Digging holes here and there in American history.


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Wednesday, September 15, 2021

Wash Day

 


 
You may appreciate your washer, dryer, and Tide soap pods more after reading this excerpt from the memoirs of Willie Lee Pace Dillon. Born in 1885, the fourth of twelve children of William and Rebecca Pace, she wrote this recollection of 1890s clothes washing in 1956. 
 
“Lye soap was usually made in the winter and late spring when good oak or hickory wood ashes from the fireplace were plentiful, as well as surplus hog grease and bones. An ash hopper was constructed by placing split boards on a plank fence two feet from the ground, slanting downward and resting on a brace, then setting a bottomless barrel onto the boards. This was filled with ashes and clear water was poured into a basin-like hole at the top in the ashes. The water passed through the ashes, separating the invisible lye which would drain into a vessel at the bottom of the hopper. Usually I was the one assigned the duty of pouring on the water and emptying the dripped lye into the large pot for making the soap. By mixing and heating the lye and greases a cheap, good laundry soap would be made. The soap was dipped from the pot while it was hot and poured into a non-leaking barrel to be used as needed after it cooled.
 
“Buttons could easily be broken in the family wash, as we were then using a 'battling block and stick' to remove excess dirt before boiling the clothes in a large outdoor three-legged black wash pot with fire underneath. The 'battling block' was a large, sawed tree block standing upright near the tubs. Well-soaped wet garments were placed on it one at a time and "battled" with a paddle-like stock, forcing out the dirt and spattering the 'battler' with dirty water. Usually I was the battler while my two sisters tended the tub and pot.
 
“I also tended the pot fire. The clothes were boiled in the pot and required frequent punching down with a stick. Then they were lifted into a tub full of clean water and rinsed through two other large wooden tubs of water before hanging them on the wire line and backyard fences. We used our first rub-board [washboard] in the early 1890's.”

 

Friday, February 5, 2021

Coupons and Coffee Stretcher

World War II rationing changed how Americans lived and ate 

My grandmother never threw away anything. Not that she was a hoarder. She kept a simple, clean home without trails meandering through mountains of newspapers, mystery boxes, and other paraphernalia typically associated with a hoarder. No, she never discarded anything because she had so little and what she had might be needed again. Bacon grease was saved for frying. Potted plants received coffee grounds as fertilizer. She made her own quilts from scraps of cloth, cooked everything from scratch, and maintained her own milk cow and chickens until she could no longer care for them. 

If I held the refrigerator door open too long, she reminded me the escaping cool air cost her money. I didn’t dare leave on a light as I left a room. She bought cattle feed in colorful cloth sacks that served as material to make dresses. 

Grandmother was the most frugal person I’ve ever known. 

So I was not surprised while cleaning out her house after her death in 1982, we discovered her World War II ration book. I don't know if Grandmother assumed rationing would return and she would need ration coupons again or if she kept the book as a memento of those hard times.
As I examined the ration book, I could not help but think about her difficult life through the Great Depression and World War II. When America entered the war in 1941, Grandmother was raising my mother and my two uncles, the three ranging in age from four to eight. Rationing only exacerbated a trying family situation. Frugality was a product of necessity through much of her life. 

WWII caused shortages of manufactured materials, including metal, rubber, and clothing. But food shortages affected everyone. With markets around the world inaccessible, imported foods like coffee and sugar were unavailable in quantity. Much of the processed and canned food was reserved for shipping overseas to the military and our allies. Food transportation across America was limited by gasoline and tire rationing and the priority of transporting soldiers and war supplies. 

Because of these shortages, the federal Office of Price Administration established a rationing system to manage the distribution of foods in short supply. The OPA established 8,000 ration boards across the country to administer the program. Every American received a series of ration books containing coupons necessary for buying rationed items like sugar, meat, canned goods, and cooking oil. When new ration books were available, Claiborne Parish residents picked them up at distribution points set up in Homer, Haynesville, and other communities. 

A rationed item could not be obtained without giving the retailer the appropriate ration stamp. Once a person depleted the ration stamps for a specific item for the month, no more could be purchased. Meals were planned with care, utilizing creative menus, and avoiding waste. 

Citizens found innovative ways to compensate for the shortages. When a car owner could not obtain a new tire, one might be fabricated from wood. People were encouraged to grow “Victory Gardens” in their backyards to supplement the food supply and contribute to the war effort. Some items like nylon hose were difficult to come by. In January 1943, Gibson’s Quality Merchandise of Homer, Louisiana advertised it would have 42 pair of nylon hose for sale in February. Customers were advised to sign up quickly to reserve a pair. 

Coffee rationing began in November 1942 with every person over 15 allowed one pound every five weeks. One news report revealed, “One pound every five weeks will be allowed for every person…This works out to slightly more than one cup a day, and in households where children 15 or older do not drink coffee, the grownups can have the children’s share as well as their own.” 

“Coffee stretchers,” concoctions added to coffee to make it go further, ranged from pure chicory to a cereal blend containing chick peas, barley and malt. While some were homemade using acorns or grains, commercially-prepared substitutes like Postum—a wheat, bran, and molasses blend—and Happy Jack were available. 

Americans supported the war effort and endured the shortages but coffee rationing was very unpopular. On July 28, 1943, President Roosevelt announced it was ending, the first of the rationed items to come off the rationing list. Most wartime food rationing ended in November 1945. 

Holidays like Thanksgiving were quite different on the home front during wartime. The traditional turkey centerpiece was but impossible to acquire. Even Thanksgiving football was suspended. The Detroit Lions, who have hosted an annual Thanksgiving game since 1934, put the tradition on hold between 1939 and 1944. 

The privations and inconveniences endured by those back home hardly compared to those in the service overseas or the suffering and starvation experienced in war-torn countries. Those years, however, influenced how the people who struggled through them would live the rest of their lives.

"Dead" Son Comes Home Alive

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   Teenagers aggravate their parents in many ways, but a 16-year-old Haynesville, Louisiana youth went above and beyond in driving his to hysterics, and later, apoplexy.

   One evening in early 1922, Marlin Mathis failed to return home. The news accounts do not explain if he ran away, lost himself in the wilds of Corney Bayou, or simply hid himself away to avoid punishment for some misdeed. At any rate, after a few days his parents concluded tragedy had struck the teenager. His father, a Haynesville contractor, and his mother agonized over their missing son.

   A few days after Marlin’s disappearance, his parents saw news reports from Amarillo, Texas about a youth about the same age who had been killed in a railroad accident. Details are vague, but the young man was probably “trainhopping,” jumping on or off of a moving freight train, a common practice of transients and runaways moving across the country.



   Fearing the worst, they telegraphed for details. A description of the body matched the missing son. The parents were told one of the last statements the boy made was that his father was a contractor.

   Mr. and Mrs. Mathis left at once on the train, sure they were going to bring the body of their son home.

   The hours creeped by as the train rumbled across the wide Texas expanse, adding to their anguish. Once in Amarillo, they viewed the body and identified it as their son by “a slight twist to the left in the nose and a mole on the left breast.”

   The body was prepared for shipment to Haynesville and just before the parents were to leave for the train, they received a message that Marlin was at home, “very much alive and in his usual good health.”

   Certainly the Mathis family was relieved, but grief likely turned to anger at the distress and embarrassment young Marlin had created. The ignominy of the matter was furthered when the Associated Press picked up the story, distributing it to hundreds of newspapers across America. The story of the “dead” boy returning home appeared in papers in scores of small towns and large cities.

   We can only speculate on Marlin’s fate when Daddy Mathis returned home from Texas.

Friday, July 24, 2020

1932: Fists Fly on Homer Square


By Wesley Harris

  
When Huey Long was elected to the United State Senate in 1930, he was reluctant to give up control of his post as Louisiana’s governor. He refused to permit Lieutenant Governor Paul Cyr to move up and assume the office. Instead, he delayed officially taking his Senate seat until closer to election time, and, for a time, he seemed to hold both offices. Cyr eventually lost a court battle and his position as lieutenant governor.

When Long did leave the governorship, he intended to maintain complete control of the office of Louisiana’s chief executive. His plan was to ensure one of his puppets took the office. O.K. Allen was Long's floor leader in the Louisiana Senate and Long placed his support behind the man he could control in the governor’s office.

Nicknamed the Kingfish after a stereotypical, smooth-talking conman in the Amos and Andy radio show, Long was either loved or roundly hated by Louisianans. No middle ground existed. When he went out in public, citizens wanted to hug him or hit him. As many as six or seven bodyguards in plainclothes, often backed up by more visible uniformed National Guardsmen, went everywhere with Long.


In his book, Louisiana Hayride, Harnett Kane described the tactics used by the bodyguards. “The protection men snarled at luckless Louisianans who got in Huey’s way, and used their fists sometimes if the path was not cleared quickly enough. As to reporters and photographers, Huey told his men to ‘let go.’ That order meant sluggings from

Saturday, December 28, 2019

Ludlow Massacre



The Ludlow Massacre arose from a 1914 confrontation between striking coal miners and their families and the Colorado National Guard and Colorado Fuel and Iron Company guards. The Colorado National Guard machine-gunned and set fire to tents where the striking miners and their families lived. Five miners, two wives, and twelve children died, most of them by suffocation while hiding in a cellar under a burning tent. The miners fought back, and more than 75 people were killed in the course of the war, roughly as many on the mine owners’ side as strikers. The Ludlow Massacre is considered the deadliest labor struggle in American history.

A union has preserved the site with a memorial marker and information panels. The cellar still exists. 

Here are some of my photos from the massacre site and the nearby coal field.
Ludlow was located where the eastern Colorado plains give way to the mountains.


Interpretive signage at the Ludlow Massacre site.







The memorial

Steps leading down into the cellar.
View up from the cellar.

Coke ovens at Ludlow used to burn impurities out of the coal.


Coal tailings from one of the Ludlow mines.


The Hastings Mine was one of the Ludlow-area mines. Twelve miners were killed at the Hastings mine in 1912 from an explosion of gas due to a defective lamp. 121 men died in an explosion at the mine in 1917.



Thursday, June 21, 2018

Nightriders Claim Another Victim


The years following the Civil War were especially hard for newly-freed slaves. With no homes, no money, and no prospects, one can imagine the hopelessness that came with freedom.

To help, President Abraham Lincoln advocated for a bill to establish an organization to assist freedmen.

On March 3, 1865, Congress passed the Freedmen's Bureau Bill. The new agency was created within the War Department, the only federal agency with a structure that could be assigned in the South to assist freed slaves in obtaining relief, land, jobs, fair treatment, and education.
Recently freed slaves meet with the Freedmen's Bureau

The Freedmen's Bureau arranged for schools and served as legal advocates for African Americans in both local and national courts, mostly in cases dealing with family issues and property issues. Assistance was also provided to help African Americans find family members who had become separated during the war. The Bureau encouraged former

Tuesday, June 19, 2018

The Stagecoach Once Ruled N. La. Travel


     Long before railroads and superhighways crisscrossed America, boats and stagecoaches provided the primary means of commercial transportation. The Smithsonian Institution notes that mail contracts made up the bulk of the profits for most stage companies. The company awarded a contract from the postal service was the one most likely to succeed. The routes used by mail stages became lifelines into new western territories, and were soon traveled by immigrants and fortune seekers.

A typical stagecoach

     Travel by stage was not easy. The journey from Memphis, Tennessee, to San Francisco, California, lasted 25 days. Travelers could find themselves packed tightly with up to eight people inside the coach, several more on top, and mailbags stuffed in among the passengers.
     Stage lines built station stops, or contracted with locals to provide horses and other essentials, every ten to fifteen miles along the route. Except for short breaks to change horses at the designated stops, stagecoaches kept traveling day and night. The rough, bone-jarring, and often dangerous travel tried the patience of the most seasoned travelers.
     Early 19th century transportation in north Louisiana was best accomplished on water. The Red and

Monday, November 13, 2017

RAY KROC, THE "FOUNDER" OF McDONALDS

This post is a response to an assignment in my “History of Capitalism” course at Louisiana Tech University.  

I watched the 2016 film "The Founder," a portrayal of Ray Kroc of the McDonald's Corporation as part of a class assignment. Part of my assignment was to determine if the movie presents Kroc as a "villain." Is it even possible for Hollywood to make a film about a conservative Republican businessman and not make him look like a villain?  Probably not.  I read several reviews after watching the movie and several critics noted the film served as an indictment of President Trump-type capitalists.   

Kroc was definitely a capitalist. He took an idea--some would say stole--and made millions. The movie is compelling, especially since we all know McDonald's--"billions and billions served." The first 30 minutes is spent building a sympathetic picture of the McDonald brothers who started the first restaurant. This serves to contrast the greed and ruthlessness of Ray Kroc as the movie progresses. 

The movie portrays Kroc as a villain to some degree, although it does mention how he provided opportunities for financial success to many. There is no question that Kroc's operation has provided thousands of jobs and made millions for investors. But still, the movie tends to condemn his methods and motives. Emphasis is placed on how he "cheated" the McDonald brothers. At one point one of the McDonald brothers say, "We are not greedy men," implying that Kroc is. We are to assume that all capitalists are greedy. Kroc's actions are so ruthless that they supposedly stress one McDonald brother to the point he is hospitalized.
There are also attempts in the film to paint Kroc as a hypocrite. Through words and imagery, Kroc's patriotic and religious beliefs are mocked and his actions (divorce, lying, swindling, etc.) are portrayed in contradiction to his espoused beliefs. This is presented subtly but repeatedly. In one scene, Kroc tries to persuade the McDonald brothers to go national by equating the firm's "golden arches" with "flags and crosses," explaining that McDonald's restaurants should as common as churches. Or as Michael Keaton says in portraying Kroc, "McDonald's can be the new American church." 
I have read articles before that praised Kroc for his business talent and innovation that led to one of the most successful businesses in American history.  "The Founder" is honest with us by noting at the beginning of the movie that it is "Based on a true story." I think we have to take the film as what it is--an Hollywood interpretation with its own perspective and motives. I recommend the movie but also reading more about this fascinating entrepreneur. 


Sunday, October 22, 2017

THE CAPITAL THAT MADE CAPITALISM

Did slaves get our economy to where it is today?

This post is a response to an assignment in my “History of Capitalism” course at Louisiana Tech University.  I hope you find this analysis of Julia Ott’s essay, “Slaves: The Capital that Made Capitalism” interesting.

Ott’s article makes the case that slavery was a significant factor in developing capitalism in America and the world.  In fact, she calls slaves “the capital that made capitalism.”

According to Ott, slaves were essential for the “industrious revolution” and the subsequent “industrial revolution.” The Industrial Revolution was the result of surplus money and crops, leading to the development of new technology. But before the Industrial Revolution was an Industrious Revolution, a period of tremendous desire for more goods. During the Industrious Revolution, the demand for goods increased, but supply did not rise as quickly. These included goods like tobacco, coffee, chocolate, sugar, and tea.  Ott calls these “drug foods” since their new consumers developed a craving, or addiction if you will, to these new luxuries that quickly became “necessities.”

During the Industrious Revolution, Europeans worked harder to be able to afford these drug foods in the 16th Century, which paved the way for the Industrial Revolution of the 18th and 19th Centuries.

But Ott notes the demand for these products is only part of how the Industrious Revolution and the subsequent Industrial Revolution came about. Essential to these economic developments, according to Ott, was new capital in the form of slaves.

Ott explains that trading in slaves and the goods they produced led to the development of modern finance and new industrial activities. Transoceanic trading networks, banks, and insurance services rose from the international slave trade. The capital derived from these endeavors financed British industries such as gun and metal manufacturing, sugar refinement, rum distillation, and the creation of cotton products.  The effect of slavery on the development of capitalism went far beyond what the individual slave did in a cotton field.

Cotton, in fact, became the world’s most significant crop, and slavery was the most efficient capital to produce it. The number of slaves in America grew to increase cotton production. In the early 1800s, cotton was the world’s number one traded good.  The export of cotton to Britain and other nations was imperative to obtain the products and credit needed from abroad.
Slaves picking cotton.

Not only did cotton, through slave labor, develop a wealthy South, according to Ott, it also developing an industrial complex in the North. Northerners participated in the slave trade, transported products created by slaves, created mills to refine those products, and used those profits to invest in other industries.

Ott concludes the essay with the statement that slavery “set capitalism in motion and sustained capital accumulation for three centuries.” Slavery may have given capitalism a “jump start” but other factors have since have attributed to its advancement.

I disagree with the notion that slavery, which ended 150 years ago, is responsible for where our economy stands today. Too many other factors have influenced our economy in the intervening years. In the U.S., the Civil War, Reconstruction, and the Great Depression destroyed the capital Ott says was in the hands of rich Southerners. World War II brought prosperity to many due to the manufacture of war materiel.  Technology developments in one year in recent decades make the entire Industrial Revolution look like the Stone Age. New products and services are developed every day. Communication is instantaneous, prompting constant changes, including growth, in our world economy.  

We would not be far off the mark to call technology the drug of choice today, although Ott’s drug foods are still extremely popular. Many who read this post consider their daily latte, expresso, or frappe essential to life. Millions are attached to cell phones as if they were life support machines that must be monitored constantly. There is more computer capability within a modern cell phone than in the Apollo spaceships that took American astronauts to the moon in the 60s and 70s. Such advancements, considering the size of the world economy today, have the ability to influence capitalistic societies practically overnight. According to Angus Maddison in his book The World Economy, in the last half century, the world economy performed better than at any time in the past. 

Slavery certainly played a role in the development of capitalism. Slaves were chattel, much like money itself, and served as the resource to grow one's finances. But world events, technological advances, and the ingenuity of the capitalist now overshadow slavery's influence on the current status of capitalism and the world economy.



Monday, March 13, 2017

THE LINCOLN ASSASSINATION

Every year I attend a conference in Washington, DC on the assassination of President Abraham Lincoln.  I hope to publish a book one day on the physical evidence from the crime.  Through my research and my participation in this annual conference, I have met many people who are serious students of history.

One of those is Dave Taylor, an elementary school teacher in Maryland. who has become an expert on the assassination.  He publishes an excellent blog on the Lincoln assassination called Boothie Barn.  A recent post on the blog includes a video of Dave giving a dramatic reenactment as the assassin John Wilkes Booth.  It's worth a look: https://boothiebarn.com/2017/03/04/an-evening-with-john-wilkes-booth/#comment-33209

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