Friday, October 4, 2019

Francis Valencia Ortiz

My grandfather is the subject of a piece of flash fiction that I wrote and which now appears in the October edition of Rendez-Vous Magazine. My mother also makes a guest appearance.

Our family called my grandfather Gee-Gee (hard Gs). We tended to adopt pet names for extended family members.

As it says in the story, Frank spent his life in a war with the willows. His ranch located a few miles from up into the cold mountains Santa Fe.

He bought Rancho Pancho in the 1930s when he had a steady job in spite of the depression and the landowner was desperate to sell.

Since he was my grandfather, I only knew him later in his life. He lived to 96, fighting with the willows into his nineties. In his seventies he had more vigor than me or my visiting college friends.

Frank Ortiz showing off an oversized pine-cone. The piñones inside were the size of a thumb. Unfortunately, they didn't taste good.
Frank Ortiz and my sister, Claire at the ranch.
Frank was very influential in my youth. His energy, positive spirit, and hard work inspired me.

I wrote this cowboy poem about him a time back which first appeared in Rope and Wire. It's in my cranky cowboy voice which possesses me from time to time.

The Nod

I know this might just start a fight but I never liked John Wayne.
It wasn't war or politics, if you'll just let me explain:
Now movie stars always are larger than life and taller than time,
With a dimpled smile in Panavision, they trip the light sublime.
They cast shadows out of sunset that stand grander than any man.
But you don't measure a real cowboy by the life he's larger than
Or how he towers above the Alamo like Widmark with his knife.
You see a cowboy, a true cowboy, is the exact same size as life.

Life fits him well, it's a riding glove he's mostly broken in.
Its favors and tangled pains are a tongue he's always spoken in.
And taller than time? Well, sir, the minute-hand lost its fingers
While roping calves. It oughta know, a minute's too long to linger.
He's not so phony as to hawk colog-ne or ever stoop to rave
Undying zeal for some lame smell: he's more "during grizzle" than after-shave.
He's a side of beef left on the grill well after the cookout's done.
A walking wrinkle, all-caked with clay, and baked by too mean a sun.

In Hollywood what they call "Rodeo" is one long bastardly boutique.
A drive you can't rightly drive, a place where oily leather squeaks.
In LA-LA land you can measure a man by the kind of truck he keeps
Out there a broncobuster is an SOB who broke into their Jeeps.
And when they cruise down Sunset their pickups are anything but Chevies.
(I hear they send their stuntmen in when the kissing gets too heavy.)
It’s all those Hollywood lies that have set their souls off-balance.
They all get told "You're beautiful, babe." (Well, maybe not Jack Palance.)

Which brings me to my grandfather (I'm sorry for the delay).
More a rancher than a wrangler, with less cattle than he had hay.
His sunbaked days meant yanking stumps and ditches to be dredged.
He paid his dues, he lost his teeth from a wild recoiling sledge.
He told me, "We're only visiting here as we toil this rocky land.
We're all just migrant workers, and never more than hired hands.
When laborers do their chores, they don't look for people to applaud."
And when I'd done a good day's work, he gave me a gentlemanly nod.

Death will tarry for the stubborn but still eventually it arrives.
When I last saw my grandfather he had just turned ninety-five.
We spoke of football and then he asked as he took me in his eyes
"Will I see you again?" I wished right then, I had a Hollywood lie.
I voiced some words at his service that really weren't inspired
Then I helped carry out the casket of the man I most admired.
So now I tell my tales before the crowds and bow when they applaud
And yet I'd trade their praise for just one more gentlemanly nod.

Here is a photo of my mother at 16 in a classic Latina dress. (In the story she is referred to as "Sister.")

Finally, here is a photo of my mother, later in life. She died in 2014.

Thursday, August 29, 2019

The Best Jane Marple / The Best Hercule Poirot

Poirot and Hastings. I definitely need to start a finger puppet collection.

The Best Miss Jane Marple.

Miss Jane Marple, Dame Agatha Christie's matronly detective, sleuthed her way through twelve novels and twenty short stories.  A new series is in the works, set to premiere in 2020.

Back in April of 2019, the website Britishperioddramas conducted a readers poll asking which actress did the best job of portraying Marple.

I am personally fond of Margaret Rutherford who appeared in four movies in the 1960s and solidified my vision of the character when I was young. I love Angela Lansbury in whatever she's in. I remember an episode of Murder She Wrote where a man about 30 years younger than Jessica Fletcher had a crush on her. I thought the episode was about me.

A Miss Marple car decal. Only 37 Norwegian krone.
So, here are the top five vote-getters for the best Miss Marple.

5. Angela Lansbury
4. Julia McKenzie
3. Geraldine McEwan
2. Margaret Rutherford
1. Joan Hickson

I have to confess that I haven't seen Joan Hickson's Marple. I suspect that it is very good. This was the period when the BBC was making the definitive Jeremy Brett Sherlock Holmes. I have a fondness for Helen Hayes, who did not make the list.

The Best Hercule Poirot.

A year earlier the same website ran a poll for the best Hercule Poirot. I am glad their commentary mentioned the too-much fidgeting and too-much foppishness of some portrayals. In my opinion, with all of his ticks and quirks, and with an improbable accent, the Poirot character is a minefield where many great actors have exploded. They leaned into his mustache and never escaped. I've seldom seen a sad side of Poirot, and yet this is an impression I get from reading the books.

Their top five list.

5. Alfred Molina
4. Albert Finney
3. Kenneth Branagh
2. Peter Ustinov.
1. David Suchet.

The top vote-getter had to be David Suchet. He is seared into my mind as Poirot. 

In 2015, Vulture magazine produced a list of the top Poirots as determined by critic Kyle Turner.

9. Andrew Sachs
8. Tony Randall
7. Satomi Kotaro
6. Peter Ustinov
5. Alfred Molina
4. Ian Holm (Poirot argues with Agatha Christie for the right to live)
3. Kenneth Branagh
2. Albert Finney.
1. David Suchet.

The Best Christie Film Adaptation.

As a bonus, here is a list from Taste of Cinema curated by film critic Ryan Anderson as to the best Agatha Christie adaptations: my comments added.

9. Ten Little Indians (1965)
How did this get on the list? I remember stiff acting and no tension. Starring, among others, Fabian.

8.  The Mirror Crack'd (1980)
Full of crackling wit. Probably my favorite color film adaptation of Christie.

7. Murder at the Gallop (1962)
Another great Margaret Rutherford/Marple film. I kind of like the idea that they took a Poirot novel and fitted it for Marple. I think Marple would be a great choice in The ABC Murders. 

6. Evil Under the Sun (1982)
I've seen it. But I can't remember it.

5. And Then There Were None. (1945)
Great wit, great acting, great directing. Should be in the number two spot.

4. Death on the Nile (1978)
I remember knowing whodunnit the moment the murder happened. This movie jaded me as to Christie's plots, at least for a while.

3. Murder, She Said (1960)
Why I love Margaret Rutherford.

2. Murder on the Orient Express (1974)
Very good. I wasn't that crazy about Ingrid Bergman's performance though.

1. Witness for the Prosecution (1957)
All of Billy Wilder's films from this period were perfect.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Curse of The Apprentice

I enjoy curses. I don't believe in them, that is, not in the supernatural sense. But I do find it fascinating when a statistical blip delivers karmic justice.

In a previous post, I argued that Donald Trump's The Apprentice was never popular. Although it ranked in its first season among the top 10 TV shows, it did this while sandwiched between Friends and ER, both juggernaut series. Other series that were boosted into the top 10 by being in the Thursday night time slot when Friends and ER reigned included forgettables such as Fired Up and Boston Commons

When Boston Commons moved from Thursdays to Sundays, it dropped from 8th place to 52nd. None of the stars of Boston Commons or Fired Up have attempted running for president, although maybe Sharon Lawrence should. Or else Jonathan Banks.

With Donald Trump as the grumbler in chief, The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice lasted for 185 episodes. Of those, on only six occasions did it win its time slot against the three other networks (ABC, CBS and Fox). On several occasions it fell below the top offerings of cable, and in one case placed sixth.

Beginning with the season after the debut of The Apprentice, NBC's fortunes tumbled. This is the curse I wish to present here.

Below is a graph showing how many Top Ten TV shows (total viewers, all ages) ran on NBC during the years prior to The Apprentice, during the runs of The Apprentice and Celebrity Apprentice, and in the time since.

Each year leading up to the debut of The Apprentice, NBC had at least three shows in the Top 10. During the years after the debut of The Apprentice, it never had three. When Trump's Apprentice was no longer on, NBC returned to having three or more.

 After the debut of The Apprentice, NBC lost its mojo. For three years it had no Top Ten TV Show. This was followed by four years with exactly one: Sunday Night Football. Although Sunday Night Football was a genuine hit, it only lasted for the fall, half of the television year (The Celebrity Apprentice took over in its spot in the spring.) In 2011, NBC debuted The Voice, a reality competition series that expanded to two nights, sometimes with both of its nights in the top 10.

In 2013-14, The Celebrity Apprentice took a hiatus. NBC bounced back with four top ten shows, including its first drama or sitcom series in the Top Ten since 2003-04: The Blacklist. In 2014-15, Trump's Apprentice returned for its final season and NBC returned again to two top ten shows: football and one night of The Voice.

Since the end of the scourge that was The Apprentice and The Celebrity Apprentice, NBC has bounced back. In 2018-19, NBC had five top ten TV shows, although three of these were football.

Often what seem like chance curses are due to more than just randomness. With the debut of The Apprentice, NBC concentrated on reality programs while abandoning their strength: scripted comedy and drama series. In 2016, after Trump's reign had ended, NBC debuted This Is Us, its first comedy-drama series to consistently appear in the Top Ten since the end of Friends. In 2018-19, three NBC drama series, Chicago Fire, Chicago PD, and Chicago Med helped fill out the spots between 10 and 20 and NBC had eight shows in the Top Twenty.

In recent years, NBC has added Thursday Night Football to its schedule. The Sunday Night pregame show also scores well in ratings. Nine years before Apprentice, average 5.1. The year The Apprentice debuted, 3.0. The ten years of The Trump Apprentice, 0.2. The years after The Apprentice debuted without a Trump Apprentice show: 1.75.


Thursday, June 13, 2019

What the Voters Want Vs. What They Get

The representation in Congress is rigged against the will of the voters.

First: The United States Senate.

The United States Senate is currently divided with 53 Republican Senators, 45 Democratic, and 2 Independents (Bernie Sanders, VT, and Angus King, ME) who caucus with the Democrats.

All but one of the Senators have been elected; McSally of AZ was appointed.

I put together an Excel sheet with the vote counts for the winners and losers for each of the United State Senators in their most recent election, i.e., the one that got the current sitting Senator elected. I only looked at the top two vote-getters. On occasion, Democrats and Republicans scored third or even fourth place with Independents, and in one instance, Libertarian filling in the top two spots. Narrowing the count to the top two vote-getters did little to change the numbers and percentages and saved a lot of work. Yes, there would have been independents and libertarians coming in third place.

First question: How many votes did the candidates of a particular party receive (as winners or losers)?

A total of 217,371,702 votes were cast for the top two vote-getting candidate in the elections that decided the current Senate. If two-hundred million plus votes sounds like a lot, it is due to the fact that the two senators mean each state votes twice, doubling the total.

Of the 99 elected members of the Senate, the cumulative votes that the Democratic candidates received in their last election (2014-2018) is 121,697,598 (56.0%). The corresponding number for the Republicans is 94,686,683 (43.6%). The Independents (two winning and two losing) received an additional 896,596 votes (0.4%). One second-place Libertarian candidate (AK) received 90,825 (0.04%).

The discrepancy between the numbers of Democrats receiving votes and the number elected is due to the fact that in populous states Dems either win large (California, New York), or lose small (Cruz in Texas (50.9%) and Scott in Florida (50.1%). Republicans win big in many of the low population states.

A slightly different question is: How many votes did the winners get among those who currently occupy the Senate? The Republicans received 57,432,949 (45.5%) and the Democrats 68,240,158 (54.1%). The Independents received 528,244 (0.4%).


A Different Analysis.

Using 2017 Census Figure estimates, the fifty states have a population of 325,025,206.

District of Columbia and U.S. territories (with no voting representation) have an additional 6,100,189.

The Senate has 18 states represented by two Democrats (2D). Total population: 143,129,375 (average state pop: 7,951,631)

There are 22 Republican-only states (2R). (22 of them) Population: 129,312,117 (average state pop: 5,877,826)

There are 8 Democrat-Republican split states (1 D, 1 R): Pop: 50,624,150

There is 1 Democrat-Independent state (Vermont) (1D, 1I): Pop: 623,567

There is 1 Republican-Independent split state (Maine) (1R, 1I): 1,335,907

Giving Republicans, Democrats and Independents 1/2 the population of split states and the full population of non-split states:

Democratic Senators represent: 168,753,234 (51.9%)

Republican Senators represent: 155,292,145 (47.8%)

Independent Senators represent: 979,737 (0.3%)

The Independents caucus with the Democrats, so that makes an adjusted 52.2% Democrats and 47.8% Republicans.

Mr. Swearengen Goes to Washington

My previous posts regarding newspaper accounts of Deadwood in the 1870s are available at these links.

#I  Introduction. Deadwood, the Series and Contemporary News Accounts.
#II Sheriff Seth Bullock in Old Deadwood Newspapers.
#III Seth Bullock on the Trail of Stagecoach Robbers.
#IV 1876 in Deadwood.
#V Seth Bullock and the Stolen Election. 
#VI Some correspondences and dispatches from early Deadwood.

#VII Ten Surprises I Encountered When Researching Deadwood.  

#VIII Starting a Graveyard in the Black Hills

Today's entry looks at the transition days for the Black Hills gold find. Originally, the government pushed the line: this is Indian territory and we must follow the treaty. Prospectors were rounded up and told to go home. Soon it became: hands off, the miners can come. Finally, it became: the treaty is abandoned, the remaining Native Americans must leave.

Swearengen was sent as a representative to Washington, D.C. to lobby to help this transition take place.

Bismarck weekly tribune, January 12, 1876, p. 5.

The Black Hills are practically open. Men go and come without molestation or interference from the military or Indians. Indeed it is understood that commanding officers have been directed to suspend all action in relation to miners until further orders, while all but the hostile Indians, who have no rights anyway, are ready to sell, and the Hills are filling up with miners who expect to stay.

Claims are a city being developed; a city is being built up, and improvements of a permanent nature are being made; and it is well for those who think of going to get themselves ready business with the opening of spring.

Mr. Swearengen who was sent by the miners, at the Custer City meeting, as a delegate to Washington in the interest of the opening of the Hills, has returned to his post, confident that things are working, and that the Hills will soon be proclaimed open to all, as they are now open to those who do not hesitate to defy ordinary dangers.

Elsewhere will be found an interview with Gen. Custer, had by the writer immediately after the return of Custer's Black Hills Expition [sic] in 1874.

He speaks of tho necessity of opening the Hills, looking at the question from a military stand point, and sees the difficulties to be met in keeping back the hardy minters; he details the character of the miners, and shows that dirt yielding two dollars to the pan was examined by him; he refers to a richer region than the French Creek mines, (Custer Park or Gulch) not examined by his miners, being the Rapid Creek mines of which Jenney speaks so favorably. He mentioned, also, the Belle Fourche mines, which are claimed by the miners to be still richer. These are still nearer Bismarck. Finally he speaks of a route to the Black Hills, leading in a southwesterly course from Bismarck.

This route has since been travelled by Capt. Fisher and others, and has been proven to possess all of the advantages claimed for it by Gen. Custer. He speaks of the agricultural wealth of the Hills,
and insists that nature could not have done more for any region.

But enough on this point. The General speaks for himself, elsewhere.

Mr. Swearengen, speaking of the Black Hills to a Sioux City reporter, says he was in the mining business on the Pacific coast for 30 years, and he believes—forming conclusions from actual observation—that the Black Hills region affords the richest mineral fields extant. The Black Hills afford a good country for the poor man, for they abound in placer diggings, which can be worked with little means, while quartz mining requires large capital but there are extensive and valuable quartz leads in the Hills, which capital will develop sooner or later. He speaks, also, of the rich agricultural resources of the Hills, confirming all that has been said by
Custer and others.

But on they points there has long since ceased to be doubts. The only question now is, will the Government permit the occupation of the Hills? We reply, they are permitting such occupation, and advise those who want to go to come on, for the Black Hills are now practicaly [sic] open.

Jack McCall, Hickok's assassin

Wednesday, June 12, 2019

Starting a Graveyard in the Black Hills

Previous entries in my series regarding accounts of Deadwood in newspapers.

#I  Introduction. Deadwood, the Series and Contemporary News Accounts.
#II Sheriff Seth Bullock in Old Deadwood Newspapers.
#III Seth Bullock on the Trail of Stagecoach Robbers.
#IV 1876 in Deadwood.
#V Seth Bullock and the Stolen Election. 
#VI Some correspondences and dispatches from early Deadwood.

#VII Ten Surprises I Encountered When Researching Deadwood. 

The story presented below first appeared in a St. Louis paper and was reprinted in newspapers across the nation. It came out about two months before the Black Hills Pioneer began printing. I encountered it while searching for Swearengen articles, although this story only mentions him in passing.


The First Inquest and Funeral in the Black Hills -- A Traveler's Story of Burial in the Wilderness.

Death demanded a sacrifice. A graveyard had to be started in Custer City. No one had volunteered to die and no ruffian had offered a sacrifice. Fate led Charley Holt and John Picket across the plains from Sioux City, and hope and ambition led them to "drive their stake" upon the southern slope in the suburbs of Custer. Poor boys! they were not yet men and their combined fortune and early effects would not reach $5 in value. They selected a town lot upon a grassy knoll, close to a small grove of straight, tall pines, and being unable to chop large logs or buy lumber with which to construct a habitation, dug a cave. These boys made their deadfall eight feet squared, covered it up with pine brush, propped this up with eight small poles, threw on several tons of earth, and went to bed to dream of home, of mother, of father and of the fortune they, in their boyish imaginations, had already carved out of these golden realms.

When morning came a sad sight was revealed to the young man who went to the dugout to borrow a shovel. The angel of death had been there in the night and buried the sleeping boys alive. A faint piteous beneath this living grave broke the icy stillness of the frosty morning, crying out: "In God's name, pull me out! I am dying." The boy who had come to borrow a shovel from the fatal spot, calling loudly for help, which came from all directions, from fifty cabins in the gulch. A dozen yeoman arms delved down and tore away the cruel earth which had already clasped and claimed one of these boys as its own, and which had hugged and pressed in its icy embrace, for eight long hours, the struggling survivor. The story told by the mangled and mutilated youth is a brief one. He told it to me while gasping in agony and pain, stretched upon a couch of pine boughs on the hill side.

"We finished out 'dug-out,' and I went down town to beg for work or flour. We had eaten up our last grub. Charlie --- that's my pardner --- stayed at home to fix up things and finish digging out the chimney. I went to the miners' meeting at the Swearenger's saloon, and came home about ten o'clock, and went to bed. When I woke up I was buried, but I had one had one hand free, with which I scratched away the dirt and brush and got air. Then all was dark again, and awhile, I woke up. I could see the stars and the moon, and I heard Charlie calling for me to help him. I tried to move, but the dirt came tumbling in on my face, so I quit. Then Charlie said: 'Johnny, I am dying; write to my mother.' I called out: 'Charlie, I can't get out; God help you; we must die!' then all got dark again. That's all I know, sir, till just now. Is Charlie dead?"

Yes, Charlie was dead! His crushed and mangled body was dragged out of the debris a few minutes afterward, and borne down the hillside to a deserted soldier's cabin, and laid out upon a plank place upon two logs.

Then came the inquest --- first held in the Black Hills. It was a queer scene. There stood the city marshal, a tall, rough, honest man, with bronzed-brown face and tear stained eyes, a pair of navies on his hips, but gentle as a lam in the face of a death like this.

The coroner, a miner with grizzled beard and hard, grimy hands, stood by the body with a book in his hand. Two doctors, just arrived that morning from Platte county, Mo., looking more like tramps than professional stood by. A reporter, a clothing dealer, a saloon keeper, a lawyer and two miners constituted the jury, which sat itself upon a log which insisted upon rolling over every two minutes. The inquest was brief, the reporter organized the jury, swore them in, elicited the evidence, made the verdict, and founded the first official archive for the city. The verdict was "accidental death from suffocation;" that was all, and material was ready to start a graveyard in Custer.

Then came the humane hands and kind hears and dressed the unfortunate stranger. One of the miners found a white shirt, the only one it the city, a sheet was converted into a shroud, and Charley Holt soon lay in a rough pine box upon a bier of logs. This was not all, a fire was built in the corner of that black, deserted cabin, the roof opened to allow the smoke to escape, and then a half dozen noble men sat and watched until daylight. They were bound to start a graveyard. With the rising of the sun came ladies --- yes, ladies; kind hearted pioneers who had woven a wreath of pine twigs, winter ivy, pine cones and four little fragments of white tarlatan and pieces of the black silk strings of a bonnet. This wreath was laid reverentially upon the unpainted pine box; it was all these five noble hearted women could do, and they did it well. But still the graveyard was not inaugurated. Here was a corpse neatly shrouded, wreathed and coffined, and no graveyard; but a site for a city graveyard was found --- a natural cemetery already planted with groves of trees, and laid out by nature into broad, irregular avenues, all sodded and half green. Cascades, ornamented with glittering icicles, lent their aid to the frosted evergreen foliage and snow white grotto of quartz to beautify the newly selected site for the city of the dead.

A half dozen brawny athletes, with pick and shovel, tore open the virgin soil, and made the grave. They were generous sextons, these amateurs, and sunk a hole like unto a mining shaft. It was at least twelve feet long --- this grave for the half-grown boy. But the trouble was only half over. There is no preacher in Custer, and a two hours' canvass of the city failed to find a professor of religion among three hundred people. Worse than that, a close search failed to find a prayer book. The mayor, honest man, appealed to one of the two lawyers in the city to "say a few words at the grave, to be Christian-like," but such pleading was not in his line; so the three doctors were appealed to, but with like success. Then came a committee of judge, mayor and marshal to the reporter. Surely a "paper man" knew something about funerals; and, said the mayor, "we want to put the poor lad away a king o' Christian like; not like a dog." Besides, a graveyard had to be started.

Then came Miss Ida Simms, like an angel of goodness, with a small gilt-edged Bible, the only one in the city, and the funeral cortege moved on through the main street of the city. It was a picturesque scene on this bright, sunny day. A wagon containing the unpainted coffin, upon which lay the ladies' evergreen wreath. Then the mayor, judge, councilmen, and marsh, rough, blue-shirted men in miners' boots and slouch hats. A dozen or two miners, merchants ad hunters brought up the rear, and the procession moved silently on.

Then a shallow grave on the hillside, sunk, as one of the amateur sextons said, "clar down to the bedrock, gentlemen, down what the dirt shows good color." Silently the body was taken from the wagon and tenderly laid in the golden earth upon the bedrock. Then every head was bared and every bronzed countenance bowed while on or two selections of Scriptures were read. The grave was soon filled and a white pine headstone set in the earth, and thus the city of Custer inaugurated its graveyard.

The saddest point about this affecting incident is yet to be mentioned. No letters, papers, or even the slightest clew to his home or friends have been found. All that is know is that walked all the way to the Black Hills to die and start a graveyard.

As reprinted in the Connecticut Western News, April 21, 1876, p. 2.

The Bismarck Weekly Tribune had this brief note about the new cemetery.

Custer City has started a grave-yard. A man killed his partner, and was fined for shooting in the city limits.

Bismarck weekly tribune, April 12, 1876, p. 3

Inside the Gem Saloon

Tuesday, June 4, 2019

Ten Surprises I Encountered When Researching Deadwood.

General George Custer, the pestilence who keeps on pesting, was the one who first discovered gold in the Black Hills.

The discovery of gold lead to a huge influx of prospectors which led to the seizure of vast territories recently deeded to Native Americans in the Treaty of 1868. This in turn led to the displacement and starving of local tribes which led to the slaughter of Custer which led to the further slaughter of Native Americans. (With a few slaughters in between.)

Native Americans were referred to in the local papers as "the Indian problem." While in the 19th century there was a consciousness among many that took into account the Native American point of view, this was not true at the frontier level.

The rush to the Black Hills and Deadwood was enormous. Deadwood went from no one in 1875 to being the largest settlement in the Dakotas, Montana or Wyoming in 1876.

Deadwood was very isolated. Cheyenne, the nearest city of comparable size, was 276 miles away, and as Seth Bullock described it, between 5 to 30 days by stagecoach. Yankton, the second largest city in the Dakotas after Deadwood, was 395 miles distant.

Seth Bullock was never elected sheriff. He was appointed sheriff for one year and then lost in a crooked election.

Seth Bullock, according to a letter written by him, arrived in Deadwood on August 3rd, 1876, one day after Wild Bill Hickok was murdered. Elsewhere in this blog, I cite that he arrived one day before, which appears in other sources.

The television show winnowed down Deadwood to make it manageable. The city sprawled and had two voting precincts, Deadwood and South Deadwood. It had many physicians and lawyers.

Some personalities fit the characters in the show: e.g., Seth Bullock, Al Swearengen, and Calamity Jane. E.B. Farnum, the weaselly mayor in the series was, in fact, a good public servant and family man.

From the 1880 U.S. Census, a little after Deadwood's peak.
Deadwood, Dakotas, 1880. 3777.
Yankton, Dakotas, 1880. 3431.
Cheyenne, WY, 1880. 3456.
Sioux Falls, Dakotas, 1880. 2164.
Bismarck, Dakotas,1880, 1758.
Helena, MT 1880, 3624.


#I  Introduction. Deadwood, the Series and Contemporary News Accounts.
#II Sheriff Seth Bullock in Old Deadwood Newspapers.
#III Seth Bullock on the Trail of Stagecoach Robbers.
#IV 1876 in Deadwood.
#V Seth Bullock and the Stolen Election. 
#VI Some correspondences and dispatches from early Deadwood.

Sol Star went on to become mayor of Deadwood.

Friday, May 31, 2019

Some correspondences and dispatches from early Deadwood.

Many issues of the first months of the Deadwood newspapers are no longer around. In this entry I will look at stories from Deadwood as related in other newspapers, some of which reprinted articles from the Deadwood Pioneer. 

Previous entries in my series regarding news stories from early Deadwood:

#I  Introduction. Deadwood, the Series and Contemporary News Accounts.
#II Sheriff Seth Bullock in Old Deadwood Newspapers.
#III Seth Bullock on the Trail of Stagecoach Robbers.
#IV 1876 in Deadwood.
#V Seth Bullock and the Stolen Election.

For today, I will focus on Montana newspapers. The gold strike in the Black Hills drew many from Montana and the newspapers reported on it and printed stories from Deadwood. Helena, Montana is 527 miles from Deadwood, as Google flies. Bozeman, Montana is 430 miles away and Deer Lodge, Montana, 552 miles distant.

Many early stories dealt with how wonderful or how terrible it was to head to the Black Hills of the Dakotas to look for gold. 

Deadwood, circa 1876.

Avant Courier [Bozeman, MT], July 14, 1876, p. 3.


The Independent and Madisonian, which claim to be NEWSpapers, have frequently charged the COURIER with publishing sensational reports regarding the richness of the Black Hills, and by such publications tending to depopulate the Territory [Montana]. In this matter we have done nothing but what we regarded as our duty as the publisher of a newspaper, and what should be expected from us as an impartial journalist by those who subscribe for and read the paper. We have given publicity to both favorable and unfavorable accounts from the Hills, eschewing both extremes, and leaving the reader to judge the merits of the mines. Unlike those papers, we have manufactured no false reports to encourage or deter men from going there. We are governed in all matters of this kind by the principle that is is the province of a newspaper to publish the news.

The question of depopulating the Territory never occurred to us and if it had, it would have been immediately dismissed. The fact has been demonstrated beyond a reasonable doubt that it will be many years hence before we can get a railroad, and we regard the opening of the Black Hills as the quickest and surest of bringing prosperity to our Territory. It will no doubt be the means of settling forever the vexed Indian question, and while we are called upon early in the action to deplore the loss of the gallant Custer and his brave command, it can only be accepted as one of the results of war, and it were better to sustain the loss of a few hundred men in a decisive action against the Indians, than to have the frontier settlements of the West constantly harrassed [sic] for years by these savages, who have counted their annual crop of scalps, taken from pioneer settlers, by the hundred for the last decade or so, besides the wholesale plunder of the defenceless settlements. It will open to settlement the rich and extensive territory between the Eastern and Western settlements of the New North-west, and open to travel the overland routes from Montana to Cheyenne and Bismarck, and the population we have lost by the exodus to the Black Hills will be augmented twenty-fold by the influx of immigrants to our Territory within the next two years, over the newly opened country. 

Helena [MT] Daily Herald, July 24, 1876, p. 3.


Trying to Organize a Party of 1,000 for the Big Horn and Wind River Countries.

Doc. Harding, of Radersburg, on a business visit here last week, was interviewed by a HERALD reporter Saturday in reference to late Black Hills news said to have been received by him. The Doc stated that he had a letter from John Hildebrand, dated at Deadwood, June 24, in which the prospects of the writer were cheerfully dwelt upon. John thought he had a promising claim in the gulch, and was employing nine men. With the week's clean-up he reported himself $400 "ahead of the country."

Hundreds of miners, pilgrims, and others, he states, are in the Hills, unable to obtain property or even work. Efforts were then making to form a prospecting party, 1,000 strong, armed and equipped for the undertaking, to go into the Big Horn and Wind River countries, and give those regions a thorough inspection. It was believed extensive and paying mines would be discovered in the sections named. It is evident that the time approaches when a strong column of adventurous men, disappointed in their expectations and ventures, will move in organized shape out of the Black Hills and into the reputed but comparatively unexplored gold sections of Eastern Montana.

The Hills, according to the best authorities, are already overrun, with not one in a score basking in the smiles of fickle fortune. We look for Montana to regain, before the year ends, more than she has lost by the irrational excitement growing out of the gold discoveries in the Black Hills.

Two items of interest in the Helena [Montana] Weekly, July 27, 1876, p. 7.

--The steamer Carroll arrived at Bismarck on the 17 inst., with 2,000 sacks of silver ore. Seth Bullock, Sol Star, and Rev. Harris were among the passengers. The Carroll, loaded with troops and supplies for Terry's command, and left for the Yellowstone on the 21st.

[The first leg of Bullock and Star's trip to Deadwood took place using a steamship down the Missouri River.]

--Al. Merrick, an old Montana typo, and a mighty good one, is editorially at the head of the Pioneer, published at Deadwood. He is associated with a Mr. Gardner in the ownership of the paper, a tastily printed, twenty column quarto sheet, published every Saturday morning. Success.

Montana papers, at times, published letters from former residents who had resettled to Deadwood. 

Helena Weekly, August 10, 1876, p. 3.


Interesting Letter from a Helenaite

His Views of the New El Dorado.

DEADWOOD CITY, July 19, 1876

FRIEND TED: -- I have been here ten days, but up to the present time have not succeeded in getting into any business. Of all the motley crowds ever seen in a new camp, this beats them all. Men that were lost to sight and almost to memory, turn up here. Of course, a country with no greater extent of mines than this has yet developed, cannot furnish all with occupation, consequently everything is fearfully over done [sic]. Most of our Montana people are too late. All the good diggings and eligible town locations are in the hands of men who know their value. The mining region of this section is confined to about six miles, and the town (Deadwood) is situated about in the center. The country is claimed to a much larger extent for mining purposes, but I think (and I have done nothing but travel around since I came here) this space will cover all that has yet been developed, including side gulches and hill diggings. 

There are a number of very rich claims worked here. The amount of money taken out of one claim, owned by Wheeler and two other Montanians, is said to be enormous. All their hands are Montana men, Alex DeLong among the rest, who claims that is the best piece of ground that he ever saw. This claim pays the best wages on the creek -- $5 for day hands and $5.50 for night. The owners are prudent men and spend nothing, and this is the rule with the principal claim owners. Money does not circulate as it used to in a Montana gulch that was paying well.

Among the old Montanians doing business here are Red Clark, who has a livery and sale stable; Billy Plater, who has a few saddle horses and a hay corral. Boggy has a large stable built, but is doing nothing.

I have very little hope that this letter will ever reach its destination. We appear to be cut off from all communications with the outside world, and all kinds of wild rumors reach us concerning Indians. Whether we shall be kept penned up here, with no chance to prospect the country, remains to be determined.

Under the existing circumstances, I would not advise any one who has employment elsewhere to come here at present.

Yours truly,

[Also in the same paper, same day, a news article reprinted from the Black Hills Pioneer that chiefly talks of flora and fauna:]

Black Hills News.

We have the Black Hills Pioneer for July 22. Among its local news items of the week are the following:

Beautiful wild flowers fragrant as the rose are found in the Black Hills.

The sap of the box elder, which grows in great abundance here, is quite saccharine. We have sampled box elder molases [sic] made in the Hills last spring, and find it very palatable.

There is an incessant cracking of rifles and revolvers in the camp--shooting mark, of course. Save your ammunition boys, until things become a little more pacific in regards to the Indian question.

The mountain rat has a bush tail, broad upright ears, with head configured like that of a mouse, grows as big as an eastern black squirrel, and, next to the magpies and Sioux Indians with letters of endorsement from post-traders, is the most impudent and audacious creature that lives. We give the description so our pilgrim friends will know what kind of an animal it is when they see one.

Whoever thinks it is an easy matter to go out in the midst of a thousand different rumors on the same subject and get the exact facts for publication, would find out how badly they were mistaken were they to try the experiment. The reported massacre of the Dunn party, on the Pierre route, was at first narrated to us by so many different parties, and with such a string of little details, that is seemed impossible that it could be false; but now we have good reason to believe there is not a word of truth in it.

In the Black Hills are  found bright green snakes -- just as pretty as it possible for any snake to be. We never before saw or heard of such reptiles; think they have not been found elsewhere in the United States. There are different kinds of the same species, some having orange-colored bellies, while the remainder is green. The probability is that they are not venomous, as rattlesnakes are not found in the Hills, though they abound in the foot-hills. These green snakes attain about the size of the common garter-snake, and do not seem tenacious of life, a slight blow usually being followed by instant death.

Helena Weekly Herald, August 24, 1876, p. 8.

From the Daily Herald of August 22.

Arrived in the Black Hills.

The Helena party, composed in part of Seth Bullock, Sol Star and Doc. Carter, arrived safely at their destination -- Deadwood City. Carter bought a large, new building, 28 x 40 feet, shingle roof, wainscoted inside and handsomely painted, for the moderate sum of $1,400. Bullock & Star and McPherson & Miller secured and jointly occupy a building suitable for their wants, and opened up merchandising. Carter writes to Dan. Floweree that kinds of business is greatly overdone, and that a large number of idle people are scattered in the several towns along Deadwood, unable to get work and without visible means of support.

Hildebrand, Sutherland, and several other Montanians, have very rich claims, and are taking out big money. The majority of the diggings opened are wages and below. A large amount of ground along the gulch is still unopened. Jim Matkins has a good piece of property in a mining ditch. Carter thinks the camp promises to be a fair one, from all the information he could gain in the few days he had been there.

The following letter from Seth Bullock was printed in several papers, including in my source: 

Helena Weekly Herald, October 12, 1876, p. 13.


Letter from Seth Bullock.
Mr. Charles Warren, of Butte, received the following letter recently from the ex-Sheriff of Lewis and Clarke, familiarly known as "Bishop Bullock:"

DEADWOOD, Sept. 8, 1876.

"I arrived here August 3d, and found a 'red hot' mining town, situated at a point where Deadwood empties into Whitewood. The gulches are very rich; claims are all taken, and sold at high figures. Deadwood is the best gulch so far as known. Claims are 300 feet up and down, and extend from hill top across -- about as large as a ranch. The country is overdone, or rather men have come here too fast for the amount of work that can be done in one summer. A great many are here idle and broke. The Indians will not permit a man to go out side of the gulch, so that very little prospecting can be done. Crowds arrive and leave daily. Most all the travel is by way of Cheyenne. Fare is all the way from ten to thirty-five dollars; time from five to thirty days. Business of all kinds are represented. Langrishe has a theatre here, and two dance houses boom nightly. We have no law and no order, and no prospect of either. Several murders have been committed and nothing done. A night herd runs the streets at night, and whoop and shoot until morning.

"Nebraska farmers peddle flour, bacon and groceries from claim to claim, which makes the grocery trade dull.

"Denne is here. 'Sid Osborne' left for Montana a few days ago on biz. The country is full of Montanians. Chess Trais and 106 others arrived to-day. Tell your friends not to come here this fall--that is, those who come to work or prospect. I cannot advise you to come; on the contrary, I think you are doing better than you could here. Board here is $10 per week, flour $8 per hundred, bacon 20 cents per pound, etc., whisky 25 cents a drink. The Hills are too near the "genial influences" for times to be here as they were in Montana in '49 without other diggings are found. Two years will take the cream of this country. I don't believe it is any better for farming than Montana. We have a little more rain here, and as many grasshoppers. Sol Star is here and doing fair. I am satisfied to remain for a while. I shall go east this winter if you do. We have no regular mail. A coach is expected here daily. Let me hear from you with the Montana news. Your friend."


Next up: Ten Surprises I Encountered When Researching Deadwood.

Friday, May 24, 2019

Seth Bullock and the Stolen Election.

In response to the Deadwood movie being released on HBO on May 31, I have been posting newspaper stories from the early years of Deadwood. Here are links to parts #I, #II, #III, and #IV

Today I will look at the disputed election of 1878. 

Seth Bullock had been appointed Lawrence County sheriff in 1877. By court order, the office required an election, and in November, 1878 Bullock was the nominee for the Republican party ticket. His opponent was John Manning, Democrat, then sheriff of Lead City. The Democratic party in Lawrence County at that time was known for being corrupt.

As noted before, the Black Hills Daily Pioneer championed Bullock's candidacy, "Seth Bullock's long experience in discharging the duties of the office, both in Montana and Dakota, render him entirely competent and equal to any emergency," and portrayed Manning as a coward. "
The sheriff [Manning] in person pursued according to our gentleman who witnessed the whole proceeding, in a manner best calculated to aid the escape of the robbers." (Black Hills Daily Pioneer, October 27, 1878, p. 4.)

In an election day article as to "How they [the candidates] feel about now, the Pioneer said with customary pomposity and lack of clarity, "Seth Bullock's vote will take the mote from evil eyes whose planning will only seem to turn the beam away from Johnny Manning." The paper predicted, "Bullock's majority will surprise the minority."

The loser?

"Perishing gloomily,
Spurred by contumely,
Poor, weak humanity,
Tripped by insanity,
    This is his fate;
With hands crossed humbly,
As if praying dumbly,
    The crushed candidate."

(Black Hills Daily Pioneer, November 5, 1878, p. 4.)

1884 Map of the Lawrence County region surrounding Deadwood. Sturgis is to the east.

The preliminary results of the election were reported in the Black Hills Daily Pioneer, November 7th, pages 3 and 4.

At that time the election stood at Seth Bullock 1874 and John Manning 1941 with some ballots outstanding from Deadwood Precinct. Several oddities appeared in the precinct by precinct breakdown.

Partial returns from Galena showed Bullock losing 55 to 62. The final returns had Bullock losing 35 to 62, with 20 of Bullock's votes gone.

Partial returns from Rochford precinct showed Bullock leading by 45 votes. The final returns had Bullock winning, 31 to 22.

According to he paper, in South Deadwood, all of the votes were counted with the exception of "172 scratched republican tickets. "

And from the Sturgis City Precinct: John Manning 73, Seth Bullock 0.

Sturgis City, had been around for two years. It was originally named "Scoop City" for scooping up all of the business from nearby Fort Meade. Not only did Bullock fail to garner a vote, the voters were also unanimous for other Democratic candidates. The reports (mentioned below) painted this as corruption.

The final tabulations were presented in the November 9th edition of the Black Hills Pioneer. Seth Bullock 2446, John Manning 2485, with Manning winning by 39 votes.

Yankton, about 400 miles from Deadwood, was at that time the capitol of the Dakota Territories. They noted the claims of cheating.

Daily press and Dakotaian, Wednesday, November 13, 1878, Yankton, SD, p. 2:


Deadwood Times 7th.

If half the reports are true regarding the repeating, stuffing and illegal voting at Sturgis, that precinct will be counted out. It is said soldiers and transcient [sic] bullwhackers voted there as though they had been born on the spot forty years ago, and that some of the rounders voted early, often and late as though they had a license to do so.

Sandy, the Sturgis hack driver between Deadwood and that city says he saw one man cast three ballots within one hour, and can swear to it. Other parties, whose names we did not learn, report seeing the same thing done by other villains in that camp, and there is probably no doubt as to the truth of the existence of this demoralized condition of affairs at Sturgis on last Tuesday.

Seth Bullock was elected sheriff on Tuesday by the legal and qualified voters of Lawrence county, and the republican party should see to it that he is not defrauded out of his office by fraudulent and illegal votes. The election at Sturgis City was a swindle and faror, [sic] and there is enough evidence of a positive and direct and unquestioned character to throw the vote of that precinct out.

The severest penalties of the law should be applied and an example made of that precinct that will teach repeaters and illegal voters a lesson that will deter them hereafter from interfering to prevent the free and legal choice by the people of their county officials.


Back in Lawrence County, the Republican party requested a recount.

Black Hills Daily Pioneer, Tuesday, November 12, 1878, p. 1:

A Recount Asked For.

During the progress of the official canvass of election returns, yesterday, B.C. Wheeler, Esq., presented a petition asking a recount of the votes cast in Central, Golden Gate, and Lead precincts. Also a petition accompanied by four affidavits praying that the precinct of Sturgis city be thrown out.


The request was denied. Later that month, Bullock visited Yankton.

Daily press and Dakotaian, Saturday, November 23, 1878, Yankton, SD, p. 5:

Seth Bullock, of Deadwood, arrived last night from the Hills, and will remain for a few days. In reply to enquiries upon the subject, Mr. Bullock confirms our previous conclusions that the republican county and legislative tickets in Lawrence county were defeated by fraudulent proceedings on election day.


Manning would be defeated in 1880 and would win a second term as Lawrence County sheriff in 1882. Seth Bullock never again ran for office. 

Next entry: Some correspondences and dispatches from early Deadwood.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

1876 in Deadwood

With the coming of the movie, Deadwood, I have been posting newspapers stories from the 1870s concerning the personalities who appeared in history and on the television show. Here are links to parts #I, #II, and #III.

I'll continue to do this in this post, focusing now on the first monts of the Black Hills Pioneer. The Black Hills Pioneer (soon to be called the Black Hills Daily Pioneer and Weekly Pioneer) was started by A.W. Merrick, played in the series by actor Jeffery Jones, famous as the Austria-Hungarian emperor in Amadeus ("too many notes"), and as the principal in Ferris Buehler's Day Off. Joining A.W. Merrick in historical Deadwood (and not featured in the series) was W.A. Laughlin.

A.W. Merrick, 1925

The first issue  of their newspaper was published on June 8, 1876. The price of a single issue was set at 25 cents, with five dollars for an annual subscription.

Black Hills Pioneer, Thursday June 8, 1876, p. 1.


To all who see this paper, we wish to say that it is published under many difficulties, and that it is not what we intend to make it. It is an enterprise that has not a parallel in the United States, and still we hope to overcome all the untoward circumstances that surround us.

Our material to print this paper was transported in the depth of winter, almost 400 miles, and brought through and into a hostile Indian country, and in the first settlements made we have set up presses and set the type for this number of our paper.

As other enterprising men have done, we came here not to try the gulches or leads for gold, but to give to those who have work in hand the very latest news. We shall do everything in our power to bring the country of the Black Hills into civilization and to replace the nomads of the plains by a people of enterprise and determination, sufficient to make the great wilderness from Nebraska and Wyoming to the British Possessions the home of a happy and prosperous people.

In all our statements in regard to the mines or the agricultural or grazing advantages of the country, we shall say only what we know to be true, and our readers, wherever they may be, may rest assured that nothing will be given the tinge of romance.

We have come to stay, and we shall devote our entire time to the paper, and hope to make it acceptable to those who wish to learn what there is in the country.

Without great hopes, without unreasonable expectations, we push our craft into deep water, hoping for a fair voyage, but we do not believe that we shall avoid many of the ills incident to a profession that is not known to be always in a calm. With many troubles not incident to publishers in older communities, we intend to overcome them all; and finally, when this wild country shall become a state of the Union, we shall have the proud satisfaction of knowing that we have done our part in the mighty progress of empire.

[Same page, another article]


The Black Hills, if reports be true, comprise a favored region, teeming with the riches that men lust for. The most captivating tales are told of the nuggets that are nestling in the noks [sic] and crevices of that seemingly veritable El Dorado. No wonder, then that mechanics want to leave their shops, merchants their stores, lawyers and doctors their practice, and typesetters their cases and hie to the nugget-patches.

A.W. Merrick and W.A. Laughlin, two well known Denverites, have, after due refletion [sic] decided to start a newspaper in the Black Hills. Their choice of location will not be made, however, until after the several aspiring cities and camps in the gold belt have been carefully inspected. The outfit consisting of a power press, and type enough for a daily, if needed, and a tip-top job office, has already been shipped, and will be followed, or, rather, preceded by Mr. Laughlin who goes "to prepare the way." The material embraces such an assortment as will enable the proprietor to do all the printing in that region for years to come. These gentlemen have capacity, experience, and understanding, which, if rightly directed at the outset must lead on to fortune and the founding of, as its proposed name signified, The Pioneer newspaper of the new treasure-land.

Mr. Merrick took a hand in founding the Corinne Journal, and was afterward publisher of the Reporter, but has been of late years pursuing his old calling of typesetting at News office case. Mr. Laughlin, in order to embark in this scheme, was obliged to give up the foremanship of the Farmer office. Both proprietors are first-class workmen. We have thus noticed their undertaking at length because they are deserving of a good send-off -- Denver News.

A skin game is a swindle. This was one of the few news articles in the first edition that was unrelated to the newspaper itself.


We wore an air of sainty simplicity. His manner was unassuming. He came from the eastern states, and was anxious to dispose of some first class hams. He knew what they were, for he had cured them himself, (a fact which is undisputed). He went to a local merchant and engaged the attention of the manager, who bought the hams, weighed out the dust, and wished the stranger God speed as he departed. That merchant has now on hand a hogshead nearly full of stuffed, or saw dust hams.


On August 2, 1876, Wild Bill Hickok was shot to death by the cowardly killer Jack McCall. McCall was tried and acquitted as told in the following article.

Black Hills Pioneer, Thursday August 10, 1876, p. 1


On Tuesday Wild Bill Hickok was buried by citizens of Deadwood, who, although they had known him but a few days, were shocked and grieved by his brutal assassination by Jack McCall, the cowardly killer who was set free by a drunken and irresponsible group of men assembled as a jury for his trial.

Probably Hickok was the only man we have yet had in our midst who had the courage and other qualifications to bring some semblance of order to the lawless element of our camp. The fact that he was killed by one of the sorriest specimens of humanity to be found in the Hills is significant. This editor feels that the true reason for this cowardly killing is to be found in that fact.

The facts of the killing are as follows: Hickok was in the Saloon No. 10 engaged in a pocker [sic] game with three other men. For some unexplained reason he was not sitting with his back to the wall. This has been his ruel [sic] for many years, since his career of law enforcement had developed a long list of men who swore they would shoot him at the first opportunity.

After they had been playing for some time, among the men in the saloon, Jack McCall appeared and approached the table from a point behind Hickok. No one paid any attention to him and when he was directly behind Hickok's chair, McCall drew his gun and shot Hickok in the back of his head. In the confusion which followed he made his escape out the front door and down our Main Street, disappearing in the backs of the store buildings across the street. He was found a short time later and the trial immediately originated with he [sic] disgraceful ending which we have noted.


Some other atmospheric items are included in that day's paper.

Main Street is having a series of new walks. If lumber can be found it may be that we can walk with dry boots from one end of the town to the other. Bullwrackers, take notice -- keep your bulls off the sidewalks. Deadwood is becoming a real city.

A box of good Havanas were found by the robbers on the stage Tuesday night.

Fatty was so drunk on Saturday evening that set on the side of the road while the newsboys played leap-frog over him. He had just consciousness enough to say, "Down you grap-backs!"

Up next: Seth Bullock and the Stolen Election.