AUGUST   2020


Friday, January 15, 2010


I would say that Bertrand Snell is a shinning example of the “Peter Principle”. Bertrand (above, with his ideological opponent, FDR) started out life as a bookkeeper. Then he successfully ran a cheese factory and a lumber company in upstate New York. He was well qualified to fill both of those jobs. For awhile he was the president of a small college. This success led, in 1915, to Bertrand being elected to Congress. In 1931 he became the Chairman of the Republican National Committee. That led, in 1932, to his being elected Minority Leader in the House of Representatives. And that made him the primary architect of the disaster that befell the Republican Party the first time they ran against the New Deal. In short, it was Bertrand Snell’s fault. Of course, he had some help.

Herbert Hoover not only lost the 1932 Presidential Election but he lost it by almost 18 percentage points. His ineffectualness at dealing with the Great Depression (the stock market crash occurred 6 months into his first term) was so obvious that Herbert won only 6 states – Pennsylvania, Delaware, R.I., Vermont, New Hampshire & Maine. And yet Herbert still had hopes he could engineer a come back, even though the New Deal had created six million jobs, had doubled industrial production and sent corporate profits from a $2 billion loss under Hoover to a $5 billion profit under Roosevelt.

On June ninth 1936 Herbert addressed the Republican Convention in the Public Auditorium in Cleveland, Ohio, and did his very best to rally the faithful to his cause. As Time Magazine detailed, “After 15 minutes (of) yelling, shrieking (and) hooting, (Hoover) was allowed to begin. …"Fundamental American liberties are at stake. Is the Republican Party ready…to cast your all upon the issue?" "Yes!" roared the crowd….".. have you determined to enter in a holy crusade for freedom which shall determine the future and the perpetuity of a nation of free men?" "Yes!" roared the crowd, in ecstasy.” The faithful went on chanting “Hoo-ver, Hoo-ver, Hoo-ver,” long after Herbert had left the stage.

Noted Time Magazine; “The demonstration could not be stopped for half an hour, even when Speaker Snell tried to introduce a little old lady, surprisingly pert for her 77 years, the widow of President Benjamin Harrison.” Finally Bertrand banged the big gavel and informed the crowd that Herbert had already boarded a train for New York. The floor demonstrations paused for a breath and quickly petered out.
Except, Herbert had not even left the building. He was waiting off stage to be recalled by the carefully prepared demonstrations and proclaimed the nominee by acclamation. What Hoover did not know was that Bertrand had already determined that the party nomine would be Governor Alf Landon, known affectionately to the faithful as “The Kansas Coolidge”  - a moniker certain to inspire the base. Still, there were reasons to be optimistic about the governor.

Alf was the only Republican governor re-elected in 1934. He had a reputation as a fiscal conservative who cut taxes and balanced the state budget. That made him the Republican wonder-kinde, the perfect man to oppose the “tax and spend” Roosevelt.

There were a few problems with that image, of course. First, Landon balanced the Kansas budgets because he was required by law to balance them, and even that had been possible only because the New Deal had kicked in millions of dollars to offset the state deficits. Secondly, Alf publicly supported parts of the New Deal, so many parts that he was at odds with the Republican party platform. And the third problem with his choice as the nominee was that Alf was a terrible public speaker. He mumbled. And like any good mid-westerner even when speaking clearly he didn’t blow his own horn very much. As H. L. Mencken noted, he "simply lacks the power to inflame the boobs."  

The party platform had been engineered by Bertrand and forty-four year old John Daniel Miller Hamilton, the “crinkly haired” “jut-jawed” G.O.P.’s general counsel, who reeked of “animal vigor.” Hamilton was actually paid $15,000 a year to be the parties’ attack dog. He was described by one fellow Republican as having, “…a seven-devil lust to live and shine under the blessings of the rich”. Hamilton made Alf's nominating speech, and then read a telegram from the Governor promising to support the anti-New Deal platform, which Hamilton had helped to write.      

Said the platform; “For three long years the New Deal Administration has dishonored American traditions…has been guilty of frightful waste and extravagance, …it has created a vast multitude of new offices, …set up a centralized bureaucracy, and sent out swarms of inspectors to harass our people. It has bred fear and hesitation in commerce and industry, thus discouraging new enterprises, preventing employment and prolonging the depression….We pledge ourselves: To preserve the American system of free enterprise, private competition, and equality of opportunity.. We advocate: Abandonment of all New Deal policies that raise production costs, increase the cost of living, and thereby restrict buying, reduce volume and prevent reemployment. …”. To read the Republican platform you would have thought the nation was in much worse shape after the New Deal, than before.

Bertrand had a master plan for victory, funded by a $14 million war chest ($207 ½ million in today's dollars), with over a million dollars of that coming from just three families – DuPont, Pew and Rockefeller – and the rest almost entirely from business leaders anxious to prevent further Federal regulations of their business.

And then there was “The Liberty League,” described by one historian as “…the best-financed and the most professionally run…anti-big-government organization ever to come down the pike.” The League raised and spent as much cash as the two established parties combined (30% of it coming from the DuPont family alone). Its national headquarters occupied 31 rooms in the National Press Building and there were 20 state branches. Hamilton confessed later, "Without Liberty League money we wouldn't have had a national headquarters."  

The campaign that followed saw the constant Republican repetition of attack. The New Deal became “The Raw Deal”. Franklyn Delano Roosevelt became “Stalin Delano Roosevelt”. William Randolph Hearst asserted in a pro-Landon editorial, “The Bolshevist tyranny in Russian has ordered all bolshevists, communists and revolutionaries in the Untied States to support Roosevelt!" It all sounds so familar, doesn't it?

 In late October 1936 the Republican National Committee sent checks for $5.00 to 400 black pastors in Maryland, along with a letter, which began, “Dear Brother,” and then argued that the G.O.P. had always done more to help blacks than the Democrats had.

The Young Republicans organization was founded during this election, to get out the youth vote. And fashion shows were staged to encourage women to support the party. Every show would start with a woman wearing a wooden barrel on suspenders, marked, “If The New Deal Wins”, followed by lovely models in Paris designs, marked “If Landon Wins." Women were expected to be swayed by such "fashion politics".

However, it appears that most Americans saw all of this Republican effort in the same light as FDR did, as illustrated by a story Roosevelt wrote himself for a speech he delivered in Boston. “In the summer of 1933 a nice old gentleman fell off a pier. He was unable to swim. A friend ran down the pier, dived overboard and pulled him out. But his silk hat floated away with the tide. After the old gentleman was revived he was effusive in his thanks. He praised his friend for saving his life. Today, three years later, the old man is berating his friend because the silk hat was lost.”
The election of November 3, 1936 was the most lopsided since James Monroe ran unopposed in 1820. Eighty-three percent of eligible voters showed up at the polls and Roosevelt won almost 61% of their vote. He carried every state in the union except Vermont and Maine, giving rise to the Democratic twist on the old adage, “As Maine goes, so goes Vermont”.
Roosevelt won 532 electoral votes to Landon’s 8. Seventy-one percent of Black Americans voted Democratic, as well as 57% of women, 63% of men, 76% of low income voters, 80% of Catholics and 86% of Jewish voters. After the election the Democrats held the Senate, 75-16, and the House contained 332 Democrats to just 88 Republicans. Things would get even worse for the Republicans in the next few years. John D. Hamilton would say after the election, "The Lord himself couldn't have beaten Roosevelt in 1936, much less the Liberty League."
Maybe; but the election was the death knell of the Liberty League. They lingered into 1940, when the DuPont family finally pulled their funding, and the group then quietly died. Long before that John Hamilton had his own reactionary reckoning. In 1937 Hamilton's wife sued him for divorce, on the grounds of “gross neglect of duty, abandonment and extreme cruelty.” That same year Alf Landon had Hamilton removed as Party Chairman, as Landon rebuilt the party in his own Midwestern less reactionary less idelogical image.
Under Landon's non-red baiting non-FDR hating guidance the party stopped trying to overturn the New Deal and began to climb its way back. The Republicans would gain strength until 1948 when it looked like they were certain to regain the White House. But in that campaign they gloated too much about finally overturning the New Deal, and that public gloating handed Harry Truman his re-election. It was not until Ronald Reagan in his 1981 inaguration speech that the G.O.P again openly called for overturning the New Deal programs.

And Bertrand Snell, the Minority Leader of House of Represenatives? He had been one of the few Republicans re-elected in 1936. But he did not run again in 1938. Instead, he went into the newspaper business. He published the Potsdam, New York "Courier-Freeman" and ran it until 1949. He also became the owner of the New York State Oil Company. He was ably qualified for both of those jobs. He died in 1958, while a Republican had finally reoccupied the White House.  But even Dwight D. Eisenhower was a RINO in some eyes. He was accused by the Republican right wing of running a "little New Deal", still just about the worst insult a Republican could imagine.
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Wednesday, January 13, 2010


I suppose the way these three men crossed paths could be called fate, or kismet. To label it a mere chance encounter could be seen as denigrating the life of one who died and the one who killed him. And, yes, there were great invisible social forces guiding events that hot summer night, and cold blooded economic factors as well. But there was also poetry, and the wild card of alcohol. But in 1878 when a “rather intelligent looking young man” named George Hoyt, a young vaudevillian named Eddie Foy, and a young assistant sheriff named Wyatt Earp collided in Dodge City, Kansas, they made history.

Dodge City owes its fame to a tiny tick, the Boophilus microplus, which carries anthrax. The tick and the disease were endemic amongst the herds of Texas Longhorns, which had developed a resistance to the fever. But in 1868 anthrax on imported Longhorns killed 15,000 cattle across Indiana and Illinois. So as the sod busters plowed across Kansas they insisted the state restrict the rail heads for Texas cattle drives further and further from their farms.

In 1876 the demarcation line was moved to the 100th meridian, which made the town on the north bank of the Are-Kansas River, the new “Queen of the cattle towns”, the ‘Wickedest Little City in America’, "The Beautiful, Bibulous Babylon of the Frontier": Dodge City, Kansas.

Like the other ten to fifteen cowboys in his crew, George Hoyt had just ended two months of hard, dusty, dangerous and monotonous work. He now had $80 cash money burning a hole in his pocket. And it was the business of the merchants of Dodge City to separate George from as much of that cash as possible before he left town. In essence Dodge City was a tourist trap, dependent for its yearly livelihood on the May through August ‘Texas trade’.

The little town of less than 1,000 year-round citizens could boast, during the season - June to September - 16 saloons. And south of the “deadline” (Front Street, which bordered the tracks of the Atchison, Topeka & Santa Fe railroad) it was worse. On the wrong side of the tracks there were assorted brothels and dance halls where “anything goes”.

All the bars served the latest mixed drinks and ice cold beer, and enticed customers with a piano player or, in the case of the Long Branch saloon, a five-piece orchestra. The cavernous Ben Springer’s Theatre “The Lady Gray Comique” (com-ee-cue), at the corner of Front and Bridge Street (modern day 2nd Avenue), was divided between a bar and gambling parlor in front and a variety theatre in the back.

In July of 1878 the Comique featured an entire vaudeville show headlined by “…that unequalled and splendidly matched team of Eddie Foy and Jimmie Thompson.”Eddie Foy had been dancing and clowning in Chicago bars to feed his family since he was six. He was now 22, and this was his second swing through the western circuit, telling such local jokes as “What's the difference between a cow boy and a tumble bug (a dung beetle)? One rounds up to cut, and the other cuts to round up”. Hilarious. Eddie had an appealing V-shaped grin, and a comic lisp, which he offered each night in a solo rendition of the plaintive homesick poem, “Kalamazoo in Michigan”

At about 3 A.M. on Friday, July 26th, while Eddie was just beginning his reading, George Hoyt and several of friends were leaving the Comique. They saddled their horses at a nearby stable. Then, since no one was allowed to wear guns while in town, the cowboys buckled on their gun belts and mounted up. As they rode up Bridge Street on their way back to camp, they passed the Comique. George suddenly wheeled his horse and returned to the side of the theatre.

George pulled his six shooter and banged out three quick shots into the side of the building.

According to Eddie Foy, inside the hall “Everyone dropped to the floor at once, according to custom.”  Amongst the crowd of 150 gamblers and poetry aficionados in attendance was lawman Bat Masterson and gambler Doc Holiday, both of whom, according to Eddie, beat him to the floor. “I thought I was pretty agile myself, but these fellows had me beaten by seconds at that trick.” The Dodge City Globe agreed. “A general scamper was made by the crowd, some getting under the stage others running out the front door and behind the bar; in the language of the bard, “such a gittin up the stairs was never seed”. Observed Bat Masterson, “Foy evidently thought the cowboy was after him, for he did not tarry long in the line of fire”.

But in George Hoyt’s impulsive decision to blast away at the Comique, he had failed to notice two men lounging in the shadows on the sidewalk. One was Jim Masterson, younger brother to Bat and a fellow city deputy. The other shadow was legendary lawman Wyatt Earp.

Wyatt on this night was 30 years old. He stood about six feet tall, weighed about 160 pounds. He had pale light blue eyes. But what friends and opponents remember most about Wyatt was his manner. The editor of the Tombstone Epitaph would later note his calm demeanor, saying he was “…unperturbed whether...meeting with a friend or a foe.” Bat Masterson described him as possessing a “… daring and apparent recklessness in time of danger.” But those were later descriptions. On this night Wyatt
did not seem legendary at all.

After serving in an Illinois regiment during the Civil War Wyatt became a teamster between the port of Wilmington, outside of Los Angeles, and the desert mining town of Prescott, Arizona.  He had then managed houses of prostitution in Peoria, Illinois for several years, before becoming a lawman in Wichita, Kansas. He lost that job in 1874 for embezzling county funds, which he probably used to finance his education in gambling.

Moving on to Dodge City along with the railroads, Wyatt was hired again as a police officer. But he took time off to travel Texas and Dakota Territory to continue his schooling in poker and games of chance. As a “cop” in Dodge City Wyatt's fame did not extend beyond stopping spit ballers disrupting an evening’s performance at the Comique, and his recent slapping of a prostitute named Frankie Bell.

For the incident Frankie spent the night in jail and was fined $20, while Officer Earp was fined $1. But the incident made clear that the nominally bucolic Wyatt Earp would not sit idly while his honor or his life was insulted, not even by a woman.

So when George Hoyt began blasting away in the dark, Wyatt made the immediate assumption that the cowboy meant to kill him. As George galloped his horse back up Bridge Street, Wyatt drew his own weapon and fired after the fleeing cowboy; once, and then a second shot. The second bullet hit Hoyt in the arm.

Bat Masterson claimed years later that George Hoyt fell from his horse, dead on the spot, but that seems embellishment. Bat, as we now know, was on the floor of the gambling parlor. His brother Jim was outside standing next to Wyatt, but he never spoke of the shooting. But other accounts agree that the two lawmen ran up the street together after Hoyt.

Given the lack of adequate street lighting in the frontier cattle towns of 1878, as he rode up the street Hoyt would have soon disappeared in the dark. And that makes it seem likely that Bart got that much right; Wyatt fired only twice. And George Hoyt just wasn’t fast enough in escaping. The cowboy fell from his horse, and either from being shot or from the fall, he broke his arm. Wyatt and Jim Masterson ran after Hoyt, and after he was disarmed him, they sought out Dr. T. L. McCarty to treat the wounded cowboy.

The Globe commented that George Hoyt “…was in bad company and has learned a lesson “he won’t soon forget”. He didn’t. Gangrene set in and the cowboy died a slow and foul death, passing at last on Wednesday, August 21st, 1878; 26 days after Wyatt shot him. The Legendary Wyatt Earp had killed his first man.

Eddie Foy would later claim that his suit, hanging back stage, was punctured twice by the gunfire, but that too seems an embellishment. The Dodge City Times said the bullets went through the theatre’s ceiling.

Eddie Foy went on to a successful career on the vaudeville stage, appearing for several years with his children in an act billed as “Eddie and the Seven Little Foys”. He was the last of the great vaudeville entertainers before the advent of film, and so is almost forgotten today. Eddie Foy died of a heart attack in 1927 at the age of 71.

In September of 1878 a cattle broker and gunman named Clay Allison came to Dodge looking for a showdown with Wyatt Earp. One story told is that Allison was a friend of George Hoyt’s, and was looking for revenge. But again there was no classic street shoot out. It seems that Wyatt sensibly stayed out of sight until Allison left town, despite Wyatt's later stories to the contrary.

In 1879 Wyatt and his brothers moved on to Tombstone, Arizona. There, in October of 1881, he took part in the infamous Gunfight at the O.K Corral, which in fact was a gangland brawl which occurred in a vacant lot down the street from the rear entrance to the O.K. Corral. But none of that reality stopped the fight from becoming the most famous twenty seconds in the American West.

Wyatt remained a professional gambler all his life and died in Los Angeles of a chronic bladder infection at the age of 80 years, in January of 1929. He is mostly portrayed today as a hero, mostly it seems to me because he had no aversion to spinning tall tales and because he was that true rarity, a gambler who usually won.

After the railroads penetrated south Texas in the mid 1880’s the need to drive cattle a thousand miles to Kansas came to an end. And with it the “Queen of the Cattle Towns” became just another small American town of some 25,000 people. It’s connection to its past is the Dodge City Cargill packing plant, whose 2,500 employees can slaughter up to 6,000 head of cattle a day, turning them into four and a half million pounds of meat shipped all over the world.

That was always the unpleasant underside of Dodge City. The town depended for its fame and fortune upon the death of so many.

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Sunday, January 10, 2010


I would say that John C. Fremont is proof of Garrison Keillor’s observation that, “God writes a lot of comedy. The trouble is, he’s stuck with so many bad actors who don’t know how to play funny.” And that was why God created Charles Preuss.

The 27 year old Lt. John C. Fremont first met the 39 year old Charles Preuss just before Christmas of 1841. Fremont was an impulsive egomaniacal young officer with a character flaw, described succinctly by author Ferol Egan as : “He lacked character.” Typical of his spontaneous nature was Fremont’s hiring of the methodical and dour cartographer on the spot simply because the middle aged father of two was broke.

But if Fremont had rescued this European urbanite from poverty, he had also sentenced Preuss to five months of intensive labor, trapped in the wilderness with a lunatic, i.e. Fremont. The straight man and his second banana had met.

“We set out on the morning of the 10th (of June, 1842)”, wrote Fremont, as his 21 men left the site of present day Kansas City, seeking to map the eastern half of the Oregon Trail. The expedition was “well armed and mounted, with the exception of eight men, who conducted as many carts, in which were packed our stores, with the baggage and instruments…” Once truly upon the sea of grass Fremont waxed poetic. “Everywhere the rose is met with…It is scattered over the prairies in small bouquets, and, when glittering in the dews and waving in the pleasant breeze of the early morning, is the most beautiful of the prairie flowers.”

The same terrain failed to find the poet in Mr. Preuss, writing in German for his personal diary. “Eternal prairie and grass… Fremont prefers this to every other landscape. To me it is as if some one would prefer a book with blank pages to a good story….I wish I were in Washington”. And always hovering over Mr. Preuss there was the energetic and annoying commander. “There was such a hurry this morning, that Fremont became angry when my horse urinated. He whipped its tail when it had only half relieved nature.”

In Fremont’s record the expedition seems triumphant over any obstacle. “We reached the ford of the Kansas late in the afternoon of the 14th…(it) was sweeping with an angry current. The man at the helm was timid on water, and in his alarm capsized the boat…”

The timid man at the helm was, of course, Preuss, who blamed his near drowning on the decision to chance the current. “It was certainly stupid of the young chief to be so foolhardy where the terrain was absolutely unknown.” Unaccustomed to horseback, Preuss’ thighs quickly became chapped and Fremont ordered him to ride in a cart. But the Prussian was not grateful. “I have bruised my nose in this cart because of the bumpy road….I miss my wife.” A few days later Preuss insisted on halting to sketch a distant cluster of trees, until the forest moved. He had spotted the expedition’s first herd of buffalo.

This became the occasion for a feast described by Fremont (“At any time of the night might be seen pieces of the most delicate and choicest meat, roasting…on sticks around the fire”) and by Preuss (“We start with the bullion which is, of course, not skimmed off. If one could eliminate the dirt it would be a delicate broth. The marrow was too raw and too fat for my taste, the ribs, likewise, too raw”) It is almost as if they are on separate picnics.

On July 10th Fremont notes, “For a short distance our road lay down the valley of the Platte, which resembled a garden in the splendor of fields of varied flowers, which filled the air with fragrance.” Meanwhile Preuss struggled to learn the art of survival from men like scout Kit Carson. “I have decided to imitate one of our hunters by keeping my shirt on my body until it falls off.” But experience eventually led him to a happier solution. “I was lucky to engage one of the men to do my laundry.” Still, by Fort Laramie in present day Wyoming, Preuss is wearing two pairs of pants at a time “…so that one can cover the holes in the other.”

In mid August, with Preuss having mapped the south pass through the Rockies, Fremont picked a mountain almost at random and draged the party on a six day, five night exertion through snow and ice to the peak.

"I sprang upon the summit, and…fixing a ramrod in a crevice, unfurled the national flag to wave in the breeze where never flag waved before….We had climbed the loftiest peak of the Rocky mountains, and looked down upon the snow a thousand feet below; and, standing where never human foot had stood before, felt the exultation of first explorers.” It was an inspiring moment, soon to be recorded in paintings and poetry, but as Preuss suspected, Fremont had not climbed the highest mountain in the Rockies. He had not even climbed the highest mountain in Wyoming. But he took the time while on the summit to insist his freezing companions suffer through to a speech.

And only then was Mr. Preuss allowed time to read his barometer and sketch the landscape. Then, Preuss groused to his journal, “As on the entire journey Fremont allowed me only a few minutes for my work….After about fifteen minutes we started on our return trip.” On the way back down the mountain in the dark Preuss fell and tore his only pair of pants. He began to refer to Fremont as “The Field Marshal”.

On October 10th, the expedition returned to the mouth of the Kansas River, and by the end of October Fremont and Preuss were back in Washington. In spring of 1843 Fremont’s report was released (AN EXPLORATION OF THE COUNTRY LYING BETWEEN THE MISSOURI RIVER AND THE ROCKY MOUNTAINS…), and “touched off a wave of wagon caravans filled with hopeful emigrants” heading west. Fremont became famous as “The Pathfinder”, even though all the paths he had found were already found, and it was Preuss who had drawn the maps of them.

But Preuss’ diary would not be translated and published until the 1950’s. And only then would it become clear that John C. Fremont, long ago written off as a pompous self promoter, was actually one of the funniest writers in American history. As a social commentator once observed, “Life is full of second bananas. But they are never really funny without a straight man.”

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