Hosting Indians in Washington, 1870s

capitolThe many Indian delegations visiting Washington in the 1870s offered great business opportunity for hotel keepers. They often stayed a month or more and the Indian Bureau paid the expenses.

In 1873, the Board of Indian Commissioners audited charges submitted by hotel keepers.  They questioned the large amounts billed by a number of hotels. After an investigation, only one man was charged: Benjamin Beveridge. His mother operated the Washington House hotel at the corner of Third Street and Pennsylvania Avenue. Situated near the railroad station and the Capitol Building, it was a good location for Indian delegations. Benjamin ran a restaurant and saloon on the hotel’s ground floor. He catered to delegations. He obtained theater tickets and arranged a variety of outings to nearby attractions for the visiting Indians.

When the Board of Indian Commissioners examined a batch of bills Mr. Beveridge submitted in 1873, they found problems. That fall three Indian delegations had stayed at the Washington House. Benjamin’s bill for “extras” provided to those delegations totaled $1,338.65. There were tickets for the opera and outings to Mount Vernon by boat. There were also charges for cigars, lemonade, ginger ale, apples, dates, and figs. When the Board looked carefully they found, for example, a bill for 24 tickets to visit Mount Vernon plus meals for the Ute delegation. But there were only fifteen people in the party, including Indian agents and interpreters. The Board found similar problems in numbers of theater and opera tickets on Beveridge’s bill for the Cheyenne and Arapaho delegations. The auditors doubted that the Indians attended the theater and opera twenty-three times in two weeks. Sometimes the theater schedules showed they attended three different performances at the same time.

Information from Diplomats in Buckskins by Herman Viola

Published in: on August 3, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Government Auditors and Indian Agents, 1870s

Indian Agents paid many expenses for their assigned Indians, particularly when they traveled to Washington City for treaty talks. And Agents were used to the government auditing of each bill submitted for reimbursement. Most agents accepted the irritating reviews and questions, even when they seemed ridiculous.

Agent William Dennison was questioned about $30 he had paid to hire a wagon and driver for five days. The government auditor said the amount spent seemed “enormous.” Dennison replied, “If six dollars per day is considered “enormous” for the hire of a pair of horses, with wagon and driver, no explanation I can make will be satisfactory.” His response made sense to a second auditor who reviewed the claim. He wrote “suspension removed” on the claim and sent it on to be paid.

An Agent named Pease was called to account for claims submitted without receipts to verify the expense. He had spent $12.75 on meals for a Crow delegation at a stage coach station in Montana. He said “there was neither ink nor paper at this locality.”  He also explained why he spent $28 on cab fares in St. Louis. He said he used cabs (horse drawn wagons called “hacks”) because “it was difficult and almost impossible to get the Indians to the hotel on account of the great crowd of people who surrounded the Indians when they walked on the street.” (The $28 included some medicine purchased for the Crows and Pease admitted he simply failed to get receipts as he was busy keeping track of the Indians.)

Another agent was told his claim of $1.50 per Indian for bathing and barbering services in Washington was “exorbitant.” He replied to the auditor, “Probably it is dearer cleaning Indians than white men.”

Information from Diplomats in Buckskin by Herman Viola

Published in: on July 27, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  

Kindred Tales from Canada

Bull 2Kindred of the Wild: A Book of Animal Life surely delighted children in the early 1900s. Written by Charles G. D. Roberts, the book is enhanced by black and white illustrations by Charles Livingston Bull. The once white pages have mellowed to a soft ocher tone. Some, if not all, of the stories are set in Northern New Brunswick, Canada. There are tales about Indians and people living in the remote wilderness but the lives of animals are the focus.

Sir Charles George Roberts (1860 – 1943) was a Canadian poet and prose writer. His most successful works were animal stories. He drew on his own experience in rural Canada to produce over a dozen animal tales. His poetry brought him recognition as the “Father of Canadian Poetry.”

Charles Livingston Bull (1872-1923) loved to draw from an early age. His father apprenticed him to a taxidermist. At age sixteen he took a job with Ward’s Museum in Rochester, New York. From that experience he landed a job as taxidermist at the National Museum in Washington, D.C.  During his twelve years there he learned the anatomy of a wide variety of animals. To pursue his interest in drawing, he moved to New York City where he found lodging near the Bronx Zoological Gardens. He spent much of his time drawing the animals there and his work sold easily.

The New Cavalry 1875

The Thursday, August 24, 1875 issue of The Colorado Daily Chieftain, the source of the previous post about Stanley and Livingstone in Africa, also carried this bit of news.

War department “recruiting 2,500 additional men for cavalry regiments…for operations against hostile Indians.”

Apparently, recruiting was not going well. The War department lowered the physical requirements for joining up. The standard had been 5’5″ in height and weight not over 155 pounds. The height standard was reduced to 5’3″. Shorter Cavalrymen would do. The military was also willing to accept heavier men. The weight limit was raised to “no more than 175 pounds.”

Not only would Indian fighters by shorter and heavier, they would travel in larger groups. The War department reported “Cavalry companies are increased to 100 men.”

Long Ago Headlines

Russell E. Train Africana Collection, Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

Russell E. Train Africana Collection, Smithsonian Institution Libraries.

The Thursday, August 24, 1875 issue of The Colorado Daily Chieftain carried these front page bulletins under the heading “National News”: Financial Troubles in South Staffordshire……..Negro Laborers Strike in South Carolina……..The Financial Panic in Portugal……..Latest from the War in the East (Turks and Servians)…….. Stanley narrowly escaped massacre by natives……..

Yes, the same “Stanley” who spoke those famous words “Dr. Livingston I presume.”

In October 1869, the editor of the New York Herald, saw an opportunity to boost his paper’s already wide circulation. All he needed was for one of his reporters to solve the mysterious disappearance of British explorer Dr. David Livingstone. He went to Africa to find the source of the Nile River and had been missing for four years.

A Herald newcomer, Henry Morton Stanley, was assigned to lead an expedition into the African wilderness. He was told to find Livingstone, or “bring back all possible proofs of his being dead.”

It was a challenging assignment. Stanley suffered malaria, starvation and dysentery in Africa. He lost 40 pounds. One member of his team died from elephantiasis. Another died of smallpox. Many of the porters hired to carry supplies deserted or died.

Stanley finally found Livingston on October 27, 1871 living among the Ujiji people. Livingston was pale with white hair and bushy beard. He had few teeth left and appeared quite fragile.

Removing his helmet, Stanley extended his hand and made the now famous statement, “Dr. Livingston, I presume.” Livingston said, “Yes.” It was two years since Stanley had received the assignment.

Stanley remained with Livingston until March 14, 1872. The May 2, 1872, edition of the Herald carried his story under the headline “Livingstone Safe.”

Harper Lee Would Enjoy This

image mockingbirdIn my 1950s childhood, Dad was a salesman who wore suits to work. We lived in a rural area and our house was a regular weekly stop for the dry cleaner’s truck.

In those summer days before we had air conditioning, our screened windows and front door were open for any hint of a breeze. Mother hung the bag of clothes for dry cleaner pickup on the front screen door. The cleaner’s driver took the to-be-cleaned pieces and left the clean suits in their place. He would whistle to let mother know he was there but did not wait for her to come to the door.

One day in mid summer, mother heard the cleaner man’s whistle. When she went to the door, the to-be-cleaned pieces were still there. A short time later she heard his whistle again but found he had not made a pick-up or delivery.

After the third useless trip to the door, Mother waited nearby but out of sight. The whistle came again. She stepped to the door. No one in sight. Then, she looked up under the front porch awning. There sat a Mockingbird, carefully perched on one of the struts that held up the awning. He had learned to imitate the cleaner man’s whistle and was enjoying his “cat-and-mouse” game with Mother. He continued his game until summer’s end.

Published in: on June 22, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Remembering Dad

model TFather’s Day is a time when I like to recall stories about my father. This one is a favorite of mine.

While visiting Dad’s family in Wisconsin, the five Simmelink siblings and their spouses went out for dinner one night. I was about 16 at the time and, since we had come from Indiana to visit, I went along. During the meal, an old buddy of Dad’s happened into the restaurant. He spotted Dad and came over to the table to say “hi.” He began reminiscing about their youth.

“Say, Harvey,” the old buddy said, “remember the time we had your father’s Model A and we were racing another guy’s car backwards up a hill?”

Dad looked blank.

“Oh, you remember! It was that steep hill over past the schoolhouse. Your older sister and her date came along and saw us. Your sister got out and scolded you real good for racing with your Pa’s car.”

Dad frowned and shook his head. “No. You must have been with somebody else.”

The buddy looked across the table at Dad’s sister, Etta. “You remember that, don’t you!”

She, too, frowned and shook her head.

The old buddy patted Dad on the shoulder. “Well, anyway, it was good to see you again Harvey.” He moved on to his own table.

Dad immediately began reminiscing about the old schoolhouse.

Etta’s husband sat quietly beside her with a “cat who ate the canary” look on his face that told me he had been her date on that long ago day and the story was true.

Published in: on June 15, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Summer Reading: Mockingbird

MillsI thoroughly enjoyed the slow Southern pace of Marja Mills’ new book The Mockingbird Next Door and her experiences with the reclusive author Harper Lee. Here is one of my favorite vignettes from that book.

Ms. Mills was frustrated by one-channel, static-filled TV reception in Monroeville, Alabama. And, she could not find an NPR (National Public Radio) station on her transistor radio. She asked around but no one offered a solution to her problem. Then one day she heard the distinct voices of NPR coming from her neighbor’s kitchen. She discovered the secret was a powerful rooftop antennae that could pickup radio signals from a station 150 miles away.

A friend offered an alternative solution. He told Ms. Mills to hold the transistor radio against her rib cage and point it’s small antenna toward her backyard. So, that night she stretched out on her bed, “tuned in the radio, rested it on my ribs with my left hand, and, with my other hand, pointed the long silver antenna over my right shoulder toward… my backyard…”

To her amazement, it worked. “I listened to the smooth, low-key voice of a news commentator out of Tuscaloosa. Hardly any static, and a familiar lilt to the radio host’s voice…The accent was different here but the slightly professorial, low-key intonation, the NPR-ness, was familiar…I lay on the bed, luxuriating in the static-free reception as the radio rose and fell softly on my ribs. I’d be able to get Fresh Air (a regular NPR feature) this way at last. Problem was, I had to stay like that or I lost the reception. The position got old in a hurry.”

The Mockingbird Next Door: Life With Harper Lee by Marja Mills, The Penguin Press, 2014.

WWII Ration Books

Ration CouponsInstructions from the back of Ration Book No. 3 issued during World War II:

1 This book is valuable. Do not lose it.

2 Each stamp authorizes you to purchase rationed goods in the quantities and at the times designated by the Office of Price Administration. Without the stamps you will be unable to purchase these goods.

3 Detailed instructions concerning the use of this book will be issued.

4 Do not throw this book away when all of the stamps have been used, or when the time for their use has expired. You may be required to present this book when you apply for subsequent books.

Rationing is a vital part of your country’s war effort…” If you don’t need it, DON’T BUY IT.”

From the back of Ration Book No. 4:

IMPORTANT: When you have used your ration, salvage the TIN CANS and WASTE FATS. They are needed to make munitions for our fighting men. Cooperate with your local Salvage Committee.

Drafted in WWII

4.2.7The United States entry into World War II was a difficult time, especially as the draft board began calling up men for military service. This appeal letter was written on behalf of my father by his employer.


January 16, 1941


          I am asking for your consideration in classifying Harvey Simmelink, who is in my employ as manager of the Manlius Milk Products Company of Manlius, Illinois. My reason for doing so is that I am not in a position to replace Mr. Simmelink with a man that will be able to operate that plant as he is.
          It takes years of special training to learn to make a quality cheese which the trade demands today. Besides that, Mr. Simmelink has the acquaintance, personality and the respect that is required of a manager to make a plant like the one he is in charge of operate successfully in its respective community. The experience and qualifications Mr. Simmelink possesses are outstanding in his profession and he would not be very easily replaced, if at all.
          I would be the last one to claim exemption for any of my help which could readily be replaced, but in this particular case it is otherwise. Harvey Simmelink has been in my employ for better than five years and it is through his efforts that the Manlius Plant has served that community as well as it has.
          In view of the fact that Mr. Simmelink’s work consists of manufacturing food product which is of vital importance, I trust you will consider my request in classifying Mr. Simmelink so he will be allowed to remain in his present position.

Respectfully yours,
Axel Madsen

The letter and an appeal hearing delayed Dad’s induction but he was eventually drafted into the Army in 1942.

Photo from National WWII Museum



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