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Thursday, December 31, 2009

The Making of an Outlaw Image: Al Jennings of Oklahom

On the night of August 16, 1897, three men concealed behind the tender climbed into the cab of the Santa Fe passenger train three miles south of Edmond, Oklahoma. After ordering the engineer to stop the train, four men hiding in the brush alongside the tracks climbed into the express car. Their goal was to rob the Wells-Fargo safe. After two unsuccessful attempts to dynamite the safe, the bandits abandoned their quest and disappeared into the night.

Two months later near Chickasha, Indian Territory, five men attempted to holdup the southbound Rock Island passenger train. Unable to force the safe in the express car, the train robbers escaped with an assortment of valuables taken from the passengers, a jug of whiskey, and a bunch of bananas.

The perpetrators of these audacious crimes were Oklahoma outlaws known as Little Dick West, the O’Malley brothers, and Frank and Al Jennings, or the Jennings gang. The Jennings gang “terrorized” Oklahomans from June until December 1897 when United States Marshal Bud Ledbetter, arrested Al Jennings outside Muskogee. In their tenure as outlaws, the Jennings’ gang described in newspaper accounts as penniless, hungry and wearing tattered clothing, unsuccessfully robbed three passenger trains, a number of local merchandise establishments, and a post office.


Early picture of Al Jennings

Regardless of the bumbling efforts of Al Jennings and his gang, Jennings was known as a western outlaw. He was hunted and tracked down by United States marshals who apprehended such notables as the Doolin and Starr gangs, Little Dick West, and Dynamite Dick. But, Jennings was more than as inept outlaw. He was a clever little man who turned his misfortune into profit and fame. Jennings was at the right place at the right time in regard to the American Public’s insatiable interest in the exploits of western frontier characters. Evidently aware of the readers’ interest in western melodrama, Jennings wrote a series of articles in 1913 for the Saturday Evening Post about his “life story.” The articles were then incorporated into his two novels Beating Back (1913) and Through the Shadows with O. Henry (1921). Both are fictitious renderings of Jennings’ outlaw days. Al Jennings’ literary efforts, however, did more than entertain the American reader. His self-proclaimed outlaw notoriety and his fabrication of outlaw exploits prompted western writers to employ Jennings’ fiction as evidence of the true character of a western outlaw.

Alphonso J. Jennings was born in Virginia in 1863. He was the son of Judge J.D.F. Jennings who, before settling in Oklahoma in 1889, was a Methodist minister, a physician, and a lawyer. Al Jennings was also a lawyer, receiving his law degree from West Virginia State University and Military Academy. Jennings established a law practice at El Reno, Oklahoma, in 1892, and was subsequently elected attorney of Canadian County. After being defeated for a second term, he moved his law practice to Woodward in 1894, where he practiced law with his brothers, Ed and John. It was in the cowtown of Woodward that Al Jennings made the decision to give up the practice of law for the life of an outlaw.

The transition took place on the evening of October 8, 1895, in Jack Garvey’s saloon, where Temple Houston, the son of General Sam Houston, and Ed and John Jennings, Lawyers all, exchanged gunfire. When the contest ended, Ed Jennings was dead; John Jennings was badly wounded, and Temple Houston was charged with murder. The dispute between Houston and the Jennings brothers started in a Woodward courtroom the preceding afternoon. The trouble was over a lawsuit in which Houston and the Jenningses were opposing counsel. Evidently unable to keep personalities from entering into the proceedings, Houston and the Jenningses argued in the courtroom to the point where bystanders had to keep them from ensuing a courtroom brawl. They continued the argument that evening when Ed and John Jennings encountered Houston in Garvey’s saloon.


Temple Houston, tall man in the middle

Al Jennings, on the night of the fateful killing, was at his father’s home evidently defusing his anger from the day’s courtroom proceedings. Ed Jennings’ death, and the subsequent acquittal of Temple Houston, embittered Al, and brother Frank from Colorado. Disillusioned by the legal system, they devoted the next couple of years of their lives to Oklahoma outlawry. According to Jennings, “The future, which seemed so bright to me as a young lawyer in a new country, died with my brother. I reverted to the primitive man that was within me.” It was not until June of 1897, however, almost two years later, that United States marshals pursued the notorious Jennings gang for various sundry crimes in Oklahoma.

After six months of their notorious exploits, on December 8, 1987, Marshal Ledbetter captured the four members of the Jennings’ gang outside of Okmulgee, Indian Territory. The capture of Al Jennings was just as enthralling as his adventure on the outlaw trail.

The gang took refuge at the Spike S. Ranch, a ranch often used by outlaws as a convenient place to gather between robberies. Marshal Ledbetter and his officers staked out the ranch on November 29, 1897. On November 30 an officer found one member of the gang hiding in a wagon. He was apprehended and tied up in the barn. Al Jennings opened fire from the house where he was hiding. After an exchange of 100 shts, and the wounding of several occupants in the house, the outlaws escaped. The fugitives were eventually captured after one of their own men turned them in to Marshal Ledbetter. Ledbetter found the outlaws hiding under straw and blankets in the back of a wagon that Frank Jennings was driving across the line into Arkansas.

In May of 1898, The United States Court for the Northern District of Indian Territory convicted Al Jennings on a charge of assault with intent to kill. Jennings also was tried and convicted for robbery of the United States mails in 1899 and was given a life sentence at the Federal Penitentiary in Columbus, Ohio.

It was in the Federal prison that Al Jennings’ literary outlaw image began to take form. As luck would have it, incarcerated with Jennings was William Sydney Porter, later known to American readers as O. Henry, the short story writer.



O'Henry

Porter entered the Ohio Penitentiary as a down and out bank teller and an amateur political satirist (convicted of embezzlement). His life experiences and associations with fellow prisoners provided him with story material that enabled him within three years to become one of the country’s most famous literary artists.


In 1904, O. Henry published two short stories entitled, “Holding Up A Train,” and a shorter version of the story entitled, “The Roads We Take.” “Holding Up A Train” is the only short story in The Complete Works of O. Henry published by Doubleday in 1926 that has a note by O.Henry establishing the authenticity of the story. According to O. Henry, “The man who told me these things was for several years an outlaw in the Southwest and a follower of the pursuit he so frankly described…. I give the story in almost exactly his own words.” The man alluded to by O. Henry as the expert on robbing trains was Al Jennings. Correspondence between O. Henry and Jennings revealed that it was actually Jennings who wrote the story. O. Henry, in 1902, wrote a letter to Jennings indicating that he had interested the editor of Everybody’s in an article about the “art and humor of holding up a train” and explained to the editor that the article would be written by an “expert in the business.” O. Henry, however, turned the story into his own style of writing as explained in a letter to Jennings about the article being accepted for publication. “When you see your baby in print don’t blame me if you find strange ear marks and brands on it.” The story “Holding Up A Train” has some bases of truth but the actual exploits of the train robbers bears no resemblance to Jennings’ reign as an outlaw.

The story opens with the description of five down and out cowboys who drift into Oklahoma from Colorado to “transact a little business with the railroads.” The business was the holdup of the Santa Fe passenger train on an isolated track where the train stopped to take on water. Instead of hiding behind the tender as reported in the newspaper account of Jennings gang holdup of the Santa Fe in 1897, the narrator describes the event, “The engine had hardly stopped when I jumped on the running-board on one side, while Jim mounted he other. As soon as the engineer and fireman saw our guns they threw up their hands without being told, and begged us not to shoot, saying they would do anything we wanted them to.” The nerve and prowess of the outlaws versus the cowardness of the victims was related throughout the story. For example, the description of the male passengers, who were lined up and told to empty their pockets, was, “ The men who looked as frightened and tame as a lot of rabbits in a deep snow.” The narrator then offered a word of advice. “If you want to find out what cowards the majority of men are, all you have to do is rob a passenger train. Big, burly drummers and farmers and ex-soldiers and high collared dudes and sports that, a few moments before, were filling the car with noise and bragging, get so scared that their ears flop.” The train crew was also described in the manner of a docile animal. “As to train crews, had any more trouble with them than if they had been so many sheep.” In this version of the Jennings gang robbery of the Santa Fe, each gang member rode away with $1, 752.85. The narrator also bragged that the gang had continued financial success for the next eight years—netting as much as $48,000 in one train robbery.

Although “Holding Up A train” does not follow the events of the Jennings’ gang in regard to their holdup of the Santa Fe passenger train south of Edmond, Oklahoma in 1897, or any other of their train robbery exploits, the story does illustrate a general theme found in Jennings’ literary accomplishments—a theme that vindicates the perpetrators of crime. In the story, the reader is led to believe that the outlaw was a victim of the men of justice, the marshals and their deputies who were once “lawbreakers, horse thieves, rustlers and highwaymen and outlaws like himself, and that they gained their positions, and immunity by turning state’s evidence, by turning traitor and delivering up their comrades to imprisonment and death.” The final message is that if one is going to enter into the career of a train robber it would behoove oneself to carefully choose one’s traveling companion and that perhaps it would be wiser to choose a collateral occupation such as “politics or cornering the market.” Al Jennings did not try to corner the market but he did try to capture political prominence.

In 1902, Al Jennings was released from the Ohio Penitentiary. Because of the efforts of his brother John and a family friend, Judge Amos Ewing, President William McKinley reduced Jennings’ sentence from a life term to five years with allowance for good conduct. Jennings returned to Oklahoma, where he set up a law practice in Lawton with his brother John. In 1907, President Theodore Roosevelt restored Jennings’ full citizenship. In 1912, Jennings moved to Oklahoma City and announced his candidacy for Oklahoma County Attorney. In his campaign, Jennings appealed to the public with such rhetoric as “when I was a train robber and outlaw I was a good train robber and outlaw. If you choose me as prosecuting attorney, I will be a good prosecuting attorney.”

Jennings lost his bid for Oklahoma County Attorney, but all was no hopeless. The popularity of Jennings’ life story in the Saturday Evening Post in 1913 persuaded Thanhouser Film Company to back financially a motion picture based on the Saturday Evening Post story. Although not yet released, the movie Beating Back provided Jennings with enough publicity to encourage him to run for the Oklahoma gubernatorial Democratic nomination in 1914. In a close contest between J.B.A. Robertson, Judge Robert L. Williams, and Jennings, Williams received 35, 605 votes, Robertson received 33,504 and Jennings received 21, 732 votes.

Realizing that the life of an outlaw was not lucrative, and the life of a politician was difficult to obtain, Jennings turned his outlaw career around to his advantage with the release of Beating Back in 1913. The movie was not an accurate account of Jennings’ outlaw exploits. As similar to O. Henry’s story, “Holding Up A Train,” Jennings depicted the outlaws in the movie as gallant heroes who, for one reason or another, were forced to live outside the law. The author glamorized the deeds of the Jennings’ gang and depicted outlawry as profitable. Jennings also described the marshals in Beating Back as disgusting individuals who enjoyed killing, or as spineless cowards who could not stand up to the gallantry of the criminals.

The release of Beating Back with its fictitious accounts of Jennings’ outlaw successes angered the United States marshals who pursued and eventually arrested him. In retaliation, or in order to straighten the record, former Marshals E. D. Nix, William Tilghman, and Chris Madsen formed the Eagle Film Company. Their goal was to defend the image of the lawmen so degraded in Jennings’ movie. Entitled The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws, the movie depicted the history and destruction of the Doolin, Jennings, and Starr gangs. The main message was that crime does not pay and that the outlaw led a sordid unglamorous life. Although infuriated by Jennings’ rendition of outlawry in Oklahoma, the producers of The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaw understood the box office attraction of featuring in their movie an outlaw with a “notorious” image. Scenes about the Jennings gang robbing a bank in Cache, Oklahoma, actually starred Al Jennings. Also, while the film crew was at Tilghman’s ranch filming the concluding scenes, marshals received word that the Henry Starr gang, Indians Territory outlaws, had just robbed two banks near Stroud, Oklahoma. The gang was captured and Tilghman’s film crew made it in time to film the gang under guard as they were escorted into jail.

The notoriety of Al Jennings’ outlaw career provided some western writers with evidence of the true nature of the outlaw on which to base historical fact. In Kalton C. Lahue’s Winners of the West: The Sagebrush Heroes of the Silent Screen, a chapter entitled, “Al Jennings the Bandit King of the Screen,” begins with, “If any man were qualified to appear on the western screen by virtue of an appropriate past career, that man would have to be Al Jennings of Oklahoma.” In Paul I. Wellman’s A Dynasty of Western Outlaws. Wellmann admits Jennings’ propensity to exaggeration but still distorts the facts. In referring to the attempts to rob Wells Fargo, Wellman accounts that “Nothing but fiascos had occurred thus far, but the gang struck luck. They blasted open a Wells Fargo chest at Berry, south of Ardmore, and got a wad of money. Al Jennings said it was $35,000. Allowing for his inclination to exaggerate, it might have been $10,000.”

Al Jennings’ two books and subsequent movie also became historical evidence for the mysterious life of O. Henry in South America. In his book Through the Shadows with O. Henry, Jennings recounts his first encounters with William Sydney Porter. In the story, Jennings’ Honduras days began when he and his brother, dressed in full suits, silk hats, and white gloves, along with $32,000 of ill gotten gains, hitched a ride on a old ramp banana steamer for South America. Once in Trujillo, Jennings noticed a “dignified figure in immaculate white duck” sitting on the porch of the American consulate. After an exchange of dialogue, which reestablished that the two were fugitives, Jennings wrote “the merest flicker of a smile touched his lips, he got up, took my arm and together we helped each other down the street, that was narrow as a burrow path, to the nearest cantina…Together, we struck out on a long road that lost itself, for many years, in a dark tunnel. When the path broadened out again, it was the world’s highway. The man at my side was no longer Bill Porter, the fugitive, the ex-convict. He was O.Henry, the greatest of America’s short-story writers.”

Others picked up on Al Jennings’ assertions. In E. Hudson Long’s book, O. Henry The Man and His Work, Long states that “The only account of Porter’s life in Honduras comes from Al Jennings, a train robber who, with his brother Frank, was also a fugitive from justice.” Richard O’Connor in O.Henry The Legendary Life of William S. Porter remarks, “his [O. Henry’s] life as a fugitive in Honduras may be glimpsed in the colorful but impressive recollections of Al Jennings (Through the Shadows with O. Henry.)” Although O’Conner does qualifies that Jennings’ recollections may be imprecise, he continues to elaborate on Jennings’ outlawry. “Jennings and his brother Frank, who arrived on a tramp steamer shortly after Will Porter, were also fugitives and much more highly prized by the U.S. Government…The last gasp of the old West they were successors to the James and Dalton family enterprises of train and bank robbing. Recently they had relieved a Texas bank of $30,000.” The earliest of O. Henry biographers, Alphonso J. Smith, a personal friend of O. Henry’s, also bases his facts about O. Henry’s activities in Honduras on Jennings’ books.

There is sufficient evidence that O. Henry was indeed in Honduras during the period in which his biographers describe. Letters written by O. Henry to his wife testify to this fact. Al Jennings, however, was not in Honduras in 1897, the period when Jennings supposedly met O. Henry. According to Jennings he was in Honduras from March until August 1897. Marshal Ledbetter in Northern Indian Territory, however, pursued the Jennings gang, in June and July of 1897. Jennings, therefore, was not in Honduras and could not have met O. Henry at that time.

Al Jennings’ books and O. Henry’s story “Holding Up A Train” were also the basis of Upton Sinclair’s play, Bill Porter: A Drama of O. Henry in Prison published in 1925. In the foreword to the play, Sinclair informs the reader of the plays authenticity in regard to O. Henry’s life. According to Sinclair, “The writer of the play has had the advantage of much conversation with Al Jennings, who was Porter’s intimate both in prison and previously in Central America, where they went south for refuge from the law. Mr. Jennings, who appears as a character in the play, has been good enough to go over the manuscript, and the author here pays tribute to the kindness and general spirit of an ex-train bandit, ex-convict, ex-lawyer, ex-evangelist and almost successful candidate for governor of Oklahoma.” Sinclair’s characterization of the outlaw Jennings throughout the play is based on the exploits of the train robbers in O. Henry’s story “Holding Up A train.” Jennings’ real outlaw exploits would hardly make for adventurous dramatization.

One last attempt to depict the daring outlaw life of Al Jennings was in 1956 with the release of the movie Al Jennings of Oklahoma. In keeping with the image of the western outlaw, the movie reforms Jennings into the character of Jesse James. According to William K. Everson in his book A Pictorial History of the Western Film, “Jennings had been a minor and some what inept train robber, and physically was something of a runt. Al Jennings of Oklahoma almost doubled his size to that of Dan Duryea and gave his outlawry the crusading stature of Jesse James!”


Al Jennings

Al Jennings was the glorified ideal of a western outlaw because he could somewhat authenticate his outlawry. Although inept, Jennings was an outlaw from the last vestige of the frontier West-Oklahoma. His literary collaboration with O. Henry in the Ohio penitentiary helped to elevate his outlaw image and gave it further credibility. His association with O. Henry also enabled Jennings to incorporate in his books details about events in both of their lives that made adventurous reading but held little fact. Some western writers, looking for evidence of the true character of a western outlaw, found their man in Al Jennings. One writer however, who diligently researched his outlaws before testifying to their endeavors, fittingly footnoted the end of Jennings life. Glenn Shirley in West of Hell’s Fringe noted “Al Jennings died with his boots off in his tree-shaded white frame home at Tarzana [California] December 26, 1961.”

Writing the American West as Historical Fiction

<>I’m starting a crusade. I’m trying to inform writers, who think that they write historical fiction, to what constitutes the genre. First, it is not enough to place your story in the last century in a location like the gold mining town of Virginia City, Montana and call it historical fiction. Also, it is not enough to throw in the names of infamous characters from the past, who the author thinks will capture the reader’s attention and imagination. An author who only does the above has not written historical fiction. <>

By and large, it is not the fault of the writer that they might be confused to what constitutes historical fiction. In recent years there has been a renewal in the popularity of the genre, and I think some authors believe identifying their work as historical fiction will give them a leg up in promoting their books. For the most part, they act out of ignorance. A quick search of the internet for a definition of historical fiction proves my point; the definition is varied and confusing. <>

Here are some basic guidelines in writing historical fiction and the things that I look for when I review the genre. If the events in the story take place at least fifty years ago, the story could qualify. But, the key word here is “events.” A good historical fiction author situates the characters and action in their stories in an historical environment where the characters and story line interact with real events on the historical timeline. The story has to be historically accurate. <>

In order for historical fiction to be historically accurate the author should have researched the historical record so that place, people, and events in the historical past are faultlessly correct. For example, if the story takes place in Virginia City, Montana in the nineteenth century, the reader should come away from reading the book with a feel for the gold mining era and the once capital city named by the Southern gentlemen and women. These individuals migrated from the South after the Civil War to regain their wealth in the West. Research of nineteenth century newspapers in and around Virginia City will give the writer a flavor of the town that he or she can relate to the reader. <>

Some of the more popular authors who have successfully written historical fiction about the American West are James Michener, (Centennial and Texas), and Larry McMurtry, (Lonesome Dove). Michener even includes a bibliography with his novels to back up historical accuracy of his story. McMurtry doesn’t provide source material, but historians note that he patterns his characters over men who forged the cattle trails from Texas to Montana in the 1870s. Both of these authors provide the reader with a sense of history about the American West. <>

Historical fiction that is not accurate historically distorts the historical record and fails to teach western history. Instead, the reader will have little sense of the West and the historical legacy.

What happened to the Western Genre?

In the 1950s and 1960s, leading characters seen in hundreds of shoot-em-up westerns helped define American strengths; independence, freedom, individualism, patriarchy, motherhood, and business enterprise(cattle ranching, merchandising, farming, and banking.) From John Wayne in Stagecoach, Red River, The Man who Shot Liberty Valance or the Shootist to Jimmy Steward in Shenandoah, American values have been inculcated into a generation of young Americans who grew up admiring heroes who personified what it meant to be an American. But that was then, and this is now. In the last couple of decades, the western genre and the American values that it represented lost popularity with the American people. The question is why?

To be fair, folks in Hollywood are still producing western movies. Ron Howard’s movie, The Missing, a story that takes place in nineteenth-century New Mexico, is about a father who abandoned his family to go live with the Apaches. In his later years, he is reunited with his family and tries to reconcile with his daughter. Real bonding takes place when daughter and father chase after a band of renegades Indians who captured the granddaughter. Although the movie is similar to the John Wayne classic, The Searchers, Howard reveals that the studios didn’t want to classify his movie as a “western” because that would not be good from a marketing standpoint. Howard, in defense of producing a story that takes place in the nineteenth century America, that just happens to be west of the Mississippi River, justifies his actions by stating that he likes that period of American history. To further justify the movie that smacks of western lore, Howard states that “I always said that I’m going to shoot this, not as a homage to classic westerns, but from a psychological standpoint.”

In contrast to Howard’s The Missing, Kevin Costner understands that his new movie, Open Range, staring Costner and Robert Duvall, is a western. In fact, Costner criticizes the westerns of late for its lack of reality and too much emphasis on “floppy hats, a couple days growth of beard, and a gun.” In Costner’s view, that is not a western. Costner is right. The few westerns that have been produced in the last decade detract from their lack of story line with emphasis on bizarre outfits and unsolicited violence. There seems to be few heroes and most western characters little resemble the heroic characters seen in the western stories of the 50s and 60s.

Robert Duvall, who not only starred in Open Range but in the popular television movie Lonesome Dove, also understands what makes a good western movie. To him, it is the American cowboy. Duvall believes that the Cowboy is an icon known throughout the world—-an icon that represents “Freedom, the West.”

Duvall’s penchant for the west of the American cowboy is echoed by thousands or perhaps millions of Americans who have visited the West in the last two centuries. How could they not help but to marvel at the beauty of the mountains, the deserts, the plains, and perhaps show reverence for its creation? What a wonderful backdrop for telling stories that encompassed the American ideal.

And, it is because the western genre optimized American values and virtues that many would consider “conservative,” and therefore not politically correct, that the western had to go. If you don’t believe me, then read what Maya Seligman from Swarthmore College wrote. In her article, "The Searchers: A look at the Western Genre,” she starts out with, “Just How un-politically correct can a film be? The Searchers (John Ford 1956) certainly stretches the limits with its degeneration of Native Americans, its stereotyped Hispanics, its unequal portrayal of gender roles and its cruelty to animals.” Ms. Seligman goes on to admit that the movie “pressed all my buttons.”

Well, Ms. Seligman presses all my buttons. In order to adhere to her politically correct agenda, much of western history would have to be rewritten and in many cases fabricated. Whether we like the truth or not, Native Americans raided white homesteads, killed or captured settlers and set the place a fire. And, whether we like it or not, men played a dominate role in society, but womens' role was anything but submissive. The Searchers is fiction, but it captures much of the western experience.

A really good read that corrects one misrepresentation of western history is Vernon Maddux’s In Dull Knife’s Wake: The True Story of the Northern Cheyenne Exodus of 1878, a remake of Mari Sandoz’s Cheyenne Autumn. Sandoz’s book was made into a movie in 1964. Her book and the subsequent movie sentimentalizes the story of the Northern Cheyenne’s attempt to leave Darlington Reservation in Indian Territory(Oklahoma)and travel home to their homeland in Montana. Sandoz highlights the terrible conditions of the Northern Cheyenne on the reservation, their lack of food and general lack of care. But, she does not portray an accurate account of their murderous trek through Kansas and Nebraska. Her account is one sided and meant to garner sympathy for the American Indian. Vernon Maddux’s account tells the story of all who were involved, the Northern Cheyenne, the settlers, the cowboys and the army who captured Dull Knife and his band of Northern Cheyenne. In Dull Knife’s Wake is meticulously researched and endorsed by Dr. Richard Littlebear, President of Dull Knife College in Lame Deer, Montana. Dr. Littlebear graciously wrote:

For this reviewer, reading In Dull Knife's Wake has been an eye opening experience. I grew up hearing about our trek northward to home and I still hear about it today because of the immediacy of those events for all of the Cheyenne people. The descendants of Chief Dull Knife and Chief Little Wolf are yet among us. It was eye-opening because the stories that I have heard are couched in sad, mythic, and heroic terms. To this day, an aura of sorrow emanating from the events recounted in In Dull Knife's Wake still surrounds my generation and will do so with succeeding generation. I almost prefer these stories to the hard factual data researched by the author.

Politically Correct history also leaves little room for creativity. The recent publication of the Donner Party Cookbook is well received in most of the country except folks in California. The story of the ill-fated snowbound Donner Party wagon train and their ordeal in the Sierra Nevada Mountains in 1846 has been told and retold over the last one hundred and fifty years. Terry Del Bene, Ph.D. tells the story again in the Donner Party Cookbook, but adds a new dimension of interest. Dr. Del Bene is an anthropologist and a member of the Oregon California Trails Association. He is also an historical enactor and as such demonstrates his knowledge of nineteenth century food when he cooks many of the recipes and foods at various historical camps in the West. The recipes were used by members of wagon trains as they headed west in the mid-nineteenth century. The book is not politically correct because it dares to combine Donner Party history with cooking. You see, members of the Donner Party who survived the snowbound winter did so by resorting to cannibalism. But, Dr. Del Bene does not offer recipes for cooking a well done leg or arm.

Looking at the American West under a politically correct lens leaves little room for stories that extol such virtues as rugged individualism, freedom, independence, right to not only bare arms but to use them to defend oneself, and yes, patriotism. These are ideals that the politically correct minded people would like to diminish and perhaps eliminate from the American mind because these ideals run counter to the global framework that many liberals see for the future of the American people. The characters in western stories do not march in lock step to the demands of any one authority, especially one outside the United States. Western characters live in a land where “A man’s got to do what a man‘s got to do type man lives.” Men and women in western stories fight for their rights, where most conflicts are resolved when good triumphs over evil.

Brokeback Mountain and the Homosexual Cowboy

Most people would agree that many in the movie industry are somewhat to the far left on the political spectrum -- a tradition that evolved over time as many in the industry became accustomed to using their talents and the industry as a vehicle to educate Americans to the perceived social, economic and political injustices in our country. This ideal goes back to the 1930s when many actor’s organizations like the Worker’s Laboratory Theatre, New Playwright’s Theatre and Roosevelt’s New Deal WPA Federal Theatre Project became a comfortable place for actors to hone their craft and practice what became known as agit-prop or social theatre. Over the last seventy years the ideologues in the entertainment industry have been a prominent force in helping Americans to accept such social taboos as racially mixed marriages, untraditional families, different sexual orientations, etc. With that said, it is interesting that today some criticize Hollywood for the uncontroversial nature of many presentations on tv and in the movies. To these critics, Hollywood is not doing enough to move the social agenda away from the “Father Knows Best” model of American life. But, a new western movie on the horizon might silence some of the critical voices.

Larry McMurtry in his new movie, Brokeback Mountain, adopted from the book by E. Annie Proulx, is taking the American Western and forging new ground by offering viewers a new western image; the homosexual cowboy. The soon to be released western will redefine the American cowboy of the modern twentieth century West. This certainly isn’t the first time, or the last time, Hollywood has tried to chip away at the western image loved by so many western fans. Gerald Kreyche in an USA Today article entitled, “Westerns Ride Off into the Sunset” states, “The revisionists and multiculturalists declared that they needed to kill (the western) and have almost completely done the job.” Brokeback Mountain could be one more nail in the western’s coffin.

Brokeback Mountain is a breakthrough film about two cowboys who meet and fall in love while working on a sheep ranch in Wyoming’s Brokeback Mountains in the summer of 1961. The cowboys are as hard drinking, cussing and rough-and- tumble as any cowboy in any western film. They are depicted as “real” men, as real as our image of John Wayne. Except unlike John Wayne and his cowboy screen companions, the two men fall in love with one another. After their summer encounter, both men move to opposites ends of the country, marry women and raise families. But, their relationship continues when they meet again four years later.

If there is a political agenda in Brokeback Mountain it is, perhaps, simply to raise our social consciousness, and at the same time continue to destroy our perceptions of the American West; perceptions that cherish the strong independent men and women who settled the West. It is not a Gay landscape.

What I find interesting is that the Western movie is the playground for the Hollywood political agenda. This evidently goes back as far as the 1950s. A case in point is Dorothy Johnson’s book and later movie, The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence.” On the surface, the movie seems to be the struggle of the West to grow up in the late ninetieth century; conflict between Ransom Stoddard(Jimmy Stewart who represents law and order and a new West) and Tom Doniphan( John Wayne who represents the uncivilized West). The western theme is familiar and true to form for the western genre. However, it has been written that there is an underlying political theme as well. In his book, Containment Culture: American Narratives, Postmodernism, and the Atomic Age, Alan Nadel posits the idea that The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence “negotiates a Cold War American crisis over the nation’s self-image…the film responds to the two American engagements with Cuba(the Bay of Pigs and the Cuban Missile Crisis.” The point, seems to be that Cuban Missile Crisis presented a challenge for the United States in how the country is represented to the rest of the world, much as “The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, a film that in numerous separate ways examines the problem of representing the West.” Nadel concludes that the western film “interrogates the national security issues pertinent to the problem of representing the West.”

(Of course, even if we ignore the fact the Dorothy Johnson’s short story, which forms the basis for the movie was written in the 1940s, the fact that the movie was released in April 1962 while the Cuban Missile Crisis did not occur until October of that year might raise some question about this interpretation even for the intent of the movie apart from the underlying story.)

In Brokeback Mountain, we once again have an underlying theme of how Hollywood represents the West. I would imagine the gay theme in the story will open the flood gates for other movies that struggle with one of the West’s predominate images, that of masculinity. And what does masculinity represent. Richard Slotkin in Gunfighter Nation stated that the image of the Cowboy’s masculinity and rugged individualism was a rationale for American Expansionism. Ok, then, can we conclude that presenting a less masculine West during a time of American macho on the international scene is another way to take the bravado out of American Foreign policy?......just a thought.

Lives Entwined: Bob Scriver, Cowboy Artist

The following by Mary Strachan Scriver is about Robert Scriver, known to many as one of the more prominent Cowboy Artists in America. Bob earned a master’s degree from Vandercook School of Music and did post graduate work at the University of Washington and Northwestern University. He severed in WWII, afterwards settling in Browning, Montana, where he opened a Taxidermy business. He did not start his life as a sculptor until age forty-six. During his long career, he created more than 1,000 sculptures and wrote and published several books. His work is displayed in art galleries and museums through out America and the American West.



Lives Entwined

Emerson remarked that history is biography; without the history of individuals, there could be no history of things or events. This is certainly true of the noted Western sculptor, Bob Scriver (1914 - 1999), whose life spanned most of the twentieth century, but was grounded in the rich history of nineteenth century America. Born and buried on the Blackfoot Reservation in Montana, his life could not help but to be entwined with the history of the Blackfoot people and the artists who found their way to the Blackfeet Reservation.

In Montana Charlie Russell (1864 - 1926) dominates all conversation about Western art, but Bob Scriver did not create sculpture like Charlie’s. Bob’s work had far more to do with the Paris-educated monumental sculptors who are nearly forgotten today: Augustus Saint Gaudens, Daniel Chester French, James Earle Fraser and his wife Laura, Lorado Taft, the Borglum brothers (Gutzon and Solon). We do remember their work: the seated Lincoln in the Lincoln Memorial, “End of the Trail,” Mount Rushmore, and so on. But how does a kid in the dusty, windy little reservation town of Browning, Montana, even find out that such sculptures exist?

Sculpture was actually Bob Scriver’s second career. His first chosen profession was that of band leader and teacher. But when Bob went off to Vandercook School of Music in Chicago with his cornet under his arm, he discovered Malvina Hoffman (1887 - 1966) at the Field Museum and fell in love with her work. He also became aware of the monuments of WWI and the Civil War pictured in the newspapers that announced their dedications in the early decades of the 1900’s. And perhaps also an influence was the beautiful French bronzes (Nudes!) owned by his wealthy aunt and uncle in Minneapolis. Regardless of what these influences might have had on Bob’s artistic endeavors, I always thought there might be something else.

In the course of studying Bob’s youth, reading the early newspaper stories, I began to realize that 1928 -29 were important years in Browning. The Meriam Report had just been issued, a scathing revelation of government neglect and deception brought on by the Dawes Act, which broke up the communal ownership of reservation land, dividing the land into parcels and issuing them to tribal members. The idea was for the people to make a living from their land, but the east slope of the Rockies was totally unsuitable for small agriculture. As soon as the federal government issued the land, swindlers began to cheat individuals who didn’t understand the system or were in extreme need, and the government ignored -- may even have colluded with -- the cheating. Because of these practices, the Blackfeet were soon in dire straits. And adding to their burden, the Economic Depression that was just around the corner -- the stock market crashed in October, 1928. The whole country now suffered.

Congress sent Senator Liggett to make an investigation of Blackfeet matters and his report was also searing. But, after his report, a new recognition of the Blackfeet was underway, starting with a movement to commemorate Peace by creating Waterton Peace Park, adjacent to Glacier National Park on the Alberta, Canada, side of the border. Also, there was considerable awareness that the 19th century culture of the Buffalo Hunters was about gone. General Hugh L Scott, whose part in the Plains Indian wars was leavened by his devotion to peace-making afterwards, came up with the idea of convening the last “Sign-talkers,” those who spoke the hand gesture language, to be filmed as a permanent record. This succeeded and the film (now a video) is a joy to see.

In addition, the footprints of the signers were recorded in wet plaster. The Indians took their moccasins off, but Scott kept his boots on. These footprints were eventually cast in bronze and exist today in front of the Museum of the Plains Indian. In fact, the Museum of the Plains Indian grew out of a desire to have some kind of building or shelter with the circle of bronze imprints, though it took a decade for Richard Sanderville (Chief Bull) and others to raise the money. (Most of it came from Lions Clubs and the federal Indian Craft Board. This was the cultural environment in which Bob Scriver lived as a young boy.

Added to this was the beginning of an art culture in Browning. In 1929, Adrien Voisin (1890 - 1979), a Beaux Arts-trained sculptor who was married to a white female sign-talker, came to Browning to make portrait busts of the old-time Blackfeet. He shared a Browning studio with John Clarke (1881 -1970), a deaf-mute wood carver/sculptor, possibly making an alliance because Voisin’s wife used her signtalk experience at a school for deaf children and may have connected with Clarke that way. It seems likely that Voisin is the one who knew how to make footprints in plaster. His busts include portraits of both John Clarke and Clarke’s mother, as well as other old chiefs, and are today in the collection of the Denver Art Museum.

Looking at these dates and reflecting on the implications, it was as though I had a vision. John Clarke and Adrien Voisin in their studio in Browning would have been an irresistible magnet for two people: Charlie Beil (1894 - 1976) and Robert Scriver (1914 - 1999). Beil had led Russell’s horse in the 1926 funeral parade (riderless, boots turned backwards in the stirrups) and then helped Mrs. Russell in the confusion and moving to California afterwards. By 1928 he was living in East Glacier, working as a cowboy and showing off for tourists. Robert Scriver was fourteen years old, already first chair cornet in his high school band, but yearning also towards sculpture. I’m sure Beil and Scriver were often visitors to that studio, though no documents say so.

In a yearbook photo dated that year, Robert looks young for his age. His high top shoes are scuffed, his hair falls across his forehead, and his bowtie is as lopsided as his smile. That was probably also the summer that Robert fell in love with his cousin and made a little riverbank clay portrait of Dayfly, the family pony, and Margaret, sitting in front of the horse “Lone Cowboy” style. He made a little wooden case so she could carry it back home with her to Montreal.

In 1956 there was a state-wide contest for an heroic-sized portrait of Charles M. Russell to be placed in the Senate Rotunda in Washington, D.C. Bob Scriver entered it but lost. That was enough to start him on his career as a sculptor. One of the judges was Charlie Beil, who had forgotten all about that youngster called Robert, and they renewed their friendship which lasted until Beil’s death. By this time Beil had built a foundry in his backyard and was creating all the trophies for the Calgary Stampede. He helped Bob and me to develop the Bighorn Foundry in the Browning, Montana, backyard of the Scriver Museum of Montana Wildlife. The rest, as they say, “was history.” Scriver became a major sculptor, the maker of the heroic Lewis and Clark monuments in Great Falls and Fort Benton. His works are now in Helena at the Montana Historical Society.

Adrien Voisin had a hard time making a living through the Depression, so he turned to another skill acquired in Paris: interior design, which he developed into signature elaborate movie show houses. The one I knew as a child was in Portland, Oregon: the Egyptian Theatre where a double row of life-sized elephants stood high in the auditorium and an idol with a glowing jewel in its forehead sat in the lobby. When times got better, he moved to the California coast and rebuilt a ruin into a castle.

Much younger than all these others, I am left to gather up the stories. It’s not a lonely task. John Clarke’s daughter, Joyce Clarke Turvey, also pursues the stories and photos of the not-so-distant past. She has a file folder of family letters between the Voisins and the Clarkes. I think I have the phone numbers of Charlie Beil’s children. Maybe it’s time to call them.


Mary Strachan Scriver
Valier, Montana
http://prairiemary.blogspot.com/

What Ever Happened to Frederick W. Benteen?

Whatever Happened to Captain Frederick W. Benteen, One of George Armstrong Custer's
Main Subordinates at the Battle of the Little Big Horn?


The following is by Bob Foster, author of the upcoming historical novel, Fort Zion(see review following article.)


Most history buffs are very familiar with events at the Battle of the Little Big Horn on a scorching Sunday in 1876. Five companies of United States Cavalry, about 225 officers and troopers, commanded by Lt. Col. George Armstrong Custer, fought desperately but hopelessly against Native Americans, many times their number. When the guns fell silent and the smoke and dust of battle lifted, no soldier survived.
Custer's principal subordinates were Major Marcus A. Reno and Captain Frederick W. Benteen. While neither officer cared much for the other, they were linked first by their mutual dislike of Custer and then by the necessity of defending their conduct in the Battle of the Little Big Horn. Both men considered Custer highly overrated as a military leader and laid the blame for the defeat squarely on his shoulders.
Custer's total command numbered 31 officers and 566 enlisted men, 35 Indian scouts--Arikaras, Sioux and Crow, a dozen packers, guides and other civilian employees. With so many well equipped men, eager for battle, how could the Custer debacle have occurred? The question reverberated up and down the army chain of command and quickly spilled over into newspapers and public journals. It was the subject of a court of inquiry that raked over Major Reno's every act and decision without finding the answer (or charging Reno). And it has echoed through history to this day!
The simple answer is--the Indians won and the army lost! So the army had to find a scapegoat in blue. The search for one began at once and has been diligently pursued for more than a century. In turn, Terry, Gibbon, Crook, Custer, Reno and Benteen were indicted, and not capriciously. For the blame must fall entirely on the army, all bear more or less responsibility.

To load so much blame on military officers is to do a disservice to the Indians. They fought extremely well that fateful day. Perhaps no U.S. Army strategy or tactics could have prevailed against Sitting Bull's powerful medicine!
That being said, I often wondered whatever became of one of Custer's main subordinates, Captain Frederick Benteen--mainly because he ended up his career in Utah Territory--now the state of Utah, where I live.

Frederick Benteen was eventually promoted to major. In 1886, ten years after the Custer Battle, he commanded seventy five black buffalo soldiers of the 9th Cavalry and was ordered to the Utah Territory to build a fort at the confluence of the Duchesne and Uintah Rivers. Benteen and his men traveled 650 miles from Fort McKinney, Wyoming, part of the distance by train, the rest by horseback. Riding at the head of black troops B and E, Benteen and his men arrived at the preselected fort site on August 23, 1886.

Benteen's orders stated he was to build a fort and try to quell unrest among hostile Ute Indians on the Ouray Reservation, about 145 miles east and south of Salt Lake City. Fort Duchesne was constructed and the buffalo soldiers did an admirable job of bringing peace to the region. The Utes greatly respected the buffalo soldiers and also feared them, should battle become necessary.

Major Benteen did not like African Americans! He disliked nearly everyone else too, regardless of color! He absolutely and unequivocally hated the white Mormon inhabitants of the Uintah Basin of eastern Utah. His language became extraordinarily abusive and foul when referring to Utahns! He said, "some think I came here to fight Indians, but I came here to fight Mormons!" Every time he met a Mormon man he would say, "Mormons are a set of goddamned sonsofbitches," and try to entice them into a fist fight. Once, in a drunken rage (he was nearly always drunk) he pulled a pistol on Sterling Driggs Colton, Mormon Sheriff of Uintah County, and would have shot him dead, had not First Lieutenant George R. Barnett, Benteen's only friend on post, interceded and took the pistol from his hand. No reason has been given for his hatred of Mormons except that he was from Missouri, and many Missourians of that era disliked Mormons. During the Civil War Benteen fought for the Union, against the wishes of his family, who upheld the southern cause. They disavowed him, and never spoke to him again.

Benteen was a most difficult man to work for, abusive to everyone, especially his buffalo soldiers. He was drunk and disorderly most his time at Fort Duchesne. He was arraigned on six counts of drunkeness between September 25 and November 12, 1886, and conduct unbecoming an officer, when in the presence of others, took off his clothes and urinated on his tent. Benteen pleaded guilty. Yet he continued to quarrel with everyone. A special army investigator was summonded to Fort Duchesne to investigate the Major's odd conduct and behavior and bring formal charges. I dare not print the foul names Major Benteen called that special investigator!

The buffalo soldiers were "silently" but absolutely delighted at the proceedings, while Mormons and non-Mormon civilian employees were more verbal, shouting their jubilation, knowing that a new commanding officer would soon be appointed and Benteen relieved of command.

At his court martial Benteen was found guilty of all charges and ordered dismissed from the service. But his powerful friends in Washington interceded because of his thirty years of "honorable" military service. He was allowed to retire with all pay and allowances. Some years later, on May 28, 1894, he was appointed a Brigadier General by Brevet in the U.S. Army.
Frederick W. Benteen, Brevet Brigadier General, died from paralysis on June 22, 1898.

For full, comprehensive details of Benteen and the 9th Cavalry in the Utah Territory you may want to check out the February 2000 issue of Wild West Magazine and its feature article "Buffalo Soldiers in the Utah Territory" by Robert L. Foster. Robert regularly publishes articles in Wild West and other national western magazines.


Book Review




Robert Foster’s, Fort Zion, (2005) is an inspiring novel about a secret Wagon Train sent by Joseph Smith from Nauvoo, Illinois in 1844 to the Great Basin. The mission of the volunteers was to scout out the route for the inevitable mass migration of Mormons who were forced from their homes in Nauvoo. In recounting the history, the author stated that, “the Mormon migration west was one of the most interesting and fascinating events in western American history. Not since Moses led the Children of Israel from Egypt has such a forced migration taken place.” But besides using one of the most colorful incidents in the history of the American West in which to weave his story, the author also believes that he is relating a message. “The main message is that Mormons of the Nauvoo, Illinois era (1840's) were very much like Americans everywhere--Christians, lovers of freedom, dreamers, hard workers, honest, with passions and expectations. On occasion they exhibited human frailties as well as the highest qualities of Christianity.”

Robert Foster’s, Fort Zion, is intended for young adult as well as adult readers and in many ways accomplishes what the early chu
rch leaders mandated. “Write and keep and a regular history”, directed the leaders of the Church of Latter- day Saints (Mormons) to their followers. The goal was to provide a teaching tool for future generations of believers by recording historic achievements of those who fought to preserve their faith and their communities in the tumultuous anti-Mormon environment of the mid-nineteenth century America. And writing down their history is certainly what the faithful did. From Joseph Smith’s revelations of Faith in New York in the 1820s to the founding of Kirkland Ohio (1830-1839), to Nauvoo Illinois (1839-1844), and to the mass migration to the Great Basin in present day Utah (1847), Mormon writers have chronicled the lives and work of the pioneers who struggled to maintain community during a time of great hostility and aggression toward the Mormon people and their faith.

Robert Foster’s Fort Zion follows in the wake of successful Mormon fiction of Jack Weyland and historical fiction of Gerald Lund, whose books have made a significant impact on the American reader and have been very successful at promoting historical fiction about the American West as an acceptable genre. Novels about the history of the Mormon migration to western America provide some of the most interesting history and some of the most fascinating characters who ever participated in the great saga of western expansion.

Journalism in the American West and the Environment.

The Institute for Journalism and Resources in Missoula, Montana recently awarded nine small to medium size western newspapers the Wallace Stegner prize for accuracy, credibility and context in reporting environmental concerns and population growth in the American West. It was interesting to the committee that newspapers in some of the major population areas in Western America did not make the list of winners. In fact, in the investigation of 285 newspapers the nominating committee was surprised to find so few of them actually covering such important issues as land development, traffic congestion, smog, water resources or depletion of natural resources. One reason given was that such issues did not make for exciting reading. Alarmed by their findings, the Institute issued a 135 page “blistering” report “on the shortfalls in newsroom investment and expertise.” It is ironic that in Missoula, Montana, the very town where the Institute for Journalism and Resources is located, there is such rapid growth that everyday the pristine landscape is giving way to urban sprawl where land values and housing prices have skyrocketed to soon rival those of such popular western towns as Jackson, Wyoming and Aspen, Colorado.

When I first saw Missoula in 1963, it was a remote little town tucked away in western Montana, the commercial hub of five mountain valleys and the home of the University of Montana. To me, Missoula was a special place, a western town that still had the flavor of the “Old West “ -- that image of the West most us easterners came to love in the 50s and 60s by-way of our televisions every night. But for the people who were born and raised in Montana, the mountains were just a place where they lived. They took for granted the bumpy ride up the old lumber company road in the Bitterroot Mountains to the huckleberry patch, trying to pick enough berries for a pie before the bears got them. They took for granted the drive up Lolo Pass to the old hotel built on top of the hot springs, which sported both an indoor and outdoor thermo pool. And they took for granted a lazy August afternoon float down the Bitterroot River from the Stevensville Bridge to Florence or even all the way into Missoula. And, they certainly took for granted the unobstructed view in any direction of the snow capped Mountains; the Bitterroots to the west, the Sapphires to the east, and the Missions to the North.

Like many communities in the West in the last twenty years, Missoula began to change. Neighborhoods expanded from the valley floor up some of the gentler mountain sides, pushing the wild life back into the wilderness areas. Then the state improved Highway 93, an interstate corridor that runs from the Canadian border down the Bitterroot Valley, eventually winding its way south to the Mexican border. Such improvements made the forty-mile long valley between Missoula and Hamilton a prime location for the gradual influx of people escaping the congestion and pollution of Los Angeles, New York or Detroit. To accommodate the population increase, ranchers found it more profitable to sell their land than continue raising livestock, wheat and hay. New neighborhoods now expand and threaten the natural habitats of deer, moose, bear and cougar; two legged interlopers claiming dominance over the territory. And, as neighborhoods encroach into forest hideaways, nature’s revenge plays out almost every summer with frequent forest fires that threaten and consume homes, use up valuable resources, manpower, and envelop the valleys in a smoke shroud that can last for months.

Today the state is just completing yet another highway 93 redo, a newer, wider, faster highway allowing a reduced commute time into Missoula, now a city full of twentieth- first century congestion and pollution. The improved highway opens land forty miles from Missoula for development increasing population density and threatening natural resources. The valley, first the home of the Flathead Indians, then European immigrants, is being sold to developers who plot urban sprawl that could soon rival the urban blight of any major city in the United States. In all, Missoula is a composite of the growth issues that confront other western towns.

So, are planning, oversight and newspaper articles calling for citizens to get involved in the future of Missoula and surrounding communities? The city’s major daily does cover controversy when citizens try to fight new developments in their area, but overall, environmental issues and the ideal of planning is overlooked.

Perhaps it is somewhat of a sticky situation for newspaper editors to initiate regular coverage of the problems of growth and environment; problems that usually call for rules and regulations, and even prohibitions to the freedoms that Americans have enjoyed since the founding of the country. It is also worrisome that environmental issues are the main stay of many in western political organizations who advocate taking western lands and resources out of the hands of those who might gain financially. The problem, then, is how to plan for future growth, and at the same time keep one of our most cherished principles, private ownership of land. It seems that newspapers could play a crucial role in changing the mind set about community growth by educating their readers to some of the options in planning the future of western living, a future that is not exclusively for those who can afford the inflated home prices or for developers who have a propensity to pave over Mountain valleys.

The Institute for Journalism and Resources calls for newspaper editors to engage in research, fact finding, and objective reporting about the environment and growth in the American West. The Institute should also call for editors to report on ways in which citizens are becoming involved in planning the future of western living. By so doing, they will encourage all citizens to have to a voice in the future of their community.

(newspapers awarded the Wallace Stegner Prize are: Anchorage Daily News; Arizona Daily Sun; The Durango; The Idaho Statesman; Los Angeles Times; The Oregonian; The Press Enterprise; The Sacramento Bee; Seattle Post-Intelligencer.)


Book Review






Michener: A Writer's Journey
by Valerie Hemingway (Foreword), Stephen J. May

James A. Michener was one of the most beloved storytellers of our time, captivating readers with sweeping historical plots that educated and entertained. In this first full-length biography of the private as well as the public Michener, Stephen J. May reveals how an aspiring writer became a best-selling novelist. It is the only book to draw on Michener’s complete papers as well as interviews with his friends and associates. The result conveys much about Michener never before revealed in print.

May follows the young Michener from an impoverished Pennsylvania childhood to the wartime Pacific, where he found inspiration for Tales of the South Pacific, a book that led to a string of best sellers, including The Source, Centennial, Chesapeake, and The Covenant. May provides insights into Michener’s personal life: his three marriages, his unique working methods, and his social and political views. He also reveals the author’s hypersensitivity to criticism, his egotism, and his failure on some occasions to acknowledge the contributions of his assistants.

Examining Michener’s body of writing in its biographical and cultural contexts, May describes the creation of each novel and assesses the book’s strengths and shortcomings. His close readings underscore Michener’s innovativeness in presenting mountains of historical and cultural research in an engaging literary form.

This probing biography establishes Michener’s place in twentieth-century letters as it offers an unprecedented view of the man behind the typewriter.

Stephen J. May is the author of a literary biography of Zane Grey. He resides in Fort Collins, Colorado. Valerie Hemingway, a former secretary to Ernest Hemingway and wife of his youngest son, is the author of Running with the Bulls: My Years with the Hemingways.

(forthcoming, University of Oklahoma Press, October 2005)

Frontier Violence, Conspiracy, and Indian Removal: The Dear Chum Letter

Article by Vernon Maddux author of In Dull Knife's Wake: The True Story of the Northern Cheyenne Exodus of 1878

Until the end of the twentieth century, historians who studied the West believed that it was the Plains Indians, primarily the Comanche, who scourged the Texas frontier; a view enhanced in the legend, “Comanche Moon.” ( Texas legend indicating that during a full moon the Comanche haunted the country side spreading evil). For decades, frontier politicians claimed that only Texas Rangers, supported by the United States Army, could save Texas setters from the continuous assault by Native American raiders. Eventually, the argument became so accepted that the Texas officials believed that they had no other choice but to rid the frontier of all Indians. Before the Civil War began, the authorities drove all native peoples, friend and foe alike, north into Indian Territory, present day Oklahoma. In the twentieth century, documents such as the Dear Chum Letter discussed in this article surfaced and revealed that Native American tribal groups played a small role, although a sensational one, in frontier violence. It appears that there were many groups of raiders, and perhaps the most significant being a group of murderous bandits, some politically prominent, who rode the Texas frontier between 1855-1870.
In March 1860, the following letter was discovered by the US Army and eventually published in local North Texas frontier newspapers. The contents of the letter created a sensation in Texas. Assuming it is authentic, it reveals a powerful and well-organized gang of cutthroats and thieves with high-ranking political leadership operating openly on the frontier. They accused Native Americans of frontier violence in order to cover their crimes and to stir up a race war for profit and political gain. The leader of the gang, “WB” was a member of a famous founding Texas family. He was a legislator in the Texas state congress and was once a federal government Indian agent. His name was John Robert Baylor, a nephew to the founder of Baylor University, and a grandnephew of General George Baylor, the head of George Washington’s personal guard during the American Revolution.

The Dear Chum Letter was discovered In January, 1860 when a detachment of U.S. 2nd Cavalry led by Captain W. W. Lowe, spotted horsemen driving a herd of horses a few miles north of Camp Cooper. Assuming the intruders were horse thieves because they were in a prohibited area, the captain immediately pursued across the prairie firing on the horsemen. One of the soldiers managed to shoot a rider who fell from his horse. The other men scattered and disappeared into cuts and ravines in several different directions. Captain Lowe halted the pursuit and regrouped the men near the fallen outlaw. Examining the white man, who was found dead at the scene, Lowe went through his pockets and discovered a letter addressed to "Dear Chum."

The dead man was John Page, described in the 1860 Young County Census as an unmarried herdsman, a cowboy. In the letter found on Mr. Page, the author described a conspiracy by a gang called the “Old Law Mob(OLM)” to loot passing immigrants, and outlying settlers, of their livestock and valuables; they would then blame the Indians for the crimes. Apparently, loot was only a small part of the scheme, political power and economic gain from an Indian war was the main goal of the mob. The acting commander of the 2nd US Cavalry, Major George Thomas, examined the letter then sent it on to the local Texas Ranger Company.

With a few notable exceptions, killings were rare enough along the edge of Texas settlements before 1860. Most frontier lawlessness involved the simple theft of livestock, which often roamed freely across the unfenced prairie. New arrivals were particularly vulnerable to thieves, however. Most farmers and cattle raisers who immigrated to the Texas frontier were truly "greenhorns" with relatively large sums of money set-aside to purchase cattle and horses. Many of these settlers bewildered and stunned by their vast surroundings, had little understanding of the dangers inherent to the frontier when they established their homestead. Just the fact that they brought fine livestock to the area caused them to be targets. And, the thieves were no ordinary outlaws.

White murderers and outlaws fleeing from more civilized and populated parts of the United States often sought refuge with Plains tribes, the Waco, Tonkawa and others beyond the pale of the fierce Comanche. Staying long enough with the Indians to emulate their clothing and raiding patterns, these white renegades soon made their way back to the Texas settlement line. Joining with others of the same ilk, they took over abandoned shacks, dressed as warriors and gleefully committed despicable atrocities on isolated families. Part of their boldness came from a feeling of being beyond the reach of the law. In every assault, the men murdered all adults and older children and spread abundant signs indicating that Indians on the war path committed the atrocities. In April 1858, the mass murder of the Mason and Cambren families in Jack County was a typical case. In this horrific attack, four white men captured the two families at gunpoint, stole their cache of money, reported to be a thousand dollars, and then murdered and scalped all the adults and children over 10 years old. Like other documented cases during these years, these white men dressed as warriors, dying their hair, painting their faces and bodies, and carrying bows and arrows, spears and other Native American weapons. To antagonize the situation further, and to inflame racial passions on the other side, white bandits hunted and killed Native Americans, who had left the reservations to hunt game.

Newspaper editors fanned the fire of racial hatred by constantly attacking the Reservation system and demanding punishment for Native Americans for every crime committed along the frontier. And for the political opportunists, any man who proved he could protect the frontier from such outrages, real or imagined, would inherit immense political clout. Perceived Indian threats increased a need for the army to build forts and form Ranger companies, both of which needed costly provisions of food and equipment, which the agitators intended to supply.

John Robert Baylor and H.A. Hamner, co-editors of the Weatherford The White Man, a race-hating newspaper, led the anti-Indian North Texas frontier "filibusters" of early 1859. Despite their efforts, however, many settlers privately and even publicly defended the Native people. However, in 1859 the agitators murdered Indian agent, Robert S. Neighbors, a foe of John Robert Baylor. Neighbor’s murder placed solidly in settlers mind the fear of Native Americans consequently the spreading of rumors of an Indian uprising. The fear and distrust proved too powerful.

The murder of Robert S. Neighbors was politically motivated. He was a hero of the Texas Republic and a staunch defender of the two Indian Reservations in North Texas. Because of this in 1852 the president appointed him United States Indian Special Agent. The government built his headquarters near the Lower Reservation at Fort Belknap in Young County. Politics were rife in the Indian agency and in 1856 Neighbors fired sub-agent John R. Baylor. Neighbors charged Baylor, a proven Indian-hater, with malfeasance and corruption. Enraged at losing his position, Baylor swore vengeance against the Indian Special Agent and turned for help from another incendiary H. A. Hamner, who ran The White Man. For three years, the two worked tirelessly to incite the local settlers against all Indians, attacking even the tribes who had proven records of assistance to the white community. While they were trying to inflame the frontier, both men quietly dabbled in land speculation and especially coveted reservation land. Historian Carl Coke Rister noted that a surprisingly large number of important people at the time were fully aware of the Baylor-Hamner conspiracy from the “Dear Chum” letter, from eye witness accounts of the murders, and from men who returned from Indian captivity.

One such former captive, Thomas C. Battey , who the Kiowa captured as a youth, lived among the Kiowa during the 1850s. When he escaped, he made his way to Fort Belknap. Meeting with the local sheriff he told of seeing white men living with the Kiowa who disguise themselves as warriors and who made raids into Texas. On two occasions, he inspected the bodies of dead men dressed like Indians who had been killed by the Kiowa. Each “warrior” was a white man "disguised with false hair, masks, and Indian equipage, as to readily be mistaken for Indians."

The following is the Dear Chum Letter taken from the dead body of horse thief, John Page, which shed light on the conspiracy to impact the Comanche in Frontier violence.

Caddew Creek Arkansas,

December 15, 1859.
Dear Chum
Yours of the 25th ult. has been duly received and we are happy to know that your party succeeded so well in getting the last drove of horses from [Fort] Belknap [Young County] and that you so completely fixed the affair on the Indians but I am now becoming apprehensive as the animals or the proceeds have not come to hand or heard from in this quarter that their is traitors in camp be careful. I am sorry to hear that Gabby M, and Wooten had a difficulty or rather a falling out and I think if you can quietly get rid of them both it would be all the better as one talks to much and the other is liable to get drunk and make disclosures that would implicate themselves and us. Neither have I much confidence in Williams he acted badly you know in Kansas also Gancey and some five others you spoke of in your last, I think our friend near Camp Cooper is asking too much compensation for the burning down of his stable particularly as he has not succeeded in making that haul on Camp Cooper, let me know if they have moved to the Stone Ranch above the latter place yet. I am a little afraid to take in friend W --- s brother-in-law as they were kind of Indian men heretofore be careful on informing me on this last as we are anxious to dispatch the next party by that way--also inform me if the Captain has as yet got back from Austin and what he has done towards raising the Regt of Rangers which is of all importance to us, should he succeed in getting them up you will of course instruct him where we are likely to pass that he may know in what quarters to scout with his rangers.

I was not aware that you and Murphy was on bad terms when we concocted the arrangements in regard to his sister or I would not had any thing to do with it -- as I fear it will end badly should he come to find it out -- for it will not do to let him [unreadable] offer to take him among our party as I think he has too much mistaken pride -- and in that case will answer a better part to keep him in ignorance. Tell our friend of the Whiteman above all things to keep up the Indian excitement as it must be kept up until spring for there cannot be much done -- this bad weather also affects our friends at Belknap -- particularly as that it will be necessary to keep the matter up if we will even have to kill or shoot at some fellow -- their [sic] are a great many Emigrants passing through here on their way to Texas. It will be well to keep them scared out of the upper part of the state as much as possible but such as come up keep your eye on them as they have some excellent mules and horses -- try and encourage our friends to play down the country to get a better stock of animals as the last droves were very inferior. Everything is quiet here at present except some little grumbling about the last diversion -- as some you know got to much -- but this was policy -- as for the rest we can scare them into terms.

Yours etc
O.L.M. [Old Law Mob]
W.B.


(P.S) Tell friend Howard that the parties here are not agreed to enter on his proposals regarding the cattle matter as the drove is to far and the niggers cannot be trusted -- I think it best to confine our aspirations this winter to horses etc. I send you this by Page our faithful guide as he is at present acquainted with your whereabouts and particularly as he had a small matter to settle with a couple of fellows on the Clear Fork and I have told him that you would render him all the assistance possible --

SOURCES and NOTES

Primary Sources

Jhbd Jonathan Hamilton Baker Diary, NE Tarrant Co. CC.
PPC Palo Pinto County Census, 1860.
YCC Young County Census, 1860.
Haley Haley--Goodnight interviews, "Incidents."
DH-60 Dallas Herald (March 7, 1860).
DH-61 Dallas Herald (July 24, 1861).


Secondary Sources

Ledbetter, Barbara A. Neal, Fort Belknap Frontier Saga, Newcastle (self published), 1982.
General Cullum’s Biographical Register of the Officers and Graduates of the United States Military Academy, West Point: US Print Office, 1898-1950
Sallie Reynolds Matthews, Interwoven, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1936.
Frances Mayhugh Holden, Lambshead Before Interwoven, A Texas Range Chronicle, 1848–1878, College Station: Texas A&M University Press, 1997.
W. J. Hughes, Rebellious Ranger, Norman: The University of Oklahoma Press, 1964.
Kenneth Neighbours, Robert Simpson Neighbors and the Texas Frontier 1838-1859, Waco, Baylor University Press, 1975.
Rupert Norvell Richardson,, The Frontier of Northwest Texas 1846 to 1876, Glendale: Arthur H. Clark Company, 1963.
H. Smythe, Historical Sketch of Parker County and Weatherford Texas, St Louis: Louis C. Lavat Co., 1877.
Joseph Carroll McConnell, West Texas Frontier, 2 vols., Jacksboro: Gazett Print Shop, 1933-39.
Leon Metz, John Selman, Gunfighter, Norman, The University of Oklahoma Press, 1966.
Carl Coke Rister, Fort Griffin on the Texas Frontier, Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1956, reprinted paperback, 1986.


Relevant Information


Letter to Governor Runnells from Patrick Murphy regarding the abduction of his sister, Margaret Cornett. From the Texas Archives


Belknap Young Co. Texas
November 18th 1859

Respected Sir:
On the 7th of this month my sister, Mrs. Margaret Cornett, was taken from her residence in this county about ten miles from this place by the Indians, and carried off to parts unknown.
It is my humble request that you would issue an order requesting the commanding officers of the different posts throughout the North and Northwestern frontier to make inquiry and use due diligence to ascertain from the different tribes in the locality of their respective posts if possible, anything concerning the whereabouts of my sister Mrs. Cornett. I will give a reward of one thousand dollars for her recovery. It is quite likely that she has been abducted by the wild Comanche and that they have not yet killed her, but are holding her as a prisoner. It is to be hoped that by treaty or otherwise she may yet be recovered. Your action and influence in the ....... will never be forgotten, not only by one whose sad misfortune it has been to lose a dear sister, but likewise (I think I may truly say) by the people of the entire State of Texas.
With great respect, and indulging the hope that my request will be granted, I am

Yours etc.
Patrick Murphy


Lambshead Ranch


Thomas Lambshead (1803 England) left Devon, England, and arrived in Texas before 1847. He filed for land in Peters Colony (later the Texas Land & Emigration Company) The 1850 census of Navarro County (now Johnson and Hood counties) listed him with his Wife, Eliza (1825 England), and a baby girl. That year he received a section of land from the Texas L. & E. commissioner. He attempted ranching with nine hired men on the Clear Fork in 1854 but Indians killed his stock and drove him to Fort Belknap for safety. In 1859 he patented 640 acres in Throckmorton County. He lived eight miles from Jesse Stem's farm on the Clear Fork Crossing. He tried to have John R. Baylor fired as Indian agent. Lambshead became a commissioner of Throckmorton County when it was formed, with William L. Browning and Robert King. He ran the west-bank stage depot for the Butterfield Overland Stage line when it began in 1858. The Reynolds-Matthews family still owns the Lambshead ranch, now 50,000 acres which includes, the old ford and the Stone Ranch. Holden, Lambshead before Interwoven 21-26.

The Stone Ranch

The Stone Ranch (built 1855-56), houses and cow pen, have been restored. A keystone in the house is dated 1856. The restored two-room ranch house, bunkhouse and stone cattle pen is three miles south of the Brazos River and about seven miles west of the sites of Camp Cooper and Fort Griffin. Watt Matthews, present (1992) director of the Lambshead ranch, restored the famous landmark from the Texas frontier days during the 1980s. Its original builder, Captain Newton Curd Givens (b. 1824 Ky -d. Mar 9, 1858 San Antonio) graduated from West Point in 1845 and won brevet first lieutenant for bravery at Buena Vista in the Mexican War. J.J. Cureton, Rip Ford, Albert Pike and Robert S. Neighbors were all at the battle and probably met Givens. In 1850 Givens joined the Second Dragoons in Texas. Givens commanded Fort Phantom Hill until April 6, 1854 when the post was abandoned and burned. He met Randolph Marcy in 1854 at Fort Belknap during the exploration of Texas. Robert E. Lee promoted Givens captain and gave him command of the 2nd Dragoons at Camp Cooper from 1854 to 1858.
Givens' mother lived in San Antonio near John R. Baylor's mother, wife and family. Givens purchased the title to the Stone Ranch land, some 640 acres, on July 20, 1855 from Cooper Campbell.
In 1855, the authorities arrested Givens and suspended him from duty. Most probably his arrest came after he wrongfully ordered soldiers to construct his ranch house and cattle pen. Reportedly he used army wagons to haul his building materials from San Antonio. Not until late 1857 did the authorities bring charges. In February 1858 Givens was ordered to San Antonio for court-martial. He seems not to have been confined to quarters because a month later, he was mortally wounded while hunting with Captain E. Kirby Smith (later a Confederate general). Givens died at a San Antonio hospital on March 9, 1858. Sources: Cullum, Biographical Register, 2, 233; Matthews, Interwoven, 28-30; Holden, Lambshead before Interwoven 36-41.

The "Captain"

The Captain may have been John Baylor, given the title out of respect. However, there are other candidates.
John S. "Rip" Ford was a political insider and the most powerful captain in the Texas Rangers and a favorite of Sam Houston who was the governor at the time. Several Texas governors called on Ford to raise companies of rangers and fight Indians or Mexicans. Ford is on record, of flatly refusing to hunt down and arrest members of the O.L.M., even when given a direct order by Governor Runnels. Members of the gang attacked and murdered several members of a peaceful Indian hunting party in northern Palo Pinto County, on December 27, 1858. As the author of the “Dear Chum” letter states, Ford indeed went to Austin in early November 1859. On November 17, Ford headed south to fight Juan N. Cortina along the Mexican border near Brownsville (Hughes, Rebellious Ranger 162).

A second Texas Ranger was James Buckner "Buck" Berry from Bosque County. Berry spent much of 1858 on the northern frontier and knew Baylor quite well. Berry often stayed with Baylor when he traveled through Buchanan County. Barry's Ranger camp was on Caddo Creek, Palo Pinto County, and the location of the author of the letter.

The third possibility is Captain J.J. "Jack" Cureton, an old warhorse and frontier character. He served in an Arkansas Regiment during the Mexican War under Archibald Yell. In Texas, he captained the militia company from Palo Pinto. Cureton knew Ford from the Mexican War. Cureton, like Baylor, the Reynolds family, and Oliver Loving was a slave owner. Cureton undoubtedly belonged to the O.L.M. and later, the Tin Hats of Shackleford County. He was head of a vigilante gang in Bosque County a decade after the war. As the Bosque County Sheriff in 1879, he conveniently rode out of town leaving his sheriff's office open so masked vigilantes could break-in and lynch the last two of the murderous Horrell brothers.

Roadside Sculpture, The American West in Bronze

Evidence of our western heritage is evident to visitors who travel to the American West every year. Many, who travel western highways that follow the Oregon-California and Mormon trails across the Plains and Mountains to the Pacific, or farther south, who travel Route 66 across Oklahoma and the Southwest, view the pioneer experience as depicted in historical sites, museums, and in gas station and restaurant gift shops. But, today a traveler can also get a glimpse of our heritage by never leaving the comfort of their SUV. One can find along the highways and byways of the American West new cultural artifacts that I have coined “Roadside Sculpture, The American West in Bronze.”

I first became aware of Roadside Sculpture a couple of years ago when we drove into Lander, Wyoming on route 287. There at the edge of town was a herd of bronze steers running toward downtown Lander.



Being new in Lander, finding bronze Texas longhorns running along side of the highway was quite a site. Especially interesting was the drover who sat nonchalant in his saddle not too bothered that his herd was heading into a congested downtown Lander.





The more than life size sculpture so intrigued us that we stopped and investigated who did such wonderful work, and soon discovered that the bronze cattle drive was in front of the Eagle Bronze Foundry. The Foundry has been in operation in Lander since 1986, and has since cast bronze sculpture for clients in Us, Canada, Japan, Europe, and the Middle East. But, it is the Western theme of the roadside sculpture that is so intriguing. As you drive through this small town that is tucked away in the Wind River Mountains, Bronze cowboys wave to you from strange locations. Along side the highway adjacent to a Cabinet Shop is a bronze drover head 'em West.




Lander even has a “back lot” where the cattle and cowboys who didn’t make it on stage are “in waiting.” Behind the foundry we found:






I didn’t really need to go all the way to Lander to see Western Roadside Sculpture. Here in Norman, Oklahoma we are extremely fortunate to have our own foundry, The Crucible Foundry, and our own resident artist, Paul Moore. When Senator David Boren took over as president of the University of Oklahoma in Norman ten years ago, he began to change the cultural landscape of the University, and the town of Norman. Within a couple of years of Boren’s tenure, he managed to convince Paul Moore to move to Norman from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Paul has created many wonderful sculptures in his years as an artist, but probably nothing exists anywhere as ambitions as his "in progress" sculpture of the Oklahoma Land Run of 1889. Now, think about that for just one moment; A sculpture of the Land Run, which includes wagons, horses, and pioneers, all mounted to jump the North Canadian River(renamed Oklahoma River)in Oklahoma City. Like I said this is a work in progress.
First it was the horse:



Then the Horse, Wagon and settler.




Once each piece is finished, they are put in place along the Oklahoma River in the park in Oklahoma City adjacent to Bricktown, one of the city's most ambitious urban renew projects. Once a warehouse district, today it houses exclusive shops, eaterys and the Bricktown Ball Park. Like San Antonio, a canel runs through Bricktown, where gondolas escort people to various locations.

Worker beginning tp place the sculpture:




Then A wagon or two:


The Oklahoma Land Run


And eventually a full scene of horses, wagons and settlers posed to make the run for free land in 1889.
Click on image to see larger picture.


Oklahoma Land Run in Sculpture


Whether in Lander, Wyoming, or Norman, Oklahoma or points in between, Roadside Sculpture has replaced bill boards and neon signs in promoting the American West and western culture. This is truely a wonderful world in which to live.

"Let's Elect the Women:" Jackson, Wyoming’s all Woman

Jackson, Wyoming has the historical distinction of being the first town in the United States to be governed entirely by women. It all began back in the spring of 1920, when civic minded men and women of Jackson met for a special town meeting to discuss the numerous problems facing the city. Many agreed that what was needed was the election of a new council, one that would be more responsive to community concerns than the current administration. Women in particular were tired of what they considered to be a do-nothing council whose members seemed to care more about their ranches and businesses than improving Jackson’s quality of life. The women presented the council with their list of grievances. Their complaints fell on deaf ears. The mayor and councilmen seemed not to care about city improvements, nor did they seem to care about the up-coming election. When the discussion turned to the selection of candidates for mayor and city council, there was a general lack of enthusiasm among the men; the incumbents did not want to run again and there were no male volunteers. Perhaps as a joke, or out of frustration caused by the list of complaints submitted by the ladies, one of the men offered a solution: “Let’s elect the women.”

That very evening the ladies held a caucus, where they formed the Woman’s Party and presented to the citizens of Jackson a party ticket for mayor and city council comprised entirely of women. Grace Miller headed the ticket as the mayoral candidate; and Rose Crabtree, Mae Deloney, Geneviene Van Fleck, and Faustina Haight volunteered as candidates for city council. As if struck by lightning, and certainly with a new interest in all things political, the men moved quickly to form an opposition party and offered to the voters a slate of male candidates for city offices.

As candidates for the Woman’s Party ticket, the ladies championed many issues that were of concern to the citizens of Jackson. High on the list was doing something about the town’s muddy streets. The combination of heavy winter snows, quick thaws and spring rains created streams of mud. With inadequate ditches and no culverts, water ran down the street, and in many areas, left stagnant pools of water. The muddy streets and the lack of sidewalks angered the town mothers whose children had to wade through the mud to and from school. Another issue the women embraced was the need for an adequate facility for refuse disposal. The traditional method of disposing of garbage was evidently to dump it in vacant lots. The women promised that they would create a facility for the town garbage. The ladies also campaigned to construct a road to the cemetery, which was located on a hillside adjacent to town and mostly inaccessible.

The May elections turned into a contest between the men and women of Jackson to see which party could win the election and to prove who was better suited to run the city government. The citizens of Jackson overwhelmingly elected the Woman’s Party.

The Jackson’s female city council was one of many political firsts for western women. In 1869, while Wyoming was still a Territory, legislators granted women the right to vote--the first territory or state to do so. It was also in Wyoming where the first woman judge was appointed and where county authorities first called women as jurors. The women of Jackson recognized the egalitarian spirit apparent in the West. After the election, Mayor Grace Miller commented that, “The voters of Jackson believed that women are not only entitled to equal suffrage, but they are also entitled to equality in the management of governmental affairs.”

The election of an all female government was not only a momentous occasion for Jackson, but brought renewed celebrity to the infamaous town. Newspapers across the country published articles about how the newly elected officials were going to bring civilization to Jackson. Journalist thought it was especially interesting because Jackson and the valley to the north known as Jackson’s Hole enjoyed the notoriety of being “last wilderness” and the “wildest” place on earth; a reputation earned by the numbers of outlaws who sought asylum in the isolated valley that is surrounded by the Teton and Gros Ventre Mountains. The publication of Owen Wister’s The Virginian in 1902 reinforced the area’s reputation. Wister lived in Jackson’s Hole at one time and his stories helped to create an image of the West as a place where men celebrated rugged individualism. The election of women to run Jackson was an indication that Owen Wister’s West had changed. The new “petticoat government” took a “demoralized” town and turned it into what Mayor Grace Miller described as a “clean, well-kept, progressive town in which to raise our families.”

In 1893, Grace Miller and her husband, Robert, were among the first settlers to homestead in Jackson’s Hole, a high mountain valley in present day western Wyoming named for fur trader David E. Jackson. The Millers built their home in a part of the valley that today is a sanctuary for thousands of elk who winter in the National Elk Refuge. In the nineteenth century, the isolation of the valley and harsh winter weather kept most men out of the area until the snows melted in the spring. Then, parties of hunters traveled over high mountain passes and descended into the valley, where they spent the summer trapping along the Snake River and its tributaries. By October, most of the men left the valley before mountain snows closed three of the main passes. In 1884 some of the hunters decided to make Jackson’s Hole their year round residence and by the early 1900s, more and more settlers established homesteads and ranches. In 1897, Grace Miller purchased land at the south end of Jackson’s Hole for a future townsite. Three years later the town consisted of an assortment of buildings including a saloon, mercantile, gun club, and post office. Jackson was incorporated into a town in 1914, and by 1920, there were 350 residents. Although many of the modern conveniences of the 1920s were making their way into Jackson’s culture, the town was isolated most of the year from the outside world. The nearest railroad station and postal route was seventy-five miles away at Rexburg, Idaho, an arduous journey over 8429 foot Teton Pass.

Grace Miller and her husband were counted among the town’s most prominent citizens. Robert Miller was a partner in the Bank of Jackson and ultimately became Superintendent of Teton National Reserve. The newly elected town councilwomen were also wives of Jackson’s merchants and ranchers--Mae Deloney’s family owned the town mercantile, Geneviene Van Flack’s husband owned a hardware and sporting goods store, Rose Crabtree and her husband ran a hotel and restaurant and Faustina Haight and her husband were prominent ranchers. Faustina was also the town schoolteacher. All the women belonged to the Pure Food Club, a misnomer for a card club where the ladies played poker and enjoyed an afternoon of culinary delights.

After taking office, the new mayor and city council immediately began to work on improving Jackson’s infrastructure. The first order of business was to assess the town’s finances. The women quickly discovered that there was only two hundred dollars in the treasury and a significant number of uncollected fines and taxes. The council recommended that delinquent notices be sent, and when residents ignored the notices, council members personally made house calls to collect from those who owed the town money. The money they collected increased the town coffers by $2000.00, just enough money to begin construction of ditches and culverts. Eventually sidewalks were built with the financial aid of the parent-teachers association, and the help of the town’s men, who not only cut logs and transported them to the sawmill, but furnished the nails and the muscle to assemble a walkway from the town square to the schoolhouse. The women fulfilled their campaign promisees by passing health laws that made it a misdemeanor to dump garbage in vacant city lots, by providing a refuse facility outside of the town, and by building a road to the cemetery that would accommodate wagon and automobile travel.

In keeping with the spirit of an all woman city government, the council appointed only women to fill vacant administrative positions. The most colorful of these was the appointment of Pearl Williams as town marshal. Newspapers across the country reported Williams’s appointment as evidence of the true mettle of western womanhood. With so many questions from reporters about her unusual position as town marshal, Williams decided to “play” to the eastern perception of western culture. The petite five foot tall twenty-two year old young lady represented herself to newspaper editors as a tough, no-nonsense, gun-toting law woman. She told one reporter that she “did not have any problems with lawbreakers after she shot three dead and buried them herself.” She did wear a pearl handled revolver, but the only outlaws she rounded up were outlaw cattle grazing on the town square. It was her responsibility to inform the owners to keep their cattle out of town. On weekends, Pearl locked up drunken cowboys, and if they were too much for her, she deputized her older brother to help.

In the twenty first century, Jackson is known for its ski resorts, dude ranches, and summer vistas of the Teton Mountains. Thousands of tourists visit Jackson every summer, where they mill through the numerous mercantile and eating establishments that boarder the town square. Most of these people do not know about marshal Pearl Williams and her duty to keep cows out of town. And, as visitors walk along the wooden sidewalks that symbolize to eastern tourists the true character of a western town, most will not know that it took a mini political revolution by the women of Jackson to build those sidewalks, and “civilize” the town in 1920.