Digging holes here and there in American history.

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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


A Vermont carpetbagger barely survives north Louisiana resistance

     In the years called Reconstruction after the Civil War, carpetbaggers and scalawags wrested political control of Louisiana long held by Democrats. Northerners who moved to the South to take advantage of the unstable social, financial, and political climate to make their fortunes were mockingly called carpetbaggers since they often arrived clutching soft-sided suitcases made of carpet. Allen Greene, senator from Lincoln Parish, exemplified the scalawag since he was a local who threw in with the Radical Republicans to achieve his personal political and financial aspirations. Scalawags were considered traitors to the South and just as bad, if not worse, than the carpetbaggers.

     When white Southerners referred to carpetbaggers, men like Marshall Twitchell of Vermont came to mind.

     Twitchell joined the Union army at the start of the war and fought in major battles in Virginia. Severely wounded at the battle of the Wilderness when a bullet entered his skull, army surgeons left him for dead. After a miraculous recovery, Twitchell served as an officer for a black regiment composed mostly of former slaves. Unlike other carpetbaggers who journeyed south after the war, often to exploit and loot the defeated Confederate states, Twitchell became an agent of the Freedmen's Bureau. Stationed at Sparta in Bienville Parish, his duties entailed assisting emancipated slaves in their transition to freedom.

     Twitchell left the Freeman’s Bureau in mid-1866 and married Adele Coleman, the daughter of a prominent Bienville Parish planter. He acquired land on the east bank of Lake Bistineau and down the Red River to Coushatta, where he established a veritable Yankee colony of his Vermont relatives. Marrying into a leading local family and serving as manager of the combined Coleman-Twitchell properties, the New Englander established himself as a force to be reckoned with in business and political affairs.

     Republican rule in Louisiana rested on the votes of recently freed slaves concentrated in the bottomlands of the Red River and Mississippi River. With the support of newly

Monday, April 20, 2015


How the troublesome pest ignited violence against lawmen

      Lost in the recent national controversies over the use of force by law enforcement are the sacrifices made by police officers in protecting their communities. Men and women sacrifice their lives each year chasing bank robbers and murderers but also while performing mundane tasks like checking on a stranded motorist. In the early 1900s, a number of officers in the rural South died enforcing a law many farmers viewed as federal government overreach.

     From 1906 to the early 1940s, federal and state governments engaged in a war against a cattle tick that caused a devastating fever. The law required farmers to carry their cattle to community dipping vats where the animals were immersed in a chemical solution to kill the ticks. Many stock owners resisted, claiming transporting the cattle led to injuries, the chemicals sickened them, and the time and effort of the process was an annoyance. Cattlemen expressed their frustrations by refusing to dip, dynamiting dipping vats, burning the property of pro-dippers and government employees, and hurling threats that eventually escalated to assault or murder. Destruction of vats continued into the mid-1930s, but eventually government dissemination of information on the economic benefits of tick eradication led many skeptics to withdraw their opposition to dipping. 

     In the remote rural South, from the piney woods of south Georgia to Louisiana, resistance to mandatory treatment of cattle was strong and at times violent. Farmers

Friday, March 6, 2015


So much to see and do across America, I will never get to it all and probably you won't either.  Here's a few spots I've visited in recent years.
Stations of the Cross Shine, San Luis, Colorado

Great Sand Dunes.  The way to see California, Utah, and Nevada
(at least their dust) while standing in Colorado.

Waterfall in Sangre de Cristo Mountains, Colorado.  The waterfall
is actually around the bend in the center.  Water too cold to reach it!

Guard tower, Camp Concordia, Kansas.  One of the few structures
remaining at this former World War II prisoner of war camp.

Chimney Rock, western Nebraska.  One of the landmarks used
by wagon trains headed to Oregon and other points west.

One of the many dioramas of 1930s industry and agriculture at the
 Louisiana State Exhibit Museum, Shreveport, LA.


     Eugene Bunch wasn’t just a train robber.  He was “jovial, jolly and gay – a typical bandit, who thought his profession of road agent a brave and proper one,” according to the railroad detectives who chased after him.   He reportedly tipped his hat to female train passengers and declined to take their handbags. He was equally courteous to his male victims but did relieve them of their wallets.  Express agents noted he never raised his voice when he threatened to blow their heads off if they didn’t open their safes. His take from a host of robberies was estimated in the hundreds of thousands of dollars.
     For five years, from 1887 to 1892, Bunch stayed a jump ahead of a bevy of railroad detectives as he robbed trains in Texas, Louisiana, Mississippi, Georgia, and Florida.  His home  in Washington Parish near the Pearl River provided plenty of remote hiding spots if the law got too close.

     Eugene F. Bunch was born in Mississippi in 1843 to well-respected parents. The family moved to Tangipahoa Parish in his youth and ensured he received a good education. During the Civil War, he enlisted in the 3rd Louisiana Cavalry and apparently served well in the campaigns around Baton Rouge and Port Hudson, although he developed serious drinking and gambling habits.
     At the close of the war Bunch returned to Tangipahoa Parish and opened a school at Amite. He married a Louisiana girl, Flavia Flynn, in 1869.  School teaching didn’t agree with him—probably because of his excessive drinking—so Bunch loaded up his pregnant wife and moved to Gainesville, Texas in 1874.
     Bunch taught school briefly in Gainesville before being elected to three consecutive two-year terms as the Cooke County clerk.  He apparently used his position as an insider

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