Monday, April 20, 2015

She's An American Soldier

Deborah Sampson is the only known female soldier of the Revolutionary War.  Disguised as a man, she served the country well on the battlefield, suffering the same hardships and battles of her fellow troops and maintaining her male identity throughout.

She was born in 1760 in Plympton, Pennsylvania.  Her father was a seaman who didn't come back from the sea, leaving her mother destitute with several kids to raise.  She was forced to give her children up to other families to raise, and then she died just a year after her husband.

Deborah was in two different families before entering the home of Deacon Benjamin G. Gannett, a farmer.  As an indentured servant, she had to work for the family until she was eighteen.  After leaving the family, she taught school for a while.  She evidently caught the eye of a wealthy young man who proposed marriage, but she had other plans.

The Revolutionary War had been raging for several years already.  She was young, healthy, tall and wanted to have an adventure.  She made herself a man's suit of clothing and ventured out in her disguise.  When she had no problems with the charade, she enlisted in the 4th  Massachusetts Regiment, using the first and middle names of her deceased brother, Robert Shurtleff.  She was off to War.

Like all soldiers in a war zone, her life was not easy, but she persevered and became a seasoned soldier.  She almost drowned once when they were crossing the Croton River, suffered a severe head wound in one skirmish, and took two pistol balls in the thigh.  She protested to her fellow soldiers that she did not want to be taken to the hospital, but they ignored her wishes.  At the hospital the head wound was treated and she managed to leave before they began work on her leg.  She used a penknife and managed to get one of the balls out of the thigh, but the other was too deep for her to reach. 

She was assigned to be a waiter in the service of General Paterson.  She fell very ill with a severe fever and lost consciousness.  She was sent to the hospital where the doctor was shocked to find she was a female, wearing a cloth to bind her breasts.  She was sure she would be immediately discharged.  However, the doctor kept her secret, transferring her to his home where she was under the care of the doctor's wife.

When she was able to return to her duties, the doctor gave her a note to take to her superior.  Knowing it must be a letter revealing her secret she was prepared to be sent home.  Instead it was a letter recommending her to be given an honorable discharge.  This was done in 783.

Back home in Massachusetts she met and married a farmer by the name of Benjamin G. Gannett.  The worked hard but lived in poverty as they raised their three children.

At some point her service in the War as a male soldier became known.  In 1792 she petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for monies available to veterans.  Her petition was denied because she was a woman.  She provided letters verifying her service and she finally received 34 pounds plus interest dating back to date of discharge.

Still needing money in 1802, she went out on a lecture tour, the first woman to do so in the United States.  Speaking to audiences composed of both and women, she would extol the value of a woman pursing her womanly duties to the best of their ability.  She would then leave the stage, change into her Army uniform, and come back to talk about her military experiences.  She did this for a year, but barely made enough to cover her expenses.  More than once, Paul Revere would give her money to help her out.

In 1805, and with the help of Paul Revere, she again petitioned the Massachusetts State Legislature for a military pension given to men who had served in the Revolutionary War.  After some debate she was awarded $4 a month for her service.

She died at the age of 66 in 1827.  After her death, her widower petitioned for pay as a spouse of a soldier.  Though they were not married at the time of her service, the committee concluded that the history of the Revolution "furnished no other similar example of female heroism, fidelity and courage."  He received the pension.

Friday, April 10, 2015

Ain't It The Truth

Pity the reputation of the poor little "ain't."  It's been around since sometime in the 1700s, showing up in the speech of just about everyone in England.  Rich, poor or middle class, it found a home in the language usage of just about the entire population in that great nation.

But then something happened sometime in late 1800s.  Rich and poor still made use of it, but the middle class took a disliking to it.  I have no idea just why this happened, but once the idea took hold it wouldn't let go.  Then in the early 1900s the rich decided they could do without it as well.  Then the evil eye was cast upon it and it became a castaway in proper usage.

However, it could not be entirely discarded.  Sometimes there's just no better way of putting a little emphasis to what you're saying.  Consider the everyday saying, "If it ain't broke, don't fix it."  Also "This ain't my first rodeo."  Don't forget "You ain't seen nothing yet."  And as Will Rogers said, "Common sense ain't common." 

And where would songwriters be without it?  Louis Jordon sang "There ain't nobody here but us chickens."  One of Fats Domino's songs, "Ain't That a Shame" spoke to a whole lot of folks.  Let's not forget the Ira and George Gershwin musical Porgy and Bess that gave us the classic, "Ain't Necessarily So."  Another favorite was "Ain't No Mountain High Enough" by Nickolas Ashford and Valeria Simpson.

Dizzy Dean, Baseball Hall of Famer and announcer, summed it up when he said, "A lot of people who don't say ain't, ain't eating."

I'll just close by relating something said to be a common Texas saying (though I'd not heard it before) that tickled my fancy: If that ain't a fact, God's a possum.

Monday, April 6, 2015

No Flies On Him

Flies have been around probably since the beginning of time, or at least since the existence of life on this earth.  And I'm sure even the earliest of homo sapiens have been aggravated more than once with their presence.  And they didn't have rolled up newspapers to get rid of the pesky critters.

In 1900 Robert Montgomery received Patent No. 640,790 for invention of the Fly-Killer, a "cheap device of unusual elasticity and durability."  It was made of wire netting, "preferably oblong," attached to a handle. He did not specify the material to be used in the making of the handle.  After all, the netting was the important part as it reduced wind drag, allowing the user to apply a "whip-like" swing.

In 1903 he sold his patent to John Bennett.  The designation of "Fly Swatter" for the apparatus was made in 1905 by Dr. Samuel J. Crumbine of the Kansas City Board of Health.  He was attending a ball game in Topeka, but his attention was focused on a major health issue.  How could they reduce the spread of Typhoid Fever by flies?

It was the bottom of the eighth inning and the score was tied.  Topeka had a man on third.  The fans began screaming at the batter, yelling "Sacrifice Fly!" and then "Swat the ball."  Inspiration struck the good doctor.  A few days later he wrote an article about the situation for The Fly Bulletin with the headline:  Swat The Fly!  And thus, a new phrase came into common use.

Over the years there were adaptations to the common fly swatter.  In 1913 jazz bands were everywhere as folks loved to dance to that sound.  One problem was that the drums were too loud.  There were no sound systems that are now everywhere, and the drums would overpower the other instruments. 

At that time there was a fly swatter with metal brushes and an expandable handle .  One night there was a bright drummer decided to give that a try during a set.  He loved the quieter sound, and soon it was copied by many others.  Their new brushes allowed them to create new and innovative sounds and soon every drummer incorporated them into his set.

Don't you love the creative spirit of people?

Friday, April 3, 2015

Over 260 Years and Still Going Strong

It takes some special folks to keep a volunteer organization going strong.  A group of firefighters in New Jersey are well aware of this and continue doing their duty 24 hours a day, seven days a week.

1752 - Britannia Fire Company is organized in Bridgeton, New Jersey.  It is the oldest volunteer fire company in continuous service in the United States.  Don't believe it?  They have  the minutes of that first meeting dated July 11, 1752.

1787 - The company changed their name to Mount Holly Fire Company.

1789 - The company built a shed to house their leather fire buckets and ladders, thus becoming the first known "fire house" or fire station in America.

1790s - The town changed their name from Bridgeton to Mount Holly.

1805 - The fire department changed their name from Mount Holly to Relief Fire Engine Company No. 1.

1892 - A new fire house is built for the company.  The old shed, the first fire house in the country, is moved to a location beside the new building.  This shed is now a museum housing artifacts of the company.

I don't know if I'll ever make it to New Jersey, but if so, I'd love to visit the station and museum.  My husband and my son are both retired firefighters and it's always interesting to check out the history of the profession.

Monday, March 30, 2015

A Cowgirl's Life

Connie Douglas was born September 26, 1901, in Eagle Pass, Texas.  Her father was a lawyer and she wanted to follow in his footsteps.  Her mother's father, Alfred Wallace, introduced his only grandchild to horses before she was able to sit up by herself and at five he gave her a horse.  She never lost that love for horses and they played a big part in her life.

She studied speech at Texas Women's university, earning a degree, then enrolled at the University of Texas School of Law in Austin, one of the first women admitted to study law.  However, her dream of becoming a lawyer was not to be.  The Great Depression hit and she left school to help support her family.

She started work as a speech and English teacher in San Antonio and got a part time job at a stable teaching girls to ride horses.  While working at the school she started the first pep squad.  Then in 1936 she started work at Thomas Jefferson High School and where she started another pep squad, which proved to be very popular.  The girls were dressed in blue flannel skirts, red satin shirts, blue bolero jackets, and wore pear grey Stetson hats with boots.  They each carried a lasso, attached at the skirt waistband with a loop.  She brought in an Englishman, Johnny Reagan, who was a trick rope artist, to work with the girls.  The squad was named the Lassos.

Imagine 128 girls coming out on the field during halftime, twirling their ropes and performing before an enthusiastic crowd.  Before long they were performing at all the major events in San Antonio.  What a sight that must have been.

In 1936 she joined the equestrian program at Camp Waldmar in Hunt, Texas, where she continued to teach girls to ride.  There she met Jack Reeves, a cowboy brought in to take care of the horses.  With their mutual love of horses they became great friends and in 1942 they were married.

They were, by all accounts, quite happy with their very busy life.  The Camp was not always open.  When not in session they managed ranches for Lyndon Baines Johnson, watching over 10,000 acres with sheep and cattle.  Jack died in 1985.

Connie continued her active life, which was not without peril.  She suffered many a fall from a horse with subsequent injuries, some serious.  A few years before her death one fall fractured her thigh.  It didn't stop her from continuing her riding.  She also wrote a book about her husband, Jack.  It was titled I Married a Cowboy: Half Century with Girls and Horses at Camp Waldmar which was published in 1995.  I believe it is still available.

She became the oldest member of the National Cowgirl Museum and Hall of Fame.  She surprised many people when she rode her horse for the induction ceremony.  She continued riding whenever she could.  But in 2003 she suffered another fall.  This time she fractured her neck and died a short time later.  She was 101 years old.

Connie's motto was:  Always saddle your own horse. 

What an inspiration to anyone who has ever heard of her.  Connie Douglas Reeves, I salute you.  And I sincerely wish I'd had the opportunity to ride beside you at some point in our lives.

Monday, March 23, 2015

An Autograph? Please!

There must always be a way to make life just a little bit easier, whatever the profession.  For centuries writers were restricted to hand produced products.  But in 1714 an Englishman by the name of Henry Mill filed a patent for a machine to put  letters on paper.  It was pretty vague in description, and he did not go on to produce such a machine.

An Italian, Pellegrina Turri did come up with such a machine in 1808.  He made it for his friend, Countess Carolina Fantoni da Fivizzano.  He did it to provide her with a way to write for she was blind and unable to sit down with pen and paper.

There were others who tried their hand at the making such a machine.  The Sholes & Glidden Type Writer actually came out in 1873 and in 1874 they had one manufactured by the sewing machine department of Remington arms company.

Mark Twain bought one of the new-fangled machines but was less than impressed by them.  He did turn in the manuscript for Life on the Mississippi which was probably the first book written with a typewriter.  But in March 1875, he noted his feelings in a letter: 

          "Please do not divulge the fact that I own a machine.  I have entirely stopped
           using the Type-Writer, for the reason that I never could write a letter with it to
           somebody without receiving a request by return mail that I would not only
          describe the machine but state what progress I had made in the use of it, etc., etc.
          I don't like to write letters, and so I don't want people to know that I own this
          curiosity-breeding little joker."

He did write one letter with it, though.  A boy had requested not just an autograph from Twain, but also went on to request a full autograph letter.  Twain was less than pleased with the request and sent the boy a typewritten letter.  In it he explained that writing was his trade, and it wasn't fair to ask a man for a free sample of his trade.  Would the boy "ask a blacksmith for a horse shoe," he asked, "or a doctor for a corpse?"  The letter was  produced using all capital letters, including his signature which was also typed.

Friday, March 20, 2015

The Startling Story of Zona Shue

In January 1897 Greenbriar County, West Virginia, Zona Heaster Shue has died.  A young bride, married just two months earlier to the strapping blacksmith, Edward (known as Trout) Shue a mere two weeks after they met.  Now she lay dead on the floor at the foot of the stairs.

An hour after the discovery of her body the doctor appeared only to find Trout had moved her into the bedroom and dressed her for her funeral.  The husband was too distraught to allow the doctor to do more than a cursory examination of the young woman.

Zona's mother, Mary Jane Heaster, was devastated by her daughter's death and was suspicious of Trout.  Many people noticed that during the wake he kept the others away, not allowing any to really see her body well.  He had placed a large scarf around her neck, saying it was her favorite and would have wanted it to be used.  A sheet had been placed in the coffin to cover the body and a veil covered
the face.

The sheet was removed just before interment.  Mary Jane took it home and washed it.  She was startled when the water turned red and the sheet became pink.  Though she boiled it in water and hung it on the line, the stain persisted.  Mary Jane was convinced her daughter had indeed been murdered, a thought shared by many of her neighbors.

Mary Jane prayed fervently for her daughter to come see her and tell what had happened.  A short time later her prayers were answered when Zona came to her one night.  Over the course of four nights Zona told her mother that Trout was indeed a mean man.  They had argued that day and he grabbed her by the throat and strangled her.

Not one to sit idly by, Mary Jane went to the prosecutor, demanding he take action against Trout, relating what Zona had told her.  The prosecutor was not one to rely on dreams to solve a crime.  But he was aware of some of the rumors making the rounds.  He decided to make the rounds, talking to those who could be involved.  The doctor admitted to a limited examination due to Trout's distress over Zona's death.

It also didn't take long to dig back into Trout's life.  They discovered Zona was his third wife.  His first left him after a short marriage because of his whipping up on her.  He married again and his second wife died mysteriously just a few months later.  When the law told Trout they were checking into Zona's death he replied to the effect, "They'll never prove I did it."

During the trial the prosecutor did not mention Mary Jane's conversations with Zona.  However, his defense attorney knew of her statements and spent a lot of time asking her about it on the stand in an effort to paint her as unstable and unreliable.  She answered all his questions and never varied her statements.  His efforts didn't work, though, for the jury didn't take a lot of time to find him guilty.

Trout got life in prison as his sentence, and died only three years later, possibly of measles.

On her gravestone there is engraved the following:  "only known case where a ghost's testimony sent a man to prison."  Outside town, on Highway 60, is a roadside plaque with a short statement of the death and trial.

Zona had not testified, of course, and normally the statements her mother testified to would not have been allowed.  After all, Zona was not available for questions.  However, since the defense attorney elicited her statements, the judge said he had to allow them.