By 1867, Stone had established a Seattle storefront with partners Charles Burnett and Sumner B. Hinds. The firm, which by 1873 became simply Stone & Burnett, sold dry goods, clothes, groceries, paints, hardware, and other general items on Commercial Street (now 1st Avenue South). Stone was involved in many pioneering projects, including a toll road from Seattle to the Columbia River and early efforts to supply coal gas for lighting Seattle streets and homes. On July 10, 1871, he was elected to the Seattle City Council, and on July 29, 1872, Stone was elected as Seattle’s third mayor – a position then carrying a one-year term.

What led to his March 1873 departure and the rumors isn’t exactly clear. Perhaps he was frustrated with his business partner. Maybe he knew of a more promising opportunity elsewhere. Or possibly the mayoral role didn’t spark Stone’s interest as expected. Being mayor of Seattle – then a wild Western city with just over 1,100 residents – brought far less prestige than what is envisioned today. There are signs that Stone may have been planning ahead. That January he donated his 26 volumes of the new American Encyclopedia to the Seattle Library – a gift that made news all the way back in Vermont. The next month, Stone was gone.

"An Astounding and Inexplicable Affair"

On March 10, 1873, in an article titled "An Astounding and Inexplicable Affair," the Weekly Intelligencer reported that Stone had left Seattle. The one-column article described how Mayor Stone, of the firm Messrs, Stone and Burnett, left for San Francisco to make payments to creditors there and for the usual purchase of the firm’s spring merchandise. "For some unaccountable reason, he went to Sacramento instead, and failing to make any payment to creditors or to purchase any goods, and appropriating the company funds, amounting to about $15,000, which he had in his possession, he hastily abandoned all idea of continuing his business here, and shortly after left on the overland railroad for the East. Further than this, nothing is positively known" ("An Astounding …").

The newspaper account suggest that Burnett was a source of the stories, which makes sense as Stone’s business partner had the most to lose. The Intelligencer cited two March 5 dispatches from Stone to Burnett, with Stone saying he had "sold drafts for currency and appropriated it to my private use. Herewith I turn over all real and personal property to you, provided you balance my account. I leave tomorrow." In a second note, Stone wrote, "I shall be absent for several months, and I have arranged so as to make regular remittances to my family" ("An Astounding ..."). 

The Intelligencer account puts Stone’s departure around February 23. The Puget Sound Dispatch, describing "A Shocking Affair" in its March 13 edition, put his disappearance around the end of February, saying, "no event which has ever occurred in Seattle has so shocked and scandalized the community as the sudden and clandestine leaving of C. P. Stone, of the firm Stone & Burnett, the Mayor of the city, one of the old and most highly respected citizens, a leading and apparently one of the most prosperous merchants, who has heretofore maintained unchallenged a leading position in business and social circles ("A Shocking Affair"). The Dispatch reported that while Stone had been absent, very few believed he had actually left town until just a few days prior – around the time the Intelligencer’s rumor-based report gained momentum.

Burnett posted an advertisement in the Intelligencer about a creditors’ meeting for Stone & Burnett to be held in Seattle on March 26. The Intelligencer noted Stone’s absence as mayor in a separate article, saying that the office would become vacant after he was absent for 60 days. "At the expiration of that time, under the provisions of our City Charter, it will become the duty of the City Council to appoint some one at their first regular meeting to discharge the duties of that office until a successor is duly elected and qualified at the next general city election to be held on the second Monday in July next" ("A Vacancy ..."). The Intelligencer also called out its rival paper – the Puget Sound Dispatch – for improperly reporting street gossip as facts, noting that "there is no foundation for the more serious charges which have been recklessly made against him" ("A Vacancy ..."). 

While there was clearly a feud brewing in March 1873 between the rival Intelligencer and Dispatch, there are gaps that make their accounts incomplete. Both newspapers published weekly: the Intelligencer on Mondays and the Dispatch on Thursdays. While copies of the Intelligencer from that month exist, collections of the Washington State Archives, Seattle Public Library, and the Library of Congress are missing the February 27 and March 6 editions of the Dispatch – papers that seem almost certain to have details of the missing mayor and the "street gossip" the rival Intelligencer said was reported as fact.

A ’Busy Dame Rumor’

The Intelligencer on March 10 said a "busy dame rumor" was speculating as to why Stone left his mayoral term and "numberless stories and surmises were soon set afloat tending to his disparagement and disgrace" ("An Astounding ..."). 

The Dispatch reported Stone swindled his business partner before taking off for Denver and then south "with the wife if a respectable journeyman mechanic in this city, who left two infant children in the care of her mother upon the pretext of going to Walla Walla on a visit ("A Shocking Affair"). Burnett told the Dispatch he immediately placed the firm’s remaining assets at the disposal of creditors.

However, what was almost always missed in the retelling of this story was that the Dispatch ran a correction after its initial report, writing: "Mr. James C. Roper, the father of the woman who was reported as having eloped with C. P. Stone, informs us that his daughter is on a visit to friends of the family in Vancouver, and has not seen Mr. Stone since he left this city. We are glad of the opportunity to make this correction" ("Correction"). 

In the Intelligencer's callout of the Dispatch, the Intelligencer cites a letter from the woman also saying she was in Vancouver with her two children and that a telegram from Stone "will show that not a dollar of any 'trust money' has been taken or embezzled by him ("An Astounding …"). In the 1988 reprinting of the Intelligencer story, these details were omitted.

City Councilmember S. F. Coombs also told the Dispatch of his communication with Stone, which said Stone made ample provisions for the support of his family. It wasn’t until more than a month later, April 19, that the Intelligencer ran a one-line update saying it had learned from a reliable source that Stone made arrangements for his family to be amply provided for. And that too was ignored in the 1988 retelling of the story in the Post-Intelligencer’s anniversary edition.

The Business Side

What goes unanswered is: Why did Stone leave the business so abruptly, causing creditors to be at his business partner’s door? It seems that Stone, arguably a better businessman than Burnett, saw that it wouldn’t be successful and bailed for more personally beneficial ventures – like the ones he had in later decades in Seattle. There are hardly any documents about Stone in the Seattle Municipal Archives, and none about his departure from his business with Burnett. Historian Clarence Bagley had five letters from Stone in his files at the University of Washington Special Collections, but those too only detail later real estate deals. If the business was on the ropes and Stone took the available cash and left the rest for his business partner to deal with, proof of that is lost to history. Whatever happened to the business in the months or year before Stone’s departure isn’t clear – but may explain his frustrated former business partner’s openness with the press in spreading rumors about Stone’s alleged affair.

In its March 17 edition, the Intelligencer noted that the San Francisco-based creditors for Stone & Burnett held a meeting and appointed a trustee to settle their accounts with the firm, and that the agent "already started and will be here in a few days" (citation). That creditor was attorney S. A. Sanderson.

On March 24, 1873, the Intelligencer reported that Stone "was met with severe disappointment" in Denver when he placed two drafts for collection at a National Bank branch, one for $4,800 in coin and the other for $3,700 in currency. "After waiting some days, he was coolly informed that they were attached for the benefit of his creditors! We learn further that on receipt of this intelligence, he at once left that locality" ("Benefit of Creditors").

The Dispatch reported that Stone, senior partner of Stone & Burnett, left Seattle with all available cash assets of the firm, and the paper called out Stone’s conduct. A meeting of the creditors was scheduled for March 26, and Burnett turned the shop over to a receiver. Inventory was reduced as low as possible, and all outstanding accounts available were collected. The March 26 and 27 meetings were called to order by Dexter Horton (1825-1904), and Rev. Daniel Bagley (1818-1905) was elected chairman. Councilmember Coombs was secretary, and creditors representing about $75,000 were present.

Sanderson, the San Francisco attorney, was owed the most at $44,000. The other top four creditors needing payment were William Renton, $7,100; Coombs $7,600; Horton $2,880; and Bagley, $600. The committee found $82,397 in liabilities and $61,109 in assets, and believed at least 75 percent would be realized by the creditors. They relieved Burnett from further liability, even if there was a financial loss on the final adjustment, and published their conclusion in the Dispatch.

On March 27, Stone sent a message from Aurora, Illinois, to Coombs asking for the result of the meeting and asked if his proposition was not accepted if it would be advisable to retain an attorney. "Shall remain here for letters," he wrote ("Stone Heard From").

On April 3, Stone’s resignation from his post as mayor was accepted, and John T. Jordan was elected to fill the mayoral vacancy. (Jordan preceded Stone as Seattle’s second mayor.) Jordan served for two months before Moses R. Maddocks was elected to finish Stone’s term.

On April 5, the Intelligencer ran an ad announcing that everything left in the Stone & Burnett stock was being sold at cost: dry goods, clothing, boots and shoes, hats, caps, groceries, hardware, cookery, ship chandlery, paints, and oils. Previously the receiver of Stone & Burnett, H. Adams, posted notices in the newspapers asking anyone with claims to make themselves available for payment.

On May 10, the Intelligencer printed a rebuttal from Stone of its coverage. Stone had been informed while in Denver that reports said he had suddenly left with the cash. Stone wrote that he was surprised when he learned the bank drafts were objected to, and that he voluntarily surrendered them in Denver. Stone said he did not act unfavorably, didn’t sell his certificates in a rush, and spent extra time in Denver to ensure the matters were handled. Had he been in a rush to cash the protested drafts, he could have – as any businessman would at once see, Stone wrote. For verification, he listed Mr. S. N. Wood, Assistant Cashier of the Second National Bank of Colorado at Denver.

The Alleged Other Woman

The woman said to have had the affair with Stone – Mary Elizabeth Klink (1850-1925) – was first identified in the April 5 edition of the Intelligencer. Klink, who went by Minnie, wrote from Vancouver, Washington, saying the allegations were full of personal abuse and noting that the newspaper did not publish a full account, giving a false impression. "For the benefit of the public, I will say that I left Seattle with the intention of going to Walla Walla, but finding the roads in such bad condition, I only saw fit to come as far as Vancouver (I hope I have the good will of the Seattle folks for so doing; also, their sanction in the matter) where I am now visiting a family by the name of Smith. If your people are anxious, they can find out if this is the truth or not by writing to Judge John F. Smith, who will tell I am here, with my two little girls, and where I shall stay (with the permission of Seattle gossipers) until I am ready to return" ("A Letter ..."). Klink said she didn’t have Stone’s money, and if she did somehow get a $15,000 sum, "I will richly recompense you" ("A Letter ..."). 

So, who was Minnie Klink? Perhaps the rumor of an affair started because at the same time of Stone’s disappearance, Klink was also accused of adultery. Later that spring, she had left town and her husband had filed for divorce – something especially unusual at the time. But the divorce record, initiated May 27 and completed in August 1873, doesn’t mention Stone, and shows it was another unrelated man blamed for breaking up their marriage. Until this HistoryLink article, those details weren’t reported.

Minnie E. Roper and William Klink were married on February 15, 1866, in Los Angeles. They had three children, one who died in infancy, and twin girls: Minnie (1870-1947) and Lillie (1870-1892). The couple lived together for six years until trouble started in 1872. The elder Minnie wanted Klink to support her mother and some other family. Klink described himself in court documents as a poor man working day to day for pay, and he didn’t want his mother-in-law living with them. Minnie insisted. He still said no. And on October 13, 1872, she moved out.

Klink told the court that four months later, on February 9, 1873, Minnie had an affair with Thomas Benjamin, another Seattle resident, at the residence of L. C. McCowen. Two days later, she took the 3-year-old girls and left for Oregon, then down to California, and later to states east of the Rocky Mountains.

"Being a poor man, he has been unable to follow her or to regain possession of his children, and he does not know where either the defendant or his children are," his attorney wrote in divorce documents ("Frontier Justice …"). Minnie’s summons to District Court appeared in the Dispatch on May 29, but few people noticed, and no one made the connection to the Stone rumor. Perhaps the newspapers that had initially relied on rumors to tell the story had little interest in broadly correcting it – and that urban legend continued for more than 150 years. When the divorce claim was settled on August 9, 1873, the court believed the adultery claim and gave William Klink full custody of their twin girls.

Things did get better for Minnie and Thomas Benjamin, at least for a few years. Thomas Clay Benjamin (1843-1916) was a native of Waukegan, Illinois. A 32-year-old railroad engineer, he and Minnie married in 1874 and had a daughter, Nettie (also known as Jeanette). They also had daughter Mary in 1875, son William in 1877, and daughter Liddy in 1879. Daughter Etta was born in Portland, Oregon, in 1880, and son Fred arrived in 1882. But by the 1890s, it appears Thomas Benjamin’s relationship with Minnie was over and they lived separately in Seattle. At the turn of the century, she lived in Iowa with their first daughter, Nettie. By 1920 she had moved back to Seattle and lived with her elder daughter, Minnie, and her husband Thomas E. Williams at North 61st Street. She listed herself as widowed in that year’s census. She died in Seahurst – an unincorporated King County community west of Burien – on February 17, 1925.

Thomas Benjamin moved to Richmond, California, where he lived until his death in 1916. He’d married Elizabeth Coakley Benjamin, to whom he left his estate. Five dollars each were left to daughter Nettie, son William, and son Fred. Benjamin didn’t know where two of the three lived and wrote in his will that they were "my children by a former wife, and they have never assisted me in manor or form" as part of an explanation of why his estate was going to his surviving wife.

Stone’s Return to Seattle

Stone’s marriage to Frances Boyd didn’t last – possibly another reason for the rumors – and he married Almira Crossman (1837-1912) in Chicago. Accounts for that marriage date also vary, but Illinois records indicate the marriage happened January 13, 1874. (Frances married Thomas Randall Arey (1843-1915) in Port Madison and had four other boys.) After Stone’s departure from Washington Territory, he spent time in Chicago, Denver, and Healdsburg, California, where he had real estate dealings. While Stone had family connections in Illinois, including his father in Aurora, Kane County, the specific reasons why he went to the other locations aren’t clear. 

Stone returned to Seattle on the steamship Dakota on June 25, 1878. Upon his return, he opened a cash grocery in the Sullivan Block of Front Street. He arrived with $240, but W. A. Jennings and Bailey Gatzert – Seattle’s mayor in 1875 and into 1876 – gave Stone the $1,000 he used to grow his grocery business. Eventually the store expanded to 1,200 square feet, with four additional warehouses. By 1883, what by then had become the Post-Intelligencer boasted that it was doubtful another retail store in all of Washington Territory could show a record like Stone’s.

In 1884, Stone platted his first of several additions to the city: the Lake Union addition, including 160 acres of land. He then platted the 30-acre Edgewater addition – the area where Wallingford and Fremont meet. He then platted an extension to Edgewater and followed with another 20-acre addition that adjoined Lake Union. Stone is also the only person in Seattle’s history to have streets named for his first and last names: Corliss Avenue N and Stone Way N.

Though Stone mostly focused on private business ventures – including his work with the Union Electric Company and as president of Cascade Laundry – he occasionally dipped back into public life, as a police commissioner and, in 1893, as an appointed property appraiser. He’d gather Seattle Republicans for meetings at his boathouse in the Latona neighborhood. He also made the equivalent of tens of millions in 2024 dollars with real estate deals in downtown Seattle and the city’s north end. He died of heart failure on September 14, 1906, and is buried at Lake View Cemetery.

Though somewhat removed from the public eye, Stone retained important property interests and was known as a representative and useful citizen, author Clinton A. Snowden wrote three years after Stone’s death in the History of Washington. The claims that he swindled $15,000 and left with another man’s wife make for a fascinating 1800s folk story. While he did abandon the mayor’s office and leave his business partner to settle roughly 80 percent of assets with their creditors, the oft-reported ending that "it’s not known what became of the mayor" is more sensational than substantive.


“Seattle City Election,” The Washington Standard, July 15, 1871, p. 2; “Absconded,” Ibid., March 15, 1873, p. 2; “An Astounding and Inexplicable Affair,” The Weekly Intelligencer., March 10, 1873, p. 3; “Notice,” Ibid., March 10, 1873, p. 2; “A Vacancy in the Office of Mayor,” Ibid., March 10, 1873, p. 3; “Meeting of the Creditors of Stone & Burnett,” Ibid., March 29, 1873, p. 3; “Selling Off At Cost,” Ibid., April 5, 1873, p. 2; “A Letter from Mrs. M.E. Klink,” Ibid., April 5, 1873, p. 3; “Receiver’s Notice,” Ibid., April 5, 1873, p. 3; “Provided For,” Ibid., April 19, 1873, p. 3; “Render Unto Cesar,” Ibid., May 10, 1873, “Civil Docket,” Ibid., August 2, 1873, p. 3; “Death of Corliss P. Stone,” The St. Johnsbury Caledonian, September 26, 1906, p. 4; Ibid., October 19, 1883, p. 3; “A Shocking Affair,” Puget Sound Dispatch., March 13, 1873, p. 1; “Correction,” March 13, 1873, Ibid., p. 1; “Benefit of Creditors,” March 24, 1873, p. 3; “Stone Heard From,” Ibid., April 3, 1873, p. 1; “Meeting of Creditors,” Ibid., April 3, 1873, p. 1; “City Council Proceedings,” Ibid., April 10, 1873, p. 3; “Financial and Commercial,” Ibid., April 17, 1873, p. 3; “District Court Docket,” Ibid., January 27, 1876 p. 1; “Local News,” Ibid., June 29, 1878, p. 4; North Star (Danville, Vermont), May 20, 1865, p. 3; Morning Oregonian, January 24, 1873, p. 1; Albany Democrat, September 12, 1873, p. 3; “Estate of the Late Corliss P. Stone,” Spokane Chronicle, May 16, 1907, p. 13; “A Growing Business,” Seattle Post-Intelligencer, September 15, 1883, p. 6; “Match Game Arranged,” Ibid., March 20, 1884, p. 2; “Corliss Stone …” Ibid., September 5, 1893, p. 5; “Many in the Field,” Ibid., August 3, 1894, p. 8; “Sale of Second Avenue Property,” Ibid., March 24, 1899, p. 5; “Persons In Seattle and Vicinity,” Ibid., May 21, 1899, p. 8; “Fourth of July Celebration,” Ibid., June 2, 1899, p. 5; “Ninth Ward Republicans,” Ibid., February 10, 1900, p. 10; “For Rent,” Ibid., September 8, 1900, p. 12; “Falls Through Sidewalk …” Ibid., October 16, 1900, p. 9; “Fremont Real Estate,” Ibid., December 2, 1900, p. 21; “Valuable Real Estate Sold,” Ibid., December 9, 1899, p. 5; “Corliss Stone,” Grandson of Pioneer, Dies, Ibid., August 26, 1963, p. 35; “Tongues Wag When Mayor Takes Money,” Ibid., November 14, 1988, p. C-8; “Protest Against Canal Boulevards,” The Seattle Star, October 10, 1901, p. 7; “The Klein-Rosenburg Building,” Ibid., May 27, 1905, p. 1; “C.P. Stone Buried,” Ibid, September 17, 1906, p. 1; “Stone Will on File,” Ibid., September 25, 1906, p. 8; Lawrence Kreisman, “First Home,” The Seattle Times, January 24, 1999, p. 176; Paul Dorpat, “Edgewater’s Bridge,” Ibid., February 4, 1996, p. 39. “Dr. Kilbourne, Who Grew With City, Is 97,” Ibid., January 11, 1953, p. 51; Frontier Justice: Territorial Court Case files: King Frontier Justice, 1873, Washington State Archives, case number KNG-445; original case number 444; Clarence Bagley Papers, 1864-1931, University of Washington Libraries Special Collections, container 3/6, accession 0036-001; Representative Citizens of The City of Seattle and County of King (New York and Chicago: The Lewis Publishing Company, 1903); Clinton A. Snowden, History of Washington Volume 6 (New York: The Century History Company, 1909); Benjamin Lukoff, “Corliss Avenue North,” Writes of Way (www.writesofway.org accessed February 15, 2024); “Stone Way North, Ibid.; “Mayors, 1869-1890,” Seattle Municipal Archives (www.seattle.gov) accessed February 15, 2024); “Seattle City Council Members: 1869-1882” Ibid., accessed April 3, 2024; “Ordinance 7449,” Office of the City Clerk (www.clerk.seattle.gov accessed March 3, 2024); “Edward Corliss Kilbourne papers, circa 1888-1958,” University of Washington Special Collections (https://archiveswest.orbiscascade.org/ark:80444/xv53500) accessed April 3, 2024; “Stone, Corliss P., House, Fremont, Seattle, WA,” Pacific Coast Architecture Database (https://pcad.lib.washington.edu/) accessed February 22, 2024; “Port Madison,” Revisiting Washington (https://revisitwa.org/waypoint/port-madison/) accessed April 2, 2024; “Hinckley Building, Pioneer Square, Seattle, WA,” Ibid., accessed February 22, 2024; “Frances K Boyd Arey (1851-1923),” Find A Grave (findagrave.com) accessed April 3, 2024; “George P. Stone (1870-1890),” Ibid.; “Corliss P. Stone (1870-1890),” Ibid.; “Corliss Lathrop Stone (1869-1943),” Ibid.; “Corliss Edgorton Stone (1900-1963); Jade D'Addario, email to Casey McNerthney, February 16, 2024, in possession of Casey McNerthney; Mahina Oshi, emails to Casey McNerthney, March 7, March 31, 2024, in possession of Casey McNerthney; John LaMont, email to Casey McNerthney, March 29, 2024, in possession of Casey McNerthney; Historylink.org Online Encyclopedia of Washington State History, “John Wallingford Jr. (1833-1913)” (by Paul Dorpat); “Kilbourne, Edward Corliss (1856-1959) (by Louis Fiset); “Street Railways in Seattle” (by Walt Crowley); “Voters elect Corliss P. Stone as mayor of the City of Seattle on July 8, 1872” (by David Wilma and Cassandra Tate); “Seattle Neighborhoods: Wallingford — Thumbnail History” (by Paul Dorpat) www.historylink.org (accessed April 1, 2024) Note: This entry replaces and corrects an earlier entry on the same subject. 

Licensing: This essay is licensed under a Creative Commons license that encourages reproduction with attribution. Credit should be given to both HistoryLink.org and to the author, and sources must be included with any reproduction. Click the icon for more info. Please note that this Creative Commons license applies to text only, and not to images. For more information regarding individual photos or images, please contact the source noted in the image credit.
This work is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License
Major Support for HistoryLink.org Provided By: The State of Washington | Patsy Bullitt Collins | Paul G. Allen Family Foundation | Museum Of History & Industry | 4Culture (King County Lodging Tax Revenue) | City of Seattle | City of Bellevue | City of Tacoma | King County | The Peach Foundation | Microsoft Corporation, Other Public and Private Sponsors and Visitors Like You