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Mowatt Merill Mitchell


 

This has been written using newspaper archives, census records and information provided by descendants of the Mitchells. It is not just the story of the USA Rugby International, Mow Mitchell but also the story of his family.

 

Rugby in the USA started and flourished in California in the late nineteenth century. The Mitchell’s moved west with the masses after the 1848 gold rush. It was after the American Civil War up until the end of the century that the area became known as the Wild West.

 

The 1913 book Who's who on the Pacific Coast; a biographical compilation of notable living contemporaries west of the Rocky Mountains edited by Franklin Harper says of his father

 

MITCHELL, John S. Hotel proprietor. Res. 301 Alexandria ave., office Hollenbeck Hotel, Los Angeles, Cal. Born in Sacramento, Cal., June 11, 1858; son of John Henry and Harriett (Jordan) Mitchell. Married to Florence Standish Mowatt. Attended night schools and business college. First employed in office work in San Francisco , 1868-72; mining in Ajo , Ariz. , and Tombstone , Ariz ,. 1872-74; in Cosmopolitan Hotel, Tombstone, Ariz., 1874-88; mgr. during part of this time; commercial traveler in own interest, 1888-98; vice-pres. and mgr. Hollenbeck Hotel, Los Angeles, 1898 to date; dir. Hotel Alexandria; dir. Blicke Rowan Fire Proof Building Co.; pres. Ocean to Ocean Highway Assn., which proposes to build great highway from Los Angeles to New York city. Former pres. Hotel Men's M. B. A. of America; former pres. Southern California Hotel Men's Assn.; dir. California State Hotel Men's Assn.; member United Commercial Travelers; B. P. O. E.; Los Angeles Athletic Club; Masonic fraternity.

 

This does collaborate newspaper reports, census and other US records. But there is a gap in the records for him during his time in Arizona which cannot, as yet, be confirmed but has been included throughout this article.

 

John S. Mitchell’s son, Mow, started as fly half for the United States against the All Blacks on 19th February 1913. He was substituted but as no full reports of the match have been found its difficult to know why. The First World War ended his rugby days and he went on to work for the US Government until he retired.

 

Mowatt Merrill Mitchell

 

Known as Mow, he was born on 18th September 1886 in San Francisco , California , the son of John Samuel Mitchell and Florence Standish Mitchell (nee Mowatt). They married on 1st September 1881 in San Francisco .

 

His grandfather was John Henry Mitchell, the son of a Methodist Minister from Illinois . He had three families. The son of the first wife was Mows father John Samuel Mitchell.

 

His father became a famous hotel owner and manager. He was first employed in office work in San Francisco and attended night school and business college. He probably attended the Heald Business College in San Francisco , his business partner, Albert Clay Bilicke, went there in 1876. He then went mining in Ajo and Tombstone , Arizona between 1872-74 before working at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Tombstone between 1874 and 1888, where he was promoted to manager. On Wednesday 26th October 1881 the infamous Gunfight at the OK Corral occurred in Tombstone . Afterwards the Earp’s, moved into the Cosmopolitan Hotel feeling they were safer there than in their homes. Albert Bilickes’ father owned the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Tombstone .

 

Above the Cosmopolitan Hotel, Tombstone , Arizona in the 1880s

In the 1880s Mow’s father was a liquor dealer and director of Meyerfield & Mitchell of San Francisco .

Above advert for Meyerfield & Mitchell

In 1888 his father became a commercial traveller for ten years. In 1898 he became director and manager of the Hollenbeck Hotel in Los Angeles and seven years later director of the Alexandria Hotel.

Above the Hollenbeck Hotel in Los Angeles .

 

Above the lobby of the Hollenbeck Hotel

 

His mother was daughter of Commodore Mowatt and Eliza Ann Bovee Dodge. Mow was the eldest son. There were two younger brothers Standish Low Mitchell (1889-1980) and Douglas Chapin Mitchell (1892-1950).  His elder sister Ruth Comfort Mitchell (1882-1954) became a famous author, poet and playwright. She served as Republican National Committeewoman from California for eight years and as national and state president of Pro-America, an organization of Republic women founded in 1933. She is best known for her novel, "Of Human Kindness, which she wrote to rebut John Steinbeck's views of landowners as portrayed in “The Grapes of Wrath”. She married Sanborn Young who went on to become State Senator for California in 1925. He said of his life said of his life, "My own claim to fame is that I married Ruth Comfort Mitchell, I became a California State Senator and wrote the narcotics bill, I raised the champion beagle."

 

His fathers half brother was Edward H. Mitchell, who established a postcard business in San Francisco which became world famous.

 

Above Mow’s Uncle, Edward H, Mitchell and family. Image courtesy of Walter Kransky

 

The family spent their summers at their second home at Los Gatos .

 

Above Mow in 1905, aged 18

 

Above his sister, the novelist, Ruth Comfort Mitchell

 

Excavation of the Alexandria Hotel in Los Angeles began in the end of the summer of 1904. Above is a photograph from the USC Digital Archive which says “This photo shows the ceremony of turning the first shovel of dirt where the Hotel Alexandria was to be built. Albert Constant Bilicke infant son of Mr. and Mrs. A.C. Bilicke, turned the first shovelful. Mr. A.C. Bilicke holds the child's hand. Mr. Robert A. Rowan, who is associated with Mr. Bilicke in many land and building enterprises, stands with his hand on his knee. The man to the right of the line is Mr. John S. Mitchell, who is associated with Mr. Bilicke in the Hollenbeck Hotel.”

 

Six months later the construction on site started marked by a bricklaying ceremony again performed by Bilicke’s son on 4th April 1905. In attendance were his parents, R. A. Rowan and Superintendant E. A. Eagan.

Above his fathers partner, Albert Bilicke and his son, Albert, at the start of construction of the Alexandria Hotel. Los Angeles Herald 9th April 1905.

 

The 360 room Alexandria Hotel, with a construction cost of more than one million dollars opened at noon on 12th February 1906 and was extended in 1910.

 

It was the Palm Court , the ballroom, at the Alexandria Hotel that became famous between 1911 and 1922. It regularly held dances attended by the famous of Hollywood . Rudolph Valentino was a regular.

 

Above the construction of the extension to the Alexandria Hotel. Los Angeles Herald 25th December 1910.

 

Above Albert Clay Bilicke

 

Above the Alexandria Hotel

 

Above the interior of the Alexandria Hotel in 1913

 

Mow was educated at Los Angeles High School, 1905-06, where he excelled at Basketball and Baseball. LA High is the oldest public high school in the Southern California Region and in the Los Angeles Unified School District . The past school alumni also include Ray Bradbury (author), Dustin Hoffman (actor), and George Takei (Star Trek actor)

 

Above Los Angeles High School

 

He moved to Stanford University in 1907 and gained an AB degree in Economics in May 1910.

 

Above Stanford University 2010

 

Above his father John S. Mitchell in 1908

 

Above advert for the Hollenbeck Hotel with its rates in 12th May 1910

 

Above his brother, Stan, second row 3rd right, captain of the Los Angeles High School Rugby Team State Championship Winners 1907.  Los Angeles Herals 27th November 1907.

 

Above Mow at Stanford in 1908

 

In 1908 his father bought a piece of land on the corner of Alexandria Avenua and Fourth Street in Chapman Park , Los Angeles for $7,500 cash to build his own $35,000 home.

 

In February 1909 his father became a director of Orange County Gas Company.

 

Above Mow (right) and his brother Stan at Stanford in 1909

 

Above Mow in 1909

Above the San Francisco Call on the 9th November 1909. California v Stanford

 

Captain of Stanford, Mow Mitchell pushes through for the only try of the game, which he converted, in the match against the University of California . Stanford lost 19-13 at California Field, Berkeley watched by nearly 7,000 people on 16th October 1909. This was Stanford’s last match of the season.

 

Captain Mow Mowatt in the California v Stanford match in 1909

 

In 1909 as captain of Stanford, Mows record was played 8 lost 1. Stanford’s record was

 

Barbarians W 16-0

Olympics W 3-0

Barbarians W 11-0

Olympics W 15-0

Castaways W 41-0

Reliance Club W 59-0

Vancouver W 56-0

Vancouver W 19-3

California L 13-10

Above 1910 Stanford Rugby team. 1. Burbank (Manager), 2. Cook, 3. Presley (Coach), 4. Horton, 5. Minturn, 6. Crawford, 7. Pemberton, 8. Moulton (Trainer), 9. Sanborn, 10. Thorpe, 11. Dole, 12. Pitting, 13. Cheda, 14. S.Mitchell, 15. Brown, 16. M.Mitchell, 17. Roth, 18. Cass, 19. Holman.

 

Above his father John S. Mtichell about 1910

 

Above the Los Angeles Herald 27th September 1910

 

Instead of joining his father in the hotel business he returned to Stanford to do a post-graduate degree and carry on his rugby.

 

Above brother Stan Mitchell No. 5 in 1911

Description: stanford1912cropAbove the 1911 Stanford side. Brother Stan Mitchell no.10. 1 Baumgartner, 2 Minturn, 3 Cheda, 4 Presley, 5 Sundell, 6 Smith, 7 Brown, 8 Arrell, 9 Burbank, 10 Mitchell, 11 Thoburn, 12 Dole (Captain), 13 Erb, 14 Frank, 15 Reeves, 16 Harrigan, 17 Geissler.

 

Above the 1913 Stanford side. Mow Mitchell no.16. 1 Burbank (Manager), 2 Cook, 3 Presley, 4 Horton, 5 Minturn, 6 Crawford, 7 Pemberton, 8 Moulton (Trainer), 9 Sanborn, 10 Thorpe, 11 Dole, 12 Pitting, 13 Cheda, 14 S.Mitchell, 15 Brown, 16 M.Mitchell (Captain), 17 Roth, 18 Cass, 19 Holman

Above Mow Mitchell in 1913

 

The match between the USA and New Zealand was organized by former Cal president Benjamin Ide Wheeler in an attempt to popularize rugby among his students.

 

The All Blacks before travelling to the US played Australia at Christchurch and lost 16-5 on the 20th September 1913. On the ship travelling to America the All Blacks held daily haka practices. The team was given a big welcome on arrival in San Francisco and before disembarking the All Blacks gave their haka, which had the crowd yelling their approval.  Mow played once for the USA at fly-half on 15th November 1913 against New Zealand at Berkeley . The All Blacks won 51-3 running in 13 tries. Mow was substituted in the match by A.Knowles.

Above the USA side that played New Zealand in 1913. Back Row (L-R): Daniel Brendon Carroll (Stanford University), Clark Lewis Boulware (not used) (Stanford University), Haley (not used) (Stanford University), William Pettigrew Darsie (Stanford University), Herbert Rowell Stolz (replacement) (Stanford University), Brant (?) or Flemming (not used) (?), Joseph C. Urban (Stanford University), A.Knowles (replacement) (?), Charles A. Austin (Olympic), G.Voight (Santa Clara University), Frank Jacob Gard (Captain) (Stanford University), Roland Roy Blase (Stanford University), William Norris King (University of California). Front Row: Forbes (not used) (?), Stirling Benjamin Peart ( University of California ), Joseph Louis McKim ( University of California ), G.Glasscock (Olympic), E.B.Hall ( Stanford University ), Benjamin Edward Erb (not used) ( Stanford University ), Louis Cass ( Stanford University ), Mowatt Merrill Mitchell (Los Angeles Athletic Club), Quill (not used) ( Santa Clara ), J.A.Ramage ( Santa Clara University ).

 

Above the 1913 All Blacks. 1 Graham, 2 Downing, 3 Cuthill, 4 Murray, 5 Williams, 6 Douglas, 7 Bruce, 8 Wiley, 9 Lynch, 10 Stohr, 11 Leveridge, 12 Sellars, 13 Roberts, 14 Johnson, 15 Gray, 16 McKenzie, 17 McDonald (Captain), 18 Mason (Manager), 19 Taylor, 20 Messenger, 21 Caine, 22 McGregor, 23 Mitchinson, 24 Dewar, 25 R.Roberts.

 

 

The tour of North America by the All Blacks was the last international games played by their captain Alex McDonald. His last match was against Vancouver on 24th November 1913.


Ten thousand spectators saw the match at California Field, Berkeley , California . More than the number that watched the All Blacks play at home to Australia in Christchurch two months previous.

 

The teams were

 

 

USA

New Zealand

FB

W

C

C

W

FH

SH

P

H

P

L

L

F

F

N8

 

 

R

R

J.Ramage

J.Urban

D.Carroll

C.Austin

S.Peart

M.Mitchell

L.Cass

J.McKim

E.Hall

G.Glasscock

R.Blase

G.Voight

W.Darsie

F.Gard (Captain)

W.King

 

Replacements

A.Knowles

H.R.Stolz

j.Cuthill

A.McGregor

R.Roberts

R.McKenzie

F.Mitchinson

G.Gray

H.Taylor

H.Murray

M.Cain

G.Sellars

A.Downing

J.Wylie

J.Graham

A.McDonald (Captain)

H.Dewar

 

Pens Peart

Tries Gray 2, McDonald 2, McGregor, McKenzie 2, Murray 2, Roberts 3, Wylie.

Cons Graham 4, McDonald, Mitchinson

Result New Zealand won by a margin of 48 points

 

Ground name California Field, Berkeley

Attendance 10000

 

Referee W Hill ( Australia )

 

United States of America Test debuts R Blase, L Cass, W Darsie , G Glasscock, E Hall, A Knowles, M Mitchell, J Ramage, H Stolz, J Urban, G Voight

New Zealand Test debuts M Cain, J Graham

 

Points scoring rules try 3, conversion 2, penalty goal 3, drop goal 4, goal from a mark 3

 

It would be another 67 years before the All Blacks would play the USA again in 1980.

 

 

Action from the USA v All Blacks match on 15th November 1913

 

Action from the USA v All Blacks match on 15th November 1913

 

Action from the USA v All Blacks match on 15th November 1913

 

There was very little press coverage for the match in the national newspapers who were more interested in American Football.

 

Above New York Tribune 16th November 1913

 

 

The total record of the All Blacks in the United States in 1913 was

 

4th Oct Olympic Club at Saint Ignatius Field, San Francisco 19-0 (Att:2,500)

8th Oct University of California at California Field, Berkeley 31-0 (Att:500)

11th Oct Barbarians at Saint Ignatius Field, San Francisco 30-0

15th Oct Stanford University at Stanford Park , Palo Alto 54-0 (Att:6,000)

18th Oct Stanford University at Stanford Park , Palo Alto 56-0 (Att:6,000)

22nd Oct University of Santa Clara at Golden Gate Stadium, Santa Clara 42-0 (Att:10,000)

25th Oct University of California at California Field, Berkeley 38-3

29th Oct University of Nevada at University Ground, Reno 55-0

3rd Nov University of California at California Field, Berkeley 33-0

5th Nov St. Mary’s College at Saint Ignatius Field, San Francisco 26-0

8th Nov University of Southern California at Boyard Field, Los Angeles 40-0

12th Nov University of Santa Clara at Golden Gate Stadium, Santa Clara 33-0

15th Nov United States of America at California Field, Berkeley 51-3 (Att:10,000)

19th Nov Victoria ( British Columbia ) at Oak Bay Ground, Victoria 23-0

22nd Nov Victoria ( British Columbia ) at Oak Bay Ground, Victoria 35-0 (Att:2,500)

24th Nov Vancouver at Stanley Park , Vancouver 44-0 (Att:3,000)

 

During the Victoria match on the 19th November one of the home players died from head injuries during the match. The All Blacks captain Alex McDonald attended the inquest. The Victoria side was captained by former Welsh International Harry Vaughan Watkins.

 

The All Blacks won every match on this tour of the USA and Canada scoring 610 points and only conceding 6. There was very little press coverage throughout the tour.

 

Above Tacoma Times 26th November 1913

 

The All Black individual statistics from the USA and Canada tour of 1913 are

 

Name

Tries

Goals Tries

Goals Penalties

Field Goals

Total

Games Played

R. Roberts

15

9

1

-

66

12

J. Graham

4

23

2

-

64

10

J. Stohr

7

13

3

-

56

9

T. Lynch

16

1

-

-

50

10

F. Mitchenson

10

3

2

1

46

12

A. McGregor

15

-

-

-

45

10

A. J. McKenzie

12

-

-

-

36

11

A. McDonald

11

1

-

-

35

13

H. Murray

11

-

-

-

33

12

J. Cuthill

7

5

-

-

31

14

J. Douglas

7

-

-

-

21

8

G. Loveridge

6

1

-

-

20

8

A. Downing

6

-

-

-

18

14

E. Roberts

6

-

-

-

18

5

J.Wylie

6

-

-

-

18

11

J. Taylor

5

-

-

-

15

10

M. Cain

3

1

-

-

11

14

D. Gray

3

-

-

-

9

11

G. Sellars

2

-

-

-

6

14

P.Williams

1

-

-

-

3

8

J. Dewar

1

-

-

-

3

14

J. Atkinson

1

-

-

-

3

8

J.A. Bruce

1

-

-

-

3

12

 

 

Joseph R. Hickey, the Chairman of the Finance Committee that organised the tour said afterwards

 

The visit of the New Zealand “All-Blacks”, under the auspices of the California Rugby Union was easily the feature of the season of 1913, and the indelible impression of their whirlwind tactics will remain in the history of California foot ball for years to come. Whatever there remained of the tour arranged for the Australian “Waratahs” the year previous, has been erased in the memory of athletic prowess displayed by the wonderful combination led by Manager George Mason and Captain Alec McDonald. They came at a period when the development of Rugby in California appeared to have reached successful stages, at a time when the efforts of Australia ’s competition was about to materialize in wonderful strides on the part of local efforts. Not in their departure was the perfection of play realized, for the overwhelming defeat of the All-American fifteen left us with little appreciation of the extended effort on the part of our selected team.

 

Above rugby kit advert in 1914 USA

 

Events elsewhere in the world would soon grab the headlines. Of all the players in this match four would die in World War 1. The USA captain Frank Jacob Gard died 29th September 1918 and from New Zealand Henry Dewar ("Norkey Dewar"), died 19th August 1915, Albert Joseph Downing ("Doolan Downing"), died on 8th August 1915, George Maurice Victor Sellars, died 7th June 1917.

 

Mow’s father’s business associate at the Alexandria, Albert Clay Bilicke, who also worked with him at the Cosmopolitan Hotel in Tombstone, died while a passenger on the Cunard liner Lusitania, which was sunk by a German torpedo off the coast of Ireland in 1915. This was one of the events that led the US to join the War.

Above the Tombstone Epitaph 16th May 1915 with the news of his fathers business partners death.

 

When America joined the war Mow enlisted in Los Angeles on 5th June 1917 and served as a 1st Lieutenant in the A.S., AEF.

 

Above Mow in 1919

 

Above Mow in 1920

 

After the war Mow became a Field Director at the American Relief Warehouse, 12 Grosvenor Gardens , London . The Warehouse scheme was introduced by the Secretary of Commerce Herbert Hoover. It was possible for a person in the United States to buy a food draft at an American bank. This draft is sent to some person abroad by registered mail, and that person presents it at the American Relief Warehouse and receives food for it. This was introduced to stop the growing black market after the war. Posters showed what looked like an American flag and said Do you have relatives or friends in America ? If so one only needs to send cards to them in order to get food. This did more to stimulate immigration to America .. Mow became the Manager of the European Children’s Fund. Between 1921 and 1923 he was Assistant Director of the European Headquarters under Walter Lyman Brown. In the spring of 1921 a huge famine started in Russia after a drought had caused massive crop failure. Mow was involved in the food and medical relief which fed 10.5 million people daily and tried to avert a disaster. The initial death toll was greatly magnified when Lenin refused to acknowledge the famine and sent no aid. The Soviets later estimated that 5.1 million died in what is one of the world’s worst natural disasters of the 20th Century.

 

In 1921 his sister published the book Play The Game which drew many parallels from her brothers playing football at Stanford and Mow going to work in Italy .  In it a high school girl falls in love with a slow-witted football star who may be congenitally prone to alcoholism. They agree to marry. Meanwhile, a rich and sophisticated but weak and sneaky boy with a bad leg falls for her. Both young men enrol in Stanford; the girl goes off to Italy for operatic training. They meet again at a hacienda in Mexico , where the football player’s bravery saves everyone from a renegade group of Pancho Villa’s forces.

 

In 1931 the Hollanbeck Hotel was demolished.

 

He lived abroad from 1917 to 1938 in England , France and Italy and then returned home to California .

 

Above his sister Ruth and her pets at her home in Los Gatos in 1920. Image courtesy of Los Gatos Library and History Project.

 

He became a Trade Commissioner for the Bureau of Foreign and Domestic Commerce in Washington in 1927. He was in charge of Italian Colonial Development. In 1932 he worked in the Division of Customs Statistics, New York . He became Commercial Attaché and Economic Advisor at the US Embassy in Rome in 1938.

 

Above the American Embassy in Rome

 

His wife Simone Mitchell (nee Debruyn born 1905 Aalst , Belgium ) gave birth to a son Standish Mowatt Mitchell on 6th September 1931 in Brussels , Belgium . At the time of their son’s birth their address is listed as the American Embassy Rome.

 

His father, John Samuel Mitchell, died on 27th January 1941 in Santa Clara , California .

 

Above his sister Ruth, in colonial costume, at her home in Los Gatos , in 1949. Image courtesy of Los Gatos Library and History Project.

 

Mows son, Stan, died on 22nd October 1955, aged only 24, at Palo Alto , Santa Clara , California , one month after his daughter was born on 13th September 1955. His wife is still alive but their daughter, Jennifer Campbell Flippen Mitchell, died on 23rd January 2010 at Royal Oaks, Monterey , California , USA . His son Courtnay Mowatt Mitchell was born on 20th April 1951 and married a Barbara Brown Sage on 23rd Apr 1983 in Santa Clara .

 

Mow died on 18th February 1980 in Santa Clara , California .

 

Mow’s wife, Simone (born 16th August 1904), died on 10th July 2006 at Menlo Park , San Mateo , California .

 

The Palm Court at the Alexandria Hotel was designated a Historic Cultural Monument (HCM #80) in 1971. In 2008, the Alexandria was converted into apartments. See http://www.thealexandria.net/

 

 

Above the Alexandria in 2007

 

 http://sites.google.com/site/caseybooks

http://www.cliftonrfchistory.co.uk

 

thank you to

Walter Kransky - http://www.thepostcard.com/walt/pub/ehm/chklst/mitbio2.htm

 

© Patrick Casey, 2011
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