Just when I had begun to think that those who hate conservatives generally could not possible become any more irrational and deranged; that they had dug them so very deeply into the pit of despair, loathing and frustrated fury – along comes the twin scourge of “pro-Trump Republicans are Nazis!” united with the push to remove monuments with anything to do with the Confederacy from public spaces on the grounds that the historical figures so honored were supporting, defending or enabling the institution of chattel slavery. Some of the more creatively deranged or misinformed parties demanding the removal of such monuments have also expanded their monumental loathing to include Christopher Columbus, Fr. Junipero Serra, and Joan of Arc – although it is a puzzle as to why a French saint burned at the stake two centuries before the beginning of European settlement of North and South America should be slated for demolition or removal. Deep confusion on the part of the person who demanded its removal cannot be ruled out, although as my daughter has pointed out (rather snidely) chances are that they are a graduate of one of New Orleans’ finer public schools.

Still, I admit to being rather blindsided by the sudden storm of demands to remove these statues and monuments on the part of the current ‘red guards’ of the American left, remove them from the places where many of them had been installed for at least a hundred years and often longer. As an amateur historian, I find this horribly depressing; the monuments for both Confederate and Union heroes and events were put up within human memory as ghastly and savage a blood-letting as we ever inflicted on each other to this date. The question of chattel slavery and states’ rights sundered families, friends, communities, established churches, military academy classes; for four blood-soaked years, North and South tore at each other without pity or remorse … and at the end of it all, the country was painfully stitched together by millions of grave markers and the grief and regret of survivors. Indeed, the dedication of monuments was seen often as an honoring of former foes, an acknowledgement of courage and conviction, and of deep sorrow that it ever came to such a slaughter – a gesture of reconciliation. This kind of purpose is perhaps too subtle for the BLM/AntiFa/Red Guards faction to grasp, raised as they have been in relative security and plenty, suckling the teat of carefully fomented racial resentment, informed by a Zinnified view of history, and enraged beyond coherent dialog by the fact that better than half the voters in the country do not agree with them … on anything and everything. The Confederate memorials are a handy symbol, something which the rage of the BLM/AntiFa/Red Guards faction has seized upon as the heights from which to make a proxy war on the rest of us. Useless to point out to them that there is a danger of sparking a very real war, as bloody and desperate as the war that the statues commemorate.

It is a kind of madness, I have come to think over the past nine months since the election of Donald Trump; an irrational madness very much like the Great Satanic Day-Care Abuse madness of the 1980s and 1990s. This was a panic which grew and grew, sparked by the fears and uncertainties of parents, fanned to a wildfire by unscrupulous child welfare professionals, ambitious public prosecutors, and a very credulous media. Even at the time, soberer commenters were likening it to the Salem witchcraft trials. The Great Satanic Day-Care Abuse madness took longer to burn out, although at the end of it, the accused and convicted were mostly dead, not just locked up in prison. But in all three cases – there is a purpose behind the madness, and a whole group of interested parties hoping to make something for themselves out of encouraging it. In the case of the destruction of the monuments, memorials and establishments which most ordinary Americans cherish and honor – I cannot see how the campaign to destroy them will burn out of itself.
Discuss.

I took it into my head to see Dunkirk in a movie theater on the opening weekend. I don’t think I have done since the early nineties (when we returned from Spain, where movies showed at the base theater six months to a year after premiering.) The last time I saw a movie in an actual theater, instead of at home on DVD or on streaming video was – if memory serves – The Kings’ Speech, in 2010, or it may have been The Hobbit: The Desolation of Smaug in 2013. We saw the latter in an Alamo Drafthouse cinema, notable for being set up in a civilized manner to serve tasty adult beverages before and during the showing, as well as equally tasty entrees. They also have a positively Soup-Naziesque attitude about talking, texting, ringing cellphones and children disturbing the movie experience – an attitude of which I regretfully approve. One toot on yer flute, or on your cellie, and you’re oot, as the saying about the woman in the Scottish cinema with a hearing horn used to go. Adding to the charm of the experience – you can book a ticket for a specific seat and showing through their website, and pay for it online in advance. Print out your ticket on your home printer, waltz into the theater at the appointed time – and yes, this is one thing I do like about the 21st century.
Back to the movie. The necessary trailers for upcoming releases reminded me powerfully about why I have not been to a movie theater for a movie since 2010 or 2013, especially a trailer for a superhero concoction called The Justice League. No, sorry; so much my not-cuppa-tea that I wouldn’t more two feet off a rock ledge to watch it, or anything else there was a trailer for. Fortunately, the pre-feature features were few and relatively brief.
Then to the main feature, which began very quietly, with a half-dozen British squaddies wandering down a narrow street on the outskirts of Dunkirk, under a fluttering of German propaganda leaflets … which set the situation as it exists, and supplies one of the young soldiers, appropriately named Tommy (Fionn Whitehead), with a supply of toilet paper. Tommy is a luckless lower-ranks Candide, foiled numerous times in his efforts to get away from Dunkirk, the first of three different yet congruent stories told by the director, Christopher Nolan. Some viewers may have difficulty in following them, as they weave and intersect with each other. I did not – although how daylight and tide conditions changed abruptly from shot to shot and episode to episode in the narrative may baffle some viewers. Tommy’s soggy epic journey (he damn near gets drowned three times by my account) alternates with two other narratives: an account of the civilian boat-owning volunteers – epitomized by Mr. Dawson (Mark Rylance) and his younger son, Peter (Tom Glynn-Carney) and Peter’s school chum, George (Barry Keoghan). The Admiralty, under emergency orders, has begun requisitioning civilian boats for service shifting English and French troops off the beaches held in a pocket between Dunkirk and Bray Dunes.
This is historically accurate – the main harbor of Dunkirk was composed of an inner and an outer harbor. The inner was essentially unusable through German bombing by the time of the evacuation. The outer – a long sheltering mole-and-walkway – was difficult to moor large sea-going ships against, and hideously vulnerable to German bombing and strafing attacks, both to the ships and the ranks of soldiers drawn up to board them. Mr. Dawson’s substantial motor-sail yacht is one of those requisitioned to serve – because of their relatively shallow-draft – in taking troops directly off the beach to the larger ships at anchor in deeper water. (This character and account is clearly based on the experience of Charles Lightoller.) Mr. Dawson doesn’t want to turn his yacht over to the Navy and he heads out of the English harbor, (after ditching all the civilian accoutrements and taking on a load of life-preservers) with a crew composed of a pair of teenaged schoolboys.
The third element, after land and sea, is in the air; a pair of RAF Spitfire pilots, Collins (Jack Lowden) and Farner (Tom Hardy). They start on their mission to provide air cover to the evacuation, lose their flight leader even before they even get mid-way – and thereafter Farner, with a busted fuel-gage on his fighter-plane (which was top of the line in 1940) is on a tense countdown. Make his goal, achieve his mission of providing air cover for the evacuation before he runs out of fuel…
The countdown is one of the elements which makes this movie consistently suspenseful: the countdown of Farner’s fuel tanks, the countdown of Tommy’s ability to hold his breath, the arrival of the ‘little ships’ in time to do any good, the ability of Mr. Dawson’s crew to haul drowning soldiers out of the water before the oil from a sinking ship cooks off. This is punched up in the soundtrack, which is not so much music but the effect of a clock ticking, occasionally broken by a terrifying silence which means that the German dive bombers are about to attack. The soundtrack is mostly sound design, with very little music as we usually hear it. The only conventional and hummable bits are a version of ‘Nimrod’ from Elgar’s Enigma Variations in about the last five minutes. The acting is likewise impeccable from the cast, especially Tom Hardy, who as Farner, had the challenge of spending most of the movie with his face covered by his oxygen mask and goggles.
Those are the laudable elements – now the severely critical comments based on the various books on Operation Dynamo. This is one of the historical events that I was obsessively interested in as a teenager. The movie vision of the smoke column on the horizon is lame. From all reports and photographic evidence – it was huge. Really huge – as could be seen from across the channel, covering a good quarter to half the horizon as one got closer to the French side. The crowds on the beaches were also much more substantial, if the historical record is any guide. The long tracking shot in Atonement gives, I think, something more of an idea of how chaotic, crowded, and desperate the situation in the Dunkirk-Bray Dunes pocket must have been. I was also thrown out of the story a couple of times by how many times the ‘stuck under a barrier and drowning’ trope was brought out and inflicted on key characters. Really, do this no more than once per character a movie. A lovely shot of all the ‘little boats’ coming to the rescue; they all looked so pristine. It was a fantastic touch to use some of the real surviving Dunkirk ‘little boats’, but only a few were shown, out of 250 or so known to have participated. As a matter of fact, many were towed across the Channel to the evacuation zone, most of them crewed by Naval reservists (as was shown in the initial scene with Mr. Dawson’s boat), and they bustled back and forth from the shallows, ferrying troops out to the deeper-draft ships standing off-shore, rather than make the cross-channel journey independently and loaded with troops. (The largest portion of troops rescued from Dunkirk were transported to safety on destroyers – not on the ‘little boats’.) The bit about the British Army engineers kluging up a pier by driving trucks into the sea at low-tide to create a makeshift pier to load from at high-tide – that did happen. I do wish that the incident of one particular ship-captain deliberately grounding his own ship to serve as a temporary pier and floating it off again at high-tide had been included – but that act of desperate improvisation was one of many.
On the whole, Dunkirk is well worth the time and cost to see in a theater, especially this summer. Regarding the previews of coming attractions, though, it looks like it will be another four or six years before I bother going to the theater to watch another one.

Atonement – Beach at Dunkirk (2007) from Wagner Brenner on Vimeo.

26. June 2017 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Air Navy, History, Old West

Edward Fitzgerald “Ned” Beale was a prominent 19th century hero, a celebrity, almost; a military officer, war hero, notable horseman and explorer, hero of the western frontier, good friend of several other notable frontiersmen, friend of one president, and appointed to offices of responsibility by four others – and those offices varied quite widely in scope. He was also a champion of the Native American tribes, prominent in Washington high society for decades, and seemed to lurk meaningfully in the background of key historical events at mid-19th century. Curiously, his name doesn’t readily spring to mind more than a hundred years after his death; the most prominent places bearing his name being Beale Street in San Francisco, and Beale Air Force Base, near Marysville in north-central California. One would think for all his various services to the nation and for his vast array of prominent and still-famous friends that he would be more of a household name. Perhaps he was for a while – but four decades or more of politically-correct restructuring of American history have elevated some, and reduced others to mere footnotes in dusty journals.

Beale as a young midshipman

Beale as a young midshipman

Ned Beale was born in 1822, in Washington D.C. – the capitol of a nation barely half-a-century old, to parents with connections to the American Navy. His father was a paymaster for the service, his mother the daughter of one of the first six commanders appointed by President Washington to head the new US Navy. So, it was only natural, when after the death of his father, Ned Beale was appointed to the Naval School in Philadelphia, a precursor to Annapolis. Upon graduation from the school in 1842, he was commissioned as a midshipman, and made voyages to the Indies, South America, and Russia. Three years later he was assigned to the Pacific Squadron, the command of Robert Stockton; an able and trusted officer, who had – as Beale himself would later have in his own career – the trust of presidents, and the friendship of the influential. Beale served as Stockton’s aide and private secretary; they were part of the American delegation to Texas when the Texas Congress formally accepted annexation to the United States.

Beale’s next assignment for Stockton was – not to put too fine a point on it – a spy, ordered to conceal his nationality and sail on a Danish ship to England, to suss out British feelings and possible war preparations over the contentious matter of the Oregon boundary. Barely having completed that assignment and reported his findings to President Polk, Beale was sent off hotfoot with dispatches to rejoin Captain Stockton, whose flagship happened to be in Peru at that moment. This necessitated that Beale make the journey by sea to Panama, cross the Isthmus and make his way to Peru – all this a kind of 19th century precursor to Planes, Trains and Automobiles.

Stocktons’ ship detoured to Hawaii, and arrived in harbor at Monterey, California in July, 1846. War between the United States and Mexico had already begun. The Pacific Squadron’s orders, in that eventuality, were to seize those ports along the Pacific coast – especially those in California. Stockton set about doing so with zeal and efficiency. Ned Beale was detached to serve with a US Army column which had come at speed overland from Fort Scott on the Missouri-Mississippi under the command of General Stephen Kearny. Briefly pausing to take Santa Fe, and New Mexico for the US, Kearney’s advanced column – guided by Kit Carson — arrived in California out of breath and weakened after a marathon march of 2,000 miles across country. Kearney’s advance party, augmented with sailors and Marines from the Pacific Squadron clashed with Californio-Mexican volunteers and Mexican presidial cavalry at San Pasqual, near San Diego. Both sides claimed a victory – although Kearney’s force suffered the heavier losses, they eventually took San Diego, and Ned Beale was one of the heroes. Two months after the San Pasqual fight, he was sent east with dispatches. Over the next two years, he made six cross-continental journeys on official business; one of them in disguise to make a short-cut through Mexico to bring irrefutable proof of the tremendous gold strike in the California foothills at Coloma to the federal government. Amid these expeditions, he found the time and energy to marry; the daughter of a politician from Pennsylvania, Mary Edwards, and sire three children with her.

Beale resigned his naval commission in 1851, but in no way was he done with the far west, or assignments of great import to the federal government. He returned briefly to California, to manage properties owned there by his mentor, Commodore Stockton. On his way west, he squeezed in a spot of surveying for a transcontinental rail line through present-day Colorado to Los Angeles. Two years later, he was appointed superintendent of Indian affairs in California and Nevada. Thereafter Ned Beale spent a hectic decade exploring and surveying the west, establishing a wagon road between Fort Defiance, New Mexico to a point on the Colorado River between Arizona and California – the initial phase of this project involved another project of interest to the Army – the Camel Corps. He proved to be a champion of camels in the far west; when the Camel Corps was formally disbanded at the end of the Civil War, Beale purchased some of the surplus camels and kept them at his vast California ranch property. The camels also served in a later Beale expedition to extend the road from Fort Smith, Arkansas, to the Colorado River. That same route was later followed by the Santa Fe railway, US Route 66 and the present day I-40.

In 1871, Ned Beale purchased a mansion in Washington, DC – Decatur House, notable for being almost next-door to the White House, and entertained a wide variety of guests there over the following years – guests including U. S. Grant, and prominent members of his administration. He spent one year as ambassador to Austria-Hungary, and made as much of a social splash in Vienna as he had in Washington. Doubt less his experiences on the far-west frontier – which by that point was almost legendary – coupled with his considerable diplomatic skills and ability to earn the trust of important people had a lot to do with that success.

His final years were spent between Decatur House, the California ranch, and a horse farm called Ash Hill, close to Washington. He died at Decatur House in 1893, a few years shy of the twentieth century. Sailor, soldier, spy, surveyor, explorer, diplomat, rancher, man about town – and a fine judge of horseflesh. Not many men of his time could quite equal that resume in every particular.
(Ned Beale is set to appear as a character in the next Lone Star Sons book – Lone Star Glory, which I hope to bring out by November, 2017.)

This short has been around for a bit – but still..

Elsie the Contented Cow was created in 1936 first as a cartoon corporate logo for the Borden food products line; a little brown Jersey cow with a daisy-chain necklace and a charming anthropomorphic smile. Three years later, a live cow was purchased from a dairy farm in Connecticut to demonstrate (along with several other likely heifers) the Borden Dairy Company-invented rotary milking parlor – the dairy barn of the future! in the Borden exhibit at the 1939 World’s Fair. The live Elsie, originally named You’ll Do Lobelia (no, I did not make up this bit) came about because an overwhelming number of visitors to the exhibit kept asking which of the demo-cows was Elsie. Of the cows in the show, You’ll Do Lobelia was, the keeper and administrator of the dairy barn agreed – the most charming and personable of the demonstration cows, especially for a generation of Americans who had moved on from a life of rural agriculture and likely never laid eyes on a real, live cow. So, Lobelia/Elsie was drafted into service for commercial interest (much as young American males were being drafted at about the same time for military service). Elsie, her assorted offspring, spouse (Elmer the Bull – the corporate face of Elmer’s Glue) and her successors continued as the public face, as it were – for the Borden Dairy Company, appearing in a movie, even – and the Macy’s department store window, where she gave birth to one of her calves. Her countenance adorns the labels of Eagle Brand condensed milk to this day.

But what – one might reasonably ask – has Elsie the Cow have to do with the Alamo?

There were cows in the Alamo – or at least, at the start of the 1836 siege. William Travis’ open letter from the Alamo, written as Santa Anna’s army invested the hastily-fortified old mission on the outskirts of San Antonio, included a hasty scribbled post-script. “The Lord is on our side—When the enemy appeared in sight we had not three bushels of corn—We have since found in deserted houses 80 or 90 bushels & got into the walls 20 or 30 head of Beeves.” A facsimile of the letter – a plea for immediate assistance – was printed at once, and published by the two major Texas newspapers of the time: the Texas Republican, and the Telegraph and Texas Register.
The Telegraph and Texas Register was owned by a partnership; a long-time settler in San Felipe de Austin named Joseph Baker, and a pair of brothers, originally from New York – John Petit Borden and Gail Borden, who served as editor, although his previous profession had been as surveyor and schoolteacher. Baker and the Bordens published their first issue almost the minute that revolution broke out in Texas, with the “Come and Take It” fight at Gonzales in late autumn, and subsequent issues of the Register covered the various issues and controversies in the mad scramble that was the Texas Revolution. And scramble meant literally – for by early spring, the Telegraph was the only functioning newspaper in Texas. John Borden left to join the fledgling Texas Army, and a third brother, Thomas, took his place in the partnership. On March 30th, the Borden brothers and their partner disassembled their press and evacuated San Felipe with the Texian rear guard, a short distance ahead of the advancing Mexican Army. They set up the press in Harrisburg two weeks later, and just as they were about to go to press with new issue – the Mexican Army caught up to them. The soldiers threw the press and type into the nearest bayou and arrested the publishers. Fortunately, the Bordens did not remain long in durance vile, for in another week, Sam Houston’s rag-tag army finally prevailed.

Gail Borden was still raring to go in the newspaper business, and mortgaged his Texas lands to buy a replacement press. The Telegraph resumed publication in late 1836, first in Columbia, and then in Houston – but on a shoe-string. The Borden brothers had sold their interest in the newspaper by the following year, and Gail Borden moved into politics, serving as Collector of Customs at Galveston, and from there into real estate, before developing an interest in – of all things, food preservation. His first essay was a sort of long-lasting dehydrated beef product, called a “meat biscuit”. The product won a prize at the 1851 London World’s Fair, and proved to be popular with travelers heading to California for the Gold Rush, and with Arctic explorers – but the US Army – which Borden had been counting on for a contract to supply meat biscuits – was not enthused, which left Gail Borden casting around for another likely product. There was a great concern at the time with the contamination of milk, especially in cities, especially since diseased cows could pass on a fatal ailment in their milk.
It took Gail Borden three years of experimenting, developing a vacuum process to condense fresh milk so that it could be canned and preserved. After a couple of rocky years, Gail Borden met by chance with an angel investor, who saw the utility of Borden’s process, and had the funds to back an enterprise called The New York Condensed Milk Company. Although Borden developed processes to condense fruit juices and other food products, milk was and continued to be their best-seller, especially when the Civil War broke out, and demand for the product rocketed into the stratosphere. By the time that he died, in 1874 – back in Texas and in a town named Borden, after him – no one could deny that he had not been wildly successful as an inventor and innovator.
In 1899, the New York Condensed Milk Company formally changed its name to the Borden Condensed Milk Company, to honor their founder. (There have been a number of rejiggering of company names since – currently the Elsie logo appears on the Eagle brand of condensed milk, through corporate machinations too convoluted to explain here, if anyone even would be interested.)
And that, people, is how Elsie the Contented Cow is connected to the Alamo.

I had an appointment with my primary care health provider at the dot of 9 AM Wednesday morning, down at the primary care clinic at Fort Sam Houston. Some years and months ago, they moved that function from the mountainous brick pile that is the Brooke Army Medical Center, into a free-standing clinic facility on Fort Sam Houston itself. I would guess, in the manner of things, that this clinic facility will undergo some kind of mitosis in about ten years, and split into another several facilities … but in the meantime, this is where I get seen for my routine medical issues … mainly high blood pressure. So; minor, mostly – immediately after retiring, I went for years without ever laying eyes on my so-called primary care provider. A good few of them came and went without ever laying eyes or a stethoscope on me, as well. But this last-but-one moved on, just at the point where he and I recognized each other by sight and remembered each other from one yearly appointment to the next. But once yearly, I must go in and see my care provider, and get the prescriptions renewed, and Wednesday was the day …

Fort Sam Houston – what to say about that place? Historically, it was the new and shiny and built-to-purpose military establishment after the presidio of the Alamo became too cramped, run-down and overwhelmed by the urban sprawl of San Antonio in the late 1870s. I have read in several places, that if the place is ever de-accessioned and turned back to civil authority as the Presidio in San Francisco was, that the inventory of city-owned historic buildings in San Antonio would instantly double. Yes – San Antonio is and was that important. It was the US Army HQ for the Southwest from the time that Texas became a state, the main supply hub for all those forts scattered across New Mexico Territory (which was most of the Southwest, after the war with Mexico), the home of the commander and admin staff for that administrative area. Every notable Army officer from both world wars put in serious time at Fort Sam during their formative military years, and the very first aircraft bought by the Army Signal Corps did demo flights from the parade ground. (I put a description of this in the final chapter of The Quivera Trail.)

But Wednesday morning, I was interested to know if the clinic administration had changed out the pictures of the personnel in the chain of command yet. (Military custom – someplace in the foyer of many units are a set of pictures; President, SecDef, and so on, down to the unit commander and the First Shirt. Part of the materiel which has to be learned in basic training are the names of the various authorities on it. The pictures are for the edification of those of lowly rank who often go for years without ever seeing the higher-ups of their chain of command in person. I went for a year once, without ever seeing my squadron commander, although I think I might have spoken to him on the phone once.) Anyhow, there was a link going around among some of the mil- and veteran blogs to the effect that a number of units had not yet received their official photographs of President Trump and General Mattis – and had filled in with print-outs of some of the more viral meme-portraits of them: President Trump standing on a tank, rolling through a battlefield, and Saint Mattis of Quantico, patron saint of Chaos with the Holy Hand Grenade of Antioch in one hand. I was looking forward in any case to seeing the new pictures, and yes, they did have the new one of President Trump on the wall, but only a sign with the name on it where General Mattis’ picture should be. Ah well – the Army is notoriously humorless and Fort Sam/BAMC is the showplace of Army medicine, but as I walked past the display, I started thinking about how bizarre it all was. I think I first read about Donald Trump in the Village Voice, in the mid-1980s, or perhaps in some other publications in the late 1980s when he and Marla Maples were huuuge tabloid and gossip-column fodder: an almost richer-than-god and bigger than-life real estate developer, flamboyant, combative, crude, even – a hound for publicity even more than for pussy.

And now he is the commander in chief. It’s been like seeing Paris Hilton, or (god save us) one of the Kardashians with a heretofore unheard of skill set, suddenly developing political ambitions, going for it … and getting there. Who on earth would have foreseen that, twenty-five years ago? It’s weirder than anything made up by an author of political novels.
Discuss.

24. December 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Literary Good Stuff

(This is a short-story version of an episode in Adelsverein: The Sowing, which I reworked as a free-standing Christmas story a good few years ago, for a collection of short stories. The scene; the Texas Hill country during the Civil War – a war in which many residents of the Hill Country were reluctant to participate, as they had abolitionist leanings, had not supported secession … and had quite enough to do with defending themselves against raiding Indians anyway.)

It was Vati’s idea to have a splendid Christmas Eve and he broached it to his family in November. Christian Friedrich Steinmetz to everyone else but always Vati to his family; once the clockmaker of Ulm in Bavaria, Vati had come to Texas with the Verein nearly twenty years before with his sons and his three daughters. “For the children, of course,” he said, polishing his glasses and looking most particularly like an earnest and kindly gnome, “This year past has been so dreadful, such tragedies all around – but it is within our capabilities to give them a single good memory of 1862! I shall arrange for Father Christmas to make a visit, and we shall have as fine a feast as we ever did, back in Germany. Can we not do this, my dears?”
“How splendid, Vati! Oh, we shall, we shall!” his youngest daughter Rosalie kissed her father’s cheek with her usual degree of happy exuberance, “With the house full of children – even the babies will have a wonderful memory, I am sure!” Her older sisters, Magda and Liesel exchanged fond but exasperated glances; dear, vague well-meaning Vati!
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I am currently torn three ways, between the start of the holiday market season for myself and my daughter’s various enterprises, my own blogging and writing, and a book project for a Watercress Press client. The book project is to do with local history, and a particularly contentious event during the Civil War – in Texas. Even as far west of the Mississippi as Texas was, from the main theater of war, some comparatively minor skirmishes in the first Civil War took place in Texas. And the final battle, and surrender of the last hold-out Confederate command took place down on the Rio Grande, and the very last Union Army casualty fell in that Texas fight. But that is stuff for history trivia contests. (The answers are, FYI, the battle of Palmito Ranch, and Private John J. Williams, of the 34th Indiana.)

The book project has a fair amount of my attention, as it touches on a local history matter featured in my own books – but in the interesting coincidence of the Tiny Publishing Bidness having published some of the local history books noted as sources, or citing local historians whom I have met or have had something to do with; the late Rev. Ken Knopp, James Kearney, and Jefferson Morganthaler, most notably – and referring to many of the sources that I read as research for the Adelsverein Trilogy. This book that I am working on now caps a series which can only be produced by a writer/researcher involved to the point of intense – yea, even fanatical interest – in a specific Civil War event. Seriously, Colonel Paul Burrier (USA, Ret.) has gone back into the archives of various establishments and re-published at his expense just about every relevant document there is to find in national and state archives regarding the locally infamous incident memorialized by the True to the Union monument in Comfort, Texas.

I’ve written here and there about the Nueces Fight/Battle/Massacre here, here, and there…and how the peculiar situation in the Hill Country of Texas – well-stocked with Abolitionist, pro-Union inclinations – generated a bitter civil war-within a civil war.

You would think that the Confederacy, after establishing the principle that if you don’t like the results of an election, you can take your marbles and secede, had little ethical grounds for persecuting those elements within Texas who didn’t like the results of the secession convention, and wished to take their marbles and rejoin the union – but they did, anyway. “It’s only OK when WE do it” has a longer-than-suspected-history in the Democrat Party, it seems. Colonel Burrier’s thesis is that influential elements among the Texas Hill Country Germans were organizing an all-out, balls-to-the-wall armed and political resistance movement, with the aim of breaking off from Texas, establishing a separate and free state, and rejoining the Union, just as West Virginia did. It’s liable to be a controversial one, since it is contrary to the accepted opinion, which tends more to the concept of relatively innocent non-participants in the peculiar institution generally, and disinclined to participate in the Confederacy’s war specifically – being brutally persecuted for exercising their rights of free speech and association. Repression bred resistance, and violence on both sides.

As in all civil wars, this one split families, friends and communities. One of the most heartbreaking that I can imagine, from reviewing and formatting Colonel Burrier’s assemblage of chapters and notes is that Fritz Tegener, who was elected leader of that party of militant German Unionists who went south towards Mexico together in 1862, was a married man with a small daughter and a two-months-pregnant wife, Susan Benson Tegener. When his party was ambushed by pursuing Confederates, he was badly injured, to the point of incapacitation in the resulting fight, but managed to survive and spend the remainder of the war south of the border in Mexico. Susan Tegener, whose two older brothers were members of the Confederate militia unit assigned to keep order in the Hill Country was taken into custody, along with the families of other suspected Unionists, but eventually released. Assuming her husband dead, Susan married twice more – to Confederate sympathizers. After the end of the war, when Fritz Tegener turned up alive and well, her divorce from him was, as might be assumed, spectacularly ugly. Fritz Tegener never acknowledged the second child as his … and Colonel Burrier suspects that Susan Tegener may have spilled all to the Confederate authorities about her husband’s planned departure with sixty other Unionists in 1862 anyway. Fritz also had two brothers; Gustaf, summarily hanged at Spring Creek later in 1862 by Confederate authorities (or vigilantes – hard to tell which, sometimes), and William – also lynched by pro-Confederate vigilantes the previous year – apparently for his disinclination to embrace the Confederacy.

The other sobering element is how swiftly things turned, and turned again, for many of the well-established and respectable men in the German community. The elected sheriff of Gillespie County, one Philip Braubach, was taken to San Antonio in the indignity of chains with a heavy cannon-ball weight attached. His companions in miserable captivity included two Hill Country store owners – one a former justice of the peace, and the other a former officer in the local militia. They all three were charged by a military tribunal and found guilty – fortunately they escaped shortly thereafter. Others coming under suspicion and persecution were just as well-established in their respective communities. They held responsible offices – state representative, justice of the peace, surveyor, militia company officer, ran profitable businesses, had the absolute trust of their friends, neighbors, communities … and for a season of madness, were branded traitors, plotters, brigands and revolutionaries. And for that, they spent three or four perilous years, hunted as outlaws and traitors until the wheel turned again …

03. October 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, Home Front, Old West

So that was a fun Saturday, although exhausting as it always is to pack the Montero, drive a certain distance, unpack the Montero, find a good spot, transport the canopy, tables, the tubs of books and the tub of table dressing and giveaway materiel, and the two camp chairs to it, and set up, ready for business. Then – four to six hours of face-to-face direct sales, broken by a sandwich from the HEB deli (No, lunch is a chancy thing at these events. There may be a food truck or a concession handy with something that we’d want to eat and don’t mind paying for … or not. We have wised up. We bring HEB deli sandwiches, and an insulated bag of bottles of drinking water.)

This is the second year for the Boerne Book Festival – last year there were about twenty of us, spaced out in a back room in the main building. If records and memory serve, we did sell a handful of books, but mostly, us authors were reduced to looking at each other after a certain point in mid-afternoon. I did have a table across from a local historian, Jefferson Morgenthaler, who did a very good book about the German settlements in the Hill Country – a book that I absolutely recommend, as he covered the same territory in non-fiction the same ground that I did in fiction. He is one of those local authors that I knew of, but had not met until that point – so last year’s event was not a totally wasted effort.

Neither was this year’s; they set us up on the landscaped grounds of the library, under the trees where a winding paved path went down to an amphitheater which was the venue for a couple of scheduled events, starting with a children’s ballet company performance: the mini-dancers performed as various forms of sea-life to the music of Saint Saen’s “Carnival of the Animals”. This was the most-well attended segment of the presentations in the amphitheater, I will have to admit, although the later presentations/discussions did have an audience. One of the authors wrote zombie thrillers and was of sufficient celebrity as these things go to have the local Barnes & Noble store with a representative sample of his books.

There were about thirty-five authors present, plus Alan of the Texas Author’s Association, who had a booth filled with books by members of the association. One of them was Clay Mitchell, who was a client of Watercress Press. Alice and I had done some substantive and line editing for his book, Amid the Ashes and the Dust, which is a terrific and evocative read, set in East Texas. Another was John Keeling, who has started a western series about cattle ranchers in Texas; the first book is called Take ‘em North: The 2E Brand Begins. We had a brief chat about writing about the post-Civil War long-trail cattle drives; always go back to the primary sources, we agreed. Just about anything about that enterprise that you saw in a movie or a TV show during the Golden Age of the Western (say from 1930-1970)  is liable to be howlingly inaccurate.

Boerne is one of those towns just about commute-distance from north-side San Antonio; with a very distinct identity, and a well-established historical district. The ambiance is one of very substantial proto-yuppie prosperity. A couple of new developments on the outskirts of town have sprouted up in the last few years, and the various businesses in the historic downtown have – for as long as we’ve been visiting – been very, very upscale. It is, in a word – a prosperous place.

My daughter and I did venture by turns into the used-book store, which is an outgrowth of the Patrick Heath Public Library; a lovely building on the grounds, with a two-level terrace at the back, and a beautifully-arranged selection inside. Seriously – this is a library used-book outlet, which was as well-sorted and set out as any high-end retail book store. My daughter bought Alison Weir’s bio of Henry VIII and I found a copy of the Crabtree and Evelyn cookbook, which I bought for sentimental reasons. And yes – I can’t resist cookbooks of a certain sort. I really used to love that company when they had an outlet in North Star Mall, across the street from the office building where I had a job, some years ago. Sadly, the Crabtree & Evelyn outlet vanished, seemingly between one week and the next. Eventually, there was nothing left in that mall which I was interested in, on my lunch hour, save maybe the Williams-Sonoma outlet. It all became high-end designer clothing, makeup and jewelry. I commiserated with the volunteer cashier at the bookstore about that. She was leafing enviously through the cookbook during the time it took for me to go back to our tent and get my purse. ‘Hah!’ I said. ‘You had your chance!’

So – a very good and reassuring start to the last-quarter-of-the year selling season. One of the readers that we sold a set of the Luna City Chronicles to, stayed for a while to lament about how her widely-geographically-spread friends visualized Texas … in a most unflattering way, of course. My daughter has marveled at how her English FB friends seem to think that we all live in little desolate towns, where tumbleweeds roll through deserted unpaved streets, and everyone lives in tumbling-down shacks with outhouses out at the back and gunfights in the streets on a regular basis.

No, it’s not like that – not anything like that at all… But perhaps we want to keep that quiet, because then everyone would want to move here, and that would quite wreck the place. Say, did I mention how hot it is in Texas during the summer? It’s boiling hot, miserable-hot, fry-egg-on-the-sidewalk hot. For five whole months, and sometimes six! No, stay away, stay away!

Anyway, the Daughter-Unit and I are planning out the next market events on our schedule; Johnson City and Blanco are a go for their markets, and Saturday morning at the New Braunfels Sophienburg’s Christmas marked in November at the New Braunfels Civic Center. Dates to be posted as soon as confirmed.

27. August 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Geekery, History

A lovely animated visualization of how Pompeii was destroyed and buried –

14. May 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, History

I do wish they had paused long enough to look into some of the ground-floor shops, and into the church, too – but still, this is awesome.

Oh, yes – I’m still here. Finishing up work for a client, and the launch for the Second Chronicle of Luna City.

14. April 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, History, Literary Good Stuff

Coming up for air, after more than a week of … well, stuff. Firstly, Blondie and I decided to bring out the sequel to Chronicles of Luna City at the end of this months, rather than try and do three books all at once at the end of the year. I have the sequel to Lone Star Sons to write, and The Golden Road to finish – those last two got set aside in the rush to finish Luna City and Sunset and Steel Rails in time for the Christmas market season. Inspiration, OK? It strikes where it will. So – finishing that sequel and going through editing and layout, and devising new pictures for the chapter heads … and right in the middle of all that, my main computer chooses to not be able to internet. Seemed to be a purely mechanical thing – as in some connection in the innards not being able to connect – and I had some handy work-arounds, which were sabotaged by the wireless router crashing shortly thereafter. And then my daughter’s computer crashed utterly and irretrievably. Sigh.

This is why we have a spare everything, in boxes in the closet. Computer, monitor, router … and also why I back up everything to a thumb drive and an external hard drive as soon as I finish writing a chapter. And a laptop, which those generous people running the Amazon Vine program offered me earlier this year. I will never forget that horrible day around Christmas 2007 when I was just about ready to sit down and write that fifth chapter for Adelsverein: The Gathering – where Carl and Magda meet cute on the bank of a river when she is desperate and he is heroic – and the then-current computer crashed, taking all four previous chapters with it. My dear late friend, Dave the Computer Genius was able to sort out the crippling virus infestation after a couple of days, retrieve all my files (including the chapters!) and revive the then-current computer unit to serve for a few years more … but prepared is to be forewarned. Hence the redundant back-ups. And I also bought into some particularly effective virus-killing programs and have used them religiously ever since. This is my livelihood, OK?

Still, it does take some time to migrate everything to the new unit/units. It’s rather like a PCS – moving into a new space. There is some time required to settle everything familiar into the new location, get comfortable with the layout, locate the new electrical switches – especially because the new units and the laptop came already pre-loaded with Windows 10 … as well as some kind of leftover function that made me sign-in repeatedly, if I walked away from the computer or didn’t move the mouse or strike a key in one minute. Took two days to sort that one out, which tends to tell on the writing time, let alone re-installing certain necessary programs, which I was foresighted enough to have on original discs. (What is with this thing about paying a monthly fee to have certain programs available – a rant for another occasion, I think.)

Anyway, now settled into the new work-space and picking up those writing projects set aside, and thinking about new ones. What to work on when I finish The Golden Road? I’ve been toying with the thought of a WWI novel, since there are characters in The Quivera Trail and Sunset and Steel Rails of an age to have been affected by it. I may still do something of the sort, but writing about how the 19th century world came to an end in bloody mass-slaughter of men and empires, not to mention a certain degree of confident optimism … at this present depressing time, I don’t need any additional depression. I’m toying more energetically with the idea of an adventure set in the American Revolution; how the original Becker paterfamilias came to America as a Hessian mercenary, and deserted at the end of the war to stay behind, marry a local girl named Katerina, and set up a prosperous farm in Chester County, Pennsylvania. That would be more to my liking – picking up the circumstances briefly mentioned in Daughter of Texas, with a young Margaret Becker fondly recalling her grandfather; the wisest, kindliest and most humorous man of her acquaintance, who made certain that she and her brothers spoke proper German.

How careful he had been in speaking the old language, ensuring that she and Rudi said words in the proper way, so that Oma Katerina laughed and laughed, saying that the children sounded as if they had a broomstick up their backsides, so prim and careful with words and sounding like proper children of Hesse. Margaret had never thought that Opa had been sad about leaving his family, and his soldier comrades. The story of Opa and Oma had a rightness about it, the comfort of a familiar fairy-tale for children; of course young Opa Heinrich should stay in America and marry the young Oma Katerina. That was the happy ending which all fairy tales had.

That will be an interesting book to write, although I shall have to stretch my research library in a whole ‘nother direction; I do have some materiel about late 18th century America and life in the colonies – but more will be required.
And I will have to find the time to get out the sewing machine and start to work on my author-garb for the upcoming year – the Edwardian-style walking suit and a towering period hat to wear with it.

04. February 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, War

(OK – finally the last of the history post I started earlier this week. Things to do, places to, things to write about. I said I would have this second part on Friday, but … real world, you know?)

Towards the end of that day, May 6th, 1942, the road petered out. Stilwell abandoned the last of the trucks and the radio van – the radio set weighed 200 pounds alone. Last messages were sent, one advising General Brereton, in New Delhi that Stilwell and his party were on foot, heading for Homalin and then Imphal, and asking for them to be met at Homalin by resupply and medical aid. “Indian govt. should be warned rice, police, and doctors urgently needed by refugees on all routes to India from Burma. Large numbers on way. All control gone. Catastrophe quite possible. End.” Another, to the US War Department via Chunking, ended, “We are armed, have food and map and are on foot 50 miles west of Indaw … believe this is probably our last message for a while. Cheerio. Stilwell.”
More »

27. January 2016 · Comments Off · Categories: History, War

He was an abrasive man, as his nickname suggests – and had very little of soothing diplomacy in him. A soft-spoken and conciliatory manner might have served him better in the long run over the duration of his tour as the American commander of Chinese troops in Burma during WWII, but considering the dire situation there in March of 1942, perhaps irascible and decisive better served the immediate situation. A 1904 graduate of the US Military Academy, General Joseph Warren Stilwell had a particular talent for languages – to include blistering invective, written and spoken Chinese, field tactics and the training of soldiers. He had come to Burma to take charge of reorganizing the nationalist Chinese military forces there … just the Allied defense of South-east Asia crumbled under a vigorous Japanese offensive. The invasion of Burma was intended to cut off the land route which supplied China, blockaded along the coast by the Japanese. War materiel for China reached there only by ship via the Burmese port of Rangoon and thence by truck, traveling 700 miles over the Burma Road. This ran from Lashio to Kunming and Yunnan; a perilous track hacked out by hand labor through jungle and over steep mountains several years earlier.

The defense of Burma rested primarily on British, Commonwealth, and Chinese forces – all supplied with difficulty as the Japanese launched their great offensive in December, 1941. About the only thing that the fractious Allied command in Burma possessed in quantity was distrust, suspicion, and an awareness of impending defeat at the hands of triumphant Japanese pushing north along a line from Rangoon to Mandalay. Stilwell, nominally in command of the Chinese armies, was constantly back-bitten by Generalissimo Chiang Kai-Shek, who was reluctant to gamble troops and materiel, preferring to conserve them against future needs – fighting the Japanese in short term and Chinese Communists in the long. The Generalissimo also did not repose much trust in the British, either – suspecting them of imperialist designs on China. This was a distaste shared with Stilwell, although for a slightly different reason. Stilwell abhorred pomp, circumstance, military ritual, jazzy uniforms, many privileges of rank, and swagger sticks, in no particular order – some or all of which were delighted in by the British military establishment. (To be fair, some American officers delighted in them as well.)
Stilwell, who if anything was an active and hands-on commander, had two small field HQs – one at Lashio, and the other at a small town called Shwebo, just north of Mandalay – where Stilwell was when the commander of British forces in Burma, General Harold Alexander ordered evacuation of Burma. Allied defense of Burma had collapsed utterly; Alexander’s evacuation order was merely confirmation of the dire situation on the ground. British, Indian, Chinese, Burmese troops and civilians were already making a mad dash along any route leading to India and safety.

General Alexander had experience in military disaster and withdrawal, having covered, as a divisional commander in France in 1940, the evacuation of British forces at Dunkirk. Alexander had left on the last destroyer out of Dunkirk; Stilwell had much more strenuous plans. Even in defeat, and with a disinclination to pull rank for his own advantage, Stilwell had pull. An American transport aircraft arrived on May the 1st. Stilwell refused to get on it himself – he sent out fifteen members of his HQ staff instead, and set off north by truck and jeep, on a route which paralleled the railway between Mandalay and the strategic town of Myitkyina, where the airfield was still in operation. He started with a group of about eighty, with the intent of traveling by train to Myitkyina, evacuating all but a few by air and trying to rally the Chinese troops.
The railway turned out to be useless to them, blocked by damage to the rails beyond the power of Stilwell’s party to clear it. The best way of reaching India and safety, in Stilwell’s judgement, was to turn westerly, and head for the valley of the Chindwin River, and cross the mountains beyond on foot. This had the advantage of avoiding mobs of the defeated Allied troops and frantic civilian evacuees clogging the well-traveled routes out of Burma; the Japanese advance leap-frogging ahead … and with luck, would skim through before torrential rains of the seasonal monsoon. On the 5th of May, the general ordered several trucks of his convoy abandoned when they bogged down in a river ford. They carried on westwards toward the Chindwin with the remaining trucks, the lighter jeeps carrying the most critical supplies, and the radio van.

The party had grown since leaving Shwebo; by the morning of May 6th it was a multinational and civilian-military affair: nearly thirty US Army personnel – most of them officers of Stillwell’s staff, fifteen ragged British soldiers and fourteen Chinese, a volunteer medical unit commanded by Dr. Gordon Seagrave (the son of long-time American missionaries in Burma and fluent in the Karen language), including 19 Christian Burmese nurses, a small British Quaker ambulance unit, Jack Beldon, civilian correspondent for Time and Life Magazines, some native Burmese, Indian and Malayan cooks, and the Reverend Breedham Case, another missionary with extensive knowledge of upper Burma and the various dialects spoken there. One of the British officers, a Major Barton had also spent many years in up-country Burma. The knowledge of the country and languages possessed by those three – Major Barton, the Reverend Case, and Dr. Seagrave would prove invaluable to the party over the course of their long walk to India and safety.

(To be continued on Friday)

My daughter was nearly ten years old, in that Christmastime of 1990. I was stationed at Zaragoza AB, in the Ebro River Valley of Spain, which was serving as one of the staging bases in Europe for the build-up to the First Gulf War … the effort to liberate Kuwait, which Saddam Hussein seemed to believe that he had a perfect right to occupy, loot and exterminate those opposing him in that small matter. But this is not about that war, particularly – only as it affected those of us located far along the haft of the military spear towards the sharp and pointy end.

Zaragoza was a long-established US base in Spain by then – sufficiently long enough to have grown up a second generation of children born to American servicemen and their Spanish wives. It was sufficiently well-established to have a fairly modern on-base school, which housed the elementary classes in one wing, and the high school in the other. My daughter started there in kindergarten, the very week that we arrived, in 1985, to the day that we departed, six years later, when she started the sixth grade. It was a safe posting, especially considered after my previous assignment to Athens, Greece, where terrorism aimed at American personnel and at the base generally was accepted grimly as an ongoing part of life, like hurricanes along the southern coasts. One took every careful precaution and internalized certain practices against an irregular and specifically unpredictably-occurring threat. One of my daughter’s earliest memories is of watching me from the front step of the suburban Athens apartment where we lived then … kneeling down to look underneath my car, parked out in the street. I was, of course, looking for something explody-ish with trailing wires, where such a device ought to not be attached to the underside of the bright orange Volvo sedan that I had purchased from a fellow NCO upon arrival in Athens. (The Volvo had the temporary USG or US Forces Greece license plates on it, which branded the vehicle as being owned/driven by a member of the American military, and thus a likely target for anything from crude vandalism to a bomb.  Just one of those things; it was a relief to get to Spain, where the practice was for regular Spanish license plates to be placed on automobiles owned by American service personnel.)

Late in autumn of that year the build-up began. Zaragoza AB went on a war footing, which meant that duties and hours devoted to those duties doubled, or in some cases, tripled for all personnel. Bright new concertina wire went up, all along the base perimeter; one of my memories of that period was how weirdly beautiful it looked under a layer of winter frost  in the early morning – like sunshine brilliantly glittering on matte-finished silver.

Christmas was coming.  After that, New Year’s Day, and then the deadline for Saddam Hussein to give up Kuwait. We knew that, barring a miracle, he wouldn’t. And then War, sometime in those days of the first week. Inevitable. The dark grey storm cloud on the horizon, flickering with flashes of interior lightning, blotting out the horizon and moving inexorably closer. One was made aware of it in dozens of ways, as the minutes, hours, days ticked by – even as the prosaic routines went on. My daughter had school every day, I cooked a family supper every evening, read to her at bed-time, shopped for groceries at the commissary, pressed a fresh blue uniform shirt every morning, mailed out Christmas cards, bought and wrapped presents. Because Christmas. One holds on to as many shreds and shards of normality as one can, when it comes to children.

These last few weeks, I have been feeling the same foreboding that I did, that holiday season more than twenty years ago. My daughter and I have a full schedule of weekend holiday markets and events. When we were setting up for the first of them, on a Friday afternoon, we came home to the news about the Islamic massacre in Paris. This week, as we were getting ready for another, it was the Islamic massacre of local government employees in San Bernardino. Next week … who knows? I am fairly certain that there will be another atrocity perpetrated by Daesh fanatics over the coming holiday season. It will occur in a place and at a time where it will all come as a horrifying surprise to the victims of it, to our national leadership cadre and to our major news outlets. The latter two will, of course, be horribly inconvenienced by having to throw some thin shreds of career-saving rationale or justification excusing such an unexpected event. This I know, as surely as I saw the deadline for military action in the Gulf inch closer and closer.

Merry Christmas, y’all.

 

30. November 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Old West

David Smith Terry was truly a man of his time and place – Texas and California in the early to mid-19th century. He possessed a large portion of the same intelligence, ambition, and physical courage which distinguished many of his contemporaries, as young men in tumultuous times. Alas, such qualities were offset by a pig-headed conviction of his own righteousness, a boiling-hot temper readily provoked to violence, and one more weakness, which would eventually prove fatal to David Smith Terry; he was all too ready to act on impulse without regard for consequence.
He was of a generation born into a relatively new country, with no memory of colonial rule by Britain, or the revolution itself, save perhaps for passed-down recollections of his maternal and paternal grandfathers, who had both fought in it with distinction. David S. Terry was the second of four sons of Clinton Terry and Sarah Smith Terry. The Terry marriage does not appear to have been a particularly successful one; they separated in 1835, when David Terry would have been about eight years old. Sarah Terry must have been a woman of spirit and determination, for she moved with her four sons to Texas in that same year, apparently hoping to retrieve some portion of respectability and income which had been lost through her husband’s mismanagement – mismanagement which must have been on a fairly epic scale to leave her in possession of their remaining property and custody of their sons. She and her sons established a plantation west of the present-day city of Houston, where they planted cotton and waited for prosperity to bless them once more. Instead, Sarah Terry died, shortly thereafter, leaving her sons – the oldest, Benjamin being fifteen, and David thirteen – essentially orphaned in the war and rebellion which followed.

David, large for his age and already impetuous, enlisted in Sam Houston’s army of Texans at Gonzales, following the fall of the Alamo. Reputedly, he fought at San Jacinto with considerable distinction. When Texas won a shaky independence by Houston’s victory, David S. Terry returned home to the cotton plantation – but not for long. He took up the study of law in the office of a relative by marriage, was admitted to the bar and practiced in Galveston for some years. He was described as a tall, handsome gentleman, solidly built, with steel-grey eyes under heavy brows, and sandy hair brushed back from a high forehead. He sported chin-whiskers but no mustache. Naturally rather reserved, he could be animated in conversation when the topic interested him, and very good company. He identified passionately as a man of Southern sympathies and as a Texan; to that end, he usually carried a sheathed hunting knife of the design made popular by Jim Bowie.

He went soldiering again, in the Mexican-American war, serving in Colonel Jack Hays’ regiment of Rangers. He participated in the battle before Monterrey, and upon returning to Galveston at the end of that war, became interested in politics. In 1847, he ran for the office of district attorney for Galveston and lost. This defeat may have been felt in a stinging fashion; two years later, he joined together with some of his Ranger comrades and followed the Gold Rush to California. He tried gold-mining for a brief time, didn’t care for the experience, (as did most men with a more readily-profitable trade who did not immediately strike it rich) and set up practicing as a lawyer again in Stockton, California. There he dabbled in running for local office, this time as mayor. Just as before, in Galveston, he was defeated, and thereafter for a time returned to the practice of law. He prospered sufficiently over the next few years that he could afford to return east and marry a distant cousin-by-marriage, a Miss Cornelia Runnels. She was educated, well-mannered; the perfect gentle Southern belle, twenty-three to her husband’s twenty-seven. She is supposed to have influenced him greatly, and as the decade progressed, David Smith Terry went from success to success. Sadly, of their six children – all sons – only three survived to adulthood; of those, one died as a teenager in a hunting accident and the other at the age of thirty or so.

As for David S. Terry’s professional prospects, in 1855 the laurels of high political office finally descended on his noble brow in the form of a position on the California Supreme Court. But controversy dogged his footsteps; in a tense interlude during San Francisco’s second bout of organized Vigilante activity, he lost his temper. He was not a supporter of the Vigilance Committee, which had been created by otherwise sober and law-abiding citizens in the wake of what appeared to be flagrant abuse of the law by elected and appointed authorities. Being one of those elected and appointed authorities – although personally incorruptible – Judge Terry did not approve of other parties interfering. An altercation ensued, when he and others who objected to amateurs taking the law into their own hands paid a visit on the Vigilance Committee. When a posse of Vigilance Committee members led by Sterling Hopkins attempted to arrest two members of Judge Terry’s group, Judge Terry most intemperately stabbed Hopkins in the throat with his Bowie knife. Arrested in turn himself, he must have had a nervous couple of days, waiting to hear if Sterling Hopkins’ wounds were mortal. Fortunately for both men – they were not. Alas, in coming years, Judge Terry’s temper remained as uncontrolled as ever.

The matter of slavery – whether it was to be allowed in prospective new states of the Union and under what conditions if any – roiled California every bit as deeply and violently as it did elsewhere. There, the established Democrat party in California split into pro and anti-slavery factions. Not entirely unexpectedly given his origins and background, Judge Terry was vociferously on the pro-slavery side. Given that, and his intemperate nature, he was bound to clash with the anti-slavery side, personalized by his former friend and now US Senator David C. Broderick. Inflammatory accusations were exchanged, deep offense was taken … and a formal duel agreed on by the aggrieved parties. On September 12, 1859, they met in a place which is now a city park, but which then was outside San Francisco’s city limits. Judge Terry won the coin toss, allowing him to select a set of dueling pistols … which had hair triggers. Supposedly, Senator Broderick was warned of this by the neutral party who examined the pistols – but as the two men squared off, Broderick’s pistol accidently discharged. This left Judge Terry to take his own sweet time in taking aim at Broderick.
Mortally wounded, Senator Broderick fell; he died three days later – a martyr to the anti-slavery cause. Judge Terry was charged, but acquitted. His career in public office – although not his profession as a lawyer – being pretty well trashed, in the eyes of indignant anti-slavery partisans and perhaps those who disapproved of dueling, or of a duelist taking savage and unsporting advantage of a hair-trigger misfire – remained relatively untarnished. He returned to that practice for a time, but on the outbreak of the Civil War, picked up his sometime occupation as a soldier, in which practice an affinity for dealing out sudden fatal violence was – if not more acceptable – conceded to be more generally useful.

Returning to Texas, he proceeded to join the Confederate Army – for which his older brother Benjamin had raised a swashbuckling cavalry regiment official known as the 8th Texas Cavalry, and popularly as Terry’s Texas Rangers, which served valiantly throughout the war in the west of the Appalachian theater. Benjamin Terry was killed in nearly their first skirmish, late in 1861, another Terry brother perished at Shiloh and David Terry was wounded at Chickamauga. He finished the war as a colonel, lay low for a time in Mexico, as did certain other die-hard Confederates … but in 1865, he returned to California and the practice of law as if nothing had ever happened. Time and experience appeared to have chastened him, or at least taught him to rein in the temper, for by the end of a decade after his return, he was a respected member of the California Constitutional Convention, revising the original state constitution.

And then, fate played the femme fatale card on David Terry, jurist, judge, colonel of cavalry and man of the world. He took on a client of the type usually termed as an ‘adventuress’ in the 19th century and a gold-digger in the early 20th, terms which usually hint at a degree of daring and amorality – a woman bent on playing high-stakes poker in the grand game of life. She was Sarah Althea Hill, an orphan of a respectable and prosperous family in Cape Girardeau, Missouri. In 1871, when she was twenty-one, Sarah Althea and her older brother came to San Francisco to live with relatives. Sarah, in the parlance of the time, was ‘fast’ and in the next decade, she burned through the inheritance from her parents of $20,000 dollars. (From modern calculations, this would have been anywhere from a quarter to over half a million.) Sometime around 1880, Sarah Althea made the acquaintance of a very, very rich man – William Sharon, a ‘49er, financier, silver-mine magnate, real-estate tycoon, hotelier, and for two terms, US Senator representing Nevada. He was at that time in his sixties, a widower … and as noted, filthy rich. They became attached, to which precise degree became a matter for spectacular and scandalous legal wrangling in various courts for the next five years.

Seriously, the courtroom antics would have made a spectacularly tacky real-world TV series, beginning when Sarah Althea Hall had William Sharon arrested on charges of adultery, and proceeded to sue him for divorce, demanding alimony and a generous share of his property due her as an aggrieved ex-spouse. The resulting legal wrangling enthralled the readers of tabloids across the nation. Sarah Althea insisted they had been secretly married and she had a signed contract to prove it – secrecy necessary because he was running for reelection at the time, and wished to keep it all quiet lest his other mistress hear about it and create an embarrassing scandal. William Sharon insisted, indignantly, that Sarah Althea had merely been his generously compensated mistress and any such contract alluding to a marriage between them was a forgery. After a year of bitter legal wrangling, a judge ruled in favor of Sarah Althea, declaring her to have been William Sharon’s legal wife, and to have a right to such of his wealth accumulated since their presumed marriage. Coincidentally, Cornelia Terry, David Terry’s long-suffering wife died at the same time.

The appeals and countersuits commenced immediately, continued by William Sharon’s son and son-in-law after his death a year after the judgement. Meanwhile, the presumed Mrs. Sharon married her now-widowed and very much older lawyer, and together they zestfully embarked on another round of legal hearings on whether William Sharon and Sarah Althea Hill had been truly and legally man and wife … only the next time, the circuit judge hearing the case – Associate Justice Stephen Johnson Field, of the US Supreme Court – appeared distinctly unsympathetic. Sarah Althea, in a breach of court etiquette, loudly accused Judge Field of having been “bought” by the Sharon interests in the case. A fracas ensued, with David Terry drawing his Bowie knife in her defense. Both Terrys scuffled with US marshals, were forcibly removed from the courtroom, arrested and slapped with jail sentences by Judge Field, who thereafter earned the bitter enmity of the pair. The threats against him by the Terrys were taken so seriously, that when next Judge Field ventured to California in the late summer of 1889, he was accompanied by a US marshal as his dedicated body-guard.
Whether it was coincidental or not, Judge Field and his body-guard, David Neagle, were traveling from Los Angeles to San Francisco train, on August 14th, 1889. Coincidentally, the Terrys had also boarded that train, somewhere along the way. When the train stopped for breakfast at the station restaurant in Lathrop (a town a little south of Stockton), the Terrys discovered the presence of the judge … although perhaps not his bodyguard; a fatal omission, considering subsequent events. But given the hot and irrational tempers displayed throughout the lives of both David Terry and Sarah Althea, this was absolutely guaranteed not to end well or without bloodshed. David Terry approached Judge Field, peacefully eating breakfast, and without warning, slapped him across the face.

Marshal Neagle – who had previously been a town marshal and deputy sheriff in the rowdy municipality of Tombstone, Arizona, during it’s the wildest and most wooly stage – leapt to his feet and drew his own weapon as David Terry reached inside his own coat. Marshal Neagle shot David Terry twice – dropping the former judge dead in the middle of the railroad restaurant. So ended the life of a man who otherwise might have been better known for nobler things – save that he had a wicked and impulsive temper, and fell for a woman who had even more problems with violence and impulse-control than his own.

The post-script? There was a resulting US Supreme Court case, which decided that yes, the Attorney Genera of the US did have the authority to appoint US Marshals as bodyguards to Supreme Court Justices. Sarah Althea Hill (Sharon) Terry – who it might be inferred – had substantial mental health issues, was eventually confined to an institution, where she died of natural causes some forty years later. She was buried in the Terry family plot, in a cemetery in Stockton, California. A granddaughter of David S. Terry came forward and approved, at the time of her death.

17. November 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Fun With Islam, History

Add me to a relatively short list of people on social media who are not making any particular gesture of sympathy and solidarity with the people of France who have been whammed for the second time in a year by the bloody-minded foot-soldiers of Islam. It’s not that I don’t care, and that I don’t feel the least shred of human sympathy for those people who went out for a drink and a good meal at a popular restaurant, a raucous rock concert, a soccer game, and then had their lives changed forever – if not ended entirely. It’s just that at this particular point in time, I am a bit tired of making easy feel-good, symbolic gestures about Islamic terrorism. Once you’ve made them … then, what for a follow-up?

I’ve so been to this rodeo before. 9-11. Beslan. The train bombings in Madrid. The bus bombings in London. The slaughter in the streets of Mumbai, and at the Boston Marathon finishing line. Westgate Mall. The murder of staff members of Charlie Hebdo, and the Jewish supermarket in Paris. Intifada without end in Israel. Und so weiter. I won’t even start on the list of bombings and slaughters across the Middle East; merely observe in passing that in those circumstances the usual Muslim suspects are slaughtering each other, rather than doing the business to outsiders.

The only thing more inevitable than the candle-light vigils, the moments of silence and the mounds of flowers piled up at the sites are the lamentations from the Muslim communities about the never-yet materialized anti-Muslim backlash. There comes a point where one gets tired of it all, of doing the same thing over and over, and expecting different results. There is a lack of seriousness about the problem of deliberate Islamic aggression in Western countries; an unwillingness to defend those values we have developed – sometimes painfully – over a long time; values such as freedom of speech and intellectual inquiry, a separation between the state and religion, a rule of law and not of the mob – one law, applied equally across class, race and sexual divides – and an unfettered press. This lack of serious intent is perhaps more marked in Western Europe, as it appears from various sources. The various no-go areas common to French metropolitan areas are not so firmly established in the US yet, and the mass sexual trafficking of vulnerable young women by Muslim men so recently demonstrated in places like Rotherham, England appears to have been landed on like a ton of bricks by civil authorities in the US. We are not – yet – being swamped by thousands of Middle Eastern faux-refugees arriving daily, as is happening in Germany.

But Beslan, Mumbai, Westgate, Charlie Hebdo … it will happen here, and probably sooner than later. Not all the candle-light vigils, moments of silence, and sorrowful hashtags and logos will prevent it. Only determination on the part of individuals and our leaders to do the difficult, the harsh and the necessary will do that.

(This is the background, or essential info-dump relating to the history of Luna City, Texas. This will be one of my books for this fall, as soon as I dash off another hundred pages or so, of the doings of a little town where eccentricity is on tap, day and night.)

Final Cover with LetteringLuna City is an incorporated township, located in Karnes County, Texas, at approximately 28°57′29″N 97°53′50″W, a point where Texas Rte 123 crosses the San Antonio River. The population of Luna City and environs in the 2010 Census was 2,453. The nearest large town is Karnesville, the county seat, approximately ten miles south of Luna City. Those residents of Luna City not employed in their own small businesses commute to Karnesville for work, or to nearby enterprises such as the entertainment/spa/commercial venue of Mills Farm, the Lazy W exotic game ranch, or in various oil-production ventures associated with the Eagle Ford shale oil formation. Notable people from Luna City include the prima ballerina Johanna Gonzales Garcia, international financier Collin Wyler, noted historian Douglas McAllister, Korean War jet-fighter ace Hernando “Nando” Gonzalez, and the legendary bootlegger Charles “Old Charley” Mills.

The land on which Luna City was later established was part of a 1769 Spanish land grant of a league and a labor to one Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales), who may have been already settled in the area at the time that his grant was recorded. It is a matter of undisputed archeological record that Don Diego, members of his family or in his employ were engaged in grazing cattle, goats and sheep in the area, as an adobe structure on the northern outskirts of Luna City was extensively excavated and studied in the late 1960s. The structure apparently served as a shelter for both animals and people. Evidence of regular camping and hunting by elements of the native Tonkawa people at a fairly early date was also found in later excavations in the area. The first recorded permanent dwelling in the area was built in 1857 adjacent to an easily-forded stretch of the San Antonio River, by Herman Borgfeld, an immigrant stonemason from Bohemia, who ran a small general store, tavern and inn catering to travelers between San Antonio and the coast.

In 1867, a large portion of the tract originally part of the Gonzales or Gonzalez grant were purchased by Herbert King Wyler, formerly a captain in the Confederate Army, assigned during the hostilities to various garrisons west of the Mississippi and in Texas. Captain Wyler had been involved in various capacities with operations to move Confederate cotton to Brownsville and thence over the border to the Mexican port of Baghdad, from where it was shipped to Europe. He emerged from his wartime service with sufficient wherewithal to purchase outright what is presently the Lazy W Ranch, still run by his great-grandson, Dr. Stephen Wyler. Captain Wyler caused to be built a palatial residence, modeled after the magnificent Greek Revival-style mansion of Windsor, at Port Gibson, Mississippi, a mansion distinguished by a series of ornate columns all around the perimeter of the structure which extended from the main floor through two stories to the roofline and supported a wide veranda on the main floor, and wrap-around galleries on the second. It is thought that the local economy revived to a not inconsiderable degree, as construction of the house itself employed hundreds of local workers at a time and in a place where money was scarce. (The ranch residence and gardens are open to the public once yearly, for the term of a week in mid-September, as part of the observances of Founders’ Day, although application for private tour may be made through the website for the Wyler Game Ranch.)

Around 1884, or 1885, having made another considerable fortune in trailing herds of cattle north to Kansas, Captain Wyler became intensely interested in the possibility of establishing a town on his property, since the proposed town-site lay along a possible route proposed for the as-then-unbuilt San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway. Along with Don Antonio Gonzalez, presumed descendent of Don Diego Manuel Hernando Ruiz y Gonzalez (or Gonzales) and the second largest landowner in the district, Captain Wyler formed a corporation to build attract investors and businessmen willing to settle in a new town. Captain Wyler brought in as a partner in the project, an ambitious surveyor and engineer who dabbled in architecture, Arthur Wells ‘A.W.’ McAllister, to not only survey the site and create the city plat, but to design various public buildings, including a suitably impressive courthouse. It was confidently expected that Luna City, as Captain Wyler dubbed his project, would become the county seat. Arthur Wells McAllister in turn was so confident of success and committed to the project that he moved his family to the site, after purchasing, expanding and renovating the original Borgfeld stone house. (The house still stands amid spacious and well-maintained gardens along Rte. 123, and is lived in by his descendants.)

Alas for Captain Wyler’s ambitious plans; they were undone by love – specifically that of his daughter, Myra Elizabeth “Bessie” Wyler. Having married relatively late in life, his progeny numbered only three; two sons and Mary Elizabeth, the youngest. He doted upon them to a considerable degree, and especially on Myra Elizabeth – beautiful, indulged and impetuous. On returning from a year in a finishing school in New Orleans, which the Captain and his wife had hoped would curb Bessie’s naturally youthful high spirits, the young woman fell hopelessly in love with one Edward Standifor, some ten years her senior and employed as a locomotive engineer on the GH & SA Railway. Bessie Wyler eloped with Edward Standifor; they were married by a Justice of the Peace in Fort Worth and settled down to a life of respectable tranquility – but Captain Wyler’s fury knew no bounds. He not only disowned his daughter, but declared that his enmity against the railway – all it’s works, ways, establishments and personnel – was unremitting. The railway was, he declared in an impassioned statement to the San Antonio Express News, an open invitation to the establishment of vice and debauchery of every kind, a threat to the virtue of susceptible young women and girls everywhere … and he vehemently withdrew any support previously rendered to the establishment of a route for the San Antonio & Aransas Pass Railway which led through his property. From surviving correspondence, it appears that A. W. McAllister blithely assumed that this was an attempt by Captain Wyler to pressure the builders of the SA & AP into offering a higher price for the right-of-way through his property. A.W. had a basis for this belief, as Captain Wyler had a long-established reputation for driving a hard bargain, using every possible means at his disposal – including treachery and personal tragedy, as they served his immediate purpose.

Alas for the future of Luna City as a station on the SA & AP – Captain Wyler was completely in earnest. The managers of the proposed railway line shifted the proposed route to run through Karnesville – and all the investors in the Luna City project were left high and dry, including A.W. McAllister, who had sunk all of his own funds into the project and therefore had to make the best of it. Fittingly enough, he did prosper in a mild way – although not to the degree that he would have, if the whole project had come about as originally projected. Still – he was respected and honored, as the decades wore on; the man who originated the vision of Luna City, and designed nearly every one of its surviving public buildings. Architectural historians and aficionados for this kind of thing laud Luna City as a peerless and harmonic jewel of minor late Victorian and Beaux-Arts city planning.

As for Bessie Wyler Standifor, she and her husband lived to a ripe and happy old age, parents of a large and prosperous family. In the early years of the 20th century, she and whoever of her children wanted to accompany her were frequent guests of honor at Founders Day observances. It is noted, however, that her father throughout the remainder of his life eschewed railway travel, choosing to travel in a horse and buggy until the development of other means of transportation. Captain Wyler was the first recorded owner of an automobile in Karnes County in 1901 – a Columbia Electric Runabout – and the first to die in an automobile accident five years later, when – at the wheel of it and against the advice of his chauffeur – he collided with another motorized vehicle on what would become Rte. 123. There is a historical marker alongside the roadway where this occurred. Folk memory has it that the driver of the other vehicle was none other than Charley Mills, with a load of illicit whiskey.

17. August 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: History

This last weekend marked the 70th anniversary of VJ-Day; the surrender of Japan to the Allied forces. This marked a day of wild rejoicing in New York, Honolulu, London and in practically every town and city across the Western world which had sent armies and navies into a bitter fight against Imperial Japan – a fight which had been up and running in China long before Japan chose to take the fight to America by launching an attack on Pearl Harbor.

Time has had its’ usual way with those who fought in it, and survived. The generals and admirals who stood at the top of the military chain of command are long gone, being middle and late-middle aged in the 1940s. The colonels and naval commanders are pretty much gone from the scene, the captains and ensigns vanishing likewise; most of the veteran survivors still with us were very young men and women, little more than teenagers at the time of the war; young and happy to be reprieved from fighting in a war which looked to drag on for another five or six bloody years. By the next significant anniversaries – the 75th and the 80th, there will be even fewer remaining.

Skimming through my guilty pleasure – the UK’s Daily Mail – I noted the lavishly illustrated stories posted there regarding observances in London for VJ Day; a parade, and a fly-by, a wreath-laying, a special memorial service at Westminster Abbey, the Royals and senior members of the government all out in splendor, the Duchess of Cornwall dancing at a garden reception for veterans, all kinds of splendid pageantry, reported in detail. Our British cousins do that kind of thing so very well; the WWI display of millions of red ceramic poppies spilling into the moat of the Tower of London, and the Queen’s Jubilee are just two of the most recent to come to mind.

And … what did we have on this side of the pond, aside from the obligatory mea culpa about dropping The Bomb on Hiroshima and Nagasaki? Not so much. I did a compare and contrast search – 70th anniversary VJ Day, both US and UK. On the US search, I turned up news of a mass reenactment of the famous sailor-kissing-a-nurse, and a great many local small-town and city observances of the date, an observance at the US Navy Memorial and at the National WWII Memorial (on September 2, according to the Friends Of website), a picture feature on USA Today’s website … and that’s just about it. A good third of the results on the US search mentioned the London observances anyway. There was nothing particularly splashy on the US national scene for VJ-Day, no big events, nothing requiring the attention of this current administration, or the President. I understand he is on vacation, anyway.

Discuss, as you will.

10. August 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Military

I see that the 70th anniversary of the dropping of atomic bombs over Hiroshima and Nagasaki this last weekend brought the usual hand-wringing and heart-string twanging on the part of the news media, and another round of the endless discussion over whether it was justified or not, with the same old patient answering of what the alternative would have been. I’ve really nothing more to add to that particular discussion, save noting that the stocks of Purple Heart medals struck and stockpiled in anticipation of American casualties in a full-frontal invasion of Japan have only in the last fifteen years been diminished to the point where a new order for them had to be initiated – this, after Korea, Vietnam, Grenada, Kosovo, Gulf War 1, and Iraq.

The expected fate of American and Allied soldiers in an invasion of the Japanese mainland was only part of it, an aspect which tends to be forgotten in the afterglow of the mushroom cloud. There were Allied civilians involved as well, and their fates were also tied up in use of the atom bomb. With the passage of time, memory of the realities of WWII in the Pacific for people who were actually present have dimmed in memory as that generation passes. There is a kind partial amnesia in certain quarters, a tendency to forget that conflict between the Allies and the Japanese was knock-down and drag out brutal, completely unscathed by any pretense of observing the so-called rules of war; that white flags would be honored, that prisoners and internees would be treated humanely, according to the Geneva Convention, the Red Cross would be respected – all these and a number of other war-making conventions were flung down and danced upon, beginning with on Day One – as far as Americans were concerned – with a sneak attack by the Japanese on Pearl Harbor.

Germany may very well have been run by a murderous Nazi gang headed by a demented paper-hanger and failed artist, Germans may have referred to disparagingly as Krauts, and lampooned in the movies and pop music by cut-ups like Charlie Chaplain and Spike Jones, but as far as Americans were concerned, they at least made an effort to honor the rules of war when it came to all the Allies save the the Russians. They had a certain amount of grudging respect as an enemy but a mostly honorable one – until the concentration camps and indisputable evidence of the Final Solution were uncovered at the end of the war. With the Japanese, there was no such mutual courtesy extended, no quarter offered and none given or expected from the very first. Poisonously racist attitudes and assumptions were openly demonstrated by all parties concerned, and the Japanese were more than equal in demonstrated bigotry towards all non-Japanese. Initially welcomed as liberators from the colonial powers all over south-east Asia, they had made themselves so detested for their brutality that by 1945 returning Westerners had local allies who hated the Japanese more than their one-time colonial masters.

I had read that initially those horrifying reports of the treatment of American and Filipino POWs on the Bataan Death March which leaked out through a handful of fortunate escapees were suppressed as a matter of national security, to avoid damaging morale on the home front. It was easier, in those days of written letters, telegrams and a few radio broadcasts, to keep a lid on everything but rumors. Of rumors and fears there were plenty all across the United States, Australia and Great Britain; those countries and a handful of others saw thousands, hundreds of thousands of civilian and military citizens – nurses, missionaries, soldiers, businessmen, colonial authorities, expatriates, and their wives and children – simply vanish into the black hole of the Japan administered Greater East Asian Co-Prosperity Sphere after the fall of Singapore, Malaya, Borneo, the Philippines, Hong Kong and those European enclaves in China. Few if any letters or contact, no reassurance from the Red Cross that their people were alive, safe and well for more than three and a half years; fears and rumors abounded. If those military and civilian internees were still alive, they were not safe and – increasingly as the war ground on to a bitter end – not well, either.

In a museum in Britain sometime in our wandering summer of 1976 – was it Carlisle? Salisbury? York, maybe? One of those little local museums, with a case of artifacts given over to the relics of the local regiment, with dusty embroidered colors, and little Victoria sweet-tins, and souvenir hardtack crackers adorned with poems in careful copperplate handwriting. This museum had a long picture of an entire company of soldiers; one of those formal things with four rows of men and officers standing on risers. Everyone who has ever served has been in at least one picture of that sort, but this one had a sad distinction; the entire company, fifty or so, were captured in the fall of Singapore… and none survived to the war’s end. They were sent to work on the Burma-Siam Railway, and among the museum’s relics was a metal measure about the size of a 12-ounce can. It was used, so said the card underneath, to measure out the daily ration of water and rice for the slave labor set by the Japanese to work on the railway. And that was what they got, day in, day out, doing hard physical labor in the tropics … just that little rice and water. The saying about the Burma-Siam railway after the war was there was a man dead for every sleeper laid, the whole length of it: POW, internee, or native civilians pressed-ganged into the service of the Japanese.

POWs and internees were routinely starved, forced into hard labor, denied any kind of effective medical treatment save what internee doctors and nurses could provide, spitefully prevented from communicating with the outside world, or keeping any kind of diary or record at all, subject to the most vicious punishments – up to and including murder in a revoltingly gruesome variety of ways – for the most trivial offenses or often none at all. Transported to Japan itself, to labor in mines and factories, POWs were loaded like cattle, into the holds of transport ships; men went insane, and tragically, died when the ships were bombed and torpedoed by the Allies. There are also stomach-churning accounts of POWs used as guinea-pigs in Japanese medical experiments, and vivisected while alive and un-anesthetized. The estimate is that 27% of the Allied POWs held by the Japanese perished in captivity, as opposed to 2-3% held by the Germans.

Civilian internees fared hardly better; this account of women and children interned in Sumatra – most of them shipwrecked in the Java Sea while escaping Singapore by sea in the last days before the surrender – reckon that about half perished in captivity. American internees in the Philippines fared a little better, although most survivors of Santo Tomas and Los Banos estimate they were about two weeks from dying of starvation when they were liberated. “Thou shalt not kill,” runs the bitter couplet, “But need not strive, officiously, to keep alive.” Most military and civilian survivor accounts concur on the time frame of survival; that is, if the Japanese didn’t massacre them all first, as they did at Palawan. At best, writer-historian Gavin Daws estimates that the subsequent life-expectancy of the survivors was reduced by ten or fifteen years, so severe were long-term health problems resulting after three years of near-starvation, exposure to every tropical and deficiency disease known to medical science, and the psychotic brutality of the Japanese camp guards.

During the war, this was not something much talked about, except in the vaguest sort of way – no spreading despair on the home front. Immediately afterwards, the most popular accounts of captivity, such as Agnes Newton Keith’s Three Came Home (1947) give the impression that it all was quite dreadful, but skimmed over the specifics. Many survivors wanted more than anything to just forget, to put it out of mind, and have a normal life again, and many more just could not talk about it at all, save to those few comrades who had been there with them. It is only in the last few years that I have really noticed the horrific accounts being published, and historical memory uneasily jousting with political correctness. But it is clear – that the total surrender of the Japanese after the bombing of Hiroshima and Nagasaki saved civilian internees and POWs alike.

25. July 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: History, Old West

To further the current work in progress (which will feature the heroine being in Galveston during the hurricane of 1900), I am re-reading Erik Larson’s Isaac’s Storm – a gripping and almost novelistic account of the hurricane which struck the Texas Gulf coast city of Galveston on Saturday, September 8th, 1900. The Isaac of the title is Isaac Cline, the resident meteorologist in Galveston for the U.S. Weather Bureau – who paid a devastating price – the loss of his heavily pregnant wife when his house was swept away at the height of the storm – for miscalculations made; miscalculations made both by himself and by the Weather Bureau headquarters policies in far-distant Washington DC.

That 1900 storm still stands as the single deadliest natural disaster ever to strike the United States, with a death toll equal of all later storms combined; at least 6,000 in Galveston alone – a quarter of the population at the time – and along the Texas coast. The storm surge went for miles inland, and may have carried away another 2,000, whose bodies were never found – and never reported missing, as there was no one left to do so. Galveston Island – a coastal sand-bar, little more than eight feet above sea level at its highest point – was a busy and strategic port. At the turn of the last century, it was the largest city in Texas; a center of commerce, transportation hub and port of entry for immigrants coming into the Southwest by sea. Galveston was connected to the mainland across a normally placid lagoon by three railway trestles. Although the rival port city of Indianola, farther west along the Gulf Coast had been wiped out by a pair of hurricanes fifteen and twenty-five years before, generally the citizens of Galveston were complacent, comfortable in the belief that any storm – and they had easily weathered many of them – was readily survivable. And after all – this was a new century, one marked by unparalleled technologic and scientific advances! So a sea-wall proposed by certain concerned citizens was never built; indeed, Isaac Cline had written an article for the local newspaper in 1891, arguing that such a wall was not necessary; it was impossible for a storm of sufficient destructive intensity to strike Galveston. And he, of course, was an expert.

And so were the U.S. Weather Bureau experts – and fiercely proud of it, although telegraphic reports of weather phenomena upon which authoritative forecasts were based tended to be spotty – especially when ocean-going ships and foreign countries were involved. For fear of the “crying wolf” effect the Weather Bureau also frowned on what they held to be overuse of terms such as “hurricane” or “tornado” lest those in the path of a project event be panicked unnecessarily – or to become blasé about such warnings. By the first few days of September, 1900, Isaac Cline’s office in Galveston began to get warnings regarding a tropical storm system moving in a northerly line over Cuba – but forecasters at the bureau believed the storm was moving in a curved, northerly line which would take it across Florida, up the east coast and then out into the Atlantic again. They disregarded predictions by weather observers in Cuba who insisted that the storm system would continue westerly, impacting against the Texas Gulf coast.

The weather was warm, as it always is at this time of the year in Texas – the waters of the gulf were as warm as bathwater. And those existing yet relatively unnoticed conditions were enough to boost the tropical storm to lethal strength. On the morning of Saturday, September 8th, weather conditions seemed like nothing special; partly cloudy skies and heavy if not particularly frightening swells along the outer edge of the island. Perhaps at that point, no one was particularly worried, although in hind-sight, some residents did own to apprehensions. The movie director King Vidor, then just six years old, later wrote of how the water of the lagoon and the sea appeared to mound up on either side of the town by mid-morning as if Galveston were at the bottom of a bowl and the water about to spill over the rim.

And then it began to rain – at first much welcome – the temperature dropped and the winds picked up. Still no one worried, very much. Children were entranced by how the water in streets paved with wooden blocks began to fill with water, which lifted and floated the paving blocks, a sea of bobbing corks. They splashed happily in that water, but by mid-morning, if anyone had begun to be frightened, it was already too late. Water from the gulf-side and the lagoon began flowing in the main streets, sheeting over the raised sidewalks in downtown Galveston. Heavy waves were already falling on the sand shore of the outside of the island, where protective dunes had been scraped away to fill in and level the rest of the island. Gusts of wind began slamming against storefronts with brutal force. Around midday the bathhouses, small restaurants, and souvenir stores along a boardwalk along the Gulf shore known as the Midway began disintegrating under the assault of the surf. People were a bit nervous at seeing the water in the streets rise so swiftly, at the destruction of the Midway – but for most residents, it seemed as if this was just another tropical storm, of which Galveston had weathered so many.

Until the collapse of Ritter’s Café and Saloon, a popular eatery in the heart of Galveston’s commercial district. The café was on the ground floor of a substantial two-story building which housed a print-shop in the second floor. A particularly violent gust of wind ripped off the roof; the sudden decompression apparently bowed the second-story walls sufficiently for the floor beams to pop loose … and the heavy printing presses, beams and fittings of the print-shop crashed down on patrons of the café below. Five diners died instantly, another five injured so badly that the café’s owner sent a waiter for medical help … and the waiter drowned in fast-rising water. The morning train from Houston arrived, with considerable difficulty, inching across the railway trestle that spanned the lagoon, passengers watching nervously as the water washed back and forth under the rails. One of those passengers was David Benjamin, a senior executive of the Fred Harvey Company, who had business to do in town – where Fred Harvey maintained one of their popular rail-station restaurants; Mr. Benjamin had an appointment in town and went to make it, although to his exasperation, the man he was to meet did not. Mr. Benjamin returned to the Harvey House – considerably sobered by the sight of the body of a dead child, washing into the railway station.

The second scheduled train, from Beaumont City, never even got that far, being stymied on arrival at the ferry landing, where a barge would carry the entire train; engine, coaches and all – from Bolivar Point across to the Island. The water was too violent for the captain of the ferry to dock and run the train onto it. The train reversed, going back the way it came, until stranded by rising water near to where the Point Bolivar Lighthouse stabbed a lonely finger into the sky. The inhabitants of Point Bolivar – all two hundred of them – had already taken refuge in the lighthouse, crammed two and three onto the narrow spiral staircase inside that stout tower. Ten passengers from the train braved the winds and increasingly higher waters, slogging the quarter mile or so in the flat open plain to join them, saving their own lives thereby, for the storm surge eventually overwhelmed the train; the remaining passengers and crew all were lost.

By the middle of afternoon, anyone paying attention already suspected that things were about to get very, very bad. One of Mr. Benjamin’s fellow passengers taking shelter in the railway station had a pocket barometer in his luggage, and commenced to take readings, as his barometer – and that at Isaac Cline’s weather station on the roof of the Levy building began to fall, and fall, and fall even farther, to the point where some observers began to think the instruments must be defective. Long afterwards, weather experts estimated the winds to have blown at 150 miles per hour with gusts reaching 200. There was no way to be certain, as the Weather Bureau’s anemometer and rain gage were blown off the top of the Levy Building and destroyed early in the evening. The sky turned so dark that it seemed to some as if dusk had already fallen. The wind whipped slate tiles as if they were shrapnel. At about two in the afternoon, the wind shifted from a northerly direction to the northeast; over the next hours, the water came up and up, higher and higher, driving people into the second floor of whatever they had taken refuge in – assuming that they had a second floor. The streets and gardens of Galveston became seas, studded with wooden flotsam and wreckage … and just short of seven in the evening the water came up four feet in as many seconds. The meticulous observer Isaac Cline noted the rise of water against the dimensions of his own house, calculating that it was now over fifteen feet deep and still rising. But he was certain that his house would withstand the storm, constructed as it was on deep-driven pilings.

Unfortunately, he had not considered the effect of the storm – wind and water between them driving an irresistible moraine of debris into the residential area where his house stood – lumber and wreckage from other houses, reinforced with heavy timbers from the destroyed Midway, iron street-car rails, and uprooted trees. Every fresh wave pounded that mass farther and farther inland, a leviathan grinding up and adding more wreckage to the mass, until it towered almost two stories tall and stretched across the middle of town. Eventually, it overwhelmed the Cline residence, throwing Isaac, his wife and three daughters and his younger brother who also worked at the Weather Bureau into the turbulent water. They all survived, save Mrs. Cline, whose body was unearthed three weeks later. The merciless waves also destroyed the orphanage a little north of town, run by the Ursuline sisters; smashing the range of buildings, as the ten nuns herded the children into the upstairs dormitory farthest from the seashore. Each sister had lashed seven or eight children to themselves with clothesline, all in a line like ducklings after their mother, in a vain attempt to keep them together and safe, but the sea came into that last refuge and the only orphans to survive were three older boys who managed to scramble into a tree. At least 3,600 buildings were smashed, leaving those fortunate enough to survive without much shelter when Sunday morning came – a calm and mild day, considering the fury of the night before.

The bridges to the mainland were gone, the telegraph lines destroyed, it took a small delegation of local men, traveling in one of the few ships in port which had survived the storm to limp across the bay and travel up to Houston, from where they could send telegrams to the governor, and the president of the US. Residents of Houston had already surmised the need for help, and sent rescue parties to Galveston. The first train to try reaching Galveston could come no closer than six miles from shore, reporting that the coastal prairie was strewn with debris and corpses, and a large steamship stranded two miles inland.
Galveston did rebuild, of course. The seawall first suggested and rejected after the destruction of Indianola was constructed; sand was dredged from the bay and used to raise the level of the island nearly twenty feet. With a great deal of trouble and effort, 2,100 of the surviving buildings were elevated. All of this proved their worth when another hurricane struck dead on in 1915, with comparatively minor casualties. But dredging of the Houston Ship Channel to accommodate ocean-going ships spelled doom for Galveston as an important player in commerce and shipping. It’s still a nice seaside town, historic as all get-out, and with a pleasing situation – but not half the place it was on September 7, 1900.

01. May 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: History, War

(From the archives as I have been reminded of the anniversary of the fall of Saigon. I wrote a version of this early on at SSDB, around 2004.)

Never been there, never particularly wanted to: to someone of my age, it is Bad Place, a haunted place, where ugly things happened. It gave nightmares to friends, co-workers, and lovers for years after it dropped out of the headlines and the six-o-clock news. Today in light of the current war, it seems as far away in time and nearly as pointless as the Western Front. You look, and remember, and wonder, knowing that yes, it really happened, but really, what was the point of it all? Platoon seems as much of a relic as Journey’s End, the image of a helicopter hovering over jungle with “All Along the Watchtower” on the soundtrack an image as archaic as doughboys with puttees and soup-plate helmets, marching along and singing “Mademoiselle from Armentieres”.

But it was a beautiful place. My friends Xuan-An and Hai brought away pictures of where they lived in Dalat, in the highlands, where they married and lived with their three older children, snaps of cool, misty green pines and gardens of rhododendrons, and a horizon of mountains. Eventually, they had to flee Dalat for Saigon, where their youngest daughter was born, and Xuan-An’s mother came to live with them. Hai had left Hanoi as a teenager when the Communists took over there, his family being well to do, part Chinese, and immensely scholarly. He worked as a librarian for the USIS, and Xuan-An as a teacher of English and sciences, so they were on the Embassy list of Vietnamese citizens to be evacuated in the spring of 1975, with their four children, aged 12 to 2 years old. They were waiting at their home, for someone to come fetch them, on that last day. Perhaps someone from the Embassy might have come for them eventually, but Xuan-An’s brother who was the captain of a Vietnamese coastal patrol vessel came to their house after dark, instead. He had sent his crewmen all to fetch their families, they were going to make a run for safety out to sea, and he came to get his and Xuan-Ans’ mother. He was appalled to find his sister and brother-in-law and the children still there, and urged them to come with him straight away, and not wait any longer for rescue. They brought away no more luggage than what the adults could carry, in small packs the size of student’s book-bags, and the youngest daughter was a toddler and had to be carried herself. Xuan-An’s brother’s motor launch was a hundred feet long, and there were a hundred people crammed onto it, carrying them out to an American cargo ship, the Pioneer Contender, which waited with other American rescuers, just beyond the horizon.
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29. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Old West

Exactly a hundred years ago, an enterprising gentleman named James Edward Ferguson took office as the Governor of Texas. He was of a generation born long enough after the conclusion of the Civil War that hardships associated with that war had faded somewhat. The half-century long conflict with raiding Comanche and Kiowa war-bands was brought to a conclusion around the time of his birth, but he was still young enough to have racketed around the Wild West as it existed for the remainder of the century, variously employed in a mine, a factory making barbed wire, a wheat farm and a vineyard. Having gotten all that out of his system, he returned to Bell County, Texas, studied law, was admitted to the bar, and married the daughter of a neighbor, Miriam Amanda Wallace. Miriam Amanda was then almost 25, and had been to college. James Ferguson and his wife settled down to a life of quiet prosperity in Belton, Texas. There he founded a bank and dabbled in politics as a campaign manager, before running for and winning the office of governor in 1914 – as a Democrat, which was expected at the time and in that place – and as an anti-prohibitionist, which perhaps was not. Two years later, having not done anything in office which could be held against him, James Ferguson was re-elected … and almost immediately walked into a buzz-saw. A quarrel over appropriations for the University of Texas system and a political rival for the office of governor – ensconced among the facility as the newly-anointed head of a newly-established school of journalism – eventually blew up into such a huge ruckus that James Ferguson was impeached, with the result that he could not hold public office in Texas again – at least not under his own name.

With the hindsight of extreme cynicism regarding the press when dealing in personalities and matters political, one can wonder how much of the ruckus concerned his actual conduct in office, and how much was created by the state press. His erstwhile rival owned one, had connections with others, and had the backing of the intellectual elite of Texas as it was then. He was also generally anti-Prohibition, which lead to dark whispers that he was in the pockets of the brewing industry. Rather than continue being politically active as a ‘behind the scenes fixer’ James Edward Ferguson came up with a brilliant solution: put his wife out there as a gubernatorial candidate in 1924. Yes, Miriam Amanda Wallace Ferguson, likely rather brainy (being that she had married rather later than one might have expected of a woman of that time, and indulged in education well beyond high school) but in personality rather retiring, hit the campaign hustings with her loyal hubby ever at her side. Her campaign slogan was “Two Governors for the Price of One,” or alternately “Me for Ma, and I ain’t got a durn thing against Pa,” Her husband put on the folksy touch of calling her “Ma” and himself “Pa” – as he was ever a strong advocate of rural farmers and would have their undying support for most of the rest of their joint careers. Miriam Ferguson asked for the votes – and of women especially – as a reaffirmation and support of her husband.

And she was elected, likely to the horror and consternation of her husband’s political foes. She was the first elected female governor of Texas and the second elected female governor in the nation – although there is not much contention that “Pa” Ferguson was the real power behind the chair, as it were. She ran for office again in 1932 – winning a second term. Although she and “Pa” campaigned as folksy, down-to-earth populists, they were in no sense ‘rubes’; teetotalers both, they fiercely opposed Prohibition. “Ma” Ferguson was also generous with the pardoning authority of her office; over the course of two terms, she exercised it some 4,000 times – mostly, it should be noted – for violating various prohibition laws. Rumors did persist, then and rewards that many such pardons were in exchange for cash paid to the governor’s husband. One rather amusing but apocryphal tale had it that a man began walking through a door at the same time as Mrs. Ferguson: “Oh, pardon me,” he said, as the manners of the time required, and Mrs. Ferguson answered, “Sure, come on in – it’ll only take a minute or two to do the paper-work.” She has also (along with a great many other personalities held by their so-called betters to be ignorant and backward) credited with the remark to the effect that if English was good enough for Jesus Christ it ought to be good enough for the children of Texas.

And the Ferguson team also came out against the Klu Klux Klan, then very much a powerful force in the rural South and Midwest. In Texas, the Klan’s activities were not so much racism, as it was nativist and wedded to a certain kind of moral authoritarianism, prone to punishing people suspected of adultery, gambling, sexual transgressions, bootlegging and speaking German in public. This tended to excite disapproval among thoughtful citizens who professed to uphold the rule of law. While the Klan could and did control certain elections, especially at the local level – there were organizations just as vehemently opposed to their activities; various influential urban newspapers such as the Houston Chronicle, the Chambers of Commerce, the Masons, the State Bar Association, and a number of citizen’s organizations. As part of her first campaign, Ma Ferguson promised an anti-mask law, targeting the Klan, making it illegal for any so-called secret society to allow members to appear masked or disguised in public. KKK membership in Texas dropped precipitously and continued to drop; whether Team Ferguson’s activities had anything to do with it, or they were shrewd and farsighted enough to see the trend and get aboard is a matter of contention for specialist historians. Still – for a couple who were and probably are still dismissed as a pair of rubes, they chose to oppose one of the stupidest but most well-meant popular social efforts of the early 20th century, and one of stupidest and most brutal organizations as well.

(The Fergusons essentially retired from politics in the mid-1930s. Pa died in 1944, but Ma lived until 1961. They are buried side by side in the Texas State Cemetery in Austin.)

06. March 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Ain't That America?, History, Memoir, Old West

Work continues – at a rather slow pace, admittedly – on the two books I have currently under construction, while I do research reading for them (in a small way) and work on projects to do with the Tiny Publishing Bidness. Which has just had two old corporate clients appear out of the woodwork; I don’t know how much we can do for the second, as the electronic files for their project are nonexistent, as their corporate history was produced and printed in about 1990. Thus technology marches on. I am wracking my memory, to see if I can come up with my own estimation as to when electronically-composed documents became the norm. I would guess around that time. I used to go back and generate training documents and various reports on a computer which also ran the automated music channel at EBS-Zaragoza in the late 1980s. This usually involved two large floppy disks (one for the operating system, one for my document archive) and a tiny screen of brilliant green letters on a black background. This writing process usually had me seeing white objects in shades of pink for at least an hour afterwards.
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He was the entrepreneur who came up with the bright idea to bring fine cooking and peerless customer service to the rowdy far West, and do so on a grand scale … and as a sidebar to that feat, also supplied thousands of wives to settlers in an otherwise female-deficient part of the country. He was a Scots-English immigrant from Liverpool named Fred Harvey. He arrived in New York at the age of 17, early in the 1850s. He took up employment washing pots and dishes at a popular restaurant of the day, and within a short time had worked up the kitchen ranks to waiter and then line cook. He only remained there for a year and a half – but in those months he had learned the restaurant business very, very well. He gravitated west, but only as far as St. Louis, where he managed a retail store, married and survived a bout of yellow fever. The restaurant business called to him, though. On the eve of the Civil War, he and a business partner opened a café. Which was successful, right up until the minute that his business partner, whose sympathies were with the Confederacy, took all the profits from the café and went South.

Nothing deterred, Fred Harvey went to work for the Hannibal & St. Joseph railroad, which eventually was absorbed by the Chicago, Burlington & Quincy. He rose as swiftly in the corporate structure of that railroad as it existed in those freewheeling days as he had in that New York restaurant. His work necessitated more or less constant travel; he was in a way of speaking, an early ‘road warrior’. As such, he couldn’t help but notice that customer service in station restaurants was almost non-existent and the food available usually explored those limits between completely inedible and totally vile. The Western road food experience had not appreciably improved in the fifteen years since Mark Twain had so memorably described it in Roughing It.

“The table was a greasy board on stilts, and the table- cloth and napkins had not come—and they were not looking for them, either. A battered tin platter, a knife and fork, and a tin pint cup, were at each man’s place, and the driver had a queens-ware saucer that had seen better days … The station-keeper upended a disk of last week’s bread, of the shape and size of an old-time cheese, and carved some slabs from it which were as good as Nicholson pavement, and tenderer. He sliced off a piece of bacon for each man, but only the experienced old hands made out to eat it, for it was condemned army bacon which the United States would not feed to its soldiers in the forts, and the stage company had bought it cheap for the sustenance of their passengers and employees … Then he poured for us a beverage which he called “Slum gullion,” and it is hard to think he was not inspired when he named it. It really pretended to be tea, but there was too much dish-rag, and sand, and old bacon-rind in it to deceive the intelligent traveler.”

Fred Harvey suffered along with every other traveler – but as it turned out, he was the right man, with the right background, in the right place, and with the right friends to be able to do something about it. In the Centennial year of 1876, he struck a handshake deal with the superintendent of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad to open and manage restaurants and lunch counters at AT&SF stations. The AT&SF would not charge Fred Harvey rent, or haulage for necessary supplies. Originally chartered to connect Santa Fe, New Mexico Territory, to the settlements in Kansas, the AT&SF cleaned up in hauling Texas cattle to the stock yards of Chicago. They would eventually connect reach the Texas gulf coast, reach into Mexico to the port of Guaymas on the Gulf of Carpentaria, connect up Albuquerque and El Paso, and service Los Angeles over the route which had been favored by the ante-bellum South when the prospect of a transcontinental railroad was first suggested.

And Fred Harvey’s restaurant establishments were everywhere that the AT&SF ran. There would eventually be nearly 50 Harvey House restaurants, fifteen resort hotels and thirty dining cars, attending to the needs of the traveling public. Harvey establishments were spotlessly clean, the food expertly prepared and served by staff trained to the highest standard … or else. Fred Harvey was a hands-on manager; he was noted for whipping out the tablecloth of a badly-set table, sending the plates and silverware crashing to the floor and leaving the chastened wait-staff to re-set the table correctly. But he was also passionately interested in hiring and training the very best personnel available, promoting the able and the loyal, and in providing for their welfare.

Another Fred Harvey innovation – and likely the best-remembered in the 20th century – was the wait-staff force itself; all-female, generously-remunerated, and strictly chaperoned. The Harvey organization was a respectable institution, and wanted no breath of local scandal attaching to female employees, many of whom worked in towns geographically-distant from their families. It was a sad reality that quite often in Western boom towns, those single women who came to work in eating establishments and dance halls were suspected (often with good cause) of being prostitutes or just promiscuous with their favors. Fred Harvey wanted none of that. He was going to run respectable, middle-class places. It was one of his site supervisors who first suggested hiring young women. It seemed that many of the waiters at his location were black – and too many customers who were white and Southern males were picking fights with the staff, absconding without paying for their meals and otherwise wreaking havoc. This would not do; it was bad for staff morale, hell on the profit side of the ledger and hard on the furniture.

So Fred Harvey opened an office in Chicago to interview potential employees, and advertised widely in the eastern and mid-western newspapers: young unmarried women between the ages of 18 and thirty, who would sign a contract to work for a set period of time (usually a year). They would have to be literate, well-spoken and accustomed to hard work – and willing to go west, to wherever they were needed. Some estimates have it that over the next thirty years, 5,000 women worked as Harvey Girls, everywhere from Kansas to California. Their working uniforms were plain black dresses with narrow white collars, black shoes and stockings, with white aprons, and their hair tied with a white ribbon. They were not allowed to wear makeup – which likely only became a real trial in the 1920s. Fred Harvey paid wages of $17 monthly; generous indeed at a time when laborers were lucky to earn $11 a month. The Harvey Girls lived in company-provided dormitories, their uniforms were often provided to them, and they were entitled to perks like free transportation on the AT&SF, and after a period with the company could request a specific location. Seniority in the Harvey organization could be accrued – unless a Harvey Girl chose to marry, as many did – she could work her way up to senior waitress or even manager.

(to be continued.)

19. January 2015 · Comments Off · Categories: Domestic, Geekery, Old West

Yes, I’m still here – and working hard at stuff, which is why I have had to let the intertubules go for … a couple of days. A week, maybe … what am I, a public blogging utility? I had work – serious paid work to perform, either for the Tiny Publishing Bidness, or through the required paperwork to do the sales taxes due to the State of Texas for my retail activities for the past year. Which – since Blondie and I had a full schedule of sales events during the last quarter of 2014, and I had two other book events earlier in the year … I had to sit down with a calculator and the printouts from the Tax Collector of the Right Noble State of Texas, and figure out what portion of the states tax due on retail sales during the past year were due to which city, school/library/transportation district, county, et cetera … depending on where those sales events event took place. This works out to amounts from between .85 cents to 5.00 due to bodies like the Bulverde independent school district, the city of Goliad and Kendall County as-a-whole. Really, I hope that they do not fritter away my tiny contribution to their yearly budget on frivolous stuff … likely not, since this is Texas where fiscal sanity (outside of certain …ahem … rather more bluish districts) tends to rule. It is unlikely that I will ever have much of a sales presence in deeply indigo-hued locales so I can rest in the assurance that my my own microscopically small contribution to their local economies will not be frivolously squandered.

The other project – the big book project for which I cleared my work calendar so that I could work on it undistracted – is finally within sight of being done. This is the biography of the well-to-do South Texas rancher, who actually had us come down to Brownsville in October to sign the contract … and for us to get an idea of what he wanted for his book. Which finished up having way, way more pictures than originally expected … and it has turned out to be a very elaborate design project. Much more complex in lay-out than I have ever done before, what with all the pictures; many of them had to be re-touched, or scanned in, converted from color to black and white. It took me about three times longer than I expected, and I could only work on it for three or four hours at a stretch without getting twitchy. There’s a lot riding on the client’s satisfaction with the overall look of the project – but so far, he is quite pleased. And I am on schedule as far as getting the book out there, too.

I set my own writing aside in mid-November, because of this and the press of doing all those seasonal market events. I had seven solid chapters of The Golden Road completed, and visualize another fourteen or so, incorporating certain plot twists … and then I had an idea for yet another adventure. This was sparked by reading another writer blog – she does historical romances – and she posted a bit about the Harvey Girls; how the transplanted Englishman Fred Harvey had the radical notion of providing excellent food and sublime service to railroad travelers in the far West … a time and a place where up until then, the fare available pretty much covered the ground between execrable and disgusting. He also had the radical notion to staff his restaurants with female wait-staff, pay them well, and treat them otherwise generously. The Harvey chain provided many an adventurous, middle-class eastern girl with an opportunity to go west – and the more I thought on that … well, I had already ‘done’ the notion of being a school-teacher in a frontier school.

Way back when I was working on Daughter of Texas, I mentally made a note of a leading character having had another family, back in Boston … and that some day, I might have a means to work out one of his descendants coming west. Inspiration works in weird ways. The entire plot and the characters involved sprang into mind, almost fully-fledged – what might lead a respectable young lady of Boston to chuck it all and go west as a waitress in a railway station restaurant? It turned out her reasons were pretty horrific … so now I am back to working on two books simultaneously. This worked very well for me once before; when I got bored or stuck with one, I could work on the other.

Blondie was out in California in January, helping Pippy and Alex sort out Mom and Dad’s house, and getting Mom herself settled in a good assisted-living situation in a place a short distance from Pippy’s house. She’s heading back tomorrow, with Mom’s two cats, to be rehomed with us, some oddments from the house which no one else wanted. And that’s been the tale of my last two weeks. Oh, and the chapter of the newest venture is up at my book website.

WCBrannIf ever there were a 19th Century journalist more deeply wedded to the old mission statement of comforting (and avenging) the afflicted and afflicting the comfortable with energy and fierce enthusiasm, that person would have to be one William Cowper Brann. In the last decade of the 19th Century, he possessed a small but widely-read newspaper called the Iconoclast, a reservoir of spleen the size of Lake Michigan, and a vocabulary of erudite vituperation which would be the envy of many a political blogger today. Born in 1855, in Coles County, Illinois, he was the son of a Presbyterian minister. Upon losing his mother when barely out of diapers, he was placed with a foster family. At the age of thirteen, he ran away from the foster home and made his own way in the world, armored with a bare three years of formal education. He worked as a hotel bellboy, an apprentice house painter, and as a printer’s devil, from which he graduated into cub reporting. He and his family – for he did manage to marry – gravitated into Texas, settling first in Houston, followed by stints in Galveston and in Austin, working for local newspapers as reporter, editor and editorialist, and attempting to launch his own publication – the first iteration of the Iconoclast – terming it “a journal of personal protest.” For William Cowper Brann had opinions – sulfurous, vituperative and always entertaining, even for a day when public discourse not excluding journalism was conducted metaphorically with brass knuckles – and he despised cant, hypocrisy and what he termed ‘humbuggery’ with a passion burning white-hot and fierce.

The first launch of the Iconoclast failed, but nothing discouraged, Brann sold the name and the press to another writer – William Sidney Porter, who much later became well-known under the nom-de-plume of O. Henry. Brann knocked around between big-city Texas for another couple of years, which makes one wonder if a) his wife ever entirely unpacked the Brann household goods, and b) what she said in private to her peripatetic spouse at hearing of yet another move. At the start of 1895, Brann – now working as chief editorialist for the Waco Daily News – re-launched The Iconoclast as a monthly periodical. Eventually, he had a subscription list for it of over 100,000, a fair portion of it national and even international. Which is quite understandable, given his talent with a well-turned phrase and a savagely telling choice in description; in this century he would have been a blogger, and a very well-read one at that. A selection of his pieces (linked here) are readable and highly entertaining, very much on par with luminaries like Mark Twain, in my opinion. (He had written a couple of plays, and at the abrupt end of his life was working on a novel.)

Brann had his list of favored targets – and in what his near-contemporary Mark Twain termed ‘The Gilded Age’ (and Twain did not mean that as a compliment, but rather as something cheap and nasty, all tarted up to look rich) he was rather spoiled for choice in the targets of his broadsides. His remarks on one of the signature social events of the decade – the notorious Bradley-Martin masquerade ball are one of the most savagely-slashing preserved.

Mrs. Bradley-Martin’s sartorial kings and pseudo-queens, her dukes and DuBarrys, princes and Pompadours, have strutted their brief hour upon the mimic stage, disappearing at daybreak like foul night-birds or an unclean dream—have come and gone like the rank eructation of some crapulous Sodom, a malodor from the cloacae of ancient capitals, a breath blown from the festering lips of half-forgotten harlots, a stench from the sepulcher of centuries devoid of shame. Uncle Sam may now proceed to fumigate himself after his enforced association with royal bummers and brazen bawds; may comb the Bradley-Martin itch bacteria out of his beard, and consider, for the ten-thousandth time, the probable result of his strange commingling of royalty- worshiping millionaire and sansculottic mendicant—how best to put a ring in the nose of the golden calf ere it become a Phalaris bull and relegate him to its belly.

In a word, he detested Europeans, particularly British, the new rich of America, vulgar excess, excess of every sort, the deviousness of cows, cant and hypocrisy of every stripe, and Baptists – of which last he opined, “I have nothing against the Baptists. I just believe they were not held under long enough.” (It has to be admitted here that he detested blacks and didn’t think much of women, either.)

Since he was living and working in Waco – the home of Baylor University, which Brann described as “that great storm-center of misinformation” – and thus a kind of Vatican of Southern Baptists, these openly expressed and published remarks regarding Baptists did excite considerable local comment and resentment. Brann paid a price, personally – in being occasional apprehended and assaulted by partisans. His popularity, locally and elsewhere, soared, however. Local anger became especially marked when he published accusations that college administrators and their family members had imported orphaned female child converts from missions in South America … and not only exploited them as domestic help, but sexually as well. I am given to wonder if this didn’t hit Brann in several personal ways, having been given up by his own father, the Presbyterian minister, into the care of people who cared so little for him that he ran from their tender care the minute he was able to do so. But Brann was just getting warmed up. Next, he alleged that male faculty members were pursuing female students sexually. Any father contemplating sending his daughter to Baylor as a student was putting her at hazard of being raped; the university was nothing but – in his words, “A factory for the manufacture of ministers and magdalenes,” – magdalenes at that time being the socially acceptable term for ‘whores’.

A Baylor supporter – the father of a female student there, one Tom Davis who dealt in real estate in Waco and the surrounding country – took personal insult from Brann’s choice of words, simmered over it … and rather than writing a fiery letter to the fiery editor, took his own gun, emerged from his office on downtown Fourth Street, and ambushed Brann as he walked past with a friend in the late afternoon of April 1, 1898. Davis shot Brann in the back, mortally wounding him. The sound of bullets sent newspaper vendors, passing innocent citizens, street musicians and trolley-car motormen, policemen and simple citizens going about their business on a busy Friday evening darting for cover. First escorted to the local police station and then carried home by his friends, Brann died the next morning. He was buried in Waco’s Oakwood Cemetery; the monument marking his grave is a square dark stone pedestal with his profile in white stone and the word “Truth” engraved on it, topped with a Brobdingnag-sized stone lantern … which since appears to have been stolen, if the comments on Find a Grave are anything to go by. The publication of the Iconoclast itself was in the hands of Brann’s long-suffering wife, who subsequently sold it … again. The new owners removed the publication to Chicago; likely it sank shortly thereafter, since it was Brann himself whose corrosive genius in print carried it all on his back.

And what of Tom Davis, who chose to ambush and shoot his bete noir in the back? He didn’t last any longer than William Cowper Brann … who in the best tradition of the Wild West – upon being shot in the back and holed through his left lung, drew his own personal Colt revolver and emptied all six shots into Davis … who fell into the doorway of a tobacconist’s establishment. Back in the day, the city fathers insisted that Waco was the Athens of the West … but the locals all called it Six Shooter Junction, for the disagreement between the newspaper editor and the real estate man was only one of many.