Wednesday, January 29, 2020

George Armstrong Custer as a Sioux Chief

Tableaux vivants were popular forms of entertainment on the American frontier.  In a tableau, participants make still images with their bodies to represent a scene. Because there is no movement, or speaking, a tableau is easier to produce than a play, yet can easily lead into extended drama activities with one tableau succeeding another to tell a story.  Tableaux continue today in the form of “living statues”, where street performers often appear in costume as historical characters.

In the summer of 1875, George Armstrong Custer appeared in a series of tableaux with Miss Agnes Bates of Monroe Michigan depicting a Sioux Chief and his bride.  Miss Bates was a guest of Mrs. Elizabeth Custer at Fort Abraham Lincoln, North Dakota in 1874-1875.

In 1873, the 7th Cavalry had moved into the fort to ensure the expansion of the Northern Pacific Railway.  The first post commander of the expanded fort was Lieutenant Colonel George A. Custer, who held the position until his death in 1876.

Since his death along the bluffs overlooking the Little Bighorn River, in Montana, on June 25, 1876, over five hundred books have been written about the life and career of George Armstrong Custer. Views of Custer have changed over succeeding generations. Custer has been portrayed as a callous egotist, a bungling egomaniac, a genocidal war criminal, and the puppet of faceless forces. For almost one hundred and fifty years, Custer has been a Rorschach test of American social and personal values. Whatever else George Armstrong Custer may or may not have been, even in the twenty-first century, he remains the great lightning rod of American history. This book presents portraits of Custer and the Battle of the Little Bighorn as they have appeared in print over successive decades and in the process demonstrates the evolution of American values and priorities.

Saturday, January 18, 2020

Please Mr. Custer, I don't Want to Go

“Mr. Custer” was a chart busting song in 1960.  Written by Al De Lory, Fred Darian, and Joseph Van Winkle, and sung by Larry Verne this historical novelty song became the number one song in America on October 10, 1960.  It stayed at the top of the charts for an impressive one week.  This soldier’s song about the Battle of the Little Bighorn also reached the top spot on the Canadian charts on September 12, 1960.


Tuesday, January 07, 2020

The Strange Case of Adolph Ruth and the Lost Dutchman’s Mine

                                   The Superstition Mountains of Arizona

The year 1931 saw one of the best known, best publicized and most investigated deaths in Arizona’s Superstition Mountains, the death of Adolph Ruth.  Adolph Ruth was a sixty-seven year old retired government employee and amateur treasure hunter. Adolph Ruth’s story began not in the Superstition Mountains but in Mexico.  His son Erwin, a veterinarian, who was a cattle inspector in Mexico, helped eradicate the cattle tick problem plaguing Mexican ranchers.  He helped the Gonzales family who were so grateful that they gave Erwin Ruth some old mining maps.  These maps had been in the Gonzales family for many generations, and showed the exact location of a number of gold mines in the United States.  Erwin who had no interest in the maps passed them along to his father Adolph.  One of these maps showed the location of an old mine in the Superstition Mountains.

Adolph Ruth was familiar with the hardships of prospecting in the desert.  He had previously looked for the Lost Peg Leg Mine in California.  In 1931, he came to the Superstition Mountains to look for what he believed to be the Lost Dutchman’s Mine.  It should be noted that Ruth was talkative.  He showed his map to any and all who were interested, and talked authoritatively about how HE was about to find the Dutchman’s Mine.  Ruth hired guides and horses and was packed into the mountains around June 14 by two cowboys.  He set up camp at Willow Springs in West Boulder Canyon.  This was the last time anyone saw Adolph Ruth alive. 

After six days, the cowboys’ boss, Tex Barkley, went looking for Ruth. Upon arriving at Ruth’s camp, Tex Barkley could tell that no one had been there for at least a day and reported Ruth missing.  A reward was posted and search parties combed the mountain fruitlessly for the next month.

In December, a skull with two holes in it was discovered near the three Red Hills by an archaeological expedition. It was the skull of Adolph Ruth.  The story of Ruth’s death was headlined by the Arizona Republic and went national.  Sensational stories alleged that Ruth had been killed for his map. Ruth’s son, Erwin, was convinced that his father had been murdered.

The rest of Ruth’s body was found the next month, in a small tributary on the east slope of Black Top Mesa. Ruth’s treasure notebook was also found at his original campsite.  In this notebook, were written these cryptic words, “Veni, Vedi, Vici” (“I came, I saw, I conquered”).  Did Adolph Ruth discover the Dutchman’s mine?

Friday, January 03, 2020

Are Civil War Battlefields Haunted?

There is a huge body of circumstantial evidence of battlefield hauntings stretching back to ancient times, when ghosts were seen and heard to engage on the plains of Marathon after the battle (the Battle of Marathon was fought in 490 BC).  In the 1930s visitors to this region of Greece were still claiming to have heard the sound of metal clashes and screams coming from the battlefield. In Vita Isiclori, Damascius tells us that after a battle outside the walls of Rome against the Huns in 452AD, ghosts were reported to still be fighting for three days and nights after the battle, the clash of their weapons being heard all over the city.  The first major battle of the English Civil War (1662) produced a well-documented case of ghost armies fighting as reliable witnesses reported the phantom soldiers engaged in battle.  King Charles I was so intrigued by the stories that he sent a Royal Commission to investigate.  The trusted officers of the Commission reported back that they too had seen the ghastly spectacle and even recognized the ghosts of some of their fallen friends.  The phenomenon continued for some time, gradually lessening over time, until now there are only occasional reports of people hearing the sounds of battle at Edgehill.

How do we account for such stories?  The two most often reported types of hauntings are categorized as residual hauntings and intelligent hauntings.  Residual hauntings are the most common form of hauntings and may eventually be found to be natural phenomena.  A residual haunting is similar to a DVD that is played over and over again.  In a residual American Civil War battlefield haunting, for example, the sights, sounds, and even smells of battle are continually replayed and are always the same. Apparitions may be seen, but they will not notice living people around them.  The theory here is that energy created by the strong emotions created in battle imprints itself on a physical place and that an individual sensitive enough to pick up this embedded energy sees and hears ghostly events while those who lack such sensitivity do not. Since current science has no instruments to measure such embedded energy or test for individual psychic sensitivity to that energy, such hauntings are dismissed out of hand, even though they may actually exist.  

Paula Ann Kirby, author of  A Yankee Roams at Dusk, describes two types of  hauntings that may be occurring at Manassas, (1) residual hauntings, which are a manifestation of stored up energy replaying endlessly like an old movie, and (2) intelligent hauntings, which are rare instances in which ghosts try to interact with the living.

A brief but fascinating look at humor in the Civil War including: (1) Stories Around the Campfire, (2) Parody, (3) the Irish, (4) Humorous Incidents, (5) Civil War Humorists, and (6) Lincoln.

A quick look at women doctors and medicine in the Civil War for the general reader.