In the grand theater of American history, few performances have been as hilariously scandalous as the Tea Pot Dome affair. It was a time when the oil-rich fields of Wyoming, not unlike the promised land of Canaan, brought forth not milk and honey, but graft and corruption. The story’s headliners were a motley crew of politicians, oil magnates, and a level of greed that would make Scrooge McDuck blush.

Our tale begins with Warren G. Harding, the 29th President of the United States, a man whose qualifications for office could be summarized by his ability to look presidential and little else. Harding’s administration was less a government and more a fraternity of good ol’ boys who viewed public service as a golden ticket to personal enrichment. Think Animal House meets Wall Street, but without the charm of John Belushi.

Ah, Warren G. Harding—a man whose presidency was a masterclass in how to lead while constantly embroiled in scandal, and I’m not just talking about political corruption. Harding’s reputation for womanizing was the stuff of legend, the kind of juicy gossip that would make even the most seasoned tabloid editor blush. Picture this: a president who conducted affairs with the subtlety of a marching band. Harding had a particular fondness for extramarital dalliances, most famously with a woman named Nan Britton, who wrote a tell-all book aptly titled “The President’s Daughter,” chronicling their trysts, some of which allegedly took place in a White House closet. And then there was Carrie Phillips, the wife of his best friend, whose torrid love letters with Harding could have doubled as plotlines for a daytime soap opera. It’s said that Harding once quipped he had neither enemies nor friends—only “damned persistent women.” If there had been social media in the 1920s, Harding’s escapades would have broken the internet, one scandalous tweet at a time. Thank goodness for Harding Stormy Daniels had not been born yet!

Now to our next participant…

Enter Albert B. Fall, Harding’s Secretary of the Interior, a man whose name alone foreshadowed his destiny. With a face like a grizzled prospector and a moral compass that pointed resolutely to “true north” on the map of venality, Fall was the mastermind behind what would become the greatest scandal before Watergate.

Albert B. Fall, the central villain in our Tea Pot Dome saga, was a character straight out of a Western novel. Picture a man with the demeanor of a grizzled prospector who’d struck gold and never quite recovered from the shock. Fall’s personality was a blend of frontier ruggedness and Machiavellian cunning, wrapped in a thick layer of cigar smoke and bourbon fumes.

One of Fall’s more peculiar interests was his obsession with land and cattle. He fancied himself a bit of a rancher, despite spending more time in the halls of power than on the range. His New Mexico ranch, which he adored, was both his pride and his ultimate downfall. He poured his ill-gotten gains into this land, transforming it into a showcase of rural opulence. This included not just cattle, but thoroughbred horses gifted by the likes of Harry Sinclair, turning his ranch into a veritable Noah’s Ark of bribery.

Fall had a peculiar hobby of collecting artifacts from the Old West. His home was a museum of dubious treasures—Native American relics, antique firearms, and dusty old maps that he believed charted hidden veins of gold. This collection wasn’t just for show; it was a manifestation of his deep-seated belief in Manifest Destiny and the rugged individualism that he thought still ruled the American spirit.

His personality quirks extended to a particular fondness for old cowboy tales and legends, which he would recount with a gleam in his eye, as though he had lived through them himself. He enjoyed regaling guests with stories of gunfights and cattle drives, despite the fact that his own exploits were more suited to a courtroom than a corral.

Fall’s physical appearance added to his rugged persona—he sported a bushy mustache that even Tom Selleck would have admired that looked like it could sweep the floor and a wardrobe that alternated between senator’s suits and rancher’s garb. His gravelly voice, tinged with a Southern drawl, could charm or intimidate, depending on his needs. He had a habit of punctuating his sentences with dramatic pauses, as if savoring the taste of his own words.

In social settings, Fall was the kind of man who enjoyed a good, stiff drink, often more than one, and his face would light up at the prospect of a poker game. His love for gambling was well-known, and it was said he could bluff his way through anything—except, of course, the Senate investigation that ultimately exposed his corruption.

But back to the scandal at hand…

Fall, seeing an opportunity in the naval oil reserves, decided that these reserves, set aside for the Navy’s use, would look much better in the hands of his buddies in the oil industry. The reserves were located in places with names that screamed “wild west”—Elk Hills, Buena Vista Hills, and the infamous Tea Pot Dome. The latter, named for a rock formation that, with a bit of imagination and possibly some inebriation, resembled a teapot.

The pièce de résistance in this operatic farce was Fall’s negotiation, which was less negotiation and more blatant cronyism, with two oilmen: Harry F. Sinclair of Mammoth Oil and Edward L. Doheny of Pan American Petroleum. Sinclair and Doheny were the kind of characters who, in another life, might have been twirling mustaches and tying damsels to railroad tracks. Instead, they were writing checks—huge checks—to ensure they got the leases to drill on these prime reserves without pesky competitive bidding.

Sinclair, ever the sportsman, funneled his bribes through an assortment of cattle, gifts, and cold, hard cash. He even threw in a little bonus: a herd of prize thoroughbred horses for Fall’s New Mexico ranch. Doheny, not to be outdone, delivered a tidy sum of $100,000 in a little black bag, the kind of touch that could have only come from a B-grade gangster film.

Fall, evidently believing in the old adage “the best defense is a good offense,” didn’t stop at accepting bribes. He also renovated his ranch with the flair of a man who’d just won the lottery. New buildings, fancy livestock, and all the trimmings of nouveau riche splendor sprung up in a manner so conspicuous that even the cows must have rolled their eyes.

Enter our man from Montana…

The house of cards began to topple when rumors of the shady dealings reached the ears of the Senate. Cue the dramatic entrance of Senator Thomas J. Walsh, a man with the tenacity of a bloodhound and the patience of Job. Walsh’s investigation was the equivalent of a slow-burning thriller, uncovering each layer of deceit and corruption with meticulous care.

Walsh could almost be described as a renaissance man.  When he wasn’t fighting crime and corruption, he was an avid chess player and collected antique clocks.  One of Walsh’s more peculiar interests was his love for flower gardening. In the gritty world of politics, where backroom deals and high-stakes negotiations were the order of the day, Walsh found solace in the tranquility of his garden. He had a particular fondness for roses, which he cultivated with the same meticulous care he applied to his legal investigations. His garden was said to be a riot of color, a stark contrast to the often gray and somber halls of Congress.

Fall, who had once been riding high, was now be in free fall (see what I did there). He was convicted of accepting bribes and became the first former cabinet official to serve time for crimes committed in office. Sinclair and Doheny also faced the music, though in a rather off-key manner. Sinclair served a brief stint in jail for contempt of court and jury tampering, while Doheny, despite his blatant bribery, somehow managed to escape conviction. One imagines he must have had a very persuasive lawyer or perhaps just shared some of his secretive black bag’s contents with the right people.

As the final curtain fell on the Tea Pot Dome scandal, the Harding administration was left in tatters. Harding himself conveniently died in office before the full extent of the scandal could tarnish his already questionable legacy. Some say he died of a heart attack; others whisper of poison. Either way, he was spared the ignominy of witnessing the fallout firsthand.

And so, the Tea Pot Dome scandal remains a cautionary tale of greed, corruption, and the inevitable downfall of those who believe public office is merely a stepping stone to personal wealth. It’s a story with characters so richly flawed and a plot so absurd that, were it not true, one might think it a satire too outlandish to believe. In the annals of American history, it stands as a reminder that sometimes truth is not only stranger than fiction but infinitely more entertaining.