Monday, December 31, 2012

Happy Birthday, Happy Anniversary,General Meade

Oh, to be in Philadelphia today!

My dear, dear friends, the General Meade Society, are gathering in Laurel Hill Cemetery where they will toast and honor the victor of Gettysburg, General George Meade, born this day in 1815. Our hero, Andy Waskie, portrays the general and leads the march to his grave each year. It is a lovely spot, overlooking the Schuylkill River. There the assembled share bottle after bottle of champagne, toasting General Meade, President Lincoln, the veterans, etc., etc., until cases of bubbly have been consumed long before most folks have begun their New Year's Eve celebration. It is a grand tradition!!

150th Anniversary of Lincoln's call for 'troops to defend Washington' parade in Philadelphia. Marching down Chestnut St to Broad and then to the site of the old train depot at Broad & Washington Sts. — with Robert Houston and Kenneth Gavin at Philadelphia PA

Laurel Hill Cemetery, looking toward Meade's grave and the river. Gary took this when we were there a while ago. Below, Andy Waskie as General Meade and his bride, CarolNeumann Waskie as Clara Barton at the Constitution Center, Philadelphia.

This is also the wedding anniversary of General Meade and his beloved, Marguerite, and of Andy Waskie and his beloved Carol Neumann, my lovely and dear friend. Happy Anniversary, and we will have a toast in your honor. Thank you for the excuse to imbibe.

Below, statue of Meade at Gettysburg. In Kansas, Meade is memorialized in Meade, the town, and Meade, the county.

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Geary and Hartford, a Tribute!

Kansas just would not have come to be were it not for the contributions of some pretty incredible Pennsylvanians. Today is the birthday of one of those--John White Geary. Actually, his time in Kansas was the low point of his illustrious career, but nonetheless. . . .

Geary was born in western Pennsylvania in 1819. He was smart and he worked hard. He was big--6 foot 6 and way over 200 pounds--much more rare in those days than it is now. It was a combination of his size and intellect that made him a natural leader when he served in the Mexican War. He returned to the United States a war hero, having been wounded five times. (He was a good-sized target.) Afterwards, he was appointed to be postmaster, then acalde, and finally, after statehood, the first mayor of San Francisco.

His life seemed to be one glowing success after another. Then came the Kansas Territory.

Appointed by President Franklin Pierce to be the territorial governor, Geary boarded a boat and headed up the Missouri River. What an incredible trip that must have been. Many of those events that earned the label, "Bleeding Kansas," occurred in 1856. As Geary was making his way to the fractious territory, he stopped in Missouri to visit with that state's governor, Sterling Price, another veteran of the Mexican War and a man who could match Geary inch for inch, pound for pound. What a conversation that must have been with these two giants sucking the air from the room. Anyhow, Price assured Geary that free-state travelers would be safe on the Missouri River. (This quickly proved untrue.) Another significant conversation occurred when Geary encountered Wilson Shannon, whose job he was taking. The two men apparently had an honest and open discussion of the situation, and to Geary's credit, he continued to Kansas.

Geary had good intentions. He tried to remain neutral in the seething political cauldron of the Territory. It simply was not possible. He resigned, thinking he would be reappointed, but was fired. He essentially fled for his life in the middle of the night, a prudent choice given that one of his staff had been assaulted by pro-slavery folks and there were contant threats to the governor himself.

With Kansas behind him, Geary rose to the rank of general during the Civil War and afterwards became the 16th governor of Pennsylvania.

Larry Tagg, writing in the Gettysburg Discussion Group, said:

Geary was intense and passionate, and he elicited great emotions in his subordinates, superiors, and peers alike. Geary was a vain man whose ambitions ran through the Commonwealth Capitol at Harrisburg all the way to the White House, was renowned for a short temper and a sharper tongue, and had a reputation as a strict disciplinarian. Lieutenant Lloyd would write his wife during the Atlanta Campaign, "General Geary, the bastard, is our division commander." Sergeant Charles W. McKay, Company C, 154th New York Infantry, recorded his impressions of Geary:
Gen. John W. Geary commanded the division. The General was a man of large stature, fine black eyes, very robust physique, and when mounted upon his horse was a figure of commanding presence. He was a strict disciplinarian, withal a warm-hearted, emotional man, and although some of the men feared him, they all respected him. We sometimes thought he was making our path wearisome by strict discipline, yet he made his division the crack one of Sherman's army."  ( a very interesting site!)
There are many monuments  to this accomplished man. In Kansas his memory lives on in Geary County, originally named for U. S. Senator Jefferson Davis of Mississippi. After Davis resigned and became president of the Confederate States of America, the good citizens of Kansas deemed it inappropriate to have a county named for him and chose to honor Geary instead.

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Today is also the birthday of the late John Hartford.  Joyful is the first word that comes to mind when thinking of him. So many of us recall the Glen Campbell show and how Hartford would stand in the audience playing his banjo and we were instantly smitten! If you are not familiar with the versatility and endless talent of this great, good man, visit and prepare to meet a legend.

Saturday, December 29, 2012


So many losses it seems staggering. Images that have been a part of my life, my whole life it seems.

Charles Durning. No Yankee ever played a Southerner so convincingly. I would have sworn he was from Alabama. Though born in New York, Durning often portrayed stereotypical Southern characters: the governor in Best Little Whorehouse in Texas, Big Daddy in Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, and the governor in O Brother Where Art Thou. A decorated and humble veteran of World War II, his portrayal not too long ago of a Medal of Honor recipient in the TV show, NCIS, was just spectacular.

Frazier Moore, writing for the Associated Press, said of Durning and Jack Klugman who died the same day, ". . . A couple of mugs, sporting less-than-perfect physiques in the bargain. . . Each was a luminous display of the extraordinary possibilities of the ordinary." What a profound gift that was.

Norman Schwarzkopf. "Stormin' Norman." (above with General Colin Powell) Could he have been anything other than a general? He came into our living rooms during Desert Storm, confident, reassuring, in control, with a dash of humility. This is what we want our generals to be. His last years were marked by Alzheimer's, the cruelest of diseases for one so competent, one who has so often been looked to in times of crisis. All men, however, are created equal. What more bitterly eloquent testament to that can there be than this great, good man losing his mind?

I did not know him personally, but I know many people who did. His greatness did not lie in his television persona but in his integrity when no one was looking. When a career colonel was about to lose his retirement and be unfairly discharged from the Army, it was Stormin' Norman who threatened to resign himself, not quietly, in protest. That occurred in an office, without an audience, except for the officer who could hear through the closed door and shared it with me.

Mike Auldridge. The Seldom Scene was the cream of the Bluegrass crop. This second-generation, urban band brought bluegrass to a new audience and thrilled the traditionalists with their master musicanship and covers of un-bluegrass songs. Mike defined the dobro. In the words of guitarist/songwriter, Tim Stafford, "Mike was the consummate professional and one of the best and most influential dobro stylists in history. I dare say without his influence, Rob Ickes and Jerry Douglas for two wouldn't be who they are today. You'll read all the accolades, how he played on records for everyone from Linda Ronstadt to the Starland Vocal Band, from Cliff Waldron to, of course, the Seldom Scene. But if you never met him, you missed one of the nicest guys ever."

One of the most incredible shows I ever saw was the Seldom Scene at Doyle Lawson's festival in Denton, North Carolina, 1980 something. John Starling was joining them that night. Honest to God, it was so good, that someone could have been onstage throwing rocks at the audience and they would still would not have moved.

Harry Carey, Jr. With a name like Harry Carey, he was obviously Hollywood royalty, but so down to earth! A classic, classy, cowboy, he shared the screen with the likes of John Wayne and Sam Elliott and never was upstaged. I can barely think of him without tears. My friend, Phil Schrier, a western movie lover like myself, shared this photo on Facebook. It says it all. What a kind, strong face he had, and no one loved his work more. John Fusco, writer of such classic films as Young Guns, Thunderheart, and Hidalgo, shared this memory:

"What a blessing and learning experience to have worked with this great western icon. Believe it or... not, it wasn't a western, but my blues road pic "Crossroads" (1986). Mr, Carey played a shotgun-wielding Delta bartender. The scene I wrote did not call for the shotgun going off. Mr. Carey advised me that when a gun is pulled in a movie, the sucker better go off. So he unloaded into the ceiling of that redneck bar to punctuate his dialogue. You will be missed, Sir, even as we treasure your library of classic work."

Another loss struck me, someone the folks back home are familiar with, but maybe not the world. John Gardner was a truly legendary attorney. When I covered court for the newspaper and radio years ago, I had the opportunity of watching him in action. He and his brother, Carroll, were incredibly capable lawyers. John was just nearly unbeatable because he thought hard, he worked hard, he loved his work, he loved the law. No television drama could match him. He died on Christmas Day.

Charles Durning's family commented that he loved Christmas and would have chosen this time of year to pass away. I hope that loss in this season reminds us of the tremendous gift each of these lives brought us, and reminds us to live in such a way to honor our own gifts and leave our own legacies.

Read more:

If you don't have the movie Crossroads, this is a must for your collection:

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Uncle Estel

My Uncle Estel Coleson died yesterday morning. He just stopped breathing. He was at home, in the country outside of Independence, Virginia. In all likelihood, you never heard of him.

Estel (left, my sister Denise took this) was my Daddy's brother, one of eight sons and four daughters raised during the depression and depressing times. Most of Daddy's brothers looked so much alike that people who did not know them well did not know the difference. One time my mother-in-law was visiting and Estel walked in the door and she said, "Hello, Char..." She stopped mid-sentence when she realized it wasn't Charlie. I believe Estel was about four years older than Daddy.

When we were kids, it took more than an hour, nearly two, to drive from our house in Ararat, Virginia, to Estel and Vera's house near Independence. Aunt Pauline, Daddy's oldest sister, lived nearby. These were my favorite times. My cousin, Sharon, was just a year or two older than I, just enough to be interesting. We had many of the same interests -- mysteries, drama, poetry, telling stories. I remember that when President Eisenhower died, she wrote a poem and sent it to his widow, Mamie. She was in 6th or 8th grade at the time, I think. We had fun. We would all go to the New River and fish and explore. We camped. One time, there was an old house we stayed in...have no idea who it belonged to....but it was just an old house near the river. There was a wood stove and in the morning, Mama and Vera made one of the biggest breakfasts I have ever seen. I can still see everyone sitting at that table. There was sunshine, and water, sandy river bottoms, blackberries, and daisies.

Estel was diagnosed with lung cancer several years ago. He went for a couple of treatments and it made him so sick. He said he would not take another one. When he applied for disability, he was denied. Apparently, the doctor asked what he did for pain and he replied he took some aspirin and a six-pack of Budweiser.

He has lived many years past that diagnosis, meaningful years. Some days he felt bad, sometimes he struggled to breathe, but he raised gardens and played with his grandkids. Mama often remarked about Estel's ability to make things grow; he was a gifted farmer. He loved the earth, the feel of it, the smell of it. He loved walking among his vines and plants. I'm sure he must have talked to them.

Their house was so creative. Aunt Vera is an expert seamstress, and has made clothes, dolls, gifts --anything that can be made. They were always making something, growing something.

When we were kids, we would go back and forth spending days or weeks with one another. Sharon was supposed to be with us for a couple of weeks, and after a few days, Estel came to the house to pick her up early. It was a long drive and our parents did not take those trips lightly. In those days when phone calls were expensive, people just didn't call either unless someone had died. It had to be important. He came to pick her up early because he missed her. Oh, this was terrible! I wanted her to stay, and frankly, was not happy that he would come to get her before the appointed hour. There she sat, torn between us, her Dad, saying everything but please come home, we miss you, and me, begging her to stay. I was, and remain, very selfish. There was resignation when she finally said, "I guess I'll stay," just because she could not bear my profound disappointment. Estel was sad, then, but he did not stay to visit long after she said that, unusual after driving that far.

Like most of my relatives on Daddy's side, he loved to tell stories. He was funny and sarcastic. He loved to tease.

We take our turns coming into this world, and we take our turns leaving it. Uncle Estel peacefully left this world and, I'm sure, had a joyous reunion in the next with his Mama and Daddy, brothers and sisters, and grandchildren gone before. We will miss him.

Below, brothers and sisters, several years ago: Hoover, Buster, Pauline, Harold, Sarah, Daddy (Charlie), Estel. Only Hoover, Buster, Pauline, and Aunt Mary (not pictured) are left.

Saturday, December 22, 2012

Another link to the past flattened. . .

Josephine Marcus Earp, a nice-Jewish-girl-turned-actress, was the last wife of Wild West lawman, Wyatt Earp. She died on December 19, 1944. Born in 1861 in Brooklyn, Josie's lifetime was witness to an incredible era of American history.

I can't quote the source (but I'm sure George Laughead can), one of Wyatt's nieces or nephews commented after his death, and I am paraphrasing, "They say Uncle Wyatt was a cold-blooded murderer but he was married to that woman for 50 years."

That woman was something, and she and I share the same birthday (month and day, anyhow) April 8.
Fellow bloggers (and folks who find the dead fascinating) are reporting from LaLaLAND that the home in which Josie Earp died has been torn down.

Damn. is a very interesting blog. I highly recommend it.

A toast to the life of an incredible woman, Josephine Marcus (Sometimes Sadie) Earp.

Thursday, December 20, 2012

Kansas Forts and Bases--The Cover

. . . Michelle is visiting and the cover of our book arrived today. We were copying the page proofs at Office Max when the email with the cover attachment arrived. Woohoo! Most of the cover images were taken by Michelle who is just an outstanding photographer. We think the design folks at History Press did a great job. You never get too old to get excited at the first glimpse of your book. We'll keep you posted on the booksigning tour and the availability of the book. Coming soon to a town near you. . . . Bisel & Martin.

Which reminds me. . . The Civil War in Kansas: Ten Years of Turmoil is officially sold out and about to go into its second printing. Again, thanks to the good folks at History Press. Our editor, Becky Lejeune is a delight to work with as is the rest of the dedicated staff.

Michelle is headed to Michigan for Christmas with her family but will be back here early Christmas morning. What a wonderful season this is for us. There are many places I wanted to go, things I wanted to do, and those plans have not materialized. I am most grateful, however, for the way life has unfolded for us in the past few days and weeks. We are so richly blessed.

May we live in such a way to bless others.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Christmas Comfort

Christmas-time is a comfort to me. It has been since I was a child. Even when my Mama died on Christmas day, this time of year is still a comfort. While she spent December in the hospital, the long drive back and forth was made easier by the carols on the radio. What other time of year would have inspirational music non-stop on every channel? There were shooting stars--so many that December. Everywhere there were signs. Promises.

It was bitterly cold. Zero for days on end. I shopped for presents; I bought one for Mama, an angel with satin wings that I brushed against her face.

Last night, as the memorial service for the devastated residents of Newtown, Connecticut, was happening, two Topeka police officers were murdered in the line of duty. One was a veteran, both of the armed forces and of years in the department. He has a son who is a police officer as well. The other fallen officer is "just getting started," as the police chief said. On the force for 18 months. There was a search all night long and this morning we woke to the news that the suspect had been captured, perhaps shot. Has the whole world just gone crazy?

It seems to us that we live in extraordinarily violent times. In some ways, we do. But we cannot lose our perspective. I study history because it gives me hope. We are blessed with so many more advantages, more peace and prosperity, than any generation in history-- ANY generation in history. What are we doing with those blessings? Even our poor have a higher standard of living than millions of people who have gone before or who live in other parts of the world now. This is not to diminish, in any way, anyone's suffering now. But, with this in mind, we should not lose sight of what and who is good, and there is much.

Let there be peace on earth, let it begin with me.

In studying history, there are countless, countless episodes of unspeakable evil and cruelty. We must know that they have been overcome, again and again, and that we, too, can overcome. Not just survive, not just get through it, we can overcome. We can conquer.

Love is not a pastel word. It is bright red, solid as a rock, powerful as a rocket. It is the word of creation, not destruction, and it takes so much more energy to build than to tear down. That is the energy we must tap into and perpetuate, and celebrate.

When you see the lights, the greenery, the red ribbons, the candles, the carolers--take courage from these symbols. Christmas is not just a warm, fuzzy holiday. Christmas is symbolic of mankind's hope for a better world, not just in the next world, but in this one as well. That first story of Christmas brought royalty to worship the humble, to seek strength and wisdom from a child.

Be kind, and be stout of heart. There is much work to be done, and we must sustain one another in hope and faith. We must be better, do better. And we can.

God bless us all.

Sunday, December 16, 2012

Topeka Cemetery

I came to know Topeka first through the dead. They made me welcome.

When I first moved to the Kansas capital in 1992. I knew almost noone. Instictively drawn to the interesting grave markers, the mausoleums, the obelisks, the names. I only knew the names because I saw them on buildings and street signs and I was curious about who these people were. The more time I spent at Topeka Cemetery, coming to know the people whose lives were memorialized there, the more I felt a part of my new home. So many of those Topekans had not been born in Kansas, yet it had become their home. I figured if it worked for them, it could work for me. It has. Writing Stories in Stone opened the door to many people and many relationships. I have loved sharing just a few stories of the people who rest there.

I am working with ASA Marketing in bringing more stories to the public. They are in the process of launching a campaign to raise money for the longterm care of this historic, sacred site. Part of that involves revamping the website to include more and more biographies, obits, photos, and articles that are related to the cemetery. Memorializing your loved ones for future generations is a great gift. Introducing the future to the past results in a present with context and meaning. Let me know if you would like to have your family's story included in this valuable project.

Visit the cemetery or contact me for a tour. The artwork, the landscape, and again, the stories, are all  historic treasures. Above, this statue of the mythic Niobe, who turned to stone mourning the loss of her children, is just one of the magnificent markers.

I have a handful of copies of Stories in Stone available which you can order on this site.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Happy Birthday, Mary Lincoln

No one ever gave up so much for this country. No one was ever so unappreciated for it.

Mary Todd was born this day in 1818 in Lexington, Kentucky. The Todds were well-to-do, well-connected, everything Mary's future husband was not. Without her, he could not have been president. He needed someone with her skills to take the rough edges off of him. To her everlasting credit, she did see potential in this man. Others did as well, but it is one thing to recognize promising qualities; it is quite another to hitch your wagon to that promise.

I have been researching the lives of Mary Lincoln, and her Confederate counter part, Varina Davis, for more than ten years. I am writng a one-woman play based on Mary's life, and a dual biography of the two women. They are endlessly fascinating.

Take a moment today to reflect on Mary Todd Lincoln's gift to the United States -- the life of her husband. She gave up her privacy, her peace of mind, and her family, for this great nation. She did not always give freely, but she sacrificed much. (Above, Sally Field as Mary Lincoln)

Gen. Maxcy Gregg

On this day in 1862, Confederate Gen. Maxcy Gregg of South Carolina died as a result of wounds suffered at Fredericksburg. I have always found him a compelling figure, very bright, outspoken, a man of action. He was portrayed by our friend, Buck Taylor, in the movie, Gods and Generals. Buck will be coming back to Kansas to narrate the film by Ken Spurgeon and Lone Chimney, Road to Valhalla.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Blogging with Mother Earth News

I am officially blogging for Mother Earth News. I couldn't be prouder. Bryan Welch, the head honcho at Ogden Publications is a fine writer and a fine human being. Hank Will at Grit, likewise. I hosted this dynamic duo on my radio show  3 or 4 years ago now and they came bearing gifts. I have never forgotten that and still carry my Mother Earth News bag to the grocery store and have coffee from my Mother Earth News mugs. This is one subscription that Gary has maintained for years as other magazines have fallen by the wayside.

As a country girl, my relationship with Grit goes way back to our childhood. Owen Gates was one of those newsboys who brought the Grit to our door. He was sweet and diligent and walked up and down Willis Gap from his Grandma Elsie's house. It was nice to see him coming up the driveway with that canvas sack.

When I moved to Topeka, one of the best surprises was finding that this fair city is the headquarters for these time-tested publications. Getting to know the folks that run the business has been a real bonus. Working with them in some way is just icing on the cake.

Monday, December 10, 2012

Gve History for Christmas!

Give a LOT of history for Christmas!!! We just happen to have some!

I joined my good friend, Ralph Hipp, on WIBW TV today to talk about givng the gift of history. As president of the Shawnee County Historical Society, I am so pleased to have the opportunity to talk about the excellent historic sites we have in the community. We talked about the Geat Overland Station, the Combat Air Museum, the Shawnee County Historical Society, and the two sites in Lecompton--Constitution Hall and Lane University.

These places have some excellent gift shops with books, ornaments, toys, figurines, t-shirts, notecards--all with an historc theme. This Christmas, take your family to these sites, buy gifts from their shops, and give a membership! Give more than one! In fact, the Great Overland Station is offering a Buy-One-Get-One-Free-Membership through December!! What a fantastic deal. The Great Overland Station is one of the most family-friendly, inspiring locations in the area. Tied to history in such an exciting way. . . what kid, whether 9 or 90, doesn't love trains? I have to tell you, I have had some wonderful times with my grandkids there! See below!

The Combat Air Museum is truly one of Topeka's treasures. The relationship between Kansas and the plane is long and storied and the Combat Air Museum is home to so many incredible stories and artifacts, and some fantastic programming and classes.

Our friends in Lecompton, Tim Rues and Paul Bahnemier, are in charge of the two historic sites in this historic small town. Constitution Hall was the seat of government duing the Territorial years and Lane University was going to be the state's capital until fortunes changed and it went to Topeka instead. It became Lane University which has an incredible link to American and world history in that Dwight Eisenhower's parents met there. Had the couple not attended university there, met and married in this quaint town, what would the impact have been on world history? I shudder to think!

The Shawnee County Historical Society has a home in the Cox Communication Heritage Education Center (the former home of Hale and Anna Ritchie). Educational programming and a variety of events from Reader's Theater to our fundraising Shawnee County Attic Sale have kept members busy throughout the year. Our proximity to the Brown V. Board National Historic Site gives us the opportunity to partner with them on so many different projects. Melinda Abitz, retired from teaching, is our education coordinator and she is constantly bringing great opportunities for students to become involved in history.

Visit our websites, join, take part, volunteer--make your gift last longer than December 25th. Give something that will spark a lifetime of learning and involvement.

Friday, December 7, 2012

Kansas Forts and Bases. . . Coming This Spring!

Another day, another book.

Michelle Martin and I got our manuscript delivered to the History Press this week thanks to Michelle's diligence. Kansas Forts and Bases: Sentinels on the Prairie is due out in the spring, thanks to the efforts of Becky Lejeune and the great staff there. Michelle and I can hardly wait for the booksignings to begin!

We are most grateful that Jerry Morelock, editor of Armchair General Magazine, woud take time to write the very generous foreword to this book. Armchair General is simply the best magazine on the market and its website is unbeatable.

With that, it's on to the next mission. Carry on, troops!

Saturday, November 17, 2012


It has been a busy week for Abe and me.

Yesterday, Nick Vasos (below) of Fox 4 News in Kansas City had me on for an interview about Abe, the man. He is a great host, obviously familiar with his subject. A cut above the average, I must say.

On Thursday morning, Gary and I were again in Kansas City for an interview with Lisa, co-host of Better KC. She is a doll and a wonderful hostess as well. Here is a link to that interview:

Spielberg's "Lincoln" opened in theaters last night. It is getting mostly rave reviews, as it should. My friend Monique Pittman-Liu has seen it three times now (including two screenings) and has taken many of her friends to see it. Like I said, it is as close as you will ever get to watching the man himself.

Saturday, September 29, 2012

Champagne at the Cemetery

It's that time of year when a young man's thoughts turn to the long, dark nights ahead and cemeteries.

Yes, friends, time once again for Champagne at the Cemetery, October 26, 4-6 p.m., Topeka Cemetery, 10th & California. Cost is $25 if you pay in advance, $30 at the door and proceeds will go to Topeka Cemetery's programs and upkeep. Beth Cooper Meyer (below, right) and I did this last year with a great response was wonderful! I will also be doing tours on Saturday and Sunday, October 27 & 28 at 2 p.m., and the cost is $10 per person for a 2-hour walking tour. Wear comfortable shoes and come prepared to be blown away by the incredible history!!!

I will have copies of my book, Stories in Stone, for sale then or you may order one for $10 plus $4 s&h, from right here on this site.

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First Friday Artwalk in Topeka is coming up on October 5. We will be celebrating at Constitution Hall in Topeka, 4th & Kansas, where the Woner/Glenn law office is celebrating their anniversary as well as the preservation of this important building in Topeka, Kansas, and national history. Take this opportunity to see where history was made!!!
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The 33rd annual Apple Festival will be held at Old Prairie Town on Sunday, October 7. This is one of the best events all year long. Gary and his buds in Borderline will be performing, as is our friend and neighbor, Kyler Carpenter. Tickets are $5 in advance and $6 at the door, and, of course, Dixie Lee Jackson is the emcee!!

Wednesday, September 5, 2012

Today is the birthday of one Jesse Woodson James.

Poor Jesse. The son of a Baptist preacher who comes of age in the midst of war and terrorism. He is shaped by both. A boy who does not swear but whose blood runs cold with thoughts of those who have wronged his family. He is one of the most famous people of the 19th century and beyond. So much has been written of Jesse's short life; he is the subject of books, films, numerous television plots. His fame is so enduring that we forget what a sad life he had.

When a young boy, Jesse's dad went off to California...perhaps to seek fortune and more probably to escape Jesse's mother, Zerelda. (She had more balls than Frank & Jesse put together.) As war came closer and closer to the Missouri border, the Jameses were drawn in. Frank joined the army leaving Jesse to help run the farm with his step-dad and a younger disabled brother. In one of those pivotal moments where the decisions of a few men may have altered history forever, Yankees visited the farm and horsewhipped Jesse and hanged his step-father over and over until he was senseless. As the irregular warfare escalated, Jesse became a guerrilla. He rode with Bill, as in Bloody Bill, Anderson. He learned terrorism from the expert.

When the Civil War ended, it did not end for the Jameses or a lot of other families. Frank James, in an 1894, explained why they kept fighting:

They wouldn't let us quit! It was after the war was over that the Pinkertons threw a hand grenade in my mother's house one night, killing my 7-year-old brother and tearing my mother's right arm from her shoulder. There is two sides to this quitting question.

Indeed, Jesse had planned to surrender and as he was riding into town to do so, he was shot.

Jesse's life was one chain of violent events after another, some his doing, some not. He was not able to live the life of the simple farmer he was raised to be, and probably would have been, at any other time in history. He had no normal time with his wife or children, no time, no place where he was safe. The war had warped his time and it had warped him.

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Action Before Westport

John Monnett reports that his father's excellent book,  Action Before Westport 1864 was re-published with a new foreword by the University of Colorado Press. Howard Monnett's book is still considered the definitive discussion of this battle for control of Missouri.

Tuesday, September 4, 2012

Wynkoop's Wolf








Wynkoop's Wolf

My good friend, Louis Kraft, has written Ned Wynkoop (below) and the Lonely Road From Sand Creek (University of Oklahoma: 2011). I will have a review soon. Louis has the habit of finding people worth knowing and sharing them compassionately and eloquently. Ned Wynkoop is one such individual. This article appeared in the Osage Chronicle (Burlingame, KS) on August, 15, 1868:

(Special correspondent of the Times)
Fort Larned, Kan., Aug. 5, 1868

A most fearful and appaling curcumstance transpired at the Fort last evening, the very recolection of which chills my blood with horror.
While a party of ladies and gentlemen were sitting in front of the beautiful quarters of Col. Ed. Wynkoop, as brave, gallant and courteous a gentleman as the West can boast, and who is now Indian Superintendent or Agent of several war like tribes, the entire party almost involuntarily commenced a beautiful song.
While the melody was ringing in the night air, a monstrous' shaggy and rabid wolf dashed madly into the midst of the party, first attacking Lieut. Thompson, 3rd U. S. Infantry, tearing and lacerating his limbs in a most frightful manner.
The monster then broke away, pursued by Col. Wynkoop and his chief scout, James Morrison, who had lost no time in procuring proper arms. Before either of these fearless gentlemen, however, could overtake him, the wolf had attacked the sentry at the guard0house, whom he also bit savagely, the sentinel having fired, but most unfortunately, missed his aim.
From the guard house the wolf next dashed over to the hospital and made an assault upon one of the men there stationed, almost tearing his right arm from his body, after first taking of a finger entire. He then attacked and mutilated a colored soldier of the Tenth Cavalry and subsequently entered the quarters of a laundress, while she was in bed; but owing to the thickness of the bed clothes, fortunately failed to inflict any serious injury on the poor woman.
The maddened creature next caughe sight of the sentinel at the haystacks, who almost providentially, shot him dead.
Besides Lieutenant Thompson there are three persons badly bitten and mutilated by this ferocious monster. What the result will be, God only knows!

I left the errors in tact. I think they reflect the excitement of the writer more than his ability. I was reminded of this incident because of a Facebook post from Fort Hays (KS) historic site:

In the fall of 1872, a soldier at Fort Hays died as a result of being bitten by a rabid wolf and so pet dogs were required to be kept penned up lest they get bitten by a rabid animal too. The fort still had a problem with the disease the following year and after a rabid dog played a visit to the fort on September 2, 1873, further restrictions were instituted. Officers dogs were to be kept tied up but enlisted men, civilian employees and laundresses were not even permitted to own a pet. The obvious implication here was that officers could responsibly control the actions of their dogs while enlisted men, civilians and laundresses were incapable of doing so. Such was the military prejudice at the time.

The actual wolf pictured is not at Fort Larned or Fort Hays, but at Chernobyl. I figure if you've seen one rabid wolf, you've seen them all.


Cody, Custer, Hickok: Legendary Kansans

. . . . is now up at the Great Overland Station, North Topeka, Kansas. The highlight of this exhibit is the life-size (6'2') James Butler Hickok by artist Melissa Rau. This is worth the price of admission!

The Westerners

Gary and I had the great fun of being guests at the Corral meeting at the Golden Ox, legendary steakhouse, a couple of weeks ago. Lots of old friends present and made a few new ones. This was my first trip to this eatery -- the decor suited me well! Below, with painting of Buffalo Bill Cody, and toasting the cattle drive! Thanks, Honey, for driving and taking pictures!



Oregon/California Trail Association

Too much fun! (top photo) At their annual meeting in Lawrence, I was invited to sell books. Again, lots of old friends showed up like Joe Houts and Bryce Benedict and Terry Hobbs. Made lots of new friends, too, like the undertaker in Lincoln, KS. Some days are just too good to be true. Wine and undertakers.

Thursday, July 5, 2012

A Face Like America

Has there ever been a face like Ward Bond's?  A face big as the West itself. Open. Strong. Optimistic.

 The Western Channel is my refuge from the insanity of the world.  Grandson Bubba (two and a half years old) calls it the "Horsey" channel. He walks up to the TV, turns to his grandpa, and says, "Horsey, Papa, Horsey!" I have never seen a child so obviously born to be a cowboy. He was born was this (though I have fostered it, I admit). He loves his stick horse, has named his rocking horse, "Pete," and constantly gallops little plastic horses over the sofa, coffee table, footstools, and Papa's sleeping body.

Which leads us back to Ward Bond. This amazing man enjoyed a career which paralleled that of his friend, John Wayne. Though they were "discovered" at the same time, the Duke is a household name and Ward Bond is known mostly to fanatics like me and Bob Boze Bell. Every time I see his face, though, I am encouraged and inspired. Watch those old Wagon Train reruns and tell me it doesn't make you proud to be an American! Beautiful life lessons!!

A toast to Ward Bond, and to the "Horsey Channel" that brings him into our living rooms each day. And while you're at it, watch The Searchers one more time. Or, my personal favorite Ward Bond role, Sergeant Major Michael O'Rourke in Fort Apache. I love that movie.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

Book Events -- Lecompton and Topeka

Territorial Days coming up in Lecompton this weekend. I'll be set up in Lane University (thanks to Paul Bahnmeier for supplying me with air conditioning!) from noon to 2 on Saturday. Then, thanks to Dick Nelson, I have a signing at the Topeka Barnes & Noble at 2 p.m.
on Sunday. See you somewhere!!

A Real Kansas Weekend

Senator Pat Roberts is the honorary co-chair of our Kansas Hall of Fame. His remarks on the induction of his predecessor, Nancy Landon Kassebaum Baker, were funny and sweet. In the photo above he is actually telling me about his Civil War ancestors while Gary keeps Franki engaged. It was a very special evening. At our table, Carol McDowell and her husband, John Bottenberg, who hosted our emcee, Jim Lehrer. What a warm and witty man he is! Gen. Richard Myers, inducted last year into the KHOF, brought his lovely wife, Mary Jo. They joked about changing into their formal clothes at the new Flint Hills Discovery Center in Manhattan. We also had the honor of having the incredibly energetic and capable Bette Allen, Executive Director of the GOS, seated with us. She and Gary go way back to high school days together. At the adjoining table, Harold and Patty Stones, Sen. and Mrs. Roberts, Beth and Duane Fager. We were all close enough to visit back and forth which was very nice!

Working with Beth Fager and Monique Pittman was, and is, a joy. Likewise, the staff and volunteers of the GOS are the best!!!

Entertainment fell to me because I have so many talented friends!! My very handsome and talented husband called upon his buds, Ric Barron and Danl Blackwood, who "rehearsed" one Sunday in our music room. They called out a song, played it, wrote it down, moved on. It was an awesome private concert for me! Ric Barron, above, also sang the National Anthem as he often does for the naturalization ceremonies at the federal courthouse. Below, Danl's lovely wife, Sharidy, with one of our laureates, Ed Asner.

After a long and wonderful evening on Friday, we were up early on Saturday for Wheatstock at Old Prairie Town at Ward Meade Park. Doug Ruth is the organizer of this event that highlights local music and honors local musicians. Randy Wills, who is a musician and studio owner, was honored with a lifetime achievement award, and the group Bridges, led by Kenny Smith, were entertainers of the year. Below, my handsome hubby on keyboards with Borderline. Borderline will be headlining the Apple Festival on October 7 at Ward Meade.
(Photos: top three by Danl Blackwood; image below by Bill Blankenship, Topeka Capital Journal)

Friday, June 8, 2012

Dodge City Days

In western Kansas, the wheat harvest is under way; the "golden waves of grain" really are golden. It's quite lovely. Especially when the road construction forces you to stop for 30 minutes and look at them.

Beth Cooper Meyer drove so all I had to do was squirm in my seat as we decided to vary the route, just a little, and drive through McPherson and Hutchinson instead of Ellsworth and Great Bend on our way to Dodge City yesterday. We're headed back to Great Bend for a booksigning today. As we waited on traffic, we were concerned about being late to a meeting with her Dodge City tour guides, but, that is the price of adventure!

We reached Charlie Meade by phone and rescheduled to allow us to check into the Dodge House before we headed to Casey's Steakhouse to meet Charlie and Erica. I adore Charlie. Last year, he came to the Kansas Hall of Fame to accept the award for James Arness, who had passed away only days before. In April, he took that award to Janet Arness, his widow. This morning, at 6 a.m., I'm taping an interview with Charlie talking about his trip. I can't wait.

Charlie's life should be the subject of a book. He was delivered in the bank of an ambulance en route to the hospital by the legendary Marshal Ham Bell. The KHOF acceptance for James Arness and the swearing-in by Ham Bell he lists as the highlights of his life. The photo of Ham Bell, above, is in the collections of the Ford County Historical Society. This is the caption:

Hamilton Butler Bell, longest living Old West Sheriff and Marshal. Ham remembered the end of the Civil War and had his name on a WWII Army Air Corp plane. He never shot a man-- and he saved some cowboys from the "Earp gang"--and outlived all of his Western associates. Arriving in Dodge City in 1874, he lived in Ford County until his death in 1947. He was the first president of the Ford County Historical Society, 1931. The bell is from the Union Church, the first church building in Dodge City. All rights reserved. FCHS.

You couldn't make this stuff up. Charlie's life is just another chapter in the story. The photo below, by Doug Ruth, is from last year's Kansas Hall of Fame gala. WIBW's Susie Gilbert presents the award for Marshal Matt Dillon as portrayed by James Arness to Charlie. It was a very special night.

I love Dodge City. Y'all gotta come out here and take a tour with Charlie!

(The ghost tours led by Charlie & Erica will start later on this summer. Visit for tickets and details. Who knows. . . maybe you'll run into Ham Bell, too!)

Monday, May 28, 2012

Memorial Day Musings

Memorial Day could not have been more beautiful: Gary & I in our lawn chairs, under a shade tree, the American flag flying over veterans in a place that is loved and valued. There were many visitors who had never been to the cemetery before and kids who were interested in learning history. Was I in my element!

The local Sons of Union Veterans and Boyscouts had placed the flags and we hadn't been there long when one of the members of the SCV Camp, Jerry Reiman, showed up in period clothing with his drum. He played between the graves of Civil War veterans. It was beautiful.

* * * * * * * * * *

On May 12, I had the opportunity to speak at Mine Creek Battlefield, Pleasonton, Kansas. Adrian Zink is the new site administrator and he is wonderful! Plus, he does a mean impersonation of Arnold Schofield, the previous director!

There was a great crowd--lots of people and lots of enthusiasm for the subject. I was thrilled to speak in this wonderful site and here I am, standing in front of Andy Thomas's wonderful painting of this battle, the second largest cavalry engagement of the war.

Just a couple of weeks before, we had the great pleasure of leading a bus tour for Washburn University's History Department. Mine Creek was one of our tour sites and some of the students walked the soggy trail. We visited Fort Scott's Civil War Days where our old friend, Greg Higginbotham, below, demonstrated firearms and drilled the Holmes Brigade. It was great!

We visited the John Brown Cabin in Osawatomie (below), where site administrator Grady Atwater gave a great tour. We had a wonderful visit and it was great for the students to see all kinds of people passionate about history. One of those passionate folks who dedicate so much time and energy to history is John Mackie, with Gary and me below. Kudos, John, Greg, and all those dedicated reenactors who sweat and work to educate the rest of us!

Monday, May 21, 2012

Stories in Stone

We thought all the copies of my book, Stories in Stone, were gone, but Gary found another box. This is a sharing of some of the fascinating folks in Topeka Cemetery. They are $10 each. I'll try to find the time to put up a Paypal button; in the meantime, just send me an email at and I'll meet you at the coffee shop to transact business!

Better yet, schedule a tour! The weather will be great this week. The cost is $10 for a two-hour walking tour of the oldest chartered cemetery in Kansas. If you can find at least 5 people, we'll set up a time.

The induction ceremony for the Kansas Hall of Fame is getting closer. Get your tickets for the gala and go by the Great Overland Station for a fantastic exhibit. The 2012 laureates are: Ed Asner, Nancy Kassebaum Baker, Alf Landon, George Washington Carver, William Allen White, Cyrus K. Holliday and the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railway.

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

It was a challenge to find the National Archives in Kansas City last night; 400 Pershing Road is tucked behind another building next to the Union Station. We actually stopped at the IRS gates and the nice young guard came over and helped us.

 Once inside, we were amazed at the facility. I can hardly wait to go back and research. Kimberlee Ried, programs specialist and one gorgeous redhead, welcomed me at the door She was the ultimate professional and had done a great job of promoting this event and folks just kept pouring in. There was a capacity crowd (spilling into the hallway) and lots of books sold. The best part was seeing old friends, especially those from the Kansas City Civil War Roundtable.

On the way back home, we stopped at the Russell Stover store at Legends. There was a sale -- 75% off seasonal candy, which included lots of the sugar-free or lo-carb variety. We got a sack full with our ice cream Noel got the no-sugar added Dutch Chocolate; I had the no-sugar added butter pecan in a waffle cone; Gary had the banana pudding ice cream. We sat out on the porch of the store and just enjoyed the early evening.

It was a good day.

The next talk and booksigning is May 31st, at the Ritchie House, 6:30 p.m., Civil War Roundtable of Eastern Kansas. Free and open to the public. The Hale Ritchie House is located at 1118 SE Madison, Topeka. Email me for details.

Sunday, May 13, 2012

April Showers Bring May Booksignings!

It's always a fact that the more you have to write about, the less time you have to write about it. Saturday, Adrian Zink hosted a wonderful event at the Mine Creek Battlefield, SHS, Pleasanton, Kansas. Lots of folks came from some distance to attend, and my old and dear friend, Arnold Schofield, manage to make it back from Topeka just in time to answer the hard questions people asked. We made lots of new friends and sold lots of books.

Since we were a ways from home and Ottawa was sort of on the way back, we stopped in to see Gary's cousins who have a thriving dairy farm. They're milking 200 plus cows right now, some mighty healthy Holsteins. It's quite the operation with computerized analysis of the butterfat in the milk right as it comes from the source on the cow carousel.

It was a beautiful drive.

* * *  * * * * * *

Last weekend, the Shawnee County Historical Society held its first Attic Sale, something we hope will become an annual fundraiser. We partnered with the Topeka Antiques Association and Findables (benefitting Midland Care) and got some awesome donations and some had a wonderful event. Dave Chuber was our celebrity auctioneer and musicians -- Stuart Yoho, Tom O'Brien and Chris Frost played some fine music. A lot of hard work went into this event and special thanks to fellow board members Jeanne Mithen and Martie Rison, member Mark Tyree, future member Beth Cooper Meyer. Chris Schultz and Joan Wagnon made excellent money changers, and Bill Wagnon, of course, was his usual indispensible self. Doug Wallace pushed bulletins. My daughter Noel helped out with refreshment sales. Allen Shirrell was a huge help moving things (as was Martie's husband and the entire Clabaugh family, as well as Jerrie Conklin and her mate, Damon). Allen was extremely helpful in storing a buggy donated to the society by Rick Taylor, son of the Rev. Richard Taylor who was instrumental in our obtaining the John Ritchie House.

Gary & I bought some cool stuff including a signed Stan Herd poster and a trike for Bubba.

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We have a hectic week coming up. The Kansas Hall of Fame induction ceremony is rapidly approaching (June 15) and there remains much to be done. On Tuesday night, I'm speaking and signing books at the National Archives in Kansas City. The reception starts at 6:30, I believe.
Graduations and parties -- Miss Maddy Tennant is graduating from Leavenworth High School and will become an Ichabod!! So tickled she'll be close by!

*  * * * * * * * * * * *

Mother's Day and Noel got me two of the sweetest cards -- one from her and one from the boys. Talked with Karen and Lulu in Israel. Karen says my trip to London in November will have to do for a lot of special occasions this year. . . :)

Monday, April 9, 2012

Flint Hills Monday

The Flint Hills could not have been more beautiful today as my friend and I drove to Minneapolis, Kansas -- lush, living green fields beneath clouds that looked as if they had been painted by Robert Sudlow.Smoke from controlled burns rose in every direction, though one  In the distance, the smoke from one fire looked like a heavy rain it was so wide and dark, or like a massive, flat tornado. It was an incredible view and made you glad to be alive, and alive in Kansas.

We went to the Ottawa County Historical Museum and met Jettie Condray. Mr. Condray showed us a replica of the dinosaur discovered by his dad, Warren, in a Kansas field in 1955. The dinosaur turned out to be unique and when classified, was named for Mr. Condray, the Silvisaurus condrayi.

This museum was packed full of such interesting artifacts from an old jail cell from Bennington to a Bible tossed aside during an Indian raid. Mr. Condray is a wonderful host and Minneapolis is a lovely town. It is well worth the drive.

Our good friends Rod & Dawn Beemer joined us for lunch at a wonderful little cafe owned by a photographer who had his work prominently displayed. Wonderful to see Rod & Dawn! He has an exciting new book I'll be able to tell you about soon. In the meantime, order his Deadliest Woman in the West about the wrath of Mother Nature in the 1800s. It's awesome!