Arthur Cluck

Arthur CluckThe Strange Disappearance of Arthur Cluck is a mystery book for children. This work by Nathaniel Benchly was published in 1967 by Harper & Row.  It features illustrations by Arnold Lobel – lovely pencil drawings colored in soft green and yellow ochre. (The interior pages are much more engaging than the dark cover!)

Arthur Cluck is a baby chicken. When he disappears, his mother searches everywhere for him. In despair, she asks a barn owl named Ralph to search for him. Ralph, of course, works only at night. In his search he meets other critters who also roam about in the darkness – a fox and a mouse. The mouse holds a clue to where he might find Arthur.  What he finds is a whole bunch of baby chicks in a crate loaded on a truck and ready to take to market in the morning. Ralph calls out “Arthur” but every chick in the crate answers. How will Ralph find the right chick. It is one special skill, or maybe a “quirk,” of Arthur’s that allows Ralph to identify him. Ah, but I won’t spoil the story by revealing that skill!

More Strange Mockingbird Words

Hoover cartHoover cart – a car pulled by horses because owners could not afford gasoline or repairs; sometimes a hand built cart pulled by a horse. President Hoover had made an election promise of prosperity, measured by “a car in every garage,” but the Great Depression changed things.

Tom Swifts (or Tom Swifities) –  A sentence in which an opening phrase is linked to a pun on one of the words in the opening phrase.  Examples: It’s freezing,” Tom muttered icily.”  “I might as well be dead,” Tom croaked.

Lane cake – a cake made with lots of liquor.

Crokesack – a rough bag, often made of burlap, sometimes used to hold frogs when caught.

Published in: on September 28, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Strange Words

If you have read To Kill A Mockingbird, you likely came across some unfamiliar terms. Here are some words that sent me to my dictionary, and sometimes to an Internet search:

Scuppernongs – a type of grape with sweet yellow fruit or wine made from this fruit.

Bought cotton (or Buying cotton) – a polite term for doing nothing.

Flivver – an old or cheap car.

Asafoetida – a yellow-brown, bitter, and offensive smelling substance from the roots of certain plants. It was formerly used in medicine.

Shinny – liquor, probably homemade.

Published in: on September 21, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Forgotten Frontiersman

In The Western Odyssey of John Simpson Smith, author Stan Hoig recalls a little remembered early pioneer of the American West.

Smith was a Kentucky boy. By 1830 he was in St. Louis and apprenticed to a tailor. He likely ran away that year and went west with a group of trappers and traders. He spent the winter in a Blackfeet Indian camp and learned to speak their language. The author says Smith likely participated in the 1835 rendevous of trappers and traders that met on the Green River. Among the men he met there were Jim Bridger and Kit Carson.

By 1840 Smith was living in a Cheyenne camp with his Cheyenne wife and her son. About 1842 the couple had a son called Jack. John Smith became a principal trader at Bent’s Fort. He accompanied several Indian delegations to Washington, serving as interpreter for treaty talks. Smith became an advisor to Indian Agents and official government interpreter for the four major treaties with the Cheyenne and Arapaho.

For an interesting and detailed account of life in the early West and in Indian camps, look for a copy of this book published in 1974 by The Arthur H. Clark Company, Glendale, California.

Confusion of Places

300px-Barnum's_American_Museum-photo_1858A story is told about Joaquin Miller, the poet, who stayed at Barnum’s Hotel–Broadway and 20th street in New York City– in October, 1875. While there, he wrote to a friend in New Jersey. He ended the letter: “Come and see me whenever you can. I’m at Barnum’s.”

The friend was not familiar with city hotels and thought only of P.T. Barnum’s famous American Museum, a combination zoo, museum, lecture hall, wax museum, theater and freak show. The friend replied to Mr. Miller: “I am sorry you had to exhibit yourself. If you had stuck to literature you would have made your mark and fortune. Whereabouts is the show now.?”

(From the Pueblo Chieftain, November 2, 1875)

Miller’s full name was Cincinnatus Heine Miller (September 8, 1837 – February 17, 1913). Joaquin Miller was his pen name. He was called the “Poet of the Sierras” after his 1871 work Songs of the Sierras.



Published in: on September 7, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Tales of the Yellow Wagon Show

It is a small volume of 133 pages with photographs and illustration. The book has been in our collection for many years but I had not noticed it until we sold it. The book, which originally sold for $1.00, was a 1905 present to Miss Ella Sutter of Oklahoma from Mr. Bonheur of a traveling circus.

In the late 1800s and early 1900s traveling shows were popular, particularly in small, rural communities. One such show was operated by the Bonheur Brothers – Amos, Howard, and James. Their story is told in Troupers of the Golden Mascot or Tales of the Yellow Wagon Shows by Louis Wood (1904, Kenyon Press, Des Moines Iowa).

Their wagons were painted golden yellow “a color…tabooed by all superstitious professionals of the tan bark arena.” (Tan bark refers to the wood chips or sawdust put down to make a circus arena.) During the Kansas drought of 1901, it was said that “wherever the yellow wagon show appeared rain fell, even in the dryest places.” The story became great publicity for these traveling showmen.

This hard to find little volume is filled with stories of unusual performers – Sam Trew a tuba player who did an Irish monologue; monkeys that rode horseback; snake charmers, costumed dancing dogs. Its an odd little book of rambling tales


Published in: on August 31, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Another View of Old New Mexico

KitCarson-1Land of Enchantment: Memoirs of Marian Russell Along the Santa Fe Trail offers one of the few first hand accounts of life on the trail from the perspective of a woman. The book was originally published in 1954 but in limited edition. A 1981 edition includes notes and an index plus an Afterward by Marc Simmons.

In one chapter, Ms. Russell recalls a visit with Kit Carson  when she was about 15 years old. “Colonel Kit Carson came to see us in a new beaded buck-skin jacket. He let us finger it and exclaim over its beauty. The Indian women had woven porcupine quills cleverly among the red beads. It was gorgeous. Many strange figures and designs were on the jacket, each an Indian symbol. The trousers were deeply fringed all down the outer legs and made him look like a chieftain. He came and sat on the settee by mother. They laughed together about the hold the land of the coyote and Indians had upon them. ‘It is rough I know, and may be dangerous,’ said Mother, ‘but I love it.'”

The book jacket description ends with this line. “Marian Russell’s love of travel, her fascination with the people she met, and her ability to recall details imbue her reminiscences with a lyrical quality, and create a song in prose that is a tribute to a vanished era.” Another good summer read if you find a copy.

Reading the West in Old Books

Experiencing the early days of the West through a good book can make us feel like we have stepped into a past time. David Lavender’s 1958 work The Trail to Santa Fe lets us ride along with Zebulon Montgomery Pike as he enters the foreign town on March 3, 1807.

Pike expected a town like any other (American) frontier farming village. But what a surprise. Pike wrote in his journal that Santa Fe town looked like “a fleet of flat-bottomed boats.” Lavender writes, “Dogs slunk among heaps of refuse. Out in the plaza smoke rose lazily from cook fires where several families of Indians were camped. Everything looked raw and primitive.”

“On the north side of the central plaza, the commander of Spanish troops… led Pike into a long, low building. This, the guide said, was the Palace of the Governors…The roof consisted of layers of poles covered with sod, the floor of hard-packed earth. For rugs there were skins of bear, buffalo and mountain lion…Mingled oddly with these humble furnishings were candlesticks of solid silver and a few pieces of massive hand-carved furniture…When Pike was ushered into the Governor’s presence, he found the man’s dress and manners as rich and refined as the candlesticks.”

And there the adventure begins. The later publication of Pike’s journals “brought New Mexico vividly to the attention of his countrymen.”

Published in: on August 17, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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Mail Service in the early West

stagecoachThe first mail service to the west was carried on horseback. It went to New Mexico territory after the Mexican American War. Mail carriers traveled from Independence, Missouri to Santa Fe.

The use of postage stamps began that same year. Previously, the person who received a letter paid the postage. Mail service was not very dependable. Senders did not want to pay for mail that might not be delivered. Paying to send a letter was like an insult. It suggested the receiver could not afford to pay for it.

Changing habits was difficult. The Post Offices began charging the receiver double for letters without stamps. In 1856 senders were required to pay the postage or the letter was not sent. Exceptions were made with the local post office ran out of stamps.

The first United States mail delivery to Denver arrived on August 10, 1860. Prior to that mail came by stage coach. A person receiving mail had to pay the stage company a fee of “two bits” for a letter and a dime for each newspaper delivered.

Published in: on August 10, 2015 at 6:00 am  Leave a Comment  
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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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