Monday, April 30, 2007


While in Charlotte, North Carolina, last week, I took my girls to the Charlotte Museum of History. Located on the property is the oldest home in Mecklenburg County, the Hezekiah Alexander home (above). Our tour guide, Gary McCullough, was just excellent--knowledgeable and engaging. He has written a booklet on the historic house which is available in the giftshop.

One of the interesting comments Gary made was the origin of the term "Hornets" in refering to local residents. During the American Revolution, Lord Cornwallis was occupying a home in Charlotte. When he finally left, he commented that Mecklenburg County was a "hornet's nest of rebellion." Gary noted with chagrin that the NBA team by that name moved to New Orleans and took the Hornets name with them. Gary was really ticked off about this. The Hornets mascot for local teams has been a mainstay since Redcoats were challenging Yanks to tiddly winks.
This is an outstanding museum. Visit their website for more info:

Email--Chisholm Trail Days

Hey Deb,
This past weekend I had the wonderful fortune to travel to Duncan, OK, home to the Chisholm Trail Heritage Center and the annual Chisholm Trail Stampede. The people in Duncan were so warm and friendly and a joy to work with! After leaving Duncan I felt like I made new friends that will always be special to me. This is by far one of the largest online galleries that I have is a whopping FOUR PAGES of photos! There is a little bit of everything here-- food, chuck wagons, longhorns, American Indian dancers, Cowboy Cal the most kind and wonderful trick roper, Pawnee Bill, traders, horses, cowboys and everything in between! Enjoy the photos and if you are ever in Oklahoma and have the chance you MUST go to Duncan and see the exceptional film in their theatre. It is truly the closest you will ever get to experiencing the old Chisholm Trail short of riding in the saddle yourself!

Just click on the link below and once you are at the gallery click on the thumbnail and see the photos in a larger format and scroll through the pages of the past!


DG--Great photos! Check them out, folks.
Blog, Blog, Lincoln

For a while, Tom said I should just call my blog the "Lincoln Forum." But I'm not the only one interested in the 16th president. Soon-to-be-PHD Sam Wheeler has an excellent Great commentary and interesting images. Visit and tell him Deb says "Hey." (image

Blue and Gray Border War Days. . . .

. . . this weekend in Lonejack, Missouri. Visit their website for details.

Fans of John Wayne may remember that Rooster Cogburn (left) lost his eye at the Battle of Lonejack. And speaking of the Duke, his centennial birthday in May. We'll keep you posted on the party.

Friday, April 27, 2007

Happy Birthday, Grant

Today is the birthday of Ulysses S. Grant. Even though I am a Southerner, I can acknowledge that the General had redeeming qualities. You know, what has always struck me about the Grants is that they were such NORMAL people. Grant wasn't born with a silver spoon, but nor was he the devastatingly poor person that Lincoln or even Andrew Johnson was. He was just a regular guy with incredible ability.

A while back, Tom and I had the pleasure of visiting the Grant Farm at St. Louis. This is the home where Julia Dent Grant had grown up, and her family had entertained prominent people. Julia's father was a Southerner, through and through. When the Grants went to live on this acreage, Ulysses built a cabin for his own family rather than share quarters with his father-in-law. Not long after, however, his family moved into the same home and Grant was forced to deal with his Southern-leaning relative on a daily basis. When Grant was president, his father-in-law would sit on the balcony and regale visitors with the glories of the Southern Armies. Grant must have been a saint not to have tossed that old buzzard out in the street!

But Grant loved Julia, and she loved him. They sacrificed for one another and forged an incredible bond. I believe there was much good in him.

Julia was born and raised near St. Louis and thus the Missouri Historical Society has many of her personal items, like this bodice. This was likely worn when the Grants went abroad, after his presidency. Click on for a description.

Portraying Grant

Our bud Randy Durbin (left), who doubles as a bank president, is a great admirer of the 18th president, and though he is taller and decidedly better-looking, portrays the General from time to time. The General's birthday is an annual celebration at their home, and we are invited to the party this weekend. Folks are encouraged to bring Grant's favorite dishes. I asked Randy why he began portraying this gentleman:
Hi Deb,
After I grew my beard and started reenacting, I was told I resembled Grant. His reputation has suffered in recent years and much of what is said about him today-- about being an alcoholic, a butcher, and of small intellect-- I have found is untrue. He was probably the most popular man in the country in the latter decades of the 1800's, much more popular than Lincoln. His funeral procession in New York was viewed by more than a million people.

The more I have read and studied about Grant the more I have come to admire him. The pressures he was under and the hurdles thrown up in front of him during his life and the war were tremendous. His rise in seven years from a clerk in his father's leather goods store to President of the United States is phenomenal. Everything depended upon him being successful against the Confederates and the best they could put up against him. He very deftly calculated the advantages he had over his adversaries and utilized his assets in a very efficient manner. Time after time in the war, he achieved victory after many failures by his predecessors. He was a quiet, unassuming man and did not promote himself. He served to the best of his ability in any task that he was asked to tackle. No bravado, just steady hard work, drive and perseverance
Randal F. Durbin
News from the North

Rich Rosenthal reports from the North Jersey Civil War Round Table that their 55th meeting will be on Thursday, May 24, 2007, at the Frelinghuysen Arboretum, 53 E. Hanover Avenue, Morris Twp. (opp. the Morris County Library). The meeting begins at 7 PM and it is always open to the public. (Members, please bring a friend or two - new recruits are always welcomed.) The group welcomes Prof. Robert E. Sheridan on "The USS Monitor at the Battle of Drewry’s Bluff. "

We're happy to share your CWRT news. Just let us know! We also encourage you to visit other CWRTs while you're traveling this summer.
Confederate Memorial Day

I have a friend here in Topeka who is from South Carolina. We do not celebrate Confederate Memorial Day on the same date (Which is okay. More opportunities for parties:). Confederate states, like Bedouin tribes, cannot agree on much. States that celebrate some form of Confederate Memorial Day are:

Alabama -- 4th Monday in April
Arkansas -- April 25
Florida -- April 26
Georgia -- April 26 (or as designated each year by the governor)
Kentucky -- June 3 (Jefferson Davis' birthday)
Louisiana -- June 3Mississippi -- last Monday in April
North Carolina -- May 10 (Jefferson Davis' capture by Union troops)
South Carolina -- May 10
Tennessee -- June 3 (Known as Confederate Decoration Day; not an official state holiday)
Texas -- Jan. 19 (Robert E. Lee's birthday; also known as Confederate Heroes' Day)
Virginia -- Jan. 19 (Lee-Jackson Day; for the birthdays of Lee and Stonewall Jackson, the latter Jan. 21; May 30, the traditional Memorial Day, also commemorates Confederate War dead)
Sources: Carl Vinson Institute of Government, the University of Georgia; news sources
Theme Songs for Your Life

A couple of days ago, I mentioned hearing David Holt play at Cedar Ridge Elementary School, near Round Peak, North Carolina. (My Daddy used to pastor Round Peak Primitive Baptist Church; just thought you'd like to know.) My 3-year-old granddaughter was so moved that she had to get up and dance. There's just nothing you can do with that hillbilly blood! Well, David was so impressed that he gave her a CD--"I got a bullfrog: folksongs for the fun of it!" She loves this CD. My daughter has called to say that Lulu jumps in her carseat and says, "Play my CD the man gave me." Her favorite song is, "The Cat Came Back." I love that one, too. In short, this is a CD that your kids can listen to and enjoy and it won't make you slit your throat. You'll be singing with them. Get it, by all means.

I also picked up the CD, "Legacy: Doc Watson and David Holt." This is a three-CD set and I can't say enough good about it. I've enjoyed the conversation as much as the music. Visit for information on ordering.

Life should always have background music.
Last Words

From our buddy D. K. Clark--
"Few things are harder to put up with than the annoyance of a good example." - Mark Twain

Thursday, April 26, 2007

More Civil War Month

It was on this day in 1865 that John Wilkes Booth was shot and killed--by the lunatic "Boston" Corbett. Corbett, who castrated himself and moved to Kansas (at least one of those indicates he was a nutcase), has a life you couldn't make up--even if you wanted. Tom has written extensively on both so visit his website to read more. Tom was also a part of the recent documentary "The Search for John Wilkes Booth." We've spent countless hours in the Library of Congress researching the assassin.

If I could sit down to dinner with any family in history, it would be the Booths. No, I do not condone the action of John Wilkes; the assassination of President Lincoln was the worst possible thing for our entire country, North and South. But I don't believe Booth was a devil. Nor was he necessarily representative of his family's politics. Living in Maryland, a border state, the Booths themselves were divided in their loyalties.
Brother Edwin (right, in a theatre poster) was a staunch Unionist, for example, and saved the life of Robert Todd Lincoln during the war. The Booth children had been brought up to think independently and to express themselves. They were a strikingly beautiful lot, dramatic, well-read--in short, interesting. I can't imagine a more lively dinner table, before the assassination, of course. Afterwards, the family was devastated by their brother's actions. (Tom discusses this in The Darkest Dawn. )

Even if he remains a despised figure, Booth is a pretty popular subject. Our friend John Sellers, Civil War Curator and Lincoln Specialist, LOC, was staying with us the past couple of days. We were discussing Manhunt, the bestselling book by James Swanson. The movie rights have been bought and the film will star Harrison Ford, not as Booth but as a detective searching for him. It is rare that history sells so well and that movie rights are involved. We had the pleasure of speaking on the same program with him in Clinton, Maryland, just a year ago at the Surratt Society's annual symposium. He's a great guy and a good historian. Kudos to Swanson!

Confederate Memorial Day

At left is a photo of a Georgia State Historical Marker. The text reads:

First Decoration, or Memorial Day, was observed in Kingston in late April of 1865, and has been a continuous observance here since that day, the only such record held by any community in this Nation. The first Memorial, or Decoration Day, was observed while Federals still occupied this town, flowers being placed on both Confederate and Federal graves that day. Much credit is due the Dardens and other patriotic citizens of this town for their untiring efforts to keep alive memories of the gallant Confederates -- greatest fighting men of all time.

There are many Confederate Memorial Services the last weekend of the month. Here is one, and feel free to send notice of others:

On April 29, a ceremony will take place to honor known veterans buried in the Forest City, Missouri, Union Cemetery. Planned for 2 p.m. by the Holt County Historical Society, the service will recognize the traditional Confederate Memorial Day that was set aside on the last weekend in April by several southern states. The purpose was to pay tribute to those who had served with the Confederate forces during the American Civil War. Several Civil War veterans are buried in the Forest City cemetery. Area Civil War re-enactors will be a part of the historic ceremony.

The Forest City Cemetery board will serve refreshments. Anyone interested is welcome to attend. There is no charge. For additional information, contact Mike Girdner at (816) 487-2084.

Wednesday, April 25, 2007


I just returned from Charlotte, North Carolina, yesterday. It was a gorgeous time--azaleas in bloom, lawns bright green, poplar blossoms dropping in your path. As ever, I was searching for history.

As I said in my previous blog, April should be Civil War Month. While in the Queen City, I searched for evidence of Jefferson and Varina Davis. Varina sought refuge in Charlotte after fleeing Richmond, actually set up housekeeping for about a week before she and her children were forced to continue south. Jeff followed her, a scant few days later. It was here that that the Confederate President learned of the assassination of President Lincoln. The marker pictured above is on the corner of 4th and Tryon Streets, smack in the middle of downtown.

Varina wrote of hearing of Lincoln's death, as she and her husband were travelling separately:

A courier arrived with the news that General Johnston's army were engaged in the preliminary arrangements for surrender. He also informed me of Mr. Davis's arrival in Charlotte, and of the announcement made to him there of the assassination of Mr. Lincoln. I burst into tears, the first I had shed, which flowed from the mingling of sorrow for the family of Mr. Lincoln, and a thorough realization of the inevitable results to the Confederates, now that they were at the mercy of the Federals.

Davis himself had said it was the worst blow that could befall the Confederacy, coming at this time. Both the Davises were well aware that Yankees would be inflamed by the news.

A few blocks away, I found the sign on the above right, marking the last full meeting of the Confederate cabinet. Sadly, the house Varina rented has been razed and the coliseum occupies the spot.

To my great delight, however, the home where Western film star Randolph Scott is still standing (left), and is being remodeled for "a young family." I went inside and visited with the guys who were refinishing the floors. It is a beautiful neighborhood, not far from where my daughter now lives. I hope to return and it is my fervent hope that the young family that will make this their home appreciates the movie star who lived here so many years before them.

It was a thoroughly satisfying trip.

Speaking of Jeff . . . .

Restoration begins next week on Beauvoir (below), the Biloxi home of Jefferson Davis that was nearly destroyed by Hurricane Katrina. Officials hope to have the residence repaired in time for the 200th anniversary of Davis's birth on June 3, 2008.

"The skill and knowledge that goes into restoration work of historic buildings is unbelievable, as we've learned in interviewing craftsmen and specialists," Richard Forte Sr. told the Associated Press. Forte, of Hattiesburg, is Beauvoir's acting director and chairman of Beauvoir's boards of trustees and directors.

The Lathan Company of Mobile is the contractor for the restoration, which is expected to cost $3.9 million. Beauvoir received flood insurance but is in litigation with its wind policy. Beauvoir will be rebuilt first, followed by repairs to the adjacent library.

Forte said Gov. Haley Barbour and other local and state officials are expected to be on hand on May 3 when the restoration is launched.

Beauvoir was hit by a nine-foot wall of water when Katrina roared ashore. The home, built in 1852, had survived 21 hurricanes before Katrina, but the Aug. 29, 2005, storm nearly destroyed the popular beachfront tourist attraction. Katrina shredded Beauvoir's roof, front porch, chimneys and pillars and flooded the elevated interior with about a foot of water. The hurricane also damaged a library, museum and other structures on the 52-acre property and swept away about one third of Beauvoir's artifacts, including some of Davis' manuscripts and roughly $250,000 worth of Confederate currency.

The Mississippi Sons of the Confederate Veterans operate the estate as a museum to the life and times of the Confederate president.

Other Events

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Cruel April

April should be Civil War Month. No more momentous events of the War occurred than in "the cruelest month." In 1861, of course, was the fatal firing on Fort Sumter. On this day in 1861, Colonel Robert E Lee turned down the offer to command Union armies. After the War had started, there is no end to the number of battles and skirmishes that transpired in April. In the spring, a young man's mind turns to waging war. . . . Then came April of 1865--the siege of Petersburg, the flight from Richmond, the surrender, the raising of the U. S. flag over Sumter, the assassination--events unfolded too quickly for people to comprehend. On this day in 1865, Confederate General Joe Johnston met with Union General William Tecumseh Sherman in North Carolina to discuss terms of surrender. They would sign the official document a few days later.

I write this from North Carolina, from the mountains about a half-mile through the woods to the Virginia stateline. I was in Hillsville, Virginia, yesterday, visiting my brother and sister-in-law who have a produce market. News from Virginia Tech permeated every conversation, every thought. Everyone here has someone at Tech. Football coach Frank Beamer hails from Fancy Gap, and a high school friend of Beamer's stopped by the market to visit and talked of speaking to Frank on the phone the night before. In a place where everyone knows everyone and most of us are kin, these stories hit especially hard.

April can, indeed, be a cruel month. Later in the day yesterday, we visited the University of North Carolina at Greensboro. While my sister took an exam, I walked around campus with my girls. Flags were at half-mast and everywhere we overheard the conversations of reaction to the news at Virginia Tech. UNCG is a beautiful place. Honeysuckle was in bloom and azaleas were just starting. A few dogwoods in shaded spots were in full glory. In a few weeks, the waxy magnolias will fill the entire campus with perfume.

While driving home and listening to the sad, sad news on the radio, one of our aunts called to say our cousin had just been wheeled into surgery for a long-awaited kidney transplant. I was overcome by the emotion of the past days.

April is the month where Nature reclaims all. The rain, the wind, the cold, the warmth--April shakes and stirs the earth and the soul. From cold and tragedy, April wrests hope.

David Holt and Jesse James

David Holt (right)performed here this week and my old friend Jimmy Vipperman (left) accompanied him. After the performance, David and I were visiting and somehow the subject of the Civil War in the West came up and we began discussing Jesse James. Is there no end to the fascination folks have for Jesse?? No, I tell you, there is not! I will write more on David and his own links to Civil War history when I'm back on terra firma in Kansas. In the meantime, visit his site at

Monday, April 16, 2007

Blowing in the Wind

The sun is shining now, but when I began writing at 12:30 this morning from the mountains of North Carolina, the wind was gusting between 50 and 70 mph here in the shadow of Fisher's Peak. On the local news, reports of power outages from Reidsville to Sparta to Galax. Thunder, rain, snow, hail, winds howling around the windows--it was like a mystery movie set. I didn't sleep. It was a wind that built up momentum and sounded as if it would erase everything from its path.

In Kansas, we have tornadoes, but I have never experienced wind like here in the Blue Ridge.

My sister and I were recalling a day when we were children that the wind had knocked down power lines. Our cousins were staying with us and without power, we all put our sleeping bags in the living room floor. Somehow, when the lights are out, you like feeling people are close. That was the night it ripped our storm door off the house and wrung it out like a dishrag. It knocked the supports from under our carport. Our neighbor, a bit further up the mountain, had his entire carport ripped off the house.

While Tom and I were living back in Virginia for a few months, we rented a little cabin that backed up to the mountain. He was visiting his mom back in Kansas one night when we had winds that sounded like a league of banshees shrieking out of the hollow. It blew the bathroom window open and I had to nail it shut. I had just gotten a satellite dish that day (don't you dare make a joke!), and the technician had attached it to a porch column. The column and dish were both gone the next day as was the porch ceiling.

I don't think I've ever been as nervous because of the wind as last night, though. With sustained speeds around 30 mph, and gusts up to 70, I expected the world to be gone this morning. It's funny though. There are still flowers on the dogwood trees. It's amazing what nature can endure.

Virginia Tech

The weather was the biggest news here and across most of the country until the events unfolded at Virginia Tech. We have so many friends there that our hearts are just broken. Our thoughts and prayers are with you all.

Today in 1865

Robert Charles Tyler: Last American Civil War Confederate General Slain in Combat

Against impossible odds and following orders issued half a year earlier, Robert Charles Tyler became the last Confederate general slain in Civil War combat.

By Stuart W. Sanders

ne of two bullets fired at West Point, Georgia, on April 16, 1865, killed Confederate Brigadier General Robert Charles Tyler. As Tyler barked orders at his garrison of ragtag convalescents, which defended an earthwork fort named in his honor from a full brigade of Federal cavalry, he was shot at twice by sharpshooters. One bullet slammed into his chest. The second snapped his crutch in half, toppling the one-legged Southerner to the ground, where he died.

Tyler had lost his leg to amputation following a grievous wounding at Missionary Ridge while leading Bates' Brigade with the Army of Tennessee. He had previously been wounded at Shiloh and Chickamauga. Confederate Lt. Col. John W. Inzer, who met Tyler in 1863, stated: "He was a stout, robust [officer], and had firmness, determination, and courage written in every line of his face....[I] soon learned to look upon him as one of the bravest men I ever saw."

Despite his rise in the Confederate army, Tyler's prewar life remains shrouded in mystery. Ezra J. Warner, author of the classic Generals in Gray: Lives of the Confederate Commanders, once commented, "Tyler is by all odds the most enigmatic figure of the 425 generals of the Confederacy."

Tyler was apparently born in Baltimore, Maryland, about 1833, although nothing is known of his early life. At age 23 he joined William Walker's 1856 filibustering expedition to Nicaragua. He served as a first lieutenant in Walker's infantry but remained abroad for less than a year. When Walker returned to Central America in 1860, Tyler was working as a clerk in Baltimore. He moved to Memphis, Tennessee, as civil war threatened.

This article first appeared in the Spring 2006 issue of MHQ: The Quarterly Journal of Military History. To read the entire article, go to

Friday, April 13, 2007

From Dub to Denver

Just back from Denver where thankfully the blizzard missed us and we were able to fly out today. Stayed with dear friends Jeff and Kelley Broome. A couple of years ago, we visited the Broomes on their wedding night. The nuptials occurred just before the Indian War Symposium started, and well . . . . Not all brides would have been as happy as Kelley to spend her wedding night feeding and feting guests, but she's a unique lady. Sat up until the wee hours talking Indian Wars and Civil War. . . . The lives of nerds go on. . . . .

While in the mile-high city, Tom and I were interviewed for a documentary . I think this is a general Western doc. The company that is producing this one shot a first-rate DVD series on the Indian Wars (left), in which our friends Jeff Broome and Greg Michno were talking heads. This is really an excellent, well-researched, beautifully filmed overview. If you know absolutely nothing about this conflict, you will get quite the education. If you are familiar with the subject, I guarantee there will be nuances here you never realized.

The film crew was just great to work with. Met us at the airport; chauffeured us and fed us. (Lord, give me a driver in my next life. . . . I could so get used to that!) Very professional folks. Looking forward to the finished product.
Speaking of Films

Tomorrow evening, April 14th, the documentary, "That Guy: The Legacy of Dub Taylor," premiers in Dub's hometown of Augusta, Georgia. Walter Clarence "Dub" Taylor (below) is credited with acting in more than 200 films and television shows, and was most well known for his portrayal as Michael J. Pollard’s double-crossing father in Bonnie & Clyde.

"He pops up in everything," Director Mark Ezra Stokes said.

“I had never heard of him before Mark brought this project to me in May of last year,” explained Executive Producer and JamesWorks Entertainment Chairman James Kicklighter. “But you know, there are so many talented actors and actresses in movies past and present that seem to have small, insignificant parts upon first viewing. When we look at them in retrospect, we realize that their role was the part that made the movie work."

That was certainly true of Dub. While on the plane today, an episode of Gunsmoke was on with Victor French and Dub and I swear, it was one of the best ever. Dub played a preacher, and Lordy, did he have that part nailed. (Though, I have to admit, he's so full of devilment that he looks like he might sprout horns at any minute.)

Taylor’s recurrence in popular films without gaining notoriety among the average American moviegoer is what fascinated Stokes in the first place. Former Georgia State Representative Roger Byrd, a producer on the film, first brought the man to his attention."Roger is the biggest film buff in the world," Stokes said. "Like most people, I had no idea who he was talking about, and then he showed me a picture of him and I was like, ‘Oh, that guy.’ In fact, that’s what everyone says about him when they see him: ‘Oh, that guy.’ And that’s going to be the name of the film: That Guy," Stokes said.

This film has taken Stokes and Assistant Director and Executive Producer James Kicklighter big places, interviewing Taylor’s friends and co-workers, including director David Zucker (“Airplane,” “The Naked Gun,” “Scary Movie 4”), Don Collier (“The High Chaparral,” “Little House on the Prairie”), Dixie Carter (“Desperate Housewives,” “Designing Women”), the Grammy-winning Riders in the Sky (“Monsters, Inc,” “Toy Story 2,” “Cars”), Cheryl Rogers-Barnett (daughter of Roy Rogers), novelist Bill Gulick (“The Hallelujah Trail,” “Snake River Country”), Emmy Award Winning Stunt Coordinator and Grandson of Dub Taylor, Matt Taylor (“24,” “Déjà Vu,” “Kill Bill: Vol. 2”), son of Dub Taylor, Buck Taylor (“Gunsmoke,” “The Alamo,” “Comanche Moon”), among many others. (Buck is pictured at left unveiling his plaque on the Walk of Western Stars a couple of years ago.)

Additionally, the project has already received affirmation from several in the film industry, including Peter Fonda (“3:10 to Yuma,” “Wild Hogs,” “Ghost Rider”) and Bill Cosby (“The Cosby Show”), with assistance from Academy Award winner Dana Adam Shapiro (“Murderball”). Christa Maerker (“Die Schweizermacher"), an award-winning German documentary filmmaker, also serves as Supervising Producer for the project.Another unique feature of this film is that the feature-length documentary is counted as the first in-depth look at a man who most in the industry knew and respected, but was content to stay out of the limelight.

"Dub didn’t want awards; that wasn’t his goal. He just wanted to make enough money to support his family and his hobbies; hunting and fishing," Stokes said. "His family has been very supportive of the film, and his son, Buck, and grandchildren, Matt and Cooper, have interviewed for the film.”"If there is one thing that I hope viewers get out of the film, it’s that you don’t have to be Paul Newman or Nicole Kidman to be famous. Some of the biggest stars in Hollywood are the ones you can’t name," said Kicklighter. For more information, visit the official websites at The premier will be held at the Morris Museum of Art.

Taylor’s last role was a cameo in the 1994 blockbuster, Maverick, starring Jodie Foster and Mel Gibson.

For many of our readers, Dub Taylor was never anonymous and I'm thrilled to see this project devoted to him. I can't wait to get my copy of the DVD, and Mark, Jim, we'll be toasting you and Dub tomorrow night.
Only in the South. . . .

Okay, Rusty is NOT my cousin, but he is my niece's dad, so we're sort of related. His newest ballad involves a sexy chicken from Fort Worth, Texas, and is getting lots of attention. Of course, I don't think he'll ever beat his first hit, "The Surry County Jail Break." This was a true story of a poetry-writing convict that busted out of the clink in Dobson, North Carolina. Check out Russ Ashburn's website at for some of the most original tunes since the squirrel crawled up Ray Stevens's leg. Dub Taylor would have loved this!

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Selling Sam

Coors has launched a new ad campaign, and guess who the spokesperson is? Amazing. You're exactly right! Sam Elliott.

Sam told Playgirl magazine a few years ago that he didn't want to be a sex symbol. That's what makes him so irresistible. He's a hunk with substance! And that voice! He could sell me Coors, or Coca Cola, or Copenhagen. Heck, I'd switch from Baptist to Buddhist just to hear him talk!

Sam's movie debut was in the classic Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid. The female star of that movie, one Katherine Ross, soon after became Mrs. Sam Elliott. What a beautiful pair they make. And after all these years, they're still together.

Of course, I loved Sam in Gettysburg. As General John Buford (right), pounding his chest, he was so passionate and so believable. But again, he could sell me anything.

Those folks at Coors are mighty smart.

Speaking of Katherine Ross . . .

Tom and I watched Shenandoah the other night. God, I love that movie! Jimmy Stewart plays a widower living in the Shenandoah Valley of Virginia who tries to stay out of the Civil War til it comes to him. This film has all the hokey conventions, I know, and the costuming is just abysmal, but it has a wonderful heart. Katherine Ross makes her film debut as Jimmy Stewart's daughter-in-law, the wife of Patrick Wayne. She is patient and maternal, wise and beautiful. It just breaks your heart when you know she's been murdered. Her role is relatively small but she makes an impact on the screen.

In the image (above), Stewart attacks a young soldier who has mistakenly shot and killed his son. Rent this movie and buy a box of Kleenex.

And how could we talk about Katherine without including a photo of her with her devastatingly handsome costars from Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid? Let's see. She's married to Sam Elliott and gets to smooch with Robert Redford.

Is she a lucky woman or what????

Speaking of Shenandoah . . .

Here's a link to Tony Rice's playing the haunting "Shenandoah" on his guitar. If you aren't acquainted with Tony Rice, he's an incredible bluegrass and jazz musician. To tell you the truth, I prefer his bluegrass, but whatever style Tony is playing it is like liquid gold pours from his hands and through the strings. Give a listen.

Speaking of Gettysburg . . .

Mike Wunsch wrote to remind everyone that Spring Cleanup in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, is this Sunday, April 15. Gather at the Meade Equestrian Statue (left) on Seminary Ridge, on the grounds of the Gettysburg National Military Park, at 10:30 a.m. Mike says remember to bring yard tools, gloves etc., and after the cleanup (hard work!), a pizza lunch will be provided by the Gen. Meade Society.

Speaking of Sam. . .
. . . how can we speak of Sam and not mention Virgil Earp?

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Rabid Passions

I am struck by the number of people we are privileged to know who are rabid and passionate about the past. Like our Pennsylvania friends on the right, these folks put their hearts and souls into preservation, education, communication--just keeping the past alive. I want to share a few of them with you today, and I hope you can meet them as well.
Andy Waskie at Old Baldy

The Old Baldy Civil War Round Table is pleased to announce that our friend and historian, Dr. Andy Waskie (right), will be the featured speaker at the next meeting. The meeting will take place at the Civil War and Underground Railroad Museum on Thursday, April 12. The museum is located at 1805 Pine Street in Philadelphia. Dr. Waskie's topic will be General Meade and Old Baldy. The museum will open at 6:45 and the presentation will commence at 7:30. Guests and prospective members of Old Baldy are invited to attend. The Old Baldy CWRT is one of the nation's oldest round tables having been chartered 30 years ago.

Tom and I have had the pleasure of speaking in this historic building with these wonderful folks. Andy is dynamic and knowledgeable and hope you can attend. Andy will be speaking to our CWRT in Kansas City on May 22. Email me at for more information or to join our CWRT.
May Day in Southwestern Virginia

A traditional May Day will be held at The Hollow History Center, Ararat, Virginia, on April 29. The celebration will feature the winding of the May Pole and a May Day Court comprised of former members of the May Courts from Blue Ridge High School. Storytelling of local folklore and ghosts tales will be a highlight of the day. The recently reconstructed section of the “Dinky” railroad will be on public exhibit for the first time. (Thanks to our friend and fellow rabid historian, Tom Perry, I have two spikes from the Dinky Railroad). Other activities include a houseplant swap and a collection of seeds (both vegetables and flowers) for an heirloom garden. A picnic lunch will be available. Admission: $6 per adult; children under 14 free; 11:30 a.m. until 4 p.m.

The Hollow History Center was founded by my friends (and distant cousins!) Raleigh and Shelby Puckett. Their own passion for history has spurred them into creating a wonderful historic resource for the community to come together or research family history. It's a beautiful spot, so if you're passing by that area stop in and tell them Debbie Coalson sent you!

John Brown at Princeton

The Historical Society of Princeton and Princeton High School present our friend, Norman Thomas Marshall (left), in "John Brown: Trumpet of Freedom" at 7 p.m., this Friday, April 13. Co-written by Norman and George Wolf Reilly, the one-man play is a moving portrayal of the life of abolitionist John Brown. There will also be a post-performance discussion. The event is located in the Princeton Regional Schools Performing Arts Center, Princeton High School, 151 Moore Street, Princeton, New Jersey(Parking on site. Enter lobby from Walnut Lane.) Fee: $5 per person, payable at the door R.S.V.P to 609-921-6748 or

We had the great pleasure of meeting Norman a couple of years ago in New York City. Originally from Virgina, Norman's acting resume goes back to soap operas when he played a thug on "The Edge of Night." He is a passionate historian and performer, and we urge you to take the opportunity to see him.


From our friend Pat Fairbairn:

While John Wilkes Booth was committing his horrific act of murdering our beloved President Lincoln at Ford's theater on April 14, 1865, another part of Booth's evil plan was unfolding at the home of Secretary of State, William H. Seward.

Another conspirator, Lewis Powell, was attacking the Secretary with a Whitney revolver and a large Bowie knife (below). Only luck ( the revolver misfired and Powell's violent knife thrusts were deflected by some leather bracing about Seward's neck to treat him for a broken jaw. He had suffered a carriage accident just a week before) ; Divine Providence; and the intervention of a guard and a male nurse, Sergeant George F. Robinson, saved Mr. Seward from certain death.
One of Powell's knife thrusts opened Seward's cheek like a fish gill through which his molars could be clearly seen. The wound left Seward with severely disfiguring facial scars. Sergeant Robinson, we understand, will testify for the prosecution about his encounter that night with the hulking, would-be assassin, Powell, in what is sure to be a riveting account of their tussle at Seward's bedside. Many are eager to hear Robinson's testimony and to get their first look at the defendant Powell who, in wrestling with Seward's guards and family members, exclaimed "I'm mad; I'm mad." Not surprisingly, this trial has galvanized the townsfolk.

The Lincoln Assassination Conspirators Trial will occur here on April 14, 2007. It will be restaged at the Conference Center of the Luzerne County Community College as part of their Open House Day, and is being sponsored by The Lindhill Institute. It is free and open to the public.In the first part of the program, starting at 10:00 A.M., a Civil War Living History scenario called “MEET THE GENERALS” is scheduled. It is enacted by the Confederation of Union Generals ( COUG), a Living History organization founded by Lancaster native, Mike Riley, that is one of the fastest growing organizations of its type in the country.

“Meet the Generals” will allow the public to interact with portrayers of Major General William Sherman, Major General George Meade, Major General John Reynolds, Major General Godfrey Weitzel, Major General John Gibbon, Brigadier General Rufus Ingalls, and other equally important Union officers regarding their conduct, duties, and participation in the war.

“Meet the Generals” and the recreated trial, like all Lindhill Institute programs, are free and open to the public. Further information may be obtained at (570) 574-5625 or by visiting their web site at

Reporting from Nanticoke, Pa.,
Pat Fairbairn


Speaking of the Lincoln conspiracy trial, today is the birthday of Gen. Lew Wallace, who was one of the judges in the military tribunal who tried the conspirators. The colorful Wallace, who penned the novel Ben Hur, went on to New Mexico and an even more colorful correspondence with Billy the Kid. He was born in 1827.

This is also the birthday of Confederate General and Episcopalian Bishop Leonidas Polk, who was born in 1806 and killed in battle in 1864. Polk was born in Raleigh, North Carolina, but moved to Louisiana where he served the church. He was a graduate of West Point.

This is also the birthday of fellow Southerner Junior Samples, who may not have had a passion for history, but he had a passion for telling stories! Junior was born in Cumming, Georgia, in 1927, and was a regular cast member of the TV show Hee Haw. He died of a heart attack in 1983.

Remember folks, if you can't leave the world a better place, leave it a little happier! Just call BR-549.

Monday, April 9, 2007

Dark Days

On this day in 1865, Gen. Robert E. Lee was no longer willing to sacrifice his men in what was now a futile struggle. He surrendered the Army of Northern Virginia to Lt. Gen. U. S. Grant in the parlor of the McLean House (above).

Not long after Tom and I met, we were passing through Lynchburg, Virginia, and he wanted to stop at Appomattox, at the National Historic Site that commemorates the close of the war.

"I'll bet you've been here dozens of times," he said, thinking that since I had lived so close it was an easy trip.

"I've never been here," I replied. "My Daddy wouldn't stop."

It would be interesting to compare the number of Northern vs. Southern visitors to this site. I would wager the Yankees outnumber the Rebels by lots. As an historian, I appreciate the value this place has in history; as a Southerner, it's like visiting your Grandfather's grave.

The days at Appomattox have been written about to the point of exhaustion, but a few things bear repeating: The fact that Lee found slavery abhorrent, that he could not take up arms against his fellow Virginians, that he hoped he would never be called upon to draw his sword. Following the surrender, there were many Yankees who came over to visit Lee, to meet the man many considered to be the greatest general on either side. He was cordial, but not friendly. We forget, in our reverence for Lee, that he was a warrior. He did not like to lose. (The photo at right was taken at his home in Richmond after the war ended.)

The enlisted men visited one another, traded food, talked back and forth and Southern soldiers became possessive when their Northern counterparts talked about "Bobby Lee," in too familiar a fashion.

"He's ours!" more than one Rebel shouted. At this moment, just like the beginning of the war, Northerners had wanted to claim him, too. But by this time, Lee was all there was left to many soldiers, to many Southerners. Is is so strange we would cling to him so tenaciously to this day?
Wanted: Van Buren

Sangamon County, Illinois, can always find an Abraham Lincoln impersonator. But what the area needs is somebody who looks like Martin Van Buren. The 8th president was about 5 feet 6 inches tall, trim with a ruddy face. If you fit the part, the Lincoln-Van Buren Historical Association of Rochester, Illinois, wants to hear from you. The not-for-profit group is planning activities for June 15-16 to commemorate the 165th anniversary of a meeting between Van Buren and the then-33-year-old Lincoln in Rochester in June 1842.

Van Buren was 59 at the time. He had served a term as president from 1837 to 1841, lost a re-election bid in 1840 and was contemplating another try at the office. R.L. and Carolyn Moore of Rochester, who are among commemoration organizers, said they would like to include Van Buren and Lincoln impersonators in the festivities. Lincoln's jokes and story-telling are said to have captivated Van Buren, who died in 1862, two years after Lincoln was elected president.

"He is said to have laughed so hard his sides hurt," R.L. said.

Another reference says Van Buren later described the evening in Rochester as one of the most enjoyable of his life.

Springfield artist Helen Stannard has been commissioned to create a historically accurate mural, 18 feet by 24 feet, depicting Van Buren and Lincoln enjoying a conversation. The mural is to be mounted permanently on a former grain bin known as "the Silo" near the intersection of Illinois 29 and Jon Street in Rochester.

Details for the commemoration still are being worked out, but the Moores said events will include an unveiling of the mural; quilt, flower and antique shows; and visits with area residents whose genealogy includes U.S. presidents or relatives of U.S. presidents.

Proceeds from a $50-per-plate dinner featuring foods that were among Van Buren and Lincoln's favorites will benefit a scholarship fund and help pay for the mural.

Buffalo Bill on Newton, Kansas

Newton, Kansas, is a quiet, prosperous little town not terribly far from Wichita. Driving down its tree-lined streets today, one would never guess its wild and wicked past. Famous visitors or inhabitants included The Earps and William F. Cody. From a recent article in The Kansan:

Buffalo Bill’s first comments were about the early days, when Newton was the end point of the railroad.

Here is what Buffalo Bill said: “The toughest, cussedest, wild west town I ever knew was Newton, Kansas, in the early seventies. People talk about Dodge City and Macon Junction as tough towns, but Newton could give them cards and spades on wholesale depravity and recklessness.”

Buffalo Bill had a few more colorful words to describe Newton. Words like “lawlessness, bloodshed, a population mostly of whisky sellers, gamblers, and thieves.”

The original Newtonians were all out “to rob the cowboys and cattlemen.”

There were better moments, of course. Buffalo Bill heard about a religious service in a gambling hall. One Sunday night, a Methodist preacher went to Doc Thayer, the boss of the gambling den, and requested permission to preach amongst the card tables and whiskey bottles. He wanted to spread the Gospel. Permission was granted, but while the pastor was preaching, a fight broke out and someone was shot.

Ah, those were the good ole days! Fortunately, the residents are more tame than the weather these days. A while back, Noel & I were in Newton for the Kansas Sampler Festival, and as we were leaving the skies turned ominous, dark and green, and it began to hail. We took refuge in an Applebees and waited for the tornado to hit. Fortunately, it never did, but as you can see, it was pretty scary.

Newton has always been an exciting place.