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. 

Monday, March 16, 2015

Introducing Mr. Shanahan


About 2 o'clock yesterday afternoon the fire alarm bell on Cleburne engine-house sounded a general fire alarm.  ... it was discovered that the boarding-house and saloon owned and occupied by Tim Shanahan was in flames.  ...  From Mrs. Shanahan we learn that the fire originated from a defective flue.   ...  Mr. Shanahan was not in condition to give lucid particulars,

                                                                                    Arkansas Gazette Nov. 12, 1876

& & & & & & & & & &


3 c. self rising flour                                        1 12-oz can of beer,
2 Tbsp. sugar                                                      room temperature

     Put flour and sugar in a bowl.  Add beer and stir.  Grease muffin tins and spoon in batter to 1/2 full.  Bake at 400 degrees for 15 to 18 minutes or till done.  Serve hot,  Makes about 2 dozen biscuits.  Enjoy.

          (Excerpt from my unpubished manuscript: Fighting Fires and Feeding Firefighters)

Friday, March 13, 2015

Are You Greedy?

A lot of people are greedy.  In fact, most of us have probably put a little too much thought to money at one time or another.  If you lived around Charles Vance Miller, you might have had your greed put to the test at one time or another.

Charles was born in Toronto, Canada, a lawyer, and a lifelong bachelor.  At the age of 68 he decided it was time to write his will.  He opened it with the following:  "This will is necessarily uncommon and capricious because I have no dependants or near relatives and no duty rests upon me to leave my property at my death ..."

He designated a few religious leaders, known for being proponents of prohibition as well as their anti-gambling views, to be recipients of shares of stock in distilleries.  He left a life-tune tenancy in a Jamaican vacation residence to three lawyers who were known to hate each other.  (This did happen though, as he sold the place before he died.)

The one inheritance stipulation that got the most attention was the one that became known as the Stork Derby.  He said his money was to be put in trust for ten years following his death, then was to be given to the woman who had the most children in Toronto within that ten year period as shown by birth certificates registered in the city.  If there was a tie between two or more mothers for this designation, the money was to be divided between them.

Initially it was just an oddity to many of the Canadians.  After all, he died in 1926 at the age of 73, and times were pretty good for a lot of the world.  However, a few years later the depression hit and times became tough for a lot of people. 

Of course, where there is a will and a lot of money, things get complicated.  Before the will was finally through probate and the dust had settled, there would be more than 30 lawyers, nine judges, 8 days of hearings, who knows how much time and energy given in depositions and paperwork invested in settling the will.

You know there would some long lost long-distance relative show up and claim the proceeds should rightly go to him, and yes, some lawyer took his case.  Many women came forward to claim the Baby contest.  Several claims thrown out because at least some of the children were designated as illegitimate, some women claimed miscarriages as children that should be counted (but the court over-ruled that claim), some were born outside the city limits.

At last the final decision was made.  The trust now had about $500,000 to be given to the winner.  There were four women who made the final selection, each giving birth to nine children.  They each received $125,000.  In 1938, this was a life-changing sum of money.  They became celebrities and the press had a field day following them as they spent the money.  One woman moved her family from the area because she didn't want her children exposed to all the attention.  (Smart woman, in my opinion.)

I don't know how the religious leaders responded to the receipt of their distillery shares.  That would be interesting to find out, but I doubt I ever will.  More important, you wonder about all those kids conceived for the chance of getting money.  The families were poor at the outset, surely no better and possibly worse at the end. 

Monday, March 9, 2015

Get A Job!!

The road to employment does not always run straight and smooth.  Herewith a few examples.

     1.   I could have been a carpenter, but I took the studs.

     2.   I could have been a healer, but I lost my touch.

     3.   I started to be a podiatrist, but I got off on the wrong foot.

     4.   I could have been a bookie, but I didn't like the odds.

     5.  I could have been a pastry chef, but they said I was too flaky.

     6.   I tried to be a banana picker, but I got in with a bad bunch.

     7.   I considered being a fireman, but I couldn't take the heat.

     8.   I tried to be a sheet rock hanger, but I got plastered.

     9.   I could have been an accountant, but I didn't have the right figure.

    10.   I wanted to be a drummer, but I lost the beat.

    11.   I could have worked for the railroad, but I couldn't be trained.

    12.   I could have been a chitlin' maker, but I didn't have the guts.

We can't get discouraged, though.  Remember there is always the right job for everyone.  You just have to find it.

Friday, March 6, 2015

True? Maybe Not

We can find so much interesting information on the computer.  It's so easy.  Just type in a word or phrase and hit search.  In seconds you see the results popping up.  I've done it many times myself. 

There is one problem with this activity, though.  Not everything you see is the truth.  Some may be somewhat true.  Some is pure fiction.

A case in point is something that caught my eye recently.  The assertion was that President Franklin Roosevelt was transported via Al Capone's car to make a speech before both Houses of Congress after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor.  It makes a good story with a lot of interesting details.  Things like the car had been painted black and green to look like a Chicago police car.  It was armored, meaning it was bullet proof and bomb proof.

The source of the story appears to be secret service agent Michael F. Rielly who wrote a book after he retired.  It was titled "Reilly of the White House."  This story was incorporated in his book.  It is, and was, a good story.

One problem is that some have said Roosevelt was never photographed in that car.  He tended to prefer convertibles, not sedans.  I would think there would be extensive coverage of that speech and surely some reporter somewhere would have made a comment about that particular car.  You would think there would be some conversation about the step-up in his security.

So, what do I think about this situation.  Well, I don't know the answer.  I can see the validity of the nay-sayers, and may be leaning to believing their view of the situation.  For now I am keeping an open mind and will go full speed ahead with the Al Capone story if I see some evidence to support the assertion.

Good reading and have a good week.  Let me know you thoughts on the subject if you like.


Monday, March 2, 2015

The Unique Ulu


Man has always been creative, finding ways to better his life wherever he may be.  Eskimos were no exception to this statement.

Living in a harsh environment, he had the same basic needs as humans anywhere.  One concern surely was how to harvest the animals they killed for their food, clothing and shelter.  There was a need for something to be used for skinning the pelts, for cutting them into clothing and for the strips utilized in making laces.

They needed to cut the meat into chunks to be transported back to their homes.  They had to cut whale blubber into usable sizes.

At some point an unknown Eskimo had the idea to create a cutting instrument, a knife if you will.  It was dubbed the ulu - pronounced ooh-loo.  It has a wooden handle to allow you to press down on it to facilitate the cut.  The handle was made originally with muskox bone, walrus ivory or moose antlers.  The blade made of slate which could be sharpened to maintain its edge.  Now it is made with steel.

Because it has a curved blade the cut can be made with a rocking motion, allowing the user to push down on the handle with greater force than can be used with an ordinary knife.  Because it pins the meat down solidly onto the cutting surface, it isn't necessary to use a fork to assist in the cutting.

Archaeologists have found an ulu determined to be about 3,000 years old.  The slate curve is still very sharp.

The one above has a design etched into the blade.  There is the word Alaska, in the middle the outline of a ship, and at the bottom it says:  Inside Passage.  It was a gift from my son, purchased when he was assigned to Alaska while in the service.  What a special gift from a very special person.