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Monday, January 25, 2010

Alfred Jacob Miller and the 1837 Fur Trade Rendezvous

Alfred Jacob Miller was one of the first artists to document in his work the adventures of mountain men and Native Americans in the American West in the early nineteenth century. Miller was an American artist who attended the fashionable European school Ecole des Beaux-Arts in 1834. He returned to Baltimore, Maryland in 1836 and soon after he relocated his art studio to New Orleans. It was in New Orleans where Scottish nobleman, Capt. William Drummond Stewart, recently retired from the British Army, visited with Miller.


Alfred Miller's painting of William Stewart

Steward, who sought his own adventure in the American West, asked Miller to accompany him on an expedition in 1837. Steward wanted the artist to document one of the American frontier’s most exciting gatherings of white and native people; the annual Fur Trade Rendezvous, which in 1837 was located on the Green River in present day western Wyoming. Subsequently, Miller became famous for his depictions of western inhabitants in the early nineteenth century. Like Karl Bodmer, and George Catlin before him, Miller captured in his paintings a realistic yet romantic vision of Mountain men and Native Americans interacting at the Rendezvous on the Green River. There are very few journals or diaries of participants who attended the 1837 Rendezvous; Miller’s sketches and paintings are a valuable contribution that document one of the last Fur Trade gatherings in the American history.

In the spring of 1837, the Scottish nobleman, and his new artist friend, along with an entourage of assorted people traveled West in a fur trade supply caravan led by Thomas Fitzpatrick, a part owner in the American Fur Company, and a trapper/trader who had been attending the Fur Trade Rendezvous since it’s inception in 1825 by William Ashley.


Recent photograph of the First Rendezvous site on the Green River


Ashley initiated the Rendezvous as a once a year gathering place to supply his fur trappers with goods in return for the trapper’s furs. It was financially expedient to haul supplies to their traders in the West, thereby making it possible for the trappers to avoid the long trip to St. Louis to dispose of their furs.
At the first Rendezvous on the Green River, Ashley sold supplies to 120 men. Some were independent trappers and others belonged to the Hudson Bay Company, who in 1825 dominated the fur industry in the Pacific Northwest.

The Fitzpatrick supply train arrived on the Green River in July 1837, where the found a large gathering of Fur traders and Native Americans looking to trade their furs for Ashley’s supplies.

Recent Photograph of 1837 Rendezvous site on Horse Creek, a branch of the Green River



The gathering was large and the partying by both white and Indian went on for days. Although Fitzpatrick did not include whiskey among these supplies, the drink was in abundance; the gathering on the Green was perhaps one of the wildest of any previous rendezvous. One trapper recorded that when he arrived at the Rendezvous,

Here we found the hunting parties all assembled waiting for the arrival of supplies from the States. Here presented what might be termed a mixed multitude. The whites were chiefly Americans and Canadian French with some Dutch, Scotch, Irish, English, halfbreed, and full blood Indians, of nearly every tribe in the Rocky Mountains. Some were gambling at cards some playing the Indian game of hand and other horse racing while here and there could be seen small groups collected under shady trees relating the events of the past year all in good spirits and health for sickness is a stranger seldom met with in these regions.

The atmosphere provided artist Jacob Miller with wonderful sketches that he later made into paintings, his medium was usually watercolor.


Miller's watercolor of the 1837 Rendezvous


Breaking up camp at Sunrise.

Miller's painting is a reflection of his thought. While traveling with the Fitzpatrick caravan He wrote,


At four o'clock in the morning, it is the duty of the last men on guard to loosen the horses from their pickets, in order to range and feed. At daylight, everybody is up--our provisors are busy with preparations for breakfast;--tents and lodges are collapsed, suddenly thrown down, wrapped up, and bundled into the wagons.

If the sun is 20 minutes above the horizon when our breakfast is finished, we conceive that he has a reproachful look. By this time the horses are driven in, and each man hurries after his own, saddles or harnesses him, and the train puts itself enroute.

At this period, one of the strongest contrasts presents itself, and illustrates in a striking manner the difference between the white and red man.

While all is activity and bustle with the Anglo-Saxon as if he feared that the Rocky Mountains would not wait for him, the Indian lingers to the last moment around the camp fire,--he neither enters into or sympathizes with our diligence, and seems to regret that stern necessity forces him to accept our company for his convoy.


While Miller's experience with Native Americans are depicted in most of his sketches and painting, his impression of the war like nature of the Indian is most stunning.



On this eventful morning our caravan, pursuing as usual the even tenor of its way, we descried one of our hunters returning to the camp at full gallop. His speech was to the purpose, "Injins all about--that will be some raising of h'ar as sure as shootin." On his heels followed other confirming this. At this juncture, it would have been a good study(if the mater had not been so serious) to watch the countenances of the different men. The staid indifference of the old trappers ready for any emergency, the greenhorns(braggarts of the camp fire) pale about the gills and quite chopfallen. No boasting now!. Monsieur Proveau, subleader, with a corpus round as a porpoise, revolving in his mind what was to be done A Problem.

All of us were more or less uncomfortable decidedly, and as sensitive about our scalps as a Chinese concerning his pig-tail que. We were not kept long in suspense. A cloud of dust soon divulging a piratical horde of wretches, painted without regard to harmony of color, coming down on us at top speed,--armed to the teeth, and when they reached us, they commenced riding around in a menacing manner.


One of the most recognized of Miller's painting is "The Trappers Bride."





Miller annotated "The Trapper's Bride"

The prices varying in accordance with the circumstances. He (the trapper) is seated with his frined, to the left of the sketch, his hand extended to his promised wife, supported by her father and accompanied by a chief, who holds the calumet, an article indispensable in all grand ceremonies. The price of acquisition, in this case, was $600.00 paid for in the legal tender of this region: Guns, $100.00, Blankets $40.00 each, Red Flannel $20.00 pr. year, Alcohol $64.00 Gal. Tobacco, Beads, etc. at corresponding rates.

A free Trapper(white or half-breed), being ton or upper circle, is a most desirable match, but it is conceded that he is a ruined man after such an investment, the lady running into unheard of extravagances. She wants a dress, horse, gorgeous saddle, trappings, and the deuce know what beside. For this the poor devil trapper sells himself, body and soul, to the Fur Company for a number of years. He traps beaver, hunts the Buffalo and bear, Elk etc. The furs and robes of which the Company credit to his account.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The 1930s Dust Bowl and Katrina: Environmental Refugees

“Environmental Refugees” as defined by Wall Street Journal columnist, Cynthia Crossen, are thousands, perhaps millions of people forced from their homes and communities because of a natural disaster. This is certainly true of American citizens who have been fleeing for their lives since the onslaught of Hurricane Katrina. But it is not the first time in American history that an environmental disaster forced Americans from their homes. Over seventy years ago, the draught that devastated the farming culture in the Great Plains of the American West, augmented by an Economic Depression, forced thousands of Environmental Refugees from their homes; all poor, desperate, hungry and looking for work.

Since the first settler put down roots in the semi-arid regions of the Southern Plains in the late nineteenth century, farming was a risky business dependent on the whims of nature. Encouraged by good years and sufficient moisture, farmers prospered. But, without adequate rain and very little irrigation, the dry years were difficult and brought too many foreclosures. When the devastating drought of the late 1920s continued year after year, the farmlands of Oklahoma, Texas and Arkansas became cracked and barren. And, dust storms added insult to injury by picking up the precious topsoil and depositing it as far away as the decks of ships off the Atlantic Coast.




Hundreds of thousands of residents of the Dust Bowl region packed up their meager belongings, piled them in their old trucks and headed to what must have seemed like the promised land--California. On their way, these Environmental Refugees met others on the road heading to the same salvation. They believed the rumors that in California there were jobs, places to live and schools for their children. What the refugees found in California was not the numerous jobs as advertised by fruit growers, but a lot of hostility.




There are a lot of differences between those displaced by the environmental disaster caused by drought and dust storms, and those displaced by Hurricane Katrina. For one, once the mechanisms of government started to offer aid to hurricane victims the suffering began to subside. Those who are benefiting from government aid and relief in 2005 can thank the environmental disaster of the early 1930s. Americans learned from the anguish of Dust Bowl refugees that we all have responsibility, whether through tax dollars, giving to charitable and humanitarian organization, or as volunteers, to aid fellow Americans. This was not the case in 1930.

Californians were very concerned about the “Thousands of indigents from the Middle West” flooding into their state and causing “increasing relief burdens.” Los Angeles officials noted that in one twelve-month period 2,946,614 people entered California by automobile. The relief cost in Los Angeles county had increased three-fold in a few short years. Conferences were called where state and city officials came together to discuss the impact of the “indigents” on the state. Besides the obvious strain on meager relief funds, epidemics and the general “character” of the new immigrants were also of concern.

It was not in the American mind in the early 1930s to “hand out” financial relief to those who were unemployed. The thought being that the recipient of the funds would become lazy and lose their will to take care of themselves and their families. It took the Economic Depression of the early 1930s and an environment catastrophe, as witnessed in the Southern Plains, for President Franklin D. Roosevelt and his administration to experiment with various ways in which the Federal government could offer aid to the millions of Americans in need. The results of those programs were born out of necessity.

There is much talk today in the aftermath of Katrina to whether it is wise to rebuild New Orleans so that those who evacuated can return to their homes. It is assumed that those who were finding it difficult to survive before the hurricane will want to return and continue the struggle. Many of the Okies and Arkies who fled the Dust Bowl in the 1930s never returned to their homes and farms. Instead they settled in the rich farming land of the San Joaquin Valley of central California, where they had more prosperous opportunities. Perhaps many of those who fled Katrina will also find better opportunities in the various states where they are now making an adjustment and forging a new life.

From Radio to Television: Gunsmoke and the Real West.

Almost everyone today has seen or at least heard of the popular 1950s western, Gunsmoke. The show had the distinction of being one of the longest running western series (1955-1975) in television history. To the western aficionado, Gunsmoke had all the important characteristics of the western genre—a bigger than life hero, who, along with his sidekick, fought for the good of the townsfolk against the forces of evil.

Good versus Evil was a popular theme in the 1950s, largely due to the Cold War and American’s fight to contain communism. And like many shows debuting on the new medium of television, there was a certain emphasis on clean wholesome non-violent programming that upheld the 1950s image of a prosperous consensus society. So, imagine my amazement when I finally had the opportunity to listen to the radio version of Gunsmoke, to find a different West than the one portrayed in the sanitized TV western.


Radio Cast of Gunsmoke


When I first listened to a Gunsmoke radio play, it immediately became apparent that this was not the Dodge City, Kansas, of TV lore. Instead, I found the infamous western town a hard, sometimes cruel, place. There were few if any heroes, only men and women who were lucky enough to survive the inhospitable environment. And, instead of happy endings, pessimism about life and one’s fellow man permeated each show—a realism that the writers worked hard to create. This tone is set from the very opening when the announcer introduces the program with, “The story of violence that moved west and the man that moved with it.”



Click on Matt for Shows Opening

John Meston created Gunsmoke and wrote 183 of the radio plays that aired between 1952-1961. His style and penchant for detail set the tone for the show; his chief trademark was authenticity. The writer believed that the West was a tragic violent place where people had a hard life, didn’t live long because of a lack of medication, sanitation, and nutritional food. According to Meston, “it [the West] was just heat and sand.”

One of the most authentic aspects of the radio play was in the characterizations of the town Marshall, Matt Dillion his deputy Chester, Doc Adams, and of course, Miss Kitty. TV’s Matt Dillion, played by James Arness, portrayed a strong determined man with a quite demeanor who swore an oath to protect the townspeople. William Conrad’s radio Matt Dillion was a pessimistic loner; he saw very little about life and man that he liked.

The town doctor, Doc Adams (Milburn Stone), of the TV series was a kind old soul who mourned each death as if the deceased was a family member, the radio Doc(Howard McNear) was greedy and looked forward to the next body that he could cut apart in one of his “autopsies”. Doc waited anxiously for the next killing or street shoot-out so that he had another “customer,” of whom he was paid to ascertain the cause of death and prepare for burial. Doc’s character is so greedy that listeners cannot help but wonder if the good doctor was selling body parts on the side.



Click on Matt for a snippet of Doc

And then there is Miss Kitty. Television viewers never really knew for sure what Miss Kitty (Amanda Blake) and Marshall Dillion did behind closed doors. Well, in the Radio version, listeners have little doubt that Miss Kitty Russell (Georgia Ellis), owner of the Long Branch Saloon, was a prostitute and of her relationship with Matt Dillion. In many episodes she is virtually begging Matt to come by and spend the night.



Click on Matt for Kitty's approach to Matt.

Meston not only tried to portray the American West in an authentic manner, but he also brought to radio a more colorful landscape by introducing more realism through sound effects. There were two soundmen working on the set and they shared Meston’s quest for authenticity. For example, instead of using the typical gunshot sound found in most plays, which had sort of a pop/dud sound, the sound men went to the California desert and fired different guns that were typical of the 1870s and recorded their effect. So, in a gunfight on the streets of Dodge the radio listeners would hear the report of several different guns, which sounded more authentic than the pop sound of a blank in the studio. The soundmen also were methodical in providing background sounds that imitated life. For Example, when Marshall Dillion moved, each step was accented. The soundmen knew exactly how many steps from Matt’s chair to the coffee pot to the door leading outside. Once on the boardwalk, Matt’s steps were augmented by the sound of spurs hitting the wood, which distinguished him from anyone walking with him. Other sounds effect included the creaking of leather as Marshall Dillion lifted his hefty frame into the saddle, the different sounds between Indian horses (unshod) and those of the townspeople (shod), and the difference in sound between day and night.


Click on Matt for sound effects. The scene evolves around a massacre at a homestead. Matt and Chester have just found the wife and daughter, notice the night sounds and foot steps.

Gunsmoke was the first really adult western on radio and television. The authenticity and realism of the American West, as portrayed by the John Meston and staff of his writers, appealed to mature audiences, and moved the western away from the adolescent male audience who made The Long Ranger and Hopilong Cassidy popular. But, somewhere in the transition from radio to TV, some of the gritty character of the western was lost to a blander romantic West.




Click on Matt for full episode, 27 min.

Have Gun, Will Travel

Probably one of the most intriguing westerns to air on television and radio in the 1950s was Have Gun, Will Travel. The series was one of the top three western television shows, exceeded only by Gunsmoke and Wagon Train in popularity. But, unlike the latter two, Have Gun, Will Travel was the only western to air first on television and then move to radio.

Have Gun Will Travel first aired on CBS television in 1957. Richard Boone played the dapper, black-clad Paladin, a high priced gun for hire.



Richard Boone

Paladin was one of the first TV private detectives, certainly the first private eye type character on a TV western. Paladin, a name conceived from the white knight in chess game, and emboldened on his calling card with the inscription “Have Gun, Will Travel…Wire San Francisco,” fought for good against evil by hiring out as a ”gunslinger.” It was a chivalrous position, a knight with the qualities of courage, honor, courtesy and justice. And, the knight was always a gentleman. Paladin was a man of culture. He was educated at West Point and served as a Union officer in the Civil War. In 1875 San Francisco, Paladin resided at the swank Hotel Carlton, where he enjoyed the “escort” of lovely ladies and was taken care of by the Chinese bellboy, Hay (Hey) Boy. When Paladin was working he ditched his fancy duds and dressed completely in black, with his six-gun strapped low on his thigh. And, although a gun for hire, Paladin would turn against his employer if he found himself in a situation where he was fighting for evil.



Richard Boone as Paladin

The series was such a hit on television, Herb Meadows and Sam Rolfe started the CBS radio version of Have Gun, Will Travel in 1958. The radio program ran for two years. The Radio Paladin starred John Dehner and Ben Wright as Hay Boy. Dehner was a veteran actor and started his career as an animator for Walt Disney Studios, then worked as a disc jockey and a professional pianist. He made his Film debut in 1945. His western roles included outlaw leaders, crooked bankers and saloon owners. He was often cast as one of the bad guys in the radio version of Gunsmoke. He became a favorite for reading radio scripts because of his deep baritone voice.


John Dehner

His first Radio series was Frontier Gentleman, a short run western where Dehner portrayed a London Times journalist, J. B. Kendall, who traveled the old west. The show’s prologue stated that Kendall was “ A Man with a Gun.” When Have Gun, Will Travel moved to Radio, Dehner was a natural to play the suave sophisticated Paladin.


John Dehner as Paladin


Dehner’s radio Paladin was even more of the dandy than Richard Boone’s television character. The Radio Paladin was a ladies man who lavishly entertained his women with the most expensive and exotic foods known to West coast diners of the 1870s.




Click on Card for short clip







Have Gun, Will Travel was certainly a series that deviated from the western genre on many fronts, but on one front the show was consistent with other media at the end of the 1950s when programs began to portray some of societal ills apparent both in the eighteen hundreds and relevant to the civil rights movement of the late 1950s and 1960s. “Hay Boys Revenge” was one such program presented on Have Gun, Will Travel that demonstrated the prejudice and labor conditions of Chinese workers in California during the era of capital growth and Railroad empire in post Civil War America.




Click on Card for 23 min. episode entitled Hay Boys Revenge

Thanks for listening!

Tackling a New Frontier in Film

One of the most anticipated Westerns in well over a decade is coming to a movie screen near you. Winner of the coveted Golden Lion Award for best picture at this year’s Venice Film Festival, Brokeback Mountain , is due out in mid-December.






Brokeback Mountain
is garnering critical praise and expected to be a strong contender come Oscar time. This isn’t surprising, really. The film’s budget, at $13 million, is modest by Hollywood standards, but it boasts an impressive pedigree. Based on a short story by Pulitzer prize-winning novelist Annie Proulx that first appeared in The New Yorker , Brokeback Mountain is co-scripted by another Pulitzer prize-winner, Larry McMurtry, directed by Academy Award-winning director Ang Lee ( Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon ), and produced by Focus Features, the studio responsible for such award winning films as The Pianist, Lost in Translation , and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind.

A modern-day Western, Brokeback Mountain chronicles a 20-year ill-fated romance set against the magnificence of the arid ladscape of the American West. The premise isn’t new—cowboy heroes are rarely destined for the stability of hearth and home. But there is a notable difference: the lovers in this Western are two men.


Heath Ledger and Jake Gyllenhael

At first glance, we might think liberal Hollywood has run amok again, giving us yet another example of deviant popular culture bastardizing a cherished genre. But Brokeback Mountain is actually in keeping with a strong tradition. Westerns, we forget, particularly in their heyday from the 1950s through the early 1970s, often explored controversial social issues. In fact, many of the films that questioned the validity of longstanding beliefs throughout that period were Westerns. After all, who would ever suspect that such a simple and fundamentally American genre could entertain oppositional views?

In 1950, Hollywood icon Jimmy Stewart starred in Broken Arrow , one of the first major motion pictures not only to tell a story from the Indian point of view, but to challenge the taboo against inter-racial marriage, which was still illegal in some states until struck down by the Supreme Court in 1967. High Noon (1952), featuring Gary Cooper as a marshal who must face four killers on his own, was scripted by Carl Foreman who was blacklisted by the time the film was released. He wrote High Noon knowing he would be called before the House Un-American Activities Committee and used the Western as a metaphor for his own experience of persecution and increasing isolation under McCarthy-era paranoia. The final moment, when Gary Cooper throws his badge in the dirt at his feet, prompted John Wayne to call High Noon the most un-American thing he had ever seen.

This trend accelerated in the 1960s and 1970s as a disillusioned America produced antiheroes battling an increasingly corrupt society where the line between good and evil was ambiguous and blurred. As Burt Lancaster says in The Professionals (1966), “It’s the good guys against the bad guys. Question is, who are the good guys?” The Wild Bunch (1969), with its climactic bloodbath, gave us a world where the only men with a code of honor were bank robbers, killers and mercenaries. Little Big Man (1970) and particularly Soldier Blue (1970) offered clear metaphors for the Vietnam War, showing that massacres like the one that happened at My Lai in 1968 were not new to U.S. history.

Brokeback Mountain , the “gay Western,” as it is being called, is very much within this tradition. Gay rights is at the center of socio-cultural debate today. There is more acceptance of gays and lesbians than ever before but also vituperative reaction against that acceptance. Not surprisingly, we’re seeing this played out in our popular culture. Gay characters and personalities have been common on television since Ellen DeGeneres came out in 1997. We see recurring gay characters on such diverse shows as NBCs Will and Grace , HBOs Six Feet Under , and the irrepressible Fab 5 of Queer Eye for the Straight Guy .

But no major motion picture, much less a Western, has shown gay relationships as full and complete interactions between two people—until now. Yes, Tom Hanks won an Oscar for his portrayal of a gay man dying from AIDS in 1993, but we saw very little in Philadelphia about his life pre-HIV and the choices he faced. In Brokeback Mountain , characters express their passion and struggle against the love they have for one another because they live in fear of the consequences of living openly. Over the 20 year span of the film, we see how this kind of fear can affect both the individuals as well as those around them. Of his character, actor Heath Ledger says “Ennis punishes himself over an uncontrollable need—love. Fear was installed in him at an early age, and so the way he loved disgusted him. He’s a walking contradiction.”



But why a Western? According to co-scriptwriter Diana Ossana, who a lso co-wrote the screenplay for TV’s adaptation of Lonesome Dove with McMurtry, the Western continues to have something to say to modern audiences. We connect to Westerns, she says, “the good ones are compelling, true-to-life stories, with raw, flawed human characters mostly operating in a harsh, unforgiving landscape. It’s always about survival for [the characters in Brokeback Mountain]” she adds, “not just financially, but physically, with the snow and the wind and the rain and the harsh landscape.”

The big question is, how will this film play across America? Producer James Schamus believes the country is ready. “Even though we think of this as a very polarized country on [the subject of homosexuality],” he says, “we’re less polarized than the media would lead us to believe.” Furthermore, the reality, he insists, is that gay people are represented across all walks of life, including cowboys. “This is a Western, rooted in the experiences of those who really lived in the West. We don’t have gay folks just on the coasts. One of the great things about the story is how true it really rings.”

Gay issue aside, the filmmakers hope audiences will be drawn to the power of the story, the loss, self-denial, and the personal price paid by two people who cannot hope to live and build a life together. Director Ang Lee contends that “to make a great romantic story, you need great obstacles. Ennis and Jack are in the American West, which has macho and traditional values. So everything they feel they have to keep private. It’s precious and something special they cannot articulate.”

As the film’s opening approaches, the controversy is beginning. Wyoming playwright Sandy Dixon doesn’t believe there are gay cowboys in her home state. “Those that want to make a queer story out of it, will,” she insists, “and those that know real cowboys will say it’s all hogwash.”

It will be interesting to see.

Yardena Rand is a member of the Western Writers of America and author of Wild Open Spaces: Why We Love Westerns. Please go to www.ilovewesterns.com

to learn more. Copyright Yardena Rand.





BOOK REVIEW

Gloss Laminate Soft Cover
6 X 9 288 Pages
$14.95

Author: Don Butler
Editor: Nicole Leah Vecchiotti
Cover Design: Stephen Bright

ISBN: 0-9767003-4-4
Published: March 2005
Printed in the U. S. A. by Morgan Printing





The North Fork spans the turbulent decades on the southwestern frontier following the Civil War, telling the overlapping stories of people from three different cultures, struggling to survive while too often pitted against each other by circumstances beyond their control.

After the war, control of the land known as Comancheria--all of the South Plains, including half of both Texas and Indian Territory--is wrested from the Comanches and Kiowas, opening the way for cattle drives and giant Texas cattle companies. Eventually, the settlers come, hungry for land and seeking a new life.

In addition to such historical figures as Quanah Parker, George Armstrong Custer and Lone Wolf, readers will find a host of colorful fictional characters, including:

Red Eagle, a Kiowa chief, who leads a raid into Texas and returns with an unexpected treasure,

Tom Carter, a trail hand with a quick temper and a faster trigger finger, who finds trouble--and more--on both sides of the North Fork, and

Molly Harding, a Texas farm girl, caught in the conflict between her head and her heart--and in the middle of a thirty-year-old mystery.

Indian raids and uprisings, the destruction of the buffalo herds, creation of the reservations, the Buffalo War, cattle drives, the Red River boundary dispute, the creation of Oklahoma Territory, arrival of the homesteaders, and other historic events shape the destinies of the people along the North Fork--a place where their cultures will clash while their personal lives become entangled in ways they could have never imagined.

A tribute to Southwest Oklahoma history has been crafted by Don Butler....---Altus Times

The mixing of such well-known people as Quanah Parker and Lone Wolf with fictional characters brings a realistic and exciting light to local history.---Vernon Daily Record

Author

The North Fork is set in the place of the author's youth. After retiring from the practice of public utility and municipal law, Don Butler turned to historical writing and research. He and his wife live in Austin, where he once served as City Attorney.

Jimmy Stewart’s West: The Six Shooter , radio western drama



For over seventy years, Jimmy Stewart has entertained audiences with his gentle and soft-spoken manner. Even in the rough and often violent world of the Movie western, Stewart maintained a non-hurried polite demeanor. In almost all of his seventeen western films, Stewart portrayed a hero who sometimes appeared less confident, slow to react, and a bit fumbling(The Man Who Shot Liberty Valance comes to mind).

The Man who Shot Liberty Valance

But through it all, he managed to ride into the scene with an assurance of character that promised the viewer that this man will win the fight, whether in the character of a green horn as in Liberty Valance, or the pacifist father in Shenandoah.

Shenandoah

And, like any western hero, Stewart’s characters fought for the good of society and made it their quest to rid the frontier of “uncivilized” influences. And, even though Stewart has joined the ranks of others, like John Wayne, as a “Man of the West” and has become one of Hollywood’s best-known actors of the western genre, it was in the medium of Radio where Stewart developed a truly unique western character.

Unknown to many, including me, Jimmy Stewart loved radio drama and appeared in almost as many radio broadcasts as he did movies and stage plays. His radio career spanned over seven decades, starting with Yellow Jack in 1934 and ending with his last performance in a Thanksgiving special, which aired on November 22, 1990. He was best known for his appearances in the Lux Radio Theatre, which first broadcast in 1937. Lux Radio Theatre, a CBS showcase, played to a weekly audience of over 36 million people. Hosted by Cecil B. DeMille, programs consisted of feature length films compressed into one-hour radio plays. Stewart starred in such classics as Destry Rides Again, It’s a Wonderful Life, Winchester ’73 and the Philadelphia Story, to name a few.


Winchester '73

The popularity of the western in the early 1950s and the misguided need of NBC to compete with the new medium of Television, NBC Radio developed a new western called The Six Shooter and stared Jimmy Stewart. Universal Films and their radio subsidiary, Revue Productions, employed Stewart at the time. The series began September 20, 1953 and ran until June 24, 1954. Stewart played Britt Ponset, an easy-going, soft–spoken and slow-to-draw cowboy who would drift into a western town, fix what needed fixing and then drift on to another town. The opening narrative describes Britt Ponset as, “the man in the saddle is angular and long-legged; his skin is sun-dyed brown. The gun in his holster is gray steel and rainbow mother–of- pearl. People call them both, The Six Shooter.”

Jimmy Stewart’s West, as portrayed in The Six Shooter, is the West on the “verge” of civilization; cowboys marry and settle down to grow crops and tend to their families, mining towns, whose mines are played out search for other revenue, the railroad crosses the West taking the place of old wagon trails, and there are fewer and fewer Indian “problems.” The Six Shooter is well written and Stewart’s narrative gives a vivid picture of people and place.

So, if you have the time, sit back, close your eyes and listen to Jimmy Stewart’s West.



Click on Jimmy for 30 min episode of The Six Shooter. Episode entitled, Red Lawson's Revenge.

Who painted, “Lassoing a Longhorn?”

For years those in the know in the art world, especially those who appreciated the art of Western America, acknowledged that Charles M. Russell, well-known artist of the American West, painted “Lassoing a Longhorn.”



Lassoing a longhorn

This is certainly what art collector, Steve Morton, believed. He owns the painting and points to the bottom left hand corner where Charlie Russell signed the painting in 1913, over his trademark sketch of a steer’s skull. Morton bought the painting in 1972 for $38,000 from the prestigious Kennedy Gallery, where Russell expert, Rudy Wunderlich, declared the painting to be a high quality Russell. In 2001 Morton arranged to sell the painting at the Coeur d’Alene Art Auction. The expected sale would be around $800,000. But, Stuart Johnson, a partner in the auction house, questioned whether “Lassoing a Longhorn” was actually a Russell. According to Johnson when examining the painting, “this doesn’t look like a Russell; it looks like a Seltzer.” If Olaf C. Seltzer painted “Lassoing a Longhorn” the sale price would be considerably lower than $800,000.

Charles M. Russell (1864-1926), a native of St. Louis, started his career as the “cowboy” artist after arriving in Montana when he was little over sixteen years old.




Along with working as a cowhand, he occupied his time sketching the scenes of late nineteenth century Montana. By the time of his death in 1926, Russell’s work included 4000 sketches, oils, watercolors and sculptures.



Smoke of a .45 by Russell

Russell was a generous man. He befriended other artists, sharing his knowledge and style with them. Olaf C. Seltzer (1877-1957) a native of Denmark, who had moved to Montana to work on the Great Northern Railroad, was lucky to paint with Charlie. Russell’s influence can be seen in Seltzer’s work.


Robbery by Olaf C. Seltzer



Faro Game, Olaf C. Seltzer

To authenticate “Lassoing a Longhorn,” Stuart Johnson contacted Ginger K. Renner, a leading authority of Russell paintings. Mrs. Renner declared the painting a fake. Mrs. Renner’s expertise of Russell’s work was inherited from her husband, Fred, who grew up near Charlie in Great Falls, Montana. And, Ginger Renner owns 100 Russell paintings. Fred Renner also published a catalog of Russell’s works housed at the Amon Carter Museum in Fort Worth, Texas. This is significant to the story since Renner included in the catalog as belonging to Russell, “Lassoing a Longhorn.”

Regardless of the inclusion of the painting in Fred Renner’s catalog, Ginger Renner held her opinion that “It’s a helluva painting, but it’s not Charlie Russell…it’s an O.C. Seltzer.” Even Steve Seltzer, grandson of the painter, testified that having seen a photo of “Lassoing a Longhorn” in Horizon Magazine in 1979, believed that it was his grandfathers. On such testimony, it was determined that Steve Morton’s painting of “Lassoing a Longhorn” was indeed the work of Seltzer. Consequently, the Coeur d’Alene auction house refused to auction the painting. Steve Morton’s lawyers wrote threatening letters to the auction house demanding that they auction the Russell painting or face a lawsuit. After the auction house did not reply, Mr. Morton sued the grandson Steve Seltzer and Mrs. Renner in Federal Court for wrongly declaring “Lassoing a Longhorn” a Seltzer painting, thereby, reducing the value of the painting to under $50,000. The suit accused Renner and Seltzer of fraud, malice and bad faith.

After Mr. Seltzer provided nine experts who confirmed that the painting was not a Russell, Mr. Morton withdrew his suit. But, Mr. Morton’s financial woes were not over. Mr. Seltzer turned around and sued Mr. Morton for emotional distress and damage to his reputation from “malicious prosecution,” and “abuse of process.” The jury ruled in favor of Mr. Seltzer awarding him $21.4 million in damages. This is one of the biggest judgments in 2004.

Of Course there are appeals and more appeals, but will anyone really be sure who painted “Lassoing a Longhorn?” Charlie Russell is surely shaking his head and wondering what America has come to.



Lewis and Clark and the Lower Columbia by Russell

Comanche Captive: Cynthia Ann Parker by Vernon Maddux

It the morning of May 19, 1836, less than three weeks after Sam Houston destroyed Santa Anna's army at the battle of San Jacinto over on the Brazos River. While the rest of Texas celebrated its freedom, the inhabitants of Parker fort worked outside the stockade. The men looked up when a mixed band of Indians rode causally near the fort and dismounted. Several warriors walked unarmed toward several men and women busy working their gardens outside the gate. With shocking ease, the warriors killed the adult Parker men starting with the elders who walked forward holding out their empty hands in a sign of friendship. The warriors captured all the children and women they could catch. One of the captives herded north after the raid was a nine year old girl named Cynthia Ann, daughter of Silas Mercer Parker and Lucinda Ann. In her presence, the warriors killed Silas and her uncles John and Benjamin Parker. Her grandfather John Parker had been one of those who walked foreword with his hands outstretched. Surprisingly, the raiding party included only a few Comanches, perhaps only one or two Penetekas. The raiders were primarily Wichitas, the warrior band of the generally sedentary Caddoes, most of whom lived in beehive-shaped grass huts. Ohter tribes were represented as well, perhaps Wacoes and Keechis. Cynthia Ann’s three-year-old brother, Silas Mercer Parker, Jr. was captured as were her mother, Lucy Duty Parker, her baby sister Orlena Parker. The baby was four months old. Cynthia Ann’s 46 year-old aunt Phoebe Hassell and Phoebe’s year-old baby daughter Sally were forced along as the warriors headed back north. Little Sally would not stop crying and the warriors killed the baby by smashing its head against a tree.

Over the next six years, the Parker family managed to ransom all of the surviving women and children except Cynthia Ann. One of the elders of the family, Cynthia’s uncle Isaac Parker, crusaded continually among the Texas authorities for the girl’s return, never letting her capture fade from public consciousness. Speaking often to members of the congress of the Texas Republic, Isaac asked for Ranger companies to be formed and sent out into the frontier and for monetary rewards to be raised for her safe rescue. Ultimately the government created a handsome reward for her recovery. Isaac traveled up and down the Texas frontier, advertising his niece’s plight, speaking to church, lodge, and school meetings. Cynthia Ann became a frontier cause celebe.

Meanwhile, Cynthia Ann had been sold to a Comanche family who lived in the Texas Panhandle. The band to which she belonged lived far out into the unknown vastness of the Llano Estacado. Although she was beaten at first and treated like a slave for a while, the couple that purchased her fell in love with the child calling her Nadauh. A few weeks after becoming part of the family, Cynthia Ann was a permanent member of the Tenewa Plains Comanches.

In 1840, a New Mexican Comanchero trader camped with the Tenewa Comanches somewhere out in the Texas Panhandle. While he traded for buffalo skins and hides, he noticed a young white girl among the Comanches. Cynthia Ann would have been 13 at the time. She was properly dressed as a band female and acted completely at home. Alert to the reward that the Texan Isaac Parker had advertised, the man attempted to discover if she was in fact the girl, Cynthia Ann Parker. The trader broke out his best items and offered them to the headman for a trade. The chief scorned the offer. Eventually, for a portion of the trade items, the chief agreed to permit him to approach her. The young woman turned away when he spoke to her and refused to talk. She refused all gifts. When the trader returned to his town at Loma Parda, he spread the story of the white girl living among the Comanches, which soon reached the ears of the authorities.

An article appeared in a Texas newspaper on April 29, 1846, which described a visit by Col. Leonard G. Williams' trading party with a band of Tenewa Comanches. These Comanches were camped on the Canadian River. Williams saw a young woman, she would have been 19, and married. He thought she could be Cynthia Ann. The tribal elders refused all Williams offers and the woman refused to speak English.

A year later, federal officials P. M. Butler and M. G. Lewis ventured into Western Indian Territory and met with the Yamparika Comanches who were camped on the Washita River. Here again, the men encountered a young woman, she was age 20 by then, they thought might be the famous Cynthia Ann. Again she turned away and the elders would not accept gifts in exchange for her.

In 1848, the Indian Agent for Northern Texas, Robert S. Neighbors was told that Cynthia Ann had married a warrior from the Tenawa band. Comanches living on the Upper Reservation at Camp Cooper told him that she had a family and would never leave her husband. Her husband was Peta Nocona, a rising young warrior who gained fame for his raids on white settlements.

About 1841 when she was 16 years old, Cynthia Ann gave birth to her first child. She named him privately Quanah, meaning “Fragrant” (or Stinky, Smelly). Quanah was destined to rise to the top of the Comanche world. He is remembered as one of the last great fighting warriors of the Quahada Comanches and later, head chief of all reservation Comanches in Indian Territory.

Along the frontier of Texas for 24 years, the name “Cynthia Ann Parker” rang like a saber striking steel. Her uncle Isaac Parker never rested, nor would he let the legislators in Austin forget that his niece, one of the original daughters of Texas (she was born in Illinois) remained a prisoner of the Indians. A stalwart born-again primitive Baptist, Isaac Parker's persistent and dramatic pleas for the safe return of his niece disturbed the sleep of the authorities along the frontier until the very eve of the Civil War.

In 1860, a double murder on the frontier attributed to Comanches stirred the Texas government to authorize a Ranger Company for the second time in three years. The previous coming after the murders of two families, probably by whites dressed as Indians. (see the Dear Chum Letter and battle of Antelope Hills).

Toward the end of November, Comanche or Kiowa warriors attacked and killed a rancher, stole his horse herd then tortured and killed and a neighboring rancher’s wife. This time there was no doubt that Native Americans were the perpetrators. The crimes occurred in northern Palo Pinto County, only a few miles west of Parker County. Ironically, the latter is named for Isaac Parker, Cynthia Ann’s persistent uncle. It had been over 24 years since Cynthia Ann was dragged screaming away from her father’s home in Limestone County.

It was cold when Palo Pinto Sheriff John Nathan Hittson and the other settlers in the frontier county first heard the reports.

At ten o’clock in the morning, 46 year-old John Brown, his nearest neighbor was the famous cattlemen Oliver Loving to the west and Charles Goodnight to the east, was riding across his pasture near Keechi Creek to gather his cattle. Suddenly up from the banks where they were hiding, a war party of Kiowas and Comanches raced out of the underbrush and surrounded the man. After a brief scuffle, a warrior knocked Brown off his horse and leaped on him, cutting Brown's scalp while he was still alive and stabbing him in the back and sides. Brown’s hair was left the area attached to the warrior’s saddle. Brown's body was left in the deep grass while the half-dozen members of the raiding party drove Brown's horse together with 20 other horses they collected earlier across the creek. They headed north toward their camp. Ahead were other ranches. Moving stealthily along the Keechi Creek branches, the warriors took Thompson's horses directly north of Brown's range. About noon the raiding party approached the Sherman farm in the extreme north of Palo Pinto County. Attracted by smoke coming from the ranch house chimney, the warriors dismounted and one man guarded the horses while the rest surrounded the house. The leader simply opened the door and walked inside.

The Sherman family, father, mother and two children, were seated at the noon meal before a food-covered table. They froze in their seats. One warrior grabbed the father by his hair and jerked him out of his seat flinging him to the floor. In seconds other warriors pulled the family members from their seats and took their places at the table. The hungry Indians ignored the family as they ate the food. Mr. Sherman, his wife and children crept to the door and slipped outside. The Comanches guarding the horses outside eyed them but did nothing as the family walked down the road.

As soon as the warriors finished the meal, they began ransacking and destroying the house. One warrior discovered a large family Bible and held it up in triumph. To the Comanches, books were highly prized because they could be used as stuffing material for the inside of their war-shields.

When the leader of the war party came outside he looked for the family and sent the horse holders after the Sherman family. Catching up with the family on the road, a warrior grabbed Mrs. Sherman by her hair and dragged her up over his horse. The father tried to save his children and herded them into deep underbrush. The screams of Mrs. Sherman could be heard for a long while. Mr. Sherman ran frantically toward his nearest neighbor, miles away. It took several hours for Sherman to reach a house. Leaving the children he borrowed a horse and raced to town. Hearing Sherman’s report, sheriff Hittson and deputy James Hamilton Baker recruited a group of armed townsmen and rode north toward the Sherman family farm.

At the Sherman farmhouse, Hittson's posse found the building torn apart, ransacked and all contents destroyed. After a cursory look around the yard, the posse headed north, trailing the war party. They estimated about seven warriors. The large horse herd they had gathered made the trail easy to follow. A mile along the trail, Hittson and the men found Mrs. Sherman’s body lying in a field. She had been sexually abused, scalped and nearly killed, but was breathing. Her body was severely bruised; her clothing torn off, her body covered with blood from several knife wounds. Two arrows protruded from her breast. Around her body lay dozens of pages torn from the family Bible. Hittson detailed two men to remove the arrows, bandage her wounds and cover her with a blanket. They carried her back to town while the posse continued to track the warriors. The next day, when the men’s horses gave out, Hittson led the posse back to town.

Mrs. Sherman lived four days before she died. Neither Hittson nor James H. Baker, who kept a detailed diary of the event, ever mentioned the incident in writing again. Like the Cambren-Harris murders three years earlier, the horrible fate of Mrs. Sherman aroused the entire frontier of Northwest Texas. From the sheriff’s office in Palo Pinto, Hittson sent messengers to spread the word about the attacks to Fort Worth and Dallas to Austin.

Within a few days, all across the frontier, musket-toting men made their way to Palo Pinto. Preachers railed against the perpetrators, calling the crime against Brown and especially Mrs. Sherman, a “double sacrilege.” Strong men pledged to the congregations to avenge the Holy Book and recover “white women’s honor.”
Within the cultural framework of the Texas frontier, Indians were usually defamed as “horse-thieving” and “murderous.” Now they were seen as violators of both the most sacred Christian book and white womanhood itself. In the village of Palo Pinto, Weatherford and other towns, militia representatives gathered cursing the existence of "God-less heathens" beyond the frontier. Hittson and Baker wrote an appeal to the Governor at Austin pleading for armed assistance and protection. They demanded a Ranger company be formed and permanently stationed in Palo Pinto County. The local militia captain, Jack Cureton, called out his followers and formed what he called “The Palo Pinto Cavalry.” Within a few days, nearly 100 able-bodied men camped in and around the county seat awaiting word from the state governor. Hittson and his brother joined the force along with almost every man and older boy in the county who could carry a musket. Meanwhile Hittson and most settlers moved their families from their outlying farms to town. Hittson’s wife Selena was pregnant with Martha Jane, their third child. His other two children, grandfather Jesse Hittson and grandmother Mary Ann were lodged in the hotel.

Sheriff Hittson and his deputy became common soldiers, subordinating themselves to the militia leadership. Cureton was an established leader, having frontline experience under Colonel Archibald Yell in the Mexican War. The stores in town relinquished their best horses, rifles, pistols and other equipment that was available. Merchants in Fort Worth and Dallas sent wagonloads of weapons and supplies to the men. After a week, word arrived that Lawrence Sullivan “Sul” Ross had been commissioned by the governor to recruit and outfit a Ranger Company, but not in Palo Pinto, in Fort Worth, Tarrant County. Ross was specifically ordered to pursue the Comanches.

Ross soon appeared in Palo Pinto and asked the militia there to join him. They agreed. He then ordered scouts Benjamin Dragoo and three other men to ride north beyond the Trinity River to scout the land south of Indian Territory. They were to search the frontier until they found the Indians' trail. Despite the rush, it was nearly three weeks before the force was ready. By the time the Ranger Company was formed and joined the militia at Palo Pinto, it was the second week of December. A bitterly cold north wind blew through Texas from Canada.

On December 14, 1860, three columns of armed men left Palo Pinto and headed north for a crossing of the Brazos River. Sul Ross' Texas Rangers consisted of 27 men and a detachment of 18 soldiers from the United States 2nd Dragoons. Lieutenant Colonel Robert E. Lee had ordered them to leave Camp Cooper for the expedition. First Sergeant John W. Spangler was in charge of the Dragoons. In the rear rode the rag-tag Cureton militia, which numbered perhaps a hundred men. The force, with difficulty, forded the Brazos and in two days reached the West Branch of the Trinity River where they halted. On trees on the banks of river, Dragoo and his scouts had left markings showing they progress and the way they had gone.

In the bitter cold winds, several older militiamen and even some of the robust young Rangers fell behind. Ross never faltered and with most of his men and the Dragoons he continued pressing on in forced marches. By the time Dragoo’s men reported Indians sign, many of the militia had been forced to walk their horses that had become exhausted and were broken down. By December 17, the Rangers and Dragoons were camping each night about three miles north of the struggling militia.

At dawn, December 18, fresh and frigid North winds whipped across the prairie as Ross led the Rangers and First Sergeant Spangler's men out of the scrub trees onto a broad, flat field of dead grass that stretched for miles, broken only by a scattering of small hills. Baker wrote in his diary that when they reached the open plain, he estimated they were about 70 miles north and west of Palo Pinto. While the Rangers broke camp that morning, Cureton’s militia stayed in camp. One of the men, James Chick, had lost his horse in the night and headed out on foot trying to catch the elusive animal. Rather than to summarily abandon their neighbor to the mercies of the enemy, Cureton called for a vote. The company largely voted to wait for Chick to return.

By eight or nine o’clock, Ross’s force was a dozen miles north of the militiamen and had completely lost contact with them. Ross and his lieutenants approached a series of cedar-covered mountains at the headwaters of Pease River. Riding to the crest of a hill, Ross halted the column and motioned for his men to join him in scanning the river below. The Rangers immediately spotted several small groups of individuals moving near the river a mile or so away. Ross claimed he recognized them instantly as a Comanche war party. All the other men agreed the scattered groups were indeed Indians. The Rangers noted some were mounting horses with travois dragging behind. Others were loading equipment and taking down tepees. Several fully loaded horses moved slowly across the prairie. Ross decided the Comanche village was in the process of moving. He instantly called for the Rangers to come forward on line.

The Rangers with Dragoons following behind, pulled out their pistols and at Ross’s command, charged on a dead run down the hill. Individual Rangers began shooting at the winter-clad Indians at a fairly long range. These turned out to be mostly women and children. Several women tried to escape by cutting loose their travois poles, dumping their packs on the ground, which helped them race away. Frantic children on ponies dashed away in several directions. The Ranger line fragmented, men chasing individual Indians this way and that. Finally, it became individual Rangers following single mounted Indians. In only a minute, every Ranger lost sight of every other Ranger. Spangler held up the Dragoons near the abandoned camp and sent his men to capture the Comanche’s horse herd.

After twenty minutes, a majority of Ross' Rangers returned to the site of the initial attack. Most came back empty handed. A few Rangers joined the dragoons in controlling the horse herd, about 350 horses, which was not large by Comanche standards. Ranger Private Charles Goodnight, Private George Lemely, Private Christopher Columbus “Lum” Slaughter and Private Christpher “Kit” L. Carter gathered near the herd. They looked around, talking and joking. Where, one asked, were the officers?

At that moment, Captain Ross, Lieutenant Tom Killiher, and Lieutenant Somerville were in heated chases after two well-mounted Comanche warriors. Ross shot at his well-dressed warrior-chief who fell from his horse. As Ross was finishing the warrior, Killiher ran by chasing another warrior. Ross got on his horse and followed. After a long run Ross got close enough to fire his pistol at the bulky-looking Comanche. To his surprise, a body fell off the pony but left another rider. Ross realized he had shot a woman riding behind a warrior. Ross rejoined the chase and fired several more shots. One or two struck the Comanche's horse, which slowed and began staggering. The warrior leaped clear as the pony fell and he rolled across the prairie to avoid being shot. The Indian came up firing arrows at Ross. Dancing his horse from side to side to avoid the missiles, Ross nearly fell off when an arrow struck his horse in the side. Stung, the animal began bucking and pitching, making it impossible for Ross to do anything but hold on. Running forward at Ross’ horse, the Indian grabbed the reins and attempted to stab the Ranger captain with an arrow pulled from his sheath. Desperately firing his pistol over his horse's head, Ross luckily hit the warrior in the chest. Blood flowing, the warrior dropped the arrow, turned deliberately away and walked to his fallen horse where he knelt down singing his death song.

Martinez, Ross' interpreter, rode up to his captain at this juncture. While Ross tended to his injured horse, he motioned toward the Comanche and asked Martinez to ask him to surrender. The Comanche spit and then continued singing. Ross reloaded his pistol. Walking toward the Indian, he killed him with one shot. Ross took a shield, quiver, lance and head-dress from the Indian's body. Ross later claimed the Comanche’s name was Mohee.

Ross and Martinez rode together back toward the initial attack. As they approached the captured horse herd, Ross saw that the Rangers had several captives, including "a small Comanche boy who had been picked up … by Lieutenant Sublet." Ross, "fearing that he (the boy) might be killed by some of the more reckless men, I took him up behind me and carried him back." Ross rode to where Goodnight and the other Rangers had gathered. Killiher returned about the same time with a captive Indian woman who had a baby strapped on her back. Killiher was, "bitterly cursing his luck for having run his favorite horse so far and so hard just to catch an old squaw." Ross thought little of the captives at the time. He called the captive boy "Pease" and arranged with the Rangers to have him taken to his ranch in Waco.

Meanwhile Cureton's volunteers suffered the rewards of an undisciplined army in the presence of combat. Everything went wrong. Chick found his horse but as soon as the men headed north toward the sounds of battle, Cureton discovered his pack drivers had abandoned their packs. These were vital supplies. The pack drivers were afraid they would be left behind as easy prey to the fearful Comanches. Cureton ordered the column to wait while the packers went back and recovered the supplies. Lieutenant Saunders made sure the muleskinners recovered all the packs. Not until late in the afternoon did the militia reach the Pease River near where the attack had been joined. As the men rode and walked along the riverbank, they met the Rangers, Ross leading, riding triumphal back south on the opposite side. Hittson's deputy, James Baker, noted the event in his diary. "We were soon together and he (Ross) told us that they had overtaken a band of 15 Indians, had killed 12 of them and taken prisoners."

Relief swept over the men as the rangers described what sounded like a terrific victory. "There was great yelling and whooping and shaking hands and congratulating Capt. and his men, upon his good luck for he has not even had one wounded." While the Rangers and Dragoons prepared their camp, most of the militia pushed on, eager to see the battlefield. "Our boys could not be restrained but rode eagerly to the scene of action.”

When they reached the scene Baker noted a much less heroic picture than had been described by Ross and the Rangers.
We found only four dead Indians, all squaws. There were many packs strewn on the prairie for a distance of 2 or 3 miles, with a large amount of dried beef and buffalo meat, buffalo skins, camp accouterments, ... The prisoners are a woman, a little girl and a boy about 10 years old.

According to Baker, the identity of the captured woman was of no importance. All the men assumed her to be a Comanche. Later that evening after camp had been made and fires built, Baker and some of the other men looked her over carefully as they ate their evening meal. Baker wrote in his diary.

The woman is of white parentage ... looks just like an Indian, except that she has blue eyes ... the bucks pushed them (she and her baby) off and rode away ... she cried `Dont shoot, me Mericana.' The man closest to her saw that her eyes were blue and spared her. Tonight as we sat about the camp fire, a discussion arose as to her identity, and in the course of the talk, some one remarked that years ago a family by the name of Parker had been killed where Parker Co. is now [sic], and a child Cynthia Ann Parker had been carried off. At once the woman spoke up and said, `Me Cynthia Ann.' So we have decided that the long lost Cynthia Ann Parker has been recaptured.

The next day dawned cold as usual. Ross led the Rangers toward Camp Cooper with the prisoners and the captured horses. The militia trailed along, disgruntled and angry. Not only had the rangers exaggerated the nature of the fight, but they also claimed the entire captured pony herd for themselves. They refused even to loan the dismounted militiamen a pony to ride home. From that time on, the Palo Pinto militiamen viewed all Rangers with suspicion. They spread tales of them being, at worst liars and at best, greedy opportunists. The Dragoons fared no better in the eyes of the settlers. Baker wrote.

Sergeant Spangler ... reported that his men killed a party of 7 Indians who ran in a different direction from where Ross and his men were engaged. We found only one killed at the place he designated, but we found the trail of 6 leaving this place, hence we concluded that Spangler lied and let his Indians get away. 7 all todl [sic], 4 squaws, and 3 bucks are all of the dead Indians we have found.

At Camp Cooper, rancher George Evans’ wife was asked to care for the woman and her infant. A message was sent to Fort Worth to notify Isaac Parker. After 24 years of searching, the Rangers proudly declared Cynthia Ann had been recovered. In time, she was sent to Isaac, her uncles’ farm to live. Of course, no one ever asked Cynthia Ann what she wanted. Isaac had to watch her carefully as he discovered the woman would do practically anything to return to her Comanche family. Her desires in the matter were never seriously considered, however, her happiness a casualty of the fierce contest between the two opposing cultures. The recovery of Cynthia Ann Parker restored the honor of Texas and boosted the morale of the settlers in the frontier counties.

The Comanches responded to the loss of Cynthia Ann by increasing their raids. Within days of the Pease River fight, a series of warrior assaults struck at towns, one notably putting the village of Palo Pinto under an all-night siege. Hittson organize the townspeople to provide round-the-clock protection for the town day and night. Everyone boarded up his house, groups men took turns standing guard. It is thought that Cynthia Ann's husband, Peta Nokona, led raids into Palo Pinto County and on the surrounding settlements of Jacksborough and Fort Belknap for the next several months. That winter proved one of the most deadly and intense of the long history of the Comanche-Texan conflict.

Peta Nokona, or Petsa-no-ko-ni as the Kiowas knew him, never rose to the status of a great chief but remained a warrior-leader. Even before Cureton's militiamen were able to return to their homes, Nocona's raids struck. Angry over the killing of their wives and relatives, the revenge-minded Comanches attacked and killed Palo Pinto settler Gholston Flahegin on New Years Eve night.

During the first week of 1861, Indians severely wounded a young boy named Smith on Leon Creek north of Weatherford in Parker County. During the same attack Indian arrows severely wounded Mrs. Coin and Mr. Brannon of Young County. Through the spring and summer the raids continued without letup. The Indian raids caused the town of Palo Pinto to organize an "internal" Ranger company. Though some grumbled, Hittson and others voted to elect 19 year-old Ranger Private C.C. “Lum” Slaughter as captain of the local rangers. Peta Nokona concentrated on raiding Palo Pinto for two years. In 1863, he was severely wounded in a raid and died somewhere in North Texas. After that, the Comanches do not mention his name again.

One direct result of the Comanche and Kiowa raids during this period, which included the first years of American Civil War, was that the population of all the outlying frontier counties fell dramatically. In at least five of the counties around Palo Pinto, the local county governments ceased to exist, dissolved for lack of citizens. Ten years after the Pease River fight; the population of the counties around Palo Pinto was thousands less than it had been in the summer of 1860. It would take more than twenty years before the frontier population recovered to what it was when Cynthia Ann was recaptured.

Photographer A. F. Corning from Fort Worth often visited Palo Pinto, taking photos of the local residents as his life work. In January 1861, he heard that the famous Cynthia Ann Parker was being held at Camp Cooper. Packing his equipment onto pack animals he made the long, 150 mile trip west to the army post. His picture of Cynthia Ann and her baby girl "Topsannah" (Prairie Flower) is the only one known to exist. Fifteen years later, Corning sent a copy of the photograph to Quanah, who by then was living on the reservation in Indian Territory near Fort Sill. Quanah instantly identified the woman in the photograph as his mother (see Hacker, Cynthia Ann 30, 38)



Cynthia Ann Parker and daughter Topsannah by photographer A. F. Corning 1862

The Texas legislature debated the future of the woman. Concerned that she, a Texas legend, seemed unhappy and destitute, the congress granted her a pension on April 8, 1861. She got $100 a year for five years and was presented a league of land. A league was over 4,000 acres but to obtain title required expensive legal and surveying work. Isaac Parker took Cynthia Ann and her baby to his home west of Fort Worth where she moved into a room in his cabin. Years passed and she never learned to speak English nor did she respond pleas to rejoin the Parker family. Lonely, unable to adapt, she never stopped mourning her separation from her husband and her two sons.

The Civil War years were especially disease prone along the frontier of Texas. On December 15, 1863 Cynthia Ann’s daughter Topsannah died at age 5 from complications from influenza and pneumonia. Cynthia Ann subsequently died while living with her sister Orlena and her sister's husband, James Rufus O'Quinn, near Poyner, Henderson County, Texas.

After finally surrendering in 1875 and settling on a reservation in southern Indian Territory, Quanah adopted agricultural methods, promoted education for his children and fellow Comanches. He prospered as both a farmer and the managing agent for business deals between white ranchers to lease the “Big Pasture,” a Comanche hunting area bordering the Red River. At one point he was considered the wealthiest Native American in North America. In 1886 he was appointed judge of the Court of Indian Affairs; by 1890 he was principal chief of all Comanche bands. He became a major figure in the peyote religion. In 1905, he rode beside Geronimo in the inaugural parade for President Theodore Roosevelt. He had at least seven wives.



Bibliographical Essay
See Margaret Schmidt Hacker, Cynthia Ann Parker (El Paso, 1990). On Nov. 28, 1860. Wednesday. "Indians kill 21, ... one man in Parker Co. and scalped one woman ... Mrs. Sherman ... (scalped) shot (with) an arrow ..., left her alive naked on the prairie." [Diary of J. H. Baker]. Smythe incorrectly recorded the date as December, 1859 (Smythe, Sketch of Parker County. 131-33). Benjamin Crawford Dragoo (1835 Washington Co. Ill-1929 London, Tx) moved to Texas at age three. He grew up on the Navasota River next to Fort Parker and played with the Parker children who survived the raid on the fort (Hunter, Trail Drivers of Texas, 797). Peter Robertson (b. July 25, 1840 Hall Co., Ga) from McLennan County and Robert W. Gray (b. Vera, Knox Co., Tx) accompanied Dragoo. Dragoo's narrative is in Hugh D. Corwin, Comanche & Kiowa Captives, 52-54, 67 (Guthrie, 1959). Sul Ross' Rangers included Capt. J. M. Smith. Lieutenants: Tom Killiher; Somerville; Sublet. Privates: Charles Goodnight (see abundant literature); C. C. Slaughter; Kit Carter; George Lemley; Antonio Martinez; Francis Marion Peveler; Frank Cassidy; Benjamin Franklin Gholson. See Dallas Herald (June 19, 1875); Walter Prescott Webb, Handbook of Texas (Austin, 1951, 2, 685). Sgt. Spangler's Dragoons were a detachment from Co. H, 2nd U. S. Dragoons. They were stationed at Camp Cooper on the Clear Fork of the Brazos River, in Shackleford County. The camp commander was Lt. Col. Robert E. Lee. For more on the sergeant, see M. L. Crimmins, "First Sergeant John W. Spangler..." West Texas Historical Association Year Book 26 (October, 1950, 68-75). Cureton's volunteer rangers numbered about a hundred men. Besides the Hittson brothers, 2nd Lt. James Hamilton Baker, Hittson's deputy sheriff, James H. Chick (27 years-old, Indiana) was a cowboy for Joel McKee, his lost horse delayed the militia Rangers. J. H. Coffee, John Dalton (age 16, son of Mark Dalton), George Washington Dodson (age 22, Hittson's cousin), James Dulin (Hittson's hired hand, 23 years-old), Jack Flint (age 29, Oliver Loving's son-in-law), Calvin T. Hazlewood (35 years-old) B. B. Medders (age 27, sheriff of Palo Pinto County after Hittson), Vollintine Simons (age 22, Hittson's hired hand), Lt. Thomas Linaeus Stockton (age 27, Hittson's best friend), Peter Eldridge Slaughter (eldest son of G. W.)., Lt. James Buckner Berry and F. A. Ball (Hittson's lawyer). See list in Loftin, Trails Through Archer, 55; Cox, Historical & Biographical . 306, 653; Dallas Herald (Dec. 19, 1860); McConnell, West Texas Frontier 167, 174.
For Ross’ remembering the recovery of Cynthia Ann Parker, see Dallas Herald June 19, 1875. The Diary of J. H. Baker, December 19, 1860 mentions the discovery of Cynthia Ann as they sat around the campfires.
Mrs. George Evans helped her husband handle the remounts for the Butterfield Stage depot near Camp Cooper. One of her sons was apparently Jesse Evans, the outlaw in Lincoln County, New Mexico, with Billy the Kid.
Peta Nocona, Petsa-no-ko-ni, was a revered headman, but not the chief of the Nocona Comanches. The Nocona meant "Wanderers." In revenge, Peta Nocona correctly concentrated his attacks on Palo Pinto, Young, and Jack counties. See Mayhall, The Kiowas; Hacker, Cynthia, 24.
Saturday, Palo Pinto. James Baker wrote the following after a meeting with the militia. He tried "to influence the election of a commander of the ranger co. that has been organized here. C. C. Slaughter [age 24] was elected Lieut. and consequently in command. I opposed his election as I do not consider him suitable for that office." Diary of J. H. Baker, January 19, 1861,
Many frontiersmen were Unionists. In February 1861 at the Texas Ordinance of Secession the vote was 14,697 against and 46,129 to leave the Union. Lamar, Fannin, Grayson, Collin, Cooke, Denton, Montague, Wise, Jack and Young counties, containing just over a tenth of the population, cast more than a fourth of the total votes against secession. However, Parker, Palo Pinto, Johnson, Erath, Comanche, Hamilton, Brown, Lampasas and San Saba voted 88% in favor of secession. The northwestern counties counted only slightly more than ten percent of their population in slaves as compared to a state average of almost 50 per cent. In Palo Pinto County, there were 107 votes for secession, none against. Floyd F. Ewing, Jr., "Origins of Unionist Sentiment on the West Texas Frontier," West Texas Historical Association Year Book, 32 (October, 1956: pp. 21-29).
On March 17, 1861, the John Robert Baylor regiment organized in Weatherford, Texas. Hamner was elected captain and George Baylor initially became Hamner's First Lieutenant. Company H, 2nd Texas Cavalry (later called the Texas Mounted Riflemen) marched out of the frontier with Baylor at its head. In May in San Antonio, the two Baylor brothers were officially commissioned to the regular Confederate Army for three years. John Robert Baylor had his ups and downs but ended the war as a newly commissioned Brigadier General heading to Texas to recruit his brigade. His brother George ended the war under arrest for murder. See Kenneth A. Goldblatt, "The Defeat of Major I. Lynde, U.S.A." Password 15:1 (Spring, 1970), 16, 22. On February 21, 1861 U. S. Army Captain T. S. Carpenter surrendered Camp Cooper to Texas Colonel W. C. Dalrymple. Metz, Selman 27.
Lawrence Sullivan "Sul" or "Sully" was a second son, the fourth child of Shapley Prince Ross and Catherine Fulkerson. Ross was born in Iowa but was raised on the frontier of Texas. He participated in three expeditions against the Indians in Texas and Indian Territory, once taking an arrow through his lung. He attended Baylor University at Independence, Tx, in 1856. The following year he attended Wesleyan University at Florence, Alabama (Mississippi?). In 1858, at age 20, Ross returned home and led 125 Indians in support of Major Earl Van Dorn, who took part of 2nd Dragoons against a Comanche village. Severely wounded in the battle (an arrow penetrated his lung), Ross returned and graduated from Wesleyan in 1859. One of the events for which he is most famous occurred in December, 1860. "[A]t the head of Pease river, as Captain of a company of sixty rangers, employed to guard the Western frontier, administered a blow that forever crushed the warlike Comanches [his force killed six women, two or three men and captured one woman and two children]. Immediately after the battle he claimed to have killed Peta Nocona, the last great Comanche chieftains (he changed his mind later) ... and restored to civilization Cynthia Ann Parker, who had been captured by the Comanches at Parker's Fort in 1836."

Mountain Man and Western Entrepreneur: The Bozeman Trail and the Little Known John M. Jacobs

Most avid readers and serious students of western history have heard of the Bozeman Trail, the infamous Bloody Bozeman that took emigrants north from the Oregon Trail to the gold fields of Montana in 1863. The Bozeman Trail was one of the last emigrants trails opened in the American West.



The establishment of the Bozeman Trail by John Bozeman and John M. Jacobs was a business venture in which Bozeman and Jacobs expected to gain financially from guiding emigrants to Montana. Jacobs, described in contemporary accounts as an “old mountain man”, could see the financial possibilities of establishing a trail and guiding anxious gold seeking emigrants north to Montana. His foresight was not all that unusual. Indeed, some of most industrious western entrepreneurs were mountain men, trappers and traders, who spent a majority of their adult lives in the Inter-Mountain West. These men, characterized in American folklore as rough rowdy raucous men of low calling, had the ingenuity and expertise to engage in an assortment of financial ventures, which ultimately helped them to make a living for themselves and their families. The establishment of a new emigrant trail offered Jacobs a timely financial venture.

In 1862 John Jacobs, along with others in the fur trade business, had retired because of the depletion of beaver and a dwindling demand for hides. As luck would have it, just as the beaver was saying his last adieu, emigrants were heading west in record numbers to stake out their fortunes in a new land. What Jacobs saw was not just a steady flow of wagons heading west, but the possibility of a new business venture. The emigrant trails were long and offered few services. There were forts, like Fort Laramie in eastern Wyoming, where emigrant trains could buy supplies, but it was a long stretch after Fort Laramie to other supply depots, like Fort Hall in present day Idaho. This was especially a problem when an emigrant family needed fresh livestock to pull their wagons. Often when oxen or cows could not keep up, they were left behind along the trail. Jacobs made a business out of buying cheap worn out oxen or gathering up strays, and moving them North into the Beaverhead, Bitterroot or the Deer Lodge valley’s of western Montana There the livestock fattened up on lush grasses. The next summer Jacobs took the hardy animals back to the Oregon Trail and traded them to new western emigrants, who were in the same situation as the travelers of the previous summer. Jacobs offered one fattened well-fed animal for two or three used up oxen. Jacobs and his companions also traded clothing, like deer skin shirts and pants, beaded moccasins, and other such articles most likely made by the trappers’ Indian wives.

Another one of Jacobs’ business enterprises was that of trail guide to emigrant trains that traveled various overland routes. When the summer business slowed down, usually with the threat of first snow, Jacobs retired to the inter-mountain valleys of Montana, where families made up of white fur traders, native women and mixed blood children, lived through relatively mild winters in their Elk Skin Lodges. It was one of these winters in the early 1860s that John Jacobs met John Bozeman. It is reported that John Bozeman had arrived in Deer Lodge Valley in 1862 to mine for gold. Bozeman was a young ambitious energetic man from Georgia, who sought western adventure and Montana gold, but the work was arduous and there was little return for all the labor. When word spread of a rich discovery of gold at Grasshopper Creek in the Beaverhead Valley in what became Bannack, Montana, Bozeman wasted little time getting to the new diggings. Again, actually mining for gold did not suit Bozeman and he looked around for other lucrative possibilities.

Bozeman and Jacobs met in Bannack of 1862. Jacobs had just finished guiding a train of forty wagons to Walla Walla. The new discovery of gold in Montana provided Jacobs with further opportunities to etch out a living, but not by panning for gold. Jacobs and Bozeman thought of the possibility of making money by helping emigrants reach the Montana gold fields by a shorter time saving route, an idea not originating with Bozeman or Jacobs. In fact, the Englishman, Edward Shelley and his companion, William Orcutt, first traversed the route that eventually became the Bozeman Trail. Against all odds, traveling through Blackfeet country, Shelley’s small party made it to Fort Benton, Montana in the winter of 1863, William Orcutt spent the winter in Bannack, as did Jacobs and Bozeman. Orcutt broadcast the news of a shorter route from the Oregon Trail to gold fields.

Jacobs seemed to understand the significance of the shorter route, especially the financial possibilities. He had the experience and knowledge of the western trails, it is not clear what Bozeman had, perhaps he just claimed the idea. At any rate, the two decided to forge a new route from Bannack to the Oregon Trail and then offered to lead emigrant trains back over their new route to Montana. In the spring of 1863, Bozeman, Jacobs and Jacobs’s seven-year-old daughter, traveled from Bannack to Three Forks of the Missouri, across the Gallatin Valley enroute to the East, all the time marking what would become the Bozeman Trail. In the early history of the Trail, it was not referred to as the Bozeman Trail but the Jacobs’ Trail or Jacobs’ cut-off or the Jacob/ Bozeman Trail.

Before the United States government closed the Trail to civilian traffic in 1866, 3500 people traveled north from one of three cutoffs between Douglas and Casper Wyoming. Once over the dry sage plains of Wyoming,




The trail wound east of the Big Horn Mountains then west across Clarks Fork River, Rose Bud Creek, and through the Powder River Basin (the home of the Sioux, Northern Cheyenne and Northern Arapahoe) to the upper Yellowstone River Valley (the home of the Crows, Blackfeet, Piegan and Bloods) to the final destination of Bannock and Virginia City.



In all, the trail encompassed 500 miles, shaving 400 miles from the more established route that continued west along the California/ Oregon Trail to South Pass and then north along the Idaho Border.

The Bozeman Trail provided the route to the future; soon after emigrants arrived the resemblance of a government was formed and those who would become Montana’s first prominent citizens, traveled the Bozeman Trail and made their fortune and reputation as leaders in the new state capital of Bannack (since moved to Helena.)


There is however, a tragic, but perhaps inevitable aspect in the establishment of the Bozeman Trail-- the Trail, which traversed Indian country, brought white and Indian hostilities into full fledge warfare.




The conflict marked a clear distinction between white Americans, who proudly walked into the West under the raw new banner of democratic capitalism, and the people of a nomadic Plains Tribal horse society, whose members sought to protect their hunting areas for survival of their people. After thirty years of watching their hunting grounds and land being taken up by farmers and ranchers, Native Americans fought back with a vengeance, especially after the massacre at Sand Creek in Southern Colorado. In the spring of 1864, Colonel Chivington and the Colorado Volunteers attacked Black Kettles band of Southern Cheyenne camped at Sand Creek, killing women and children. The Southern Cheyenne and Southern Arapaho moved north and formed an alliance with the Northern Cheyenne and Upper Platte Sioux. The Indian War spread through out the Plains and Mountains settlements, making emigrant travel unsafe. The army established western forts to protect travel and western habitants, but the fighting along the Bozeman Trail was so dangerous, that in 1866, the government closed the Trail to civilian traffic.


It is great fun to uncover the history of the different emigrant trails and to try to understand the motivations of the people who risk so much to migrate to the West. I’m enjoying learning about an aspect of western history of which I knew so little. But perhaps most importantly, my reading has made me realize how the writing of western history has changed in the last thirty years, a whole new generation of interpretation. This new interpretation is beneficial in many ways--new historiography has presented an all inclusive history of the West; we now have a better understanding of the actions and motivations of all western inhabitants in the eighteenth and nineteenth century. But, the problem that I see in current scholarship is that if a person really wants to know about the lives of those who migrated to the West after Lewis and Clark made the trek in 1803, they will have to start looking through sources written before 1970. The historical account written before the “new” scholarship is basically opinion free, it is strait forward history, many accounts from people who knew first hand. The history of the Bozeman Trail and the events surrounding the opening of the trail, is a wonderful history full of intrigue, but what is even more amazing, to me at least, is the number of men and women who not only forged a trail, but brought entrepreneurship and capitalism to the western America. Yes, they did it at a cost to the Native People who inhabited the region, but never-the -less, their story is remarkable and could only be accomplished in a land that offered them the freedom with which to advance their fortunes.

Christmas in Frontier Oklahoma



Nothing can be lonelier than being away from family and friends during the Christmas season. This was especially true of those who left the sanctuary of their eastern homes to settle in the remote territory of Oklahoma in the nineteenth century. Like many of the people who immigrated to the American West, pioneers who settled in Oklahoma and Indian Territory (Twin Territories) brought with them cultural traditions long practiced in the communities they left behind. But, the frontier environment often altered many of the ways in which pioneers observed the holidays. In their new communities, families came together to celebrate their first Christmases by sharing traditions and inventing new practices, which created many of the Christmas customs we enjoy in Oklahoma today.

Some of the first Christmas celebrations recorded in Oklahoma were among members of the Five Civilized Tribes in Indian Territory. Before the federal government forcibly removed the Cherokees, Chickasaws, Choctaws, Creeks and Seminoles from their eastern homelands in the 1830s, missionaries worked among the tribes to convert them to Christianity. After settlement in Indian Territory of present-day eastern Oklahoma, missionary continued working to build missions and schools to serve the Native people. Henry Wilson, was one of many missionaries sent to Indian Territory by the Presbyterian Missionary Board.


Wilson arrived at Dwight Mission on a cold December evening of 1832. After the long journey, he was delighted when he heard the mission bells ringing as he approached. His traveling companions told him that the bells were calling the converted Cherokees to service and that they were preparing for the Christmas celebration. During Wilson’s long journey to Indian Territory, he had wondered what Christmas would be like in the West. He understood that when he left his family in Connecticut he was also leaving many of his familiar traditions.

After a long horseback ride, the young missionary was tired and hungry and anxious about his new responsibilities. He later wrote of his experience, “When I entered [mission church] they were singing a hymn in the Cherokee language. Never before did music appear half so sweet to me; the language is music itself.” Wilson soon learned that the Christmas service would be held at Colonel Walter Webber’s home along the Arkansas River, sixty miles from the mission. Webber was one of the head-men, or chiefs of the Cherokee and not yet converted to Christianity. No matter, the celebration was for converted and non-converted alike. After a two-day trip, where Wilson slept out on the open ground for the first time in his life, they arrived at the celebration among 100 Cherokee families who had gathered. Thirty years later, the missionary remembered, “This was the happiest Christmas I ever spent, though far from home and friends and destitute of the luxuries and comforts to which I have become accustomed.”

In order to facilitate Indian Settlement in the nineteenth century, the United States government constructed forts and stationed troops in Indian Territory.



The Army built Fort Arbuckle among the Chickasaws in 1855, and soon after, Camp Arbuckle on the south side of the Canadian River not far from the present location of Purcell, Oklahoma. The military established Camp Arbuckle at the request of those guiding immigrant trains to California. Like many who moved to the Territories, the men stationed at these post also experienced the loneliness of Christmas away from family and loved ones “back in the states.” The first Christmas spent at Camp Arbuckle was lacking in many of the trappings of a traditional Christmas but the soldiers would never forget Christmas dinner. Because of the abundance of game in the area, dinner consisted of “bear meat, buffalo tongue, venison, prairie hen, wild turkey, goose, duck, quail and pigeon.”

Government agents and mission workers who lived among the different Plains Tribes in western Oklahoma also introduced Christmas and holiday customs of nineteenth-century America to the Native people. Along with teaching the religious significance of Christmas, missionaries introduced the practice of gift giving and special holiday feast to the Native people. Also in Oklahoma Territory, the Federal government established Indian Agencies, where they employed Field Matrons to teach Indian women sewing and cooking and to assist with nutrition and health issues. At Rainy Mountain Mission on the Kiowa Reservation near Fort Sill in Southwestern Oklahoma, Lauretta Ballew, field matron, was responsible for planning the Christmas celebration among the Kiowa.

Kiowa girls

In 1896, she worked for days decorating the Christmas tree, which had a prominent position in Immanuel Chapel at the Mission. From the charitable donations of eastern associations, Ballew was able to gather 380 presents for parents and children, which she placed under the tree. On Christmas Eve, Kiowa families filled the chapel to capacity, and one by one each received a gift. There was also two large barrels near the tree, both filled to the top with bags of candy, a bag for every person at the service.

By the turn of the twentieth century, more and more Native children were attending Indian schools, where part of the curriculum included preparing for Christmas programs. The curriculum at the Chilocco Indian School in northern Oklahoma Territory offered boys and girls courses that gave them the skills to function in society. Preparing for Christmas was one of the ways in which the students could use skills learned in class. In 1905, the children prepared for their Christmas program entitled, “ A Christmas Crusade, or Santa Claus in the Klondike Gold Regions.” The boys built the set for the program in carpentry class, and some of the girls made the costumes for the pageant in their sewing classes, while others prepared refreshments for the holiday in their cooking classes. The Christmas celebration started with a performance by the student orchestra. On Christmas Eve, various homes on the grounds of the school decorated Christmas trees and Santa visited each home. On Christmas day the celebration started with Sunday school. At noon all sat down to a large Christmas dinner, and in the afternoon all enjoyed a public band concert. The celebration concluded the next day with a dress parade in the morning and football game in the afternoon.

When the federal government opened Oklahoma Territory to settlement with the land run on April 22, 1889, the rush of new residents created instant communities. But, those first years in a new country were lonely ones, especially during the Christmas holidays when families missed their loved ones. Ino Lee Robinson remembered, “It was in April, 1891, that my mother with three small children left her native home in Leavenworth County Kansas and came to Oklahoma to join father. He had come two months before and bought a claim twelve miles southwest of Guthrie. It is needless to say that mother rather reluctantly left her relatives and friends to enter a new life in a strange and new land. Fourth of July and Christmas were the happy times of the year. We always attended a Fourth of July celebration at some picnic grove. At Christmas time we had a Christmas tree at the schoolhouse.



Coming together as a community to celebrate Christmas was a new tradition where friends and neighbors took the place of family. The celebrations usually took place in the local school or church. The planning began weeks in advance with the organization of committees to locate and chop down the tree, to decorate the tree, to prepare the Christmas program, to find someone to play Santa Claus and distribute gifts, and to coordinate the community Christmas dinner. In this way, community celebrations, especially Christmas, helped new settlers to adjust to their homes away from home.

Finding a tree, especially in the more arid regions of the Territory, was a challenge. The Eastern custom, made popular in Victorian America in the late nineteenth century, emphasized the traditional pine Christmas tree. In Oklahoma Territory, they had to substitute the pine tree for a native oak or blackjack tree. Young people of the communities gathered to decorate the tree. The challenge was to turn the scrub blackjack into a pine laden with snow. To accomplish this, children wrapped the tree limbs and twigs with cotton. One industrious father had saved the tin foil separating the layers of his tobacco so that his children could fashion ice cycles for the tree. After the tree had it’s traditional “wintry look”, they proceeded to decorate with popcorn string garland.



Having a tree was an important part of family celebration as well. One pioneer remembered it this way, “There were no evergreens to be used for Christmas trees. The bare branches of other trees were covered with cotton and decorated with strings of cranberries, popcorn and chinaberries. Candles were the lights. If there was no tree, the table would be set for breakfast, and Santa Claus would place the presents in the plates. Sugar was saved for weeks to be sure that there would be cookies and candies on Christmas day.“

Food is an important part of Christmas memories and traditions. Few can forget the wonderful aromas of oranges, cinnamon, and cloves coming from a warm kitchen as mom prepared all the treats, pies, cakes and cookies associated with the holidays. Lillian Russell remembered as a child growing up in Oklahoma in the 1920s the aroma of oranges; she associated oranges with the beginning of the Christmas preparation. She explained that it was the only time they had oranges and her mother would take the oranges and display them in a blue bowl placed in the middle of the dinning room table. (Oranges were generally only available at Christmas time.) And there were other indications as well, “There were signs of Christmas all around. Mother would start baking days in advance and carefully place the pies and cakes in the well-house to keep cool. She never baked less than six to eight pies.”

Food was such an important part of Christmas celebrations that the preparation started with the harvest of summer fruits and vegetables, which were canned, preserved and pickled. Also prepared were fruitcakes and a huge supply of mincemeat pie filling, enough to make it through Thanksgiving and Christmas. A special treat for children was to watch their mother prepare Ambrosia for Santa. As one author explained, “Little Marguerite Mitchener watched as her mother peeled and sectioned the fragrant, juicy oranges. Next her father, Dr. Mitchener, would split open the big brown coconut so Mama could drain off the milk and grate the sweet white meat. After she mixed the orange segments and the coconut, she usually added canned pineapple and sometimes a spoonful or two of sugar. On Christmas Eve, they filled a beautiful cut glass bowl with the Ambrosia and set it out for Santa Claus.” For most children, the customary Santa snack was a dish of cookies and a glass of milk. But Marguerite’s family could afford the extra treat of Ambrosia; they lived in a big two-story house in Okmulgee, Oklahoma.

The culture of Oklahoma has also been enriched with the customs of the Eastern Europeans who immigrate to Oklahoma before statehood in 1907. The Czechoslovakians, in particular, left their mark in cities like Prague, Yukon, Wheatland and Perry and parts of Oklahoma City. They brought the Christmas traditions from old Bohemia, where the holiday dinner consisted of roast goose, which was filled with sauerkraut and bread dumplings


Oklahoma is a mosaic of culturally diverse people, who for one reason or another, immigrated to one of the last frontiers in the American West. From Native Americans who were forced to move to Indian Territory, to homesteaders looking from economic enhancement from a new piece of land, to the town merchants and bankers who helped build the infrastructure of new communities, to the Eastern Europeans who found work in various trades and professions, Oklahoma promised opportunity. All who came brought with them rich traditions and added to the culture of Oklahoma.