Friday, June 29, 2007

The Jameses, The Hardins, The Hiltons?

If you were related to Frank and Jesse James, Black Jack Ketchum, Ned Kelly and John Wesley Hardin, chances are you'd wind up in the slammer, too! I wish I could claim credit for this research, but alas, I cannot. It is the work of Janice Brown who is a contributor to an orginal, insightful blog called Area 603. Janice proves that is a wonderful research tool (and not just a way to while away the hours) and has discovered the relationship between Paris Hilton and the notorious figures pictured above. Read her revealing comments on Paris Hilton's "Six Degrees of Desperado" at By the way, as many Jesse experts know, the photos top middle and bottom left are purported to be Jesse and Frank, but they aren't really. Also, as Janice points out, Paris Hilton doesn't really have a mustache. . . just want to avoid confusion!


So much happening in Cherokee, North Carolina . . . where to start? As a kid, this was my favorite place to visit. "Unto These Hills," the story of the Cherokee removal from the Smoky Mountains was the first outdoor drama I can remember and it has been rewritten from the Cherokee perspective. This elaborate production is a must-see and plays through August 18. Also coming up is the Cherokee Pow Wow, July 6-8, and the Festival of Native Peoples, July 19-21. Visit for more information.

Germantown Rings in the 4th

In Center City on the 4th of July they only tap the Liberty Bell. But in Germantown, the northwestern corner of Philadelphia, they really ring it out--once for every year since 1776! Discover the meaning of Independence Day as three historic sites in Germantown team up to present something a little more personal on your 4th of July. You've seen these sites in the news recently about the exciting program, "Quest for Freedom," which connects sites throughout the Commonwealth of Pennsylvania; now come see for yourself how important this picturesque community has been in the cause of freedom in our nation. Check out the tour and events by calling 215-848-1777, x222 or visiting

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

A Hard Rain

The rain keeps falling. Cross Creek and Soldier Creek up north of Topeka are probably spilling over their banks as we speak, but that's not newsworthy. It seems every time a raindrop falls they flood. And now that we have trashed our basement carpet, gotten the dehumidifier going, and treated all the mold we could find, we have become pretty complacent. Let it rain.

I'm sure the folks in Texas aren't complacent. We've been in some terriffic storms in Texas (below, an historic photo of flooding in Texas City). We have seen the results, or rather, the aftermath, of some incredible flash floods. Standing in a dry streambed one day at the foot of the Guadalupe Mountains (above), I was puzzled to see tree trunks. No trees that size were visible in any direction. Then Tom pointed up, to the ponderosa pines thousands of feet above us. Holy Disaster, Batman!

Also in western Texas, we crossed the headwaters of the Brazos, "headwaters" being a relative term. I didn't see a drop of water. But I know that is not always true. Curtis Bishop informs us that between June 17 and June 28, 1899, rainfall averaging 8.9 inches fell over 66,000 square miles, causing the Brazos River to overflow its banks and inundate an estimated 12,000 square miles. Damage to property was estimated at more than $9 million and 284 persons were known to have perished in the floodwaters; thousands of others were left homeless. The flood's highest recorded stage was at Hearne, where, as at many points, the waters rose above all available flood gauges. *

Tom's book, Scalp Dance, began with an incident that occurred along the Brazos River. To read more, see his blog, "Hope in a Bottle," posted on February 7.

The power of water is terrifying and amazing. I hope the folks in Texas have some clear skies soon.

*The Handbook of Texas Online.


From the East

One of our dear friends in the East, Pat Fairburn, is a member of the Confederation Of Union Generals ( COUG ), and that organization is preparing for a busy time in Gettysburg, Pennsylvania, on the weekend of July 6th to the 8th. How we would love to join them! Pat writes:

In addition to the many events taking place as part of the annual Gettysburg Battle reenactment, we will be appearing at two noted landmarks in Gettysburg --The Farnsworth House Inn and the Daniel Lady Farm. COUG is a Lancaster-based living history organization founded in 2004 by Lancaster native, Michael Riley, who portrays Union General John Fulton Reynolds. COUG is one of the fastest growing living history organizations on the East Coast, and their "mission" is to educate the public about the military history and personalities of the Civil War by having its members portray historical figures of the period, primarily Union Generals, officer staff, and noncommissioned officers.

Typically, our group sets up a General Headquarters camp, and educates the public through a series of "Meet The Generals" conferences where the Generals and Staff address the visiting public in a first person, in character, narrative about their own role/accomplishments during the late "conflict".

As part of our preparation, each historical impressionist steeps himself in the history of the era, and of the personal history of their adapted "persona", as to make a historically accurate presentation in both appearance and content.

This approach has proven to be enormously appealing to the general public, and an ideal way to engage people of all ages, especially youth, in the most defining moment of the country's history. We believe this approach accounts largely for the success of the organization and its growing popularity with organizers of historical events.

In addition to Generals Meade & Reynolds, some of the other notable recreated Officers and Staff are: Brigadier General Rufus Ingalls, Major General William Sherman, Lt. General Ulysses S. Grant, Brig. Gen. David McMurtrie Gregg, Major General Godfrey Weitzel, Brig. Gen. Andrew Humphreys, Brigadier General George Custer, Major General Winfield Hancock, Major General John Gibbon, and Major General James McPherson.

If any of your readers are planning on being in Gettsyburg this July 6-8, here are further details about the scheduled appearances of the COUG officers:

"Friday, July 6 --- The Farnsworth House Inn presents "Meet the Generals", historical impressions of leaders of the Union Army as portrayed by The Confederation Of Union Generals ( COUG) a Living History organization. 8:00 P.M. at 401 Baltimore St., Gettysburg.

"Saturday, July 7 --- The Gettysburg Battlefield Preservation Association presents "Meet the Generals", a chance to meet leaders of the Union Army in a Headquarters campfire scenario as portrayed by The Organization Of Union Generals, COUG, a Living History organization. 8:00 P.M. at the Daniel Lady Farm, 986 Hanover Road, Gettysburg.

Monday, June 25, 2007

Yard Sale Treasures

A Florida fireman purchased a box of photographs from an estate sale. He didn't go through them at first; he pushed them aside. Then, one morning while his wife was making breakfast, he began to sift through the aged images. His heart stopped. It couldn't be real. There was a note dated 1858 and it was signed, A. Lincoln.

It couldn't be! Could it?

It would be years before Joseph Skanks would know for sure. Finally, after consulting several experts, he was led to "History Detectives," a television show looking for new investigations for its upcoming season. They sent the letter to Springfield, Illinois, where John Lupton put the note under the microscope. Skeptical, Lupton looked for the distinctive characteristics of Lincoln's handwriting--and he found them. The letter that the Tampa firefighter purchased for eight bucks at a yard sale was estimated to be worth $25,000.

The short letter was written by Abraham Lincoln on Aug. 2, 1858, to Henry Clay Whitney, a political ally of Lincoln's and a fellow circuit court lawyer. According to the Springfield Journal Register, the note reads:
Yours of the 31st. is just received. I shall write to B.C. Cook at Ottawa and to Lovejoy himself on the subject you suggest.

Pardon me for not writing a longer letter. I have a great many letters to write.

I was at Monticello Thursday evening. Signs all very good. Your friend as ever A. Lincoln.

The episode of "History Detectives" will air on August 27. Skanks was flown to Springfield where he was forced to await the news of the letter's authenticity in order to add drama to the show. He also had the opportunity to visit the Lincoln Museum where he was moved to tears by the Civil War exhibit that tallies deaths as the war progresses. He plans to sell the letter, since being a firefighter doesn't pay all that well.

Tom and I often speculate on the undiscovered treasures in attics and basements across the world, and wonder how many are tossed, unknowingly, into the trash. There are discoveries left to be made. . . . Happy Yardsaling!
Happy Birthday, Ambrose

Ambrose Bierce was born on this day in 1842. After a prolific and controversial life, he disappeared while reporting on the Mexican Revolution. One determined priest believes he has found the chronicler of America's Civil War. From the website of Don Swaim:

For many years James Lienert, a former American priest serving in Mexico, has doggedly pursued the theory that Ambrose Bierce was executed and buried in 1914 in a small desert town in Mexico. At his own expense, Lienert installed a gravestone to memorialize Bierce in the graveyard where Lienert presumes Bierce is buried. I don't know the truth, but the possibilities are intriguing. In several emails to me, Lienert explained his reasoning and supplied the pictures below. What follows may be more than anyone wants to know about the presumed burial place of Ambrose Bierce, but there may be eager new biographers in the waiting.

At right, Leinert in the cemetery he believes contains the remains of Bierce. Visit Don's website for more on this intriguing tale. Perhaps this would make another great episode of "History Detectives." ("History's Mysteries" was better!) is devoted to Bierce's life and legacy and even has a link for the Bierce trilogy filmed by Kansas City filmmaker Don Maxwell.
Kansas City CWRT

I'm speaking tomorrow night on my favorite subject--the parallel lives of Mary Lincoln and Varina Davis (left). Email for details if you're interested in attending.

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Flip Flop Days

Virginia, 1960-something--As soon as school was out, I discarded whatever shoes I had been wearing and donned flip flops for the duration of summer. Flip flops are scant protection on a farm; I can't count the nails that went through them, the scrapes on the top of my feet, the stubbed toes because there was no protection against the rough boards or tree stumps. But they slipped off easily and I burrowed into the soft sand and slipped them back on again to walk through fields where there might be thistles or any number of other prickly plants. Sitting in the yellow glider under Granny's massive willow tree, I flicked off my flip flops and rubbed my feet on the mostly cool clover of the yard.

It's a sweet memory. Our neighbor has a magnolia tree, a rare thing in this part of Kansas. It's not real big as magnolias grow, only about 20 feet but it's thick and healty and it has a handful of blooms. As I was walking by tonight, the perfume of those flowers in the muggy evening air transported me to the South. I walked home and made myself a mint julep. So rather than talk about any event, past or future, I invite you to savor the muggy summer evening. . . or morning. . . wherever you are in time and space.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Homeland Security

Whenever I get emails concerning Homeland Security (which is surprisingly often), I forward this photo of me with Michelle Martin.
Never fear, boys. We've got you covered!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

McCivil War

A new McDonald's restaurant near a Civil War landmark in Maryland will be decorated with artwork depicting the War Between the States, according to news reports. The company's original plans apparently called for 1950s rock 'n' roll era art.

The change came after residents of Urbana, an unincorporated town near Frederick, complained that a '50s-style restaurant wasn't appropriate for the area which is virtually the epi-center of the Civil War.

The new Mickey Dees is just across the street from Landon House (left), a mansion where Confederate Gen. J.E.B. Stuart held the "Sabers and Roses Ball" just prior to the 1862 Battle of Antietam.

BTW--Tom and I spent one scary (and sleepless) night in the Landon House several years ago. More on that in a later blog.


Mary and Her Dresses

First lady, Mary Todd Lincoln, was praised by some for her stylish wardrobe and criticized by others for its expense.

Donna McCreary, author of Fashionable First Lady: The Victorian Wardrobe of Mary Lincoln, will discuss the Lexington native at a luncheon hosted by the Mary Todd Lincoln House, Saturday, at Duncan Tavern Historic Center, 323 High Street in Paris, Kentucky. Lunch begins at 11:30 a.m., and the lecture is at 1 p.m.

Books will be available for purchase after the lecture. Tickets for the luncheon are $30 for the general public and $25 for members of the Daughters of the American Revolution and Kentucky Mansions Preservation Foundation. For reservations, call (859) 233-9999.

Monday, June 18, 2007

Communing with the Dead

As a Southerner and a grave collector, I am a big believer in identifying graves. I was gratified to learn that the man who was depicted on the Cream of Wheat packages has received a proper tombstone.

According to the Associated Press, Frank L. White was the model for the white-hatted chef on the Cream of Wheat box. He is buried in Woodlawn Cemetery in Leslie, located between Jackson and Lansing, and until a few days ago there was only a concrete marker with no name. Now, there is a lovely granite marker with not only his name but an etching from the Cream of Wheat box.

Another must-see on my world-wide grave tour.

Speaking of Grave Tours

June 30 Tom and I are headed to Westport for a tour of that historic area of Kansas City. A big part of that tour will be devoted to Mountain Man, Jim Bridger ( a Virginian, by the way), who operated a bar in Westport after his eyesight began to fail him. We'll not only visit his final resting place, but those of other notables. The Harris-Kearny House will be having its annual Veranda Sale so you won't want to miss this tour. Email me for a reservation. The statue at right depicts Alexander Majors (one of the founders of the Pony Express), John Calvin McCoy (father of Kansas City), and Bridger. Bridger is a prominent figure in Tom's Scalp Dance. A more colorful man never lived.

Friday, June 15, 2007

A Tarheel in Boston

When my sister, Denise, called to say she was headed to New England, I said, "You HAVE to go to the Union Oyster House (below, left)." Growing up in the mountains of Virginia and Carolina as we did, we were still close enough to the ocean to get fresh seafood and thus we developed a passionate love for oysters.

Well, she tried. Heading back into Boston from Gloucester, she got the bright idea to DRIVE into Boston. I told her to take her rental car back, check her bags at the airport, and take the Metro downtown, but no, she had to DRIVE.

Tom and I have driven all over this country and there are some hairy intersections, some crazy drivers, many places with NO signs. Nothing is more difficult to navigate than Boston (above, courtesy McAlpine Images). Let it be said, my sister is a very good driver, with a far better than average sense of direction. Never has she been more frustrated than navigating Beantown.

At one point, she looked at her traveling companion and said, "Diane, is this Harvard?"

"Well, Nisey," she replied as she looked around, "I guess it is."

Winding through Cambridge ( "Our fair city" ), Denise remained totally lost and stopped to ask for directions. Problem is, Yankees talk fast. Denise couldn't understand a word he was saying. Even more frustrated, she left. Moments later, the blue light and siren.

"You missed the stop sign," said the polite and not-overly-friendly policeman.

"Stop sign? I didn't see a stop sign."

"That's no excuse."

Denise was nearly in tears, but the man came back with a warning. He could only give her directions to a point and told her to then stop and ask someone else.

She took the car back and never got to the Union Oyster House. Alas, I feel another road trip coming up, and feel it is necessary for me to meet her in Boston and guide her myself.

Thursday, June 14, 2007

Western Skies

Our recent trek with friends from the East reminded Tom and me of what the West has that the East does not--SKY. It seems limitless, close, as if one only had to let go of the earth to be drawn into it. My skies in the Blue Ridge Mountains could be stunning--the sunset over Fancy Gap Mountain, Fisher's Peak purple against the orange, or lightening cracking the heavens wide open. But the Western Sky is overwhelming, from horizon to horizon, vast. It is the perfect subject for translation to art. Yesterday I took a little field trip to Manhattan, Kansas, to the Strecker-Nelson Gallery, for the Kansas Masters Invitational Art Exhibit. The big sky was front and center (above, Wabaunsee by Lisa Grossman).

"I see my work as a sustained meditation on open spaces, said Lisa, "as a celebration of their sublime beauty, as an expression of my deep concern for their survival. Painting en plein air is a necessity for me. It allows me to work in a very direct manner, drawing energy from my surroundings and translating it into paint."

Lisa's work focuses on vast stretches of rural eastern Kansas and the Flint Hills. She paints en plein air or on location, on canvases or small wooden panels. Her work explores the relationship between land and sky, distance, light and atmosphere with color and confident brushwork.

Lisa's landscape paintings have appeared in numerous group shows and regional exhibits including the nationally touring exhibit for the annual "Arts For The Parks" competition in Jackson Hole, Wyoming.

Unfortunately, this exhibit is over Saturday, but visit the gallery's website for a list of the artists and check out their work Jay and Barbara Nelson, gallery owners, have created a unique space to showcase first class artwork. Our friend Don Lambert organized this exhibit and kudos for an incredible job.

Cheap Entertainment

Speaking of our trip, how did Carol and I survive for a week riding in the backseat with two hairy-chested historians up front? (Besides the cooler between us. . . .)

Well, I'll tell you. I brought along some light reading, A Treasury of Nursery Rhymes edited by Michael Foss. So Carol and I read nursery rhymes to each other. Lest you get the idea that these are warm, fuzzy, Mother Goosey, let me share one with you:

Annie Mary jumped in the fire;
The fire was too hot, she jumped in the pot;
The pot was too black, she jumped in a crack;
The pot was soon over, she jumped in some clover;
Clover's too sweet, she kicked up her feet;
When her feet were free, she cried 1, 2, 3,
Then jumped in a tree.
The tree was so high she couldn't go any higher,
'Long came a breeze and blew her away.

Well, so much for Annie Mary. I'm sure there's a moral here, but not sure I want to know what it is. Or how about this touching story about Peg:

There was an old woman and her name was Peg,
Her head was of wood, and she wore a cork leg;
The neighbors all pitched her into the water,
Her leg was drowned first, and her head followed after.

I bought this book in a thrift store for fifty cents, mainly for the beautiful illustrations, but found the tales compelling. Stories of death and disappointment, murder and mayhem, unrequited love, and occassionally, just a sweet sentiment. They seemed somehow appropriate for a trip into the West, where not all dreams came true, but the experience made for a strong people, and pithy sayings.

Seeing the World. . . One Grave at a Time. . .

I do collect graves--from Smokey the Bear to Daniel Boone to. . .Judah P. Benjamin, Confederate Cabinet Member, buried in Pere Lachaise, Paris, France. It took four hours of wandering this incredible graveyard before finding the elusive Benjamin. Andy Waskie snapped this photo of me a couple of years ago. Those are my grave-searching earrings!

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

Time, Trust, Faith

My sister is on the telephone from Gloucester, Massachusetts. She is sitting on her balcony at the Cape Ann Motor Inn enjoying the view of the twin lighthouses on Thacher Island. Though the motel is situated on a substantial stretch of nice beach, the rocky shore so typical is visible on either end. Denise has always wanted to see the rocky coast. We have deep, sandy beaches in the South, which are popular, of course, and beautiful, but there is a romance in the ocean waves breaking on the boulders so characteristic of New England.

Denise lives outside Mount Airy, North Carolina, ( in the community of Pine Ridge, to be exact )on a little patch of ground that was part of my Grandpa Coalson's farm. As a child she loved the stories of Nathaniel Hawthorne and Louisa May Alcott and longed to see the places they described. This is her first trip to New England and she has been overcome. Apparently, they have been overcome by her as well.

"Every old man I've seen has proposed," says she. "They love my accent."

Tom and I are hoping she accepts one of these offers. We would love nothing more than to situate a relative near a cove in Massachusetts where the lobster boats sell their catch on the dock.
Time in the Life of a Dung Beetle

It has been a while since I have blogged, except for contributing a few words to Tom's column. Have so much to share, there is so much going on in the Civil War/Western community over the summer. Will endeavor to catch up over the next few days.

We finished moving stuff from the little house in Weston over the weekend; I'm sure the neighbors sat in amazement as we dragged load after load out of that tiny cottage. I'll miss that little spot, but am so happy to have all my clothes, mementos--LIFE--under one roof for the first time in years. Between taking care of Tom's mother, operating the shop downtown, and finally, moving to Weston, Noel and I have been scattered to the winds for so long. It feels good to be home. How ironic. . . as I write about this, listening to AOL Radio tuned to the bluegrass station, of course, Tony Rice is singing "Cold on the Shoulder." In the words of writer Gordon Lightfoot,

All we need is time, time, time. . . . All we need is trust, trust, trust. . . . All we need is faith, faith, faith . . . . It's cold on the shoulder and you know we get a little older every day. . . .

Time, Trust, Faith. . . .

This is a photo of the Garden of Eden, Lucas, Kansas, that I took last week when we visited with our friends. ( Looks more like something from Dante's Inferno, doesn't it? ) For the Cliff Notes version of the spot and our time there, see Tom's blog from today. And if you ever get close to Lucas, take advantage of the Grassroots Art that permeates the town.

Wednesday, June 6, 2007

Bones and Stones

Ned Kelley's bones are missing.

If Ned Kelley doesn't ring a bell, except for your strange cousin, try to recall your history of the West--the Australian West. Ned Kelley has been called the Australian Jesse James or Billy the Kid. Mick Jagger (right) played him in the movie. (Poor Ned. He probably saw Jagger's face and spun and spun in his grave til his bones were flung to the ends of the earth. As you can see from this image, Ned (below, left) was exponentially better looking than the Rolling Stone who portrayed him.)

According to the Guardian Limited, authorities in Melbourne revealed that the remains of Australia's most notorious outlaw are nowhere to be found. Executed over 120 years ago, Kelley's body was tossed into a mass grave at a prison.

Archaeologist Jeremy Smith of the conservation organization Heritage Victoria told the press that Ned's remains would have been among those of prisoners transferred from the Old Melbourne Gaol to Pentridge prison in the 1920s.

"Although his skull was souvenired, his bones would have been just put in a sack in a disordered and deteriorated condition," he said. "We think there would have been about 32 bodies in a mass grave and probably all of them have been lost."

He and his team have been charged with clearing the old prison site, which is due for re-development. Mr Smith said he would extend the archaeological dig in the hope of finding the outlaw's remains but it was likely that they had been dumped in a nearby quarry.

Souvenir Skull? Dumped in a quarry? I for one am encouraged that Australians have no more respect for the dead than their American cousins!

Kelly's exploits have inspired films, television programs, songs and books. The Guardian said his place in Australian history has raged for decades, with opinion divided over whether he was a reckless killer or a young man driven to crime because of poverty and social injustice. (Does this sound familiar to our Jesse James fans? If not already, it will remind you of William Clark Quantrill as well. Read on.)

The article continues:

Born in Beveridge, Victoria, Kelly and his family lived in poverty and his first clash with police was at the age of 14. He was proclaimed an outlaw some years later after he and his gang were involved in a shoot-out at Stringybark Creek, which left three policemen dead. While on the run, he carried out two bank raids. In the second, he and his gang broke into a police station in the town of Jerilderie, imprisoned the officers in their own cells, changed into their uniforms and posed as reinforcements from Sydney. The gang took over the town for several days, raided the bank and burned mortgage deeds.

Prior to arriving in the town, he dictated the Jerilderie letter, a manifesto of about 8,000 words in which he tried to justify his activities, expressing his antagonism against the police and his sense of injustice about the way he and his family were treated because they were Irish Catholics. He intended the letter to be published as a pamphlet but it was kept and used against him during his trial.

Kelly was finally trapped in an ambush on June 28, 1880. He came out dressed in home-made armour, made of metal plate, and walked towards the police firing furiously. He was shot in the legs, arms and groin multiple times before being arrested, while the rest of his gang was killed. He was sent for trial, sentenced to death and hanged. Two newspapers reported his last words as a weary: "Such is life."

Edward "Ned" Kelly was born in June 1855; the exact date is unknown. The son of Irish parents, he was the eldest of eight. As a boy he risked his life to save a drowning boy. He was given a green sash as a mark of gratitude by the boy's family and was wearing it under his armour during the shootout with police that ended his time on the run. He and his family lived in abject poverty and were described as wild and rowdy. They were accused of crimes including cattle theft but Kelly said they were victimised for being Irish Catholics. He was hanged on November 11, 1880. Kelly has been played in films by Mick Jagger (1970) and Heath Ledger (2003). Peter Carey won a Booker prize for his novel True History of the Kelly Gang.

"Once again Ned Kelly has authorities scratching their heads," noted the Melbourne Herald Sun newspaper gleefully.

When they find his bones, I'm sending flowers.


From our buds at Wideawake Films, Bad Blood: The Border War that Triggered the Civil War is now available on DVD. Tom wrote the book on the border war (See War to the Knife at the top of this page) and he thinks this is one of the best documentaries he's ever seen; I heartily concur. Visit their site to order:

Good Morning You Pretty "Southern Belle"! (note to readers: I'll be sure and poste your email if you use this salutation)

Sgt. Major A.W. Schofield here (left) late of Jennison's Jayhawkers, now serving with the 15th Vol. Cavalry with Regimental HQ @ Mine Creek Battlefield SHS.
Thanks for running some of Michelle's "Good Old Days pictures and, yes, I was portraying that old Scoundrel & Scalawag Shubal Morgan, Old Man Brown or Osawatomie Brown or Captain John Brown, commanding officer of the notorious "Liberty Guards."

Brown is one of my favorite impressions & will travel for food & gas as an employee of the KSHS doing this impression & others. Also am working up an impression of "Charles Hamilton" as a counter point to Brown. I do not do Jim Lane, but also do Capt. James Montgomery.

Your blog is great & You are doing a GREAT JOB with the "Round Table," Take Care, Keep Safe & Keep Tom in Line & Alive!

DG: Arnold, Thank Goodness you're no longer one of Jennison's Jayhawkers!! Visit Arnold at Mine Creek Battlefield SHS at Pleasanton, Kansas, or at

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Edification and Tourism

While I was hosting a garage sale and generally leading the life of a dung beetle over the weekend, other people were traveling and attending edifying events. From Michelle Martin in Bartlesville, Oklahoma, come these photos of our friends at Fort Scott, Kansas.

Following the Civil War the southeastern Kansas town of Fort Scott began unparalleled growth, spurred by rich natural resources and Fort Scott's being selected as a major hub for the railroads that were spreading coast-to-coast. (In fact, in 1899 Fort Scott was rivaling Kansas City as the largest rail center west of the Mississippi.) Street Fairs were sweeping the country and it was decided that Fort Scott would throw the Grandest Street Fair of them all. Noted Fort Scott Historian Don Miller writes of the 1899 Parade: "Hundreds of people labored thousands of hours decorating dozens of horses, mules, wagons, bicycles, and themselves with flowers and filler that made it challenging to separate foliage from participants . . . ." Fort Scott's popular Street Fair was continued on for many years and for reasons unknown was discontinued.

In 1982, a not-for-profit corporation was formed to revive the Street Fair Festival and "The Good Ol' Days" has been held every year since the first full weekend in June.

The annual festival is extremely popular with adults and children alike. The Good Ol' Days draws thousands of people into Fort Scott's Victorian downtown for a weekend filled with arts, crafts, specialty foods, children's games, and live entertainment. The adjacent Fort Scott National Historic Site provides visitors with an opportunity to experience the living history activities of an 1840's frontier fort. Our long-time bud Tim Rues (he introduced me to Tom) is pictured above portraying the U. S. Senator and Civil War general, James Henry Lane. Whether he was calling on the powers of Heaven or Hell was never really clear, but Lane's oratory fervor is surely captured by Tim. (I keep nudging Tom to write the biography of the man whom he calls "Lincoln's Rasputin." Lane, nut though he was, arrived at the White House just as the new president needed protection and forever had the president's ear.) Providing music at Fort Scott was the band, The Freestaters, of which our friends Jon Goering (above, left) and his wife, Betsy, (right) are members. I'm not sure who he is portraying, but Arnold Schofield (below) brings new meaning to "Ahnold." And with a gun in hand. . . oh, it makes me shiver to think of him! (Schwarzenegger could get a few lessons in intimidation from Schofield.) It looks as if the festivities at Fort Scott's Good Ol' Days were just too much for this babe. . . .

See the rest of Michelle's images at

Speaking of Lincoln

Spencer County, Indiana, boyhood home of the 16th president, is putting up new Lincoln signage. The panels, initiated and funded by the Indiana Abraham Lincoln Bicentennial Commission, will be attached to the existing “Indiana-Crossroads of America Signs” that are located at the state’s borders.

Spencer County is home to Lincoln Boyhood National Memorial, Lincoln State Park, Lincoln Pioneer Village, Lincoln Ferry Park, Lincoln Landing, and Buffalo Run Farm, which all offer opportunities for visitors to learn about Lincoln’s life in Indiana. The county plans a series of special events throughout the next two years to mark the bicentennial of Lincoln’s birth, which will occur February 12, 2009. For a complete schedule or to request a free copy of Spencer County’s Lincoln Visitors Guide, visit or call 1-888-444-9252.

Tom and I have spent lots of time in Spencer County which boasts a beautiful, rolling countryside and a very personal glimpse at the life of Lincoln. This area is one of the most enjoyable in America for your entire family.
Speaking of Pick-up Lines

Several years ago, BT (Before Tom), I was out with a group of gals in Cody, Wyoming. I believe we were in the Silver Dollar Saloon when a lanky cowboy asked me to dance. He told me his name was Dusty Holliday, and reluctantly acknowledged that, yes, he was, in fact, a direct descendant of the gunslinger.

I smiled sweetly. "Doc didn't have kids, at least no legitimate ones," I responded. "I'm a historian."

Dusty shrugged. "Oh, well. I tried."

The dance was fun, albeit short, and Dusty went searching for a business major.

Sunday, June 3, 2007

Memorials--This Pie is for You!

A memorial service will be held at Arlington National Cemetery today for Vicki Heilig, a friend to so many in the Civil War community. Vicki died last month in Salisbury, North Carolina. John McCaslin of the the Washington Times reports that Dick Crozier, who frequently re-enacts Robert E. Lee, will deliver the address. Virginia United Daughters of the Confederacy member Martha M. Boltz said the ceremony to be held for Miss Heilig at 3 p.m. at Jackson Circle. Vicki was an active UDC member as historian and chapter president.

"We'll have ... Tuscarora brass, pipers, the whole shebang, ending with the cannon salute," said Martha.

In the mid-1990s, Congress rejected the federal patent on the UDC insignia. As a thank-you gesture to senators who voted in favor of the patent, Vicki took pecan pies to the Senate. When she encountered a senator on an elevator who asked whether one of the pies was for him, she replied: "No, senator, you did not vote for the UDC, so I have no pie for you." The response captured her humorous character, friends said.

Vicki, who held a master's degree from the College of William & Mary and worked as a programmer at IBM until her retirement in 1997, is credited in her obituary for being the "driving force on the Confederate Memorial Committee," who later led the group's annual ceremony at the memorial located at Arlington. She also led annual ceremonies in the U.S. Capitol's National Statuary Hall commemorating Lee's birthday. Vicki founded the Montgomery County, Maryland, Civil War Roundtable when she tried to join a CWRT only to find women were not allowed. You may read her complete obituary and sign the guestbook at Vicki, you will be so missed by so many!!!

Birthdays. . . .

Today is the birthday of American Serviceman, U. S. Senator, U.S. Congressman, U. S. Secretary of War, and Confederate President, Jefferson Davis, born in 1808.

Today is also the birthday of my grandmother, born in Fries (pronounced freeze), Virginia, in 1900. She told wonderful stories of the New River and the railroads, of mountain lions, and the adventure of growing up in a place filled with history and beauty. Her grandfather was a Confederate cavalry man. I think my love of story-telling comes from her. She would have 12 children; my father was the seventh son. She loved roses, and dreamed of a house with a white picket fence. She made the best strawberry-rhubarb pie I've ever tasted, and when her family was young and her father-in-law moved in, as did her sister-in-law with six children, Grandma cooked greenbeans in a washtub each day for dinner. My white fence with the red roses is for her. A young woman on her wedding day, (above).

Hanging out with the Generals

At the Kansas City CWRT on May 22. . . power has its privileges. Here I am, dining with General Grant (Randy Durbin) and General Meade (Andy Waskie).

Friday, June 1, 2007

The Occidental Tourist

We didn't plan to stay at the Occidental; our tour of the West was not planned at all. We just got into the car and drove. Since our guests were Philadelphians, I had secretly hoped to reach Buffalo, Wyoming, at just the right time, but had no idea it would work out. While many fans of Western lore may realize that Owen Wister wrote The Virginian while residing in this Victorian hostelry, not everyone realizes Wister was a Philadelphian who now rests in Laurel Hill Cemetery in that selfsame city. Our dear friends, both of whom serve on the Cemetery Board, were thrilled.

After touring Little Bighorn, we called the Occidental from the Custer Battlefield Trading Post (Putt was outside cleaning up and looked up the hotel's number). Dawn answered the phone and said she'd love to have us. (Since it was Memorial Weekend, we were not always guaranteed quarters.) So we headed south to the Sheridan Inn for a quick drink, and then on to the Occidental.

Among the famous folks to stay here were Buffalo Bill (which is enough for me), Calamity Jane, Teddy Roosevelt, and now the Goodriches and the Waskies. Carol and I left the husbands in the car and chose our rooms. I picked the "Hole in the Wall," so named because the bathtub is in the closet. I loved it and intend to remodel our master suite (acutally, create a master suite), based on this plan. Dawn explained the tub wound up in the closet because the lady who used this room tired of sharing the tub with ranchers who came in during the winter. Tom was thrilled to look out the window and count the trout in the stream just below.

We we were too tired to enjoy anything but the comfortable beds when we arrived, but early the next morning, I made a pot of coffee and sat in the lobby reading Nebraska in the Indian Wars. I heard a clanging on the sidewalk outside and turned just in time for the American Legion guys to wave as they were putting the flags up and down the street for Memorial Day. When Andy and Carol joined me, we explored the bar. (Above, Andy has his morning coffee surrounded by elk, antelope, and buffalo. You're never alone in the Occidental.) Carol (right)found an interesting volume on Wyoming whorehouses, but after some consideration, we decided we're just too old to have a lucrative business. Reluctantly, we packed our bags, then headed over to Duffy's for biscuits and gravy. Fortunately, we were there and gone before Tom saw the story about the mountain lion that had to be euthanized in downtown Buffalo just last month.


From our friend Mark Dunkelman. . . .

The 22nd Annual Reunion of Descendants of the 154th New York Volunteers will take place from 1 to 5 p.m. on Saturday, July 14, 2007, at the Pavilion at Lakeside Park in Mayville, the Chautauqua County seat. This year we will hold a joint reunion with descendants of members of the 112th New York, the Chautauqua County regiment raised in tandem with the 154th in the summer of 1862. After their organization, the two regiments left Camp James M. Brown in Jamestown and went on to very different careers in the Union army, not meeting again until near the end of the war, in North Carolina in March 1865. In our program, I’ll present an overview of the 154th New York’s history and Joel Babcock, a descendant of members of both regiments, will relate the 112th’s service.

For the third consecutive year, City Fiddle will entertain us during the 1 to 2 p.m. registration period with instrumental music from the Civil War era. The group consists of Phil Banaszak and his wife, Gretchen, of Buffalo, playing fiddle and guitar. Phil is a great-grandson of First Lt. Alexander Bird of Co. F. He and Gretchen are outstanding musicians, so arrive early and enjoy their performance. Check out their site (Above Left, Mark's mural of the 154th in action at Gettysburg.)

Happy Birthday. . . .

. . .to Phil Kearny, 1815 . . . . the namesake of the fort near Story, Wyoming, where on June 15 - 17, the 140th anniversary of the Wagon Box Fight will be observed. There will be a tour of Wood Road, block houses and Wagon Box Battlefield, a symposium, living history demonstrations, Michael Terry Native American Encampment and programs, military tactics demonstration and more, 307-684-7629.

and to John Hunt Morgan, 1825, (right)

and to John Bell Hood, 1831,

and to The Battle of Blackjack, which occurred June 2, 1856. Visit for more information on tomorrow's events marking the 1st battle of the Civil War.