JULY 2018

JULY 2018
One Hundred Years Later, Same Message. 1916 - 2017


Friday, June 15, 2012


I admit that eventually we must all bow to the will of genetics, even if we aren’t common cattle. And when you come up against a human family like the Smith’s of Glastonbury, Connecticut, any argument of nature verses nurture seems almost pointless. Zephaniah Hollister Smith graduated an ordained minister from Yale, but he gave it up because he did not believe in mixing prophets with profits. Allegedly he excommunicated his entire congregation, and they returned the favor. Swinging to the other extreme Zephaniah then became a successful lawyer. His wife, Hannah Hadassah Hickock Smith was a linguist, a mathematician and a poet, all the more amazing an achievement since she lived in the second half of the 18th century when women were little more than chattle. The couple shared a fascination for astronomy, a passion for the abolition of slavery, and five girls.
 First there was Laurilla Aleroyia Smith, born in 1785, who painted portraits in her own studio on Main Street in Glastonbury. She also taught French in nearby Hartford. Then there was Hancy Zephina Smith, born in 1787. She was of a mechanical mind. She built her own boat, and invented a machine to shoe horses. Then there was Cyrinthia Scretuia Smith, born in 1788 with a green thumb. She raised fruit trees, grapes, strawberries, and grafted her own varieties of apple trees. In her free time she was also a scholar of Latin and Greek literature. But the real revolutionaries were the two youngest girls.
They told a story about Julia Evelina Smith (born in 1792.) While trapped during a long stage trip with a Chancellor and a professor, both from Yale, “Miss” Julia was insulted when the two men began an animated conversation in French, ignoring her completely. After listening for several minutes, Julia spoke up, saying “Excusez-moi, mais je comprends le français.” Without an acknowledgement of her presence, the two men immediately shifted their discussion to Latin, whereupon Julia interrupted again; “Excuse mihi , EGO quoque narro Latin.” The intellectuals were appalled at the continued interruption and shifted to Greek, and Julia responded with “Και κατανοώ επίσης ελληνική". Finally the Chancellor spoke to the lady directly, demanding, “Who the devil are you!?”
Julia also spoke Hebrew, and had been conducting her own study of both the Old and the New Testaments. You see, she had expected the world to end in December of 1843, and was determined to find it why it had not. Her younger sister, Abby Adassah (born in 1797) was the quietest of the five, and much to everyone’s surprise (including herself) was perhaps the best public speaker of all. It seems a pity to point out that none of men in the area seemed to have been bright enough to garner any of the ladies’ interests in marriage.
It also seems a pity that of this entire family, all of them independently financially successful, intellectually powerful and culturally sophisticated, only the father, Zephaniah, was politically empowered. And when he died, on February 1, 1836, the richest, best educated family in central Connecticut, was no longer allowed to cast a single vote.
This oddity lay simmering beneath the surface until November of 1873. By now most of the female members of the Smith family had gone on to meet their maker, until only Julia, now aged 82, and Abby, now aged 77, were left to bear the Smith genetic code. It was then that the male officials of Glastonbury made the decision to raise the property tax assessment on the Smith farm by $100. The sisters would have no trouble meeting the obligation, but the increase bothered Abby, and she looked into it.
What she discovered was that in the entire town, only three properties had suffered the reassessment; the Smith farm, and the properties of two widows. Not a single male property owner had been reassessed. Abby was so incensed that she wrote a speech, which she delivered at the next town meeting. “…here, where liberty is so highly extolled and glorified by every man in it, one half of the inhabitants…are ruled over by the other half...All we ask of the town, is not to rule over them as they rule over us, but to be on an equality with them.”
Well, the male citizens at the meeting responded to the speech in the same way the Yale Chancellor and Professor in the coach had responded to Julia. They ignoed the little lady. So, the sisters decided more radical action was required. They announced that until they received representation (the right to vote), they would no longer submit to any additional taxation. Oh, they paid their property taxes each year, and promptly, but they refused to pay the reassessment.
In response the tax collector, Mr. George C. Andrews, seized from the Smith farm seven cows. The bovines were almost pets of the Smith sisters -  named, Jessie, Daisy, Proxy, Minnie, Bessie, Whitey, and Lily. The cows were valued well beyond the $101.39 additional tax bill. So the determmined sisters dispatched an agent to buy the beloved pets at auction, paying far in excess of the tax bill to save four of them. The remaining three were sold at auction, although I doubt they proved to be worth the price since none of the cows were willing to be milked unless Julia was present.
Meantime, the Springfield Massachusetts Republican newspaper reprinted Abby’s speech, and it was picked up and reprinted in newspapers nationwide. The story was even repeated in Europe. It was, wrote one newspaper, “A fit centennial celebration to the Boston Tea Party.”
In April Abby was denied time to speak again at the next town meeting. So she climbed on board a wagon out side and delivered her remarks from there, this time heard about equally by men and women. When tax time came around again, the sisters still refused to pay the additional assessment. This time Mr. Andrews seized 15 acres of Smith pasture, worth about $2,000. And this time he moved the location of the auction at the last minute, so the sisters could not even buy back their own land. The valuable property was bought by a male neighbor for less than $80.
In response the sisters sued Mr. Andrews in local court,  and they won. The court ordered the property (and the cows) returned to the sisters, and fined Mr. Andrews $10. The city appealed, and the case began the tortuous climb through the courts. In November of 1876, the old maids won at the Connecticut Supreme Court, and the city finally accepted it had been beaten by two lady spinsters.
Julia wrote an account of their adventure, “Abby Smith and her Cows”, published in 1877. That made the sisters famous, and they spoke at suffragette meetings until Julia’s death in 1878. Abby followed her in 1886. But women still could not vote in Connecticut until the 19th Amendment to the National Constitution was officially passed, in August of 1920. The Smith family home was finally made a National Historical Landmark, but not until 1974.
The history of the Julia and Abby Smith, and their cows ought to be considered by members of the modern Tea Party. In the Smith case it was the right to vote that was denied by the government. While in the modern version of the tea party it is the obligation of citizens to support their government which is denied. The problem is, one is directly connected to the other. In the former case, it was brilliance of mind and spirit that drove the two ladies to protest and win. In the latter it seems it is arrogance and selfishness that fuels the protest, and in the long run it is doomed to lose. He - or she - who holds the purse strings, holds the power. And you can advocate the destruction of the political system for only so long, because if you succeed, you lose.
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Wednesday, June 13, 2012


I hate to tell you this, but, contrary to common knowledge, we are the ones living in a “simpler time”, not our parents or their ancestors. We have E-mail, and I-phones and twitter and face-book and every other pseudonymous instantaneous electronic communication device which, with apologies to Socrates, proves that a life under punctuated is a life not worth being self-obsessed about. Sharing every naval-infatuated idea has become de rigueur for the Obama generation. There is no longer room for confusion or miss-interpretation, only for over-interpretation. And that makes the world much simpler.
For the first two million years of human evolution the limit to language was the sum of the speed of sound divided by the speed of walking, divided by the number, width and depth of rivers and oceans, and the height of mountains and width of deserts separating you from the persons you wished to speak to. Those kinds of obstacles and those kinds of delays made the world a very complicated place. When the Battle of New Orleans was fought on January 8, 1815, the War of 1812 had been over since the Treaty of Ghent had been signed on December, 24, 1814. That was three years you needed to refer to while talking about just one battle, because of the delays in communications. How much more complicated can you get than that?
Mail was the first invention in long distance communications. Cyrus the Great of Persia invented pony express riders to carry “words” to bind his empire together. According to Herodotus these civil service riders were so dedicated that “Neither snow, nor rain, nor heat, nor gloom of night stays these courageous couriers from the swift completion of their appointed rounds”; which is not the official motto of the U.S. Postal Service. The U.S. Postal service has no official motto.
The next major technical advance in communication didn’t come along until 1792, when Claude Chappe invented a ‘semaphone’ network in France. In his sales brochures he called it a “telegraph” (Greek for “far writing”). It required a series of towers spaced 20 miles apart, upon each of which were erected two moveable arms connected by a longer moveable arm. A Chappe telegraph operator repeated the 174 different combinations of arm positions to relay up to two words a minute. Although this was such a dependable system that the Swedes kept theirs running until 1880, Chappe never saw it turn a profit, for two reasons. First he threw himself down a well in 1805. And second, it never turned a profit. Worse yet, for Chappe’s family, he copyrighted every thing about his brilliant invention except the name.
In 1837 a failed Calvinist minister, a proslavery Federalist, a pedantic anti-catholic and anti-Semitic conspiracy freak named Samuel Fineley Breese Morse, co-opted the name for his “electronic telegraph” which he copyrighted from top to bottom, including the name. The first recorded “Mores Code” telegraphed was “A patient waiter is no loser”, in 1838; it was the dot and dash equivalent of “The quick bown fox”, etcetera. The more famous message, “What hath God Wrought”, was telegraphed as a publicty stunt in 1844 and was suggested by Anne Ellsworth from my home town of Lafayette, Indiana. She was married at the time to Mr. Roswell, who gave his name to the New Mexico town where, in 1947, space aliens attempted to communicate with humans. Their message appears to have been the alien equivalent of “Mayday, mayday, mayday.” But, so far nobody has answered that message. 
The perfect expression of this more complicated communication is the traditional or “snail” mail service. The complexities involved stagger the imagination. You write a letter, usually by hand. You take the letter to a collection point, a post office or mail box. A representative of the United States Postal Service (your stand in) then physically carries the actual letter to your friend’s home. There, your friend reads your words from the very paper you once held. It sounds fraught with opportunity for delays and errors, and it is. And yet it has worked in America for two centuries. And what is most amazing is that we expect it to work, and complain when it doesn’t.
As of 2009 the 656,000 employees of the USPS (as it likes to refer to itself) processed 667 million pieces of mail every day (7,700 every second). They generated $75 billion in fees and charges, which left them with a $2.8 billion loss. Still nobody (well, a few libertarian lunatics) are suggesting that snail mail delivery should cease. What a bunch of "Big Government" people these pro-mail people are.
The ultimate complication of this ultimate complication of expression was Parcel Post, in which individuals were encouraged to send not only words from one end of the nation to another, but goods as well. The service was started in 1912 as an attempt to encourage economic development in rural America.
The first flaw in the plan became visible when Postal authorities deemed it permissible to mail live chicks (in special containers) for 53 cents apiece. Now, farmers could order chicks from breeders and they would be delivered, cheaply and reliably, right to the farmer's front door. It was a great boon to the egg industry nationwide. But problems arose when some of the little cheepers in ever shipment died in their boxes en route, and the customers sought reimbursement from the Post Office. The rules denied the customer’s appeals, but they appealed anyway. What was not noticed at the time, was the fatal flaw in the logic of “live” parcel post.
The path to Parcel Post ad nauseam was first made visible on the morning of February 19, 1914, when Mrs. John E. Pierstroff of Grangeville, Idaho, loaded her four year old daughter, May Pierstroff (above), into the mail car of a train bound for Lewiston, Idaho, 55 miles away. A few moments later Harry Morris, the conductor, stumbled upon the little girl sitting quietly atop a pile of mail bags. Morris checked the 56 cents postage on the tag tied to May’s coat, and since the mother was no where to be seen, allowed the girl to ride in the mail car to Lewiston. There, mail clerk Leonard Mochel delivered May to her destination, the home of Mrs. Vennigerholz, the girl’s grandmother.
It was the beginning of a disturbing trend. Later that same year postal workers in Stillwell, Indiana accepted a parcel post box marked, “live infant”. They delivered the box to South Bend where the “package” was accepted and opened by the infant’s divorced father. Cost for the trip was 17 cents. The infant arrived safely. The next year a Pensacola, Florida probation officer shipped six year old Edna Neff to her father in Christiansburg, Virginia. The postage was 15 cents.
The public was unsettled by this mailing of children, since the percentage of child molesters amongst the population in 1914 was about the same as it is today. The negative publicity probably prevented another child mailing until 1919, when it appears a press agent for the Aluminum Company of America arraigned for the mailing of five year old Marmi Hood and four year old Evan Hedge to their respective fathers, who were locked down inside in the company’s plant in Alco, Tennessee, surrounded by union picket lines. After a two hour tearful visit, heavily documented by the company publicity department, the children were “mailed Special Delivery” back to the Alco, Tennessee Post Office, where their mothers were anxiously waiting for them. Postage for the stunt both ways was $2.26 cents. 
On June 13, 1920 The US Post Office Department issued new rules, announcing that children would no longer be accepted as a parcel post. The coda to this regulation, and perhaps a comment on the continued poverty in rural America even during the “Roaring Twenties”, was the C.O.D. package mailed to an undertaker in Albany, New York. It arrived on November 20, 1922, and carried no “return address”. In the box was the body of a child who seemed to have had died of natural causes. She was buried “...through the kindness of individuals” under the name of “Parcella Post.” How could you call such a world as that, "simpler" than ours? 
As you would expect from people living in such complicated times, the denizens of that ancient confusion were able to predict the problems and solutions faced by our current, “simpler", electronic age. It turns out the philosophical antithesis to twitter was written in 1854, not long after the Mores telegraph hinted at the self obsessed simplicity which was to follow. 
It was written by that old foggey, Henry David Thoreau. “Our inventions are wont to be pretty toys”, wrote Henry David, “which distract our attention from serious things. They are but improved means to an unimproved end…We are in great haste to construct a magnetic telegraph from Maine to Texas; but Maine and Texas, it may be, have nothing important to communicate.” And, what with the current Texas Governor advocating the re-secession of Texas from the union of states, it would appear that our modern politicians are leading the way by getting simpler and simpler all the time. 

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Sunday, June 10, 2012


I think, for all the pain and anxiety caused by James Reavis in the Peralta Grant scam, the most heinous crime he committed was what was he did to the woman known only as Sophia. She was an orphan, a woman and a Mexican in a sexist, racist culture. She had no family for economic or emotional support, no dowry to secure a supportive husband. She was adrift in the world, forced to face at an early age what we all must face in our adulthood, that we are largely alone in this world. And then, in 1877, she met a stranger on a train, who told her she had a physical resemblance to a noble family. And over the years this man continued to tease her with hint after hint that seemed to confirm her personal fairy tale. And then he swept into her life again, and offered to rescue her from the drudgery and poverty of her life and welcome her into a world of wealth and privilege. And all he asked in return was that she believe him and marry him.
She was working as a servant girl in a hotel in the Stanislaus River ferry crossing village of Knights Landing, California – about 20 miles north-west of Sacramento. The community was in decline, and the hotels and rooming houses were closing one by one. And the working class girl who had no past was facing a bleak future when James Reavis arrived on the Southern Pacific to rescue her. They were married on December 31, 1882. And in January, she was enrolled in a convent school, to train her in the social skills expected of a well born lady.
While the girl studied, Reavis journeyed to San Francisco. From Huntington and Crocker and other financial supporters he collected letters of introduction to several important Washington power players.
He also met with San Francisco banker Maurice Herr, who put up $25,000 to fund The Arizona Development Corporation. Where Reavis' Peralta Grant scam had only sought to fleece the people of Arizona, this corporation could fleece investors from all over the world. Reavis had finally learned the secret lesson of capitalism – a thief is a man who robs a bank, while a financial wizard is a banker who robs investors. At the same time James Reavis met with John W. Mackay, whose holdings in the Comestock Lode produced half of all the silver in the United States. Mackay wanted to get an inside track on the Peralta Grant, and offered to finance Reavis' Spanish research, paying him a stipend of $500 (the modern equivalent of $11,500). a month. It seemed James Reavis and wife and party, would be traveling to Spain in style
They stopped off in New York, where Reavis used his letters of introduction to bond with powerful Senator Roscoe Conkling, former Congressman and lobbyist Dwight Townsend and Bankers Henry Potter and Hector de Castro. A few weeks later the party boarded ship for Spain; the reprobate ex-lawyer Cyril Baratt, the short, violent thug Pedro Cuervo, the newly minted lady, Baroness Sophia Peralta, and the new version of James Reavis with the new name – James Reavis -Peralta, Baron of Arizona.
Once again, luck was with Reavis. His party arrived in Spain at the perfect moment. The 27th year old Alfonso XII (above - aka “The King without good fortune:) was entering his 10th year on the throne, his monarchy having been restored at the end of December 1874. The theory of noble blood was de require in Spain, and onto this stage entered the long lost royal cousin, the lovely, regal Sophia Peralta, and her charming, debonair paramour, the man who had rescued her from commonality, James Reavis-Peralta. The public and the nobility were both primed to see her as she saw herself, a fairy tale come true.
Reavis made his tour of the great cathedrals of Madrid. The civil government of the municipios had only been recording births and deaths since 1831. Everything before that, christenings and deaths and weddings, would be found only in the many cathedrals, Iglesia de San Andrés or the San Pedro el Viejo for example. It took weeks before James was able to discover the codicil to the will of Don Miguel's will leaving the Peralta grant to his only surviving daughter, Sophia. 
When he was not laboring alone over the ancient dusty documents, Reavis-Peralta was wandering through the second hand shops and flea markets, buying the occasional paintings or daguerreotype of a forgotten nobility which had lost its fortune during the brief Republic before Alfonso's restoration. James picked those which struck him as bearing a resemblance to Sophia, those which might have been her ancestors. And in his weaving of her tale, they became her ancestors. And the living members of Peralta family were as willing to believe that this rich American had discovered their long lost distant cousin, as Sophia was. Wasn't she graceful? Didn't she carry herself like a baroness? You do not learn those things in a Catholic finishing school. True nobility is born with grace and culture. And Sophia was obviously born of noble blood.
In December of 1885 the King, Alfonso XII, fell ill with tuberculosis. His last words were, “What a struggle. What a struggle!” He was succeeded by his pregnant wife, Queen Maria Christina. Her son, and the new king, would not be born until five months later. By then, the delightful Baroness Sophia Peralta and her gracious American husband were so well accepted by the nobility, they were even presented to the Queen. In a cloud of fond farewells, the noble couple returned to America, arriving in New York in November of 1886
As they say, everybody loves a winner, and the Peralta brand was clearly winning. On their return to N.Y.C., they received the endorsement the powerful Missouri Republican James Broadhead, who endorsed the claim, referring to James Reavis-Peralta as, “a man of remarkable energy and persistence." Republican Senator Roscoe Conkling vouched for the validity of the claim, and said he believed Sophia “to be the person she believes herself to be...the lineal descendant of the original grantee.” Back in California in 1887, James was able to add to his list of supporting documents a testimonial from Alfred Sherwood, of San Diego County, who swore he had known Sophia all her life and her parents as well.
In August, the Peralta's journeyed by Southern Pacific train to Arizona. And fortuitously, while pausing in Phoenix, they took a carriage ride into the mountains, and stumbled across yet more evidence, the very Inicial Monument”, the great stone Don Miguel had carved his family crest upon when first coming to the grant in 1758 – wasn't that lucky. James even posed Sophia next to the carving, and included it in his new claim filing, in Tucson on September 2, 1887. Now his claim was simple and direct. He was the grantee, by benefit of his marriage to the direct ancestor of old Don Miguel Peralta Doña Sophia Micaela Maso Reavis y Peralta de la Córdoba, third Baroness of Arizona.
James Reavis-Peralta now formed the Casa Grande Improvement Company to exploit his land. He issued stock, which sold $3 millions, based on plans to build a massive damn on the Salt River, which would allow irrigation systems to make the desert bloom. But for all his plans, James barely paused in his fortress at Arizola. They had built or bought homes where their investors lived – San Francisco, St. Louis, New York and Chihuahua, Mexico. It was while in New York City that Sophia adopted a two month old orphan and named him Fenton, after James' father.
It looked as if the land commissioners in Arizona had little choice to approve the grant, and make James Reavis a millionaire and Sophia a fairy tale princess. And I have no doubt that would have happened – except for one man – the Surveyor General for Arizona, Royal Johnson.
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