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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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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