Tuesday, August 22, 2017

The Story Behind the Story: Police Escort

By Richard Prosch

Something a little different this month.

Rarely do my stories find such a strong basis in a historic event, and even more rare that I switch genres before calling it finished.

But that's what happened with "Police Escort," a western story that started out as a noirish crime story based on a newspaper clipping.

Back in the '90s, Gina's family cleaned out an old house and found several copies of the St. Louis Globe-Democrat. Unlike a lot of the dobber-filled detritus of the place, the papers were clean and well preserved. I kept them and, every now and then, flip through the pages--always surprised by what I find.

A few years back, I came across this headline from August 8, 1949: Father Races Mysteriously Ill Baby Here in 454-Mile Drive.

The idea of a man and his wife racing across Missouri to save a sick baby--with the aid of law enforcement--seemed incredible.

And oddly suspicious.

Within a day or two, I wrote this story.

I liked it well enough, but the more I thought about it, the more ludicrous Billy's predicament seemed.  I wanted to have more fun with him and what better way than to dump him back into the 19th century Nebraska Sandhills.

I often think that if a story is solid, it can be set in just about any time or place and work out.

So the setting changed and the western version became the final, published version, first in an ebook collection, then in the paperback omnibus Tough Job at Driftwood.

The setup is the same, but the characters turned out to be quite different, as did the ending.  
Please take a gander and let me know what you think.

Here's the crime story version of Police Escort, seen for the first time ever.

After growing up on a Nebraska farm, Richard Prosch worked as a professional writer, artist, and teacher in Wyoming, South Carolina, and Missouri. His western crime fiction captures the fleeting history and lonely frontier stories of his youth where characters aren’t always what they seem, and the windburned landscapes are filled with swift, deadly danger. In 2016, Richard roped the Spur Award for short fiction given by Western Writers of America. Read more at www.RichardProsch.com

Monday, August 21, 2017

Rank Insignia of the Civil War and the Army of the West—Officers by Gordon Rottman

Rank Insignia of the Civil War and the Army of the West—Officers

This is a continuation of an article published month before last, which covered enlisted men's rank insignia. This article addresses commissioned officers rank insignia used in the Old West and during the Civil War--both Union and Confederate. The article also briefly addresses infantry and cavalry regimental organization. This provides a glimpse at what duty positions were held by officers and NCOs. It also provides an idea of how these units were organized so that you can talk about regiments, squadrons, battalions, troops, and companies if necessary for your story. If you have any questions, give me a shout.

There were three broad categories of commissioned officers. “Company grade officers” included 2nd and 1st lieutenants and captains. “Field grade officers”—because they constituted what was known as the regimental “field and staff”—included majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels. “General officers” included all the various general grades, sometimes called “flag officers” as they were authorized an identify flag displaying their authorized number of stars—white stars on a red banner regardless of branch. There was an unwritten unofficial Army rule, as so many were, that declared: Lieutenants may not marry, captains may marry, majors should marry, and colonels must marry.

Post-1872 US Army officer rank shoulder straps. All rank insignia were silver except for majors, which were gold.

2nd and 1st lieutenants together were addressed at Lieutenants, captains as Captain, majors as Major, lieutenant colonels and colonels both as Colonel, and all general grades as General.
Shoulder straps were 4 inches long and 1-3/8 inches wide bordered by 1/4-inch wide gold braid. The wool background was of the branch color, but general officers used black backing regardless of their previous branch. Two wire-embroidered rank insignia adorned each shoulder strap except for the colonel’s single eagle and the one to four stars representing the general’s specific rank. Medical officers wore black backing too, but with a silver Old English M.S. for Medical Service. After the Civil War staff officers too wore a black backing although officers temporarily seconded to general staffs retrained their branch color.
During the Civil War 1st lieutenants wore a gold bar, one near each end of the strap. 2nd lieutenants wore no insignia on their straps. Captains wore two gold bars, one pair near both the strap’s ends. The gold bars became silver in 1872. Majors wore a gold oak leaf and lieutenant colonels a silver one near the strap’s ends. Colonels wore only a single spread-winged silver eagle. Brigadier generals displayed one silver star, major generals two, lieutenant generals three, and generals four. (It would not be until 1917 that 2nd lieutenants’ received a gold bar as the shoulder straps were no longer worn on field uniforms, only on blue dress uniforms.)
From lowest to highest, general ranks were:
Brigadier general—one star. Commanded brigades.
Major general—two stars. Commanded divisions.
Lieutenant general—three stars. Commanded corps.
General—four stars. Commanded armies.
Some may ask why does a lieutenant general outrank a major general? In this instance lieutenant means a “deputy” to a “full general” (four-star) in the same manner that a lieutenant governor is the deputy of the governor. These same officer rank titles and similar insignia are still in use today by the Army, Marine Corps, and Air Force.

shoulder boards
Union and post-Civil War Officer shoulder straps or boards. Left column top to bottom: cavalry 2nd lieutenant, artillery 1st lieutenant, Medical Service captain, and staff major.
Right column top to bottom: staff lieutenant colonel, infantry colonel, brigadier general, and major general.
Rightmost shoulder strap: lieutenant general. A full general (not pictured) would have four stars.

The Confederate Army used the same officer rank titles as the Union, but drastically changed the insignia. Gold-colored insignia were worn on the coat collars rather than on shoulder straps. 2nd lieutenants, 1st lieutenants, and captains displayed one, two, and three stripes, respectively. Majors, lieutenant colonels, and colonels wore one, two, and three five-pointed stars, respectively. General officers, regardless of their specific grade, all wore three stars, the center one being slightly larger, and surrounded by an oval wreath. Often simple tin cutouts of bars and stars were used. These insignia were outlined in branch colored edging according to regulations, but in practice were often devoid of colored edging. The coat collar and cuffs were to be faced in the branch color as was the front opening’s piping. Such branch color dressings were seldom available though.

Confederate States Army officer rank insignia. Gold insignia with branch color edging (not shown). Additionally, the collars themselves were faced in the branch color, but this was not always worn, especially late in the war.

Basically the infantry company’s 1st and 2nd lieutenants—these were duty positions as well as rank titles—each commanded one of the company’s two platoons. Captains commanded companies/troops/batteries. Colonels commanded regiments (the title derives from the Italian colonna and means “of a column,” and, by implication, “commander of a column.” The regiment’s second-in-command was the lieutenant colonel and the major was the third-in-command adding the colonel in the command of his units. A regiment might be subdivided into two temporary battalions with the lieutenant colonel and the major each commanding one.
It must be pointed out that in both war and peacetime that the rank of an officer commanding a given unit might be one or even two ranks below the authorized rank, for example, many regimental commanders were lieutenant colonels.

Image result for civil war infantry regiment organization
The rank and duty positions within a full-strength Civil War infantry regiment of 10 line companies. In reality the actual effective field strength was typically 200-600 officers and men. The Adjutant and Quartermaster were usually lieutenants.

Formation and Strength of a Cavalry Regiment, 1876
                        Field and Staff.                                                Company Formation.
1 Colonel.                                                              1 Captain.
1 Lieutenant Colonel.                                           1 First Lieutenant.
3 Majors.                                                               1 Second Lieutenant.
1 Adjutant (extra Lieutenant).                              1 First Sergeant.
1 Regimental Quartermaster (extra Lieutenant).  6 Sergeants.
1 Sergeant-Major.                                                 4 Corporals.
1 Quartermaster’s Sergeant.                                  2 Trumpeters.
1 Chief Musician.                                                  2 Farriers and Blacksmiths.
1 Saddler Sergeant.                                               1 Saddler.
1 Chief Trumpeter.                                                1 Wagoner.
                                                                              54 Privates.
__                                                                          __
12                                                                          76
                        Twelve companies, 76 each ---------------------------------- 912
                        Field and Staff --------------------------------------------------  12
                                    Total ---------------------------------------------------- 924
The rank and duty positions of an 1876 cavalry regiment of 12 line companies—also called troops. The three majors allowed the regiment to be organized with up to three battalions—also called squadrons—or to command detachments at distant posts. A battalion could contain three to six companies. They were not necessarily of equal strength, but organized for specific missions. Effective strength on the frontier could easily be 200 fewer than authorized.

This final bit of information may be of use to writers when writing narrative and dialog. It was required to salute an officer before and after addressing or when addressed by an officer. If mounted the soldier was required to dismount before addressing a dismounted officer. When addressing an officer soldiers were told to make their statement in as few words as possible. When dismissed the soldier saluted, told one step backwards, turned and departed.
It was required to speak to officers in the third person, e.g., “Does the Captain wish his horse saddled this morning” or “Trooper Brown would like to speak to the Lieutenant about his pay allotment.” Once a conversation commenced it was not necessary for the speaker to use third person, but “I,” “me,” or “my” when referring to himself. The officer, however, was always to be addressed third person and never as “you.” Enlisted men were never to address officers by their rank in the first person, “Lieutenant, may I…”. Instead, one would say, “Sir, may I…”.

Friday, August 18, 2017

The Indian Civil War, Part One

Troy D. Smith

The Civil War in the American West does not get a lot of attention compared to the events east of the Mississippi, even though a lot of very significant things happened out there. I would argue that even less is known by the average American about a specific part of the West: what we now know as Oklahoma, and at that time was Indian Territory. In fact, the average person (though this does not hold true for many of those reading this post) is surprised to learn that there were American Indians fighting in that war. In organized military units, and in uniform.

When those interested in Western history do think about Indians during that conflict, they think of more “traditional” circumstances: the U.S. Army (and sometimes the Confederate Army) fighting Apaches and Navajos in the Southwest, Comanches in Texas, Cheyenne and Arapaho in Colorado, Sioux in Minnesota. Those things happened, but I’m talking about North vs. South.

Roughly a quarter-century before the war, the “Five Civilized Tribes” of the American South (Cherokees, Creeks, Choctaws, Chickasaws, and Seminoles), along with some smaller groups, had been removed west of the Mississippi, many of them against their will. There they re-established themselves, setting up governments and working to repair the rifts that had grown within their tribes by the experience. Among all five tribes –but especially the Cherokees and the Creeks –there had been bitter division during the removal period, with one faction in each tribe wanting to remain in their ancestral homeland and a second faction accepting the government’s deal for land and signing the treaties that led to the whole tribes’ removal. Those in the first group often viewed those in the second group as sell-outs, even traitors, and in both tribes some of the individuals who signed the treaties were killed by members of their own nations. Among the Cherokees, famously, these two factions were the Ross Party (loyal to Principal Chief John Ross, and unwilling to leave their homes) and the Ridge Party, also known as the Treaty Party (led by Major Ridge, his son John, and his nephews Elias Boudinot and Stand Watie). For several years after removal, the Cherokees engaged in an unofficial civil war of their own, with a lot of bloodshed, until finally the two factions –and a third faction which had accepted the government’s terms much earlier and come West –came together again as a unified Cherokee Nation.

A lot of folks also don’t know that the Five Tribes had, by the 19th century, adopted the American-style plantation slavery, also called chattel slavery, buying black slaves in large numbers. Many of those who made the brutal winter trek known as the Trail of Tears had been the black slaves of the Cherokees.

The two factions of each tribe, one acquiescing to removal and the other resisting it, can be classified along other lines, as well. Those who were willing to “take the deal” also tended to be what I call “Modernists,” individuals who were willing to adopt (white) American ways of doing things in order to adapt to their new reality. These Indians often dressed and spoke like their white neighbors, and many operated small businesses. They also were usually the ones who used chattel slaves.

The other faction of each tribe, which had resisted removal for as long as possible, were what I shall refer to as “Traditionalists.” While they may have made some changes, such as no longer wearing the old top-knot hairstyles, they had held on to as many traditional ways as possible, and often spoke little or no English. They tended to live up in the hills, surviving by hunting and subsistence farming. When they had slaves, they did not treat them as chattel (non-human property) but rather in the kinship slavery manner that was traditional for most North American tribes. This meant they were treated as members of the household with less status, and were often eventually adopted into the tribe. Among the Cherokees in particular, however, Traditionalists were often abolitionists as they considered “modern” American-style slavery as a violation of their traditional views.   

In most cases the Modernists were biracial “mixed bloods”, the offspring of Indian mothers and white fathers who had married into the tribe and taught their children European ways, whereas the Traditionalists were usually “full bloods” (“half-breed” was not considered an acceptable term by them then or now). This was not always the case, however. Major Ridge, leader of the Modernists (until soon after removal, when he was killed), had spoken hardly any English. John Ross, leader of the Traditionalists (and of the Nation), was 1/8 Cherokee and spoke hardly any Cherokee. Nevertheless, Ross was backed by the Traditionalists, and –his suit and tie notwithstanding –he backed them.

I mentioned that Major Ridge was killed. So was his son John and his nephew Elias Boudinot (the first Cherokee newspaper editor). Boudinot’s brother Stand Watie was the only leader of the Treaty Party to remain, surviving the assassination attempt on him. John Rollin “Yellow Bird” Ridge, son of John Ridge and grandson of Major Ridge, later moved to California and became the first Native American novelist (and also the first California one), writing a book in 1854 about the adventures of Mexican bandit Joaquin Murieta (I suppose in a way this also made him a Western Fictioneer.)

In the years just before the Civil War, Traditionalist Cherokees formed a somewhat secret society to try to keep their old ways alive, and to resist efforts by both whites and Modernists to make them change. They called it the Keetowah Society. Keetowah, also spelled Kituwa, was the Cherokee town in North Carolina (near the present day home of the Eastern Band) that Cherokees considered their “mother town,” the first Cherokee community from which the others had spread. The Cherokee, or Tsalagi, people also had in the past sometimes referred to themselves as Ani-Kituwa, “people of Kituwa.” The very usage of that town’s name, therefore, implied a strong connection to tradition. They were also called “Pin Indians,” from their practice of wearing two crossed pins on their lapel as a marker. Keetowah Society members, it should be noted, tended to be bitterly opposed to slavery.

Some of the Modernists had a secret society of their own. Stand Watie had organized a Cherokee chapter of the Knights of the Golden Circle, which was a sort of pre-war version of the Ku Klux Klan that had chapters throughout the South. They were dedicated to the spread of slavery to new territories.  The “Golden Circle” of their name referred to the area around the Caribbean, so conducive to sugar plantations and other enterprises, which many Southerners wanted to grab and claim for the U.S. as they had done with the territory taken from Mexico. Southerners –including Jefferson Davis –had financed filibuster attempts to take Cuba and some Central and South American countries.

Thus, even though the Cherokees and other tribes had technically settled their internal differences, leading to the 1850s being a prosperous “Golden Decade” in Indian Territory, old  scores had not really been completely forgotten and the stage was set for America’s coming national conflict to also become an Indian Territory civil war.

In next month’s entry, we will begin the hostilities.

Wednesday, August 16, 2017


My mother was the oldest of eleven children. In her younger days when I was growing up, and on into my early adulthood, she reminded me of Aunt Pittypat in Gone With the Wind—not in looks or mannerisms, but in the way that she knew the relationships between people--and not just in our family! Growing up in a small Oklahoma town, Mom knew the ins and outs of most every other family in that small community—but so did everyone else. That old saying about everyone knowing your business in a small town was so true…but what a legacy of stories she provided me with to write about!


A relative who hung his pocket watch up on the wall to “give it a rest” overnight. Another relative who, shunned by his prominent businessman father, (we don’t know why) rode a bicycle all over town selling condoms. What better way to embarrass him?
Then there were the sadder tales…the little boy who crawled under the porch and drank tree poison and died. All those many years later, my mother would get teary remembering how she and her 12-year-old best friend, Mary, attended the funeral.

The family who lost five of their six children—they’d gone out to pick berries and taken shelter under a big tree when a storm hit. Lightning struck the tree and killed many of them, but the oldest brother crawled to a farmhouse for help. In the end, he was the only survivor.

Another story that, in this time would be almost unbelievable is that of a little girl, six years old, who had appendicitis. The doctor would not operate unless the money was paid before the surgery. The girl’s father stood on the corner and begged for money – this would have been in the mid -1930’s, in Dustbowl Oklahoma…during the Depression. No one had any money to spare. I have a picture of that little girl with my aunt who was the same age—they were second cousins. It was the last picture made of her before she died.

So many stories my mom told about—with such description of the people, the places, the events…maybe that’s why I’m a writer now. But I know the happenings she told me about were a true-life depiction of actual events, and she had a great memory for detail most of her life.

Being the eldest of eleven siblings, she was all ears when the adults talked, of course. And she was old enough to remember many of the happenings herself. She told of watching them rush her grandfather into the house and put him on the kitchen table when he collapsed in the field—she and Mary were watching through a nearby window—they saw it all.

Going to Blue River was sometimes a Sunday social event in the summers—the men cooled off in the water while the women set out the food for a picnic. The children—none of whom could swim—were the older kids’ charges. Mom told of a time when one of her young cousins, Warren, went missing as they were all playing in the shallow water of a nearby clear creek running into the river. She felt something brush her leg and looked down—it was Warren, drifting by, his eyes open sightlessly as he stared up. She automatically reached down and grabbed him up out of the swift-moving current and yelled for help—and remembered nothing else about the rest of that day. Yes, he lived. But…why would so many parents think it was okay for their kids to play in water when none of them could swim?

It hit me after listening to her talk about her life and growing up in that small town that the older siblings seemed to have had no childhood of their own. Her earliest memory was of standing on a stool, washing dishes in a pan of water. She said she was about 3 or 4. By then, there were two younger sisters and another on the way.


I wasn’t old enough to appreciate it at the time, but Mom and Dad, having grown up together, knew all of the same people. They’d talk about who was related to whom, and who this one or that one had married, and what had become of them. I remember once in a great while, my dad would sit back and look at her with an odd look of appreciation on his face and a little half-smile and say, “Doris Lynn had an illegitimate baby? I never knew that!” Or some other “morsel” he’d somehow never heard.

Mom knew all the stories of the past, too. The tales of the relatives who had gone before and what they’d done—her great grandfather who had been “stolen” from his Indian village and given to a white Presbyterian minister to raise as part of the “assimilation efforts”…and how that had forever affected our family.


Even the stories of my dad’s family—of his grandmother and grandfather coming “up from Texas” and stopping under the shade of a tree by a creek in Indian Territory long enough for her to give birth, then moving on after one day’s time.


Mom knew so much—untimely deaths of family members, “early” births, family dreams and goals that came to fruition, changed, or never happened at all. Games played, meals cooked, weddings held…so much that I would have given anything to have written down—but was too young to realize how much it meant, at the time.

But to whom? Those things are important to the families and friends of the principal players, but now…there are few left who would remember or care. The small-town cemetery is filled with those who lived together, worshipped together and worked together. Friends and family who lived, laughed, loved, and made their way through life—leaning on one another in a way that is rare in today’s world.

So…I use those memories in the best way I can. In my writing. There is a piece of my mom’s remembrances in my own stories—probably every single one of them, in some way or another.

Authors, do you use long-ago memories from relatives in your tales? Readers, do these books and short stories we weave jog your own memories of things you’ve heard in the past from older relatives? What are some of the stories you recall?

Here's an excerpt from an "oldie but goodie", ONE MAGIC NIGHT. After learning the story of my gr gr grandfather and how he was kidnapped, I just had to give him a happy ending. In real life, his adoptive parents changed his name to David Walls. They sent him to medical school in Missouri--I don't know if he ever finished or not, but he came back to Indian Territory to practice medicine. Of course, he never fit in, either in the white world or the Indian. But in my make believe world, he did find happiness...

As Whitworth’s hand started its descent, Katrina turned away. But Shay’s arm shot out, grasping Whitworth’s hand and holding it immobile.

“You will not.”

Three words, quietly spoken, but with a heat that could have melted iron, a force that could have toppled mountains.
Katrina’s father’s face contorted, his teeth bared, finally, as he tried to jerk away. He didn’t utter a word. He stared up into Shay Logan’s eyes that promised retribution, as the seconds ticked by. Finally, he lunged once more, trying to pull free, but Shay still held him locked in a grip of steel. Only when he released that grip was Whitworth freed.

“You presume too much, Doctor Logan, unless you are assuming the care and responsibility of my daughter.”

“Papa! Oh, please!” Katrina felt herself dissolving into a puddle of less than nothing beneath stares of the townspeople of Talihina. What had started as an exciting, beautiful evening had become an embarrassing nightmare. It was torture to think that she was the cause of it all. How she wished she had stayed home with Jeremy as she’d first planned, before Mrs. Howard had volunteered to keep him company.

Now, Papa was saying these things that she knew he would regret later. It was always this way when he drank too much. These accusations had gone beyond the pale of anything he’d ever said before. But Shay Logan wouldn’t realize that. He wouldn’t know that Papa would be sorry tomorrow.

Evidently, there was one thing Shay did recognize, though. She saw the very slight flare of his nostrils as he drew in the scent of alcohol on her father’s breath, and in that instant, there was a flash of understanding in his eyes.

“You’ve had too much to drink, Mr. Whitworth,” he said in an even tone. “I will overlook your behavior toward me because of that, but not toward your daughter. She has done nothing, yet you would strike her, and cause her shame.”

“She’s my daughter,” Whitworth replied sullenly.

“But not your property, Whitworth. Never that. You owe her an apology.”

“No, Shay, really—” Katrina began, then as her father whirled to look at her, she broke off, realizing her mistake. ‘Shay,’ she had called him. As if she had known him forever. As if she was entitled to use his given name freely. As if she were his betrothed.

“‘Shay’ is it, daughter? Not, ‘Dr. Logan’? Shay.” He spit the words out bitterly. He drew himself up, looking Shay in the face. “I’ll not be apologizing to her—or to you. And I’ll expect nothing less than a wedding before this week’s end. Do you understand me, Doctor?”

Shay had lost any patience he might have harbored. “You understand me, Whitworth. You will not dictate to me, or to your daughter on such matters of the heart. As I say, the alcohol has got you saying things you’re going to regret, and—”

“Threatening me, are you? Threatening me?”

“Truman.” Jack Thompson stepped out of the crowd and smoothly came to stand beside Katrina. “Let’s put this…unfortunate incident…behind us, shall we?” He confidently tucked Katrina’s hand around his arm. “I can see that the church auxiliary ladies have almost got everything set up for this wonderful Independence Day meal—” he frowned at Mrs. Beal, nodding at the picnic tables behind her. She jumped, motioning the other ladies to resume the preparation.

He gave a sweeping glance around the group of onlookers. “I, for one, am ready to eat! How about you all?”

Katrina was swept along at his side as he walked toward the tables, speaking to acquaintances and friends, laughing and…and seething with tense anger the entire time. She could feel it in his body, with every step he took and the tightness of his grip as he covered her hand with his. Katrina glanced back over her shoulder, hoping to catch a glimpse of Shay, but the crowd blocked her view.

“Smile, my dear,” Jack gritted into her ear. “I’m hoping we can still salvage your virtue, no matter what happened, really, between you and the good doctor. If I see him near you again, I’ll kill him.”


Monday, August 7, 2017

Getting the Facts to Show Through in Fiction

“The major problem is how John Willford evades U.S. Marshal Franks and his deputies for so long. He doesn’t do much to avoid them…A dedicated watch…would have nabbed him very early. It’s not adequately explained why the marshals are so incompetent that they can’t catch John Willford…”

Those words complete my evaluator’s list of problems with my resubmission of Fugitive Sheriff, prequel to Every Soul Is Free, in my intended three novels on the high mountain sheriffs Simms. The publisher invited me to resubmit if I could fix them.

Since the story is the sheriff’s struggle to hunt down his father’s killer while he is hunted for being a polygamist, “the major problem” is a shot to the heart.

“You don’t understand,” welled up as my first reaction.

Thousands of square miles housed a homogeneous community of co-religionists dedicated to protecting a small number of their own. Indeed, a small number of 19th Century Latter-Day Saints practiced polygamy. Only a fraction of them were arrested for their practice.

Having a quantitative bent that works a bit like a hammer with Mark Twain’s nail, I started trying to prove what I knew to be true. I worked through my proof and discovered the self-evident. The novelist’s tools are not numbers. The hunter being the hunted creates no compelling story if the reader does not feel, fear, and sense the reality lived by the hunted, even down to the reality that they never caught him. Yet, the need remained to prove what I knew to be true by instinct. Those facts needed to be pinned down, clear and explicit, to boil around in the creative process to help me evoke the reality Sheriff Simms lived.

Neither a historian nor one meaning to offend historians, for the novelist’s challenge alone is enough, I discovered a paucity of objective analysis and fact on this subject.

Polygamy in the 19th Century Latter-Day Saints Church (identifying itself as LDS with a gradual adoption of the pejorative, Mormon, until about 1880 by which time that identification became fully embraced, as I will use it from here on) was a practice of the Church leadership and the wealthy. For reasons secular as well as the beliefs of the Church, the leadership and the wealthy were (and are) a highly coincident group. This very visible elite group enabled and underscored the assertion that the fact of polygamy offended the moral sensibilities of the nation. The reality is that the “Americanization” of the Mormons came about as the result of the taking of property (including the disincorporation of the Church itself), not by the imprisonment of a vast number of polygamists.

From a novelist’s point of view, a seven-year reign of terror capped a twenty-eight-year siege that targeted few men and enjoyed little success. Before the howl of indignation drowns out this puny voice, the facts.

Size of Utah Territory

The vast land area claimed by the Territory of Deseret dwindled to an area in 1883 only slightly exceeding the state we now know. Using the current size, 84,899 square miles, Utah Territory would have ranked the 81st largest country in today’s list of 192. Of more precise interest to the story of the U.S. Marshals’ pursuit of Sheriff Simms, Summit County’s land area amounts to 95% the size of Delaware, 180% the size of Rhode Island. If you happen to be hunting, man or beast, in that vast area, remember they named it Summit County because it has 39 peaks over 12,000 feet. The Territory’s population then lived over 90% in the four contiguous counties in the valley (now 75%) and 3% lived in Summit County. (Now about 1% of the state.)

Population of the network

The exact population and demographics of Utah Territory resisted full discovery. The best I can do is fill in with estimates of what I cannot find. Search strings that turn up references to census records from the period, 1850-1890, result in search opportunities by name. Looking for statistics, not genealogy, I conclude census records may not have been abstracted until 1910. I found a cache of actual census records. Alas, the microfiche could not be deciphered and the data were not abstracted. I constructed the following table from hard sources and guesses:

Year H’holds Pop. M F LDS Non % Polyg
1847 4,000 3,980 20 0.5%
1850 11,380 6,046 5,334 11,323 57 0.5% 400
1860 40,273 20,255 20,018 39,870 403 1.0% 1,300
1870 86,336 44,121 42,215 84,609 1,727 2.0% 2,700
1880 20,864 143,963 74,509 69,454 129,539 14,424 10.02% 3,220
1883 25,815 178,121 92,081 86,040 145,784 32,337 18.15% 4,700

My point is not to claim authority, but to create data reliable enough to make observations about the dynamics of the Territory in 1883. However many U.S. Marshals (fifteen) and Deputy Marshals (ninety-one) served during the forty year period in question, they amounted to .1% (one-tenth of one percent) of the LDS population. Their probable allies, the non-LDS population, amounted to 10% of the total population. (I could not find a reliable breakout of deputy marshals, though I suspect the names I counted held six deputies and eighty-five special deputies. I know all the deputies were non-Mormon and I suspect the special deputies were all Jack Mormons or apostates for hire.)

Viewed in somewhat more dynamic terms, there were 10 people to warn a pursued cohab or polyg for every one (1) likely to tip a marshal. Of course, it bears acknowledging this was about money. An unknown number of (practicing) LDS were prepared to betray their brethren for money. Assuming these paid informants (I thought of using an inflammatory word, like Judases) were neither female nor children nor polygamous (not a perfect assumption, I grant), it is impossible to know how many were on the take. The Utah-born novelist in me, however, tells me that for every three of these informants, two took the U.S. Government money and either provided misinformation or told the target the marshals were on the way or both.

How widespread this offense to moral sensibility?

My perception from the scholarly treatises on polygamy I found is that the favored phrase is "polygamy was practiced by thousands." To my ear, that phrase creates the impression of very widespread predominance. I calculate that the outside number was 4,500 and the most likely number was under 4,000. I acknowledge that is in the thousands, but it does not strike me as so widespread as “by the thousands” means to imply.

The table creates a somewhat false sense of precision based on the authoritative data for every estimate, but what is surely true is that upwards of 3,000 polygamists had two wives, maybe 900 had three, and perhaps 600 had four or more. There is ample data about the ages of marriage, both female and male, and the number of children, none of it relevant to my story, and I surmise all driven by (and to my mind proving) the adage “polygamy as a doctrine provided an excuse for old men to marry young women.”

For purposes of my novel, what we see is that a mobile man with two wives proves a difficult target: he is one among four-and-half thousand, of whom fifteen hundred are much more visible and much less mobile.

1883 Total 15% 20%
Male HH in Utah 25,298
Male Mormon HH in Utah 22,764
Monogamous 19,349 18,211
Polygamous 3,415 4,553
2 Wives 68% 2,322 3,096
3 Wives 20% 683 911
4 + wives 12% 410 546

Of course, I know my data are off, but a confirmed Bayesian, I believe they are better than nothing.  (I am just trying to get at the “truth” for my novel, not compete in the historian’s world.) And, there is a double-edged sword: the lower the number of polygamists, the higher the percentage, below, shown to have been caught. Remember my exciting story is about not being caught!

The U.S. Marshals and the Courts

After the first one, 1850-1855, every U.S. Marshal appointed by the President of the United States for the Utah Territory, fourteen through 1896, was not LDS (non-Mormon, although for a few there is dispute over whether that equated to anti-Mormon.)

The Courts were a little more complicated, but the Federal judges were all non-Mormon. After the Edmunds Act of 1882, appointments to the Utah courts were controlled by the Utah Commission (not by election) and they were also non-Mormon.

Bringing the moral offenders to heel

In that forty-one-year period, from among the “thousands of polygamists” who possibly did number 4,500, nobody was arrested until 1884 and two marshals arrested everybody:

Year Total Grand Total
1884 3 3
1885 82 85
1886 60 145
1886 127 272
1887 245 517
1888 367 884
1889 161 1045

(1886 split shows the “productivity” of the most “successful” marshal.)

The relevance to my novel extends only through 1887, but for this blog one notes Wilford Woodruff’s Manifesto that was to lead to Utah statehood was issued in 1890. After that the issue of polygamy, from a U.S. Marshal point of view, was moot. Apparently 1890, before the Manifesto, saw few or no arrests for cohabitation or polygamy, either because the LDS Church had already been disincorporated or because the newly appointed U.S. Marshal Parsons immediately involved himself in a series of charges and scandals mostly of a sexual nature.

The triumph of moral sensibility

The table above shows that the U.S. Marshal in place in 1887 and 1888 succeeded in arresting about 10% of the polygamous males available to arrest. In fact, the cumulative total amounted to 23% or more of the available men to arrest. While that falls far short of everyone or even half of everyone, this reign of terror was real and many families fled to Mexico. In my imagining, it must certainly have been an oppressive environment. Even the President of the Church went underground in the small town of Kaysville (where seventy-three years later I graduated from high school.) Nevertheless, a man’s and a family’s obligation was not to get caught. The U.S. Government knew that and only the power of the pocket book brought about the triumph of moral sensibility.

The Church was disincorporated. All of its property was escheated to the Federal Government, under the receivership of the U.S.. Marshal (for which he requested a fee of $25,000 and was awarded $10,000, $663,000/265,000 today.)

Capitulation led to compassion. The Church re-incorporated and ultimately Congress gave it back the property. Ultimately, polygamy stopped being practiced among the Mormon faithful.


The conclusion is the same as the introduction. This is fiction, not history. My obligation is to make the reader, in this case the all-important evaluator, sense both the harassment of the pursuer, the obligation not to be caught of the pursued, and the infinite possibility of evasion that created the environment in which my sheriff lived.

E-mail Edward Massey with comments, author of 2014 Gold Quill winner, Every Soul Is Free and Amazon ABNA 2009 Quarter-finalist, Telluride Promise.

Saturday, August 5, 2017

One-room Schoolhouses Blog #5

McGuffey Readers and a Quiz for You

By Julie A. Hanks, Ph.D. aka Jesse J Elliot

         Teachers and students in America went from scratching their letters and words in the dirt of a log/sod cabin to reading the classics in prescribed texts.  Educating our new nation went from makeshift cabins to actual classrooms, decorated with maps, ABCs, and children’s work. According to Ron Powers, a Pulitzer Prize author, “The McGuffey Readers effected the first mass-educated and mass-literate generation in the modern world.”
   With the Western communities becoming more established, desks
with built-in ink holders replaced crude benches or stools brought
from home. (These improvements were only in the public schools
for whites or the mission schools.) As the infrastructure of the
schools changed, so did the pedagogy, most notably in the addition of the McGuffey Readers.
         Children’s literature did not exist as a genre in the 19th Century. Except for Goody Two Shoes, written in the late 18th Century and republished in 1881 by John Newberry in London, nursery rhymes, fairy tales, and adages made up the literature or oral literature for children.  (Note the very adult selections from the sixth level edition of the McGuffey Readers below in your quiz.) The hundreds of children books we have today with child-friendly illustrations were not available or affordable. A few illustrated children’s books were made in Europe for the very rich but were too expensive and certainly too unavailable in the American West.               
         Now, for the first time, Readers contained stories, poems, essays, and speeches that attempted to provide a graded scale of difficulty (as well as moral teaching). As the readers' efficiency progressed, so did the McGuffey Readers. Stories in the first book were pretty didactic and uninteresting, but by the second eclectic reader, the stories were written better, and their morals or lessons more digestible.  In fact, one of the stories, “The Leaf,” was an inspiring allegory illustrating the delicate balance between life and death. This story was so beautifully written that over a hundred years later, Leo Buscaglia wrote his own version—and published it as The Life of Freddie the Leaf.  Though the illustrations were lovely, I actually found the original version better written.
      Interestingly enough, the some schools still use the readers, especially home schools. Though the first reader is the weakest, the stories in the readers continue to improve.  Written and edited by William Holmes McGuffey, the text is still effective if used along with contemporary readers and modern learning materials.

QUIZ: Not all readers managed to make it through to the Sixth Reader, but here is a sample of writings from the McGuffey’s Sixth Eclectic Reader.  See how well you can do matching the correct authors to their works.  The correct answers follow these two mixed-up lists:

1. Song of the Greek Bard                                     A. Shakespeare

2. Lochinvar                                                          B. Shakespeare

3. Character of Columbus                                     C. William Hazlitt

4. Prince Henry & Falstaff                                    D. Washington Irving
5. Political Tolerance                                            E. Horace Greeley

6. My Mother’s Picture                                          F. William Cowper

7. Labor                                                                 G. Washington Irving

8. Thanatopsis                                                       H. Thomas Jefferson

9. Indian Jugglers                                                  I. Sir Walter Scott

10. Death of Sampson                                            J. Bible

11. Antony over Caesar’s Dead Body                    K. Lord Byron

12. “He Giveth His Beloved Sheep”                     L. William Cullen Bryant

13. Death of Absalom                                            M. Milton

14. The Last Days of Herculaneum                       N. Homer

                                                                               O. Edwin Atherstone

                                                                               P. John Locke
                                                                               Q. President Abraham Lincoln
                                                                               R. Harriet Beecher Stowe


1. Song of the Greek Bard                                                                A. Lord Byron

2. Lochinvar                                                                                      B. Sir Walter Scott

3. Character of Columbus                                                                 C. Washington Irving

4. Prince Henry & Falstaff                                                                D. Shakespeare

5. Political Tolerance                                                                         E. Thomas Jefferson

6. My Mother’s Picture                                                                      F. William Cowper

7. Labor                                                                                              G. Horace Greeley

8. Thanatopsis                                                                          H. William Cullen Bryant

9. Indian Jugglers                                                                               I. Wm Hazlitt

10. Death of Sampson                                                                        J. John Milton

11. Antony over Caesar’s Dead Body                                                K. Shakespeare

12. “He Giveth His Beloved Sheep”                                    L. Elizabeth B. Browning

13. The Last Days of Herculaneum                                             M. Edwin Atherton

14. Death of Absalom                                                                         N. Bible