Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Upcoming Presentation

For those who are in the area, I'll be presenting "A Constant School of Excitement: Albert C. Ellithorpe and the Civil War on the Frontier" this Monday, September 28th at 6:00 pm. The lecture will be in the Baird Hall Performance Studio on the Rogers State University campus in Claremore, Oklahoma. Hope to see you there!

Sunday, September 20, 2015

Out West with Samuel Clemens

Typically I read one non-fiction book (often about the Civil War) and a fiction book. Recently, I finished reading Roughing It (1872), an autobiographical work by Samuel Clemens (Mark Twain) with some tall tales mixed in. After beginning it, I checked the chronology section in my Library of America edition and noticed that the book is about Clemens’ life from 1861-1866. So many young men were involved in the Civil War that it’s hard to believe that some, like Clemens, were able to neatly sidestep it. Well, that isn’t entirely accurate since he did serve in the Marion Rangers, a Missouri Confederate unit, however, that was for less than a month.

Soon afterwards he boarded a stagecoach with the newly appointed Secretary to the Nevada Territory, his brother Orion, and traveled far, far from the war. The book is an entertaining recounting of life in the Nevada Territory where everyone, it seemed, was engrossed with making, or trying to make, a fortune in the silver mines. Clemens employed tall tales and self-effacing humor in describing his unsuccessful attempts to make it big. After many pages, I had to ask myself…what about the War? It is a topic almost completely missing from the pages of his book. Was he trying to obscure the fact that he did not serve when so many other young men were in the military? Was the War really such a minor topic to those in the Far West? On the other hand, the book was a companion to his earlier Innocents Abroad (1869) written in a similar style.

His only extended story that related to the War is about Reuel Gridley, a defeated political candidate, who auctioned off in several western cities a sack of flour for the benefit of the Sanitary Commission. Clemens described the amazing enthusiasm at these auctions that resulted in raising an estimated $150,000 for the Commission.

If nothing else, the book shows some of the variety of wartime experiences and gives some insight into the life of one of America’s greatest writers. Four years after Roughing It came out, Clemens’ pen turned to Missouri with the publication of The Adventures of Tom Sawyer. In a way, Mark Twain had finally returned home.

Monday, September 7, 2015

Tahlequah: The Capitol of the Cherokee Nation

Recently, I went on a road trip to Tahlequah, Oklahoma, one of the most historic towns in the State. My first stop was Morgan’s Bakery in downtown Tahlequah where I succumbed to temptation and ate a glazed doughnut. Revitalized, I walked down the street to Capitol Square and tried to imagine what life was like there during the Civil War era.

My imagination was aided by an antebellum account. In the fall of 1841, Major Ethan Allen Hitchcock traveled to the Indian Territory to investigate charges of fraud in providing supplies to the Cherokees and the Chickasaws after their removal from the southeastern United States. On November 30, 1841, Hitchcock arrived in Tahlequah and wrote in his journal, “As we came in sight of the capital, I saw a number of log houses arranged in order with streets; or one street at all events, was clearly visible but the houses were very small. One house was painted: ‘The Committee sit there’; (some distance off) ‘to the left, the principal chief stays’—we saw a number of people. ‘There are cooks, public cooks we call them’ said Mr. Drew, ‘along those houses, meat etc., is furnished to them and they cook for the public. Everybody can go to the public tables. See there,’ said he, ‘you see some eating dinner.’ I saw some 20 at one table. ‘The nation pays the expense’” (pages 36-37).

Two years after Hitchcock’s visit, the Cherokee Supreme Court building was erected, and today it houses the Cherokee National Supreme Court Museum. The structure is one of the few surviving pre-war buildings in Oklahoma.

The log structures that housed many of the Cherokee Nation’s government offices were burned during the War and replaced by this handsome brick building in 1870. 

Bear in mind that the Cherokee Nation experienced much devastation during the War and in the postwar period was forced to give up some of its lands in the Reconstruction Treaties. The Nation, though, proved to be exceptionally resilient and rebuilt its society and government in the postwar years. By the way, the monument in front of the building honors Cherokee Confederate soldiers. Seeing this begged a question--why is there no monument to the Cherokee Union soldiers?

Citation for Hitchcock quote: Foreman, Grant, ed. A Traveler in Indian Territory: The Journal of Ethan Allen Hitchcock. Norman: University of Oklahoma Press, 1930 (reprinted in 1996).