Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression

Casimir John Joseph Michael Welch

For over thirty years, Casimir Welch controlled "Little Tammany," 36 precincts east of downtown, for Thomas J. Pendergast. This area was heavily populated, largely with African Americans. Through the usual ploys of free food and coal to the needy, Welch gained his constituents' trust and admiration, and they repaid him by voting as they were told.

Welch was born in Jackson, Michigan, in 1873, and his family moved to Kansas City in 1882. With little education, Welch became a newsboy and later a plumber. Considered a rough character, Welch joined Joseph Shannon's group of Democrats (known as the Rabbit faction) as a vote solicitor.

Welch and Thomas J. Pendergast opened a messenger service together in 1900. After 1911, Pendergast's Goat faction became the dominant Democratic group in Kansas City. Welch stayed with Shannon's group, however, until that organization's power waned. In 1924, Welch switched to Pendergast's faction.

From 1910 to 1936, Welch served as a Justice of the Peace in "Little Tammany." With no legal experience, he usually settled disputes based on common sense. He finally passed the bar exam in 1922; his opponents assumed the test was rigged.

Welch lived life to the fullest. Although he was considered a "counselor to the poor" he lived among the rich. He owned his own airplane, carriages, and automobiles. He traveled, hunted, and brawled. He built a beautiful home on Ward Parkway.

Welch was adamantly opposed to women's right to vote, calling them "tricky" and vain. His personal relationships proved tragic. His first wife left him, a fiancé committed suicide, and his second wife and infant daughter died within a short time of one another.

After the deaths of his wife and child, Welch's health began to fail. He died suddenly of a heart attack on April 17, 1936. His funeral was attended by many prominent Missouri politicians including Governor Guy B. Park and Welch's old associate, Representative Joseph B. Shannon. Also attending were many of the poor black constituents of "Little Tammany."

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A previous version of this article is published on kchistory.org: http://kchistory.org/content/biography-casimir-john-joseph-michael-welch...

KANSAS CITY PUBLIC LIBRARY | DIGITAL HISTORY
Civil War on the Western Border: The Missouri-Kansas Conflict,1855-1865.
The Pendergast Years, Kansas City in the Jazz Age & Great Depression.
KC History, Missouri Valley Special Collections at the Kansas City Public Library.