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Posts Tagged ‘Civil War’


Dan Evans is a man for whom nothing has seemingly gone right. In the Civil War he lost the lower half of a leg, creating a hitch in his step. His compensation from the government for his loss was $198 and change. He was deeply in debt to a land baron who couldn’t wait to get his hands upon it. That man had stopped up the water source so Dan’s cattle were dying. It just wouldn’t rain.

Image result for 3:10 to yumaThen there were the family issues. He bore the shame of his war wound, and his hardship. He felt the failure, sensing that even the people he loved looked down on him. Shame has a funny way of doing that. His older son did look down on Dan, and let him know it in that arrogant jerk teenager kind of way that makes us cringe when we realize we were like that once. His younger son had TB, so he was stuck in the Sonoran desert of Arizona for the boy’s health.

They said grace before meals. They spoke of God at times, so there is some background of faith. But when Dan is finally honest with Alice he says “God’s not giving me any breaks.” Like many of us defeated Dan saw God as hard and unyielding. Beneath his veneer, defeated Dan was just as hard and unyielding as Arizona’s sun-baked dirt. Others saw him as stubborn, but he saw it as a lack of options.

3:10 to Yuma PosterThe arrival and arrest of the notorious criminal Ben Wade provides the opportunity Dan thought he needed to turn his life around. At least his financial situation. He thought the money he could get from bringing Wade to Contention to catch the 3:10 to Yuma and the prison there would enable him to hold on until the train comes through and his property becomes worth something.

And so began his temptation in the wilderness. Ben is like the devil personified. He quotes the Scriptures, Proverbs in particular, when it suits him.

13 Whoever despises the word brings destruction on himself,
    but he who reveres the commandment will be rewarded. Proverbs 13 (ESV)

Others have rightly considered this movie (story) as an extended meditation upon Proverbs. Elmore Leonard, who wrote the short story, went to a Jesuit school and may have intended this as something of a morality play.

Image result for 3:10 to yuma

Ben Wade was personable, when he wanted to be. He was a silver-tongued seducer who lulled one into complacency until he strikes in deadly fashion. Sound familiar? His handgun had the nickname The Hand of God and a crucifix of sorts on the handle. As we see Wade work his way through the posse he very well could the the instrument of judgement by God upon them for their own sins. He actions weren’t just, but they were deserved. And brutal.

All the while he tested and tempted Dan. He studied him, revealing just enough about himself to get more information out of Dan. He looked for the weakness that would get Dan to let him go free. He tried to discover Dan’s price because everyone has a price.

Catch that though. While he kills everyone else, he’s looking to “save” Dan’s life. Rather than kill him he wants to bribe him. He slowly uncovers for us the struggle in Dan’s soul for people to see him differently. Dan didn’t simply want to get the money, he wanted freedom from his shame. If he got the reward money it was icing on the cake. If he could live to enjoy it … even better. The hunger in Dan’s soul was not to get rich but for his son to see him differently- not as broken down & defeated Dan whom he looks down upon.

This is all the more important because William had once again disobeyed Dan and followed the posse. To add insult to injury, it is William who snuck up on Ben Wade to prevent him from killing the posse and making off. He did what his dad seemingly couldn’t do.

Jesus was relentlessly tempted by the devil in the Judean wilderness after His baptism. Here Dan was relentlessly tempted by a devil in the Arizona wilderness. Like Jesus, Dan will have none of it. Unlike Jesus, his reasons were not pure and noble. But Wade saw a conscience, a soul and a remnant of goodness though he himself had none.

Image result for 3:10 to yumaRedemption for Dan comes at the cost of his life. This devil’s right hand man, Charlie Prince (of darkness?) cuts him down before Dan can enjoy the glory and money he has earned (with Ben’s help). And then the Hand of God strikes one last time.

3:10 to Yuma reminds us that we live in a world filled with temptation. The very things we seek may very well destroy us. While Dan thought some about his ways, he forgot that the fear of the Lord is the beginning of wisdom (a common theme in Proverbs). As they hole up in a hotel room in the aptly named Contention awaiting the train, Dan and Ben see the storm clouds. Rain has come to far off Bisbee. God did come through for Dan, but he didn’t have the patience to wait. Because Dan thought he had to save himself, he never got to enjoy God’s gift. His sacrifice would bring blessing to his family, but also impoverish them of a husband and father. It was worth it to Dan, but likely not to Alice, William and Mark. Men, sometimes the sacrifices you deem worth it for your family are the ones they can least endure, a theme also explored by Breaking Bad.

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It has been a difficult year or so, so a deacon left a book on my desk for “vacation reading”. It was The Last Gunfight: The Real Story of the Shootout at the O.K. Corral- And How It Changed the American West. This was a book I’ve seen in looking for other historical books on the American West. It looked interesting to me, and I had planned on buying it. It is also of local interest to me since we live about 90 miles from Tombstone.

Virgil Earp

The author, Jeff Guinn, begins the morning of the shootout in his prologue. The night before there had been a long poker game which included Virgil Earp, the police chief. During the night Ike Clanton had gotten into an altercation with Wyatt and Doc Holliday, threatening them. Virgil’s assessment at the time was that Ike needed to sleep off his drunken rage. Ike was known to be lots of talk and little action. Clanton was tied to the Cowboys, who rustled cattle in Mexico (among other places)and Clanton allowed them to fatten them up on his land.

“Much of history results from apparently unrelated dominoes tumbling over one another.”

Location of Louisiana Purchase

Louisiana Purchase

Guinn begins with his book explaining the West including the political and social climates at work. He begins with Daniel Boone and the quest for land in the West. American territory was expanded by the Louisiana Purchase, the freedom and statehood of Texas, and the Gadsden Purchase. The earliest settlers were mountain men or trappers, individuals wanting space and isolation. The first big wave of settlers was largely people looking for find land to farm since most of the land in the East was not available. Some wanted a new start, and even a new name because they were running from the law. Most of the early settlers were from the North and had a more Republican view of government. Prior to the Civil War, gold and other precious metals were discovered and a new wave of settlers, mostly men went west in search of a fortune. With the trains and statehood for Kansas came the Buffalo hunters.

After the Civil War, many from the South went west to escape the Yankees and their more restrictive government. With railroad towns in Kansas, herds of longhorn cattle began to be driven up north to supply meat to the east coast. Those town thrived on the business, selling booze, sex, gambling and food to the weary cowhands.

This population shift meant conflict at times as Democrats moved into territories run by Republicans. Most deaths in the westward movement were from disease (90%), particularly cholera. Fewer than 400 people were killed by Indian raids on wagon trains. Of course, if that was your wagon train it didn’t seem statistically insignificant. Unless they were married, women were frequently prostitutes hoping to find a partnership, which was difficult when you sell your body for a living. They often turned to drugs like morphine and laudanum.

The West was not an easy place to live. But we also see some similar political and social tensions today: trouble on the border with Mexico, differing political philosophies, drug and alcohol abuse, sex trafficking and some violence.

Most of the cowtowns prohibited guns in the city limits. This meant most fights were fistfights. The idea of the old West with gunfights breaking out is erroneous. Gun violence was mostly in the form of ambushes, not duels to discover the faster gun.

James (Sir not appearing in the films) Earp

Tombstone was mining town, as well as the territorial seat. That meant there were plenty of miners hoping to strike it rich who came and went. There were tunnels under the town. There were saloons with gambling to blow off steam or relax after time in austere conditions. There was also a Red Light district with prostitutes. The sheriff, John Behan at the time, collected taxes particularly from the saloons and bordellos. Wyatt hoped to run for sheriff which offered an excellent salary. Virgil kept the peace, and sometimes his 3 brothers (Wyatt, Morgan and James who ran a saloon) helped out.

Guinn then shifts to the Earp family, obviously with a focus on Wyatt. His grandfather Walter and father Nicholas passed down a heritage of restlessly seeking success and position. Most of the Earp brothers suffered from this malady. Wyatt often exaggerated his accomplishments and overlooked his failures. He was endlessly seeking fame and fortune, which typically eluded him.

After the death of his first wife, Wyatt was a bit wild. He was accused of crimes. While he fled jurisdiction, his alleged accomplices were found not guilty. He was known as a “bummer” in Illinois- generally a lawless person. He was connected with brothels and arrested and fined a few times.  We are uncertain whether he was a bouncer or a pimp. Eventually he was mostly straightened out, spending his time in Kansas in law enforcement, as a bounty hunter and a buffalo hunter for stretches.

Wyatt and his brothers were very mobile in search of wealth and position/power.

Wyatt Earp

Wyatt met Doc in Fort Griffin Texas while trying to hunt down some railroad robbers. Doc had left his dentistry practice due to tuberculosis. Both men were not easy to get along with, and they weren’t immediately friends. Later, when Wyatt was back in Dodge, Doc showed up hoping to make money off the Texans who had herded cattle to Dodge. Wyatt had shot a Texan and a mob of undetermined followers sought to kill him. Doc came to help Wyatt out and their friendship was born. Wyatt was loyal to a fault, and this was true with Doc who came with lots of baggage. He seemed to have a death wish, never backing down from confrontation even though he was not a big or strong man.

Guinn shifted his attention, and ours, to the founding of Tombstone as a mining town. In the next chapter about the Earps’ arrival he has accounts of how filthy it was. The winds blew constantly, covering everything in dust. Sanitation was an issue, particularly in light of the animals. Rats infested the town. The population growth was rapid, but amenities began to pop up so people enjoyed good meals. With the trains now stopping in Tucson, many items were now available to be shipped in.

One of the dangers in the area was the Chiricahua Apache. They would make raids to get supplies. Most of those raids were into Mexico, but people lived in fear of what might happen. Since many people in Tombstone came from Texas there was a fear of Native Americans and prejudice against Mexicans.

Doc Holliday in Prescott AZ.jpgWhile Virgil caught on as a Deputy Marshal, Wyatt’s plans initially fell through. Eventually he became a Deputy Sheriff to bide his time until he could become sheriff and enjoy the money and position that came with it. Virgil was building relationships with the town’s powerful in his position. The Earp’s wives, especially those who were formerly prostitutes and generally common law wives, were not accepted by the city leaders and kept to themselves.

With the reformation of the Texas Rangers, many of the outlaws aka cowboys were pushed out of Texas. Many of them moved to New Mexico and Arizona to continue their generally lawless ways. They weren’t anti-social so much as anti-government and the wealthy. They focused on rustling cattle, primarily from Mexico, which they could sell to feed the growing populations of places like Tombstone and the growing military presence. Among those who arrived in Tombstone were Curly Bill and, separately, Johnny Ringo.

“As the frontier contracted and crimes such as rustling began attracting more notice, “cowboy” became a generic term to describe habitual thugs or lawbreakers.”

These men were not like the cow hands Wyatt was used to dealing with. Those men would head back to Texas shortly after the drive was over and once the money was spent. The cowboys remained in the area, and hard feelings would grow. Incidents with some of the ranchers who allied with them also fostered the bitterness that culminated in the famous gunfight.

“Wyatt understood cards much better than people. He was expert in calculating the odds in poker games, but had little comprehension of the infinite number of ways in which human beings try to get even.”

His problem was not just the cowboys, but also his rival for the position as the new sheriff of the newly formed Cochise County. The political tension between Republicans and Democrats had led to a voter fraud problem for the sheriff of Pima county. Wyatt had quit to take sides with the Republican. He even talked a jailed Curly Bill, who’d accidentally shot and killed the marshal, into admitting the fraud on account of the Democrat but the case got caught up in appeals. Behan was skilled in politics, but Wyatt was not. Behan played Wyatt and got the appointment. He displayed his savvy political nature by having Curly Bill help collect taxes instead of robbing his deputies.

“As far as the Earps were concerned, John Behan had lied to Wyatt, and an insult to one brother was taken as an attack on them all. They never forgot or forgave.”

Soon there was an attempted coach robbery that resulted in the death of the driver and a passenger. When the one robber they caught escaped from Behan’s jail, the sheriff spread the rumor that the Earps and Doc Holliday were involved despite the robber fingering other cowboys. Tensions grew. Wyatt’s plans kept coming up empty. With water appearing in mine shafts, the days of mining were numbered as well. Nearby Bisbee was becoming a better investment and growing. The summer heat of 1881 was unrelenting- the town was a powder keg of broken dreams and pent up frustrations.

After a fire burned down 4 square blocks, and squatters descended upon the now empty lots, the chief of police left town under fire. Virgil was named the temporary chief, and 6 days later made the permanent chief of police, added to his role as deputy marshal. His by the book methods led to a number of arrests to clean up the town under pressure from the town leaders.

“The cowboys still did not think of themselves as criminals. They had rowdy fun north of the border, and taking Mexican cattle was pleasant business rather than theft because Mexicans had no rights.”

Behan’s cooperation with the cowboys now threatened his position as sheriff. His window of opportunity came when an angry, drunk “Big Nose” Kate Elder swore Doc had been part of the robbery. If he could get Doc convicted before the election, he might keep his job. But when the charges were dropped after investigation, Behan experienced more embarrassment.

JohnnyBehan.jpgBehan had romantic issues too. He never kept his promise to marry Josephine, and kept getting caught with other women. With his political clout dropping, she began to look for another future. The man she set her sights upon was Behan’s political and professional rival: Wyatt Earp. Meanwhile Wyatt knew that if he actually captured the coach robbers and killers, he’d raise his chances to win the election. He approached the local ranchers Hill, Clanton and McLaury with a plan that would net them the reward (secretly) and him the glory. The plan failed when it was discovered that two of them had been killed in New Mexico.

This failed conspiracy led directly to the gun fight. Clanton was afraid the cowboys would discover his betrayal. He kept accusing Wyatt of telling others, including Doc. The argument the night before was about that issue.

The chapter on the actual gunfight covers the events that morning that led to it. Fear, political pressure, pride and the attempt to save face in front of others and other additives created the deadly cocktail that resulted in Clanton’s brother and two McLaury brothers being killed, while Virgil and Morgan Earp were wounded.

Guinn then moves into the inquest and trial in which the Earps were exonerated. This triggered the attacks on Virgil and Morgan in subsequent months. While they shot and killed Morgan in the billiard parlor, their shots missed Wyatt. An angry, vengeful Wyatt would form a posse and kill three cowboys over the next week, including Curly Bill. For killing Frank Stilwell by the train station in Tucson, Wyatt and his posse were wanted for murder.

As Guinn examines the following years and how the mythology of the old west developed, stories like this were sanitized. In fact, there weren’t many white hats and black hats. The men were all flawed and driven by a variety of sinful motives. The men involved in the events of Tombstone scattered as the town struggled and legal problems mounted. It all seems so inglorious rather than the triumph of good over evil that is often portrayed.

This was a very interesting book to read. He reveals the ambiguities for us, stripping away the mythology or veneer that has obscured the real events from our view through books, TV shows and movies that distorted reality and sometimes just plain ignored it.

I’ll end with the words that end the book:

“Historian John E. Ferling has observed that “events by themselves are unimportant; it the perception of events that is crucial,” and Earp mythology may be the best proof of how perception trumps fact and history is subsequently distorted. The October 26, 1881 shootout on Tombstone’s Fremont Street was an arrest gone wrong and the result of complicated social, economic, and political issues that left eight men dangerously mistrustful of each other. In a very real sense, the confrontation did change the West; because of national publicity regarding the subsequent trial, it became clear that, in the future, on the remaining frontier the rule of law would ultimately be enforced by the courts rather than gunplay, Wyatt’s subsequent actions on the Vendetta Ride notwithstanding. But many have come to consider it an ultimate showdown between clear-cut forces of good and evil, when Wyatt Earp and Doc Holliday defined the best of the wonderful Old West- and America- by shooting down the Clantons (Virgil, Morgan and the McLaurys have faded into supporting roles). …

“As for Wyatt Earp, who was  both more and less than his legend insists, we can feel certain of this: He would be pleased by the way everything turned out, except for the face that he never made any money from it.”

 

 

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On a previous vacation I read Shot All to Hell by Mark Lee Gardner which was about the final robbery of the James-Younger Gang. Having enjoyed it greatly, this year I decided to read his book To Hell on a Fast Horse: The Untold Story of Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett.

This is a slight misnomer since Billy the Kid is dead by page 175 of 260. The last 90 or so pages deal with the remainder of Garrett’s life with the positives and negatives of having been the one who killed Billy the Kid.

It is also appropriate in that Billy, a horse and cattle thief and murderer, was dispatched without notice and apparently unrepentant. To adapt a popular phrase, he who lives by the gun shall die by the gun. Garrent, an atheist, was ambushed and killed, also apparently unrepentant. I don’t think Gardner intends to make a theological statement, but does nonetheless.

It is a good read and I enjoyed it. Billy the Kid is largely a ghost prior to the Lincoln County War. We can’t even be positive of his given name. Gardner tracked it all down as best he could. He portrays Billy as an oddly charismatic person for whom ordinary life found no allure. He was content to steal from others, manipulate others, and if he couldn’t charm his way out, kill others. Like the book on the James-Younger Gang, I thought it would make the basis for a very interesting movie, as long as they don’t give it the Young Guns treatment.

Pat Garrett was another man who found no allure in the ordinary life. He ended up with a badge and developed the reputation of a man hunter. He was a gambler and adulterer who, while parlaying his fame into high positions including a tax collector on the border under Theodore Roosevelt (perhaps I’ll read Gardner’s book on the Rough Riders next year), died deeply in debt. He was a polarizing man who appeared to have a hard time maintaining friendships. Some, based on rumors, thought him cowardly for never giving Billy a “fair shot”. Would you give such a man a “fair shot”?

This the story of two men on different sides of the law, but the same side of sin & grace. If you have any interest in the old West, this would be a great read for you. Gardner is not trying to glamorize these men, but does acknowledge our nation’s propensity to do that. It has done it with Billy the Kid, and he mentions that one of the biographies of Billy was found in the back seat of Bonnie and Clyde’s car after they were shot to death.

These two books did make me wonder about the influence of the Civil War on this period in history. It was very clear in the book about the James-Younger Gang since they fought in the war as guerilla fighters. The connection is less explicit in the events surrounding Billy the Kid. There may be more of a “spirit” that affected the post-war generation. Some of the minor figures in this book served. But there was a brutality that could not help but affect the larger society, particularly those who moved west. It makes me wonder about our society today, and the effect the Post-9/11 conflicts have had on us. Is that part of why we see an increase in violence? I don’t know but it is worth considering as a part of the picture (there is also the reality of Romans 1:18ff that weighs heavily).

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I wish I had more time to read books on history and historical events. There are so many topics I want to learn about. But when the title of your book is Shot All to Hell, you go to the top of the queue. Mark Lee Gardner likes to use “hell” (or h-e-double hockey sticks as Radar used to say) in his book titles. I’ll have to get his To Hell on a Fast Horse which is about Billy the Kid and Pat Garrett. Here Gardner tackles the attempted robbery that ended the James-Younger gang.

I saw this book last winter while wandering SkyHarbor airport while CavWife and kids ate breakfast before they went east for a vacation. It intrigued me, so it ended up putting it on my wish list and got it Christmas (thanks, CavWife!). As a result I read it while on my Christmas vacation. I’ve been a bit busy so I’m finally getting to this.

“They excelled at deception- they had to.”

Gardner notes that it presents a peculiar difficulty in writing about outlaws since lying is a way of life for them. Their own testimony in books, newspaper articles and to friends tends to be unreliable. He looked at other eyewitness testimony as well. This may be as close to the truth as we’ll get to the Northfield Raid.

He begins with the Rocky Cut train robbery which has been attributed to the James-Younger gang to introduce us to them. His point? They knew what they were doing, which makes the failed robbery in Northfield all the more interesting.

“Before September 7, 1876, the James-Younger gang had never been challenged, denied, or defeated.”

If they had high school yearbooks then, they would not have been voted “Most Likely to be Famous Criminals” or infamous criminals. They appear to have come for generally good homes. The Younger family was wealthy enough to have slaves prior to the Civil War, and they were “well-schooled, church-going Missourians.” The James brothers grew up as the sons of “a cultured, college-educated Baptist minister.” They too owned slaves.

That is important because both families supported the Confederate States in the conflict. This is what changed everything for both families. Both families suffered at the hands of Kansas jayhawkers. The sons would meet as part of the Quantrill Raiders where they became familiar with  bloodshed and utilizing guerrilla tactics. The war hardened them, and the South’s defeat set the stage for their life of crime which they seemed to view as vigilante justice.

“Circumstances sometimes make people what they are,” Bob once said. “If it had not been for the war, I might have been something, but as it is, I am what I am.”

The book is quite entertaining. I often pondered what it would be like to put together as a movie. As with the real story there are explosive bursts of excitement including the failed robbery and shootout, and then the gunfight that resulted in the capture of the Younger portion of the gang.

Woven into the story is the story of the man Jesse hoped to kill in Minnesota- attorney Sam Hardwicke. Hardwicke was instrumental in a Pinkerton raid that intended to apprehend the James’ boys but resulted in the death of young Archie. This is part of what drove the gang to MN in the first place.

The story brings in the advances in safes that made life difficult for the erstwhile robbers. Gardner also delves into the conflicts and arrogance of the men leading the search for the gang. He also notes the conflicts within the gang, particularly Jesse and Cole Younger’s struggle for power.

It is a story of violence, near misses, second chances and imprisonment. It is a fascinating story, and Gardner tells it, usually, in a very interesting manner. The details of their escape makes you wonder if they wished they’d just been captured in the first place. It was, at times, that unpleasant.

If you like history, and tales of the old west, this is the book for you. Circumstances shape and mold us, opening us up to particular temptations. Sometimes they help us make excuses for ourselves. You will see in them your own tendency to justify your own indiscretions. Lastly you see that sin has a bitter price, and you will pay it eventually.

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The rather lengthy Gods and Generals (216 minutes) is part of an even lengthier trilogy of films about the Civil War (aka the War Between the States and the War of Northern Aggression, depending on where you went to school).  This first installment focuses on the life and role of Stonewall Jackson.  It concludes 2 months prior to the battle of Gettysburg with his death after taking friendly fire.

It focuses primarily on the Southern perspective of the war, though Lt. Colonel Chamberlain (Jeff Daniels) provides a brief glimpse of a Northern perspective- and a far more philosophical one.  The Southern perspective was that the North sought to violate their land and oppress them.  Jackson’s allegience was to the State of Virginia, and what she decided he would do.  They neglect to mention anything about the initial aggression of the Confederates at Fort Sumter.  They think the Republicans as war profiteers, and Abraham Lincoln as a war monger who seeks to disrupt their civil, gentle lives.

Very surprising was an exchange between Jackson and his cook, a free African-American, after they prayed.  Mr. Lewis prayed for the freedom of the rest of his family.  Gen. Jackson told him many Conferate leaders wanted the slaves freed.  Hmmm.  So which state right were they fighting for?  Wasn’t it the right to maintain the enslavement of others?  The cook could see the contradiction.  The cook could see the gap in Stonewall Jackson’s piety.  But Stonewall couldn’t see it.

Chamberlain expressed these very sentiments.  The South saw itself as fighting a second war of independence.  But that freedom was limited to white citizens, what people like President Lincoln where trying to change.

Chamberlain talked about God periodically, but there was not glimpse into his personal piety.  Jackson would pray at the drop of a hat.  He had a very warm piety- but the acting of those scenes seemed outside the realm of my experience.  I just have to wonder if the writers and director were people of faith- because the way it was written & directed made it feel foreign to them.  Like a white guy trying to be black- it just doesn’t work.

The movie had 3 lengthy battle scenes: the battles of Manassas, Fredericksburg and Chancelorsville.  They were not gory.  You certainly got the impression that the Union leaders had no concern for their men.  In battle men will die, but you should implement a strategy that gains victory at minimal cost of life.  They would march their men into strongly fortified killing fields.  God shall hold them accountable too.

If you are interested in a movie about the Civil War, there are better.  This was long, laborious and leaned toward propoganda.  I had to watch it in 3 sittings, and though some scenes were quite touching, overall it seemed too much like Gone with the Wind with flowerly language and bold statements.  Having said all that, I may now be forced to return north of the Mason-Dixon line.

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