Religious Zealots Strike Again

A recent letter to the editor here in Arkansas perfectly portrays the bizarre mindset of certain Christians. The author wrote not about morally-bankrupt Trump, nor about people dying from chemical warfare and barrel bombs, nor about the continuing horror of mass shootings in our gun-mad country. No, that wasn’t the source of this woman’s righteous indignation.

She’s upset about a comic strip.

I wanted to express my outrage at the blasphemy and sacrilege in this cartoon [Wumo]. This disgusting disregard of Christianity expresses all the evils in troubles in our world today… A holy family, Christians, as [a previous letter writer] said, is fair game for those who want to bully and disparage those with whom they do not agree. (Satan is working overtime.)

People should be very careful when targeting others, especially those of us who will indeed make a stand for our God and his precious son, our lord and savior Jesus Christ. Our beliefs and our love for spiritual and heavenly knowledge and healing far supersedes anyone or anything this world (earthly) has to offer.[1]

The letter writer, a woman from Marion, Arkansas, goes on to demand the comic strip be removed from the newspaper. She concludes: “Christians are offended.”

Oh, my. Where to begin?

Might one suggest that she and others of her ilk SIMPLY NOT READ WUMO?

I mean, does that not seem the logical choice here? I go to the comic pages pretty much every day, but I only read four. Those are the only ones I enjoy. Perhaps this Christian extremist doesn’t understand the concept of enjoyment but rather flogs herself through a daily exercise of holy suffering by reading comics that enrage her.

This would be highly amusing to the rest of us if it weren’t for the awful reality that such people have no idea how ridiculous they are. They are convinced that the world must operate by their rules and anything that draws their personal censure is surely Wrong.

A long list of human tragedy unfolds from this viewpoint. The Inquisition springs to mind, an endeavor of the Catholic Church beginning around 1100 AD and continuing in various forms for the next 600 years. Any form of “blasphemy and sacrilege” could result in church leaders taking offense similar to our letter writer.

Sometimes it was difficult to guess, as any of the following were considered serious crimes: changing bedding on a Friday, not eating pork, dressing in certain ways, wearing earrings, speaking in foreign languages, owning foreign books, casual swearing, criticizing a priest, or failing to show due reverence to the Inquisition… People were executed for failing to fast during Lent, for homosexuality, fornication, explaining scientific discoveries, and even for professional acting..[2]

Or, in our case, publishing a cartoon.

Leg crusher

Generously, inquisitors utilized various forms of torture to provide the greatest possible opportunity for the accused to confess his or her sins. Serious effort went into the invention and construction of torture devices including the infamous ‘rack’ and various other gleeful methods of inflicting pain.

When a suspect was convicted of unrepentant heresy, the inquisitorial tribunal was required by law to hand the person over to the secular authorities for final sentencing, at which point a magistrate would determine the penalty, which was usually burning at the stake although the penalty varied based on local law.[3]

Historically, other than the necessary torture required to bring a confession from those blasphemers in order to declare them guilty and then burn them at the stake, religious extremists have demonstrated a fervent interest in killing anyone who doesn’t agree with their point of view. Is this what the letter-writer threatens in her statement that: “People should be very careful when targeting others, especially those of us who will indeed make a stand for our God.”

What exactly is she suggesting? Would her “stand for God” include Inquisition-style discipline on the newspaper publishers or the creator of the Wumo comic strip?

Sadly, we don’t have to look far, even today, to find exactly that kind of violence bestowed upon those who draw the critical attention of religious authorities. Syrian cartoonist Ali Farzat dared to make fun of certain leaders in his cartoons. Assailants hunted him down and used clubs to break his hands.[4] Chinese censors called for a “severe punishment” for a star TV anchor over jokes he made at a dinner party mocking the People’s Republic of China’s founding father, Mao Zedong.[5] Then there was the Islamist terrorist attack on the French satirical weekly publication Charlie Hebdo which resulted in the deaths of twelve people.[6] Their justification? Charlie Hebdo made fun of Allah.

There’s a reason we Americans treasure our right to free speech. We can criticize our leaders, laugh at Saturday Night live skits, and even poke fun at entrenched religious views, all without fear of having our hands broken or being burned at the stake. Somehow in all her years of life, this letter writer missed out on all but the first part of First Amendment to the U. S. Constitution.

Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances.

All this brings to mind the question of why certain religious types find it imperative to force their point of view on everyone else. Is that they are so insecure in their beliefs that they’re comfortable only if they’re certain everyone around them believes the same thing? Isn’t faith the foundation of religious practice, the assurance that no matter what happens, God’s got your back? Wouldn’t that pretty much cover being the only Christian in a sea of infidels? Why so insecure?

Is it that they see it as their duty to convert the rest of the world to their belief system? This certainly seems to be the case, a duty not only to police the statewide newspaper’s comics section for blasphemy but also to righteously demand enforcement of their judgement against a comic deemed offensive. After all, “Christians are offended!”

Do these folks not understand that this exact attitude is responsible for most of the world’s suffering? Most of the wars? Most of the violence currently taking place in the Middle East?

Education is a wonderful thing. But in a state where parents merely need to sign a form to withhold their kids from public schools and then indoctrinate them with whatever folderol fits their world view, people like this benighted letter-writer proliferate, aided and abetted by fundamentalist preachers who don’t hesitate to cast judgement despite the Biblical edict against judging.

Matthew 7: 1-3

Judge not, that you be not judged. For with the judgment you pronounce you will be judged, and with the measure you use it will be measured to you. Why do you see the speck that is in your brother’s eye, but do not notice the log that is in your own eye?

National educational standards exist for a reason. They put us all on a more-or-less level playing field where we all understand the basics of our rule of law, our history as a Western culture, and yes, even the good bad and ugly of religious traditions. Public schools also help us learn to exist in a multicultural, multiracial world where even cartoonists like the creator of Wumo possess as much right to their opinions and creative efforts as the person who goes to church every time the door opens.

It’s a sad testament to the modern evangelical movement that such intolerance is not only accepted but encouraged. This letter writer seems oblivious to the irony in her remark about being “fair game for those who want to bully and disparage those with whom they do not agree…” That would be a thought to reflect on.

~~~

 

[1] Letters to the Editor, Northwest Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, Saturday March 31, 2018. 7B

[2] http://www.badnewsaboutchristianity.com/gbg_inquisition.htm

[3] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Inquisition

[4] http://www.dw.com/en/arab-cartoonists-walk-a-fine-dangerous-line/a-18184330

[5] https://www.hollywoodreporter.com/news/chinese-tv-host-mao-jokes-814168

[6] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Charlie_Hebdo_shooting

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Incessant Self-Righteous Ignorance

Thursday afternoon I got a phone call. I had forgotten it was the day before the anniversary of Roe v Wade, immersed as I was in my current writing project. Usually I hang up as soon as the pause-click-click tells me it’s a solicitor.

The woman said her name was Grace. This time I said “Hi, Grace.”

“How are you?”

“I’m fine, how are you?”

“I’m calling on behalf of the Right to Life. We need to stop the killing of unborn babies.”

“Oh,” I said, instantly furious. “Well, you can stop right there. I’m Pro-Choice.”

I hung up.

Then I spent the rest of the evening thinking of what I should have said.

  • Oh really, Grace? Are you referring to an embryo or a fetus? Do know what an embryo looks like or that 67% of abortions occur before eight weeks? So in this image of a human embryo, is this the chicken or egg phase? When you have eggs for breakfast, are you eating a chicken?
  • So are you in favor of government forcing women to have children? Is that part of your ‘smaller government’ plan? Smaller except the part where the Fetus Police want to control what’s going on INSIDE YOUR BODY?
  • Gee, Grace, how exactly would you suggest the government keep women from terminating unwanted pregnancies—should they require them to check in monthly for a pregnancy test? Then if they’re pregnant, the government can keep them in a Safe-For-The-Unborn-Baby Compound until the baby is born, thereby preventing any ‘home remedy’ abortions. Women wouldn’t be allowed to leave, so taking care of other children in the home or providing meals/laundry service for their husbands would have to stop, not to mention finishing school or keeping a job.
  • So you’re in favor of forcing women to produce children they don’t want? Tell me, Grace—do you think those women will be good mothers to those children? Did you know that 70% of abortions are performed on women making 200% or less than the federal poverty line of $11,670? Did you know that this same group of women, without health insurance, are far less likely to have access to birth control? Did you know that children from families with annual incomes below $15,000 were over 22 times more likely to experience maltreatment than children from families whose income exceeded $30,000? Did you know these children were almost 56 times more likely to be educationally neglected and over 22 times more likely to be seriously injured? Did you know that childhood poverty is closely related to the later incidence of crime? Think of prisons, Grace, more and more prisons built to hide away children forced on poor families by the lack of access to birth control.
  • So Grace, since I’ve got you on the phone, maybe you can explain to me how you plan to stop abortion. Ending unwanted pregnancies has been going on for thousands of years. Maybe you didn’t know that. Maybe you thought that it was only after the passage of Roe v Wade that women started having abortions. Maybe you didn’t know that throughout the ages, women have decided who will be born—not men, not governments, not churches. Women are the ones responsible for selecting future generations. I bet everyone alive today came from a woman sometime in the past who terminated other pregnancies. Even you, Grace, probably have a grandmother back in the mists of time who decided to limit the number of children so she could take proper care of the ones she already had.

I’ve got some abortion statistics for you, Grace, showing women’s reasons for obtaining an abortion.

    • 74% felt “having a baby would dramatically change my life” (which includes interrupting education, interfering with job and career, and/or concern over other children or dependents)
    • 73% felt they “can’t afford a baby now” (due to various reasons such as being unmarried, being a student, inability to afford childcare or basic needs of life, etc.)
    • 48% “don’t want to be a single mother or [were] having relationship problem[s]”
    • 38% “have completed [their] childbearing”
    • 32% were “not ready for a(nother) child”
    • 25% “don’t want people to know I had sex or got pregnant”
    • 22% “don’t feel mature enough to raise a(nother) child”
    • 14% felt their “husband or partner wants me to have an abortion”
    • 13% said there were “possible problems affecting the health of the fetus”
    • 12% said there were “physical problems with my health”
    • 6% felt their “parents want me to have an abortion”
    • 1% said they were “a victim of rape”
    • <0.5% “became pregnant as a result of incest”[1]

Shall we discuss some of this data? You’ll notice that almost all the reasons for abortion have to do with lack of birth control. What is your position regarding birth control? Do you agree that birth control and all related information regarding human reproduction should be taught by middle school level? Do you agree that birth control should be freely dispensed at middle school level to any student who requests it? How about churches dispensing free birth control so there aren’t so many precious Unborn Children being aborted?

Did you know that only 1.3% of pregnancies are aborted after 21 weeks and generally only for medical reasons?

≤6 wks 7 wks 8 wks 9 wks 10 wks 11 wks 12 wks 13 wks 14-15 wks 16-17 wks 18-20 wks ≥21 wks
37.2% 16.9% 12.8% 8.3% 5.5% 4.5% 3.5% 2.7% 3.3% 2.0% 1.9% 1.3%

Grace, did you know that President Obama’s Affordable Care Act mandated that all employers were required to provide 100% coverage for all birth control methods? The only exception came after religious groups refused to provide such coverage and took their argument to court where they won the right not to provide coverage.

Maybe you can explain that for me, Grace. If the horror is abortion, why is there such outrage about preventing unwanted pregnancies? Because that really doesn’t make sense.

I mean, yeah, I get it. I know the unspoken thought. People aren’t supposed to have sex unless they want a child because sex isn’t for enjoyment. Sex is a duty to produce another generation—period. Because the only reason we’re on earth is make more of us. So if you’re having sex for fun, to feel good, then you’re doing it wrong and God will smite you.

It’s true that in all this, it’s the woman who suffers. I’m guessing that has to do with eating a forbidden apple. That’s on Eve. So she’s the one who has to suffer, all part of God’s loving plan to make people do what He wants them to do, which is, evidently, to keep having babies.

By the way, Grace, I don’t know how old you are, but if you were around in 1987, that’s the year the world population reached five billion. Now picture where you were and what you were doing in 1987 and imagine twice as many people. Because that’s where we’ll be in another thirty years. Twice as many cars, twice as many houses or twice as many people living in one house, twice as many big cities. Twice as many people grabbing that last loaf of bread.

It’s true that much of that population growth won’t be in the U.S. or Europe. The growth will mostly occur in Africa, you know, that “shithole” place where people already born are starving and killing each other. And Asia, of course. Those are the places where humanitarian agencies bring in food and provide medical care, including birth control. So the moral stance of this ‘Christian’ administration is to cut off financial support for any humanitarian health care group that offers abortion counseling along with birth control. So if a woman wants to obtain birth control, she can’t get it because someone in that same facility is answering questions about or providing an abortion.

That’s so perfect. So genius. So in keeping with the goal of stopping abortion.

~~~

[1] Finer, Lawrence B. and Lori F. Frohwirth, Lindsay A. Dauphinee, Susheela Singh and Ann F. Moore. “Reasons U.S. Women Have Abortions: Quantitative and Qualitiative Perspectives.”Perspectives on Sexual and Reproductive Health, Guttmacher.org, September 2005.
White, Angela. “Cost of Giving Birth at the Hospital or at Home.” Blisstree.com, 21 September 2008.
“Why It Matters: Teen Pregnancy and Education.” The National Campaign to Prevent Teen Pregnancy, retrieved 19 May 2009.

 

Oh, the Opioids!

It’s the season of giving, of looking back and looking forward as one year ends and another begins. What better time to consider a fresh outlook on drugs?

Here we are amid the Opioid Crisis, the latest in a long line of similarly heralded events sparking fear, outrage, and call for action. One hundred years ago, it was the Cocaine Crisis quickly followed by the Marijuana Crisis, then the Heroin Crisis. By the late 60s, it was LSD that elicited our fear and loathing.

Doomed to fail from the start, the so-called Drug War was about ‘just saying no’ alongside arming our friendly local cops with military weapons. What we’ve since discovered is that ‘saying no’ meant not talking about it, and that’s a direct route to where we are now. Even worse, we failed to recognize that a war on drugs was actually a war on Americans who use drugs. Now we have embattled inner cities rampant with gun violence and police who dress/act/think like commandos.

What we as a society desperately need to realize is that DRUGS ARE NOT THE PROBLEM. Substance abuse is a SYMPTOM of a much larger and more insidious problem. We’re self-medicating for existential despair.

Existential philosophy arose in the 1950s and early 60s as a way to discuss the unique condition of modern man. Due to mechanization and urban living, the ancient traditions that have helped us cope no longer apply. We are isolated from Nature and its rhythms and lessons that used to sustain us. We are isolated from the sorcery and magic we used to believe was God. We are isolated from our fellow man, often living alone or in nuclear family settings instead of tribal or extended family groups. And most difficult, we are isolated from ourselves, distracted from our thoughts and feelings by constant chatter and material diversions. This is, briefly, the four-fold alienation that describes modern existentialism.

Exacerbating the problem of our modern age are the failures of education, lack of job opportunities, lack of self-esteem, and poor health.

Public or private, schools are missing the target for many youngsters who desperately need logic and critical thinking. Trades we’ll always use, from plumbers to carpenters to seamstresses, are not taught nor are the fundamentals of operating a self-owned business.

Our culture fails to offer a buy-in for young people who need to know they matter. Public service options in avenues other than military are few and far between. Self-esteem has been relegated to displays of material wealth even when no such wealth exists. Debt to last a lifetime is the price we pay for these trappings of social status.

Even more critical is our declining health. Not only are fast food and prepared meals low in nutrition, they’re more expensive than basic foods prepared at home. We’re overeating and starving at the same time, piling on calories in sugar and fat while missing out on the micronutrients, vitamins, and proteins that lead to an uplifted mood and greater energy. No one is advertising chard sautéed with garlic.

Yet the greatest fraud about drugs is perpetuated by the very industries that bear the name of ‘drug manufacturer.’ Since the 1950s, the insidious promotion of drugs by companies like Pfizer, Eli Lilly, or Merck (to name a few) has increased proportionately to the nation’s substance abuse problem.

Slick advertising convinces consumers that with one magic pill, all of life’s ills will go away.

Television especially holds out the false promise. The suffering victim is cast in a muted gray-tone atmosphere while around them everyone else is blissful. With the magic pill, suddenly the victim joins the bliss, bathed in golden light. Meanwhile the precautions about negative effects from the medication are described in a hurried low monotone that fails utterly to overcome the visual imagery.

The message? Consume a drug and your life will be better.

It’s a message that’s not lost on the audience, young and old alike. Who doesn’t want to be part of that golden bliss? Who doesn’t want to live without pain, without worry? All you have to do is take a drug.

It’s exactly this message that has led to the current opioid crisis. It’s not that doctors are overprescribing, although some are. It’s not that manufacturers falsely claimed that OxyContin and its family of synthetic opioids are safe to use, although some undoubtedly did. It’s that all of it is part of a bigger scam wrought upon the American citizenry—that the inevitable aches and pains of life can be made painless.

When we read about the pioneers and ‘old timers,’ we’re aghast at what they endured. No indoor plumbing? No central heat? No food unless they grew it? We marvel at their toughness, their ingenuity.

Yet amid all the labor saving devices and easy consumer goods, we find ourselves without any test of our endurance or strength. We spend too much time in activities that show us nothing at the end of the day. How can we prove ourselves without any proof?

We’re looking for adventure and new horizons. Our natural tendencies as humans drive us toward activities that may result in trauma, pain, or even death. How do we turn back the very features of our make-up that have brought us out of the caves?

The hazard of certain drugs that lead to laws against them is the fear that persons under the influence will harm us. By escaping rationality through intoxication, people may unleash violent tendencies. No abused substance in history lives up to this threat more than alcohol, but our failed war on alcohol should have taught us important lessons about the harm such policies cause.

The need for a national conversation about drugs is long past due. All drugs. Pharmaceutical advertisements should be banned, particularly those requiring a prescription. After all, why are we encouraging people to decide what drugs they need instead of allowing doctors to do their job? Profits for pharmaceuticals should be heavily taxed despite the persistent whine that the money only funds research.

… evidence that Gilead itself uses its profits to “innovate” is thin at best. In 2016, the company reported profit of $13.5 billion. It spent $11 billion to repurchase its own shares, and about $2.5 billion on stock dividends.[1]

Drug manufacturing ranks among the most profitable industries in the world.

Until we set aside our conditioned response to the drug problem, we cannot solve this escalating crisis. We are throwing people away by failing to address fundamental issues that lead people to hide in a drugged haze. We are throwing them away a second time when we stigmatize their drug problem by involving them in the criminal justice system. Or when we force them into a drug court program with limited resources and over-dependence on 12-step programs and which fail to address underlying conditions such as inadequate nutrition.

Treatment programs generally fail in many ways partly because they are set up to create profit. Instead of looking to make money off of people suffering from addiction, we should be looking for ways to express our collection compassion and concern. We should make sure that intake is immediately available for any and all comers, that they’ll be offered a safe setting full of comfort and light, that individual counseling is the best money can buy. When we invest in our fellow man, it’s a win-win for everyone.

So I urge you to give it some thought and talk about this over the holidays as you meet with friends and family. Enjoy that glass of wine as you celebrate the season. Acknowledge the difference between use and abuse. Love your neighbor as yourself. Be part of the change we so desperately need.

~~~

[1] http://www.latimes.com/business/hiltzik/la-fi-hiltzik-gilead-profits-20171023-story.html

The Good Old Days

Back when … well, whenever, things were better. Right? People loved each other more, spent more time with family. Life was simpler.

Exactly when was that?

Was it the 1950s,

  • Back when the U. S. and Russia detonated nuclear weapons above ground, when milk tested positive for radiation? When school kids routinely practiced scuttling under their desks in case of a nuclear attack?
  • When everyone smoked cigarettes?
  • When women had to find a back alley abortionist to end an unwanted pregnancy and the only means of birth control were condoms and diaphragms? (Okay, plenty of people think this was a good thing because, you know, women who abort should die and sex is only for making babies.)
  • When schools and most businesses remained segregated? When homosexuals could be beaten to death? (Another good thing, right, for all the racists and bigots out there?)
  • Back when there weren’t any cell phones or cordless phones and television only came on three channels in black and white?

Oh, you meant earlier than that. Back in those halcyon days when folks sat on the front porch and ate homegrown food?

Like 1900,

  • Back when nobody had automobiles and you had to saddle up to go anywhere? When families traveled by wagon on the rare occasions they went to town? When horse dung littered city streets and nobody had indoor plumbing? We loved hanging ourselves over a stinking hole in the ground and freezing our privates while relieving our bowels in January. Right?
  • When three generations all lived in the same house?
  • Ah, the good old days before modern medicine invented antibiotics and people died of tuberculosis because nobody had figured out it was a curable, contagious disease.
  • Those days, so wonderful without any of these modern distractions like radio or television or rural electricity so everyone could enjoy dinner by the light of kerosene lamps or candles.
  • Yes, gee whiz, back before welfare and foodstamps and all those other pesky handouts to the slackers, how we miss working in the fields all day, milking cows, butchering hogs, because if we didn’t we wouldn’t have anything to eat.
  • And how we miss sewing all our own clothes and all the women wearing corsets and long skirts
  • When women couldn’t vote.
  • Those fabulous days when no one could talk about birth control or buy condoms because it was against the law.

Further back? Like 1850, when much of the labor to produce goods or foodstuffs was performed by African slaves? When it was legal for husbands to beat their wives as long as the stick they used was no wider than their thumb? When children worked in coal mines? When no one had heard of weekends or sick leave or vacation time or minimum wage?

How far back, exactly, did you think we’d have to go to get back to “the Good Old Days?”

The colonial era when poor people and random miscreants were rounded up to work on ships or turned into indentured servants and no one had the right to vote?

Or the 1600s when people who couldn’t pay their debts were imprisoned? When those who didn’t agree with the dominant religion could be burned as a witch?

Or the 1500s when Protestants and Catholics fought endless wars?

Or the 1300s and 1400s when bubonic plague killed one-third of the entire European population?

I mean, how far back do we go? The Crusades? The Roman Empire? Ancient Egypt?

In all those times, war ran rampant as nations ruled by kings fought over resources and territory. People starved and died of diseases that are now preventable or easily curable. Women died in childbirth and half the children born died before adulthood. All the inventions we now consider normal didn’t exist—heated homes, air conditioning, toilets, sinks, glass windows that open and close, motorized vehicles, air travel, ambulances, hospitals and medical doctors, understanding of planets, stars, and our sun, microscopes and the world of bacteria, viruses, cells, and atoms, organized educational systems and widespread literacy…

Could it be that the fondly remembered good old days were simply the days of our youth when we didn’t have to earn a living and didn’t know enough yet to worry? Could it be that those early years of playing in piles of leaves or swimming in a creek or coming home from school to savor a freshly made cookie were simply the experience of a decent childhood without any real application to the adult world? Or that our memories of childhood gloriously forget the bad stuff we don’t want to remember?

When exactly were the Good Old Days?

Gambling and Prostitution

1890 Photo of Guthrie looking southeast from 2nd Street and Oklahoma toward the U. S. Land Office, Hell’s Half Acre, Capitol Hotel, and Blue Belle Saloon. Believed to be a 4th of July parade. http://www.forensicgenealogy.info/contest_5_results.html

Police docket records for the first decade of existence for Guthrie (Logan County, Oklahoma Territory) reveal that government operations depended heavily on fines levied against prostitutes, those who maintained houses of gambling, and those who disturbed the peace by cursing, fighting, loitering, or other minor offenses. Taxes and licenses supplemented the city’s income. Major crimes such as murder fell under the jurisdiction of the federal court at Fort Smith.

Despite the heavy and persistent fines, gambling and prostitution flourished in this new frontier town. As shown in the following yearly summary of offenses, these activities tapered off slowly. By 1900, less than a third of the number of fines were levied against gamblers and prostitutes than had occurred in the peak year of 1893.

As the city gained its footing, additional laws were passed. For example, in 1891 fines were instituted for failure to license a dog, suggesting that dogs running loose had become a problem. With a continuing influx of people from other more settled places around the nation, greater pressure fell upon town fathers to clean up. Hogs and cattle became the subject of complaints as did the proper maintenance of outdoor privies. However, even by 1900, the number of arrests by Guthrie police for prostitution and gambling still topped any other offense.

As other sections of the former Indian Nations (Oklahoma) opened to white settlement, the front lines of gamblers and prostitutes moved to the newest places where largely male populations could be counted on as eager customers. Further west, mining of precious metals in California, Colorado, Arizona, New Mexico, and other areas formed the last frontier of rough and ready places where gamblers and ladies of the night could earn a profitable income.

At the time, journalist Frederick Barde reported on the gambling scene at Guthrie for the Kansas City Star, as recorded by Michael J. Hightower in his 2013 book Banking in Oklahoma Before Statehood:

Those who made it to Guthrie with their wallets intact might have visited the Reeves brothers’ gambling house operated by Dick and Bill Reeves. Opened on the day of the Run of ’89 in a big tent “where there was room enough for 1,500 men and women to gamble and drink and carouse,” the Reeves brothers ran their business in Guthrie for twenty years. Barde’s description of the famed honky-tonk confirms an image of the western saloon that has never yielded its place in our collective memory: “Gamblers from every State tackled the game that ran night and day in that sleepless place. Hundreds of thousands of dollars passed over its tables. The six-shooter and the dirk settled many a dispute, and the dead man was hauled away and the blood scrubbed from the floor as part of the day’s business. Outlaw gangs that infested Oklahoma in those days risked their loot against the faro bank and the roulette wheel—and usually lost.”[1]

As late as 1898, the situation in Guthrie continued to outrage the city’s more upstanding citizenry, as reflected in this editorial in the Guthrie Daily Leader.

Why is not some action taken toward driving out the hundreds of tramps, bums and tinhorn gamblers that infest the city? The streets and alleys fairly swarm with such vermin and with our present small police force the city is not safe. I hear daily of petty thieving done by this gentry. Such characters do a town no good and I think it high time to begin a crusade. Every night the joints on Second street are crowded with bums, who, after the lights go out, enter on a campaign of larceny. If the evil cannot be checked in any other way, then close the joints.[2]

Oklahoma Avenue 1893 Guthrie

Laws passed in 1893 in Oklahoma Territory allowed cities to levy an occupation tax on gaming tables, among many other activities including but not limited to auctioneers, contractors, druggists, restaurants, butchers, taverns, hawkers, peddlers, bankers, brokers, pawnbrokers, merchants of all kinds, grocers, wagons, carts, furniture dealers, real estate agents, and all kinds of exhibitions for pay.[3] The same 1893 law allowed cities to prohibit houses of gambling as well as prostitution, tippling shops, billiard tables, bowling alleys, etc., and specifically prohibits the granting of license for gambling or prostitution.[4] Observers might conclude that Guthrie’s town fathers deemed these activities too lucrative to completely banish, allowing gambling and prostitution to flourish in order to make the most of the fines they produced.

Also passed that year, a law stated that any officer of the law found to be drinking or gambling could be removed from office upon complaint by any citizen. This law may have been the cause of Bill Tilghman’s sudden change of career. After being appointed deputy marshal in Spring 1893, he gave up ownership of his gambling house.[5] Yet these stringent laws, including those that penalized property owners if their tenants pursued any such forbidden activities, seem to have been largely ignored by boom towns of those lawless years, as Guthrie’s police docket reveals.

Guthrie’s first decade of arrests were as follows:

1889 May thru Dec

Trespass 9

Trespass/Stealing 28

Assault/Fighting 8

Disturb Peace 14

Public Intoxication 1

Conduct Business w/o License 4

Fake Credentials 1 (doctor)

Maintain a House of Gambling 1 (Fine 10.00)

Maintain a Place for Prostitution 2 & Prostitution 46 (Range of fines: 8.50 – 36.00)

1890

Trespass 2

Assault/Fighting: 13

Failure to Pay Business Tax 7

Sell Beverage w/o License 1

Profane Language 6

Disturb Peace 5

Firearm 3

Public Intoxication 13

Maintain Public Nuisance 1

Maintain a House of Gambling 25 (Average fines: 10.75)

Maintain a Place for Prostitution 9 & Prostitution 43 (Average fine: 7.50)

1891

Assault 16 – 1 pitchfork, 1 w/ hoe

Disturb Peace/Fighting/Profanity 128

Discharge Firearm 3

Public Intoxication 30

Failure to Pay Business Tax 9

Maintain a House of Gambling 120 (Range of fines: 15.00 – 35.00)

Maintain a Place for Prostitution 9

Prostitution 148 (Range of fines: 7.50 – 10.00)

Unusual: Unregistered dog: 3

On Street w/o visible means of support 1

Left on ground exposed cow 1

Saloon open on Sunday or after hours: 3

1892

Assault 7

Disturb Peace/Fighting 156

Public Intoxication 52

Failure to Pay Business Tax 14

Maintain Public Nuisance 2 (one charge for hogs)

Maintain a House of Gambling 142 (Range of fines: 10.00 – 40.00)

Prostitution 202 (Range of fines: 7.50 – 10.00)

Unusual: Frequently found in house of prostitution, fined 46.55

Business open earlier than 5 am

Indecent exposure

Not burying dead pony

1893

Assault/Fighting 50

Disturb Peace 244 (many charges for “bad language”)

Loiter/Vagrant 24

Public Intoxication 84

Maintain a House of Gambling 29 (Range of fines: 8.50 – 40.00) (No arrests after March)

Prostitution 337 (Average fine: 10.15 – 13.65)

Unusual: Riding horse on sidewalk

Keep hogs in filthy condition

1894

Assault/Fighting 25

Disturb Peace 96

Loiter/Vagrant 6

Public Intoxication 93

Maintain a House of Gambling 1 arrest* (16.65 only recorded charge/fine, June)

Prostitution 270 (Average fine: 10.15 – 13.65)

(Terms used in booking: Place of Assignation, Bawdy House, Keeper, Inmate, House of Ill Fame)

Unusual: Allow horses to run at large

Carry on sexual intercourse at Arlington Hotel

Slaughter animals

Dress not belonging to his sex

* Mysteriously, arrests for gambling ceased entirely from April 1893 throughout 1894 and remained at a low rate in 1895.

1895

Assault 22

Disturb Peace 62

Loiter/Vagrant 16

Assault/Fighting 22

Public Intoxication 160

Maintain a House of Gambling 35 (Average fine: 16.65 – 31.65)

Prostitution 219 (Average fine: 11.65 – 31.65)

(Includes “occupy room for unlawful sexual activity”; “use room in restaurant for assignation”)

Unusual: Appear on street in lewd manner

Garbage in streets and alley

Allow cow to run at large

Hogs in city

Cow in dirty pen

Fail to close saloon at 12 a.m.

Group assault on John ‘Chinaman’

1896

Assault 30

Disturb Peace 77

Loiter/Vagrant 1

Public Intoxication 66

Maintain a House of Gambling 52 (Average fine: 16.65 – 31.65

Prostitution 152 (Average fine: 11.65 – 31.65)

Unusual: Leaving team of horses unattended

Keep meat market open after 9 a.m. Sunday

1897

Assault/Fighting 23

Disturb Peace 95

Loiter/Vagrant 27

Public Intoxication 147

Maintain a House of Gambling 61

Prostitution 207 (Three women filed physician certificates, assumed to verify state of health); arrests for cohabitation: 23

Unusual: Appear on street in unbecoming dress (female)

1898

Assault/Fighting 21

Disturb Peace 78

Loiter/Vagrant 30

Public Intoxication 95

Maintain a House of Gambling 41

Prostitution 169 (Cohabit: 36)

Unusual: Remove contents of privy without license

Sale of liquor on Sunday

1899

Assault/Fighting 34

Disturb Peace 55

Loiter/Vagrant 32

Public Intoxication 181

Maintain a House of Gambling 64 (Average fine $40)

Prostitution 136 (Cohabit: 28) (Average fine $10)

Unusual: Maintain filthy condition injurious to public health

Overflowing privy vault

Steal 27 hen’s eggs

1900

Assault/Fighting 30

Disturb Peace 73

Loiter/Vagrant 14

Public Intoxication 243

Maintain a House of Gambling 33

Prostitution 142

Unusual: Giving musical concert on the street without a license

~~~

[1] Hightower, Michael J. Banking in Oklahoma Before Statehood. University of Oklahoma Press, 2013. 198  For more on Barde, see http://www.okhistory.org/publications/enc/entry.php?entry=BA019

[2] “Protest Against Bums,” The Guthrie Daily Leader (Guthrie, Oklahoma). March 3, 1898. 4

[3] The Compiled Laws of Oklahoma, 1909. Vol. I. Piper-Reed Book Company, 1909. Chapter 14, Article  3, Section 681

[4] Ibid, Section 683

[5] Ibid, Article 6, Section 753

Secrets of an Old West Lawman

Bill Tilghman posing with his Winchester rifle in a scene from 1915 movie “The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws” (Wikipedia)

Arrest records from Guthrie’s early days as Oklahoma Territorial capitol provide an interesting insight on famed lawman William “Bill” Tilghman, one of the Three Guardsmen (along with Chris Madsen and Heck Thomas) celebrated for their pursuit of the Dalton Gang and the Doolin Gang. Little has been written about Tilghman’s adventures on the wrong side of the law or his likely relationships with a variety of fallen women. One such woman appears in the Guthrie arrest records as Jessie Bond, probably the same person later known as Jessie Whitewings. These records suggest an illicit relationship between Bill and Jessie Whitewings/Bond.[1]

As soon as Oklahoma Territory opened to white settlers in 1889, Bill Tilghman joined the land rush to stake a claim in the place that would, overnight, become Guthrie. He left his wife, ranch, and livelihood behind in Dodge City, Kansas. At this point, he was 35 years old and had pursued many activities so far in his life, including buffalo hunting, service as deputy sheriff under Bat Masterson in Ford County, Kansas, operator of a saloon in Dodge City, and then service as marshal in Dodge City. Most writers of his biographies focus on Tilghman’s illustrious and dedicated years of duty as a law officer in large part due to the efforts of his widow who wrote a book aggrandizing his career.

Not unlike other famous Western lawmen, Tilghman played both sides of the law. Newspaper accounts contemporary to his deputy service in Kansas with Masterson stated that:

Within a month of his appointment, Tilghman was charged with being an accessory to an attempted train robbery. On February 12, 1878, the charges against Tilghman were dropped for lack of evidence. Tilghman was again suspected of a crime only two months later, on April 16, 1878, when he was arrested by his boss, Masterson, on a charge of horse theft. Once again the charges were dismissed.[2]

Tilghman wasn’t so fortunate at Guthrie where surviving police dockets reveal a string of arrests and fines. Early on the scene in the land rush of 1889, Tilghman nabbed a prized corner lot on the main street of the suddenly-forming town and, according to one account, he later used the rent from this commercial location to fund his endeavors as a rancher. This source also states that he obtained his ranch site during another land rush in 1891.[3]

The woman of our inquiry, Jessie Bond, first appeared in the Guthrie, Oklahoma Territory police records in September 1890, detained on the 6th of that month and fined fourteen cents for prostitution. Similar subsequent arrests that year occurred October 11 (fined $7.50), November 1 (no fine recorded), and December 9 (fined $7.50).

Evidence of Tilghman’s associations with ladies of the night also involves Jessie Whitewings. There is no arrest record for a person by this name, but in later newspaper reports (1894) she was described as a “a flaxen-haired woman about twenty three years old and now quite fleshy…[who was a] “well known Oklahoma sport” [and who had] “lived in Guthrie in the early days and had been the mistress of a gambler.”

Was Jessie Bond the same person as Jessie Whitewings? Records support this theory. On October 15, 1891, a person named “White Wings alias Duncan” was arrested in Guthrie for being “intoxicated on [the] street.” This is the only mention of the name “White Wings” in the Guthrie arrest record between 1889 and 1897. If Jessie Whitewings was a ‘well-known sport’ in Guthrie’s early days, she would have had an arrest record. This leads to the assumption that while she may have had the nickname of ‘Whitewings,’ perhaps due to her relationship with Duncan, her real name was in fact Jessie Bond. Assuming Bond and Whitewings are the same person, at the time of her first Guthrie arrest in 1890, she was approximately nineteen years old.[4]

Within a month of Jessie’s first arrest in Guthrie, William “Bill” Tilghman appears on the Guthrie arrest record for maintaining a house of gambling. He was booked on October 10 (no fine recorded) and again in November, no date specified, with a fine of $10.75. The following year, in 1891, Jessie and Bill were arrested multiple times. Jessie was booked January 25 (fined $8.40) for residing in a house of prostitution, and again April 20 ($7.50), May 11 ($10), and June 13 ($7.50).

Bill’s arrests in 1891 were considerably more numerous, all pertaining to his gambling house on the main street of town. The docket shows arrests and fines of January 20 ($11.70), February 12 ($10.30); June 1 ($15); July 14 ($15); July 22 ($15); August 15 ($15), along with his brother Frank ($15); Frank again September 15 ($15); Bill November 14 ($25), Frank November 16 ($15), and Bill December 1 ($40).

In 1892, Jessie Bond’s arrests for prostitution occurred February 1 ($7.50), April 12 ($7.50), May 18 (fourteen cents), August 15 ($8.50); October 19 ($8.50); November 14 ($8.50); and December 26 ($8.50).  During the same year, Bill’s arrests for maintaining a house of gambling occurred January 21 ($40); February 15 ($50); March 30 ($25); April 26 ($20); May 15 ($40); June 15 ($20); July 15 ($15); and August 15 ($15). Frank Tilghman was arrested December 16 ($15).

The August 1892 docket listing was Bill Tilghman’s last arrest in Guthrie. His saloon/gambling house continued under his brother Frank’s direction. Frank’s arrests in 1893 were in January 25 ($15) and February 18 ($15). The last record of Frank Tilghman in Guthrie police dockets show four arrests in 1899 for running a gaming table/room.

Jessie Bond’s 1893 arrest record names the offense of “reside in house of prostitution,” with dates of January 16 ($11.50); February 16 ($11.50); March 15 ($8.50); April 15 ($11.50); May 15 ($11.50); June 19 ($11.50); July 17($10.15) (This arrest was recorded in mid-November.); and July 24 ($8.50). No further arrests of Jessie are recorded until December 30, 1893, at which time two arrests are documented with fines of $13.50 and $5.00.

Here’s where the story gets interesting. During the six-month period between July 24 and December 30, 1893 that Jessie Bond was not arrested in Guthrie, “Jessie Whitewings” was arrested in Perry. By Bill Tilghman. News accounts stated “Jessie had made her way to Fort Sill and El Reno, and at the opening of the Cherokee Strip, she was in Perry making the rounds of the saloons.”[5]

Jessie’s sojourn in Perry lasted only until November 1893, when she captured public attention in a drunken debacle which triggered her arrest by none other than her old buddy Bill Tilghman. After his move to Perry the previous year, he’d become the Perry marshal. No details have been found regarding the extent of this incident but after her arrest and quite mysteriously, Jessie made her escape from the Perry jail.

As reported, “after Tilghman jailed Whitewings, a fire broke out in the jail and it was first reported that she had set fire to her own bedclothes. Jess was taken from the jail and handed over to another police officer from whom she quickly escaped. … The next morning someone else confessed to setting the fire and was in turn placed in jail for that offense. By then Jess Whitewings was nowhere to be found.”[6]

After the Perry incident, Jessie Bond again appears in Guthrie arrest records beginning December 30, 1893. Evidently she settled back into her by-now familiar routine of plying the sex trade, with the exception that she now had moved up the professional ladder a rung or two. Some of the charges in 1894 were not simply for prostitution or for residing in a house of prostitution, but for being the proprietor of such a house.

Her 1894 arrest record ran like a regular monthly tithe to the local constabulary: January 29 ($13.65); February 26 ($10.15); April 16 ($13.65); May 16 ($13.65); July 18 ($13.65); September 13 ($14.65); September 19 ($13.65); October 18 ($10.15); December 15 ($13.65). For April’s arrest her charge was “maintain bawdy house.” For July’s arrest, the charge was “maintain house of ill fame.” For September’s arrests and December’s, the charge was “keep a bawdy house.”

~~~

Records show that Tilghman and Jessie Bond hit the Guthrie police docket within a month of each other in the fall of 1890. He ran a saloon and gambling operation at Guthrie triggering a string of 19 arrests for which he paid fines totaling more than $450, a considerable amount in those days equivalent to about $12,000 today. His last recorded episode on the creative side of the law was August 1892. According to his wife’s posthumous biography of Bill, he was appointed deputy U. S. marshal in May 1892. If true, he continued to operate a gambling house for at least three months after taking up a job in law enforcement.

After the opening of the Cherokee Outlet September 16, 1893, and Bill’s relocation to Perry, his next appearance in the public record as a lawman is confirmed in part by his November 1893 arrest of Jessie Whitewings and her subsequent mysterious escape.

An interpretive view of the public record offers an expanded theory of Tilghman’s story. As previously stated, court records and newspaper accounts support the opinion that Jessie Bond was Jessie Whitewings. Further, it seems likely that she was Tilghman’s sometimes mistress during Tilghman’s days in Guthrie from late 1890 through the first half of 1892, both of them enjoying the rowdy frontier life where she could conduct her private enterprise in and around his gambling establishment and Bill could keep an eye on the gaming tables. She would have seen Bill as a protector in the rough recreation of the boom town.

But by 1892 Bill’s fines had gone sky high and he was starting to see that the local authorities were coming to him for hefty allotments each month. Maybe some of the lawmen he had known in Kansas challenged him about the direction of his life in Guthrie or applied pressure which Bill felt gave him little choice but to clean up his act. Maybe his wife announced her plans to join Bill in the Territory. Likely, he saw a better future for himself in a paying job as a lawman.

For about one year from September 1892 until September 1893, Tilghman evidently traveled until ending up at Perry for the opening of the Outlet. He may have returned to his long-suffering wife and family in Kansas for part of that time and he may have traveled to Fort Sill and El Reno along with Jessie. When summoned to rambunctious Perry to employ his law enforcement expertise, Tilghman reportedly arrived there from Guthrie.

Jessie left Guthrie July 26, 1893, destined for the same town as Tilghman, suggesting she may have fallen for the big lout even though she knew he was married. She followed him to Perry when the Outlet opened for claims September 16, 1893.

But once she found Bill, she would have been bitterly disappointed when he let her know he had turned over a new leaf and was not interested in further dalliance. Trying to drown her sorrows in a bottle of whiskey, Jessie got soaked and went on a drunken rampage that resulted in a call for the marshal. It isn’t difficult to imagine that Bill still had a soft spot in his heart for her, so he took her off the street and locked her away until she could simmer down.

Jessie possessed plenty of incriminating information about him that he didn’t wish aired in his new town or before his wife and children. He could have easily arranged for Jessie to escape with the understanding she would leave town and allow him pursue his new life without her, possibly ensuring her exit with a monetary gift that helped her open her own brothel at Guthrie.

Jessie would have returned to Guthrie with a broken heart. But like many independent women of those times, she faced up to her limited options. Arrests of Jessie Bond continued through the following year (1894) and into 1895, when she was arrested January 2 for disturbing the peace, fined $11.65, and arrested again January 15 for keeping a bawdy house and fined $13.65. Another arrest for residing in a bawdy house occurred February 18, with a fine of $10.15.

Her girls were rounded up again for another monthly contribution to the city budget on March 15, 1895, when “Jess” had to pay $10.15. But the April 1895 bust of local prostitutes and gamblers did not include Jessie, nor did any subsequent month. For whatever reason, after five years on the public record, Jessie’s local infamy ended.

Maybe Jess couldn’t bear to continue in a place where she had enjoyed such a happy run of Bill’s attention. The town was getting too settled for the safe enjoyment of her profession. It’s no secret that once a frontier town aged a few years and the dust began to settle, preachers and churches took over. Like many women of the night, Jessie may have found a new location in which to set up trade farther west, maybe in a mining town. Or, like the luckier of her sisters, she may have found love and (or at least) marriage. The last known record of Jessie Bond is March 15, 1895.

Some researchers of Oklahoma’s frontier history claim a different Guthrie prostitute, Molly Morgan, was Tilghman’s mistress. That may be true. Molly’s record in Guthrie begins with a June 25, 1889, arrest for prostitution, and includes four additional arrests that year. In 1890, the year that Jessie Bond and Bill Tilghman first appear on the arrest record, Molly had five arrests, two of which were for maintaining a house of prostitution. One of those arrests, on November 1, 1890, occurred simultaneously with Jessie Bond’s arrest, strongly suggesting that Jessie worked at Mollie’s establishment and they knew each other.

Molly chalked up eleven arrests in 1891, two for disturbing the peace and the rest for prostitution. In one incident, her arrest occurred on the same date as one of Frank Tilghman’s arrests. On May 11, 1891, her arrest occurred simultaneously with an arrest for Jessie Bond, both of them for residing in a house of prostitution. In total, eleven women were arrested that day on the same charge. Also on that date, nine men were charged with maintaining a house of gambling—including Bill Duncan.

In 1892, two early arrests of Molly Morgan for prostitution on January 20 and February 15 are followed by an arrest for disturbing the peace on June 29. Molly’s last arrest in Guthrie was July 16, 1892, for prostitution, and her booking is listed next to a charge against Wm. Tilghman July 15 for maintaining a house of gambling. Tilghman’s last arrest in Guthrie is the following month.

Even if Bill Tilghman considered Molly his primary mistress during his gambling house days at Guthrie, nothing kept him from dabbling with Jessie on the side. Already married with a family back in Kansas, Tilghman obviously did not consider that relationship a barrier to his involvement with other women. He may have overseen prostitution traffic as a kind of pimp/protector for a slice of the profits. He may have whispered empty promises to Jessie at the appropriate times, leading the young girl to believe he loved her.

Once Jessie suffered his refusal in Perry and returned to Guthrie without him, it was little more than a year before she gave up in Oklahoma Territory and struck off for greener pastures. The 1900 census records do not show a Jessie Bond of the appropriate age, suggesting that by age 29, Jessie had died or become a bride.

As far as this less illustrious view of Tilghman, the record of his arrests and gambling operation are not as incongruous with his lawman reputation as it may seem. Many historians have remarked on the peculiar mindset among certain men of authority in those times. For example, William Howard recorded in his 1889 Harper’s Weekly report on the Guthrie land rush that the best lots were preempted by deputies and others empowered to be on site before the bulk of eager claimants arrived. He provided the following exchange:

I ran with the first of the crowd to get a good point of view from which to see the rush. When I had time to look about me I found that I was standing beside a tent, near which a man was leisurely chopping holes in the sod with a new axe.

“Where did you come from, that you have already pitched your tent?” I asked.

“Oh, I was here,” said he.

“How was that?”

“Why, I was a deputy United States marshal.”

“Did you resign?”

“No; I’m a deputy still.”

“But it is not legal for a deputy United States marshal, or any one in the employ of the government, to take up a town lot in this manner.”

“That may all be true, stranger; but I’ve got two lots here, just the same; and about fifty other deputies have got lots in the same way. In fact, the deputy-marshals laid out the town.”[7]

~~~

Life in the Old West abounds in tales of painted ladies with hearts of gold and lawmen with tarnished reputations. Tilghman’s record of saloon ownership in Kansas foreshadows such activity at Guthrie, as do the activities in both locations of his brother Frank. Bill was certainly not the only man of those times to serve the law while pouring drink. A contemporary in Dodge City plying both trades was Charlie Bassett, also friends with others Tilghman admired. The 1882 opening of the railroad in Texas immediately attracted Roy Bean to set up a tent saloon. Later named to a justice position, Judge Roy Bean’s saloon served as his courtroom. Wyatt Earp worked in saloons when he was between jobs as a lawman, and Bat Masterson in advancing years retired from lawman to run a Colorado saloon.

The 1893 photograph of Tilghman (shown above) reveals a man quite proud of himself. His first wife’s action for divorce in 1897 amid her struggles with tuberculosis suggests she had become disenchanted with his philandering. After her death, his 1903 marriage at age 48 to 22-year-old Zoe Stratton provides additional support to a theory that Tilghman enjoyed a certain celebrity among young women and did not hesitate to take advantage of that attraction. After his death, Zoe zealously scrubbed his reputation in her book, Marshal Of The Last Frontier: Life And Services Of William Matthew Bill, Tilghman, For Fifty Years One Of The Greatest Peace Officers Of The West.

Rather than writing a biography of himself, Tilghman took advantage of new technology in the film industry and formed a production company along with Evett Dumas Nix and Chris Madson. Their endeavor, named the Eagle Film Company, produced four films, the most famous entitled “The Passing of the Oklahoma Outlaws,” which premiered on May 25, 1915. Tilghman, one of the film’s stars, promoted the film in person, taking it on tour for several years during which he appeared on stage to lecture about his experiences. Later critics panned the 95-minute film for its staged scenes, naming them “a major source of popular disinformation.”[8]

Tilghman managed to keep his illicit activities out of the media, or at least a secret from his second wife Zoe. The standards of the day permitted men such liberties while at the same time stringently condemning the women they solicited. He was a man who wanted to be seen as a valuable and heroic public servant. In those times, even more than now, involvement with prostitutes or publicity about his arrests for operating a gaming establishment would have tarnished his desired reputation.

~~~

[1]“Guthrie Police Docket for the City of East Guthrie, 1889-1890.” Logan County Outlaws and Lawmen, http://www.usgennet.org/usa/ok/county/logan/law/otherlaw.htm. Accessed 2005 and October 2017

[2] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Bill_Tilghman

[3] Ibid

[4] Daily Oklahoma State Capitol August 7, 1894

[5] Samuelson, Nancy. “Flora Quick aka Tom King, A Bad Gal,” OKOLHA No II, Vol 2, p 12. Samuelson cites the Perry Democrat November 21, 1893.

[6] Ibid

[7] Howard, William Willard. “The Rush to Oklahoma,” Harper’s Weekly 33 (May 18, 1889): 391-394

[8] Prassel, Frank Richard (1996). The Great American Outlaw: A Legacy of Fact and FictionUniversity of Oklahoma Press. pp. 187–188. ISBN 9780806128429.

The Poverty of Conservatism

 

A continuing crisis plagues Arkansas. Like a snake eating its tail, poverty, addiction and mental illness, teen pregnancy, sexual violence against women, and low educational achievement perpetuate themselves as a result of entrenched conservative thinking. Costs for addressing these problems continue to skyrocket while the state’s earning power lingers near the bottom.

Where do we cut the snake?

Arkansas ranks 48th out of 50 states in terms of poverty. In 2015, 19.1% percent of the state’s households—one fifth—have incomes below the federal poverty line of $24,250 for a family of four.[1]  For 2016, the state’s population of 2,887,337 included 550,508 people living in poverty.[2]

In a direct correlation to the poverty rate, the state ranks 39 out of 50 states in how well students are educated.[3] The state slips further down the scale for persons 25 years of age when considering the following factors: Only 84.8% graduate high school. Only 21.1% obtain a bachelor’s degree, a ranking that puts Arkansas at 48th out of 50. And only 7.5% obtain graduate degrees, a rank of 49 out of 50.[4]

We hover near the bottom at 46 in terms of mental illness in a compilation of 15 factors including all ages, availability of treatment, and addiction rates.[5] Between 2010 and 2014, over one third of teens in need of mental health treatment did not receive it while over 53% of adults did not. Only 20% of Arkansas residents with drug dependence and 10% with alcohol dependence received treatment.[6]

The state consistently ranks in the top five for teen pregnancies with up to 80 births per 1000 occurring among teen girls ages 15 to 19. Of these, 60% are white, 27% are black, and 11% are Hispanic. Counties with the highest rates included Sevier, Nevada, Arkansas, St. Francis, Mississippi, Jackson, and Randolph.[7]

According to a 2014 report by the National Conference of State Legislatures:

Children born to teen parents are more likely to enter the child welfare or juvenile justice systems and to become teen parents themselves. Every year, thousands of young Arkansans enter one or both systems. Research shows that, nationwide, the children of teen mothers are twice as likely to be placed in foster care as their peers born to slightly older parents. Sons of teen mothers are 2.2 times more likely to be incarcerated than the sons of mothers aged 20 to 21.[8]

The crisis becomes most apparent in the number of Arkansas children in foster care. From March 2015 to March 2016, the total number of available and in-use beds in foster homes increased from 2,801 to 3,306, but the number of foster children also increased, from 4,178 to 4,791. A 2016 report states that substance abuse by caregivers accounts for over 50% of children in foster care.[9]

Despite such high rates of teen pregnancies, many Arkansas school districts do not provide any sex education. Many others offer abstinence-only education including a virginity pledge (14 districts[10]), a ridiculous non-starter since census records show that over 52% of Arkansas teens are sexually active. Only seven school districts provide comprehensive sex education addressing contraceptives, sexually transmitted infection, abortion, and sexual orientation.

The Centers for Disease Control report that 37.4% to 38.5% of women in Arkansas experience at least one event of sexual violence during their lifetimes. These experiences include rape, sexual coercion, and/or unwanted sexual contact.[11] Among sexually active teens, 18% of females report acts of violence (being hit, slammed into something, or injured with an object or weapon on purpose by someone they were dating) and 16% reported being raped.[12]

Are Arkansas citizens somehow genetically predisposed to suffer these conditions? Is it something in the water? Or might the answer be found in the conservative mindset of a majority of Arkansas citizens?

Arkansas ranks 5th in the number of churches per capita. Seventy percent of adults define themselves as ‘highly religious’ with 65% saying they pray daily and 77% saying they believe in God with absolute certainty.[13] The predominant religion practiced in Arkansas is Southern Baptist, a conservative Protestant sect which believes in a literal interpretation of the Bible.

Predictably, any push for sex education and contraceptives in public schools provokes conservative outrage. By religious thinking, unwanted pregnancies serve as punishment for illicit sex. The burden borne by women in unwanted pregnancy, childbirth, and childcare is God’s retaliation for the sins of Eve. As stated in Southern Baptist doctrine, “A wife is to submit herself graciously to the servant leadership of her husband.”[14] Prevention either through birth control or abortion upends the natural order of things as ordained by God.

The prevailing idea of conservative parents is that talking about sex and especially advocating for birth control of any kind creates a permissive attitude wherein teens are more likely to have sex. Data clearly dispute this belief. But the refusal to accept widely accepted evidence about the effectiveness of sex ed fits perfectly with the greater mindset of religious conservatives: willful ignorance about any and all information that doesn’t square with religious teachings.

Under the belief that addiction or non-marital sexual activity are moral failings, many efforts to address non-marital sex, sexual abuse or substance abuse rely on faith-based programs. Yet as noted by a counselor with twenty years in faith-based addiction treatment, “Often times, Christian programs view the secular approach to recovery as counterproductive to their message and will often discredit and even disregard medical or empirical based advice to addiction recovery.”[15]

While embracing some aspects of modern science and the advances of civilization such as automobiles, cell phones, DVRs, and medical progress, conservatives refuse to acknowledge other key findings of our times. Early religions strictly regulated a woman’s sexual activity out of concern for proving paternity and reducing conflict between competing males, among other things.  None of that matters today. Genetic testing quickly solves questions of paternity. But religion has become so institutionalized its practitioners can’t back up far enough to consider its origins or usefulness.

There’s a blind adherence to the tradition of making babies as the primary goal in life.

It doesn’t take a genius to figure out that teen pregnancy leads to lack of education which in turn leads to poor employment opportunities, or that a state with a high rate of poorly educated adults won’t attract many employers. It also doesn’t take a rocket scientist to understand that poorly educated people with poor job opportunities are more likely to turn to drugs or alcohol or suffer other forms of mental illness. Inadequate nutrition also plays a role, another cause and result of mental illness and poverty.

Further, an embattled position in poverty with subpar education leads people directly to unreasoned fear of Other—xenophobia and racism.

We have to start with the head of the snake. If we hold any hope of interrupting this vicious cycle, our state and national educational standards must require sex education. Such requirements must be imposed even in private, religious, and home school settings.

The requirements can’t stop there. All children must be required to learn the basics of science, history, political science, and other fields that serve as major elements in critical thinking about the modern world. While the state cannot dictate whether someone embraces any particular religion, we can dictate that our children are adequately prepared to make an informed choice about what to believe.

We cannot allow reactionary religious beliefs and tribalism to undo what civilization has achieved thus far.

The hue and cry against such reforms in education will be loud and long. State and federal legislators will be hard pressed to maintain a firm stance in the face of entrenched dogmatic beliefs. It will take true leaders to enact reforms in a time when leadership seems missing from public life. That means we must elect educated progressives who will carry the weight. The future of our nation depends on it.

~~~

 

[1] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_poverty_rate

[2] https://talkpoverty.org/state-year-report/arkansas-2016-report/

[3] https://www.usnews.com/news/best-states/rankings/education  The

[4] https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/List_of_U.S._states_by_educational_attainment

[5] http://www.mentalhealthamerica.net/issues/ranking-states

[6] https://www.samhsa.gov/data/sites/default/files/2015_Arkansas_BHBarometer.pdf

[7] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach,” Ginny Monk. Arkansas Democrat Gazette. Sunday September 24, 2017. Page 1.

[8] http://www.ncsl.org/research/health/teen-pregnancy-in-arkansas.aspx

[9] “Children in foster care in Arkansas reaches all-tine high.” Brian Fanney. Arkansas Democrat-Gazette, August 22, 2016. Online access October 18, 2017

[10] “Say no to sex, most state districts teach”

[11] https://www.cdc.gov/violenceprevention/pdf/NISVS-StateReportBook.pdf

[12] https://www.hhs.gov/ash/oah/facts-and-stats/national-and-state-data-sheets/adolescent-reproductive-health/arkansas/index.html

[13] http://www.pewresearch.org/fact-tank/2016/02/29/how-religious-is-your-state/?state=arkansas

[14] http://www.sbc.net/aboutus/basicbeliefs.asp

[15] http://www.addictioncampuses.com/resources/addiction-campuses-blog/3-reasons-christian-rehabs-dont-work-according-to-a-pastor/