Tuesday, April 28, 2015

APRIL 28 = Billy the Kid II : "Billy" Escapes

"I often urged him, while he was free and going good, to leave the country, settle in Mexico or South America, and begin all over again.  He spoke Spanish like a native, and although only a beardless boy, he was nevertheless a natural leader of men.  With his poise, iron nerve, and all-around efficiency properly applied, the Kid could have been a success anywhere." - Dr. Henry F. Hoyt

“If mob law is going to rule, better dismiss judge, sheriff, etc., and let all take chances alike. I expected to be lynched in going to Lincoln. Advise persons never to engage in killing.”
- Billy the Kid, (above) the Mesilla News, April 15, 1881

Billy the Kid slipped his handcuffs, killed two men and rode out of town singing on this date in 1881. The first comment was made by a friend of Billy the Kid years after his death.  It reflects what a lot of people who actually knew the Kid had to say about him.  Poised and efficient.  A natural leader. The second comment was made by the Kid himself just a few days before his daring escape from custody on this date and contained a subtle warning: "...let all take chances alike." His captors would have been well advised to listen to him; given the chance he would escape. 

This is the second of three posts on Billy the Kid

The Kid and the Lincoln County War

When we last left the Kid (alias William Bonney, alias "Billy the Kid") he had just fled the Army Post at Fort Grant, Arizona, after having killed a bully named "Windy" Cahill during a bar room fight on August 17, 1877.  Billy was actually a fairly mild-mannered young man who wanted to go straight, but seemingly found the system rigged against him. Nevertheless, he mingled easily with the local Hispanic community as he always had, smiled easily, and made friends quickly.  And once he made friends he was very loyal.  

So it was that he made friends with John Tunstall (right), a British aristocrat who was setting up a ranch in Lincoln County in the New Mexico Territory.  This put Mr. Tunstall squarely at odds with James J. Dolan, and Lawrence Murphy (below, L & R ), Irish immigrants who had already come from the famine of Ireland and set up their own very powerful ranch, pushing aside the local Hispanic farmers. They had long enjoyed the power of having their ranch (called "the House") and their beef reign supreme in
Lincoln County. To them, Tunstall was an intolerable British interloper. Billy and a lot of young men like him had been hired by Tunstall to watch over his cattle and to run his ranch. Billy said that "Tunstall was the only man who treated me like I was decent." He gave Billy and his other men hope for a future within the law.  But of course Murphy and Dolan had no intention of allowing their mercantile monopoly over Lincoln County be challenged by Tunstall. So they arranged to have Tunstall killed by their man, Sheriff William Brady on Feb. 18, 1878.  This was an act of war against the benefactor of the fiercely loyal Kid and his fellow Tunstall men,  so on April 1, 1878, the Kid and his cohorts shot Sheriff Brady.  This unleashed several months of violence and lawlessness between the men of the House and the Kid and his cohorts called "the Regulators."  The Kid, who had tried to go straight and found the whole system corrupt, developed during this time a reputation as a fearsome fighter.  But he could always find refuge among the Hispanic community who saw him as an avenger for their greedy persecutors in the House who had stolen their land. 

Governor Lew Wallace Seeks to Restore Order

Word of all of this lawlessness and fighting in New Mexico got back to Washington D.C. where President Rutherford B. Hayes appointed Lew Wallace, a Civil War General as Governor of the Territory, and sent him there to restore order. Wallace (below) arrived and offered an amnesty to anyone who would testify before a grand jury. On March 13, 1879 the
Kid wrote a letter to Wallace offering to so testify: "I have no wish to fight anymore. Indeed I have not raised an arm since your proclamation." As a result of the Kid's testimony 200 indictments were brought against members of the House,  But once these indictments were secured Wallace left for Santa Fe and publishing his novel "Ben Hur - A Tale of the Christ." He left the whole prosecution with a local prosecutor who returned almost no indictments against the House men, and forgot Wallace's offer of amnesty.  So the Kid left town. Meeting with the other Regulators in August of 1880, most of them decided to leave New Mexico. But the Kid decided to stay and "Steal myself a living." So he began rustling cattle, and being a rebel again.  This put him back in the news. On Dec. 3, 1880 an editorial in the Las Vegas (New Mexico) Gazette referred to him for the first time in public as "Billy the Kid." On Dec. 23, 1880 he was captured by a posse under the command of Sheriff Pat Garret.

Billy the Kid's Daring and Deadly Escape

On April 13, 1881, the now notorious "Billy the Kid" was sentenced to hang for the murder of Sheriff Brady. At that time he gave the newspapers the interview at the top of this posting. He was taken to Lincoln and was looking for a chance to escape. It came on today's date, April 28, 1881. Sheriff Garret was out of town, so he assigned two heavily armed men, Bob Ollinger and James W. Bell to guard the Kid.  Nobody knows for sure how he managed it, but after taking Billy to the privy Bell was taking Billy back to the Lincoln County Courthouse (below).  Billy dashed ahead of Bell and somehow slipped his
handcuffs. He then turned on Bell and struggled with him hitting him in the head with the cuffs. Bell fell down the stairs and Billy, using either the gun he had wrested from Bell, or one that had been planted for him in the privy and which he had subsequently hidden on his person, shot him as he tried to exit the courthouse.  Ollinger, who was having dinner at a bar across the street came running at the sound of the gunfire, but Billy was waiting for him.  Now free of his handcuffs, he had grabbed Ollinger's loaded double-barrel shotgun and posted himself in a second floor window where he watched as Ollinger strode across the street. "Hello Bob" he said.  And when Ollinger looked up Billy emptied both barrels of the shotgun into him, killing him instantly.

Billy the Kid Rides Off Into Legend

Over the next hour, Billy - unmolested by other townspeople who were too frightened to intervene - freed himself from his leg irons, and from
the balcony on the second floor of the courthouse addressed the crowd which had formed below.  He had not wanted to kill Bell, but had to. According to one witness: "He declared he was 'standing pat' against the world; and, while he did not wish to kill anybody, if anybody interfered with his attempt to escape he would kill him." He then commandeered a horse and rode out of town singing a song according to some witnesses. And with this, in the view of many historians, he rode into legendary fame.

The third and final posting of this series, "Billy the Kid III - Billy is Killed" will be made on July 14, 2018.

Sources =

"Billy the Kid - the Endless Ride" by Michael Wallis, W.W. Norton and Co., New York, 2007

"Billy the Kid - A Short and Violent Life" by Robert M. Utley, Univ. of Nebraska Press,
Lincoln, 1989

"The West of Billy the Kid" by Frederick Nolan, Univ. of Oklahoma Press, Norman, 1998

"Billy the Kid - the American Experience" Dir. by John Maggio, WGBH Boston, Public Broadcasting Stations, 2012

Friday, April 24, 2015

APRIL 24 = The Library of Congress is Born

"If Adams found any relief or pleasure to his duties, it was approving, on April 24, (1800) legislation that appropriated $5,900 to 'purchase such books as may be necessary' for a new Library of Congress.  It was one of the few measures upon which he and the Vice President could have heartily agreed."

In this excerpt from his biography of John Adams, author David McCullough notes the strained circumstances both of the Adams presidency, and of our second president's relationship with our soon-to-be third president. But in this one area they found agreement.  And although this library would go through many misfortunes in its life, this would prove to be an area on which all of the citizens of the new republic could agree.  For the Library of Congress (pictured above, circa 1900) has grown to be a repository of knowledge that is unique in the world. But it all burned waaaay back near the beginning.....

The Origins of the Library of Congress

When the seat of our new national government was moved from Philadelphia to the Washington D.C., in 1800, a specialized collection of books for use by members of Congress was deemed a necessity.  So on April 24, 1800 John Adams did indeed approve legislation which provided for "such books as may necessary for the use of Congress -- and for putting up a suitable apartment for containing them therein."  As noted, the price tag for this in those days came to $5,900,  and some three thousand books were purchased over the next several years.
The Library was at this time kept as a reference Library which was intended for the use of members of Congress only.  In 1801, Thomas Jefferson became President, and, as a man who possessed a large library himself, he naturally took an active interest in the Library of Congress, often recommending books that should be purchased.  An Act of Congress in 1802 gave the president the authority to name a Librarian of Congress.  John J. Beckley was so named and earned a salary of two dollars per day and in addition was to serve as Clerk of the House of Representatives. By 1814, the Library was housed in a timber framed room in the North wing of the Capitol building (above, circa 1800) with a double row of windows.

The Brits Burn the Library of Congress in 1814

The United States got wrapped up into the War of 1812 with Great Britain, and in 1814 the Brits swept into Maryland, and after quickly blowing away the disorganized defenses, marched into Washington on August 24.  And they decided to sack the town and burnt it and all of our public buildings, including the White House, and the Capitol
Building including the Library of Congress which was housed therein.  In fact, legend says that the marauders used the books in the library to light the Capitol building ablaze. While one American watched helplessly and expressed despair as the "elegant library" was being torched, the British commander, Rear Admiral Sir George Cockburn spoke regretfully, commenting "I do not make war against Letters nor Ladies." But burn it he did. Almost everything was lost... one of the few book to survive was a Government Account Book for 1810, which Cockburn took with him as a souvenir (his family returned it in 1940).

Jefferson Comes to the Rescue

Into this breech stepped Thomas Jefferson.  Living in retirement (below, circa 1821) he offered to sell his entire Library to the U.S. government to replace all of what was lost in the fire. Besides, he needed the money to pay debts.  He wanted a library of broader appeal
than just law: "I do not know that it contains any branch of science which Congress would wish to exclude from their collection; there is, in fact, no subject to which a member of Congress may not have occasion to refer." he remarked.  There was some opposition among Federalist lawmakers. Many of Jefferson's volumes were considered radical; the works of Rousseau and Voltaire in particular. A writer to one Boston newspaper summed up some of this feeling: "The grand library of Mr. Jefferson will undoubtedly be purchased with all its finery and philosophical nonsense." Eventually a price of $23,950 was settled on and the library of Jefferson was packed up in ten wagons and became the Library of Congress. Jefferson's friend John Adams (for they had patched up their quarrel) remarked "...I envy you this immortal honour; but I cannot enter into competition with you for my books are not half the number of yours..."  The addition of Jefferson's volume became the nucleus for the new library.

The Library of Congress Since Then

The Library of Congress (pictured below as it looks today) since those early days has grown into the foremost collection of knowledge in the world. In the words of the website, "Jefferson's Legacy":

"The diversity of the Library of Congress is startling. Simultaneously it serves as: a legislative library and the major research arm of the U.S. Congress; the copyright agency of the United States; a center for scholarship that collects research materials in many media and in... (more than) 450 languages; a public institution that is open to everyone over high school age and serves readers in twenty-two reading rooms; a government library that is heavily used by the executive branch and the judiciary; a national library for the blind and physically handicapped; an outstanding law library; one of the world's largest providers of bibliographic data and products; a center for the commissioning and performance of chamber music; the home of the nation's poet laureate; the sponsor of exhibitions and of musical, literary, and cultural programs that reach across the nation and the world; a research center for the preservation and conservation of library materials; and the world's largest repository of maps, atlases, printed and recorded music, motion pictures and television programs."

Sources =

"The Library, An Illustrated History" by Stuart P. Murray, Skyhorse Publishing, New York, 2009.

"John Adams" by David McCullough, Simon and Schuster, New York, 2001

"The Sage of Monticello" by Dumas Malone, Little, Brown and Co., Boston, 1981

"The Adams - Jefferson Letters" ed. by Lee Cappon, Univ. of N.C. Press, Chapel Hill, 1988

"A Picture History of the U.S. Navy" by Theodore Roscoe and Fred Freeman, Bonanza Books,
New York, 1956


Monday, April 13, 2015

APRIL 13 = Handel's "Messiah" Premieres

“There were some parts that were affecting, but I doubt it has staying power” -  John Wesley

“I did think I saw heaven open, and saw the very face of God”.  - George Frideric Handel  

On today's date, April 13 in 1742, George Frideric Handel's classic Oratorio "The Messiah" had it's premiere performance in Dublin, Ireland. The two comments above are two very different reactions to the piece.  The first, by the founder of the Methodist Church was one that was shared by some of those who heard it.  But the second, by the composer himself (pictured above) during the writing of the work, is a better reflection of the general reaction to this piece as it has come down to us over the years.

Handel, the Oratorio, and "The Messiah"

George Frideric Handel (1685 - 1759) was a German born composer who had become well known outside of his native land. He had spent most of his career in England writing music to appeal to the noble caste of that country. Italian Opera was the favorite form of entertainment for the British aristocracy, and at this Handel had been quite successful.  But by 1740, Handel had had a medical setback (apparently
a stroke) which left him unable to perform. This left him in dire financial straights.  So he took to composing oratorios.  These were much like operas in that they usually told a story, and involved dramatic solos alternating with chorus.  But unlike operas, they were done in concert presentation; meaning no elaborate sets or costumes, or dramatic productions. Thus they were much cheaper and easier to produce. In July of 1741, Charles Jennens (above) sent a libretto (the text to be sung) to Handel for an oratorio. He wrote to a friend:  "I hope [Handel] will lay out his whole Genius & Skill upon it, that the Composition may excell all his former Compositions, as the Subject excells every other subject. The Subject is Messiah".

"The Messiah" is Written and Performed

And in two very busy months, Handel wrote a masterpiece. Like all of Handel's oratorios although it is on sacred subject matter, it is much closer to theater than it is to a church service. The text is entirely scriptural, and unlike the rest of Handel's oratorios, it doesn't tell a story, although it does follow the biblical telling of the life of Jesus of Nazareth.  It is actually a series of moments from the life of Jesus, contemplating the Christian ideal of sin and redemption, and going
through until Christ's final triumph. It is divided into three parts: Part One covering Christ's birth, Part Two covering his passion, his death and his resurrection, and Part Three covering judgement day and ending with Christ's acclamation. The first performance was given at the Great Music Hall in Dublin (above), Ireland as a part of a series of concerts.  But all of the proceeds of the performance of the Messiah were given to charity.  The name of Handel as the composer was still a draw and the audience grew to 700, as ladies heard requests by management to wear dresses "without Hoops" in order to make "Room for more company." The performance was a great success in Ireland. one clergyman was moved to shout "Woman, for this be all thy sins forgiven thee!" on hearing the aria "He Was Despised".


One can find many, many accounts online covering the story behind the Messiah, and it's writing. And these accounts tend to differ on points of detail.  There are various versions available online to be found on the reasons why King George II stood up for the "Hallelujah" Chorus which concludes Part Two during a performance in the 1750's.  One says that His Majesty's foot had simply fallen asleep, and he was simply trying to awaken it.  Another version has it that His Majesty was standing to honor the chorus's declaration of Christ as "King of Kings".  During the 1970's, my then private double bass teacher, Alex Cirin told me a version that he had heard that George II had himself fallen asleep, and that when the chorus made its forte' entrance, the King was awakened and startled into standing up.  Whatever the case, the audience of the day dutifully followed the tradition that when the King stands, everyone else must also stand.  And hence the tradition has stood right down to the present - whenever the Hallelujah Chorus is played, the entire audience stands. "The Messiah" did well in its Dublin premiere, but was less successful in its London premiere about a year later. Nevertheless, it has proven to be one of the most popular pieces ever written, and has long since become a staple of Christmas and Easter traditions all over the world.

Sources =




"A History of Western Music" by Donald Jay Grout, W.W. Norton and Co. Inc., 1973

Friday, April 10, 2015

APRIL 10 = The ASPCA is Founded

"On a New York street corner on April 22, 1866, Unitarian Henry Bergh gathered his courage and approached a cart driver unmercifully beating his exhausted horse. 'My friend, you can’t do that anymore.' Astonished, the driver exclaimed, 'Can’t beat my own horse?—the devil I can’t,' and resumed. Bergh added, 'You are not aware, probably, that you are breaking the law, but . . . I have the new statute in my pocket, and the horse is yours only to treat kindly.' Mouth agape, the driver advised, 'Go to hell—you’re mad!'”

This little vignette from a fine article by John Gibb Millspaugh is very illustrative of Mr. Henry Bergh (above), at least later in his life.  It was the heartfelt pleas on behalf off animals everywhere by Bergh which led to the incorporation of the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (the ASPCA) on today's date, April 10 in 1866.  Called "the Great Meddler" in some quarters, Bergh made it everyone's business to prevent callous cruelty to animals, and his organization has made it everyone's business ever since.

Bergh is Appalled by What He Sees

Bergh had indeed been an occasional play writer as a young man.  He had no pets, and apparently didn't much think about animals early on in his life.  A prominent citizen who had studied at Columbia University, he was an heir to his father's shipyard business.  In 1862, Bergh was appointed secretary and acting vice-consul to the
American legation in St. Petersburg, Russia during the reign of Czar Alexander II by President Abraham Lincoln. It was while he was engaged in this diplomatic work that Bergh witnessed the cruel way in which many of the peasant drivers in Russia beat their horses. He became so very horrified with this attitude of wanton cruelty towards animals that he made it his mission to do something about it.  The cold climate in Russia obliged him to resign his diplomatic post in 1864. Bergh travelled around Europe and it was in June of 1865 that he paid a visit  to the Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals in London. Here he studied the work that that organization performed.

Bergh Crusades for Animal Rights in the U.S.

Bergh returned to the United States determined secure a charter to incorporate the ASPCA.  Further,
he was dedicated to the idea that there needed to be statutes on the books which exercised the legal authority to arrest and prosecute violators of the law. At New York's Clinton Hall on February 8, 1866 Bergh made a speech in which he spoke up for humane consideration of animals, “these mute servants of mankind.” This was an issue of concern to everyone he said, regardless of political party or social class: “This is a matter purely of conscience; it has no perplexing side issues,” he said. “It is a moral question in all its aspects. It is a solemn recognition of that greatest attribute of the Almighty Ruler of the universe, mercy."  This address led a number of dignitaries who were present to sign his “Declaration of the Rights of Animals.”

"The Great Meddler" Triumphs

Bergh lobbied and won the support of such prominent citizens as the Rockefellers, and the great newspaper man Horace Greeley came to support his cause. He was often ridiculed in the newspapers of the day who viewed him as a busybody sticking his nose into other people's affairs. Derided as “An Ass That Should Have His Ears Cropped.” And also as “the Great Meddler”, Bergh nevertheless worked tirelessly
 to achieve his goal of an SPCA, and for working laws to prevent just the sort of indifference and outright cruelty to animals such as demonstrated by the man he spoke to in the encounter that began this posting. His work paid off when the charter incorporating the ASPCA was passed by the New York State Legislature on today's date in 1866.  And just nine days later, the first important law against animal cruelty being passed which enabled the ASPCA investigate crimes of cruelty to animals and to make arrests in such cases. By the time of his death in 1888, more than 25 organizations like the ASPCA had sprouted in the U.S. and Canada, and 38 states had laws against animal cruelty protecting not only horses, but dogs, cats, and farm animals of all kinds. And this work goes on down to the present day, covering any and all animals, whether they are mammals, reptiles, fish or birds.





"Heritage of Care: The American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals"  by Marion S Lane and Stephen L. Zawistowski Ph.D., Praeger Publishers, Westport, CT. 2008

Thursday, April 2, 2015

APRIL 2 = Ponce in Florida, Hans Christian Andersen

On today's date, April 2....
In 1513 =

Spanish Explorer Ponce de Leon, who was looking for the "Fountain of Youth" ran into Florida instead, or so the story went.  According to the History of Ponce de Leon in Florida compiled by Antonio de Herrera y Tordesillas:
"The 2nd of April running West-Northwest, the water diminishing to nine fathoms, at one league from land... they ran along beside the coast seeking harbor, and at night anchored near the land in eight fathoms of water.  And believing that this land was an island, they named it La Florida, because it had a very beautiful view of many and cool woodlands, and because it was level and uniform, and because, moreover, they discovered it in the time of the Feast of Flowers {Pascua Florida}..."

Antonio may have gotten these details right, as he had access to the ship's log.  But as he was writing in 1601, he likely was speculating about many of the details.  Further, the claim that Ponce de Leon was searching for the Fountain of Youth came from the Memoir of Hernando D'Escalante Fontaneda written in 1575. Fonteneda thought that the mythical fountain was in Florida, and said that Ponce de Leon was searching for it there.  His account likely influenced Antonio's work some 25 years later. But the fact remains that de Leon may possibly have heard these stories, but he did not mention it anywhere in his writings about his expedition to Florida.

In 1805 =

Hans Christian Andersen (right) , one of the worlds great story tellers, and the author of some of the classic children's fairy tales of history was born in Odensk, near the capital city of Denmark, Copenhagen.   Andersen's output during his life was not restricted to his children's stories as he wrote novels, plays and poetry.  In fact, "A Walk From Amager" (1829) a literary spoof was his first major work.  But it has been in his works for children that he expressed themes that have transcended his own time and place and touched on ideas which have come down to the present.

"The little mermaid grew fonder and fonder of human beings, and more and more she wished that she could live among them.... "Can't I do something to get an immortal soul?" "No," said the old woman said.  "Only if a human being loved you so much that you meant more to him than his father or mother -- and only if his thoughts and feelings were devoted to you, and he let the pastor put his right hand in your's with the promise of faithfulness now and for all eternity.  Then his soul would flow into your body, and you too could share in human happiness. "

Yes, that story is from the story "The Little Mermaid" which formed the basis of the enormously popular Walt Disney cartoon movie of the same name.  Just think: when you're thinking of a person who is hyper-sensitive to things and conditions, you're likely to think of "The Princess and the Pea" - a story by Andersen.  When you're thinking of a popular fad that everyone pretends to like, but which secretly they hate, or which they just don't understand, you're likely to think of "The Emperor's New Clothes." This man who would achieve considerable success with his published work in his lifetime died of liver cancer on August 4 in 1875. By that time he was paid an annual stipend by the Danish government as "national treasure." A statue of him by August Saaybe was erected and can now be seen in Rosenborg Castle Gardens in Copenhagen.


Ponce de Leon =




Hans Christian Andersen =



"The Stories of Hans Christian Andersen"  Translated by Diana Crone Frank and Jeffrey Frank, Duke University Press, Durham and London, 2005.