Tuesday, August 31, 2004
Rhetoric worth repeating
From U.S. Sen. John McCain's speech at the Republican National Convention:
No American alive today will ever forget what happened on the morning of September 11th.
That day was the moment when the pendulum of history swung toward a new era.
The opening chapter was tinged with great sadness and uncertainty.
It shook us from our complacency in the belief that the Cold War’s end had ushered in a time of global tranquility.
But an absence of complacency should not provoke an absence of confidence. What our enemies have sought to destroy is beyond their reach. It cannot be taken from us. It can only be surrendered.
My friends, we are again met on the field of political competition with our fellow countrymen. It is more than appropriate, it is necessary that even in times of crisis we have these contests, and engage in spirited disagreement over the shape and course of our government.
We have nothing to fear from each other.
We are arguing over the means to better secure our freedom, and promote the general welfare.But it should remain an argument among friends who share an unshaken belief in our great cause, and in the goodness of each other.
We are Americans first, Americans last, Americans always.
Let us argue our differences.
But remember we are not enemies, but comrades in a war against a real enemy, and take courage from the knowledge that our military superiority is matched only by the superiority of our ideals, and our unconquerable love for them.
Our adversaries are weaker than us in arms and men, but weaker still in causes. They fight to express a hatred for all that is good in humanity.
We fight for love of freedom and justice, a love that is invincible. Keep that faith. Keep your courage. Stick together. Stay strong.
Do not yield. Do not flinch. Stand up. Stand up with our President and fight.
We’re Americans, and we’ll never surrender.
From Illinois state Sen. Barack Obama's speech at the Democratic National Convention:
Now let me be clear. We have real enemies in the world. These enemies must be found. They must be pursued and they must be defeated.
John Kerry knows this. And just as Lieutenant Kerry did not hesitate to risk his life to protect the men who served with him in Vietnam, President Kerry will not hesitate one moment to use our military might to keep America safe and secure.
John Kerry believes in America. And he knows it’s not enough for just some of us to prosper. For alongside our famous individualism, there’s another ingredient in the American saga. A belief that we are connected as one people.
If there’s a child on the south side of Chicago who can’t read, that matters to me, even if it’s not my child. If there’s a senior citizen somewhere who can’t pay for her prescription and has to choose between medicine and the rent, that makes my life poorer, even if it’s not my grandmother.
If there’s an Arab American family being rounded up without benefit of an attorney or due process, that threatens my civil liberties. It’s that fundamental belief — I am my brother’s keeper, I am my sisters’ keeper—that makes this country work.
It’s what allows us to pursue our individual dreams, yet still come together as a single American family. "E pluribus unum." Out of many, one.
Yet even as we speak, there are those who are preparing to divide us, the spin masters and negative ad peddlers who embrace the politics of anything goes.
Well, I say to them tonight, there’s not a liberal America and a conservative America—there’s the United States of America. There’s not a black America and white America and Latino America and Asian America; there’s the United States of America.
The pundits like to slice-and-dice our country into Red States and Blue States; Red States for Republicans, Blue States for Democrats. But I’ve got news for them, too. We worship an awesome God in the Blue States, and we don’t like federal agents poking around our libraries in the Red States. We coach Little League in the Blue States and have gay friends in the Red States.
There are patriots who opposed the war in Iraq and patriots who supported it. We are one people, all of us pledging allegiance to the stars and stripes, all of us defending the United States of America.
Monday, August 30, 2004
"A Mighty Empire" -- book review
By The Erudite Redneck
Marc Egnal looks beneath prevailing interpretations of the American Revolution to uncover something more fundamental than an erudite argument over liberty, yet more profound than a struggle against economic forces. Egnal, using colonial archives, the letters of leading men and other primary documents, finds an elite desire for greatness, in each colony “an upper-class faction whose dedication to the rapid development of America was apparent well before 1763” (6).
He boldly declares a new paradigm, which he insists represents more than a land grab: “This broad, ramifying world view must not be equated with a much narrower concept – a desire for territorial growth” (7).
Egnal studies four periods from the perspective of two schools of thought: expansionist versus nonexpansionist.
From 1690 to 1762, factions appear; from 1763 to 1770, depression following the French and Indian War enlarged and exacerbated Parliament’s slights on the colonies; from 1771 to 1773, relative calm prevailed; from 1774-1776, expansionist leaders were gearing up for revolution.
In Massachusetts, New York, Pennsylvania, Virginia and South Carolina, chosen for study because they were the most populous, elite thought shifted around two basic ideas: America either had, or lacked, the wherewithal to become a world power. Egnal sees common people, rural denizens and urban poor, as spoilers at times, lending support or withholding it from one side or the other, usually the expansionist.
The expansionist longing for American greatness evolved into a desire for independence from Britain; nay-saying nonexpansionists grew into oppositionist factions and Loyalists.
Egnal outlines strains in each colony that served to help define both camps in the decades before the Revolution: coalitions surrounding war and money in Massachusetts, traders versus war hawks in New York, Quaker influence in Pennsylvania, huge plantation owners versus frontiersmen in Virginia, and rice- and indigo-beholden conservatives versus those with broader goals in South Carolina.
Then, Egnal details colonial reaction to reduced money flow Britain and slow growth in the West Indies in the post-war 1760s, when the goal of greatness crystallized into an independence movement and nonexpansionists lost power.
Egnal, associate professor of history at York University in Canada, provides no bibliography, but includes a remarkable appendix with a comprehensive list of individual patriot and loyalist leaders in each colony, indicating where each stood on important questions in the decades before the Revolution. Egnal provides copious footnotes in this careful exegesis of his thesis.
Sunday, August 29, 2004
NASCAR High Holy Day redux: Santy came twice!
Two loads of presents! Junior’s winnin’ of both the Busch race Friday and the Sharpie 500 last night at Bristol was about as good as racin’ gets in the ER household, at least since Dale Earnhardt died in ought-1.
Dr. Erudite Redhead, Bird and I agreed that we’d never seen Junior happier – and the doc and I can’t believe it’s been five years already since Dale Sr. “rattled” Labonte’s “cage” to win at Bristol, which was mentioned in the Victory Lane interview.
Sigh, those with redneck ears to hear, hear me. The rest of y’all probably know some of the words in the above, but not others, sorter like readin’ original Shakespeare or “Beowolf,” I reckon.
Bird update: Her little feets hurt, she reports, from all the walkin’ associated with livin’ at Bennett Hall at OSU, which is a solid hike from just about every classroom on campus. I feel her pain. Livin’ in Bennett like to broke me from wearin’ cowboy boots for the same reason, which is ironic, OSU bein’ an aggie school.
To this day, my brother gives me manure for comin’ home in a Resistol – and a pair of Nikes. He’s only bein’ protective. That kind of social fox pass will get your butt handed to you in parts of eastern Oklahoma. But, me bein’ a pretty big ol’ Redneck, people generally leave me be. Truth is, I’ve just got the bluff on ’em, since even when I'm bein a bear it's of the teddy variety, mostly.
Saturday, August 28, 2004
Hard bloggin' lesson
Always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, always, ALWAYS type your writing into Word or some other writing program, then copy and paste it into blogger. ALWAYS.
The ol’ Erudite yet technologically challenged Redneck learned this the hard way this morning. Collateral damage includes y’all not gettin’ to read an off-the-top-of-the-baldin’ head treatise on the sacraments and traditions of this purt near holiest of all NASCAR High Holy Days. Dang it all to Jersey. What the hey. Let’s race.
Friday, August 27, 2004
NASCAR High Holy Day Eve
Bristol: NASCAR High Holy Day
One editor was a Texan who couldn’t detect "sports" in anything that didn’t involve an oblong and historically pork-rind-encased object that grown men maul each other tryin’ to get control of, or a small, hard, round, stitched orb that drug-enhanced pseudo-athletes bludgeon with a stick and send flyin’ — but he scoffed at the notion of "watchin’ cars go round and round" for a few hours. Go figure.
The other editor was just a Yankee.
Both were nonbelievers. Each deprived his readers of a little insight into the NASCAR Nation.
I wrote this in ought-2 after seein’ the Brickyard 400 in Indianapolis, then touched it up a bit in ought-3 before the race that spring at Texas Motor Speedway. I ain’t touchin’ it up no more. The references are dated. The facts are accurate. The truth is in here.
By The Erudite Redneck
My first-ever sports story:
Gauge the relative redneckery at Texas Motor Speedway, compared to the Brickyard 400 at Spam-shaped Indianapolis Motor Speedway and races at Kansas Motor Speedway.
It’s a task for which I am, as a proud native of cockfighting eastern Oklahoma — spittin’ distance from Little Dixie — fairly qualified, so to speak.
I am a NASCAR-American.
See here and take that, Leona, wherever you are. You see, it’s not just geography that prepares me for trackside sociology. It’s personal ’sperience, as ol’ D.W., Darrell Waltrip, likes to say.
Leona, whose hand I won the old-fashioned way, by getting up the courage to seek it from her old-fashioned father back in ’83, chose weekends at Tri-State Speedway, the high-banked, 3/8-mile clay oval at Pocola, Okla., over my affections.
Her uncle’s car. She helped in the pits.
Nineteen and full of big plans — a trailer house in the woods, babies, some cows and a job at Whirlpool over in Fort Smith, Ark. — I was ready for matrimony. She was ready to race, every stinkin’ weekend. The tension culminated with ring-throwin’ fits and a dang-near cop-callin’ showdown.
If you’ve ever had wedding plans dashed and hopes and dreams lost in the smoke and noise of a racetrack, you might be ... well, you know. My white collar can’t cover up my red neck. I just scrub up good.
"Redneck," like "good ol’ boy" and certain other socio-cultural monikers, is a slur only if it’s meant to be. To me, it’s a term of endearment.
Texas Motor Speedway, no surprise here, flat out pegged the Redneck Readout Meter, like Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s tach as he screamed to a win at the 2001 Pepsi 400 at Daytona, which pulled our heartstrings just as taut because of what happened to his daddy there a few months before.
Rebel flags and attitudes abounded in Texas on April 7, 2002, the day of the beer-drenched, rained-out and mud-encrusted Samsung-RadioShack 500, and the next day when a couple hundred thousand people called in sick to work to stay for the race.
My redheaded erudite redneck wife and redneck redheaded stepchild saw redneck free speech at work over the weekend. Hand-scrawled signs posted at a few campsites offered "free beer" in return for the display of certain female body parts — redneck boys pursuing a mating ritual gone from much of the reconstructed South, but allowed to be expressed at trackside.
What do you expect? They even let you smoke.
During the downpour Sunday, she saw an example of the common shameless free-range bare-groined redneck.
We were huddled in the truck, waitin’ for a dry spell, when a guy across the way jumped out and rather ceremoniously answered nature’s call. Through my dozing, the wail seemed distant at first, then reached teenage freak-out decibels: omigod, Omigod, OMIGOD, OMIGOD, EWWWWW!
That’s racin’ darlin’.
See, the race itself is just a small part of a race weekend. Racin’ is a way of life. The congregation of the faithful, among many other things, is a collective "Y’all can all just kiss our grits" to nonbelievers.
Like the smart-mouthed radio jock in Indianapolis the Friday before the Brickyard 400 last Aug. 4. Those of us along Turn 4 fryin’ on the aluminum bleachers of Stand J like so many Jimmy Dean sausages were offended that he’d made a remark about the "White Trash Expo" bein’ in town. He said it to hurt.
Bring it on, smart britches.
That’s why the NASCAR circle will forever be unbroken — Okies like me and mine, who have to travel out of state for a Winston Cup race, regulars like the lady retiree from New England who went on about the drivahs and their cahs, and pure-strain varieties of redneck like the bare-chested boys in the beat-up old car, wavin’ a banner that had the late Dale Earnhardt’s No. 3 poking through the heart of the Rebel battle flag, which has to be some sort of advance in redneck theology.
We pretty much look out for one another. Get this:
The daughter went and left her purse, with $4, a cell phone, driver’s license, social security card and some makeup, in the stands at the end of the Indy race. Didn’t notice it missing until the next morning.
We stopped by the speedway administration building on our way out of Indy and wrote down a description of it and its contents. A half-hour later, a security lady called. They’d found the purse, minus only the $4 cash inside — which just happened to be about the price of a beer, which is forgivable.
Sometimes, though, a line is crossed. Some idiot walking beside heavy traffic, spying the Dale Earnhardt T-shirt on the stepchild, actually said to her, to her face, "He’s dead. Get over it." She wanted to open up a can on him. We could have called for backup — heck, there was vigilante traffic directing in the thick of the traffic around the urban Brickyard.
The Brickyard race, in a nutshell: Sensible Midwesterners predominated. I think all the locals brought food from home — ’sperienced race fans from decades of open-wheel racin’ at the Brickyard. Moderate Midwestern redneckery was exhibited, tolerant of more flamboyant, Southern brands.
Kansas? Fine race in summer 2001 when we were there. One or two battle flags. Only slight redneckery, although it stood out from the largely in-’sperienced observers in the stands: "My gosh, how fast those cars go," they seemed to say amid polite applause.
Kansans will get it eventually. Hey y’all, it’s pronounced YEE-HAW! ¶
Thursday, August 26, 2004
Southrons: smarter than we let on
Met a Virginia gal yesterday who was a livin’ example of a life lesson the Lord and unfamiliar circumstances blessed me with back when I was in Congress.
I was in Congress – as a press intern for a House member from Georgia, back in the mid-'80s. His name was Patrick Swindall (apt, since he served on the House Banking Committee). He won his seat in the Reagan landslide of ’84, the first Republican from the district, near Atlanta, since Reconstruction. Ben Jones later beat him for the seat -- Ben Jones, who played “Cooter” on the “Dukes of Hazzard,” and I swear I am not making any of this up, you can check the records on-line, I’m sure.
This gal from Virginia made me think of some uppity Georgians. Not unlike myself, she grew up so far back in the sticks it’d take at least a half-dozen prepositions to get to her house. It was way back down over in to the hills of southwestern Virginia, so close to Bristol Motor Speedway you could probably hear the races on clear nights -- and that’s twice as many prepositional zigs and zags as it takes to get way down upon the Suwannee River.*
She just wallered syllables and words around in her mouth 'til they tumbled out so natural-like it made me want to pour a cup of the way she talked and drink it. She’s 27, and in the course of my visitin’ with her, she had cause to mention her “mommy,” which Loretta Lynn has always called her mama. Loretta is from Butcher Holler, Kentuck, of course, as everyone knows, but she and the sweet-talkin’ gal are from the same neck of the woods culturally and coal-mining-wise. I swear, I just wanted to hug her, all innocent and cousin-like if you know what I mean and some of you do.
Some people – and I use that term loosely because what I mean is Yankees and stuck-up Southerners who have got above their raisin’ – hear her talk and dismiss her as an ignorant yokel, hick, fool or worse. Well, she is a yokel, and a hick – and it takes one to really know one. But she’s no fool, and no dummy.
Despite her unhurried manner of speakin’, she was fleet of thought, and that apparent contradiction is what drives Yankees and uppity rustics plumb crazy. She had served in the Air Force, which even startled me a little because she seemed so slight and dang-near fragile, bless her heart, although I’m pretty sure she could’ve torn my head off, climbed down my neck hole and ripped my heart out with her bare teeth if I crossed her.
She was disarming, in other words, which is why I was reminded of the lesson I learned in Congress.
The folks in Swindall’s office were suburban Atlantans, with one or two from the Washington, D.C., side of Virginia, both of which are Southern only in the technical sense. My twangy, ain’ty way of talkin’ had them thinkin’ I was a yokel, hick, fool or worse, and I was, and am, none of the above. I just talk that way because I grew up around people who talk that way.
Heck, when I was 20, workin’ at a radio station in Arkanas, the program director sat me down one day and gave me a good talkin’ to because I sounded like such a hick on the air. What pushed him over the edge was a Valentine’s Day promotion we were runnin’ where the first caller could have a bouquet of flowers sent to his or her sweetie. A bouquet of flowers, properly pronounced “BOO-KAY UV FLOW-ERS.” It came out of my then-still-Copenhagen-dippin’ mouth as “BO-KAY UV FLYERS.” Turned out that not only did I have a face made for radio, but I also had a manner of speech made for writin’.
But I’ll be damned if I’ll let others’ hang-ups persuade me to pretend otherwise and talk like I’m from central Nebraska or wherever it is they train most national TV news anchors.
Besides pure-dee regional pride, there’s one other reason I will employ my natural dialect, as needed, in the course of life, and this is the lesson I learned in Congress:
I’m in the information bidness. When people think you’re dumb, they always tell you more than you ask for, more than you really need, and more than you can use. Research bein’ the secret to almost any kind of writin’, letting people think you’re a dolt, if you can stand bein’ talked down to some, is a great way to get ahead and stay ahead.
*Dr. Erudite Redhead and I had pretty good discussion as to whether “way” is a preposition. I think it is in this sense. The following backs me up on it. It’s from a Web page at the University of Texas, and they ought to know: “A preposition is defined as a word which shows a relationship in time, space, cause or manner between the object of the preposition and another word in the sentence.”
Wednesday, August 25, 2004
Idiot's Guide to ... modern teachin'
Baby Bird called and checked in with me yesterday, and I appreciate her efforts to calm the ol’ Erudite Redneck down some. I had been grumblin’ under my breath about the status of higher education ever since I saw the "textbook" required for her freshman American gubment class at Oklahoma State.
It still pains me to type these words in the context of a college class: "The Complete Idiot’s Guide to American Government." I got plumb sore when I saw that that was her "textbook."
Holy Magna Carta! One of the things I talked OSU out of way back when was a degree in political science. I’m a little sensitive on the subject, as well as the pedagogy thereof. See, they actually turned me loose one semester, when I was a senior -- the second time -- to lead a twice-a-week freshman American gubment discussion lab.
So, Bird called to tell me the rest of the story as soon as she knew it.
Her perfesser told the class that the text the political science department recommended cost $88. The Idiot’s book cost $18. Baby Bird said the perfesser said requiring the Idiot’s book was his own form of personal protest over the gouging that college students take when they buy books for class.
Well, I’ll swan. I will hoist a Guinness in his honor at the first opportunity. He sounds like my kind of perfesser. Plus, Bird was fairly interested in the class, partly because the perfesser is Irish -- remember that she is my Redheaded Redneck Stepchild -- and plans to teach American government from somewhat of a European perspective, which I think is dang cool.
And, truth be told, the Idiot’s books are pretty good. They actually let me help proof and write forewords for two of the things. I haven’t looked at the American gubment one, but there probably is a Ph.D. lurking somewhere in the writin’ or other preparation of it, or at least checking the galleys.
Whatever it takes to get the Bird interested in gubment and important ideas like Freedom, Order and Equality, which are pretty much the three-legged stool the country stands on, despite the current administration’s attempts to knock the first one out.
Used to, the Bird’s normally fiery eyes would go cool and glaze over when I started such a rant. I expect that by the end of the semester, she’ll be able to at least carry on a conversation, especially if her gubment prof or some other starts requirin’ her to read the news -- they still do that -- and especially after she votes for the first time in November.
There is sheer, unintended and timely genius in putting "Idiot" and "American government" in the same title of a book right now. Bird will "get" that, and a lot of other things, before long.
Tuesday, August 24, 2004
Great ... Grandpappy Charlemagne
“Angland” – by which I mean uppity Brits and any other Europeans who like to look down their snooty noses at gun-slingin’ “cowboy” Americans such as myself and the president, can “kiss mah ayass,” as Dennis Quaid (playing Jerry Lee Lewis) so memorably put it in the 1989 biographical flick “Great Balls of Fire.” (The Brits had turned on The Killer after learnin’ that he’d married his 14-year-old cousin, Myra Gale, played by a fetching, pre-klepto Winona Ryder).
In the movie, a reporter at the airport had asked Lewis, as he was headin’ home, if he had anything to say to the good people of England after seein’ his wildly cheerin’ fans turn to stone and his successful concert tour turn into a series of duds after the news broke. He put “Angland” in its place, right under his back belt loops. Don’t know whether he said that exact thing in that exact circumstance. The story as a whole is true, though.
Show me in European history where they have room to talk. They don’t, particularly the French, the line that may have spawned my cultural-intellectual great-great-great-etc.-etc. grandpappy: Charlemagne, king in the 700s, more or less founder of the Carolingian Empire – and progenitor of many things erudite and redneck.
“The Franks were an agrarian people who had no cities worth the name.” Sounds like Oklahoma minus Oklahoma City and Tulsa, most of south Alabam, West Texas, east Colorado, most of the rest of the Great Plains and the South – and every other place in this country really fittin’ to live.
“Charlemagne … built brilliantly on the accomplishments of his wily father and grandfather.” There’s the family tradition.
“He wore Frankish trousers but took the title of Roman emperor.” The Wranglers, perhaps, of the day.
“He understood Latin and Greek but could not write himself.” Not unlike my chicken-pickin’ non-music-readin’ approach to playin’ the guitar.
“Although he prayed with devout fervor, he also discarded wives at will and allowed his daughters to consort openly with their lovers.” Ancient Arkansaw, in other words. (I was born there; I can say that).
In Francia in 700, “Extended families were still important; kin still avenged wrongs through feud … marriage was hard to distinguish from concubinage; and the most basic unit of social organization was the familial household.” It would shock the hell out of the modern French, but Francia would’ve been a “red state.”
“Charlemagne towered over his contemporaries both figuratively and literally. He was 6’ 3 ½” tall, thick-necked and potbellied.” This needs no illumination on my part.
His main biographer was Einhard – dang close to “Earnhardt.” Eerie, ain’t it? Einhard wrote of Charlemagne: “He was not able to withstand from food and often complained that fasts injured his health. … So refrained was he in the use of wine and all sorts of drink that he rarely allowed himself more than three cups in the course of a meal.” This requires some explainin’ since it seems to fly in the face of my hypothesis: “Since Carolingian wine cups were closer in measure to modern pints than cups, Charlemagne’s moderation in matters of drink was relative.”
Finally, Charlemagne, Einhard wrote: “thought that his children, both daughters and sons, should begin their education with the liberal arts, which he himself had studied. Then, he saw to it that when the boys reached the right age they were trained to ride in the Frankish fashion, to fight, and to hunt. But he ordered his daughters to learn how to work with wool, how to spin and weave it, so that they would not grow dull from inactivity and instead might learn to value work.”
Great-great-great-etc.-etc.-Grandpappy Charlemagne: the first Erudite Redneck.
[Direct quotes from C. Warren Hollister and Judith M. Bennett, Medieval Europe: a Short History, 9th ed. (Boston: McGraw Hill, 2002).]
Monday, August 23, 2004
Scripto, ergo sum
"People can't write because they can't think."
-- H.L. Mencken
That is the only writing about writing that I've ever really relied on as a writer. But it's just the starting point. Conjugate the idea.
People who write well think clearly. People who write succinctly have thought things through. People who write disjointed copy have disjointed thoughts -- and need to think some more. People who write poorly think poorly. You can go on and on.
The quote is somewhere in The Diary of H.L. Mencken, edited by Charles A Fecher (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1989), but I can't tell you where. The simplicity of the idea struck me so hard when I first read it back in '89 that I've never forgotten it. I've never had to find it again.
Scripto, ergo sum? "I write, therefore I am."
Sunday, August 22, 2004
Fried chicken and watermelon
I just love fried chicken.
Keep the nuggets, keep the boneless-skinless-calorieless breasts. Give me good old-fashioned yardbird, cut up, skin on, floured, salted and peppered and fried in a heavy skillet.
Biscuits or cornbread on the side, please. Sliced dill pickles, cucumbers soaked in vinegar or green tomato relish is a must. Mashed taters. Corn, on the cob if available, from a can if not. And green beans, seasoned with bacon grease. Oh, and chicken gravy, which is the same light brown color as sausage gravy if done right.
Some of my fondest memories as a young’un involve Mama in the kitchen. And bein’ underfoot when she was fryin’ chicken was especially fun. I mean, the whole operation is fascinating to a kid.
One, that was an entire carcass, or two, on the table – until she cut it up. Then, she’d wash each piece under the faucet in the sink. In a brown paper sack, she’d put flour and salt and pepper. I think that’s all. She’d put some of the pieces in the sack and shake it around.
Then, into a quarter-inch or so of Crisco already hot in a big skillet, she’d gently place the pieces, making a layer of simmering wonder that, after two or three dangerous, grease-popping flips, would eventually be a big pile of good eatin’ on the table.
It would take awhile – and that’s the secret of home-fried chicken, which cannot be replicated in a fast-food place, roadside chicken shack or even a fancy eatin’ joint: Frying chicken right – with the insides all moist and the outsides perfectly crispy and lightly browned – takes time. Waitin’ for it is part of what makes it special.
And I just love watermelon.
Keep the mango, keep the kiwi, keep the starfruit. Give me good old-fashioned watermelon, iced down, preferably in a metal tub under a shade tree, with lots of friends and kin around. A dash of salt, please.
Sittin’ on a stump, or a tailgate, or a bale of hay, juice drippin’ from your chin, your arms and elbows – that is the way God intended watermelon to be consumed. Spiked is OK _ vodka or something else with no taste – but not necessary at all.
Some of my favorite memories, as a young’un, a high school kid, and a college kid, involve watermelon. We grew them, and strawberries and other treats, on the farm I was raised on. Sold ’em out front from a stand on the highway – complete with a self-service cigar box with change that operated on the honor system. I have fleeting memories of bein’ covered with melon juice and Mama givin’ me the rough washrag wash that only mamas can give:
Plop the boy down on the kitchen counter, or the table, or the back of a truck, or somewhere easy to get to, and go over every inch of every uncovered part of the body – which is quite a bit for a country boy runnin’ around in a summer shirt and short pants.
In high school, my very first payin’ job was for a farmer who grew watermelons down in the bottoms for sale wholesale, not on the side of the road. It was serious business to him. He hired me as a hoer. Monotonous work, hoein’ watermelon plants, but not hard at all. One, they grow best in sand, so hoeing them means just raking the hoe across the sand on either side of a plant. And the plants grow a couple of feet apart in wide rows. Easiest hoein’ I can think of, actually. You have to really be goofing off to accidentally whack a melon plant, which I did, from time to time, when I got to watchin’ Tammy, the farmer’s lovely daughter, and Pam, his lovely niece, who were my age (16) and well worth watchin’ in their loose-fittin’ comfortable summer hoein’ clothes.
In college, my first year, some more experienced hands introduced me to the spiked variety of watermelon. Pretty fun, but I’d just as soon drink beer. Watermelon is too good as it is to mess it up with alcohol – and that’s about the only thing I can say that about.
Saturday, August 21, 2004
If Heaven ain't a lot like "Little Dixie" ...
BIG CEDAR, Okla. -- The mesquite "trees," red cedars and junipers of southwest Oklahoma and northwest Texas, the scrub brush that passes for woods in central Oklahoma -- even the interesting Cross Timber that Washington Irving famously called a "forest of cast iron" -- none of it cuts it for a genuine hillbilly Okie like myself.
The plains themselves, I've gotten used to. In fact, nowadays, after 15 years in the wide-open spaces, claustrophobia sets in sometimes among the hills here in "Little Dixie," which is what natives call southeastern Oklahoma.
But after an extended sojourn on the tabletop that is central and western Oklahoma, heading for the hills seemed important.
An 8-mile morning hiking trek over hill and dale -- and under the tall canopy provided by the big, big pines in Le Flore County -- provided the attitude adjustment I needed so badly.
This country is gorgeous. Sadly, it's hidden, for the most part. The nearest interstate highways are I-40 at the northern edge of the Ouachita Mountain range, and I-30, which lopes northeast from Dallas, but plays out before it gets here. And if you're going somewhere solely for the sake of getting there, of course, you take the path of least resistance.
But this trip was of a spiritual nature, of sorts. Church is fine and all, but nothing draws your attention to the Creator like the creation itself. Or, more to the point, taking on nature on its own terms.
This farm kid has devolved into a real desk jockey lately, so, while I eat like a hired hand, my hands are smooth, not rough, my face is unmistakeably caucasion not sunburned, and my arms and legs are just strong enough to get me by, not rock-hard from honest labor.
So: put ... one ... foot ... in ... front ... of ... the ... other -- for eight miles, with a friend who doesn't know "stroll" from "march." But then, I was in no mood to stroll. The hike was intended as the kind of I've-got-to-prove-to-myself-I-can-still-do-this stunt to which 40-year-olds are sometimes prone.
So 4 miles in, with my friend in the lead. Not even a rock or stump to sit on at the turnaround point, so a swallow or two of water and some peanut butter and crackers later, off we went again, this time with me in the lead.
No marching on the way back. More of a weary walk that soon became a stumble, followed quickly by shaky hands bracing buckling knees, from hollow to hill, across ridge and down narrow ravine, and back up again -- then down, then up, and up. Beset with something I'll call a "walking coma," I filed some of the images away for retrieval later, when the mind was capable of really enjoying them, not preoccupied with survival.
You get the picture.
And what a picture. This is rough country, around Big Cedar. It's real logging country. There are bears in these woods -- but we didn't see any, darn it.
Most western Okies probably don't realize exactly what the country's like here, other than that it's hilly and tree-y -- just like most of us hillbillies don't start out knowing much about the terrain of the Plains, other than that it's flat as a pancake, relatively speaking.
Where we hiked, exactly, was the Upper Kiamichi River Wilderness, part of the Winding Stair Mountain National Recreation Area -- 10,819 acres of wild country, about 12 miles from the Arkansas line, on the southern slopes of Rich Mountain; the elevation falls within a range of 1,520 feet, from 1,080 to 2,600 feet above sea level.
A lot of people have heard of the Talimena Drive, which borders the Upper Kiamichi River Wilderness. The state has designated it as Oklahoma Highway 1 for a reason: its the prettiest country in the state.
But you gotta get out of the car to really appreciate it.
And a tiny 8-mile hike provided just a taste of the natural wonder of the Ouachita National Forest, most of which is in Arkansas, actually. The national forest, the South's oldest, has more than 600 miles of trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding among its 1.6 million acres. The Ouachita National Recreation Trail alone is 192 miles across the rugged peaks of the Ouachitas.
Hernando De Soto was the first to explore this country, in 1541. French explorers followed, leaving place names like Fourche la Fave River. "Ouachita," in fact, is the French spelling of the Indian word "Washita," which means "good hunting grounds."
That's according to the Forest Service. All I knew when I got here was that it was intriguing and inviting and that I needed to explore it, the best of my home country, myself.
And, while I'm not really so taken in by such notions, in the back of my mind was this thought: maybe I'd "find myself" in these woods.
Imagine my surprise. There I was, sitting on a ridge, back to a huge pine, staring across a pretty hollow, listening for the whisper of the Spirit.
The still, small voice said: Go, live life. Come home to these hills anytime, son, you're always welcome.
Friday, August 20, 2004
"Like Snot Through a Flour Sifter'
JASPER, Texas -- Yikes! This is deep East Texas.
The sign at the gate of Martin Dies Jr. State Park made that much clear:
"Beware: Alligators Exist in this Park. Do Not Feed or Annoy. Stay at a Distance."
But then, I thought: "It would be kinda neat to see a 'gator -- if it didn't see me."
The guy at the gate seemed bemused by my curiosity. After all, I'd just driven 400-odd miles, just for the fun of it -- and on a mission to find real woods -- and I didn't realize exactly how far I'd come.
"Are you serious? There's really alligators in this park?" I said.
He said: "Yes." He surely thought: "No, moron, we just put the sign there to fool people."
"They won't hurt you will they?" I asked.
"Well," he allowed, "There was one guy who got mangled some that time last year. But he got down in a nest and was fooling with the babies. But she didn't kill him. She would've if she'd wanted to. She just broke his leg."
"Don't blame her," I said, anxious to get on into the park, but glad to have somebody to talk to after the long drive.
But on in I went, relishing the dark-gray shadow that only tall pines can afford, squinting to see through the trees and around the curves in the park road.
A 2-mile hike provided glimpses of wildlife, but mainly of the growing-in-the-ground variety. You could almost watch the mushrooms and other fungi grow in the rich blanket of needles and leaves and cones and other decaying -- nurturing -- matter on the forest floor, especially after the drenching rains of the night before, which, I feared, might ruin my hiking and exploring.
After all, in central Oklahoma, a drenching rain usually means slickened clayey dirt. But here, of course, the spongy soil, covered and protected by nature's offal, soaks it right up.
Ahhh. The air is thick here, amidst the old-growth pines. Humidity? Sure. But it's part of the mystique of this place, near the Angelina National Forest, one of four national forests in East Texas, all of them a short drive from the Jasper County seat.
Wonderful. But no 'gators revealed themselves, although my throat tightened at one point, a mile-plus away from the truck, on a small island in B.A. Steinhagen Lake. The silence of the woods was broken by a big "SPLOOOSH-SPLASH," which surely was a 'gator gettin' away from the curious human trudging through its neighborhood.
What there was plenty of around here was "lovebugs," something explained by another sign, this one at a car wash in town:
"1 Plus 1 Lovebugs Equals Zillions. Brace Yourself."
The car wash people weren't kidding. On the way in, near Zavalla, about an RC Cola's drive southeast out of Lufkin, they hit with one fell swoop. This is gross, but it's what came to mind: it was like somebody slung a flour sifter full of snot on my windshield. Really. Damndest thing I ever saw.
I thought they were mosquitos, at first. But when I stopped at Zavalla to see about a nonexistent motel room, I saw they were something else. Weird somethings, until you know they call 'em "lovebugs."
You never see one lovebug, always two, attached, flying sort of like the helicopter-like seedpods from a locust tree -- around and around in loopy circles. They don't bite, thank God -- because they literally fog this country during their spring and fall flights, I found out from a woman park ranger from the Texas Panhandle, who was as fascinated as I was even after being here for a couple of years.
According to Texas A&M University, their scientific name is Plecia nearctica, from the Hardy Order Diptera, whatever that means. Here's a better description of them than I could discern from the blur:
"They are about 1/2-inch long, black with an reddish-orange area on the top of the thorax, and a pair of smoky colored wings.There are many other species of Bibionidae, called March flies. Other Texas species are generally black with clear wings and become abundant in certain periods of the year. They are all weak fliers. ... Large numbers of adults emerge primarily in the spring (May) and fall (September)."
Here's where the "lovebug" nickname comes from:
"Males and females fly and couple in open areas along roadways, appearing to swarm in weak flight," according to Texas A&M, in a description that sounds sort of like the weekend behavior of a lot of the kids I knew in high school. "Adults fly mainly during daylight hours and feed on nectar and other moisture sources. They are naturally attracted to open areas such as roadways through wooded areas. ...
"High numbers in flight over roadways can be annoying, causing bug-splattered windows and radiator grills that can lead to obscured vision and engine overheating; medically harmless."
Interesting, but such writing is why science seems boring to some people.
An Erudite Redneck woulda put it like this: The goldarn things are so thick that when you drive through a swarm of 'em what's left on yer dadgum windshield looks like snot through a flour sifter.
Thursday, August 19, 2004
I stir first by a tad. Don’t get up out of bed.
Dose awhile. Clock erupts. What’s it say? Must get up!
Where’s the kid? Did she rise? Atta girl! Very wise!
Time to go! Must load truck. Times’ wastin’! Oh, this sucks.
Rained last night! It’s a mess. Rain today! Storms, no less.
Loadin’ stuff. Watch the mud! Too late now! That poor rug.
Wife is mad. Don’t blame her. I’m so bad. Never learn.
Not just mud. It’s so red. Looks like blood. Means I’m dead.
First things first. Gotta fly. Hit the road. Say bye-bye
To the dogs.
They don’t know she’ll be gone. Will she be
So diff’rent when she comes ’round again that they’ll be
Strangers or old friends that she barely just recalls?
(Prob’ly not. She’s so strong. Unlike me. I’m so wrong
To dare compare this cool chicklet to me at all.)
‘Nuff of that. To the road! Watch the tarp. Quite a load.
Stop the truck. Fix the tarp. Go again. Damn that tarp!
Stop again. Fix the tarp one more time. Damn it all.
Loose again. Take it off. Wad it up. Rain lays off.
Highway hums. Ramp ahead leads to the longest stretch
Of road in my dear home state of Oklahoma:
51 east off 35 to OSU.
17 miles, it says, on into Stillwater.
It seems to take an hour ev’ry time.
I know well.
Twenty years now I’ve been taking it.
Never got used to this, all the stuff that’s grown up
West of town. Used to be nothing much past Cow Creek.
(Oh man, do I sound like an old fart now, or what?
Gets better. We’re not even to the campus yet.)
I forgot. Moving in the first time is hard work.
What to bring? Does she know? Not really, so she hauls
Ev’ry thing that comes to her and her roommates’ mind.
Three TVs! Stereos! Computers! Snacks for all!
Enough towels? Yes, enough to dry up Theta Pond.
At least they all had the sense to think ahead and
Realize that one fridge was enough for them all.
Sharing space? Also hard, more for an only child
Who’s had her own room and everybody else’s.
But she’ll learn.
We all have to when it comes our time.
Test of life is what this is, the first of many
More to come. But she’ll pass it with flying colors.
(Bennett Hall -- home away from home to me back then.
But for her? She just sees a big old-time hotel!)
There’s an elevator? Central air? Coffee bar?
Can all this be for real? “In my day” – hold your tongue!
Hell, no way. This is fun. Rub it in. They all need
To know how good things are compared to my time here
“Way, way” back, “long ago” in 1984.
Ah – gets old. Just like me. It’s her time.
“In my time” – what’s the use? Diff’rent strokes. Diff’rent youth.
Kids today – here it comes -- are so spoiled. Holy smoke.
Really do sound just like ev’rybody’s parents!
We all really did tramp up and down
Flights of stairs, four in all, ev’ry day, and we lived.
And we liked it that way! Ha! Ahem. Not really.
(Forgive me, girl, I’m allowed some bellyachin’
You can have your own rites of passage. I have mine.)
Hauling done. Room a mess. Hugs all ‘round. Then we left.
Old way home. Past the place where I found my own ways
Of learning outside class. Crossed some lines. Showed my ass.
Oh, I learned the hard way not to do things just ’cause,
Well, you know, just because you know you fin’ly can.
Tumbleweed. Drank too much. Danced all night. Found some luck.
I don’t mean what you think, what I mean is a ride
To the dorm with someone smarter than this big dumb
Country boy who’d hardly yet even been to town.
But I think:
Don’t put her in your place, because she seems to know –
How to say? – how to go, what to do, growing up
Better than I knew then -- or know now, in actual fact.
(Baby bird? First flight out? Mom and me worry some.
But day one? Bottom line: Smooth. Only little pouts.)
Wednesday, August 18, 2004
Baby Bird is cleared for take-off, but I don’t think I’m yet clear on the concept.
You mean this lovely, spirited, smart, sassy chicklet, the Redneck Redheaded Stepchild, who has been the applet of my eye for seven — SHORT — years, is fixin’ to be ... gulp ... gone? Twenty-four hours from right now, we will be, or be on the way, to her home-away-from home at Oklahoma State.
Go Pokes! She already bleeds orange. Between us, Dr. Erudite Redhead and I have four degrees from O-State. The Redheaded Redneck Stepchild already knows the campus well, from taggin’ along with her mama while she was in grad school.
No more, "giddy up!" which the Baby Bird hates, every morning to get her up for school? No more jockeying for computer time with her, her with her homework and me with my own grad school stuff? No more reminding her so many evenings that supper can come from a can, or at least a freezer, or the icebox, and not always from a take-out joint?
No more jabs from her that it ain’t an icebox, but a RE-FRIG-ER-A-TOR? No more me pouring on my redneck ways and small-town/rural/farm background and world view just to make sure we’ve raised her right? ... )
No more companionship, no more bein’ Mr. Mom when her Erudite Redhead mama is gone on a bidness trip, which she is often?
"I have a Baby Bird to feed and care for" — that reality check has kept this natural rambler sane many, many times when my job had me nailed down here and her mama’s job took her away for days at a time. I once was a Gospel radio announcer in Arkansas, and I once was a dancehall bouncer in Texas — both when I was single. I do tend to go off on tangents on my own.
The nails still have me attached to my desk. The sails in my wife’s life continue to billow, takin’ her from here to ... everywhere but the house, often. (Sorry, through the angst, I’m just grabbin’ for any metaphor that’s handy).
I am fixin’ to be lonesome an awful lot, and I don’t like it one damn bit. But Baby Bird has to fly. It’s not like she’s movin’ to, say, North Carolina (Redheaded Redneck Stepchild Mecca; see NASCAR). But it’s "away," and unlike the summers spent with her biological father in Texas, this has the ring of eventual permanency to it.
Dr. Erudite Redhead is pretty sure she shed her main tears over Christmas, for some reason. She was thinkin’ ahead.
I have a daily deadline mentality. The deadline is nigh for my feelings about seeing the Baby Bird off. No bawlin’ like a calf for me. I’m pretty sure my tears will just leak out a little at a time as usual.
Tuesday, August 17, 2004
"The War for America" -- book review
The War for America, 1775-1783. By Piers Mackesy. (Lincoln: University of Nebraska Press, 1993, pp. xxvi, 522; reprint, Cambridge: Harvard University Press, 1964).
Americans are unused to seeing the terms “rebel” and “enemy” used to describe their revolutionary forebears, and the personal pronouns “we,” “our” and “us” referring to redcoats and the English Crown. Any discomfort first felt, however, in Piers Mackesy’s The War for America, 1775-1783 soon dissipates. The author, after begging forgiveness for any supposed slight, proceeds with an epic that puts the colonies where they belong: close but shy of center stage as the English government, the protagonist, stumbles into world war.
Mackesy tells the American story, although George Washington and other Americans remain in shadows compared to the likes of the Comte de Vergennes, in France, Catherine the Great, in Russia, and Charles III, in Spain. Mackesy has Washington earning his place as a head of state, or at least fighting his way to it, as England deals carefully with others. All, including England’s King George III, were maneuvering for world power.
The War for America is a history of “great men,” such as Lord George Germain, the British Secretary of State for much of the war, and others in the Cabinet, but is more. Mackesy tells a military history, giving due to significant battles from the Carolinas to the West Indies to the English Channel and India, and providing strategic analysis and technical information, such as fleet capability and fighting strength. He couches it within political history, the colonies’ aim for independence and Lord North’s response. England usually found itself reacting, awaiting a Loyalist movement that never sustained in America, rather than acting decisively, a point central to Mackesy’s interpretation.
The Crown dallied as it juggled far-flung goals and obligations. Toward the end, George III was just obstinate in the face of imperial ruin. Here and there throughout Mackesy’s work are hints at greater change at work as the war dragged on: a shift in English thinking, a questioning of oligarchy itself, especially as Lord Rockingham, then Lord Shelburne, extract the British government from the mire.
The War for America, with bibliographical references, index and a dozen maps, is an authoritative antidote for anyone, scholar or amateur, apt to see the American Revolution solely through the eyes of vaunted forefathers and nameless but heroic minutemen. Mackesy’s vita dates to the 1950s and is distinguished by service to the academy on both sides of the Atlantic. He wrote The War for America in the 1960s from the perspective of his own service during World War II, an illumination in the introduction by American historian John W. Shy. This insight is explicit in a few places where Mackesy compares situations similar in both wars; his wartime experience is never obtrusive. Mackesy’s work is a critical, but respectful, history of his own country at center stage during its failed “war for America.”
Monday, August 16, 2004
Throwin' a rod
That clangin’ and bangin’ in the background is my brain throwin’ a rod. After 20 months of studyin’ almost exclusively American history – American, American Indian, Oklahoma, Southern and Western – I am fixin’ to shift gears so far and so fast it will hurt.
My master’s thesis has to do with Indian Territory from 1849 to early 1852 – and I’ll leave it at that for fear of really gettin’ started on it.
My only seminar lately was on the American West, which had me whup up a pretty good paper on how the Indian newspapers in Indian Territory covered, and commented on, Custer’s demise, and the events and issues leading to it and past it, in 1876. A scholarly journal is givin’ it a looksee
Over my left shoulder are shelf after shelf of books and copies of primary documents having to do with … the South, the West and Indian Territory. And redneck doodads and souvenirs like the proud ceramic fightin’ cock wearin’ a Confederate battle flag, a coffee mug in the likeness of a Hereford bull head, and a brass spittoon not used lately, but a reminder of the habit I had for 28 years. (I’m 40. Do the math. Walt Garrison will burn in hell for enticing me and so many other young’uns into starting dipping in the ‘70s).
And now this: My final graduate seminar, waaayy faaarr removed from the past two years of study and sort of outside my comfort zone: The Reformation.
The book I’m readin’ now is Destiny Road: The Gila Trail and the Opening of the Southwest, a 1973 monograph by Odie B. Faulk, who was then chairman of the history department at Oklahoma State University. Excellent, and right up my alley:
It talks about the early adventurers who stumbled across the desert Southwest from Texas to California, blazing the trail for the gold-lusting '49ers, then the Butterfield Trail and others – critical to tying the brand-new state of California to the rest of the country.
California could have developed as the anchor of a separate nation, or could have been reclaimed by Spain, or Mexico, claimed by Russia, if not for the Gila Trail and its trail and rail descendants. What a great read. What great context for understanding how this far-flung country came together. It didn’t just happen.
I’ll finish Destiny Road today or tomorrow, then – and here’s where the real clangin’ and bangin’ will commence – I’ll start on the stack of books I’ll use in The Reformation seminar, which starts a week from today for the fall semester:
First, I’ll read or heavily skim a few books not required by the class, but stuff I personally want to have better familiarity with before I get to the meat of the matter:
John Dillenberger, ed., Martin Luther: Selections from His Writings (Garden City, New York: Anchor Books, 1961); C. Warren Hollister and Judith M. Bennett, Medieval Europe: a Short History, 9th. ed (Boston: McGraw Hill, 1964-2002); and an oldie but a goody, Will Durant, The Reformation, vol 6 of The Story of Civilization series (New York: Simon & Schuster, 1957).
That’s to get me up to speed – and no, I won’t “read” all of that in the next week. I am human. I will read the medieval book, pick and choose topics that interest me in the Martin Luther book, and skim the Durant book. Come next Monday, though, is the real deal, with the following books, which I am almost sure I’ll read most of in the next few months, among others:
Richard Bonney, The European Dynastic States 1494-1660 (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1991); Donald J. Wilcox, In Search of God & Self: Renaissance and Reformation Thought (Prospect Heights, Illinois, 1987; reprint, New York: Houghton Mifflin, 1975); Robert Bucholz and Newton Key, Early Modern England 1485-1714: a Narrative History (Malden, Massachusetts: Blackwell Publishing, 2004).
Excellent reading list. Totally unlike anything I’ve read the past two years. Not since an academic sojourn through ancient-to-modern China in the spring of ought-2 have I been so far outside my want-to zone.
It’ll be good for me. I reckon I’ll have to be more erudite than redneck this semester.
Oh, pardon me, what I meant to say was: It appears as if erudition will edge out my lingering rustic notions the next few months.
Like hell. Yeehaw. My brain -- even with the lifters rattlin’ -- is big enough for me to handle this little ol’ class and not get too far above my raisin.’
Sunday, August 15, 2004
Nothin' 'civil' about it
PRAIRIE GROVE, Ark. -- This isn't the "land of cotton" and it's not part of what most people think of when they think of the Old South.
But it is the South, nonetheless. The boys in gray and the boys in blue fought to the death here.
The fact that this spot in the northwest corner of Arkansas -- this gorgeous slice of the Ozarks -- was forbidden by geography from direct socio-economic kinship with the Plantation South makes the Civil War Battle of Prairie Grove especially intriguing.
The War Between the States wasn't fought to preserve or abolish slavery. Rather, it was fought for the high ideals of Federalism or Anti-Federalism. But only the deluded fail to recognize that the war, like most wars, was also a war of economics.
But there were no plantations to fight for here. This country was, and is, good for small-time farming and running livestock. There never were many slaves in the Ozarks. There was no need, economically -- at least nothing like the demands of the big Delta plantations.
But Arkansas had seceded. Nothing else mattered. Honor, as well as economics, was at stake.
The Confederacy desperately wanted an avenue to Union Missouri.
On the morning of Dec. 7, 1862, more than 20,000 soldiers met in a small valley at the eastern edge of the town of Prairie Grove. It's a dandy dale, with meadows sloping gently off a fairly easy bluff, northward toward the Illinois River.
The natural peacefulness of the handsome woods and pretty fields vanished with the first puff of smoke from the artillery fire.
I Corps of the Trans-Mississippi Army of the Confederate States of America, lead by Maj. Gen. Thomas C. Hindman, engaged divisions of the U.S. Army of the Frontier, lead by Brig. Gen. Francis J. Herron and Brig. Gen. James G. Blunt near Prairie Grove Church.
Hindman's original plan, to strike Blunt at nearby Cane Hill, was thwarted by the arrival of divisions headed by Herron. Hindman marched his troops past Blunt and Cane Hill that morning, and went to meet Herron.
The Confederates took a defensive position on the ridge overlooking the river. With the Confederates anchored in a line flanking the house of Archibald Borden, a farmer and apple orchardist, the battle started with an artillery duel, followed by full attack by the Union.
Between noon and 2 p.m., Union soldiers charged the ridge twice and met with blood and guts.
Blunt and his men arrived at about 2:30 p.m. and the fighting spread to the west. Bloody attack met with bloody counter-attack until dark. By nightfall, 2,568 had perished -- 1,251 Union; 1,317 Confederate.
The Confederate Army retreated south, to Van Buren, near Fort Smith, with its ammunition nearly used up.
It was the last time any Southern army tried to use the Ozarks as a way into Missouri.
Prairie Grove Battlefield State Park preserves the battleground in much the way it appeared in 1862. The ridge, of course, is plain to see. It takes only a little imagination to see the Union boys charging up it, and the boys in gray resisting.
The battle, like almost all Civil War battles, was hand-to-hand, eye-to-eye, man-to-man. It's eerie. Blood spilled on this very soil. Arms and legs gone in a flash, eyes darkened forever, souls claimed here.
What's striking is that this place is so small, by today's standards. The battlefield, officially, was around 3,000 acres, about five square miles.
But most of the fiercest fighting happened right in front of the Borden House. The house burned, actually, the day after the battle. The one standing today was built after all the dust settled and the powder was put away, in 1868.
But imagine: almost 20,000 young men fighting on a battleground not much bigger than a Wal-Mart parking lot. There was nothing "civil" about it.
Saturday, August 14, 2004
Update: Eyewitness Florida hurricane report!
OKEECHOBEE, Fla. -- Wow, I'm learning so much about hurricanes, storm systems, dams, locks and canals. More than I want to know, actually. First, I'm okay and our place is dry. The hurricane and the tornadoes it spawns went just a little west of us.
But, we didn't know that was what the hurricane was going to do and yesterday afternoon we were told to evacuate. It wasn't a mandatory evacuation, just a voluntary one, but it seemed like a good idea.
I live right next to one of the biggest inland lakes in the United States, 441 square miles. In order to keep it from flooding the towns around it (2,000 people were killed in a flood caused by a hurricane in1928 at this lake), built a 34-foot high dirt levee around it. There is also a canal that runs around the lake, almost like a huge moat, where they release water from the lake through locks when it looks like it's getting a little high.
Living on the canal isabout as close as you can actually get to the lake andis prime real estate around here, because you can launch your boat into the canal and then enter the lake through one of the locks. The condos where I live not only are right on the canal but also right next to one of the locks.
Yep, prime real estate -- until it looks like the lake is going to get a little high and then they release the water into the canal, which keeps the levee from breaking down and saves the towns from being flooded, but everyone along the canal is going to get a little wet. Then this prime real estate becomes one of the worst places to live.
So we evacuated. We unplugged all our electronic equipment and piled it up on the kitchen table, brought in all the patio furniture and any thing else that might be turned into a missile in a breezy hurricane wind, put anything else we didn't want to get wet up high, packed a few changes of clothes, loaded up the dog and went --well, where do you go?
Where do you evacuate to? How do you run from a hurricane? So here's another hurricane tip: If you move to Florida, no matter how far inland you are, have an evacuation plan. Yes, there were shelters opening up at the schools andI think even the movie house was letting people stay there.
But moving into a shelter doesn't mean you're going to be out of the path of the hurricane, floods or anything else. See, I thought that when the hurricanes hit land, they pretty much died out. But, no, that's not always the case. In fact, a few years ago, a hurricane crossed the state of Florida twice, from one side of it to the other, before losing strength.
I had no comprehension of how powerful these things were. I mean, Hurricane Charley hit in Punta Gorda, almost two hours away from me, and yet we were being asked to evacuate. I don't take shelter from a tornado until it's about 10 minutes away.
Anyway, I decided to head for the east coast, where my dad lives. They were under a tropical storm watch, but the hurricane was supposed to miss them. It turned out to be a good idea. It rained there but the wind didn't even really blow.
Today, watching the news and the coverage of the aftermath, I realize how lucky me and my family were. I can't believe some of the stories about people in the path of the hurricane who wouldn't evacuate. A whole trailer park of people wouldn't leave, and then later the sheriff's department had to listen to their 911 calls, but they couldn't get to them. It was pretty sad.
They say there's another depression building up in the ocean and will be in Jamaica in a few days and then they don't know where it will go. Pray it doesn't hit Florida again.
Friday, August 13, 2004
Bulletin: Eyewitness Florida hurricane report!
OKEECHOBEE, Fla. -- Hurricane tip for the day: Don't try to buy flashlights and batteries a few hours before the storm is supposed to hit. Sheesh. The Okeechobee Mall (that's what the locals call the WalMart here), was dang near out of everything.
I didn't think I'd really need them. I didn't think this was going to be that big of a deal. I should have got a clue yesterday afternoon when they canceled school for today. I just thought they were overreacting, I mean, geez, what could happen this far inland?
Well, let me tell you...
It rained off and on all day yesterday and then about 2 a.m., a real, honest-to-God storm started blowing. But I'm from Oklahoma, what's a storm to me? I mean, I do have a healthy respect for tornadoes, but you just turn the TV on, check out the doppler radar, see if there's a hook and then go to bed or crawl in the bathtub with a mattress.
Well, I turned the TV on and there was no doppler radar, no one breaking into regularly scheduled programming. There was a scroll along the bottom saying that Okeechobee was
experiencing a severe thunderstorm and under a tornado watch. I could have told them that just by looking out the window.
Then the next line caught my attention, and I quote, "This thunderstorm is severe and could drop tornadoes without warning." Without warning? Without even a little warning? How about a
radar picture? Where are the storm chasers? Isn't there a guy flying around in a helicopter? Where the hell is (Oklahoma City weatherman) Gary England?
Man, I never realized how sophisticated our stuff in Oklahoma was. I mean, Gary England could tell you what street the freakin' tornado was going to drop on.
Anyway, maybe it was my imagination, but the wind seemed to howl a little more, so I stayed up until about 5 until it died down. Then I got up at 8:30 this morning to walk the dog and look at the creek. It's up. It's definitely up. We've had rain every afternoon for the past three weeks -- it's just that time of year for Florida -- but it's definitely gone up since yesterday.
Then after I got back inside, I heard something else on the Weather Channel that kinda disturbed me. Apparently, even if power lines and electricity aren't knocked out in your area, sometimes they will turn the electricity off anyway to save the power grid. So even if you're miles away from the storm or any damage, your electricity could still be turned off. That's when
I decided to make the trip to the Okeechobee Mall this morning for batteries and more flashlights.
I also got the Big and Rich CD, which is great. It reminds me a little of Hank Williams Jr.'s good stuff when he was writing Southern Outlaw-type music. It even has a religious song on it, "Saved," which is very good.
It's supposed to get bad about 3 p.m. here. Should be an interesting day. If I were a little younger and didn't have a kid to be responsible for, this would be an excellent time to experience a hurricane party.
"The Panther's Scream" -- article review
(written February 2002)
Carolyn Ross Johnston balanced social science with narrative history in “The Panther’s Scream is Often Heard: Cherokee Women in Indian Territory During the Civil War,” in Vol. 78, No. 1 (spring 2000) of The Chronicles of Oklahoma. In her short gender study, Johnston, professor of American studies and history at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, Florida, asserted that the Civil War and intertribal factionalism empowered women yet led to a crisis of identity among elites. By taking on roles formerly played by men, Cherokee women were unable to meet the expectations of “true womanhood” they had borrowed from white Victorian America, according to Johnston.
Johnston’s object was to explore the ordeal of Cherokee women during a time of war that, in Indian Territory, was atypical compared to hostilities played out in the Southern states. For example, Cherokee women, she contends, hated the war from the beginning, unlike many women in the South who, at least in the early days of the war, felt a shared stake in its outcome. Further, Cherokee women were drawn into the war more explicitly by economic motives than many of their white counterparts in the rest of the Confederacy, and contended intimately with “old hatreds” awakened in the tribe by the “white man’s” war. (p. 86).
Her method was to synthesize observations written in diaries and letters as events and emotions unfolded, supplement them with 1930s interviews with aging Cherokees, and rely on limited scholarly writings on the lives of women in Indian Territory. She concluded that the war “reinforced older Cherokee gender roles for the traditional and non-slaveholding women by emphasizing the male role of warrior and elevating the role of women as providers and cultivators of the earth.”
Johnston relied, perhaps to a fault, on sources that, while primary, were necessarily skewed toward the experiences of elite women. She used the diaries and letters of Sarah Watie, wife of the Cherokee Confederate Brig. Gen. Stand Watie; Mary Stapler Ross, the wife of Cherokee Principal Chief John Ross; and Hannah Worcester Hicks, who became a tribe member by marrying Abijah Hicks, son of an early eastern Cherokee chief. While technically among the elite class, Hicks, in her diary, does shed light on a common experience of non-elite women; she was a widow left with five children when her husband was killed in July 1862 (p. 92).
Johnston gave a nod to quantification, quoting just enough numbers to give the broadest context – for example, one-third of Cherokee women were widows and one-fourth of the children were orphans in 1863 (p. 84). She literally bracketed the article with these facts, repeating them at the end (p. 100). Historiographically, she looked to culture and symbolism with an approach reminiscent of latter-day scholars in the French Annales school, relying on Barbara Welter’s 1970s-era notion of “the cult of true womanhood” to give a general cultural context. Johnston ignores chronology, except for the obvious timeline of 1861-1865, the years of the Civil War.
Thursday, August 12, 2004
Bull Fertility (Snicker) and My Inner Redneck
NOTICE: This and other news stories, streaming audio and video, and
digital photos for your use are available at http://agnews.tamu.edu/
Aug. 12, 2004
NEW TEST HELPS IDENTIFY FERTILE BULLS
Writer: Steve Byrns, (325) 653-4576, firstname.lastname@example.org
Contact: Dr. Bruce Carpenter, (432) 336-8585, email@example.com
FORT STOCKTON -- It's been said that "a bull is half the calf crop" In
reality, that varies a lot more than many realize, said a livestock
specialist with Texas Cooperative Extension.
A bull that is a fertile and active breeder may sire 80 or more calves
in a season, whereas a less fertile bull will sire only a few or even
none, said Dr. Bruce Carpenter. A good bull offers genetic merit, but
fertility is paramount to getting those genes into the herd.
Carpenter, who is based at Fort Stockton, said the need becomes even
greater in single-sire herds where the fate of an entire calf crop from 25
or more cows may depend on only one bull.
He said the "Repro Test," recently demonstrated at Texas A&M's Beef
Cattle Short-Course in College Station, may help worried cattlemen get a
bit more sleep.
"The Repro Test detects a protein in bull semen called ‘fertility
associated antigen' or FAA," said Carpenter. "All else being equal (semen
quality, healthy bulls, etc.) FAA-positive bulls are 16 percent to 19
percent more fertile than those testing negative for the protein.
"FAA positive bulls settle more cows and they do it earlier in the
breeding season. The benefit of FAA positive bulls even helps with
artificially bred females, because research has shown they require fewer
services to become pregnant."
Until this year, Carpenter said, the fertility antigen test was tedious
and required a three-day laboratory procedure. The Repro Test, however,
can be conducted "chute-side" with results being ready within 20 minutes.
"The new test uses a lateral flow cassette, which looks like a home
pregnancy test," said Carpenter. "Cassettes cost about $30 each, but a
bull only needs to be tested once for FAA in his lifetime (after puberty).
The trait is believed to be moderately heritable in male offspring."
The test does not eliminate the need for annual bull exams and
fertility tests, he said, but it does add accuracy to the conventional
breeding soundness exam.
"The FAA test is not a cure-all," said Carpenter. "There are many
factors that can and do affect a bull's fertility. Breeding soundness
exams, while not perfect, are still the best way to predict an
individual's fertility. Exams should be done each year before breeding
season. Annual exams are necessary because things like semen quality can
change, or a bull may get sick or injured, compromising his breeding
According to Carpenter, the fertility associated antigen, formerly
called heparin binding protein, was identified 15 years ago at the
University of Arizona by Dr. Roy Ax.
"His lab did all the early basic research, literally at the molecular
level," Carpenter said. "When it came time to evaluate live breeding
animals, much of that research was conducted on Texas ranches. Texas A&M
scientists collaborated with Dr. Ax's lab to conduct some of the
large-scale breeding trials necessary to prove the test's effectiveness.
"To-date, 600 bulls and 15,000 cows have been evaluated.. Their
research findings leave little doubt about the desirable qualities of FAA
For more information contact an Extension office or visit
Twenty Years Ago
It was something between pee yellow and sick-calf green, it smelled like new paint inside, had four little tires not much bigger around than Mama’s pecan pies, and would do zero to 60 in about a minute and a half.
But the car, a ’70-something Mazda GLC, was mine, and so was the stuff behind me under the hatchback: just about every stitch of clothing I owned, an extra pair of boots, two or three cowboy hats, a Bible, a college dictionary and a 76-day-old TV set bought just for my dorm room at Oklahoma State. I recall that the TV was about 76 days old because it played out about two weeks later, on the 91st day of a 90-day warranty.
Headed west on Interstate 40 with all my worldly possessions, 41 more or less useless credit hours from a junior college and ideations of wowing listenin’ audiences everywhere once I got a degree in radio-TV-film — on my own, as much as any college kid ever really is.
The weekend before, in honor of the fact that I was actually headin’ off to college, just about every friend I had gave me a big ol’ country send-off, which meant Bocephus, the Charlie Daniels Band, Haggard and the like playin’ loud, lots of coldbeer on ice, a bottle or two of the hard stuff and enough pork rinds to go around three or four times.
The get-together was in some river bottoms at the dead end of a dirt road that led to the site of a long-dead and long-gone town, which we temporarily revived as best we could most Friday and Saturday nights. All that was left was the dilapidated clapboard church house, a snapshot from the turn of the 20th century that fascinated us and demanded the respect we gave it.
The main thing different about this gathering was that it was actually more or less organized, rather than just coming together natural like, and it really was called in my honor — a fact that made me both proud and worried, punctuating, as it did, the importance of my leaving.
Somebody even hung a home-made "Good Luck!" banner, which I believe is still rolled up and stuck in the top of the closet in my old room at Mama’s house, 20 years later.
It was a Big Deal for me to go to college. Stillwater was plumb on the other side of Tulsa, and Tulsa was 120 miles or away to begin with — and it was all pretty much foreign territory to me.
Somewhere past the Tulsa turn-off — it took a year for me to get the nerve to take the more direct route to Stillwater, through Tulsa — "Mama She’s Lazy," a take-off on The Judds’ "Mama He’s Crazy," which never played on the local stations at home, came on the radio out of Oklahoma City.
Wow! What sass! I am gettin’ close to the fast lane of life now. Then, something else weird came on, and I pushed the "Urban Cowboy" 8-track back in, which gave me comfort, considering it, as I did, a good soundtrack for my life as I saw it playin’ out. Not that there was anything "urban" about me, or about Bud (John Travolta) in the movie. People forget that Bud moved to Houston from Spur, Texas, to find work in the oil bidness. I’ve been to Spur, Texas. It is a two-horse, one-dog town.
It was an even Bigger Deal for me to leave home, where most of my kin lived within hollerin’ distance and where not one of my friends was more than 20 country miles away — and that’s closer, friends, in many ways, than 20 city blocks.
In Stillwater, I knew one person, TECH, the guy who has the 51313 Harbor Street blog linked to this site. He helped me just by being there, just being from the same hometown, when I needed someone to be there 20 years ago. He’s a few years older than me, which meant he knew the ropes of college life at OSU. I don’t believe I ever thanked him.
Well, a belated thanks, dude. It’s been maybe 18 years now since we’ve laid eyes on each other, but a couple of years ago we got reacquainted on-line through a mutual friend, an ex of mine in our little hometown. I haven’t seen her but once in 20 years, but we’ve polished the chain of friendship, as the Indians say, again, solely on-line. A belated thanks to you, too, dudette.
All of this comes to mind — the dinky little car, the smells, the fears, the friendships, the excitement of leaving home (but not going too far), and the first inklings that my personal vista was fixin’ to open wide — all of it is rolling around in my mind and heart now because in about two weeks, I will load up the redheaded redneck stepchild and haul her and many of her worldly possessions to Stillwater, to OSU, to the same dorm I moved into 20 years ago.
This week, she is going through her version of the big ol’ country send-off my friends gave me. It’s much more civilized and suburbanized, of course — meeting high school friends for lunch in the daytime, for ice cream, burgers or pizza at night, sharing good lucks and so longs and we’ll-get-together-soons — and I know she is as aware of what’s happening as I was in 1984. I can see it in her eyes. Her personal vista, her perspective on life, is already so much broader than mine was at her age, it absolutely amazes me. It’s fixin’ to get even bigger.
Twenty years from now, may she remember these days — and the first inklings that wherever she’s been and whatever she’s done up to now has just been gettin’ ready. Among the small herd of friends she has headin’ to Stillwater at the same time, may she find her own TECH, someone to serve as an emotional connection to home, me and her Mama, for those times when she realizes that, while it’s only an hour or so to the house — and, unlike in ’84, we’re just an e-mail or a cell phone call away — she’s not home.
Wednesday, August 11, 2004
"In general, I usually do go kicking and screaming to the next level of (insert technology here)," he said. "I hate change. I want my dang computer to come on like the Zenith did growing up. It mighta took a minute for the picture tube to warm up, but once it was on, it was on. Didn't have to reboot, restart, refresh or nothin'. Didn't have to upgrade! The Bible says let your yeas be yeas and your nays be nays -- and PCs are full of maybes, almosts, might coulds and what-ifs - and it drives me nuts."
To anyone who is here because of seeing it mentioned in the newspaper, remember that the writing on Erudite Redneck is not journalism, so the standards of journalism, which I have worked hard to maintain in my work life for 20 years, are out the trailer house window. This is a journal of personal reflection and, so far, a place for me to share academic writing that doesn't stand a hoot in hell's chance of being published anywhere else. Hope you enjoy it.
Tuesday, August 10, 2004
Erudite Redneck in Repose
The rain beat me to the back yard, damn it all, so here I sit on the “porch” of my house, ready and willing to finish mowing my yard but not able, unless I want to get soaked, which I don’t.
This is a “porch,” by the way, only in the academic sense: the front entrance to my house. There’s a roof. Out there is the yard. The door is to my left. I’m sitting on a bench, watching it shower. A real porch would have room for a dance, or at least three couples two-stepping, and this one doesn’t. Ah. Life in the suburbs.
In my right hand, between my index finger and dirty finger, is a $2.95 cigar, which, around here, passes for upscale. On the bench to my left is a martini glass, filled with a by-God martini: Beefeater gin, healthy splash of vermouth, toothpick spearing three olives.
In my lap is a book, a vintage history of the cattle business in the 1860s-1890. It unabashedly gives the cattlemen’s point of view of Western expansion and the Indian “problem,” that is, the Indian wars on the Northern Plains. It is a jewel. It neither glorifies the cattleman nor denigrates the Indians.
Those times were what they were, and this book is what it is: Just the facts, from the cattleman’s point of view. Ernest Staples Osgood wrote it in the 1920s, before the politically correct crowd started trying to take over the history profession. It is called “The Day of the Cattleman.” It just happens to be the book I’m reading today. I try to read 100 pages every day, all the time, of whatever I’m reading, but I slip sometimes.
At my feet is a black bobtail cat named “Mao.” She showed up on 9/11, I’m told; I was stranded in Washington, D.C., that day, and cannot testify to the veracity of Mao’s origins here on the place. But that’s what the redheads say, and I believe them. The redheads are Dr. Erudite Redhead, also known as She Who Is My Wife, and the redheaded redneck stepchild, who will be a college freshman in a couple of weeks, living in the same dorm I lived in 20 years ago. Twenty years ago.
Mao has been here, they say, since she showed up on 9/11. The cat was here, coming and going, for a few months, before she got the name “Mao.” I realized that’s what she said all the time the next December, when I was hip deep in China history for a graduate seminar.
In the back yard, away from my hearing but close to my heart, are a couple of hounds. Actually, they’re a little sophisticated to be called that.
One is a Pembroke Welsh corgi by the name of “Riker,” as in Capt. Jean-Luc Picard’s No. 1. Riker is my stepdog, and he is the single sweetest animal I have ever known, and I’ve owned a lot of dogs. The other is named Bailey, and I don’t know why; it’s the name my redheaded redneck stepchild picked for him. It fits. He’s just a dang dog. A weenie dog.
Both of them have papers. Riker, well trained, lives up to his pedigree. Bailey constantly lives up to my lowest expectations. But he’s a sweet critter. He, and his origins in a poor part of town, inspired the best redneck joke I’ve ever heard, and I came up with it.
Bailey was sired on a place where the yard was small but the house was rambling and so was the family; three or four generations of two or three different stripes of folks involving more than a few “nuclear” families. And I thought: “Dang. If yer dog’s got papers, and yer kids don’t … you might be a redneck.”
Feel free to forward that to Foxworthy. All I want is $25 for it. Seriously.
And now, if you’ll excuse me, I b’lieve I’ll go fry them weeinies that I know are in the icebox, and enjoy them on some white bread with mustard, and some Fritos, and some milk. I will be back.
… I’m back. My heart is racing, probably because of what I just had for supper: Six skillet-fried weenies on three pieces of white bread, with some mustard, and a couple of handfuls of Fritos, and a glass of milk, and some Chips Ahoy! cookies for dessert. Hell, that definitely makes up for the lightly breaded flounder, vegetables and ice water I had for dinner today.
Where was I? Welp, I was on the “porch,” and now I’m in My Room.
It’s a “home office,” but it’s really just the third of four bedrooms in this house, which was built in 1987, when a “great room” was a relatively new concept in Oklahoma – and now it just means that if you want to be in the “living room” you can’t get away from the noise of the kitchen, and if you want to be in the kitchen, you can’t get away from the noise of the living room, and the fact is that I’d much rather prefer a home built around the situation that I grew up with, and that was this: Some of us used to sit in the living room while others of us worked in kitchen fixing dinner or supper. It don’t matter to me, really, which of us, women or men, sits and which of us does the fixing, it’s just that neither can really get away from the other in this house, and that sucks, because there was a certain dignity in both stations of life, which is now lost.
My Room is filled with a lifetime of collecting books and … toys, like the plastic Jesus nightlight poking up out of broken coffee cup with a cow on it -- and that is another story.
In front of the house is a 2-ought-ought-2 Dodge four-wheel drive pickup truck, with a trailer ball that has been used precisely twice: to haul a high school homecoming float in 2003 and again in 2004. The 4WD has been used about five times – to get me into precarious situations, not to get me out.
The truck has four doors, running boards, and is the closest thing to a Cowboy Cadillac I ever thought I’d own . I love it in spite of the $6,000-plus worth of hail damage it got last June – since repaired – and in spite of the fact that it needs new tires, which used to mean it was time to trade because it’s easier to trade vehicles nowadays than to buy a set of damn tires – but I swear I will drive this truck until my kid gets at least halfway through college.
The house is native stone, the only one on the block, and the lot is about 9,000 square feet, which, if yer counting, is about one-fifth of an acre, which ain’t very damn much for someone who grew up on a farm, with cows and sows and plows and every other such thing that used to distinguish country folks from city folks.
Now, anyone with a John Deere ridin’ lawn mower and a gimme cap from Lowe’s can claim to be a country person. Bull shit. I am a country boy whether I’m wearin’ a suit and tie, or a T-shirt and Wranglers. Which raises the only point I meant to make.
A 40-year-old man wearin’ a pair of khaki britches, a fine-point Oxford-cloth shirt and a pair of Redwing work boots, topped with a sweaty-dirty Resistol dating to the mid-1980s, readin’ a book on the cattle bidness, smokin’ a high-dollar store-bought ceegar, and sippin’ some top-shelf gin and cheap vermouth in a fancy glass with a stem, all on a so-called “porch” -- that’s one image of the Erudite Redneck in repose, which I was this evenin’.
Monday, August 09, 2004
Freedom's just another word for -- anonymity
My dilemma is this, and it's no bull: I got the go-ahead at work to fully identify myself on this here blog. Do I do so or not? What are the pros and cons, y'all? If I do, then I will be under the same voluntary constraints I am already in in the real word. I can't overtly support any political party, or specific candidate, and I can't take sides in some controversies. It's a sacrifice I make to maintain the appearance of objectivity in the news business. It would extend to this blog, if I identify myself. One one hand, remaining anonymous brings total freedom to write what I want. On the other hand, who cares what an Erudite Redneck, or any other anonymous blogger, thinks? I personally don't give a hoot about any opinion by someone who hides behind anonymity. What say ye, fellow scribes?
"The American Revolution in Indian Country" -- book review
By The Erudite Redneck
Niagara and Stockbridge are fairly familiar, but even students of history might overlook Odanak, Oquaga, Maquachake, Chota, Tchoukafala and Cuscowilla as important venues of the American Revolution. Colin G. Galloway sifts their stories from papers, letters and journals of revolutionary leaders who, he asserts, dealt with tribes rather than “communities.” Galloway, a British citizen, rescues eight complex multiethnic communities from historians of the Revolution uninterested in Indians and Indian historians uninterested in the Revolution.
Galloway sets up his examination by painting 1775 America as a whirl of ethnicity and commerce, vibrant cultural exchange, personal and social adaptation as well as conflict. Before focusing his admittedly non-Indian, non-American probe on the individual communities, Galloway, professor of history and native American studies at Dartmouth College, addresses the Revolution in Indian country in general. From Quebec to Florida to the Mississippi, native peoples reacted and interacted with diplomatic and political complexity to what seemed so black-and-white, after war erupted, to American revolutionaries and the British.
Galloway admits that The American Revolution in Indian Country: Crisis and Diversity in Native American Communities is a collage, not a survey. He tells eight separate war stories.
The already ambivalent Abenakis in Odanak, in Quebec, were strategically positioned on the frontier, which exacerbated tensions; the community strained internally but survived. In Stockbridge, Massachusetts, laid out as a “praying town,” the Mahicans and others sided with patriots; their diplomacy could not preserve them amid an exploding American population. In Oquaga, in New York’s Iroquois country, a political-cultural crossroads for the Six Nations, factionalism predating the Revolution collapsed the community before it was burned and scattered. The refugee community surrounding Fort Niagara in New York swelled into a conglomeration of Mohawks and others struggling against corrupt trade and internecine conflict worsened by war.
The Maquachakes in the Ohio Valley strove for neutrality yet this division of the Shawnees saw tribal splintering and villages burned on the front line. At Chota, in now eastern Tennessee, the capital of the northern Cherokees saw a chance to win back lands lost to fraudulent dealing; their efforts led to defeat and an American sense that taking Cherokee land was patriotic. In the Tchoukafala community in the lower Mississippi Valley, Chickasaws maintained independence as the British-Spanish-American-tribal struggle upended their world, yet diplomatic skill served them until well after the Revolution. The Cuscowilla community of Seminoles in Florida saw the Revolution transform their estrangement from Creeks to the north, their kin, from one of geography and culture to politics.
Galloway’s work is a patchwork by his own admission. As such, the main commonality among his eight separate tales is that the main players in each were Indians. The broad, almost majestic sweep of his beginning and ending chapters is almost lost in the middle details. However, his work helps bridge the chasm he detected in histories of the Revolution, a fresh beginning for Americans, a gloomy one for most natives.
Sunday, August 08, 2004
"Ideological Origins of the American Revolution" -- book review
By The Erudite Redneck
Bernard Bailyn’s neotraditionalist history of the American Revolution – a check on a previous generation of historians’ heavy reliance on economics as the main driving force -- posits that the colonists, rather than being carried to revolution by events greater then themselves, thoughtfully plodded toward it. Nor, however, were the colonists united in answering a holy call to national greatness in an early form of American exceptionalism, according to Bailyn. The colonists were exceptional, Bailyn argues, in their thinking, as they worked through the “realization, the comprehension and fulfillment, of the inheritance of liberty and of what was taken to be America’s destiny in the context of world history.” (19)
Bailyn’s object was to explore leading colonial thought processes and philosophy. His method was to probe and synthesize colonial-era pamphlets before Independence – single responses to public events, “chain-reacting personal polemics” (4), and regular commemorative publications – that included personal letters, sermons, speeches, essays and other communications. He finds a revolution in leading men’s minds concerning the ideas of liberty and the role of government. Pamphlets reveal that individual freedom was more important to leading colonists than government authority; pamphleteers saw themselves as resisting, for their own sake as well as that of all British subjects, a conspiracy among royal ministers to establish tyranny over the colonies. Bailyn shows that from the earliest years of resistance, colonists were arguing fine points of philosophy of checks and balances within government – as well as checks against excessive private power.
Bailyn goes beyond consideration of content alone. He delves into tone, sourcing and the intellectual heritage of the Enlightenment, English common law, libertarianism, New England Puritanism and other undercurrents of colonial thinking as they refracted around their experiences and interpretation of events and crises of the period. Bailyn spends much effort documenting the development and maintenance of the conspiracy theory leading colonists used to justify, and frame, their discontent and firming resistance. He spends as much effort documenting colonial thought as it wrestled with fundamental concepts such as liberty, sovereignty, loyalty, the role of society and the place of religion, played against what many saw as a collapse of morality and near wholesale abandonment of virtue in the Mother Country.
Bailyn starts The Ideological Origins of the American Revolution with his sources, the pamphlets, explaining their role in their time as well as in his own work, then lets his synthesis follow the familiar major events of the period. The book won the Pulitzer Prize for history as well as the Bancroft Prize.