Vol. 42, No. 7
Six of the Greatest
Montgomery Dorsey (1900–79)
by David L. Erickson
About the Author
David L. Erickson, the Colorado Bar Association Historian, is the author of more than sixty articles, stories, essays, and historical studies. He is the author of Early Justice and the Formation of the Colorado Bar, a CBA-CLE publication. His two-volume business law reference book, Colorado Corporate Forms, a West® publication, has been updated annually for twenty-nine years. For many years, his law practice has emphasized commercial and financial transactions, and he has served as an arbitrator of business disputes—firstname.lastname@example.org. Erickson thanks Anne Merryweather Close, the stepdaughter of Montgomery Dorsey, who graciously provided information and insights for this article.
Montgomery Dorsey was senior partner of one of Colorado’s most elite and powerful law firms during the early and mid-20th century. He also was an influential banker, a preeminent dealmaker, a civic leader, a major contributor to charitable endeavors and, for a time, a member of the Office of Strategic Services (OSS), the predecessor organization to the Central Intelligence Agency. He was a quiet and unassuming man, though, who did not seek publicity or personal recognition. To understand how this all came about, one must first look at the Dorsey family history.
Senator Stephen W. Dorsey
Clayton C. Dorsey, the father of Montgomery Dorsey, was born on March 21, 1871 in Sandusky, Ohio, the son of Stephen W. Dorsey and Helen M. Wack. When Stephen Dorsey was elected president of the Arkansas Central Railway Company in 1871, the family moved to Helena, Arkansas. In 1872, the Arkansas Legislature chose him as its junior U.S. Senator,1 and during his single six-year term, the family lived in Washington, DC.
In 1878, the family moved to Chico Springs, Colfax County, New Mexico,2 where the Senator established a cattle ranch southeast of Raton, just off the Santa Fe Trail and near the Maxwell Land Grant. At its peak, he ran 22,000 head of cattle on the property and built a log and stone mansion.3 This home is now on the National Register of Historic Places. The Senator’s influence in New Mexico was such that he named one town after himself and another after his eldest son, Clayton, although neither town prospered.4
The Move to Denver
During his years in New Mexico, the Senator was plagued with lawsuits, some dealing with his investment in a mail route through New Mexico and for shares he had sold while in Arkansas. Although he was cleared of wrongdoing, the defense costs of the litigation were considerable, and by late 1892, he was nearly destitute and the family moved to Denver.
His wife, Helen, died at their home in Denver on January 20, 1897 at age 52. Four years later, seeking a warmer climate, the Senator moved to Los Angeles, where he became involved in real estate investments. He died in Los Angeles on March 20, 1916 at age 77.
Clayton Dorsey’s Education
Clayton attended Oberlin College and then Yale University, where he received a BA degree in 1890. He did not attend law school, but studied law (or, as it was generally referred to, "read the law") in the Denver office of Teller & Orahood, whose partners were Willard Teller and Harper M. Orahood.5 After passing an oral bar exam, he was admitted to the Colorado bar on February 2, 1893. He remained with Teller and Orahood until 1899, when the firm added another partner and became Teller, Orahood, and Morgan. Clayton practiced alone in 1899 and 1900,6 and then in 1900, he formed a partnership with Willard Teller. The Teller & Dorsey firm continued until 1905. Clayton then formed a partnership with William V. Hodges and their firm, Dorsey & Hodges, continued until 1911.
In June 1897, Clayton married Marguerite Montgomery, age 21, in Denver. Marguerite was born July 27, 1875 in Dennison, Grayson County, Texas, the daughter of John Calvin Montgomery and Caroline (Carrie) Chilton. Clayton and Marguerite’s two children were born in Denver: Helen in 18987 and Montgomery in 1900.8 Helen married Edward G. Knowles, and they had two children. Edward, admitted as an attorney in 1916, served as president of both the Denver and Colorado Bar Associations and practiced with Hughes & Dorsey.9 In 1959, he was elected president of the National Conference of Bar Presidents. Helen died in 1962 and Edward passed away in 1969.
Hughes & Dorsey is Formed
At the center of Denver’s elite was attorney Gerald Hughes. Gerald’s father, Charles Hughes, moved to Denver in the late 19th century and established himself as one of Denver’s most prominent lawyers and politicians. Gerald joined his father’s practice after graduating from the University of Denver (DU) College of Law (now the DU Sturm College of Law) in 1899. In 1909, when Charles Hughes was chosen by the state legislature to serve in the U.S. Senate, he turned his prestigious law firm over to his 34-year-old son. Then, when Senator Hughes died in 1911, Gerald invited Clayton to join him in forming Hughes & Dorsey.10
The firm was located in the Hughes Block at the corner of 16th and California Streets in Denver, and then relocated to the International Trust Company Building at the corner of 17th and California Streets. Clayton became a member of the Denver Club; the University Club; the Denver Country Club; and the Denver, Colorado, and American Bar Associations.11 He served as president of the University Club in 1908 and 1909.12
Gerald, a fine lawyer and inveterate law book buyer, was regarded as a "real character."13 He effectively and skillfully ran the Democratic Party in Denver. His contemporary was Lawrence C. Phipps, who ran the Republican Party. (Phipps served as U.S. Senator from Colorado from 1919 to 1931.) Due to their knowledge of the law and their astute cross-party political maneuvering, Hughes & Dorsey was, for decades, considered the 17th Street law firm that got things done in Denver.
Clayton Dorsey practiced general corporate and business law, and handled only large cases. His quiet pursuit of legal principles helped him win a great majority of his cases.14 His work in contesting the validity of a Moffat Tunnel bond issue, which he handled with Montgomery and Gerald, was regarded as a masterpiece.15 Clayton carried the case from court to court until it reached the U.S. Supreme Court, where he won a decision in favor of his clients. A justice of one of the nation’s highest courts once said that Clayton was "far and away the most brilliant lawyer ever to appear at my bench."16 He was further described as "one of the greatest figures in the history of Denver legal circles."17 Then, on the morning of his 65th birthday, Clayton walked into the office and summarily announced his retirement.18
Clayton and Marguerite lived at their Denver home at 330 Gilpin Street until his death on September 22, 1948 at age 77. Marguerite, a "one-time Denver social and civic leader,"19 died on March 17, 1960 at age 84. Her will directed that the bulk of her estate be distributed to Montgomery, Helen, and a granddaughter in Denver.20
The Moffat Connection
The First National Bank of Denver (First National) and International Trust, whose names appear throughout this article, were closely connected with Hughes & Dorsey, which for many years represented them. These entities were for a time controlled by David H. Moffat, a Colorado banker, railroad executive, and real estate and mining investor.
Moffat became a stockholder and director of First National in 1865. In 1880, he became president of the bank, and he continued to serve in that capacity until his death in March 1911. International Trust was formed by Moffat on October 12, 1891 to serve the growing needs of Colorado residents. He was the major stockholder of the company and served as president until his death in 1911. At his financial peak, Moffat was one of the wealthiest men in the United States. Before his death, however, he spent most of his fortune on the Moffat Road railroad project.
Montgomery Dorsey was born September 11, 1900 in Denver. He attended Hotchkiss Preparatory School in Lakeville, Connecticut, and graduated from Yale University with a BA degree in 1922. He then attended DU College of Law and graduated in 1925 with an LLB degree. He was admitted to the Colorado bar on September 21, 1925 and joined Hughes & Dorsey,21 which was then located on the fourth floor of the International Trust Building. Known as "Monty," he preferred to maintain a low profile and was seldom photographed or interviewed throughout his professional career.
In July 1926, Monty married Beatrice Talbot Constant, a native of New York City. Beatrice was born October 28, 1901 to William Sinclair Constant, Jr. and Marie Isabelle Talbot-Peterson, and later attended Bryn Mawr College in Bryn Mawr, Pennsylvania.22 In 1927, Monty and Beatrice built a home at 261 Race Street in Denver, but divorced around 1933.
Monty’s second marriage was to Margaret Owen Merryweather in 1935. They acquired their permanent home at 177 Race Street, in the Denver Country Club neighborhood. An adjoining home at 161 Race Street had previously been owned by Lawrence C. Phipps, Jr., the eldest son of Senator Phipps. Margaret attended Wellesley College in Wellesley, Massachusetts, and was one of three children of James Owen and Winifred Churchill. James Owens, a distinguished attorney, legislator, and judge, had offices in Suite 604 of the First National Building.
Margaret previously was married to Weir Orford Merryweather (the couple had wed on September 16, 1920, in Denver).23 Weir, born in New Brighton, Cheshire, England in 1896, immigrated with his family to the United States and settled in Montclair, New Jersey. At the time of their marriage, he was the secretary–treasurer and a director of the Salt Creek Consolidated Oil Company (Salt Creek), which was located in the First National Building in Denver.
Incorporated in Maine in 1919, Salt Creek was formed for the purpose of producing crude oil from the Salt Creek Oil Field in Natrona County, Wyoming, approximately forty miles north of Casper. James Owen, Margaret’s father, was the president and a director of the company. Warwick M. Downing, a highly regarded oil and gas attorney, served as vice president and had offices in the Equitable Building across the street from the Salt Creek offices.24
Margaret and Weir had two children. Jane, the eldest, was born in 1922, and Anne was born seven years later.25 Margaret and Weir divorced in the early 1930s. Jane Merryweather attended Bennett College in Millbrook, New York, and then married David Farnum Harris. They lived for many years in Salisbury, Connecticut, where she died on October 18, 1910.26 Anne Merryweather married Edward (Ted) Bennett Close, Jr., a native of Greenwich, Connecticut and a 1954 graduate of the DU College of Law. Ted later became a partner at Hughes & Dorsey.
The Boys and Girls Clubs
By 1937, Hughes & Dorsey included partners Gerald Hughes, Clayton C. Dorsey, Berrien Hughes, Montgomery Dorsey, and Edward G. Knowles (Monty’s brother-in-law). W. Clayton Carpenter was an associate in the firm. Their offices were in the International Trust Building.
In 1937, a group of Denver’s leading citizens also held a series of meetings with the idea of organizing a Boys’ Club in Denver. The organizers prepared and filed Articles of Incorporation for the Boys’ Clubs of Denver, Inc., with the incorporators being Quigg Newton, Jr. (who was to become Mayor of Denver in 1947), Allan R. Phipps, and Louis E. Gelt. The initial board also included Federal Judge J. Foster Symes, John Morey, Montgomery Dorsey, C.A. Shinn, Jack McMurtry, Thayer Tutt, Rev. E.M. Wahlberg, Hudson Moore, Jr., Henry McAllister, George P. Rider, Paul Loughridge, Arthur H. Bosworth, Judge Stanley Johnson, VanHolt Garrett, and Judge Phillip Gilliam. The group adopted bylaws and made plans for a club building.27
World War II intervened, however, and their plans were put on hold. After the war, the plan was put back in motion, this time under the leadership of Monty’s brother-in-law, J. Churchill Owen, the founder of the law firm Holme, Roberts & Owen,28 which in 2011 merged into Bryan Cave. The club was opened in 1961 in an old storage warehouse on West 8th Avenue in Denver. With a budget of only $28,000 and just two full-time staff members, the club recruited more than 800 members in its first year. Then, in 1990, the former Boys’ Club became the Boys and Girls Clubs of Metro Denver, Inc.
World War II Service
After the outbreak of World War II, in 1942, Monty entered the U.S. Army Air Corps as a captain and served a year and a half in the Mediterranean theatre. He then became an aide to General George C. Marshall before being discharged as a lieutenant colonel in 1945.29 While in North Africa, he worked for the newly formed OSS. During this service he received shrapnel wounds to his right leg, which required the use of a cane for the rest of his life.30
The First National Bank
After joining Hughes & Dorsey, Monty began representing First National as its legal counsel and then became a director. The firm also carefully worked its cross-party political connections, to the benefit of its clients and the city of Denver. In 1923, Benjamin Stapleton was elected mayor of Denver. He represented Denver’s old guard power elite, dominated by the "First National Bank Crowd" of Monty, John Evans II (a descendant of the second governor of the Territory of Colorado), and Gerald Hughes. This continued until the intervention of World War II. After the war, in 1947, 36-year-old Quigg Newton became mayor of Denver31 and a reformation of the city began.
Following the war, Monty was reappointed to the board of First National. Then, at age 56, he became chairman of First National and served from December 1956 to September 1973. He was only the fifth chairman in the bank’s 115-year history. He also became a director of International Trust.32 After International Trust merged into First National, in August 1958, Monty became chairman of the combined organization.
Business and Civic Involvements
While senior partner at Hughes & Dorsey, Monty also served as a director and member of the executive committee of the Great Western Sugar Co. and of the Denver Tramway Corp., until the sale of the assets and operations of the latter company to the City and County of Denver in May 1971. He also was vice president of the A.V. Hunter Trust and vice chair of the board of the Lawrence C. Phipps Foundation,33 as well as a director of the Denver & Rio Grande Railroad.34
Organizations and Clubs
Monty was a member of the Denver, Colorado, and American Bar Associations. He also joined numerous clubs, including the Denver Country Club, where he often golfed before his leg injury during the war. His father and his partner, Gerald, also were members.35 In addition, Monty was a member of the Denver Club, the Denver Athletic Club, the Mile High Club, the 26 Club, and the Garden of the Gods Club.36
St. Luke’s Hospital
Monty served as a member of the board of directors of St. Luke’s Hospital for many years. He also was a committed supporter of, and donor to, DU. In 1991, the Presbyterian/St. Luke’s Community Foundation of Denver established the Montgomery Dorsey Annual Memorial Scholarship at the law school in his honor. The scholarship is awarded to an outstanding Colorado resident and law student considering a career in healthcare law. In addition, an annual Dorsey Hughes Symposium on healthcare was initiated in recognition of Monty’s longtime support of St. Luke’s and as a prominent Denver civic leader. The annual symposium still continues under the sponsorship of the Colorado Health Foundation.
The Sports Franchises
In 1965, Hughes & Dorsey was still thriving. Its attorneys included Montgomery Dorsey, W. Clayton Carpenter, Allan A. Phipps, Raymond B. Danks, Edward B. Close, Jr. (who was married to Monty’s stepdaughter Anne), George C. Gibson, and Richard S. Kitchen. Their offices were now in the First National Building, where they oversaw a variety of high-quality business transaction and litigation matters. The firm also litigated several high-profile federal court cases, including one where Ted Close was involved and that went all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.
Phipps, like his partners, became a board member of numerous organizations including the Denver Tramway Corp., Cherry Creek National Bank, Belcaro Realty Investment Company,37 International Realty Company, and Highland Hotel Company. The Phipps brothers, Allen and Gerald, the younger sons of former U.S. Senator Lawrence C. Phipps, also had a financial stake in the Denver Bears baseball team.
In 1965, the Phipps brothers became involved in a well-publicized struggle for ownership of the Denver Broncos football team and the Denver Bears. Rocky Mountain Empire Sports, Inc. had major stakes in both organizations. Due to financial difficulties of the controlling family, however, they were looking to sell their interests to any buyer, which could have resulted in the removal of the teams from Denver.
The Phipps approached outside investors about acquiring the teams, but when that was not successful, they talked with Monty about financing the acquisition through First National. An agreement was hammered out where the bank would the lend money for the acquisition and, in addition, would finance the purchase of Broncos season tickets by fans, without interest.38 These agreements, when implemented, ensured the sports franchises would remain in Denver. Allan became the president and a director of the reformed organization and his Hughes & Dorsey partner, Dick Kitchen, became a director.39 Gerald Phipps became chairman of the board.
First National Bancorporation
In 1967, Monty played a major role in the formation of the First National Bancorporation, Inc., the parent holding company of First National, and he became its first chairman. By 1967, First National was out of office space. Its building at the corner of 17th and Welton Streets, built in 1958, was now fully occupied and many of its operations had been moved to offices leased in other buildings. In addition, some of its tenants, along with their valuable bank deposits, were moving due to lack of expansion space. A decision was therefore made to tear down the International Trust Building at 17th and California Streets and construct a new thirty-two story North Tower Building and Plaza on the site. The North Tower building, with its open-air plaza, was completed in 1974, with the bank occupying a little over half of the available space.
Hughes & Dorsey became a tenant on the sixteenth floor of the new tower.40 At the time of Monty’s retirement from banking in early 1975, First National Bancorporation had grown to include eleven banks and three subsidiary organizations, and was the largest bank holding company in Colorado. Monty’s direct and indirect relationship with the bank had spanned more than forty-seven years.41
After his retirement from banking at age 74, Monty remained the managing partner at Hughes & Dorsey and continued to act as counsel for First National and its affiliated organizations. On his retirement from law, the management of the firm was taken over by Monty’s partner George C. Gibson. The firm continued to operate for several years, but because the firm had always remained small and its partners were now retiring, the firm was liquidated in the late 1980s. During Monty’s long tenure, Hughes & Dorsey occupied only two locations—first, the International Trust Building, and then the First of Denver Tower and Plaza that replaced it.
A Final Testament
Although Monty’s entire career was devoted to the practice of law, he also found time to serve on numerous boards and to be involved in extensive community activity. In his spare time, he was a voracious reader, especially of biographies and history. He acquired an extensive library, which on his death was donated to the DU Sturm College of Law. Throughout his career, he continued to hold the respect of the legal and business community for his professionalism and for his wonderfully rich but subtle sense of humor.42 It is notable that several attorneys mentioned in this article, and with whom Monty worked extensively, have been recognized in previous Six of the Greatest articles. They include Warwick M. Downing,43 William V. Hodges,44 Gerald Hughes,45 John Foster Symes,46 and Churchill Owen.47
Monty died at his home at 177 Race Street on May 25, 1979 at age 78. Margaret died four years later on October 29, 1983. They were buried in a family plot at Fairmount Cemetery in Denver, next to the graves of his parents, Clayton and Marguerite, and his grandparents, Stephen and Helen. A large "Dorsey" obelisk dominates the site.
1. Article 1, § 3 of the U.S. Constitution provided that the U.S. Senators from each state would be "chosen by the legislature thereof." Direct election did not occur until the Seventeenth Amendment was added in 1917.
2. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, "Stephen Wallace Dorsey (1842–1916)" (Central Arkansas Library System, 2012), available at www.encyclopediaofarkansas.net/encyclopedia/entry-detail.aspx?search=1&entryID=2800.
3. Keleher, Maxwell Land Grant: Facsimile of 1942 Edition 139 (Sunstone Press, 2008).
4. The Encyclopedia of Arkansas History & Culture, supra note 2.
5. 1890 Corbett & Ballinger’s 19th Annual Denver City Directory, available at digital.denverlibrary.org/cdm/compoundobject/collection/p16079coll28/id/31808/rec/11.
6. Samson, "Clayton Chauncey Dorsey," 25 DICTA 249 (1948).
7. U.S. Census, Arapahoe County, 1900.
8. Roots Web’s WorldConnect Project, wc.rootsweb.ancestry.com.
9. Obituary, The Denver Post (Sept. 22, 1948).
10. The Bench and Bar of Colorado 63 (1917).
11. Obituary, Rocky Mountain News (Sept. 23, 1948).
12. The University Club, "Membership Roster, Constitution and Rules" 5 (2008).
13. Telephone interview with Anne Merryweather Close, stepdaughter of Montgomery Dorsey (Jan. 14, 2013).
14. Obituary, supra note 9.
15. Rocky Mountain News (Sept. 23, 1948) (Denver Public Library, Western History Department, clipping file).
19. The Denver Post 3 (March 30, 1960).
21. The Denver Post 33 (Jan. 3, 1975).
22. Bryn Mawr College Calendar, "Register of Alumnae and Former Students" 236 (1922) .
23. Wellesley News, Vol. XXIX, No. 22. (March 23, 1921).
24. Salt Creek Consolidated Oil Company Circular, 1919.
25. U.S. Census, Denver County, 1930.
26. Obituary, The New York Times (Oct. 24, 1910).
27. Certificate of Incorporation, filed with Colorado Office of the Secretary of State (Nov. 14, 1939).
28. Holleman, "J. Churchill Owen," 32 The Colorado Lawyer 23 (July 2003).
29. Rocky Mountain News 119 (May 26, 1979).
30. Adams, The Pioneer Western Bank—First of Denver: 1860–1980 at 190 (State Historical Society of Colorado, Colorado Heritage Center, 1984).
31. Noel, Growing Through History With Colorado 100 (Colorado National Bank and the Colorado Studies Center, University of Colorado at Denver, 1987).
32. Rocky Mountain News 68 (Aug. 3, 1958).
33. The Sunday Denver Post, Advertising Supplement 8 (Aug. 3, 1958).
34. Rocky Mountain News 119 (May 26, 1979).
35. The Denver Country Club, "List of Members" (1926).
36. Rocky Mountain News, supra note 34.
37. The Belcaro Realty Investment Company platted and subdivided the Belcaro area in southeast Denver. The "Phipps Mansion" was constructed there during the Great Depression.
38. Adams, supra note 30 at 180-81.
39. Denver Broncos Club Directory 4, 12 (1966).
40. Adams, supra note 30 at 184-85.
41. The Denver Post, supra note 21; Rocky Mountain News 86 (Jan. 4, 1975).
42. Adams, supra note 30 at 190.
43. Downing, Jr., "Warwick M. Downing," 14 The Colorado Lawyer 1178 (July 1985).
44. Silverstein, "William V. Hodges," 14 The Colorado Lawyer 1174 (July 1985).
45. Gibson, "Gerald Hughes," 18 The Colorado Lawyer 1304 (July 1989).
46. Treece et al., "John Foster Symes," 19 The Colorado Lawyer 1284 (July 1990).
47. Holleman, "J. Churchill Owen," 32 The Colorado Lawyer 23 (July 2003).
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