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THE BIOGRAPHICAL DICTIONARY OF IOWA

University of Iowa Press Digital Editions
Hoxie, Herbert Melville "Hub"
(December 18, 1830–November 23, 1886)

–U.S. Marshal during the Civil War and railroad developer—was born in New York in 1830, but migrated to Iowa Territory in 1840, eventually settling in Des Moines. At age 28 in 1858, Hoxie headed west to find his fortune in the gold fields of Colorado. Quick wealth eluded him, but his ambitious nature drew him into the turbulent world of late 1850s Iowa politics. Hoxie's hatred of slavery not only led him to establish a stop on the Iowa branch of the Underground Railroad but also drew him to the new Republican Party, which was clawing its way to power in the state. He rose quickly within the party establishment from secretary to chairman of the Republican State Central Committee by 1860, a critical year that saw the party's candidate, Abraham Lincoln, ascend to the presidency and the Republicans gain control of Congress. But the election results also led the Deep South to secede from the Union, precipitating the plunge toward civil war in April 1861.

    During the war, Hoxie's influence within the party and in state politics increased as he allied himself with Republican power players such as James W. Grimes, William Allison, and John Kasson. But his most important patron by far was Grenville M. Dodge, whose meteoric rise to national prominence benefited Hoxie immensely. Using this political clout, Hoxie secured an appointment as U.S. Marshal in 1861, which allowed him to travel the length of the state to drum up support for the party and bash the opposition. During the congressional elections of 1862, Marshal Hoxie harassed prominent Democrats and committed some unsavory acts of political sabotage ostensibly in the name of patriotism and loyalty. He arrested Dennis Mahony, William Allison's Democratic opponent for a congressional seat and also owner of an anti-Republican Dubuque newspaper, for obstructing army recruiting efforts and sent him, along with another Democratic newspaper editor, to the Old Capital Prison in Washington, D.C., until after the election. Such underhanded tactics helped Republican candidates win their races.

    During the 1863 Iowa gubernatorial race, Hoxie traveled across the state accusing Democratic Copperheads of disloyalty and treason and, in Wapello County, arrested 12 Democrats for antigovernment activities. To Dodge, who was then commanding Union troops in the field, Hoxie boasted that his tactics had made "all the leaders to either quake in their boots, or run as fast as the other rebels you are after."At the same time, he also lobbied Dodge to ensure the Republican votes of Iowa soldiers. In return, Hoxie and other prominent Republicans pushed hard for Dodge's promotion to higher rank in the army. According to one observer, Hoxie believed that Dodge possessed "a kind of general supervision of affairs civil and military in the state."

    His interests soon extended even farther. When the Republican-dominated Congress passed legislation promoting a transcontinental railroad, he saw not only enormous benefits for Iowa but also an opportunity to increase his personal wealth. "Now is the time for War Contracts," he wrote Dodge in 1861. "There must be money in this war some place & we ought to have our share."Although Dodge, against Hoxie's advice, accepted a military command and became a general, Hoxie adjusted to the change smoothly and sought to use his friend's rank and prestige to advantage. He kept Dodge abreast of the railroad venture and, on occasion, asked for support in helping Thomas Durant organize the Union Pacific Railroad Company. When Anne Dodge implored her husband to resign after being wounded in the 1864 Atlanta campaign, Hoxie urged the general to remain in the service "for the reason that the Union Pacific is not yet firmly in Durant's hands."

    Even without Dodge's aid, Hoxie became heavily involved in angling for a piece of the new transcontinental railroad. Despite his lack of experience in railway construction, Hoxie's proposal (written by Durant's attorney) to build more than 200 miles of track at $50,000 per mile was accepted. Then, in return for stock in the company and a large sum of cash, Hoxie quickly transferred the contract to Crédit Mobilier of America, a fake construction company created by Durant and other Union Pacific stockholders to divert government funds for railroad construction into their pockets. Hoxie's shady deal was only one of many unscrupulous activities that, in 1872, erupted into one of the worst scandals to plague the Grant administration. Long before that dam broke, however, Hoxie had landed a lucrative position with the Union Pacific after being forced out of his position as U.S. Marshal.

    Although no longer in public office, Hoxie maintained an enormous reserve of political muscle, which he flexed in the 1866 congressional elections. When John Kasson appeared likely to defeat Dodge for the party's nomination in the Fifth District, Dodge's allies called upon Hoxie, who had already viciously attacked Kasson for betraying the party in Congress with regard to Reconstruction policies, to save the day. Dodge's victory proved that Hoxie and a small group of Iowa Republicans dubbed the Des Moines Regency were a force to be reckoned with in state politics.

    In 1886 Hoxie entered the public arena for the last time. As a senior officer in Jay Gould's Missouri Pacific Railroad, he had to deal with a major labor dispute involving more than 9,000 workers. Hoxie firmly refused to deal with the strikers and eventually outlasted them, winning a big victory for Gould. As it turned out, that success was his last. On November 23 he died in New York of complications from kidney stones. Perhaps Dodge's words best describe Hoxie's life and behind-the-scenes contributions to Iowa politics. As Dodge faced another political crisis and bemoaned the lack of courage in the party's ranks, the old general proclaimed: "We want some Hoxies in the Republican party just now."
Sources A large amount of Hoxie correspondence can be found in the Grenville M. Dodge Collection at the State Historical Soci ety of Iowa, Des Moines. See also Ora Williams, "Herbert Melville ('Hub') Hoxie," Annals of Iowa 32 (1954), 321–30; Stephen E. Ambrose, Nothing Like It in the World: The Men Who Built the Transcontinental Railroad, 1863–1869 (2000); Maury Klein, Union Pacific, vol. 1, Birth of a Railroad, 1862–1893 (1987); and Stanley P. Hirshson, Grenville M. Dodge: Soldier, Politician, Railroad Pioneer (1967).
Contributor: William B. Feis

Cite as: Feis, William B. "Hoxie, Herbert Melville "Hub"" The Biographical Dictionary of Iowa. University of Iowa Press, 2009. Web. 13 December 2017