Book Review Thursday: Birdmen

Birdmen  On December 17, 1903 Wilbur and Orville Wright made history with their first-ever power-controlled flight, brief though it was.  At the time the Wright Brothers weren’t the only ones pursuing the elusive feat of engine-powered flight.  This book chronicles the rivalries among the daredevils of that day who would become known as the “Birdmen.”

Not long afterwards the Wrights filed a broadly-worded patent with the intent, no doubt, to garner royalties from anyone who ever built another piece of aircraft from that point forward.  When asked to appear at exhibitions they would demand licensing fees and a share of the profits.  In a way, it was good business practice to protect their invention, but in the end it more or less made them appear to be greedy.

Their chief rival, Glenn Curtiss, was undaunted by their threats of lawsuits.  He had ideas of his own (as did other aeronautical innovators of the day).   Historian Lawrence Goldstone has carefully researched the subject and written a detailed history of both the pre- and post-flight era of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries, not only in America but abroad in Europe.

What quickly becomes apparent is that although the Wrights worked hard to improve their invention over the years, they fell behind in innovation, primarily because they spent so much time in court defending their patent.  The book, however, isn’t just about the rivalry between the Wrights and Curtiss, although a significant portion is devoted to that subject.  With all of the lawsuits brought against fellow aviators and the demands for exorbitant fees, the reputations of Wilbur and Orville Wright suffered, both at home and abroad.  As Goldstone noted, “Wilbur Wright was transformed overnight from hero and adopted son to scoundrel” in his dealings abroad.

There are as many twists and turns to the story as there were innovators and daredevils.  The daredevils have a special place in early aviation history.  Their exhibitions attracted crowds of thousands, at least initially.  The more daring their stunts, the more enthralled were the spectators.

Goldstone also chronicles a four-year period when the luck of many of those stunt pilots ran out.  During that period, one hundred and forty-two pilots crashed their planes and died.  In almost every instance, fans would rush to the scene, not to attend to the pilot, but to grab pieces of the plane for souvenirs.

The book is very detailed, and I have to admit it took awhile for me to get into it.  Some parts of the Wright brothers story I had read in another book I reviewed recently (Washed Away).   Having never heard of the rivalries nor the legal wrangling (which went on for years), I found the book very informative.  If you have an interest in a meticulously researched account of the early days of flight, this book is a must read.

By the way, one of the men who was a part of the exhibition team was Frank Coffyn.  He was profiled in a Surname Saturday article here.

Rating:  ★★★★

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Wild Weather Wednesday: The White Hurricane

WildWeatherWednesdaySince we’re in the middle of a pretty H-O-T summer, I thought a Wild Weather Wednesday article about a blizzard might be cool and refreshing.  Historically, the entire year of 1913 was full of disastrous and record-setting weather events.  The Ohio Valley was flooded in January, an Illinois ice storm in February, heavy and disastrous flooding and tornadoes in March (see articles on The Great Flood of 1913 here and here), Midwest drought and heat waves and the hottest day on record in Death Valley on July 10 – 134 degrees!

In November the Great Lakes region experienced a storm called “The Great Lakes Storm of 1913″ or “The White Hurricane.”   “November gales” or “The Witch of November” are not uncommon in that part of the country – since 1847 there have been several killer storms recorded.  In 1975 one of these storms sunk the Edmund Fitzgerald and inspired the Gordon Lightfoot hit song, The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald.

The Great Lakes, although located in the northern region of the mainland United States, hold their heat later in the year than one might expect given the harsh winters we hear about.  Typically, two weather tracks converge on the area with cold, dry air from the Canadian provinces and warm, moist air flowing northeast from the Gulf of Mexico.  When these two storm systems converge over the Great Lakes they are affected by the still-warm waters of the Lakes, creating a cyclonic effect.  These storms are capable of producing hurricane-force winds, waves in excess of fifty feet accompanied by several inches or either rain or snow – and they can sit over the region for days.

The approaching weather system began to be tracked on Thursday, November 6 with an advisory for “moderate to brisk winds” and some rain for the upper Great Lakes.  By the next morning the advisories had been changed to “moderately severe” and later in the afternoon the Coast Guard raised lanterns to signal the coming hurricane-force winds (winds exceeding 74 mph).  Lake Superior winds had already been measured at 50 mph and a blizzard was approaching Lake Huron.

On Saturday November 8, the storm was centered over the eastern part of Lake Superior and had been upgraded to “severe.”  At one point that day, a false lull occurred, called a “sucker hole.”  Ship captains mistakenly believed it was safe to navigate across the region and by the morning of the 9th the storm headed south to Virginia, merging with a southern low pressure system.

By noon on Sunday the barometric pressures had even begun to rise which usually indicates a storm has passed – the lower pressure area was moving northeast away from the lake region.  So at 8:00 a.m. the Weather Bureau was reporting more favorable conditions (they only issued two daily reports, one at 8:00 a.m. and one at 8:00 p.m.).

However, a southern low-pressure system was moving toward Lake Erie, formed overnight it didn’t appear on the last weather map.  The counterclockwise rotation brought wind gusts of 75-80 mph in Buffalo and Cleveland, with a dramatic barometric pressure drop.  As the system continued to churn, wind speeds increased accompanied by blowing snow.  Ships on Lake Huron were hit with massive waves.

GreatLakesThe worst part of the Sunday storm raged from 8:00 p.m. to midnight with continuously sustained winds of more than 70 mph.  Ships on Lake Huron sustained the greatest damage, one gust of 90 mph was recorded at Harbor Beach, Michigan.  Without the dynamic weather forecasting tools available today, meteorologists of that day didn’t have adequate data to understand what was approaching the Great Lakes region.  Data was collected twice daily around the country and hand-drawn maps were created, but without the technology and instant news we have today, the information was soon outdated and of little use, especially when it came to unusual and fast-moving weather systems like this one.

ClevelandStormThe storm began to move northeast on Monday morning, the famous lake effect accompanying it.  Cleveland received seventeen additional inches of snow that day and snow drifted to six feet high in some places.  Streetcars were stranded and without power for several days, telephone and telegraph communications were cut off with downed lines.  The Cleveland Plain Dealer reported on November 11:

Cleveland lay in white and mighty solitude, mute and deaf to the outside world, a city of lonesome snowiness, storm-swept from end to end, when the violence of the two-day blizzard lessened late yesterday afternoon.

Cleveland’s chief weather forecaster declared it was the worst storm the city had experienced since the Weather Bureau had a establishing a station in 1870.  However, as bad as the damage and isolation was in Cleveland and other cities, the Lakes suffered far worse.  Newspapers around the United States and Canada printed headlines like this one:

Vancouver_Daily_World_Tue__Nov_11__1913_Several ships had sunk and over two hundred and fifty deaths were estimated, with Lake Huron by far claiming the most ships and victims.  Four ships, the Leafield, James Carruthers, Plymouth and Hydrus, have never been located.  In recent years two ships, the Wexford (2000) and Henry B. Smith (2013) have been found.  Here is a picture of some of the twenty victims from the Wexford who washed ashore:

wexfordThe losses were significant in 1913 dollars: $2,332,000 for ships totally lost; $830,900 for damaged vessels; $620,000 for damaged ships later returned to service and approximately one million dollars in lost cargo (grain, coal, lumber, iron ore).  Cleveland streetcars and businesses were shut down for two days.  However, after cities were stranded without power and communication for days, one forward-looking plan following the aftermath was the decision to place utility cables underground.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Tombstone Tuesday: Measles Memorial Cemetery

MeaslesMemorialCemeteryThis cemetery was apparently a family cemetery on a plot of land owned by John W. Measles of Lavaca, Sebastian County, Arkansas since the first person buried there was John’s son Emil who died in 1891 at the age of twenty-two.  How long it remained a private cemetery is unclear since there are several other people buried there who may or may not be related to the Measles family.

At the entrance is a sign which reads “Measles Memorial Public Cemetery.”  The First Baptist Church of Lavaca is nearby and it appears that some of those interred in the cemetery were members of that congregation.  What caught my eye, of course, was the somewhat unusual cemetery name, specifically the surname “Measles.”

After a bit of research, I’ve concluded that “Measles” was not the original spelling of this family name, nor am I certain how the name was originally spelled, although I’m leaning toward “Mizell”.  As the article unfolds you’ll see the various spellings, but first some information about John W. Measles and his family.

John W. Measles

His tombstone indicates he was born in 1841 and 1850 census records show he was born in Lauderdale County, Tennessee to Miles and Elizabeth Mizells.  In 1860 John was still residing with his parents, but for the census their names are spelled “Measles”.  Whether or not the spelling “evolved” to “Measles” over those ten years is unclear.

JohnAndMarthaMeaslesGraveOn November 11, 1861, J.W. Meazles enlisted in the Confederate Army for one year service in Company E of the 1st Confederate Cavalry, recruited by Captain C.H. Conner.  For the muster roll dated April 30, 1862, he was listed as absent – “captured by the enemy near Paris, Tenn. 11 March 62 with horse & equipments.”

The Paris courthouse lawn was the staging area for several Confederate units.  On March 11, 1862 General Ulysses S. Grant brought the Civil War to Paris, his troops numbering five hundred while the Confederates had four hundred on that day.  The two sides battled for about thirty-five minutes until the Union troops retreated back to Paris Landing.  Union casualties were four killed and five wounded and the Confederates sustained twenty casualties.

A record dated March 12, 1864 indicates that John resigned on October 1, 1862, perhaps following his release from captivity, but apparently returning to duty soon afterwards because from October 30, 1862 to April 30, 1863 John Measley had been reassigned away from his company – “absent at wagon train.”  Records indicate that John served as a teamster for the remainder of the war.  He (“Jno Measels”) was mustered out “in accordance with the terms of a Military Convention entered into on the 26th day of April, 1865,” although the roll is undated.  John had last been paid on November 1, 1863.

On May 29, 1867 J.W. Measells married Martha Caroline Norman in Lauderdale County.  John was a farmer and by 1870 their first child Emil was two years old, born on March 18, 1868.  John and Martha lived in Civil District 10 of Lauderdale County, his parents Miles and Elizabeth Mizells lived close by, according to the census six residences down the road.

JohnAndMarthaMeaslesBetween the 1870 and 1880 censuses the family migrated to Sebastian County, Arkansas.  In 1880 J.W. and Martha Measels had four children: Emil A., Emma Dora, John Doniven and Sarah Anne.  In 1884, their son Merritt Monroe was born.  Emil married Lula Seward on December 19, 1888 and on January 14, 1891 he died – one family historian believes he fell from a horse.  Shortly after his death, Lula discovered she was pregnant and named the baby “Emil A.” after his father.  Emil was the first person buried in the cemetery located on John’s land in Lavaca.

EmilMeaslesGraveJohn and Martha Measles were enumerated in Lauderdale County, Tennessee for the 1900 census, probably visiting Martha’s eighty-two year old father F.T. [sp?] Morman [Norman].  Interestingly, a granddaughter (of Martha’s father) named Thursday (sp?) Measles is listed as well, thirty-six years old and born in October of 1863.  Whose child she was is unclear since John was away serving in the Civil War at that time and he and Martha didn’t marry until 1867.

ThusdayMeaslesIn 1910 John and Martha lived next door to Merritt in Lavaca and John was still farming at the age of sixty-nine.  In 1911 Martha passed away, and according to Sebastian County death records John W. Measels died on November 14, 1914.  Their daughter Emma Dora Kidd passed away on August 21, 1923 and is buried with her family in Measles Memorial Cemetery.  Her husband Benjamin is buried there as are twin daughters Dorris and Dorothy who died in 1926 and 1928 respectively (born in 1925).  Find-A-Grave notes that these are Emma’s children, but according to Sebastian County death records she passed away in 1923, so perhaps Benjamin remarried (he died in 1939).

JohnMeaslesChildrenJohn and Martha’s children John, Sarah and Merritt lived into their eighties and nineties, and with the exception of Merritt, were buried in the family cemetery (he is buried in Fort Smith).  Merritt’s infant son was born and died on January 12, 1910 and buried in Measles Memorial.  The spouses of Sarah and John are buried there as well, but no sign of the mysterious “Thursday Measles” from the 1900 census.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Military History Monday: The Battle of Burnt Corn Creek

BurntCornCreekOn July 27, 1813 the battle that started the Creek War occurred at a bend on Burnt Corn Creek, located in present day Escambia County, Alabama.  First of all, where did the name “Burnt Corn Creek” originate from?  There are a few theories:

  • The Creek Indians tried to drive the white settlers away from their land by burning their corn cribs.
  • The white settlers burned the corn fields of the Creek Indians to drive them away.
  • A group of Indians left an ailing tribe member behind with a supply of corn.  When he was well enough to travel, however, he had no way to carry the corn away with him so perhaps he burned the corn in his campfire before departing.  Others came along later, stayed at the nearby spring and noted that they stayed by the spring where “corn had been burnt.”

Any-who, it is a unique name and some historians theorize that the name and place may pre-date the Revolutionary War.  If true, then Burnt Corn also pre-dated the formation of the Mississippi Territory in 1798 and Alabama’s founding in 1819.  Like the list of reasons why the name, the theories of when the area first became known as “Burnt Corn” are unclear or unknown.

Tecumseh  The Creeks (or Muscogee Creeks) had actually been mostly at peace with white settlers for many years, but when Tecumseh traveled south in 1811 to recruit (and stir up) allies among what were called the Five Civilized Tribes things changed.  An excerpt from a speech to the Muscogees:

The Muscogee was once a mighty people. The Georgians trembled at your war-whoop, and the maidens of my tribe, on the distant lakes, sung the prowess of your warriors and sighed for their embraces. Now your very blood is white; your tomahawks have no edge; your bows and arrows were buried with your fathers. Oh! Muscogees, brethren of my mother, brush from your eyelids the sleep of slavery; once more strike for vengeance; once more for your country. The spirits of the mighty dead complain. Their tears drop from the weeping skies. Let the white race perish.  (as reported by Captain Samuel Dale who was present at the speech)

At the time, Florida was still under Spanish control and Spaniards were also stirring up discord among the Creeks.  In July of 1813 Peter McQueen led a band of Creeks called “Red Stick Warriors” to Pensacola, Florida.  The “Red Stick Warriors”, so called because they used red-colored war clubs, were on a mission to buy weapons and ammunition from the Spanish.

McQueen and his warriors returned from Florida on July 27 and camped for the night on Burnt Corn Creek.  White settlers had received word of the Creeks’ purchase and became alarmed, forming a militia of one hundred and eighty men.  That night the militia, led by Colonel James Caller, ambushed the Red Sticks, causing them to scatter and flee into the nearby brush.

Mistakenly, Caller’s men thought they had routed the Creeks and began to plunder the Indian camp and take away their horses.  However, McQueen rallied his warriors and mounted a fierce counterattack on the militia.  Confusion and panic ensued and the militia scattered and fled, although some militia members stood their ground and prevented a complete rout.  Colonel Caller and one of his men became disoriented and wandered in the woods for two weeks before being found in a delirious state.

The militia lost two men with ten to fifteen wounded.  The Red Sticks lost perhaps as many as ten warriors and eight to ten wounded.  The militia also captured some of the guns and ammunition as well, but the battle was considered a loss for Colonel Caller.  Burnt Corn Creek emboldened the Creeks, for on August 30 about seven hundred Red Stick Warriors attacked Fort Mims and massacred two hundred and fifty people.

The governors of Georgia, Tennessee and Mississippi Territory called for action.  Governor William Blount put Generals John Cocke and Andrew Jackson in charge of two Tennessee regiments.  Interestingly, Jackson’s forces were supplemented by a large contingent of Cherokee warriors.  Tune in next week for more about the Creek War and Jackson’s role in the final battle of that conflict, the Battle of Horseshoe Bend.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Hymnspiration: Count Your Blessings

JohnsonOatmanToday’s hymn was written by Johnson Oatman, Jr. and set to music by Edward O. Excell.  The hymn, based on Ephesians 1:3, was first published in 1897 and considered to be the best of over five thousand songs Oatman wrote during his lifetime.

Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, who hath blessed us with all spiritual blessings in heavenly places in Christ.

Johnson Oatman, Jr. was born on April 21, 1856 in New Jersey to parents Johnson and Rachel Oatman.  His father was an accomplished singer and Johnson, Jr. loved to sit beside him in church listening to him sing.  Early in his life he was involved in the family mercantile business and at the age of nineteen joined the Methodist church.  He was later licensed as a Methodist Episcopal minister although he never served as a full-time pastor, instead working with various local congregations on a fill-in basis.

Following his father’s death, Johnson worked in the insurance industry.  In 1892, at the age of thirty-six, he began writing songs – some say that he averaged writing four or five a week and rarely receiving more than one dollar per song.

Hymn historian J.M. Hall stated that while Johnson Oatman, Jr. never served in a local pastorate, “he daily preaches to a larger congregation than the pastor of any church in the land.” Through his hymns he was able to preach the Gospel “to all the world.”  Hall also remarked that he believed no hymnal was complete without one of Oatman’s hymns.

Count Your Blessings first appeared in Songs for Young People, published in 1897 by the hymn’s musical composer, Edmond O. Excell.  Excell was born in 1851 and at the age of twenty became a singing teacher, traveling around the country conducting singing schools that were popular at that time.  His association with Southern evangelist Sam Jones highlighted his  talent as a song leader.  He published over fifty song books and wrote and/or composed more than two thousand songs.

Johnson Oatman’s lyrics were always well received and perhaps none more so than Count Your Blessings.  From the book 101 Hymn Stories:

Perhaps no American hymn was ever received with such enthusiasm in Great Britain as this hymn.  The London Daily, in giving an account of a meeting presided over by Gypsy Smith, reported, “Mr. Smith announced the hymn ‘Count Your Blessings.’  Said he, in South London the men sing it, the boys whistle it, and the women rock their babies to sleep on this hymn.”  During the great revival in Wales it was one of the hymns sung at ever service along with such Welsh favorites as “Guide Me, O Thou Great Jehovah” (No. 26) and “O That Will be Glory” (No. 70).

Clearly, the song has shown evidence of worldwide appeal through the years, one writer remarking, “Like a beam of sunlight it has brightened up the dark places of the earth.”  The song was said to have been sung frequently in the aftermath of the World Trade Center attack on September 11, 2001.  Interestingly, Oatman’s great grandson lives a few block from Ground Zero and is himself a talented writer.

When upon life’s billows you are tempest tossed,
when you are discouraged, thinking all is lost,
count your many blessings name them one by one,
and it will surprise you what the Lord hath done.

Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your blessings, see what God hath done!
Count your blessings, name them one by one;
Count your many blessings, see what God hath done!
Are you ever burdened with a load of care?

Are you ever burdened with a load of care?
Does the cross seem heavy you are called to bear?
Count your many blessings, every doubt will fly,
And you will be singing as the days go by.

When you look at others with their lands and gold,
think that Christ has promised you His wealth untold;
count your many blessings money cannot buy
your reward in heaven nor your home on high.

So amid the conflict, whether great or small,
do not be discouraged. God is over all;
count your many blessings angels will attend,
help and comfort give you to your journey’s end.

Johnson married Wilhelmina Ried on July 21, 1878 and together they had three children, a son and two daughters.  Their oldest daughter Miriam followed in her father’s footsteps and wrote hundreds of her own hymns, in addition to composing music for her father’s hymns.  Wilhelmina died in 1909, and on September 25, 1922 Johnson passed away and was buried in Lumberton, New Jersey.


Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Surname Saturday: Boaz

BoazCrest   There are several theories about the origins and meaning of the Boaz surname.  First of all, Boaz appears in scripture as a forename, the kinsman redeemer for Ruth, who later became her husband.  Thus it is possible that Christians in England took Boaz as a surname at some point.

The name, with various spellings such as Boas, Boase, Bost, Boasie, may have been a name given to someone who was boastful or vain.  If derived from the Old English word “bost” it would carry the meaning of “vaunt” or “brag”.

The earliest records include Walter Bost of County Oxford in 1279, Walterus dictus Bost of County Oxford in 1300, Walter Boost of County Sussex in 1327 and Richard de Boste listed on the Yorkshire Poll Tax in 1379.   According to House of Names, the name was first seen in Cornwall where a family seat had been held long before the Norman Conquest of 1066.

One of the earliest Boaz immigrants to America was Thomas Boaz.  However, family historians disagree as to when he was born, when he immigrated and when he died.  I’ll discuss those differences below, including a biography of the family historian, Hiram Abiff Boaz, whose research has most recently been disputed.

Thomas Boaz

Many descendants of Thomas Boaz have apparently relied heavily on the research conducted and published by family historian Bishop Hiram Abiff Boaz, entitled Thomas Boaz Family in American with Related Families.

In his research, Hiram believed that Thomas was born in Scotland on September 21, 1721, migrated to Ireland where he applied to the government for land in Virginia in 1737.  He married Agnes in 1742 in Northern Ireland and in 1747 or 1748 settled in Pittsylvania County, Virginia where he owned 2800 acres.  According to Hiram, Thomas and Agnes had four children before immigrating to America and he died in Pittsylvania County in 1791.

More recently, family historian Robert V. Boaz concluded from his findings (The Boaz Family: Ancestors and Descendants) that Thomas was born around 1714 in Virginia and died in 1780 in Buckingham County, Virginia.  Robert believes that Thomas married Elenor Archdeacon in 1736, she having been born about 1718 in County Kilkenny, Ireland and immigrating with her parents in the 1730′s.  The two historians seem to agree on the children’s names, just not entirely as to where and when they were born:

  • Thomas – ca. 1737 in Goochland County, Virginia (Hiram: 1743 in Ireland)
  • Archibald – ca. 1739 in Goochland (Hiram: 1744 in Ireland)
  • Edmond – ca. 1741 in Goochland (Hiram: 1745 in Ireland)
  • Daniel – ca. 1743 in Goochland (Hiram: 1746 in Ireland)
  • Gemima – ca. 1745 in Albemarle County (Hiram: 1747 in Ireland)
  • Polly – ca. 1747 in Albermarle (Hiram: 1753 in Albermarle)
  • James – May 20, 1749 in Albermarle (Hiram: same)
  • Shadrach – ca. 1751 in Albermarle (Hiram: same)
  • Meshack – ca. 1753 in Albermarle (Hiram: 1753 in Albermarle)
  • Agnes – ca. 1755 in Albermarle (Hiram: same)
  • Eleanor – ca. 1757 in Albermarle (Hiram: same)
  • Abednego – February 6, 1760 in Albermarle (Hiram: same)

Robert’s research seems to adequately dispute previously published research, although I didn’t have access to Hiram’s book.  The most recent research findings indicate that Thomas received land grants in Goochland County at various times.  Records show that Thomas deeded land to his son Thomas, Jr. in Albermarle County and kept back 500 acres for himself.  When Thomas’ land became part of Buckingham County in 1761 his name appeared in the 1764 List of Tithes.

Although Thomas was too old to fight in the Revolutionary War he had been appointed Surveyor of Roads, in addition to taking the Oath of Allegiance.  These two historical facts entitle his descendants to membership in the D.A.R.

Another family historian found a record of Archibald Boas being tried and acquitted for murder in April 1785 session of the General Court in Buckingham County.  Whether this was Thomas’ son is not entirely clear, however.

I found it interesting that Thomas named three of his sons Shadrach, Meshack and Abednego, which reminds me of one of the most popular Tombstone Tuesday articles about Shadrack, Meshack and Abednego Pierson (triplets).  In case you missed it, you can read it here.

I also wrote a Tombstone Tuesday article on another Shadrach, a Boaz, who was Thomas’ great grandson.  You can read that one here.

HiramBoazBishop Hiram Abiff Boaz

Hiram Abiff Boaz was born on December 18, 1866 in Murray, Kentucky to parents Peter Maddox and Louisa Ann (Ryan) Boaz.  The family moved to Tarrant County, Texas in 1873 where Hiram received his education.  After graduating from Sam Houston Normal Institute in 1887 he taught school in Fort Worth.

At the age of twenty-three Hiram was licensed to preach and ordained in the Methodist Episcopal Church in 1891.  That year he also enrolled in Southwestern University in Georgetown, Texas where he graduated with a Bachelor of Science degree in 1893 and a Master of Arts degree in 1895.  He married Carrie Brown, daughter of a Methodist preacher, in 1894 and together they had three daughters.

Until 1902 he pastored churches in Fort Worth, Abilene and Dublin.  In 1902, at the age of thirty-six, he was elected President of Polytechnic College (now Texas Wesleyan University), serving until 1911.  While serving at Polytechnic College, Hiram and some of his fellow Methodists began to ponder the establishment of a major Methodist university, intending it to be the finest Methodist university west of the Mississippi.  At that time, Southwestern University, his alma mater, was the oldest Methodist university in Texas, having been established in the 1870′s.

Hiram proposed that Southwestern be moved to Fort Worth and transformed into his vision of renowned Methodist university and located in a major metropolitan area.  Southwestern and Polytechnic could be merged into a Methodist university and be located in Georgetown.  The proposal was not favorable to Georgetown residents, however.  With that rebuff from Southwestern and Georgetown, a new proposal led to the founding of Southern Methodist University in 1911.

The school opened its doors in the fall of 1915 with the former president of Southwestern University, Robert Hyer, serving as SMU’s first president.  Although some people believed the honor of being the first president belonged to Hiram, he instead served as vice-president until 1913, in charge of raising much needed funds for the new university.  By this time Polytechnic College had become Texas Wesleyan University, where he returned to serve as president.

In 1920 Hiram Boaz was elected to succeed Hyer as president of SMU.  Although he served only two years in the presidency, his focus on reducing the school’s debt and building up its endowment funds was highly successful.  He raised over one million dollars during his short tenure.  In 1922 he was elected to the office of Methodist bishop and resigned the presidency of SMU.

His duties as bishop included church work overseas and overseeing the Arkansas and Oklahoma Conference until 1930.  From 1930 until his retirement in 1938 he worked with Texas and New Mexico conferences.  Even in retirement, Hiram intended to continue working to promote SMU, raising several million dollars.  In 1956 a men’s dormitory, Boaz Hall, was named in his honor.  The chairman of the Board of Trustees remarked at the ceremony, “If one university is ever the lengthening shadow of one man, the university would be this one and the man, Bishop Hiram A. Boaz.”

Hiram was an avid sports fan and even into his nineties attended SMU football games.  In January of 1962 he died at the age of ninety-five.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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Feisty Females: Poker Alice

PokerAlice_oldSome details of her early life are either disputed, mis-reported or just sketchy, but most believe Alice Ivers was born in England on February 17, 1853.  The details of how she learned the game of poker seem a bit sketchy as well.  Some believe she immigrated to America as a young child, some say in her teens.  Some say she arrived in Virginia, the daughter of a conservative school teacher and attended an elite boarding school.  One source believes she arrived in New York and was taught to play poker by her father.

Most accounts, however, report that she and her family moved West during her teenage years to Leadville, Colorado for the silver rush.  She met Frank Duffield, a mining engineer, and was married at the age of twenty.  Frank was a card player and gambler, one of the favorite pastimes in most mining towns of the West.  Alice accompanied Frank and stood behind him observing, eventually catching on well enough to begin sitting in on games of poker and faro.

Not long after their marriage, however, Frank was killed in a mining explosion.  The young widow had to find a way to support herself.  With her education background she perhaps could have become a teacher, but instead decided to try her hand at gambling as a profession.  Poker was her game but she also became adept at faro, both dealing and playing.

PokerAlice_youngAlice was a “looker” – petite and 5’4″, blue eyes and brown hair and dressing in the latest fashions.  Women in gambling parlors in that era were often prostitutes, but it doesn’t appear that she ever worked as a “soiled dove” – just gambled – and no doubt distracted many an ogling male.

In the 1880′s she traveled throughout the West as a faro and poker dealer in mining and boom towns of Colorado like  Leadville, Central City, and Alamosa.  She made her way to Silver City, New Mexico where one source reports she “broke the bank” at the Gold Dust gambling establishment.  After heading to New York for a shopping spree, she may have returned to Creede, Colorado and worked for a time at Bob Ford’s saloon (Ford later killed Jesse James).

Possibly around 1890 Alice arrived in Deadwood, South Dakota and made a reputation sitting around the gambling tables and smoking cigars, having already earned the nickname “Poker Alice” by that time.  She would become yet another Deadwood legendary character like Calamity Jane, Eleanore Dumont, a.k.a. “Madame Moustache” and Wild Bill Hickok.

She made the acquaintance of Warren G. Tubbs, a house painter who worked on the side as a dealer and gambler.  They met at the gambling table and soon began to see each other outside of work.  Tubbs was once threatened by a drunken miner — Alice defended him by pulling out a .38 revolver and shooting the miner in the arm.  Warren and Alice married and had seven children together.  He worked as a house painter and she gambled to support their family.  After leaving Deadwood, the family moved to a ranch near Sturgis.

For a time it seems Alice left behind her life as a gambler and dealer and settled into life on the ranch, later saying they were the happiest days of her life.  Even when Warren became ill with tuberculosis she chose to remain by his side until his death in December of 1909.  Alice hired a caretaker, George Huckert, to run the ranch and moved into Sturgis to earn a living.  George was fond of Alice and after proposing several times, they were married, though it appears she may have continued to use Tubbs as her last name and George died in either 1913 or 1923 (unsure as both dates are reported as his year of death).

Following Warren’s death, Alice had opened “Poker’s Palace” between Sturgis and Fort Meade providing gambling, liquor and prostitutes.  On July 16, 1913 there was a disturbance at the Palace involving some soldiers.  The Bismarck Daily Tribune reported that the problem had begun several days earlier between Alice and a member of Troop M.  Two privates, Bennie Kotzell and Joseph Minor, were standing outside when electric wires for the building were cut and stones and rocks were hurled at the house, breaking most of the windows.

With every volley of rocks thrown a volley of shots were fired, thought to have been administered by none other than Poker Alice herself.  It is unclear whether the privates were caught in the crossfire or deliberately targeted, but afterwards Kotzell was dead and Minor was critically wounded.  After the Sheriff and States Attorney arrived, Alice was placed under arrest along with several of her prostitutes.  While awaiting trial she was said to have smoked her cigars and read the Bible.  Although acquitted of all charges, her saloon had been closed.

PokerAliceGameAs she aged Alice began to dress in men’s clothing and continued to smoke cigars, run a “house of ill repute” and play poker.  She was often arrested or fined for serving liquor during Prohibition and running a house of prostitution.  After paying the fines she would continue “business as usual.”

At the age of 75, she was arrested and convicted of running a brothel and sentenced to a prison term of six months.  Governor W.J. Bulow pardoned her on the grounds she was feeble and probably had but a few years to live.  According to the Bismarck Daily Tribune the governor remarked, “I can’t send a white haired old woman to jail on a liquor charge.”

PokerAliceDiesTwo years later Alice underwent gall bladder surgery in Rapid City but died of complications on February 27, 1930.  She was buried at St. Aloysius Cemetery in Sturgis.  Alice Ivers Duffield Tubbs Huckert was certainly a colorful character and a formidable poker player.  Reportedly one of her  favorite sayings was, “Praise the Lord and place your bets.  I’ll take your money with no regrets.”  The Bismarck Daily Tribune eulogized her this way:

Poker Alice wore a gun, smoked cigars and could swear like a trooper, but in all of her 77 years of life she dealt from the top of the deck.

Everyone have a great day — someday it will be history!

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© Sharon Hall (History Depot), 2014.
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