July 12, 2012 - Frederick Albert Cook was a doctor, explorer and Texas oil promoter who probably should have stuck with doctoring. He was a surgeon with Robert Peary's Antarctic Expedition from 1897-99 and he led expeditions to Mt. Everest in 1903 and 1906. Today, few would note that he "lost" a race with Peary to the North Pole from 1907-09, if Cook hadn't falsely claimed to have won.
The fame and fortune that Cook obviously craved came his way for a time after he returned from the Pole and said he made it there on April 21, 1909. Peary and others accused Cook of fakery. In due time, a university study of Cook's evidence failed to substantiate his claims.
After disappearing from the public eye, Cook returned as a lecturer in defense of his record. This worked for a while, but there soon came a time when the public wasn't very interested in what he had to say about Antarctica or anything else. Response was along the lines of, "That's great, Frederick. Now, if you'll excuse me, I have to go fight World War I."
For a time Cook was president of an oil company, but he resigned to work as a geologist in the Texas oil fields. He probably saw this as the quicker way to fame and fortune. Or maybe he just wanted to be known as "the most interesting man in the world."
In Texas, Cook received a lot of attention from an old frontier journalist named Don Hampton Biggers. Once again, it was not the kind of attention that Cook sought. Biggers was skeptical of a company that Cook had formed called the Petroleum Producers Association of Fort Worth. The company took several struggling companies, consolidated them into one, and sold stock. The promotions were masterpieces of hype and hyperbole, traits that caught Biggers' attention.
Don Biggers had witnessed and wrote about the great buffalo slaughter, the closing of the open range, the plowing up of the short-grass prairie and the stories of the cities, towns and farms that took their place. He had written about and been involved in more booms and busts, boasts and hard realities than most people even imagined, and he had a BS detector that was always turned up as high as it would go.
Biggers worked as a special correspondent for the Fort Worth Record. He had just finished an unsuccessful run as the Republican nominee for the office of Commissioner of Agriculture where he told voters that, if elected, his first and only act would be to abolish the office. If the Governor objected, he would fire his entire staff and then resign. He didn't get to within shouting distance of a victory but his campaign drew a lot of attention. So did a series he wrote for the Record under the headline: "Something is Wrong. Who is to Blame. What are YOU going to Do About It." The story was about Cook, his cronies, and a long trail of swindled and disillusioned investors.
Someone stole Biggers' notes and records for the story, which slowed but did not stop him. He co-founded his own paper, the "Independent Oil News and Financial Reporter," which specialized in exposing fraudulent promotion schemes. When threatening Biggers with violence didn't work, a group of promoters got together and actually managed to buy the paper, through an agent, for $23,000. The paper's focus soon switched to promoting the schemes of the new owners.
Finally, Biggers turned his evidence of skullduggery over to the federal district attorney in Fort Worth, who had no trouble exposing, charging and convicting Cook and his band of scammers. The prosecution had 283 witnesses and stacks of evidence supporting claims that Cook and the others passed "cooked the books" and claimed income from wells that had never produced a drop of oil. The defense offered only alcohol (several defense attorneys were said to be drunk during the trial) and insults.
Cook was fined $12,000 and sentenced to14 years in the federal penitentiary in Leavenworth. He was paroled in 1930, and pardoned by Franklin Roosevelt in 1940, as an act of mercy for a man who would die shortly afterwards. Biggers outlived him in life and in history.