Digging holes here and there in American history.

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Friday, December 30, 2016


     A community’s history can be recreated through the post cards issued to commemorate its locations, people, and special events.
     As I collected post cards from my hometown of Ruston, Louisiana, I realized the hundreds of images printed for the past century could tell the community’s history as easily as any book. In fact, I turned those post cards into a book: “Greetings from Ruston.” Usually post cards were intended primarily for tourists but they revealed what was important to the community—churches, schools, successful businesses, significant community events. More recently, post cards have been used extensively as advertising which will tell historians a century from now much about how we lived.
     Collections of post cards can be found on internet genealogy and history sites. Even assemblages of outrageously corny or ugly post cards can be viewed online.
     The U.S. Post Office Department began issuing pre-stamped postal cards in 1873. The cards were created to meet the public demand for a convenient way to send notes by mail. The Post Office was the only entity allowed to print post cards until 1898 when Congress passed the Private Mailing Card Act, permitting private publishers and printers to produce post cards. Initially, the government prohibited private businesses from calling their cards “post cards,” so they were referred to as “souvenir cards.” Prior to 1908, no other information could be placed on the address side of the post card, so the photo side often provided a margin for a short message.
     The first post card in the United States was created in 1893 to advertise the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago. Shortly thereafter the United States Post Office Department allowed printers to publish a 1-cent post card (the "Penny Postcard"). A correspondent's writing was allowed only on the front side of these cards.
     In 1901 cards appeared with the words "Post Card" printed on the reverse (the side without the picture). Written messages were still restricted to the front side, with the entire back dedicated to the address. This "undivided back" is what gives this postcard era its name.   
     The "divided back" card, with space for a message on the address side, came into use in the United States in 1907. The back of the card was divided into two sections, the left section being used for the message and the right for the address. From 1907 to about 1915, picture post cards were a wildly popular form of communication. In 1908, more than 677 million post cards were mailed.
     The “white border” era, named for obvious reasons, lasted from about 1916 to 1930.  The “linen card” era, from 1931 to the early 1950s, was marked by the use of cards printed on papers with a textured surface similar to linen cloth. The current post card era of “chrome” cards began about 1939.  The images on these cards are usually color photographs on a glossy paper. Modern post cards can also be found made from wood, metal, or bearing holograph images.

     Today, many Christmas greetings are in the form of post cards, usually with a photograph of the family. Businesses and nonprofits often use post cards to make announcements and spread important information without the expense of stuffed envelopes.

Friday, November 25, 2016


Louisiana politics wasn’t always dirty; sometimes it was just deadly.

     In Shakespeare’s Henry the Sixth, a largely forgotten character utters one of the writer’s most memorable lines: “First, let’s kill all the lawyers.” The oft-misinterpreted line was meant to praise attorneys and judges who impart justice in society. But in the Reconstruction Era after the Civil War, a Louisiana lawyer served in government at his own risk.
     Politics today could be considered downright nasty with plenty of mudslinging and vitriolic name-calling. But even Louisiana’s notoriously scandal-plagued politics of the 20th century does not compare to the violence of Reconstruction. After the war, Republicans, with control of the federal bureaucracy, took charge of local and state government in Louisiana and most of the South, even though the majority of the populace was Democrat. Once the sole purview of the white Democrats, control of local politics was largely in the hands of those holding newfound power gained through the Union victory.
     Serving in the Republican-controlled Reconstruction government could be deadly. Political assassinations were common as the Democrats saw their domain coming to an end. They did not take kindly to outsiders—carpetbaggers—coming in to run local government. The scalawags—locals who allied themselves with the Radical Republicans—were especially despised. Even those who had excellent relationships with the populace before and during the war were now considered pariahs by their longtime friends and associates.
     The White League used violence against officeholders, running some out of town and killing others, and suppressed election turnout among black and white Republicans. In August 1874, a mob assassinated virtually every government official in Red River Parish. An insurrection by 5,000 White Leaguers against Metropolitan Police and state militia supporting the state government in New Orleans on September 14, 1874, killed dozens. The insurgents held the statehouse, armory, and downtown for three days, retreating before arrival of Federal troops that restored the Radical Republican government. A memorial commemorating the Democratic view of the Battle of Liberty Place is currently the focus of a contentious fight over the removal of purported racist symbols in New Orleans.
      Sometimes the attack on government officials had more to do with outright lawlessness than political opposition. Such may be the case with the murder of a district judge and district attorney near Winnsboro in September 1873. The Ouachita Telegraph called the apparent ambush killing of District Judge Thomas H. Crawford and District Attorney Arthur H. Harris “a great crime, exciting our horror and strongest condemnation.”
     Harris and Crawford had participated in court proceedings in Winnsboro for a week before returning to their homes in Columbia in Caldwell Parish. On Monday, September 8, they set out for Winnsboro for a second week of court. Along the route, an ambush cut them down. Another attorney, Thomas J. Hough, who left Columbia two or three hours after the two officials, discovered the bodies fourteen miles down the road near the Boeuf River swamps. Hough spurred his horse back to Columbia to collect a posse.
     Judge Crawford lay in the road, the victim of what the Ouachita Telegraph termed “murderous fire.” The paper’s description was gruesome: “He was shot so often as to leave no distinct marks of the number of shots he received. His head was literally torn to pieces, the parts being gathered up in a handkerchief for interment. His horse was shot in the neck, but not killed.”
     District Attorney Harris had opportunity to flee the first onslaught. His horse was shot down in the road but Harris’s body was found some distance away, indicating he briefly fled on foot. According to the Telegraph, “his body exhibited wounds in the knee, thigh, side and head, from which it is believed he was killed in flight, and even shot while down and several paces from his horse. The character of the wounds leads to the belief that the fire was delivered from both sides of the road, and that after having shot the two men down, they were shot while down, and Judge Crawford even after he was dead. His chest received a number of bullets, and underneath his head a large hole in the ground was seen, while the upper portion of this head was entirely blown asunder.”
     As a Unionist who opposed Louisiana’s secession, Crawford’s alliance with the Republicans meant losing friends and gaining many enemies. He had fled to New York during the conflict. Attempts had been made on his life since his return to Louisiana. Many drew the conclusion that his office was gained through subterfuge with the help of the Republican-controlled election returning board as the vote count had been decidedly against him. Harris, it was supposed, was killed because he was in company with Crawford, and no witnesses could be left alive. 
     Some suggested a different and more likely motive. Crawford and Harris had been threatened by a Caldwell Parish man named Winn, a fugitive facing a murder charge.
     Harris had no known enemies. As a Democrat, the Telegraph reported, “he was thoroughly and strongly opposed to Crawford politically, and was even beloved by the people of his district. Nothing but strong personal enmity can account for his death and that of Judge Crawford in the way recited. And this fact — admitted to be such by every one — points more strongly than anything else to the accusation of Winn as the guilty party.”
     Judge Crawford was buried in Columbia, and forty-one year old Arthur Harris in his family’s burial plot in City Cemetery in Monroe. The Telegraph described a massive outpouring of sympathy for both men, but especially Harris, saying he “possessed fine social qualities, a cultivated mind, popular manners and a good heart.  He loved his country, and set duty above all sense of fear.” His tombstone is marked with a similar sentiment. Crawford was named “one of the best criminal lawyers of the State.”
     Governor Kellogg offered a $5,000 reward but no one was ever brought to justice in the case. Rewards announced in response to political killings in Reconstruction Louisiana almost never produced the desired results.

Friday, July 22, 2016


I rarely share from other websites, but this sounds like an interesting book on the hunt for the Mexican bandit Pancho Villa.  The U.S. Army actually invaded Mexico to find him.


Wednesday, July 6, 2016


This post and the previous two are discussions of books from a course I took at Louisiana Tech University called "The History of American Ideas."

The demise of cultural traditions and the upheaval of American life are aptly related in Andrew Hartman’s A War for the Soul of America: A History of the Culture War.
Beginning in the tumultuous 60s, Hartman chronicles to culture wars to their peak in the 80s and 90s. With chapters addressing religion, race, gender, obscenity, and education, Hartman describes the conflict between traditionalists and progressives. By the end of the book, Hartman concludes the major battles had been fought and “the logic of the culture wars has been exhausted.”  He proposes that all that remains are “lingering residues.” (285)

While Hartman states the culture wars have their root in the 60s, one could argue that conflict over culture can be traced back much further.  One of the most significant issues of pre-Revolutionary days was over which religions were permissible in the New World and to what degree governmental authorities would control it.  Later fights over slavery, suffrage for women, prohibition, and other issues reveal a much longer struggle over cultural issues than Hartman espouses.

Unfortunately, Hartman’s book seems to trail off at the end of the 20th Century with little of substance from the past fifteen years.  Those fifteen years have been anything but a ceasefire in the culture wars.  While the battles over abortion have quietened, skirmishes still occur as politicians attempt to defund Planned Parenthood and pass restrictions on the procedure.  The conflict over secular humanism in the classroom has calmed as well as much of the fight over women’s’ rights, although pay inequity and women in combat are frequent topics this election year.  But the issues of gay and transgender rights have intensified. Consider the vocal backlash over the integration of transgenders into the military, the establishment of LGBT landmarks by the National Park Service, and the President's directive to schools to provide access to restrooms based on a person's gender preference.

The Supreme Court decision abolishing the centuries-old definition of marriage as being between one man and one woman signals the beginning of the end of normative America for many. The celebration of the Court’s decision by bathing the White House in rainbow colors representing gay pride was a shock and outrage to many.  Rev. Franklin Graham, a prominent leader on the conservative side of the culture wars, called it "outrageous" and a "slap in the face" to millions who support traditional marriage, and added that because God gave the rainbow sign to Noah following the flood, it is an image forever "associated with His judgment" and a sign of "God's judgment to come."

There are new culture wars on the horizon. The continuing culture wars will focus on freedom of expression and the protection of liberty. Many Americans believe the government is attempting to control every aspect of their lives, and that socialism is right around the corner.  Surveys reveal many citizens believe they have fewer rights than ever and that government is not only corrupt, but intent on fundamentally changing their way of life. A 2014 Rasmussen poll found 54% of those surveyed considered the federal government a threat to individual liberty rather than a protector. Some citizens are arming themselves, even stockpiling food and supplies for the coming apocalypse between freedom-loving Americans and their government.  This mentality, where many have decided not to take it anymore, may result in violence not seen since the protests of the 60s and the later battles over abortion. 

News reports of schools prohibiting patriotic clothing or vehicles on school grounds adorned with American flags because those might offend someone are common. So are accounts of college students disciplined for talking about certain topics on campus. Many believe government will continue to infringe on personal liberties in an attempt to transform society to one more of its liking.  

There is indisputably a "gun culture" in our nation.  That cannot be denied regardless of your stand on gun control. Gun purchases have reached all-time highs, mostly because of the anticipated battle to impose tighter restrictions.  I believe the clash in the next decade over guns will rival the abortion battle in its vehemence and violence.   While it is a constitutional issue, it is also one deeply engrained in American culture.

Friday, June 17, 2016


Issues related to race in America are receiving attention reminiscent of the days of desegregation in the sixties. No news broadcast escapes mention of something related with race, discrimination, or racism.

To understand the phenomenon of racism, a good place to start is George Fredrickson’s book Racism: A Short History. Fredrickson follows the trajectory of racism from its origins in Fifteenth Century Spain, where it was rooted in religious beliefs, through the period of the Enlightenment, to focus on more recent racist ideologies in the American South, Nazi Germany, and South Africa.

Although Fredrickson only devotes a few pages to them, the buildup to the Civil War and the subsequent Reconstruction were of interest to me because I have studied the period so much. Fredrickson notes that during the Reconstruction after the war, the agreement that led to the return of the seceded states to the Union also resulted in the nullification of the Dred Scott decision. Then came a Constitutional amendment declaring all people born in the United States were citizens.  However, the efforts to implement the Fourteenth Amendment were slow and weak. Fredrickson wrote, “…the government proved unwilling or unable to commit sufficient resources or apply enough force to overcome the violent white resistance to black the equality   that erupted in the South.” He blames this on whites both in the North as well as the South, as neither could contemplate blacks as equals.

My research confirms Fredrickson’s assessment.  The federal government was very timid in protecting the rights and very lives of freed blacks after the Civil War.  While the Freedman’s Bureau was established to help the emancipated start new lives, and federal troops occupied the Southern states, these efforts were failures.  Troops bent over backward not to engage in conflict with white citizens. In one case, an Army officer was reprimanded here in Louisiana for chasing and apprehending a white man who had killed two black freedmen. Whether in fear of a resurgence of violence against the federal government or for perhaps purely political reasons, the troops were to show restraint and leave enforcement against those terrorizing freedmen to local authorities—which almost always sided with the local white citizenry.  The occupying army was there for show and bands of white men organized as militias to protect communities from the black man called the army’s bluff. One wonders if more aggressive tactics could have changed the course of history, averted Jim Crow, and led us to a different place today.

What prompted these white citizens to form militias—called the White League in most instances—might be called racism but it was certainly fear.  This fear started during the war and grew when the end of slavery was realized.  I recently read Linda Barnickel’s engaging account of war in northeast Louisiana, Milliken’s Bend: A Civil War Battle in History and Memory. She mentions several diaries from this period where whites expressed fear that freed slaves would rape the women, steal their possessions, and wreak havoc on the countryside.  One might remember the scene from Gone with the Wind where the men go to wipe out a nest of ne’er-do-wells—mostly freed slaves and Confederate deserters—in order to protect their women.  I can’t help wonder how much of the conflict we see between races today is rooted in fear.

Wednesday, June 8, 2016


Some concepts resist definition. Honor. Justice. Liberty. Duty. Freedom. One Supreme Court justice, when faced with the dilemma in a pornography case “trying to define what may be indefinable,” famously said that he couldn’t define pornography it but sure knew it when he saw it. 

Jim Cullen had the same problem in defining the notion of the American Dream. In his book The American Dream: A Short History of an IdeaThat Shaped a Nation, Cullen identifies examples that illustrate the American Dream. The closest he comes to a succinct definition is pinpointing a phrase from the Declaration of Independence as defining the American Dream:
“…we hold these truths to be self-evident, that all men are created equal, that they are endowed by their Creator with certain unalienable rights, that among these are Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness.”

Each “Dream” Cullen describes in the book “rested on the language, prestige, and confidence of the Declaration of Independence.”  The Declaration, he says, is the charter of the American Dream. And yet, some do not recognize the power of the Declaration in promoting the American Dream. When a Louisiana legislator offered a bill that students should learn the Declaration in school, other politicians blasted the treasured document as “racist,” apparently ignorant of its import to the American Dream that, at least today, applies to all.
I cannot define the American Dream.  But like the stumped Supreme Court justice, I sure know what it is.  It brings people to America to pursue aspirations unavailable to them elsewhere.  For example, Cullen notes that in 1900, German, Irish and Polish immigrants to the United States owned homes in numbers "that would have been virtually inconceivable in Europe at the time.” The Dream provides the impetus for invention, innovation, and the entrepreneurial spirit.  It’s what pushes people to be all they can be.
The American Dream compelled families to load their belongings in wagons and head west for  new beginnings to achieve what had eluded them so far. Cullen states “If there is one constant in the Declaration of Independence, it lies in the way no version of the status quo is ever completely acceptable.” The urge for a better life, a continuous improvement of circumstances, drives the American Dream. In 1862 my great-great-grandparents loaded a few belongings in a two-wheeled cart pulled by oxen, and taking their children by the hand, left Georgia and walked a thousand miles to settle in a desolate spot in North Louisiana.  They sought the Declaration’s “Life, Liberty, and the Pursuit of Happiness” and they sought it on their own.
President Barack Obama stirred controversy in 2012 when he seemed to minimize the effort of individual hard work in achievement in what is referred to as the “You didn’t build that” speech:

“The point is, is that when we succeed, we succeed because of our individual initiative, but also because we do things together. There are some things, just like fighting fires, we don't do on our own. I mean, imagine if everybody had their own fire service. That would be a hard way to organize fighting fires.

“…look, if you've been successful, you didn't get there on your own. You didn't get there on your own. I'm always struck by people who think, well, it must be because I was just so smart. There are a lot of smart people out there. It must be because I worked harder than everybody else. Let me tell you something – there are a whole bunch of hardworking people out there.
“If you were successful, somebody along the line gave you some help. There was a great teacher somewhere in your life. Somebody helped to create this unbelievable American system that we have that allowed you to thrive. Somebody invested in roads and bridges. If you've got a business – you didn't build that. Somebody else made that happen. The Internet didn't get invented on its own. Government research created the Internet so that all the companies could make money off the Internet.”
Former Massachusetts governor Mitt Romney, Obama’s opponent in his campaign for re-election, criticized the "you didn't build that" statement. “To say that Steve Jobs didn't build Apple, that Henry Ford didn't build Ford Motors, that Papa John didn't build Papa John Pizza ... To say something like that, it's not just foolishness. It's insulting to every entrepreneur, every innovator in America.”
The primary critical argument against the President’s assessment was termed “a matter of emphasis” by one observer. Obama’s belief that government solves all problems and success is unlikely without it is contrary to the American Dream. The Founding Fathers viewed the only way to achieve “Life, Liberty and the Pursuit of Happiness” was to get the British government out of their lives.  They sought freedom to pursue their American Dreams and that meant being in command of their own lives.  Thomas Jefferson, as Cullen reminds us, believed that the system that governs best governs least. By emphasizing government over the efforts of individuals, the President did nothing to encourage and inspire. It was a far cry from President John F. Kennedy’s counsel to “Ask not what your country can do for you. Rather, askwhat you can do for your country.” 
Americans achieved lofty goals and fulfilled their wildest dreams before government ever grew into the bureaucracy it is today.  My great-great-grandparents moved west, built a home, tilled a farm, and provided for a large family with no help from the government during the lean years of civil war and Southern Reconstruction. They, and the Founders as well, would be appalled by the size of American government today and would wonder if we are so weak and helpless that we cannot attain our American Dream without it.
Many have criticized President Obama for his statements in
the "you didn't build that" speech.  This is one of many posts circulating through social media. 
Cullen lists the desire to own a home as one of the most widely realized American Dreams. My parents dreamed of a large ranch-style home on acreage beyond the city limits to raise their three sons. Their dream was fulfilled through a combination of personal initiative and government help—a balance that President Obama failed to make clearly in his speech. The V.A. loan they could obtain would not cover a home of the size they wanted if it was sided with brick with a massive fireplace as the centerpiece of the family room. Instead of settling for less than fulfillment of their Dream, and drawing on their determination to see it through, they scoured the countryside for old house sites where all that remained were brick chimneys and foundations. Cajoling the owners into permitting them to haul off old brick, my parents saved thousands of brick. As I child I helped them pull down old chimneys and carefully clean the old mortar off mountains of antique brick.  They achieved their Dream but it took backbreaking hard work. But they did build it.
Some say government can aid the downtrodden in achieving their American Dreams, while others protest that government interference in the form of taxation, regulation, and obfuscation prevents them from realizing theirs. That argument won’t be settled any time soon, but it may be one that must be resolved for American Dreams of the future to be realized.

Friday, June 3, 2016

Allen Greene: Lincoln Parish Scalawag

    Allen Greene typified the Reconstruction-era “scalawag”—a local citizen who allied himself with the Radical Republicans who controlled national and state government to achieve personal political and financial aspirations. Scalawags were considered traitors to the South. They were just as bad, if not worse, than the carpetbaggers from the North.

     Both respected and despised, Greene was a savvy businessman and generous and sociable neighbor. While he opposed Louisiana’s succession from the Union before the Civil War, he supported individual Confederate soldiers—his son fought for the South. Unlike most Unionists, he was a slaveholder. After the war, however, he was quick to side with the victors and create his own political dynasty in the heart of the Democrat majority. His choice of allies led to death threats and even a gunfight that left him wounded.

     In 1872, federal troops were stationed throughout Louisiana to Federal troops occupied the region at the time, ostensibly to enforce Reconstruction, protect freedmen, and support U.S. marshals and local officials in enforcing the law.  The fall elections for state and local offices were destined to be plagued by controversy and conflict and Jackson Parish was no different.

     Judge Evander McNair Graham was a highly respected attorney and former Confederate officer who seemed certain to win the state senate race for the district including Jackson Parish. His support extended well beyond the parish seat of Vernon as he had served clients throughout the region and former soldiers from his command lived all over north Louisiana. No one expected Allen Greene to enter the race.

     Greene waited until Election Day to add his name to the ballot, a move that upset many in the local electorate. The last thing they wanted was a scalawag elbowing into the election process at the last minute. With Greene at the polls in Vernon were his three
sons William, Charles, and Jackson. Jackson Greene was a commissioner of the election at the polls, keeping a tally sheet. Charles had been appointed a United States commissioner to monitor the election. Since the supervisor was very slow in preparing the tally of the vote, Allen Greene decided to go home to Greensborough, his home west of Vienna and return the following day to examine the results. The count showed Graham garnering twice the votes of Greene and another candidate combined. However, Greene claimed victory to the outrage of the local citizenry. Longtime friends took offense and battle lines were drawn.

Louisiana Tech's Lagniappe Beauties

How Hollywood helped choose the prettiest girls on campus

     In the 1930s and 40s, many colleges called upon well-known artists, actors, cinematographers, and other celebrities to select the beautiful coeds to appear in the schools’ yearbooks.

     In 1934, Bing Crosby selected beauties for the University of Northern Iowa yearbook from ten finalists. The University of Southern Arkansas used natives of the state like actor Dick Powell and radio comedians Lum and Abner to choose beauties for the Mulerider, the school’s yearbook.


Millie Lomax was selected as a Tech
campus beauty in 1934 and 1936.

Oma Watson was a 1939 Lagniappe selection.


Louisiana Tech also adopted this policy in the 1930s. In the 20s, a single coed was usually selected annually as the school’s “most beautiful” or “prettiest girl” for the Lagniappe, the college’s yearbook. A bevy of campus beauties was first selected in 1929 by vote of the students.

Friday, January 1, 2016


Here are a few random photographs of historical note that I pulled from my collection.  Click on the photo for a closer look.

The Bonnie & Clyde gang stole a car from this location in Ruston, LA.


A 19th century posse 

Abandoned dog trot house, Claiborne Parish, Louisiana

General Claire Chennault playing baseball with the troops.  China, World War II

Captain Arthur Cruikshank of Ruston, Louisiana receiving a medal from General Joseph Stillwell, China, WWII


Some photos from my travels across America.  Enlarge them for a closer look and don't forget to go to the next page.

Grand Teton National Park

Grand Teton National Park

Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park

Yellowstone National Park

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