Category Archives: American history

My Dad

Family of Floyd Pitts at the family home, Cane Hill, Arkansas: Standing back row, left to right: Older brother Harvey, his wife Ina, youngest sister Verna, younger sister Opal, Floyd, oldest brother Noah with wife Nellie holding Betty with Laverne standing. Front row, children of Harvey and Ina, Bobby Ray and Joy Lee. Seated: William “Bill” Pitts and his wife Nora West Pitts.

My dad, Floyd D. Pitts, didn’t fit a traditional male identification, not that he wasn’t fully male. His talent for music set him up for ridicule and bullying by his two older brothers. He hated the fields of cotton where, as a child, he was once flogged with a cotton stalk by his mom for sleeping at the end of a long row with his bag only partly filled. He was eight years old. It was a lesson in working to survive, and he never forgot it.

His high school diploma from Morrow, Arkansas, hardly counted when he entered college on a music scholarship. He’d already been part of a popular men’s quartet with classmates from high school performing regularly on Fayetteville’s KUOA, Voice of the Ozarks radio station. He played piano and fiddle, and also taught singing school. A makeshift piano tuning hammer had been fashioned from a tie-rod end by his blacksmith father because invariably when Floyd showed up at some rural church house to teach shape-note singing, the piano needed tuning.

Band Director, Rogers Arkansas circa 1940

Time in the U. S. Navy during World War II gave him the opportunity to later obtain a master’s degree as well as hours toward a doctorate. After the war, he returned to Rogers (Arkansas) to again teach choir and band. Another forty years would pass in this career, at Fort Smith in the 1950s, then Miami, Oklahoma until 1967, then part time at Westville, Oklahoma and Lincoln, Arkansas, until he retired from teaching.

From the early 1960s on, however, he advanced his moonlighting career of piano tuning and repair, which he took up full time once he left Lincoln schools. And while I had been his student in the Miami schools band, my first opportunity to work at his side came with the piano business. And it was here that we stepped outside the normal father-daughter roles.

He didn’t treat me like a girl. I remember that even as a youngster, when he was trying to remodel an old house we lived in at Fort Smith, he’d show me how to drive a nail or spread mud on a sheetrock seam. When I began ‘helping’ him in the piano business, he didn’t pay attention to whether my nails would get broken or if my feet were cold. He’d say “Come hold this clamp, sis,” or “Get that Phillips and come over here.”

I learned so much this way, not only how to repair and rebuild these complex instruments called pianos, but how to refinish wood whether solid or veneered, how to mix stains to get rid of red tones, how to smooth off delicate veneer edges with 220 grit sandpaper. If I had a shop today, there’s no end to the kinds and numbers of projects I could pursue and conclude with pleasing results.

Most women don’t get that kind of education.

Carmyn Gem Morrow and Floyd Denver Pitts, Benton County Fair circa 1945

Maybe he realized he wasn’t a “traditional” male in the sense of muscles and macho. Maybe he realized I wasn’t a traditional female in the sense of lace and flirting and whatever else defines that sort. Maybe he didn’t realize any of that but rather just moved forward through time with the work his hands could do well and the concept of work as an honorable and necessary pursuit.

I learned more from my dad’s view of the world than from my mom’s. Oh, I washed dishes and hung clothes on the line and changed my little brothers’ diapers. I sewed most of my own clothes through high school. Gardening, milking goats, keeping chickens—those were also part of my education through mom. But none of that really meant much in the greater world of the late 20th century when a woman might need her own income.

Whereas my mom’s social circles didn’t reach much past her extended family, my dad had to learn how to interact with the greater community despite his rural background. He’d have a social drink, laugh at jokes, and recruit band parents and faculty to help sell snow cones to raise money for new band uniforms. It was his charmingly open approach to people that showed me how to build a social network that became an essential part of a thriving thirty-year career as a piano tuner/technician.

If he thought I could lift one end of a 1910 upright piano, who was to say I couldn’t? If he could dig mouse nests out from under piano keys or drill through the cast iron plate to insert lag bolts in restoring a pin block to its correct position, then so could I. I was stronger than I knew, more mechanically minded, my hands—like his—able to tug strings made of cold drawn steel into the right position on a tuning pin.

Me and my dad, mid-1990s at the piano shop, Pitts Piano Service, Fayetteville

I admit to occasional worries that I had lost all chance of being a ‘real’ woman. What woman crawled under a grand piano to refasten the pedal lyre? In 1982 when I passed my Piano Technician Guild exams for registered tuner/technician status, there were less than two dozen women in the field. Plenty of customers would open their door at the appointed time and express shock at seeing a female tech. My hands weren’t delicate with slim fingers and manicured nails, but rather slightly rough tools used to create a well-tuned musical instrument.

But then, even as a child, I never felt feminine. The mysterious talent by which a female might lure a male into courtship totally escaped me. My body didn’t cooperate with the idea of feminine wiles, but rather expressed itself in somewhat androgynous terms—tallish, fairly flat-chested, angular. Interestingly, my dad too seemed somewhat of an anomaly in his family, handsome, lithe rather than muscled. Did he recognize, at least subconsciously, that we both didn’t quite fit the mold?

Nevertheless, I enjoyed my share of love and marriage, cherish my three children, and never turn down a romance novel–unless it’s poorly written.

As his oldest, I gained my dad’s attention first and perhaps it was only the bond of fatherhood that propelled his urge to teach me what he knew. In his heart, he was a teacher more than anything else. He was also an artist—a bass vocalist who could track any part in a four-part harmony, a clarinetist,  and a pianist who loved to pound out the keyboard version of jump music like “Bugle Call Rag” or marches like “Under the Double Eagle.” He cherished his role as both a composer and a conductor who pushed his students to produce excellent music whether Sousa marches or Copland’s Appalachian Spring. It was natural for him to insist I learn piano, clarinet and oboe and how to sing alto, and to teach me how to shim a cracked soundboard and identify the difference between real ivory and early celluloid keytops.

All five of us kids learned music. Both my brothers earned master’s degrees in that field. Sadly, I was the only one privileged to work with him in the piano trade and see the broader side of him than as just a parent.

Whether by conscious intent or as the consequence of his personality, my father allowed me to be me. He encouraged me in skills that were beyond anything considered traditional for a female. His open-mindedness about the life choices of his oldest daughter freed me from any sense of duty to the stereotypes that so often limit women.

Today, fifteen years after his death, I appreciate him more than I was ever able to express while he lived. Thanks, Dad.

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We Can’t Hide Behind a Wall

The New York Times — Central American migrants looked through the fence as a Border Patrol agent stood guard near the El Chaparral border crossing in Tijuana, Mexico.

We are responsible for the chaos south of our border. The Mexico tariff plan underway by the Stable Genius and his minions promises to make the refugee/immigration situation far worse. Now not only will the people of Honduras, El Salvador, and Guatemala be forced to flee their countries, but also the people of Mexico. If we thought the immigration ‘crisis’ was bad before, just wait.

Obviously Trump knows nothing of Central American history. He’s apparently incapable of thinking past his juvenile impulse to hit anything he doesn’t like. Now it’s up to Jared Kushner to meet with Mexican ambassadors to work out a plan that, in Trump’s view, would make Mexico responsible for stopping refugees from arriving at our southern border.

Jared Kushner is left to perform many duties for his father-in-law, not the least is to help craft a working relationship between Israel and Palestine. The qualifications for this 38-year-old’s work on behalf of the United States is that he grew up rich, is a Jew, and has experience in real estate. And he’s married to Trump’s daughter who is apparently the only person who can successful manage the Orange Toddler.

Kushner’s resume? “As a result of his father’s conviction for fraud and incarceration, he [Kushner] took over management of his father’s real estate company Kushner Companies, which launched his business career. He later also bought Observer Media, publisher of the New York Observer. He is the co-founder and part owner of Cadre, an online real-estate investment platform.[1]

In other words, Kushner has zero qualifications for his important role in foreign relations. Nor has he been vetted by Congress.

What we absolutely must recognize is that the situation at our southern border is entirely the result of our actions in those countries. Since the 19th century, we have intentionally worked to destabilize their governments in order to profit off their resources.

Guatemala was once the center of a sprawling Mayan empire. Then the Spanish came and destroyed their culture, stole their wealth, and enslaved the people. When the Spanish left,

From the mid to late 19th century, Guatemala experienced chronic instability and civil strife. Beginning in the early 20th century, it was ruled by a series of dictators backed by the United Fruit Company and the United States government. In 1944, authoritarian leader Jorge Ubicowas overthrown by a pro-democratic military coup, initiating a decade-long revolution that led to sweeping social and economic reforms. A U.S.-backed military coup in 1954 ended the revolution and installed a dictatorship.

From 1960 to 1996, Guatemala endured a bloody civil war fought between the US-backed government and leftist rebels, including genocidal massacres of the Maya population perpetrated by the military. Since a United Nations-negotiated peace accord, Guatemala has witnessed both economic growth and successful democratic elections, though it continues to struggle with high rates of poverty, crime, drug trade, and instability.[2]

In El Salvador, corporate agriculture took over the arable land to grow coffee. Peasants were left with few options for sustaining their families. Land reform efforts were brutally repressed with the support of the United States.

From the late 19th to the mid-20th century, El Salvador endured chronic political and economic instability characterized by coups, revolts, and a succession of authoritarian rulers. Persistent socioeconomic inequality and civil unrest culminated in the devastating Salvadoran Civil War (1979–1992), which was fought between the military-led government and a coalition of left-wing guerrilla groups.[3]

The fully-fledged civil war lasted for more than 12 years and included the deliberate terrorizing and targeting of civilians by death squads, the recruitment of child soldiers and other human rights violations, mostly by the military.[24] An unknown number of people disappeared while the UN reports that the war killed more than 75,000 people between 1980 and 1992… 

The United States contributed to the conflict by providing military aid of $1–2 million per day to the government of El Salvador during the Carter and Reagan administrations. The Salvadoran government was considered “friendly” and allies by the U.S. in the context of the Cold War. By May 1983, US officers took over positions in the top levels of the Salvadoran military, were making critical decisions and running the war.[4]

In Honduras, the third Central American source of refugees seeking asylum in the United States, Spanish invasion was followed by enslavement and occupation of cropland. The U.S. took over where the Spanish left off.

In the late nineteenth century, Honduras granted land and substantial exemptions to several US-based fruit and infrastructure companies in return for developing the country’s northern regions. Thousands of workers came to the north coast as a result to work in banana plantations and other businesses that grew up around the export industry. Banana-exporting companies, dominated until 1930 by the Cuyamel Fruit Company, as well as the United Fruit Company, and Standard Fruit Company, built an enclave economy in northern Honduras, controlling infrastructure and creating self-sufficient, tax-exempt sectors that contributed relatively little to economic growth. American troops landed in Honduras in 1903, 1907, 1911, 1912, 1919, 1924 and 1925.

In 1904, the writer O. Henry coined the term “banana republic” to describe Honduras, publishing a book called Cabbages and Kings, about a fictional country, Anchuria, inspired by his experiences in Honduras, where he had lived for six months. In The Admiral, O. Henry refers to the nation as a “small maritime banana republic”; naturally, the fruit was the entire basis of its economy. According to a literary analyst writing for The Economist, “his phrase neatly conjures up the image of a tropical, agrarian country. But its real meaning is sharper: it refers to the fruit companies from the United States that came to exert extraordinary influence over the politics of Honduras and its neighbors.”

…During the early 1980s, the United States established a continuing military presence in Honduras to support El Salvador, the Contra guerrillas fighting the Nicaraguan government, and also develop an airstrip and modern port in Honduras… The operation included a CIA-backed campaign of extrajudicial killings by government-backed units…[5]

The United States has substantially contributed not only to economic and political instability in Central America, but also to the proliferation of gang and their brutal impact on the people of these nations. Consider, for example, the gang situation in El Salvador.

The Salvadoran Civil War, which lasted from 1979 to 1992, took the lives of approximately 80,000 soldiers and civilians in El Salvador. Throughout the war, nearly half of the country’s population fled from violence and poverty, and children were recruited as soldiers by both the military-run government and the guerrilla group Farabundo Martí National Liberation Front (FMLN). Hundreds of thousands of Salvadorans relocated to Los Angeles, California. This conflict ended with the Chapultepec Peace Accords, but the violence in El Salvador has not stopped since.

Many of those who had relocated to Los Angeles during the war as refugees had gotten involved in gang violence [as victims of existing L.A. gangs]. During this time, the U.S. War on Drugs and anti-immigrant politics had been popularized. Following these sentiments, the Illegal Immigration Reform and Immigrant Responsibility Act of 1996 was passed, which called for deportation of “immigrants–documented or undocumented–with criminal records at the end of their jail sentences.” Throughout the years following, thousands of Salvadorans had been deported back to El Salvador. Gangs that had originated in Los Angeles, namely Mara Salvatrucha and Barrio 18, were spread transnationally through this process.[6]

The gangs learned on the streets of Los Angeles how to intimidate, rob, assault, kidnap for ransom, and murder with impunity. Their ability to run rampant over the native populations of Central America has not been addressed. President Obama understood the history of the situation and issued an official apology for our role in the violence.[7] He crafted a plan that addressed our immigration problem at its source. The plan involved aid to Central America and a program to screen vulnerable children there.

Trump not only reduced the aid, he killed part of the screening program.[8] No wonder that the steady stream of refugees only increases at our southern border. We should also not be surprised when Mexicans start to join that stream if the U.S. implements its tariff plan, putting Mexican jobs at risk. These problems deserve far more thought and understanding than Trump or his son-in-law are capable of providing.  

 

 

 

Fayetteville Legends

Ronnie Hawkins, 1959. From his official website, http://www.ronniehawkins.com Toronto, Ontario Ron Scribner Agency, courtesy of Toronto Hawk Records

“I remember running the red light there,” Hawkins said, referring to Leverett at the top of Garland hill. “I had the daughter of one of the biggest lawyers in Arkansas with me, underage of course. We ran that red light. She did.”

Robert Cochran, interviewing Ronnie Hawkins: “I think I’ve heard that story. That’s where you switch places with her, so you’d take the hit.”

“Yes, I’d take the hit,” Hawkins said. “Pearl Watts was the sheriff. He smoked those old rolled Bull Durham tobaccos. He always had one a fraction of an inch long in the corner of his mouth, [smoke] going right up into his eye while he was interrogating you. Judge Packet said I was a menace to the highway, and I’d better straighten up… They were sitting right behind Leverett school. When we were going over that hill, we were in a hurry to get out to the university farm. That’s where everybody parked.”[1]

Hawkins was indeed in the company of an underage girl, none other than Marcia Perkins, daughter of Rex Perkins. Even though technically too young to hold a driver’s license, she drove a brand new 1956 red-and -white Chevy Bel-Air, courtesy of Rex’s close professional relationships with Fayetteville car dealers.

From Rex Perkins – A Biography:

“By the time Marcia was fourteen in 1955, she had developed a secretive months-long relationship with twenty-one-year-old Ronnie Hawkins, a fledgling star in the music world. Older sister Carole had started college, but Marcia had her own ideas about her future. One night, Marcia attended a slumber party and ended up on the phone with Hawkins. Whether the slumber party had been a strategic maneuver to give her a means to meet him is unknown. But the upshot was that she slipped out of the slumber party to join Hawkins at the golf course where he and other members of his popular group “Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks” were hanging out and jamming in what turned out to be an all-nighter.

“One version of this story claims that Roy Orbison was in town for this jam session, which wasn’t completely unusual. The early form of rock and roll (later named ‘rockabilly’) blossomed around Huntsville-native Hawkins and his friend Levon Helm, along with other members of this group. Other music notables who came to Fayetteville to jam with Hawkins and/or to play at a favorite nightspot, the Rockwood Club, included Jerry Lee Lewis, Carl Perkins, and Conway Twitty.

“An acquaintance of Hawkins remembered those early years. ‘Ronnie was a natural athlete and a ‘Greek god’ of a life guard at the Wilson Park swimming pool. He understandably received lots of attention from a wide range of women.’[1]

“It was assumed that Marcia and Hawkins were sleeping together, although whether they were intimate during the night in question is not known. One of her slumber party friends confessed the story of Marcia slipping out to her mother, Jane McDonald. Jane told Georgia, Georgia told Rex, and the proverbial mess hit the fan. Marcia was Rex’s baby, Daddy’s little girl, and like most fathers in similar circumstances, Rex wasn’t prepared for another man in Marcia’s young life.

Rex Perkins

“As the story goes, even though fourteen was the legal age of consent at that time in Arkansas, a fired-up Rex gave the young man a choice: leave town or suffer my wrath. The result was that Ronnie Hawkins and the Hawks made a hasty departure from the region. The official version of Hawkins’ life story states he began touring Canada (date unspecified) and later made it his home (1958), and that he ventured there on advice from Conway Twitty.[2]

“Contacted regarding this biography, Hawkins confirmed that Rex made certain threats. ‘Rex was the biggest lawyer ever in Fayetteville at that time,’ Hawkins stated. ‘I would have married her but I was afraid somebody was gonna kill me.’”[3]

If Marcia’s girlfriend hadn’t spilled the beans, Rex would have found out anyway. Pearl Watts knew Marcia’s car and would have made sure Rex knew that his daughter had been found in the company of that rock-and-roller Hawkins, flying through that stoplight.

~~~

[1] “Long on Nerve: An Interview with Ronnie Hawkins,” Robert Cochran and Ronnie Hawkins. The Arkansas Historical Quarterly Vol 65, No. 2 (Summer 2006) pp. 99-115.

[1] Scott Lunsford interview, by email June 26, 2014. Author’s notes.

[2] From there, the story of Hawkins’ group is well known to music buffs. After 1964, fellow-Arkansan Helm and other band members regrouped to form ‘The Band,” toured with Bob Dylan in 1965-66, and went on to fame and fortune. Hawkins continued his musical career to become a mentor to other musicians as well as an award-winning performer.

[3] Scott Lunsford interview, his email relating phone conversation with Ronnie Hawkins August 15, 2014. Author’s notes.

~~~

Rex Perkins: A Biography, by Denele Campbell. Available in ebook or paperback,

Worlds Collide in One Man’s Heritage

One wonderful result of writing books is hearing from people who read them. Recently I heard from Jim Terry who was reading my collection of stories about 19th century murders in Washington County, Arkansas – Murder in the County. He wanted to know why a murder involving one of his ancestors wasn’t in the book. Once he gave me more information, it became clear that the murder involved members of the Cherokee tribe. That’s why it wasn’t in my book.

During those early years of Washington County, a steady traffic of bad actors flowed back and forth across the Arkansas-Indian Territory border. Cherokee lawmen attempting to make arrests in Indian Territory had no jurisdiction if the outlaw stood on the Arkansas side of the line. Similarly, federal marshals authorized out of Fort Smith were the only whites who had any jurisdiction in Indian Territory. Local lawmen like the Washington County sheriff couldn’t arrest anyone on Indian land. This made Evansville, Cane Hill, and other Washington County border towns hot spots for outlaw activity.

Jim’s ancestry includes a Cherokee outlaw named Isaac Gann, brother to a woman in Jim’s direct lineage. Not only that, Jim is directly descended from Susannah Harnage, an adopted child of the Harnage family, one of Washington County’s earliest settlers who was subsequently murdered. There’s an irony here and an interesting little story.

The earliest days of our county were fraught with the crisis of the Cherokee people, a powerful detached tribe of the Iroquoian family, formerly holding the whole mountain region of the south Alleghenies, in southwest Virginia, western North Carolina and South Carolina, north Georgia, east Tennessee, and northeast Alabama, and claiming even to the Ohio River. By the turn of the 19th century, increasing pressure by white settlers led to efforts by the federal government to force their move. Despite winning a case in the U. S. Supreme Court confirming they held an inalienable right to their lands, the Cherokee were forced to leave by President Andrew Jackson.

Previous to their removal, Cherokee had adopted much of the cultural amenities of the whites and intermarried with European settlers. This was the case of Ambrose Harnage, later a Washington County resident in the area near Cane Hill. Harnage, an ambitious, educated Englishman with clear leadership skills, married a Cherokee woman and built a large dwelling that served as a residence, public inn, and tavern. Located on the north Georgia federal road, the inn was built around 1805 and was designated a federal post office in 1819, earning the location its name of Harnageville.

After the Indian Removal Act of 1830, Harnage and others faced increasing pressure to abandon their property. He and other white men who had intermarried with Cherokee women negotiated for the best possible terms and made the move to new land in what is now Oklahoma. Upon their departure, Georgia passed a law to establish Cherokee County where Harnage’s tavern was chosen as a meeting place to conduct the business of court and county government.

In 1815, another white man, William H. Hendricks, had built his homestead near the Harnage home and married a full-blood Cherokee woman named Sokinny. She and her brother Youngdeer were orphaned at an early age and Sokinny was later adopted by the Harnage family where she was given the name Susannah Harnage. Whether this is the same Harnage family as Ambrose is not proven.

In 1832, William and Susannah/Sokinny Hendricks and the Ambrose Harnage family moved west, part of the first wave of Cherokee accepting the government’s offer to relocate in exchange for logistical and financial assistance for the move. Typically, extended families and neighbors moved to new territories as a group suggesting a close connection between the Ambrose Harnage family and Susannah/Sokinny.  After 1836, the Cherokee who had initially refused the removal order (Indian Removal Act of 1830) were forced west on the so-called Trail of Tears.

Also among Jim Terry’s ancestors was a woman named Ruth Gambold Gann, sister to Isaac Gann and two other siblings. Thanks to Jim’s research into his heritage, the rest of this odd irony comes to light.

In June 1847, twenty-year-old Isaac Ferguson Gann mustered in as private to Captain Enyart’s Company, Arkansas Mounted Infantry, at Fort Smith.  Military service provided a small monthly stipend as well as regular meals, and was the fallback option for many young men without other opportunities. His military records include one from January 12, 1848, that states “deserted from camp near Mier, Mexico, taking holsters and pistols belonging to the government.” Also, the muster roll for June 23, 1848, at Camargo, Mexico, lists him as “deserted.”

Thereafter, Isaac became an outlaw, partnering with a man named Ellis “Creek” Starr. They were active in the Cherokee Nation and Washington County, Arkansas.

Creek was among several members of the Starr clan, a Cherokee family notorious for whiskey, cattle, and horse thievery in the Indian Territory. If the “Starr” name sounds familiar, it’s because by the late 1800s, the family name had become famous for its association with Belle Starr, originally Maybelle Shirley.

In 1880 [after the death of her first husband Jim Reed], she [married] a Cherokee man named Sam Starr and settled with the Starr family in the Indian Territory. There, she learned ways of organizing, planning and fencing for the rustlers, horse thieves and bootleggers, as well as harboring them from the law. Belle’s illegal enterprises proved lucrative enough for her to employ bribery to free her cohorts from the law whenever they were caught.

In 1883, Belle and Sam were arrested by Bass Reeves, charged with horse theft and tried before “The Hanging Judge” Isaac Parker’s Federal District Court in Fort Smith, Arkansas; the prosecutor was United States Attorney W. H. H. Clayton. She was found guilty and served nine months at the Detroit House of Corrections in Detroit, Michigan. Belle proved to be a model prisoner and during her time in jail she won the respect of the prison matron, while Sam was more incorrigible and was assigned to hard labor.

In 1886, she escaped conviction on another theft charge, but on December 17, Sam Starr was involved in a gunfight with Officer Frank West. Both men were killed, while Belle’s life as an outlaw queen—and what had been the happiest relationship of her life—abruptly ended with her husband’s death.[1]

Jim Reed and Belle at their marriage 1866

Belle’s first husband Jim Reed was killed in Texas in the aftermath of the Civil War. Reed was friends with the Starrs which was how Belle became acquainted with them. After Belle’s murder in 1889, her daughter Rosie “Pearl” Reed-Starr built a tidy little home at Winslow where she sojourned in between stints at operating her houses of ill repute in Van Buren and Fort Smith.

Long before the heyday of Belle or Pearl Starr, Ellis “Creek” Starr alongside Isaac Gann pursued their own outlaw ways. An 1848 write-up in the Cherokee Advocate, Tahlequah, provides more insight into the efforts of the Cherokee Nation to address such criminal gangs:

We learn that a meeting composed of the persons engaged in the recent killing in Flint District, and a numbers of others, was held at the Court House of said district, some days since, for the purpose of adopting certain measures in relation to that affair.

A series of resolutions, commendatory of what has already been done, and urging the importance of freeing the country of the following persons, to wit: — Thos. Starr, Jas. Starr, Creek Starr, Wm. Starr, Ezekiel Rider, Shadrach Cordery, Isaac Gann, and Tre-gi-ske and Ult-tees-kee, were passed.

Writs have been taken out for the above-named persons. Several companies were organized to cooperate with the whites. These companies are actively engaged in scouting the country. We learn that a deputation was sent down, on last Tuesday, to advise the Executive upon the late proceedings, also with a reply to his protest. A second meeting has been held since this interview with the Executive, and we learn that the whole matter will soon be laid before the public.

From the evidence before us, we are under the necessity of disapproving, heartily, a part of the proceedings of our fellow citizens. Ellis Starr, Wash Starr, and John Rider, it is true, were once engaged openly in the most fiendish deeds that ever characterized any set of men, but by the treaty of 1846, though out-laws, they were pardoned—and by that act were again placed upon an equality with other citizens. And if they have since been guilty of misdemeanor, the law should be pushed against them, — and if, after the most ample opportunity has been afforded to test its efficacy, it should prove inadequate, then, though extremely humiliating to a regularly organized Government, the people may take upon themselves the management of affairs.

We learn that one of the companies above named surprised Creek Starr and Isaac Gann, the supposed murderers of the woman who was killed near Evansville [Washington County, Arkansas] on the 27th ult., at a dance in Washington Cove [probably a misprint of Washington County], Ark., some days since. Gann was killed in the attempt to arrest him. Creek Starr was made prisoner. On the return of the party with him, to the Nation, he made his escape—was fired upon, but supposed, only slightly wounded.[2]

Another source, the Van Buren newspaper Arkansas Intelligencer, reports on this murder in their June 12, 1848, edition.

Foul Murder – Creek Starr and Isaac Gann, half-blood Cherokees, killed a Cherokee woman near Evansville, on the 27th. Gann is a deserter from Capt. Enyart’s company of volunteers, now in Mexico.

This was the murder not included in my book.

This is where the murder of Ambrose Harnage joins the story.  Evidently with a history of seeing himself as a liaison between the Cherokee nation and whites, Harnage gave incriminating evidence against men accused of participating in the notorious 1839 Wright family murders at Cane Hill where a nighttime assault killed the father and several children and burned the family cabin to the ground. Initially, these murders were blamed on Indians. But Harnage overheard conversations between white neighbors that he reported to a committee investigating the murders. Several white men some believed innocent were subsequently hanged.

Whether Harnage’s report led to his murder is not known. No one saw his murder and all “evidence” was based on supposition leading to the accusation of a Cherokee named John Work for the crime. Many loose ends about Work’s supposed guilt for Harnage’s murder remain unresolved.

Harnage was also a close friend to Major John Ridge, a Cherokee leader who had signed the federal agreement to remove to new lands in Indian Territory, thereby earning the enmity of those in the tribe who didn’t agree with the removal act. In June 1839, Ridge spent the night at Harnage’s home before traveling south along the Line Road. En route, Ridge was assassinated.

Harnage’s friendship and influence on Ridge may have earned him a death warrant among the Cherokee. In the investigation of Harnage’s murder, which occurred in 1841, one line of inquiry yielded possible evidence of Gann’s involvement.

[John] Work wished to kill Dr. F. and John [George Ambrose] Harnage and leave the country. In watching the movements of Dr. F., he learned that he fed a lot of hogs near a thicket once every day about the same hour. He told Jake to steal the doctor’s fine mare and a bridle and saddle and to bring them to him a certain night, that he would kill the Dr. the next day and leave the country, leaving Harnage to Mat Feating or Isaac Gann.[3]

Major John Ridge

Whether it was Gann or the man ultimately arrested for the offense, John Work, who killed Harnage, the point is the peculiar heritage of Jim Terry. In his person, he juxtaposes the lineages of Gann and the adopted daughter of Harnage.

Was Ambrose Harnage’s murder a result of his close involvement with the Cherokee chief John Ridge or revenge for the Wright family murder hangings? Was Gann his killer?

Because Gann and Starr’s murder of the Cherokee woman fell under tribal jurisdiction, the records never appear in Washington County archives. No one can say how many other similar murders there might have been. This is just one of many stories whose tangled details have forever vanished with the passage of time. My thanks to Jim Terry for bringing this particular episode to light.

~~~

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Belle_Starr

[2] Cherokee Advocate, June 19, 1848.

[3] “A Man Named John Work,” Murder in the County. Denele Campbell 2017. 77

War — What’s It Good For?

A lot of talk among those on the left focuses on ending war. I’ve heard plenty of Lefties say they didn’t vote for Hillary because she supported war. As if that had any bearing on reality, since so does Trump.

At any rate, I’m seeking input from anyone who can offer a thoughtful analysis on what the U.S. gains in war and why removing ourselves from those situations would be good or bad.

Why is this important? Consider this:

The Watson Institute for International and Public Affairs reports that by the end of the 2019 fiscal year, the U.S. will have spent $5.9 trillion on military spending in Afghanistan, Iraq, Syria, and other countries, as well as veterans’ care, interest on debt payments, and related spending at the Homeland Security and State Departments.

It’s not just about the Middle East. We support military forces around the globe.

The 2015 U.S. Department of Defense Base Structure Report states that the DOD has property in 587 bases in 42 countries, the majority located in Germany (181 sites), Japan (122 sites), and South Korea (83 sites). The Department of Defense classifies 20 of the overseas bases as large, 16 as medium, 482 as small and 69 as “other sites.” (Now up to over 800.)

These smaller and “other sites” are called “lily pads” and are generally in remote locations and are either secret or tacitly acknowledged to avoid protests that might lead to restrictions on their use. They usually have a small number of military personnel and no families. They sometimes reply on private military contractors whose actions the U.S. government can deny. To maintain a low profile, the bases are hidden within host country bases or on the edge of civilian airports. (Citation)

So let’s take this region by region. Wikipedia gives details on our involvement in the Middle East where we are actively engaged in the following locations:

Afghanistan – the reason we went there was to retaliate for 9/11 and destroy the Islamic insurgents known as the Taliban. Not sure why we care what happens now in Afghanistan but I do hear there are important rare earth deposits we’d like to monopolize. Yes, of course the Taliban still exists but anyone who has taken even a cursory glance at Afghan history will know that no one ever wins in Afghanistan.

Iraq – the reason we invaded Iraq had to do with the false claim they had developed weapons of mass destruction. The only credible excuse I’ve heard is that Cheney had vested interests in the oil fields on behalf of his company Halliburton. Also, Halliburton was contracted for billions of dollars in field support during and after the ‘war.’ Pretty sure we can all see now that Bush’s ill-advised invasion created a crisis for most religions in Iraq which had previously been more or less protected by Hussein’s tolerance policies. The invasion also created an environment where the long-festering religious conflict between Sunni and Shia Islamists could flare into violence and spawn extremists like the Sunni Al-Qaida.

Yemen – we’re supplying arms and ‘advisors’ to Saudi Arabia (and of course money) for its support of the old regime of Yemen in the face of a rebel takeover. Supposed Iranian support for the rebels reportedly triggered Saudi involvement in this Yemeni conflict. So why does the U.S. think this is so important that we are supporting Saudi brutality and genocide in Yemen? Is it just about Iran? Or the shadow of Russia behind Iran?

Over 17 million Yemen people are currently at risk of starvation. https://www.albawaba.com/news/senate-vote-whether-end-us-involvement-yemen-war-1105240

Libya – we stuck our nose into Libya because we wanted to get rid of Kaddafi. Now there is chaos and devastation as dueling factions fight for control. What the hell was the strategic expectation in nations like this and Iraq where decades of strongman rule had carved out a relatively peaceful nation? Is our goal simply to create devastation and turmoil in the entire region in order to help Israel remain powerful?

Syria – U.S. ‘advisors’ on the ground in Syria are dependent on Kurdish fighters in this ongoing cluster f**k that began as an uprising by educated Syrians against their dictator Bashar al-Assad. (Evidently despite our partnership with the Kurds, we’re too afraid of retribution by Turkey to advocate for Kurds to have their own homeland.)

Early on, our involvement in the Syrian civil war had to do with atrocities Assad committed against his own people, but then things became more complicated with the rise of Al-Quida/ISIS/ISIL in the war zones. At this point, as far as I know, we’re only trying to get rid of ISIL and allowing Assad to perpetuate his genocide against Syrians who want him out of power.

Israel — Although we are not directly involved in military activities between Israel and Palestine (and other Arab nations who formerly controlled the area where Israel was given land), we’ve funneled trillions of dollars into the formation and sustenance of Israel. I have yet to understand this investment, other than a) sympathy for what Jews suffered during WWII; and b) the usefulness of a fierce U.S. ally in the region.

For the record, I’ll ask why anyone thinks a nation based on religion is a good idea. Catholics live all over the world. So do all other religions. Where is the State of Methodists?

Why take away land from people who have lived there for hundreds of years (Palestinians) and create an ongoing crisis just because Jews once claimed it as their homeland? That was back around 30 BC before the Romans took over. Since then, Jews were a minority in that region, only 10-15% of the population by 614 AD. Jews fared no better after the start of the Crusades when invading European Catholics installed Christianity. In 1517, the Muslim Ottoman Empire conquered the area and ruled until 1917 when the British took over.

So based on what existed 2,000 years ago, the Jews should once again have Israel? By that logic, should all other current nations be subject to occupation by the people who ‘owned’ the place 2,000 years ago? The mind boggles.

Is our involvement in the Jewish state mostly about U.S. Christians, Jews, and Biblical prophecies? Why is Israel important to the U.S., to the extent that Israel receives the following?

P.L. 115-141, the FY2018 Consolidated Appropriations Act, provides the following for Israel:

  • $3.1 billion in Foreign Military Financing, of which $815.3 million is for offshore procurement;
  • $705.8 million for joint U.S.-Israeli missile defense projects, including $92 million for Iron Dome, $221.5 million for David’s Sling, $310 million for Arrow 3, and $82.3 million for Arrow 2;
  • $47.5 million for the U.S.-Israeli anti-tunnel cooperation program;
  • $7.5 million in Migration and Refugee Assistance;
  • $4 million for the establishment of a U.S.-Israel Center of Excellence in energy and water technologies;
  • $2 million for the Israel-U.S. Binational Research & Development Foundation (BIRD) Energy program; and
  • The reauthorization of War Reserves Stock Allies-Israel (WRSA-I) program through fiscal year 2019.

For FY2019, the Trump Administration is requesting $3.3 billion in Foreign Military Financing for Israel and $500 million in missile defense aid to mark the first year of the new MOU. The Administration also is seeking $5.5 million in Migration and Refugee Assistance (MRA) funding for humanitarian migrants to Israel. (Citation)

Note: This problem will NEVER be solved as long as Israel continues to bully its way into more and more Palestinian land. The least we can do is withdraw from the drama and let them all kill each other.

Oh, and there’s this: The top five source countries of U.S. petroleum imports in 2017 were Canada, Saudi Arabia, Mexico, Venezuela, and Iraq. Hmm.

~~~

As for other places in the world where our troops are involved in local violence and imperialist ambitions, consider Africa where U.S. forces are stationed in over 20 locations.

When U.S. troops were ambushed in Niger last October (2017), the widespread reaction was surprise: The U.S. has military forces in Niger? What are they doing there?

Yet in many ways, the Niger operation typifies U.S. military missions underway in roughly 20 African countries, mostly in the northern half of the continent. The missions tend to be small, they are carried out largely below the radar, and most are focused on a specific aim: rolling back Islamist extremism. (Citation)

Might I humbly submit that Islamist extremism in Africa didn’t exist until American evangelists started messing with native African beliefs and European/American colonialists swept in to exploit the natural resources.

Or how about Asia where we have maintained a heavy military presence since BEFORE World War II.  A Wall Street Journal report from May 2017 states that “the Pentagon has endorsed a plan to invest nearly $8 billion to bulk up the U.S. presence in the Asia-Pacific region over the next five years by upgrading military infrastructure, conducting additional exercises and deploying more forces and ships.”

In Central and South America, the U.S. has a long tradition of meddling with our neighbors’ affairs. Through our C.I.A. and black ops, we have assassinated, deposed, and otherwise destroyed Central and South American governments we didn’t like primarily for their socialist or communist leanings. U.S. policymakers evidently failed to consider the benefits of socialist policies in largely rural countries where most arable land has been taken over by multinational corporations for use as food crop plantations or grazing land for cattle production, or in some cases mining, oil production and other natural resources.

These practices have left the average native citizens without a place or occupation by which to support themselves, creating the need for governments to level the playing field. Instead, any government that has hinted it might take back land for its people has been ruthlessly eradicated.

… the U.S. military school initially called School of the Americas, now called the Western Hemispheric Institute for Security Cooperation (WHINSEC), [has fostered graduates] who have tortured and murdered citizens of their countries who opposed their governments’ oppressive policies-in Honduras, Guatemala, El Salvador, Chile, Argentina. Some of the most notorious of these murderers that sought asylum in the United States in the 1980s are now being extradited back to their home countries, particularly to El Salvador… (Citation)

(Anyone still wondering why these migrants keep arriving at our southern border?)

Is it naïve to think that in a time of a mushrooming global digital community and escalating economic challenges due to climate change that we could start to look at new world order that’s beyond war?

What exactly does the U.S. stand to lose by stepping back from armed conflict?

Well, there’s the money. The combined arms sales of the top 100 largest arms-producing companies amounted to an estimated $395 billion in 2012. The five biggest exporters in 2010–2014 were the United States, Russia, China, Germany and France, and the five biggest importers were India, Saudi Arabia, China, the United Arab Emirates and Pakistan. (Citation) In the top ten arms producers, eight are U.S. corporations. Among them, they provide 831,000 jobs, one of the primary justifications for perpetuating the industry of war.

Then there are military jobs. For FY2018, these were the following budget items:

  • Personnel costs: $141B
  • Family support: $10B
  • The VA: $178B

That’s a total of $329 Billion. For 1.4 million jobs. That’s $235,000 per job. Per year.

The total number of deaths and the amount of human suffering is incalculable.

To Christians who support war in support of Israel or otherwise, I’ll ask what Christ meant when he said to turn the other cheek. Etc.

Is violence ever justified? Is war ever moral? Is it really kill or be killed? Are migrants seeking refuge a threat requiring military action?

Have we come so far and still remain, at our core, savages?

~~~

Folk Song “Billy Boy”

From a YouTube recording of the spoken poem. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0bKJHwNzXAs

As often happens, at 3 a.m. I was lying awake with a song running through my head. I hadn’t thought about this song since I was child when my mother sang it in the style of the Andrews Sisters’ recording.

Why Billy Boy? I have no idea. But in the need to put this to rest, this morning I looked up the lyrics. And as happened before with other folk songs, I discovered this one has a long and not so nice history.  Wikipedia states: “Its lyrical structure is thematically complex and modeled after the question and answer form of traditional ballads” that served as Bob Dylan’s inspiration for a Hard Rain’s Gonna Fall.

While the tone of the nursery rhyme is ironic and teasing, both the question and answer form and the narrative of the song have been related to “Lord Randall”, a murder ballad from the British Isles, in which the suitor is poisoned by the woman he visits. Wikipedia

Here are the lyrics I always heard:

Oh, where have you been, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where have you been, Charming Billy?
I have been to seek a wife, she’s the joy of my whole life
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Where does she live, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Oh, where does she live, Charming Billy?
She lives on the hill, forty miles from the mill
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Did she bid you to come in, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she bid you to come in, Charming Billy?
Yes, she bade me to come in, there’s a dimple in her chin
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Did she take your hat, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she take your hat, Charming Billy?
Yes, she took my hat and she threw it at the cat
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Did she set for you a chair, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Did she set for you a chair, Charming Billy?
Yes, she set for me a chair, she has ringlets in her hair
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she cook and can she spin, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she cook and can she spin, Charming Billy?
She can cook and she can spin, she can do most anything
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she bake a cherry pie, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she bake a cherry pie, Charming Billy?
She can bake a cherry pie, quick as a cat can wink her eye
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she make a feather bed, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she make a feather bed, Charming Billy?
She can make a feather bed and put pillows at the head
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she make a pudding well, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she make a pudding well, Charming Billy?
She can make a pudding well, I can tell it by the smell
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she milk a heifer calf, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she milk a heifer calf, Charming Billy?
Yes, she can, and not miss the bucket more than half
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Is she often seen at church, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Is she often seen at church, Charming Billy?
Yes, she’s often seen at church, with her bonnet white as birch
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

And is she very tall, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
And is she very tall, Charming Billy?
She’s as tall as any pine, and as straight as a pumpkin vine
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Are her eyes very bright, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Are her eyes very bright, Charming Billy?
Yes, her eyes are very bright, but alas, they’re minus sight
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Can she sing a pretty song, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Can she sing a pretty song, Charming Billy?
She can sing a pretty song, but she often sings it wrong
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

How old may she be, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
How old may she be, Charming Billy?
Three times six and four times seven, twenty-eight and eleven
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

Is she fit to be a wife, Billy Boy, Billy Boy?
Is she fit to be a wife, Charming Billy?
She’s as fit to be a wife as a fork fits to a knife
But she’s a young thing and cannot leave her mother

But now with the information about an earlier darker version named Lord Randall, I had to know what it said. Here’s the Wikipedia description:

“Lord Randall”, or “Lord Randal”, is an Anglo-Scottish border ballad consisting of dialogue between a young Lord and his mother. Similar ballads can be found across Europe in many languages, including Danish, German, Magyar, Irish, Swedish, and Wendish. Italian variants are usually titled “L’avvelenato” (“The Poisoned Man”) or “Il testamento dell’avvelenato” (“The Poisoned Man’s Will”), the earliest known version being a 1629 setting by Camillo il Bianchino, in Verona.

Of course the Scots are in it! Here are the lyrics, by one version.

Lord Randal

“Oh where ha’e ye been, Lord Randall, my son!
And where ha’e ye been, my handsome young man!”
“I ha’e been to the wild wood: mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi’ hunting, and fain wald lie down.”

“An wha met ye there, Lord Randall, my son?
An wha met you there, my handsome young man?”
“I dined wi my true-love; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie doon.”

“And what did she give you, Lord Randall, my son?
And what did she give you, my handsome young man?”
“Eels fried in broo; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie doon.”

“And wha gat your leavins, Lord Randall, my son?
And wha gat your leavins, my handsome young man?”
“My hawks and my hounds; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m wearied wi hunting, and fain wad lie doon.”

“What become a yer bloodhounds, Lord Randall, my son?
What become a yer bloodhounds, my handsome young man?”
“They swelled and they died; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m weary wi huntin, and fain wad lie doon.”

“O I fear ye are poisoned, Lord Randall, my son!
I fear ye are poisoned, my handsome young man!”
“O yes, I am poisoned; mother, make my bed soon,
For I’m sick at m’ heart, and I fain wad lie doon.”

Several performed versions may be found on YouTube. I particularly enjoyed this one by Giordano Dall’Armellina .  Some versions include a couple of final stanzas where he curses his treacherous lover to hell fire.

 

Award Winning Article!

I am pleased to announce that I have been awarded the 2018 Walter J. Lemke prize by the Washington County Historical Society for my article on Jesse Gilstrap. The article will appear in the Fall edition of Flashback, the Society’s quarterly journal.

In 1852, Jesse Mumford Gilstrap settled in Washington County, Arkansas, with his wife and three children. He had ventured to the county earlier; his first child was born here in 1848. An adventurous and passionate young man, in 1850 Gilstrap had trekked westward to join the gold rush while his wife awaited him at her family home near Carthage, Missouri. Back from his adventure and a few dollars richer, he returned to Washington County where he immediately invested some of his earnings in a partnership in one of the county’s earliest mills. In 1856, took full ownership. Then as the winds of war heightened, Jesse spoke out on behalf the Union cause. In 1862, he gathered a company of fellow patriots to form the first company of the 1st Arkansas Cavalry. Jesse went on to serve in the state senate before his untimely death in 1869.

Jesse’s story tumbled out of my research for my new release, The West Fork Valley: Environs and Settlement Before 1900. As I studied early settlers, then the first mills, then the Civil War, Jesse’s name kept popping up. It was a pleasure to connect with a descendant who provided photographs and more details about this man and his family.

I consider Jesse the real winner of this award. I am only the messenger.