Wednesday, April 30, 2008

Missouri Civil War Museum

Maybe Pershing looked through this window. Perhaps Eisenhower did. Maybe they spent their time in the gym and never ventured upstairs. Great. Then I'm one up on them.

While visiting Jefferson Barracks at St. Louis last week, I saw the sign that read, "The Missouri Civil War Museum." The building was obviously being remodeled and the door was open. It was irresistible.

Inside, I found the Three Musketeers of the St. Louis Civil War World--Mark Trout, Gary Stevens, and John Maurath. A day of hard labor had not curbed their enthusiasm for this project, and they began plying me with gifts--calendars, brochures, and one square nail. (Historians are cheap dates.)

John (top photo) gave me the grand tour, which included scaling scaffolding and climbing ladders. It was well worth the view of the parade grounds (with the Mighty Mississippi in the background) through this newly installed, but original, window. Boy scouts had begun gathering for a weekend event and were raising the flag (left).

John's excitement was contagious. He explained that the building in which we were standing had been a gym and that notables such as Pershing and Eisenhower had used it while stationed here. The history of Jefferson Barracks itself could fill volumes. (In fact, Marc Kollbaum, curator of the historic park, has completed Volume I, 1826-1894, and is at work on Volume II.) For example, around 200 Civil War generals served here at some point. My special interest was Jefferson Davis, yes, the Confederate President, who escorted Chief Blackhawk to these barracks after his defeat. Davis was accompanied by Robert Anderson, yes, the same Robert Anderson who later surrendered Fort Sumter and then lived to raise the U. S. flag again at that spot in 1865--the same Robert Anderson, by the way, who is buried next to George Custer at West Point--there's just no end to the connectedness of Civil War history.

If you're passing through St. Louis, stop and visit these guys and ask for your own V. I. P. tour. In the meantime, visit Tell them you know Deb and I'm sure they'll give you extra special treatment.

Monday, April 28, 2008

Mushroom Fever

Can you spot the treasure?

The first morel of the season, picked by us that is. After leaving the St. Louis and Highland, Illinois, CWRTs, I went to Lebanon, Missouri, and visited with our friends the Chubers. Saturday morning we set out bright-eyed and bushy-tailed for the Mark Twain National Forest behind their place. Teresa found the first one. She also got the second one and the third one and the fourth one. Finally, she and I spotted one at the same time and she gave me credit because she is such a nice person. Dave finally saw one, and he was our scout!

We parted ways, and I think Dave and T were "pitching woo" because after another hour or so, they found me and had not added a single morsel to their basket. I was on the verge of giving up when I spied one under a leaf, and then I was beside myself. Now I understand how prospectors went crazy searching for gold. When the day was done and we were covered with ticks, we had 26 mushrooms in all. We were so proud. They were our breakfast on Sunday morning. I have always dreamed of taking a picture like this--a basket of morels. Tom and I hunted this afternoon and I found another edible, delicious variety and am drinking Pinot Grigiot, eating Feta cheese, and wild mushrooms.
Life is good.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Kansas City Civil War Roundtable

Sandy Barnard, friend and historian/author extraordinaire, presnted to the Kansas City CWRT last night. His topic, Where Custer Fell, also the title of his book. Great time with Sandy and his wife, Betty.
Great news for Mine Creek Battlefield, Kansas. Arnold Schofield, potentate at the state historic site, shared with us last night an award from the Civil War Preservation Trust that was just presented over the weekend, the Civil War Discovery Trail Site of the Year. Way to go! The KCCWRT has been a big supporter of Mine Creek over the years. Visit Arnold and tell him Deb sent you.

And now, dear reader, see you in St. Louis!

Sunday, April 20, 2008

Bill, Rob, Bob, and Pete

What a beautiful image to which to awaken--the man of my dreams, Buffalo Bill Cody. Michelle Martin was at the National Cowboy Museum in Oklahoma City and snapped this photo of my favorite guy in bronze. Yes, dear reader, I have a crew stationed across America just for Buffalo Bill sitings. Michelle gets the gold star for the day. The rest of you, get busy.
The Cruelest Month

Filmmaker Rob Hodge and I were visiting a few days ago, and the conversation quickly turned to "Civil War April." The war sort of began, and sort of ended, in April; Lincoln's Assassination occurred in April; Richmond fell in April--every day of this cruel month is filled with "on this day in the American Civil War. . . ." Rob mourns each year in early April for the fate of the Army of Northern Virginia, Lee's supreme fighting force that was attrited every day until final surrender.

Speaking of the noble general, I was reading Jim Miller's blog this morning, the Civil War Notebook. The headline is priceless: "Editing Can't Win a War, but It Might Improve This Movie." Yes, do I even have to name the movie? (Hint: It's Gods and Generals.) For those of us who love Lee, love Jackson, love the Battle of Chancellorsville, we'd sit through it again and again, but he is so right! For folks who live in the real world, it desperately needed shortening and tightening. Jim discusses Robert Duvall's performance as Robert E. Lee. . . . Duvall has always considered himself a Virginian and has always had the proper reverance for General Lee. For those reasons, I cannot bring myself to be too critical. Read the blog for details:

Did you know that James Arness of "Gunsmoke", and Peter Graves(Mission Impossible) are brothers??

Freddy, Mount Airy, NC

DG: Yes, Freddy, I know everything! What a couple of hunks that family produced. While many readers recall Peter Graves from the TV show, Mission Impossible, I first fell in love with the tall drink of water on Fury. Remember this TV western? Hmmm. . . nice horse.
On This Day in Civil War April . . .

. . .
in 1861, Col. Robert E. Lee resigned his commission in the Union Army. Below, on the movie set of Gods and Generals, Sen. Phil Gramm, Director Ron Maxwell, Robert Duvall --still in Union blue.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

Cheap Thrills

Estate sale signs are like . . . well, like Jack Daniels to a drunk waking up with empty pockets. Just dangle those signs and I'm there.

A couple of weeks ago, there was such a sale just a few blocks from our house. I got there just a few minutes before closing; all the real valuables were long since gone, and I picked up a couple of planters for fifty cents. There were tons of books in the garage and I casually perused the titles for one of ours when I came across this "Gunsmoke" coloring book. Since the book and I were about the same age, I nabbed it. When I checked out, they just gave it to me. Tom believes the owner was a little girl. Most of the pages are blank and on the rare page that has been touched, there is Miss Kitty's dress or a bouquet of flowers. This little girl would have been framing the cover photograph of that handsome marshal!

One day in the the Thrift Store, I happened upon this volume of Spin and Marty for fifty cents (above, right). It's not in great shape; the cover is about to fall off, but what an image! The horses are bolting because there is a mountain lion in the trees behind them. . . . (left). I'm sure Tom was watching such shows and developed his opinion of these feline creatures very early.
What memories this little volume brings back. I would come home from school in the afternoons and tune in "The Mickey Mouse Club" just to watch Spin and Marty. Freebies and fifty-cent bargains--who says money can't buy happiness?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008


My birthday week of celebration has come to a close. Perhaps we should make it a month next year. . . .

The best birthday gift, of course, was having my daughter and g-daughter visiting from Charlotte. We ventured out to Lincoln, Kansas, one day, and returned to Topeka with "severe weather" bearing down on the city. In fact, we followed it into the city from the West. Karen snapped this photo (left)of the tumultuous skies.

We also drove underneath two complete rainbows, perfectly bowed over I-70. It was a glorious site.

They are back home safely now. We are richly blessed.
Lawrence Tour
We had a great tour of the Lawrence Massacre on Saturday. Interesting folks, good discussion, great company. We'll do another one soon and keep you posted. If you have other tours you'd like us to do, just let me know. I'll start the Topeka Cemetery Tours this Friday at 10 a.m., weather permitting. The cost is $10 per person and the tour lasts about two hours.

Tuesday, April 8, 2008

Southern Home Security

From my sister, Denise, who has installed this system at her own home in Pine Ridge, North Carolina:

How to install a Home Security System in the South:
1. Go to a second-hand store and buy a pair of men's used size 14-16 work boots.
2. Place them on your front porch, along with a copy of "Guns & Ammo" Magazine.
3. Put a few giant dog dishes next to the boots and magazines.
4. Leave a note on your door that reads:

Hey Bubba,

Big Jim, Duke, Slim and I went for more ammo. Back in an hour. Don't mess with the pit bulls--they attacked the mailman this morning and messed him up real bad. I don't think Killer took part in it but it was hard to tell from all the blood. Anyway, I locked all four of 'em in the house. Better wait outside.

Rock Chalk, Jayhawk!

Older Daughter Karen and I headed to Lawrence, Kansas, last night to Henry T's bar. We, along with a couple of hundred other KU fans, watched them win the national championship. It was awesome. Dan and Carol, of course, were in San Antonio in person, and if that was more exciting I could not have stood it. Lawrence went bezerk. After lots of high-fiving and screaming, we stepped into the parking lot, littered with beer cans and some guy who was holding onto a tailgate and putting his clothes back on. Apparently, he had just streaked around the building. Oh well, I'm always too late. . . . Rock Chalk, Jayhawk, KU!

Now, dear reader, I'm off to celebrate my birthday by visiting the cemetery in Lincoln, Kansas. They tell me there is a tombstone shaped like a brief case--an ode to a traveling salesman. Yes, at 50, I can still live it up!

Thursday, April 3, 2008

Bye, Bye, Jesse James

The assassination of Jesse James by that dirty little coward, Robert Ford, occurred on this day in 1882 at Jesse's home in St. Joseph, Missouri. The media had a field day that continued into the next century, and the next. Why are we still fascinated with this farm boy from Missouri?

Who knows? Those of us whose lives are more wrapped up in Jesse lore than others often speculate. We love losers who refuse to lose. Though some historians discount the impact of the Civil War on Jesse's criminal activity, I would submit they cannot be separated. Having ridden with Confederate guerrilla, Bill Anderson, Jesse witnessed, and no doubt participated in, some heinous acts. This would have a profound impact on such a young man. And, Jesse did try to surrender at the war's end. This excerpt comes from our book, The Day Dixie Died:

In late spring 1865, a slim young man, seemingly too slight and fresh-faced to have been a guerrilla, rode toward a Federal picket line just outside of Lexington, Missouri. With him were several others. Above them, waving on the point of a saber, was a white flag. As soon as the Yankees spotted the riders, they opened fire. Bleeding from a hole in his chest, the young man wheeled his horse and fled, vowing through the pain that he would never again attempt to surrender.
Less than a year later, in Liberty, Missouri, the eighteen year old returned. Reported a local newspaper:
Our usually quiet city was startled last Tuesday by one of the most cold-blooded murders and heavy robberies on record. It appears that in the afternoon some ten or twelve persons rode into town, and two of them went into the Clay County Savings Bank, and asked the clerk . . . to change a ten dollar bill, and as he started to do so, they drew their revolvers on him and . . . .
Jesse James and brother, Frank, along with Cole and Bob Younger, remained Rebels, not because they loved war or wanted to die, but because there was no other option.

Had Jesse been allowed to surrender, and been treated decently, maybe he would not have become an outlaw. Again, who knows? Because he could not surrender, his path seems almost certain. It simply was not possible to return to a life of farming. What has always fascinated me more is why, or how, older men who knew him well, like his brother, Frank, and cousin, Cole Younger, submitted to Jesse's leadership? That's incredible. When is the last time your younger brother ordered you around and you listened?

And yet another reason we're still talking about Jesse James is quite simply--it's a cool name. Jesse James . . . just rolls off the tongue . . . .

Wednesday, April 2, 2008

Fall of Richmond

Varina Davis had already fled the Confederate capital of Richmond when, on April 2, 1865, her husband hastily gathered a few things and headed to the Deep South. He hoped to escape the Yankee army and to sustain the Confederate government elsewhere. Ah well. The best laid plans of mice and men. . . .

The flight of the Confederacy's First Family is so poignant, so wrenching, especially that of Varina and the children. In the final days, Jeff bought her a gun, taught her how to use it. He flatly informed her that at least she could force her captors to kill her if unable to protect herself.

In the words of Job, what a miserable comfort!!! Sometimes, I want to smack this man. Could he find no words to comfort? Was honesty that brutal really necessary? As the First Lady stepped on that train that dreary night, a babe in arms and others huddled around her, the last parting words of her husband had been, "I do not expect to survive the death of constitutional liberty."

Gee, Honey. Love you, too. Even with her world falling apart, she should have smacked him. Jefferson Davis loved his wife, his family. Like many men, however, he was a miserable comforter.

(Left: the grave of Winnie Davis in Hollywood Cemetery, Richmond. "The Daughter of the Confederacy," Winnie was so small she had no memories of leaving the city in those final desperate days of the war.)
Vive Le France!

When the Command Tactics team from Fort Leavenworth took visiting officers from France on a staff ride last week, I was privileged to go along. Here we are in Liberty, Missouri, at the site of the first daylight bank robbery in the United States. (Frank and Jesse James are credited with this robbery, though they obviously did not acknowledge the fact.) I was elected to explain the Jesse James story. When asked for a show of hands of those who knew about Jesse, most said yes, "We've seen the movies." Fortunately, many had seen the Henry Fonda/Tyrone Power version and that was a great starting point for the discussion. French officers also visited our friends at the James Country Mercantile where they purchased accoutrements from the Civil War era. Is this a great country or what?

Tuesday, April 1, 2008

The Unsinkable

Today is the birthday of my namesake, Debbie Reynolds. Born this day in 1932 in El Paso, Texas, Debbie Reynolds (left) was one of Mama's favorite stars. She wanted me to be like her--cute, innocent, happy, perky. It did not work out quite the way she planned. Instead, she got me--The Unsinkable Molly Brown. Ah well.

Today is also the birthday of my good friend, Ruby Dena Anson. We've been buds since I moved to Topeka. Of course, she has hillbilly antecedents, so we accepted one another unconditionally.

This is also the beginning of my weeklong birthday celebration. Like many other historic institutions, I have a hallmark birthday this year. The big 5-0. Kudos to our friend, George Laughead, who sent me the first greeting, below:

The card contains another card, to be cut out and filled in: "I am 50 years old. I live at ________. My name is__________. Please take me home."

George is so thoughtful.
Coyote Capers

Driving south to Overbrook before daylight this morning, I just caught sight of a coyote bounding across the highway in front of me. Not having grown up with the wild dog, I am always fascinated by them. So are geese, apparently.

Fort Leavenworth, Kansas, has a few ponds and a nice golf course and the geese just love them. In an effort to convince the geese to take up residence elsewhere, the golf course superintendent has bought some coyotes. Rather, coyote facsimiles. According to the Leavenworth Lamp, the pretend predators have been somewhat effective in discouraging the fowl. (The birds in this picture don't appear very concerned, however.)

For every intended outcome there is always one we did not foresee. Can you imagine the soldiers jogging in the twilight who suddenly come face to face with the yellow-eyed creature? I'll bet this guy has stopped a few hearts since he began guard duty.