August 16, 1896: There’s Bacon in Them Thar Hills

Tagish-Tlingit Packer Keish (Lone Wolf), commonly known as Jim, carried equipment and supplies for early prospectors over the mountain passes from the Alaskan seacoast to the headwaters of the klondike.previewYukon river. He earned the nickname “Skookum” (Chinook for big and strong) for his feat of carrying 156 pounds of bacon over Chilkoot Pass in a single trip. (You don’t pull the mask off the old Lone Ranger, And you don’t mess around with Jim.)

Eventually, tired of of slogging other folk’s bacon, Skookum Jim formed a partnership with his sister Shaaw Tlaa (Kate), his cousin Dawson Charlie (Tagish Charlie), and Kate’s husband George Carmack (no nickname) to go look for the Big G.

On August 16, 1896, the Skookum party discovered rich gold deposits in Bonanza (Rabbit) Creek, Yukon.  Although Skookum Jim is believed to have made the actual discovery, George Carmack was officially credited for the gold discovery because the actual claim was staked in his name. The group agreed to this because they felt that an Indian’s claim would not be recognized because of the rampant racism of the time.

Well, you can just imagine what happened when word of their discovery got out. The Klondike was suddenly a “destination” for every would-be prospector who ever dreamed of the Big G. The exodus known as the Klondike Gold Rush (Yukon Gold Rush) (Alaskan Gold Rush) (The Gold Rush to End All Gold Rushes) was on.

Together our heroes worked what would become known as Discovery Claim (Look What We Found) and collectively earned nearly a million dollars. Skookum Jim built a home for his wife (the little woman) and daughter (junior) in the Yukon Territory (Tagish First Nation) where he spent the winters trapping, hunting and eating lots of bacon hauled in by others. George and Kate moved to California where he deserted her for another woman. You can’t trust anyone without a nickname.

 

August 14, 1619: Thou Shalt Not

Those folks who think they have it pretty rough in Virginia these days should thank their reactionary stars things are not as they were back in 1619. The very first general assembly got together in Jamestown that year to pass laws that pretty much told everyone how they could and could not behave. The burgesses, as members of the assembly were called, were 30 old white men determined to dictate morality to everybody else, a tradition that hasn’t changed much over the years.

     Nor has the politics. The burgesses passed laws requiring all colonists to attend two religious services every Sunday and to bear arms (pieces, swords, powder and shot) while doing so – just in case religious fervor pushed someone over the edge.  Even those bearing arms were forbidden from gambling, drinking, idleness and “excesses in apparel,” (which probably didn’t mean too much clothing).  Not wishing to overlook any sin they hadn’t thought of, the burgesses also approved a stern enactment against immorality in general. In the eyes of the burgesses, one can imagine, that might cover a lot of territory (and the colonies had lots of territory). The planting of mulberry trees, grapes and hemp was also proscribed, for we all know that that seemingly innocuous flora is the first step on the road to degradation (spelled with a ‘d’ and that rhymes with ‘p’).

     The burgesses had only nice things to say about tobacco however. Colonists were urged to dedicate the times they were not in church to the growing of said crop. The colonists responded with enthusiasm, even to the point of growing tobacco in the streets of Jamestown – 20,000 pounds a year – despite His Royal Stick in the Mud King James calling it “dangerous to the lungs.”

“Adam was but human—this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple’s sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent.” ― Mark Twain

August 9, 1639: Tiptoe Through the Boroughs

Jonas Bronck was the Norwegian son of a Lutheran minister born sometime around 1600. Or he was a Swedish sailor in the Danish Merchant Marine. Or a Dutch Mennonite who fled the Netherlands because of religious persecution. Or German.

In any event, he was an immigrant to the Dutch colony of New Netherland during a time when the greetings-bronxDutch were trying to increase its colonial population by relocating folks who had gone broke during the bursting of the tulip mania bubble in 1637. The English, who didn’t give a whit about tulips, were copulating and populating the New World like so many limey rabbits, and the Dutch were urged to get out of those wooden shoes and get with it.

Thus, Jonas Bronck arrived in New Netherland in 1639 aboard a ship ostentatiously named The Fire of Troy, whereupon he purchased himself a large tract of land from the Lenape Indians for 400 beads. (You will remember that Dutch wheeler-dealer, Peter Minuit, who snapped up Manhattan for 26 bucks.)

Bronck’s 500 acres was just across the river from the village of Harlem, an easy commute to the Apollo Theater even then. Although Bronck traded with the local Indians, relations were not good, thanks to the Dutch practice of frequently murdering large numbers of Indians. Eventually, the Indians told Bronck to take his 400 beads and shove them, then killed him to reinforce the point.

Eventually, those populating English took over the Dutch lands. Jonas Bronck might have been completely forgotten, but for the river that retained Bronck’s name, mangled a bit to become the Bronx River. By extension, the land around it became The Bronx (and living there known as Bronxitis). This is fortunate, for the original Indian name was Rananchqua.

We’ll have Manhattan, Rananchqua and Staten Island, too?

 ♥

I don’t need bodyguards. I’m from the South Bronx.  — Al Pacino
Yes, Terry and the Pirate is available in the Bronx.  Or you can get it from  Amazon, Barnes and Noble, Apple.

August 6, 1874: The Ears of Texas Are Upon You

Western justice once more prevailed when law officers killed one Jim Reed, a black hat of minimal notoriety who would probably have passed quietly into desperado oblivion had he not married Myra Maybelle Shirley. starrMyra Maybelle came from a once prosperous family whose business in Carthage, Missouri, had been wiped out by the Civil War. The family moved to Texas when she was 16 years old, and it was there that she fell in love with Jim Reed, a family acquaintance from Missouri who had served as a Confederate mercenary. They were married in 1866.

Reed was a lousy husband, more into horse racing and gambling than farming. He gravitated toward a nasty Cherokee named Tom Starr, who led a brutal gang of thieves. Starr (who wore a string tie fashioned from the ears of the men he had killed) mentored Reed in the art of rustling and running whiskey (and possibly a murder here and there).

Myra Maybelle, or Belle as she was now called, was the mother of two children. Nevertheless, she began to take part in her husband’s career, attending several robberies as though they were fancy dress balls, wearing velvet skirts and plumed hats. As fame and the law began to dog them, the Reeds went back to farming in Texas where they could give their children a more respectable upbringing. Too respectable for Reed evidently, for he soon grew antsy and returned to crime, holding up a stagecoach.  And once again they had the long arm of the law all over them.

With a hefty reward offered for Reed’s capture – dead or alive – bounty hunters joined the hunt. Reed was able to elude them for a bit, but on August 6, 1874, one of his fellow gang members killed him for the reward money. Two years later, Belle married Sam Starr, the son of Reed’s Cherokee partner, and became famous as the Bandit Queen, Belle Starr. Sam Starr died in a gun battle, and three years later Belle too cashed in her ill-gotten gains, bushwhacked by hombres unknown.

 

Did you know that five out of three people have trouble with fractions. ~Calvin Trillin

August 5, 642: Arm and the Man, I Sing

A lock of hair from Elvis’ head, a scrap of material from something worn by a Beatle – we know how these things are sought, treasured, and fought over by modern day groupies. We should not be surprised to learn that it was always thus, although, if anything, this practice was far less civilized in the past. Take the case of Saint Oswald, English King of Northumbria, son of the pagan King Aethelfrith, the Ravager of Bernicia.

     Though both pagan and Ravager Jr., Oswald was a benefactor of the poor. Legend has it (as legend will) that Oswald was sitting at meal one day when a throng of beggars came to his gate for relief. This generous man sent them the meat from his own table, and there not being enough to feed them all, had one of his silver dishes cut into pieces to distribute among the rest. Aidanus, a Scottish bishop visiting Oswald, upon witnessing this gesture, took Oswald by the hand and said: “Nunquam inveterascat haec manus!” (“May this hand live forever”).

     Nice thought, but this being the Dark Ages, forever lasted only until August 5, 642, when Oswald was killed in battle by a neighboring king. Oswald’s comrades, remembering Aidanus’ blessing, sorted through his body parts and took care to preserve his arm. The arm was saved and treasured and eventually sold to a wealthy collector of saints’ arms. Rumor has it that it eventually found its way to a secret private collection where it stands alongside a lock of Elvis’ hair and a scrap of skivvies once worn by a Beatle.

 

One thing vampire children are taught is, never run with a wooden stake. ~ Jack Handey

July 27, 1793: Off With Their Heads

On July 27, 1793, Maximilien Robespierre was elected to the Committee of Public Safety, whose function was to oversee the government of France and protect it against its enemies, foreign and domestic. Exactly one year later, he was removed from office. One day later, his head was removed.

During his year as committee member and president of the National Convention, he came to exercise virtual dictatorial control over the French government and proved himself a bit of a black hat. Faced with the threat of real or imagined civil war and foreign invasion, he inaugurated what was lovingly referred to as the Reign of Terror. He compiled himself a rather lengthy enemies list – some 300,000 suspected enemies made the list and were arrested. At least 10,000 died in prison. Robespierre proved himself mighty handy with a guillotine, executing 17,000 of them as “enemies of France”.

But just as he was getting the guillotine really smoking, the threat of a foreign invasion just up and disappeared, and those who still had their heads formed a coalition to oppose Robespierre and his followers.

And on July 27, 1794, Robespierre and his allies were placed under arrest by the National Assembly. When he received word that the National Convention had declared him an hors-la-loi, he shot himself in la tete but only succeeded in wounding his jaw. Nevertheless troops of the National Convention helped him finish the job the very next day – as French sages often say, live by the guillotine, die by the guillotine.

Fast forward a couple of centuries: Richard M. Nixon had himself an enemies list, though not nearly as long as Robespierre’s.  And his Saturday Night massacre pales by comparison. But on July 27, 1974, didn’t they vote to impeach him anyway. At least, there was no guillotine.

There is only one cure for grey hair. It was invented by a Frenchman. It is called the guillotine. − P.G. Wodehouse

July 20, 1969: I See the Moon, the Moon Sees Me

Mention the moonwalk, and Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin naturally spring to mind. You know, “one small step for man, one giant leap for mankind.”   That is unless you’re Google. To Google, that magical searching apparatus, the moonwalk is a dance step popularized by Michael Jackson. That’s it, nothing else. If you’re an astronaut, you might just as well have done the cakewalk or the Lindy back there on July 20, 1969, with the whole world watching.

See the thread holding up the fake New York Times?

     Folks other than Google did watch the moonwalk as performed by the astronauts. It was the real thing not some abstract space adventure you might read about. It was there before our eyes, an “As Seen on TV” moment. Conspiracy theorists, along with Google, have different ideas of course – that the astronauts were actually doing Michael Jackson imitations on a secret sound stage somewhere out in the desert.  And they are joined by such notable sources of knowledge as Fox News and the Flat Earth Society. At any given moment over the past years, up to 20% of Americans have believed that the manned landings and moonwalks were faked. Many of these Americans are, of course, the same ones who believe that evolution is a communist plot, that Barak Obama was born in Kenya, and that Donald Trump is . . . well, the Almanac won’t go there.  They’ve even worked out all the little details. NASA, it seems, faked the landings to win the Space Race. The make-believe landings were staged by Hollywood under the aegis of Walt Disney, based on a script by Arthur C. Clarke and directed by Stanley Kubrick.

     A number of these skeptics even believe that the moon itself is a fake. If you’re not convinced, try Googling it.

War talk by men who have been in a war is always interesting; whereas moon talk by a poet who has not been in the moon is likely to be dull.  — Mark Twain

July 18, 64: Rome Wasn’t Burnt in a Day

Just whose fault was it anyway? Was it a cow kicking over a lantern, that strange new sect known as Christians, or the Emperor himself whom rumor would have wailing on a fiddle during the conflagration? It started in the central slums, spread rapidly through the market area and neroeventually engulfed most of the city. When the flames finally died out more than a week later, nearly two-thirds of Rome had been destroyed.

History likes to blame Emperor Nero, suggesting that he not only started the fire because he did not find the city architecturally pleasing, but staged his one-man concert as the flames surrounded him. History does not recall the name of the tune or tunes he played. History is funny that way. He did use the fire as an opportunity to rebuild Rome in a more orderly Greek style. And he did blame the curious Christian cult for the fire, responding with what became the popular Roman pastime of feeding them to the lions and other pagan parlor games.

Unfortunately for conspiracy theorists, Nero was 35 miles away when the fire started, couldn’t play a lick on the fiddle (which hadn’t been invented anyway), and let his palace be used as a homeless shelter (no Christians need apply, of course).

Actually, Nero wasn’t musically inept. He could play a mean lyre, an ancient Greek stringed instrument sort of like a zither but sort of not. This is probably why conspiracy theorists determined to blame him for the fire, chanted “Lyre, lyre, pants on fire.”

I was much distressed by next door people who had twin babies and played the violin; but one of the twins died, and the other has eaten the fiddle, so all is peace. — Edward Lear

July 13, 1865: Gay Guinea Pigs and Middle-aged, Scheming Monkeys

Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, New Orleans, and some western cities have buildings called museums, opined The New York Times, but they are mere theatrical attractions compared to Barnum’s American Museum in New York City.  Make that Barnum’s former museum, since the occasion for the Time’s ode, was the destruction by fire of the amazing structure at the corner of Broadway and Ann.  Forget that the Times also talked of its “ever patent humbuggery with which (it) coddled and cajoled a credulous people,” it was still an honorable institution.

The always staid Times ran the story of the fire under the following headline:

DISASTROUS FIRE.

Total Destruction of Barnum’s American Museum.

Nine Other Buildings Burned to the Ground.

LOSS ESTIMATED AT $1,000,000.

A History of the Museum and Brief Sketch of its Curiosities.

Scenes Exciting, Serious, and Comic at the Fire.

The Police Prompt and Vigilant—The Firemen Earnest and Active.

GREAT EXCITEMENT IN THE CITY.

Thirty Thousand People in the Streets

Pickpockets in the Crowd

Accidents and Incidents.

THE AQUARIA.

THIRD FLOOR FAMOUS PETRIFICATION, THREE MEN OF EGYPT,

THE FOURTH FLOOR, THE HAPPY FAMILY, ORIGIN OF THE FIRE.

SCENE WITHIN THE MUSEUM, COMIC INCIDENTS, A FEARFUL PANIC.

PROGRESS OF THE CONFLAGRATION.

ARRIVAL OF THE METROPOLITAN POLICE.

THE FLAMES EXTENDING. CLOSING OF SHOPS.

THE FIRE CHECKED.

INCIDENTS.

THIEVES ARRESTED. ACCIDENTS.

LOSS OF CURIOSITIES.

THE SUFFERERS AND THE LOSSES.

DISASTROUS FIRE.

Leave the sensationalism to the Daily News and the Post.

From the Times Article:

On the floor above was a collection of “sassy” monkeys, subdued dogs, meek rats, fat cats, plump pigeons, sleepy owls, prickly porcupines, gay guinea pigs, crowing cocks, hungry hounds, big monkeys, little monkeys, monkeys of every degree of tail, old, grave, gray monkeys, young, rascally, mischievous monkeys, middle-aged, scheming monkeys, and a great many miserable, mangy monkeys. Those animals and other creatures may have been happy, but they didn’t smell nicely; they doubtless lived respectable, but their anti(c)s were not pleasant to look at, and, to tell the truth, they frequently fought fiercely, and were badly beaten for it. However, they are gone; all burned to death, roasted whole, with stuffing au naturel, and in view of their lamentable end we may well say, “Peace to their ashes.”

New York Times article about the destruction of Barnum’s American Museum

Opinions are like assholes; everyone’s got one. ― P.T. Barnum

July 11, 1921: Bathtubs of the Presidents II -Splish Splash, I Was Stuck in the Bath

Former President William Howard Taft became the tenth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court on July 11, 1921,  serving until his death in 1930. He was the only person to ever hold both positions. His long career also included stints as Secretary of War, Solicitor General, Governor of Cuba and Appellate Judge. The Almanac will, however, ignore all that stuff to concentrate on the burning question: Did Taft really get stuck in the White House bathtub?

Taft was a heavy-set fellow, weighing in at 340 pounds. Occasionally, chairs challenged his girth. He did have the White House bathtub super-sized during his presidency. That tub remained in taftthe White House until removed during renovation by a narrower president.  And, in an interesting coincidence (?), the Taft Justice Department was involved in breaking up the Bathtub Trust (aka the Loo League), a cartel of porcelain makers who were playing price-fixing games with bathtubs and toilets. Jump on that, conspiracy theorists.

Then there’s that telling photograph of four men sitting in the Taft Tub. White House plumbers, perhaps. Precursors of the Nixon gang?

Some stories have the entire Joints Chiefs of Staff extricating Taft from the tub. Others talk of lots and lots of butter. But is it true? Or was it a political dirty trick? Or a clever hoax?  H.L. Mencken maintains his innocence.

For further enlightenment see Part I of our  Bathtubs of the Presidents series.

 

I think I did pretty well, considering I started out with nothing but a bunch of blank paper. ― Steve Martin