22 January 2017

Edward Fox and the Drayton-Borrowe Affair


[From the introduction to Captain Jack and the Paper Man; this section was finished 22 January 1995]
T
o Edward Fox the war made at least one difference; it gave him a new name. For the rest of his life he was known as Modoc Fox. His employer, too, was apparently pleased with his work. When the paper did a series on corruption in the Indian Agencies the next year, it sent Fox to help cover the affair. Though the main work was done by Ralph Meeker, whose father would later be a victim in the Ute uprising in Colorado, Fox observed, and later testified to, various irregularities at the Red Cloud and Spotted Tail agencies. While there he met and interviewed Red Cloud himself. When Fox left the Herald some years later, it was to go into business for himself on Wall Street. An inheritance eventually enabled him to return to England.
It was while he was in England, in 1892, that Fox broke the story of the Drayton affair, a scandal that shook New York society. If there was a New York nobility, the Astors were its first family. No hint of scandal touched them until Charlotte Augusta, the daughter of William Astor, maintained a friendship with Hallett Alsop Borrowe, while she was married to James Coleman Drayton.
Whatever the exact nature of their relationship, it was more than Drayton could stand, and while both men were in England, he challenged Borrowe to a duel. In need of seconds, Borrowe applied to a friend from Texas, who in turn referred him to Fox.
Fox was reluctant to become involved, but on realizing the news value of the story, decided he might as well have a front row seat. Armed with a letter of introduction to celebrated duelist Harry Vane Milbank, who was to act as Borrowe’s other second, he accompanied the young man to Paris to meet with Drayton’s seconds.
Drayton had chosen as seconds two Frenchmen who knew him only slightly, and knew nothing of the case.  When they learned the background from Fox and Milbank they were concerned—not because the case was as insubstantial as an opium dream, but because Drayton had not taken action at once, and because he had apparently accepted monetary compensation from the Astors for keeping quiet.
The matter was thereupon referred to a “Jury of Honor.” At least, the seconds all agreed that it should be referred to such a body. Drayton would have nothing to do with it. “He has inflicted upon me the most grievous injury which one man can inflict upon another; and the instant I found him upon territory where satisfaction could be claimed without scandal and without legal restriction, I sought it at his hands,” he wrote. “I do not propose to enter upon quibble and argument before any man or body of men on these points.”
Milbank and Fox coolly replied that they had placed the facts of the case “before two of the highest authorities in France … and they have decided that the course of action that we have taken was perfectly justifiable, as they claimed that too long a time had elapsed since the first cause of offence had been given, and that, coupled with the fact that the injured party had accepted and enjoyed an annual monetary consideration, debarred him from any reparation under the code of honor on the part of Mr. Borrowe.”
With that the matter rested for the moment, and Borrowe, Milbank, and Drayton returned to New York—all travelling aboard the same ship. The evening before Borrowe left, he told Fox that if there was any danger of a garbled version of the story appearing in the papers, he was to publish the complete correspondence over the proposed duel, the object being to protect Borrowe against any charge of cowardice.
Fox did so. When reporters began digging up the facts of the case, Fox placed the entire correspondence in the hands of a reporter for the New York Sun, which published it in full 18 March 1892. It made an immense sensation, and experts in the American code of honor expressed the opinion that Drayton should have shot Borrowe at once, without any nonsense about a duel. Others observed that Drayton seemed to have been unfortunate in his choice of seconds.
Public opinion ran against Borrowe. When he learned the situation upon his arrival in New York, Borrowe immediately charged, through Milbank, that Fox had released the documents without his knowledge. Soon he and Milbank were on their way back to England, this time to challenge Fox to a duel.
On 17 April 1892 Borrowe wrote Fox the obligatory insulting letter, saying, among other things, “As a second you are a lamentable failure, Mr. Fox. Perhaps as a principal you might be a success. Personally I doubt this, because in my opinion a man who is untrue to others is untrue to himself, and he who has not the courage of his own opinions has not the courage to combat the opinions of others.”
The duel occurred 23 April in Belgium. Borrowe and Fox took two shots at each other at twelve paces, neither injuring the other, though a bullet came close enough to put a hole in Fox's coat. While the Sun reporter who covered the affair in London thought that the duel might have settled the question of Borrowe’s courage (“that of Fox has never been doubted” he observed parenthetically), others hinted that it was a put-up job. An anonymous Southern duelist was quoted as saying, “I do not believe that either man meant to shoot the other.”
Whether or no, the participants took their leave of each other without reconciliation, and Fox’s part in this pointless affair was ended. Charlotte Augusta divorced Drayton, charging desertion from “cruel suspicions as to her marital fidelity.”  Both subsequently remarried, though Charlotte was cut out of her father’s will.  Borrowe was with the Rough Riders in the Spanish American War.
Though he had escaped death this time, Fox did not have much longer to live. Death caught up with him in Australia, where he had gone late in 1894, to represent the West Australian Exploring and Finance Corporation. On 3 March 1895 he went sailing with a small party on the Swan River near Perth. The yacht abruptly capsized, and four members of the party, Edward Fox among them, were drowned. A red granite obelisk marks his grave in the East Perth cemetery.

Sources:

Fox and Indian Agencies investigation:
Fox, 17 August, New York Herald, 27 August 1874
Fox, 24 August 1874, New York Herald, 6 September 1874
Oliver Knight, Following the Indian Wars, pp. 196-7

Fox and the Drayton-Borrowe Affair:
“Cannot Have a Duel,” New York Sun, 18 March 1892
“Drayton and Borrowe,” New York Sun, 19 March 1892
“How They Came to the Sun,” New York Sun, 31 March 1892
“Borrowe’s Friend Milbank,” New York Times, 1 April 1892
“Borrowe and Fox Meet,” New York Sun, 24 April 1892
“Grinning Over That Duel,” New York Sun, 25 April 1892
“Fox and Borrowe ‘Fight,’” New York Times, 25 April 1892
“Edward Fox’s Statement,” New York Sun, 26 April 1892
“Major H. A. Borrowe Dies at 58 Years,” New York Times, 23 May 1921
Harvey O’Connor, The Astors (New York, 1941), pp. 209-228
John D. Gates, The Astor Family (New York, 1981), pp. 84-87
David Sinclair, Dynasty: The Astors and Their Times (New York, 1984), pp. 196-198
Of the last three accounts, only O’Connor mentions Fox by name; both he and Sinclair misidentify Fox as Drayton’s second, not Borrowe’s. Gates, in his brief account, leaves Fox out altogether.

Fox’s death:
“Edward (‘Modoc’) Fox Drowned,” New York Herald, 19 March 1895

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