Boot and shoemaking Letter, 1870

The Honourable Cordwainer’s Company library has just acquired a letter for its collections.  With the number of HCC2016.001, it is housed with the rest of the Guild Library at The Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa.

hcc2016-001-001San Francisco, July 10, 1870

Bro. John,

It has been almost six months since I left [Lavies] and have given you no account of myself directly yet — though I have been on the point of writing many times.  But the truth is writing letter is no pastime for me and even when after times I considered it a duty I defer it til the latest possible moment,  I am working in the same place that I have been all the time since I came here and perhaps you

hcc2016-001-002not object to hear something about how the boot and shoe business is carried out in this new country.

There are no manufactories on this coast except those in this city and suburbs,  The largest is the one in which I am employed and at present it keeps about 200 hands at work.  For the past three months more wok has been turned out than ever before in the same time.  We have all the latest improvements in machinery and better system than I ever saw before in a shoe shop.  The prices paid

hcc2016-001-003for work here would frighten you, though it is less by 12 per cent than a year ago.  One man is kept all the time working on siding books by hand for which he received $8.50 per case — side seams only.  The man who turns the books gets 30 cts per case — cutting out the welts being part of the job,  Nearly all of the boots are sided by machine except the counters and an inch or so above which is done by hand, and for this part — which is about the amount of 9 inches to each boot they pay $[120] per case.

I think this is a good way

hcc2016-001-004to fit boots.  One man sides up from 12 to 14 cases per day on just a machine as you had and gets from 25 to 35 cents per case for it.

In this way you could get your fitting for less than half your present prices and the seams are better — the machine is arrayed with common hand tar wax kept melted for the thread to [qure] through it so that when the thread gets cold in the seam it will break before it will ravel.  The price of stock is not so high here as in the east — except such as it imported –Good Kip — better than I ever saw even

hcc2016-001-005sells for 20 to 22 cents.  There are whole skins measuring from 25 to 30 feet and cutting up so that no shoulders or heads are ever left.

But enough about the leather business at this time.

Business is very flat here non generally — almost every trade except ours has more loafers than workers at present, and many seem discouraged about its ever being better.  There is a very large carriage shop here which used to give employment to 1500 hands now has only 15.  And many other departments of labor have gone down in about the lower ratio.  But there is no way but for business

hcc2016-001-006to revive here some time and those who are discouraged must bide their time.

Money brings 12 per cent per annum [it ] interest in the savings banks and 3 per cent worse at private banks.

Living is quite cheap here.  New apples have been in market a month — Mellons are just making their appearance — new squashes are also just coming though most vegetables are a constant treat here — strawberries, blackberries, peach, apricots, cherries, plums, oranges, lemons, figs &co. are found in bulk in market and all are grown in this state — grapes also are just coming which are

hcc2016-001-007more important than all the rest, as an article of trade.

But perhaps I have said enough for once — I should like to hear from you and your business.  How are you doing at the shop and have you the same crew as of old — and exactly in the same old path.  Remember me to the family and write on receipt of this.  I rec’d the Reporter you send.


D. F. Smith

P.S. Louis asks me to say she is looking for a letter from Almeda every day.









Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

WWI Nurses in the Alice Welford photograph album

Going through the Alice Welford photograph album there are a number of faces that have appeared and reappear.  This may be updated as I actually figure out who they are.

Name Where picture was taken Date
welf1 Welford, Alice.  QAIMNSR


Gibralter 1915
betts “Betts”.  QAIMNSR Gibralter? 1915-16
robinson1 Robinson. Territorial Force St. Gabriels College, Camberwell, London >1916
priestly Priestly. Territorial Force St. Gabriels College, Camberwell, London >1916
hitch “Hitch”. Territorial Force St. Gabriels College, Camberwell, London >1916
const2 const1 Constable, E. M. .  QAIMNSR  (Probably, Edith May Constable) Gibralter 1915
herdana Lierdman (The penmanship is lacking) Gibralter/Malta 1915-6
lowe Lowe Gibralter 1915
sisterseuropa Unknown Gibralter 1915
shays Shays Gibralter 1916
March&Mackenzie March & Mackenzie (uncertain of the order) Gibralter 1915
unid1 Unidentified Gibraltar 1915
fig Unidentified Gibralter 1915
 untitled  Uncertain (Hellen?)  Malta 1916


Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

More Alice Welford

Compare the images in the Welford Scrapbook, and the photo of the St. Ignatius Hospital Staff in Malta.  With the exception of the woman with her head turned, everyone in the small photo appears in the portrait.  It would be nice if I could identify more than two of them.  Dr Isabelle Stenhouse and Sister Alice Welford.


Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Mystery Building

I’ve discussed this one elsewhere before (here for those who are keeping score at home), but since I’m writing lately about photographic analysis, I thought I’d share it and expand upon it.

When analyzing photographs, sometimes interesting things pop out.  In the case of the Race Riot, trying to figure out where the photos were taken can be tricky.  And sometimes, you run across things that you just can’t answer.   In one case, there is a building that appears in a number of the photos that I can’t identify.

Panorama of the Riot area facing east - taken from atop the original BTW high school.

Panorama of the Riot area facing east – taken from atop the original BTW high school.

This panorama photo was taken shortly after the event of the riot and burning.  You can easily see the buildings on the eastern ridgeline, which still exist.  These are identified in the 1918 Aero map as ABC construction.  But next to that is a building I don’t recognize.

Enlargment of panorama, showing Dunbar Elementary ruins, ABC Construction and mystery building.

Enlargment of panorama, showing Dunbar Elementary ruins, ABC Construction and mystery building.

Multiple floors and what looks like a cupola on top.

Then we see it in other pictures.  For example this one taken from Peoria looking at the burning district.

Image taken from Peoria facing west. TU 1989-004-5-25

Image taken from Peoria facing west. TU 1989-004-5-25

Blow that up:

Detail of 1989-004-5-25

Detail of 1989-004-5-25

And there it is again.

Looking at some other images we can see it more clearly

Picture of a burned out car showing the mystery building on the far left. TU 1989-004-5-W9

Picture of a burned out car showing the mystery building on the far left. TU 1989-004-5-W9

Picture of a car with mystery building in the background. TU 1989-004-5-W6

Picture of a car with mystery building in the background. TU 1989-004-5-W6

We can enlarge that

Detail of photo 1989-004-5-W6

Detail of photo 1989-004-5-W6

So far I have not been able to find any other images of this building.

If we take a modern map and plot lines on it we get this

map of downtown showing angles

map of downtown showing angles

Then look at what the Sanborn map shows

sanbornThat puts the crossing somewhere on Jackson.

Going back to the 1918 Aero map we see nothing.

aeroIf we look at the 1921 City Directory

directoryJacksonThere is a listing for a First Baptist Church (c)  Unfortunately the same source says that the congregation is about 100 people.

1stbaptistcThat seems a bit small for this size of building.  And no pictures of that seem to have survived.  So, still digging.

Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Interesting Photographic Discovery.

I have been working on a WWI nurse’s photograph album for work, processing and analyzing the photographs.  Eventually I’ll be posting a better entry on that entire collection on the Special Collections blog.  For the present though I will share that it belongs to Sister Alice Welford (1887-1918), born in Crathorne, Yorkshire. She trained at St. Bartholomew’s Hospital in London and served in the Queen Alexandra’s Imperial Military Nursing Service Reserve from 1915 until her death. She drowned in a boat collision near Basra, 15 January 1918.

On April 29, 1917, a Sunday, she was on a friendly outing with two other women, and three young men to a beach (‘Il Blata Steps’, probably Il Il-Blata l-Bajda, on the coast of the island, although it might also be Il Blata tal Mehl) and that experience was recorded by the two cameras that were present.  One was probably a Vest Pocket Kodak, while the other may have been a Houghton Box Ensign.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

These are the photos we are looking at.  The three in the center are the most interesting to me at this point.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

The women are Alice Welford, on the left (in the white naval cap belonging to one of the two uniformed men).  She is sitting next to a man who appears at other times in the album.  He is a Naval Lieutenant, but is not in uniform on this day, therefore the cap is unlikely to be his.  His name is unclear when it is written elsewhere in the album.

Next to him in the dark hat is a woman who was tentatively identified as Isabelle Stenhouse although it appears she is not.  Stenhouse, one of the few woman surgeons in the First World War, does appear elsewhere in the album.  In this period she was at St. Ignatius Hospital in Malta, as was Sister Welford.  Further information including photographs may be found at:

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

There are two Naval Sub-Lieutenants and an unidentified Nursing Sister.  The two Sub-Lieutenants appear elsewhere in the album identified as Melville and Lt. Leslie.  We may presume that the cap Sister Welford is wearing belongs to the Sublieutenant who is taking the photograph, possibly the one she is on a first name basis with.

They’ve clearly packed a picnic, with baskets, thermoses, and a few bottles we might conjecture are beer.

It looks like the woman who might be Dr. Stenhouse has actually brought her medical bag.

One of the details that could help identify the location is the time of the day.  Il Il-Blata l-Bajda is on the east coast, while Il Blata tal Mehl is on the west coast.  If the pictures were taken at l-Bajda, then these young people skipped church for their picnic.  If they did go to church, then the outing must be late afternoon at tal Mehl.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

Alice Welford Photograph Album. Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library. The University of Tulsa.

The reason this is interesting is that the center image can not only be identified as to date, and possible location, but we have a picture taken at the same time showing the camera it was made with.  And we know that the unidentified Nursing Sister took the picture (because she’s clearly not in this picture, but she is in both images that the Sub-Lieutenant took).

One of the details that helps identify this sort of thing is that while photographic enlargers existed by the First World War, most photograph developers didn’t have convenient access to them, so the images you are seeing were made as contact prints, that is, the negative was placed on the photographic paper and then the light was shone through the negative.  The size of the image can then reveal the type of film used and often the sort of camera.

The vast majority of photographs taken by normal people during the First World War where made with the Vest Pocket Kodak, on 127 film.  The small images at 1.38” x 2.1” are consistent with the VPK. The larger image was made on 620 film, and while there were a number of Brownie style cameras, the actual image is 2” x  3”, an unusual image size.  The Houghton Box Ensign is close.

Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , , | 5 Comments

Reading Photographs: The Ghost Dance in a New Light (A return)

Several years ago, I did a presentation with the title for the Helmerich Center for American Research at the Gilcrease Museum. The first part of what follows is the bulk of that presentation. The presentation is about what we can learn from reading an image.

According to the Oxford English Dictionary, the first definition of the verb “Read” is “To consider, interpret, discern.” So we can look at a photograph and actually interpret what we are seeing. Sometimes a little effort is required, but it is usually possible to answer these questions:

• Who is the photographer, and who are we looking at?
• What are we actually looking at?
• Why did the photographer take and keep this particular image? It may be possible to discern or infer the photographer’s intention.
• Where was the image taken?
• When was the image taken?
• How was the image made? Can the physical format tell you anything?

Before I start looking at this, I need to mention that I am not an expert in Native American dances, nor do I purport to be one.  If anyone has any suggestions on how to better this interpretation, please feel free to comment.


Original image

This is the photograph we are going to focus on. Its title is “Indian Ghost Dance, Looking for the Messiah.” We know that because obviously it’s written on the image.

Briefly, in case there are any reading this who are not familiar with the ghost dance, it was a Native American religious movement stemming from the vision of the Prophet Wovoka in 1889. He was a Northern Piute, and his vision was of the resurrection of the dead and the removal of the whites and their works from the land. In order for this to work, his followers needed to live in an older, more traditional way, and perform a particular dance, the ghost dance. Eventually this belief filtered throughout the tribes of the plains and west. Not all tribes practiced the ghost dance, but many incorporated some version of it. Although the ghost dance movement waned after the massacre at Wounded Knee, I am informed that the ghost dance is still occasionally performed.

The photograph in question is an albumen print Cabinet Card, made by Thomas F. Croft of Arkansas City, Kansas. Cabinet Cards were a way of mounting the fragile photographic papers on cardboard popular between 1870 and the 1910s. The photograph is an image of a number of Native Americans sitting around in what appears to be a circle, while two men stand in the center, possibly in prayer. There are two flags blowing in the wind.

This card is in the Ellis Clark Soper collection at the Department of Special Collections, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa. It was acquired in 1930 as part of a purchase of a much larger collection.


Photograph details

The information at the bottom of the card can lead to information about the photographer.

A simple search for late 19th century photographers named Croft in Arkansas City, Kansas reveals that…

Thomas F. Croft moved to Arkansas City from Illinois in 1885. In 1894 he likely took the famous photograph of the Land Run Opening the Cherokee Strip for settlement while working for a photographer named Prettyman. In 1896 he took the first known image of a tornado in action during a visit to Oklahoma City. He regularly traveled to Indian Territory to shoot images of Native Americans, such as the one we are examining. Later on in his career he moved to Oklahoma City, Oklahoma Territory.

All that really tells us is that this is post 1885, although most of his images from Indian and Oklahoma territories do appear to be from the 1890s.

Let’s look at some details. You will notice these three lines along the top of the image?


Explained photograph details

This is an indication that this was not made from the original negative. This is a photograph of a photograph, and in fact of a different cabinet card. This may be the reason for most of the blur.
The scratch is not on the actual emulsion of our cabinet card, so this means that this is a crack in the negative, or there’s another layer of reproduction we are missing.

Looking at the bottom we can see that the white band is a label that’s been placed across the bottom part of the image.


Photograph details

The number was written on the negative (the white lettering is distinctive), and the label obscures some other text. Croft’s other works do sometimes show this sort of writing on the negative.

The handwriting on the label is block print, and while similar to what I’ve seen elsewhere of Croft’s hand, but is not distinctive.

So what does this tell us so far?

We now know that this is not a copy from the original negative, and Croft may or may not be the actual original photographer. Also we know that Croft has made a conscious decision to label this photo with this title after the original print was made.

So now we need to look at the Ghost dance itself. These images are from an Arapaho ghost dance (interestingly both of these shots were taken from the same location, probably during the same dance. They were taken in 1890 by James Mooney, who was studying the dance.

You may notice that in the Croft image the actual ritual location is clearly defined, while in the Mooney the dancing area doesn’t appear to be so defined.


Photograph details

In fact, the area of the dance has been intentionally carved out, leaving a small berm for people to sit on.


Interpretation of Dance Ground Image

Based on an estimate of the heights of the individuals, I’m going say this appears to be a rough circle at least 50’ in diameter.  Further I will suggest that the entrance to the circle is on the east, so the photograph was taken in the morning.  It has been suggested to me that the drum is in the cluster of men between the camera and the cedar tree.

And here we have the locations of the photographer, the flags, the standing men, and the tree.

We can see a fair number of the garments the people are wearing. Not very similar.
Now, just to make it really clear, we also have this…

A bison skull under a cedar tree. This is not a part of the ghost dance, although there is other relevance.


Faw Faw dance details

From the clues in the photograph, it can be concluded that this is not a Ghost Dance. This is almost certainly a depiction of an early Waw-no-she’s dance, also known as a Faw Faw dance, or Old Man Fawfaw’s dance


William Faw Faw, also known as Waw-no-she, an Oto, also had a dream of a ritual and way of life that would help a return to the old ways. (I believe this image is also by Thomas Croft).

The known dates for his religious movement seem to be around 1891-1895, although that is not entirely clear. This is a little later than the peak of the ghost dance. It was practiced among the Oto-Missouia and some Osages.

The family on your left is that of Henry Red Eagle, Osage, and on your right is Chief White Horse, Oto-Missouria. Note the sorts of work on their garments. And compare them with
It’s hard to make out the specific motifs because of the quality of the reproduction, copying a copy; but it is suggestive.

According to Dr. Garrick Bailey, Professor of Anthropology at the University of Oklahoma, the bison skull and the cedar tree are fairly distinctive for the Faw faw.

The cedar tree, uprooted and replanted in a lodge or ritually prepared space, along with a buffalo skull.

Further, according to Dr. Bailey, this dance was known to have been performed at least once near Fairfax, Oklahoma; and “The Old Pratt Place” near Hominy, Oklahoma is supposed to have a similar dug out area.

Is there anything else we can glean from the photograph?

Obviously there are people in the crowd who are aware he is there, and some don’t appear happy about it. Totally understandable, since this ceremony is not only ceremonial, but it’s also illegal at the time.

The two American flags are interesting. The smaller one has the correct number of stripes, but only 13 stars. The other appears to be a 38 star concentric circle flag, in use between 1877 and 1890.

The other clothing styles, specifically the turbans, are consistent with Osage and Oto-Missouria style of the period.

It is likely that the photographer, even if we assume he knew that this was not a ghost dance, was less interested in educating the public about the differences in cultural events than highlighting the common themes and selling prints based on the interest in the more famous Ghost Dance.

• 1000. Pawnee Bill Collection. Department of Special Collections and University Archives, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa.
• 1931.004.3.S101. Ellis Clark Soper Collection. Department of Special Collections and University Archives, McFarlin Library, The University of Tulsa.
• Arapaho Ghost Dance. Accessed: 9-1-2015.
• Arapaho Ghost Dance. Accessed: 9-1-2015.
• Arapaho Ghost dance shirt. Accessed: 9-1-2015.
• Bailey, Garrick, Personal Interviews.
• Ghost Dance Shirts. Accessed: 9-1-2015.
• La Flesche, Francis. The Osage and the invisible world : from the works of Francis La Flesche. Norman University of Oklahoma Press 1995.
• Neg. no. 13 Lenny Sawyer Collection. Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library.
• Neg. no. 3358. Oklahoma History Society.
• Uncataloged. Western History Collections, University of Oklahoma Library.
• Wooley David, and Waters, William T. ‘Waw-no-she’s dance.’ American Indian Art Magazine. v. 14, no.1 (Winter 1988), pp.36-45.

So, that was the image in the presentation. This morning, the Department of Special Collections acquired a new copy of the image (2016.007.7).


Faw Faw dance photos

You will notice that this image was made considerably after the other, since it was made in Oklahoma City, O.T. There are a few details different. The earlier image is straighter (you can see this in the angle of the original cabinet card. There is apparently 2.5 mm of data shift from the older image and the new one (this means that the camera was not capturing precisely the same image from the original – this effect is easily seen in other photographic reproductions, such as the Tulsa Race Riot post cards). Interestingly the “2” has been removed from the image between the captures.

So what does it all mean?  Aside from the importance of correcting a mis-identification, not much, other than allowing us to see

Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment

Schütte-Lanz SL 11

One of the aspects of my job that I don’t often discuss is  the fun bits of history I get to work with.  In July of 2012, the department’s Blog posted this article, Fight On and Fly: The First Air War, 1914-1918 (Finale) – From McFarlin Tower.  This was about the shooting down of the German airship SL-11 in September of 1916.   The department owns a series of six photos shot during the event by H. Scott Orr between Potters Bar and Cuffley that night.  This morning I found an image in the collection of the
Schütte-Lanz SL 11 at what is likely its home port of Spich, now part of Troisdorf, near Köln.

Shütte-Lanz 11The entire set of SL-11 images can be seen here.

The SL-11 and its crew of fifteen under its Hauptmann Wilhelm Schramm set out for England on the afternoon of 2 September 1916, along with other airships on what was to be the biggest air raid of the First World War. Both Naval and Army airships were operating together for the first time.

The SL-11 was the newest airship in the fleet, having been launched only on 1 August, and entering active service on 12 August. It had been intended to join the raid on 31 August, but had been turned back by bad weather.

Hauptmann Wilhelm Schramm had been born in England in Kent, and had moved Germany before the war. The crew was experienced, having served with Schramm on several raids in the Zeppelin airship LZ39. There were the Captain, Officers, machinists, gunners, and engineer and bombardier.

Around 23.00 hours that evening, the Home Defense squadrons were put on alert after radio messages from the airships were intercepted. Ten aircraft were sent up that night led by Lieut. William Leefe Robinson flying the BE2c 2963.

Schramm had chosen to approach London from the north passing over Royston and Hitchin. Robinson had already tried for the LZ98 under Hauptmann Ernst Lehmann, the first over London at about 0100. The LZ98 had bombed what they thought were the London Docks before fleeing.

Around 0200 the SL11 was caught by the Finsbury and Victoria Park searchlights over Alexandra Palace, and the anti-aircraft fire began. Schramm turned trying to avoid the spotlights and the exploding shells watched by hundreds on the ground. Robinson showed up and began raking the airship with incendiary rounds. The SL-11 exploded into flames that could be seen for miles before smashing into the ground near Cuffley, Hertfordshire.

After the destruction there was a long standing confusion about the SL-11, with it being misidentified as the LZ-61, a Zeppelin.

The captain and Crew were buried in Potters Bar cemetery.

Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

The Problem of Susan

Since this has come up again in several places, I’d like to re-examine my take on what has been referred to as “The Problem of Susan.”  So what exactly is this?  In first (or for the modern publishers, the second) book of C. S. Lewis’s The Chronicles of Narnia, The Lion the Witch and the Wardrobe, four children travel to the second world fantasy realm of Narnia and with the aid of the Christ-analog Aslan, free Narnia from the grip of the White Witch (who in all probability was Jadis, and certainly was in the movies).  After building a Golden Age, the four children accidentally return to their original world, in their original bodies, with virtually no time passing.  One of these children is the oldest sister, but elder middle child, Susan.

(As a note, although published fifth, The Horse and his Boy takes place during this golden age.)

After their return to the Real World, the children are not untouched by their time in Narnia, and aside from Susan enjoy talking about that time with one another.

When they return to Narnia in Prince Caspian, 1500 years has passed, and while their reign was remembered as the Golden Age, it is only dimly remembered.  Even the landscape has changed.

After again freeing the Narnians from subjugation, they are returned back to their lives, but the oldest children are told they can never return.

The younger siblings return in Voyage of the Dawn Treader, bringing their cousin Eustace.  This takes place only a little while after Caspian from the perspective of both worlds.

This is not the first time the passage of time between the worlds changes from one visit to the next.  In her first visit, the youngest sister Lucy spent hours in Narnia and only moments passed on Earth.

I believe only about a thousand years passed from the Creation of Narnia and The Lion and the Witch and the Wardrobe.  At the same time Digory Kirke grew up and became the Professor.

When Eustace returned in the Silver Chair years had passed in Narnia, but not an eternity.

Then we come to The Last Battle, the apocalyptic end of the world of Narnia.

Susan declines to attend a reunion of the “Friends of Narnia” and so is not present when virtually all of her family and everyone who ever knew anything about Narnia is killed in a train wreck.  In the text, her siblings and friends blame her for turning her back on Narnia. “She’s interested in nothing now-a-days except nylons and lipstick and invitations.”

This has resulted in a great deal of controversy regarding feminine sexuality, what Lewis’s stance was, and frequently just dissatisfaction on the topic.  A number of people have addressed this issue, including Neil Gaiman in his “The Problem of Susan,” a short story that is possibly as controversial as the original issue.

My particular take on the topic is that Susan was 12 years old when she went to Narnia, and came back 15 years later.  That means that when she was a 27 year old woman returned to reentering adolescence.  When her family died nearly a decade later she was both 21 and 36.  We have no idea what all took place during her first growing up, but she was implied to have grown to become a capable and beloved ruler, along with her siblings.  She might have had loves (we know she was being used for marriage fodder to both Prince Cor, and Radagast, the Calormene).  I know that between 12 and 27, my personal life had been quite full.

Then, to add insult to injury, 1300 years had passed, and all that was now shown to have been irretrievably gone.  I suspect that pretending it hadn’t happened might have been a way of coping with the loss.

Rather than turning away from Narnia, Queen Susan the Gentle may have felt too much, and that Narnia had been taken from her.

So, why do I care?  And let’s not be confused, this whole plot point annoys the crap out of me.  It’s a fictional character in a child’s story, and when I first read the books I didn’t really care.  It was only when the movies came out that it started to nag at me.

I doubt Lewis had any idea what he was doing in this situation, although looking at his work Till We Have Faces, in which there is another woman being screwed over by the apparent unjustness of the Gods, perhaps he was trying to address the Problem in that work.  If so, I find his solution unsatisfactory.

So why do I think that Susan should remember her time as an adult in Narnia and assert it would have an effect?  Simply because the living a lifetime in the blink of an eye, and not having it have an effect on the character is poor storytelling.  In Star Trek: the Next Generation‘s 5th season we have The Inner Light, in which Captain Picard is forced to live the entire adult life of Kamin, a man who died 1000 years earlier.  It would have been easy to hit the reset button on Picard, but they went with it, with glimmers of the life he ‘d lived through echoing into the rest of the series (although not as much as it probably should have).  Miles’ O’Brien in a similar situation in Star Trek: Deep Space Nine‘s 4th season, Hard Time, where a twenty year prison sentence is lived out in a few hours — most of that episode is his trying to cope with the changes in him (although many of them are cleared up by the magic reset button).  Resetting your characters makes any dramatic development pointless.

Anyway, if you are interested in other interpretations of the Problem of Susan–

Some blogs discussing this:

Some fan fics:

Neil Gaiman’s short story was at this link, but may no longer be:

Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , | Leave a comment

Research difficulties and the modern American political narrative.

Unidentified Vintage Guy simply used to indicate we're talking about people.

Unidentified Vintage Guy simply used to indicate we’re talking about people.

So, I’m working on a research project about a guy who was temporarily in the KKK in Tulsa in the 1920s but, as far as I can tell, not for religious or racial reasons. It appears to be political reasons that led to him join.

Those political reasons stemmed specifically from the problems with a large criminal element at work in the region at the time. Accounts of banditry and car hijackings appeared in the papers daily. As the constabulary was unable to check the crime wave, vigilantism became rife as well. In fact, there were a number of disorganized, and uscentralized vigilante groups, including one made up of African-Americans.

In 1917 a Klan-like organization, the Knights of Liberty, had whipped and tarred and feathered a group of suspected IWW members. The IWW, or Industrial Workers of the World, was a radical, socialist labor union. (And yes, I know if you read the Wikipedia article on this event, the “Tulsa Outrage,” it says that the Knights of Liberty was a faction of the Klan, unfortunately that’s not how the Knights of the KKK Inc. actually worked. That’s like saying Burger King is a faction of McDonalds).

Why attack the IWW? Because in 1917 Russia had fallen to the Bolsheviks; and closer to home, the failed uprising of Oklahoma socialists in the Green Corn Rebellion that summer had stirred up a lot of fear about the “Red Menace.”

So, move on five years to 1922: The Klan shows up in Tulsa (in the aftermath of the Riot) and says crazy lawlessness is bad, Americanism is good, and religion isn’t something we are concerned with (which happened to be a lie).

This guy, like a lot of people who are concerned about the lawless element and the ‘anti-American’ socialist groups, joins the KKK

And, within a year, because of real-world politics, he leaves the KKK

So my problem is that, in researching history, if the facts don’t match up with popular narrative, then the researcher is at risk. If I say that this guy wasn’t a racist (or any more racist than a moderately enlightened white man of the 1920s America was), it’s easy for someone to come around and say, ‘you’re wrong, because, he was in the Klan, so he’s obviously racist.’ And by the modern standards we are supposed to be promoting – absolute equality and combating white privilege – of course he was.

In the 1950s the House Committee on Un-American Activities, responding to that era’s version of the Red Scare, made it dangerous to espouse anything even remotely socialist-sounding, let alone actually belonging to the Communist Party. My concern today is the same one, but from the other direction: If I even suggest that ‘no, this guy wasn’t particularly racist, and was in fact really pretty forward thinking racially’ because he was in the Klan no matter how briefly, I risk the accusation of being somehow pro-Klan.

This risk is even greater in the current political environment, where the Left-Right divide is once again teetering between one group of angry hate-filled wackos on one side, and an equally angry hate-filled wacko group on the other.

History is not studied in a vacuum, I get that. My argument is with the pressure, as subtle as it can be powerful, to make 2+2=5.


Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment


Since I’ve been posting old articles, I thought I’d do a current one. Next week, we celebrate Thanksgiving, a holiday with a lot of baggage. First, let’s look at two classic images of traditional Thanksgiving.

J.L.G Ferris. The First Thanksgiving 1621. 1932.

J.L.G Ferris. The First Thanksgiving 1621. 1932.

Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943.

Norman Rockwell, Freedom from Want, 1943.

Wonderful. The first is a mythical envisioning of the first Thanksgiving in 1620, with Pilgrims hosting the peaceful and friendly (and helpful) Wampanoags. The second is a mid-war family with the happy, smiling faces surrounded by love and abundance. These are the traditional (White) views of the holiday and if you are happy with that when you celebrate next week, I hope you have a Happy celebration.
Personally, I am well aware of the history of the holiday, but still enjoy the time with people I care about and have a time to reflect on the previous year and take the time to be grateful that we’ve survived generally alive.

So what is the history? If you are happy with your myth, move along now.

In 1620, a group of religious refugees came to North America. They had initially planned on going to the 13 year old Jamestown colony, but somehow managed to change the plan in mid-voyage and detoured to the New England Area. There, a short time earlier a plague had swept through the area and wiped out a large chunk of the native population. Of critical importance was the decimation of the towns called by its inhabitants by a name that sounded like Accomack and Patuxet. The area was renamed to New Plimouth by John Smith several years before the Pilgrims sailed.

Indian Tribes (ca. 1636). Roger Dowd, The Pequots in Southern New England.

Indian Tribes (ca. 1636). Roger Dowd, The Pequots in Southern New England.

The Pilgrims settled without legal right to do so, neither from the Crown they answered to, nor from the peoples in the neighborhood. So they created the Mayflower Compact as a quasi-legal agreement amongst themselves.

They managed to survive the first winter, although not without losses and not without stealing from their neighbors (and arguably grave robbing) for material goods like corn. In the spring, the locals made contact – there had been earlier contact with temporary visitors from England, and so came to meet Squanto, who had been captured as a slave in his youth. The Wampanoag and the Pilgrims signed a treaty of peace and mutual support.
There was a harvest festival, celebrated by the Pilgrims and the local indigenous tribal people.

There was no repetition of the event.

In 1630, the Winthrop Fleet arrived and more colonies were established throughout the neighborhood. In Connecticut and Rhode Island, a number of townships were established, and eventually came into conflict with their indigenous neighbors.

There’s a lot of fascinating backstory to this conflict, including a lot if intertribal political inter-fighting but ultimately the people started dying. In response the English destroyed several Niantic villages in eastern Connecticut. The Pequots took exception to this and began to raid.

Map of Pequot War (source unknown)

Map of Pequot War (source unknown)

In May of 1637, Captain John Mason and his second in command Robert Seeley, led a militia of colonists and native allies attacked the Pequot fort/town at Mystic (Misistuck). They ordered the palisade to be set on fire, and ordered that any who tried to escape from the flames to be killed. 6-700 Pequot were killed at the Mystic Massacre, with only a small handful taken alive.

Unfortunately, as can happen, most of the occupants of the village were non-combatant elderly, women and children; the warriors out looking for the English. The surviving Pequot fled and were eventually slaughtered by the English and their Alllies. The final massacre took place at the Great Swamp Fight.

In 1638 200 of the Pequot old men, women and children surrendered themselves into slavery and were given to the Narragansett. The English conquerors declared the Pequots extinct and had a major party in Thanksgiving.

After the American Civil War, it became politically expedient to sacrifice the history of the Jamestown Colony at the altar of Northern Supremacy, which is when the legends of the Pilgrims and Thanksgiving started to really develop.

Of course there are differing opinions (this is the study of history after all) and folklore and mythology are developing even today. But I don’t think I’ve reported anything factually incorrect here.

Posted in Blog entries | Tagged , , , , , , | Leave a comment