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The Great Band Mutiny Part Two: Courtroom Drama

The Phoenix Pioneer Band ran onto rocky shores in 1907, as 27 members of the band so resented the management of the band by longtime member James Shott that they filed suit in Maricopa County District Court.

Webster Street, Attorney for the "band boys"

Both sides of the dispute over leadership and control of the Phoenix Pioneer Band hired impressive legal representation. The “band boys” engaged the firm of Street & Alexander, which was a partnership of Webster Street, former Chief Justice of the Territorial Supreme Court, and Henry N. Alexander, himself a former Maricopa County judge. Shott engaged attorney George Purdy Bullard, with offices one floor up in the Fleming Block above Street & Alexander. Bullard would later serve as County Attorney and then as the first state Attorney General, 1912-15.

Summonses to the Shotts, Stewart, and Figueroa were served on them March 4th and 5th, 1907.

The complaint ran to five pages and alleged that control of the band’s assets were assumed by James Shott after the death of Frank Coyle, the prior manager. Shott’s ”management did not prove satisfactory to the members of the association” and the members elected a new General Manager, Frank White. The complaint read on:

Upon the election of said White, as manager, with instructions to take the management and care of the money and property of said association, the above-named defendants … raised disturbance and arrogated unto themselves rights in said association which did not belong to them, and violent dissensions and irreconcilable differences arose between the members of said association and the said J. M. Shott, with the support and connivance of his co-defendants, Jake Shott, George Stewart and A. Figueroa, seized and took away a portion of the property belonging to said association, towit: one silver-plated brass horn, valued at $60.00, one pepper silver-plated horn, valued at $30.00, which plaintiffs are informed and verily believe are now in the possession of defendants George Stewart and A. Figueroa; and also seized and took away one brass horn, valued at $8.00, one bass drum, valued at $20.00, one E Flat clarinet, valued at $15.00, one lot of band music, valued at $150.00, which plaintiffs are informed and verily believe are now in the hands and possession of J. M. Shott; and the said J. M. Shott now has in bank under his exclusive control the sum of $650.00…

… Plaintiffs pray that a receiver of the property, moneys and assets of said association be appointed, with power to dispose of the same and to collect all debts for the benefit of all parties entitled thereto, and that said money and the proceed of all collections and the sales of all property be divided, after payment of all just debts of said association and the costs incident to this action between the parties hereto, according to their respective rights.

The Answer

Attorney for the Defendants

Bullard’s reply pushed back on two different fronts. The first was to allege that 16 of the plaintiffs were in fact “infants and minors under the age of twenty-one years” lacking the legal capacity in which to sue, and moved to quash their standing as plaintiffs. The second was to deny all the plaintiff’s claims.

The question of capacity of the minors to sue had traction, and the plaintiffs countered by asking the Court to appoint a “guardian ad litem.” The judge obliged, allowing the case to move forward with a slightly amended complaint reflecting attorney Barnett E. Marks (a future Assistant US Attorney with offices just down the hall from Bullard in the Fleming Building) as the minor members’ guardian.

The substance of Shott’s answer was pretty simple: the organization that the people suing him thought they were members of did not exist.

The substance of Shott’s answer was pretty simple: the organization that the people suing him thought they were members of did not exist. The Phoenix Pioneer Band was incorporated in 1890 with twelve stock-holding members, but built into the Articles of Incorporation was a 5-year sunset clause. In other words, the corporation ceased to exist in 1895. At that time, Shott claimed, he was deputized by the then-shareholders to be trustee of the band’s assets - including the cash accounts, the music library, a brass horn, a bass drum, and an E-flat clarinet. The other musical instruments had been purchased by Shott, Frank Coyle, and A. E. Cobb personally and were never band property.

According to Shott’s answer, after the corporation was dissolved in 1895, Shott and the other former shareholders simply continued to use the “Pioneer Band” name in conducting regular band business, but without any formal organization. “Members” of the band were thereafter engaged by Shott to play at public concerts and private events, with any proceeds being split amongst the players.

This was obviously not how the “members” understood the deal they had entered into. They seem to have gotten the idea that because they joined the band, somehow they suddenly owned a stake in instruments, music, and money that the band had accrued since 1880, and Shott would have none of it.

While the legal process was playing out, J. Roy Porter, one of the ringleaders in the uprising, took on the role of leader to the band members. The Arizona Republican noted that he was leading a “wandering flock,” but would soon be leaving to lead the Coronado, California band for the summer. However “a new cornet player has been discovered in the city who may be able to aid the band through the summer.” This may have been referring to J. H. Hobbs, who came to Phoenix from Wicheta. In addition, suddenly two former Pioneer Band leaders were showing interest in returning to Phoenix. This included George Kelly, the first organizer in 1880, and Lambertz' predecessor, George Golze.

It appears that Hobbs won out initially, and was announced as bandleader to the rump membership in September. Concerts in the park resumed, with regular programs listed in the paper though October and November.

Finally things seem to have gotten worked out as on November 25, 1907, new Articles of Incorporation were filed for the “Pioneer Musical Association.” This time the Corporation was set up to have a 25 year life span, taking it through 1932. The initial incorporators include two of the defendants of the legal suit (George Stewart and Alex Figueroa) and two of the plaintiffs (Roy Porter and Frank White). The following day, the legal case was dismissed for being “settled amicably.”

And it must have in fact been amicable, because J. M. Shott continued for the next 20 years to be the one person most associated with the band. In future years he would mount successful runs for City Council and a city Constable position, and his leadership of the Pioneer Band was always mentioned in his campaigns. And in the end, he even got his way with selecting the bandleader: the old pro, George Golze, returned from Decatur, Ill. three months later.

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