Category: history

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 4 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday, or rather in the year 1776, the British drove the Americans out of Quebec. They wanted to attack Fort Ticonderoga, but then winter set in. Rather than continue fighting, it was time for a cup of hot chocolate and stories around the campfire. The war could wait until next year . . .

On July 5, 1777, British General John Burgoyne surprised American General Arthur St. Clair. St. Clair had been put in charge of Fort Ticonderoga after most of the Continental Army moved south to join George Washington’s forces. He was expecting a British attack, so when it came, that wasn’t any surprise. The surprise occurred when General St. Clair looked up. He saw a sight that must have made him shit his pants.

The British had secretly and silently deployed artillery at the top of Sugar Loaf Mountain (now called Mount Defiance).

This was Fort Ticonderoga’s Achilles’ Heal. We all have one. Even fortresses. This fort was surrounded by high ground and mountains. Sugar Loaf Mountain stood just a mile away from the fort, and was easily within artillery range. The presence of British cannon on that high ground left the Americans sitting ducks.

A cannon pointing in the general direction of Sugar Loaf Mountain (Mt. Defiance) and the outfall of the La Chute River.

That night General St. Clair made a very wise move. He gathered his troops and slunk away, abandoning the fort. And so, the British took back the “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga without firing a single cannon shot.

This was the beginning of General Burgoyne’s Saratoga Campaign. This campaign was named after the General’s favorite brand of cigarettes, which he chain-smoked every waking hour.

Burgoyne hoped to reunify Canada with the American colonies, while dividing the Colonies by isolating New England. It was thought by the British that the main revolutionary fervor came from New England. So by isolating New England, it was theorized that the remainder of the colonies could be quickly and easily subjugated.

And perhaps that’s true, for Southerners don’t know how to think without the help of New England politicians.

General St. Clair’s retreating forces were pursued by General Burgoyne. Some escaped, but others were taken prisoner. Those who escaped, along with other men, were led by Colonel John Brown right back to Fort Ticonderoga. He wasn’t about to let them get away with running from the Brits.

Cannon at the upper ramparts of Fort Ticonderoga.

On September 18th, 1777, they surprised the British defenders of the fort. Brown and company captured artillery pieces and hundreds of enemy prisoners. They destroyed shipping and the outer works of the fort. They freed 100 American POW’s. And they nearly recaptured the fort itself.

The British held the fort, but were shaken. Or, they were shaken, but not stirred. No one knew it at the time, but this would be the last major assault on Fort Ticonderoga.

Meanwhile, General Burgoyne had led his invading troops south to the Hudson River valley. He was running out of Saratogas and needed to replenish his supply quickly. There they engaged in a series of battles against American defenders under Generals Horatio Gates and, once again, Benedict Arnold. His troops got shot all to hell up by the Americans. It was frustrating, and he was having a nicotine fit.

Finally, Burgoyne made it to the town of Saratoga itself. There at last, he found his favorite brand of cigarettes. And he sat back to enjoy them, while watching thoroughbred racing at the local track. Suddenly he found himself surrounded by American troops. The gig was up. He was forced to surrender at Saratoga, New York, on October 17, 1777.

General Burgoyne, very unhappily surrendering his Saratogas.

This was a monumental victory for the Americans. It surprised the entire world. Nobody expected anything like this. What a bunch of smarty-pants the Americans were. Now the world took the American Revolution seriously. And this victory convinced France to join the American side, and provide crucial help in the war. Who knows, maybe they thought they could get Canada back.

The British abandoned Fort Ticonderoga in November, 1777, but not before destroying as much of it as possible. Did I mention that it’s great fun to demolish things? The Revolutionary War then shifted southward, and Fort Ticonderoga became forever irrelevant to all but historians. And tourists. And purveyors of souvenir shops, selling cheapjack crap.

This beautiful greensward is part of a dry moat that surrounded Fort Ticonderoga. During lulls in the war, this is where the officers engaged in sporting games of golf, croquet, and other gentlemanly pursuits.

After the war, it was plundered by local settlers for wood and stone, and fell into labefaction. And within a hundred years it was nothing but a pile of ruins. No one cared about Fort Ticonderoga. All they wanted was houses to live in. Ungrateful sots.

Daguerreotype of the ruins of Fort Ticonderoga.

Restoration efforts began in 1900, and now Fort Ticonderoga is back to its old 18th century glory. Today it’s a popular tourist attraction. And who knows, maybe it’s part of a secret CIA plot to once again invade Canada.

But Fort Ticonderoga helps to explain why Canada and the United States are separate nations. It was used for invasions both north and south, in attempts to unify. But that thin connecting thread between the St. Lawrence valley and Hudson River valley was not enough to overcome geographical isolation.

Culture, mindsets, and political attitudes developed independently north and south. Even if an invasion had been successful, it would have been very challenging to bring the two peoples together in heart and mind. Canadians are way too polite. And we Americans are way too rude. It just wouldn’t have worked out.

And after the revolution, Loyalists in the new United States were persecuted. Many fled north to Canada. Understandably, they had kind of a sour attitude toward the idea of unification.

“Halt, who goes there?” this cannon seems to say.

We tried once more during the War of 1812, to swallow up the lands to the north. Doncha’ just love good ol’ American Greed? But we were roundly defeated in this effort, while at the same time Canadian identity cemented in strength. They said, “Fuck-all this! We are Canadians! Go the hell home, Yankees!”

This ensured we will always have a Canada, separate and independent from us.

And isn’t it handy to have this foreign jurisdiction? In the 19th century, Canada gave runaway slaves a place of refuge. During the idiotic, insane Vietnam War, runaway conscientious objectors also found a place of refuge in Canada. These days, when prescription drug prices get out of hand, we can smuggle something cheaper across the border to save our lives.

And when we have a president who behaves like a bully, it feels refreshing to see a prime minister up north stand up and politely thumb his nose at the rantipole.

Canada has been our strong friend and ally for many years. I hope it stays that way, and that it always remains independent. We need this ally and counterpoise as much as we, and they, once needed Fort Ticonderoga.

War is an ugly hell. But that doesn’t mean it can’t be prettied up a touch with artistic cannon designs.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 3 of 4

RECAP: Yesterday’s time machine took us all the way back to an improbable 16-year era, when the Canadian colony and the 13 American colonies were unified in a sense. Of course every colony had their own government, overseen by the British, and kept morally divided through constant bickering. But a thin thread existed along the waterways of Lake Champlain and Lake George, that connected the Canadian colony to the American colonies. And Fort Ticonderoga was at the heart of that connection . . .

The barracks where the soldiers lived, worked, and probably played poker, at Fort Ticonderoga.

The British loved Fort Ticonderoga. They found it to be extremely useful as a supply and communication link between Canada and New York. And it was such a safe and secure place. It was just the spot to relax, rejuvenate, and enjoy the magnificent splendor of the Adirondack and Green Mountains, mirrored in the placid waters of Lake Champlain.

And it would have remained this way if only the damned Yankees had not been so revolting.

But on April 19, 1775, the shot heard round the world began the American Revolution. On that date, the British were defeated by the Yankees in the Battles of Lexington and Concord. How dare those Yankees! They had to be punished. So the British laid siege on Boston. They figured if they could starve all the Bostonians to death, it would teach them a lesson.

Ethan Allen giving the commander of Fort Ticonderoga, Captain William Delaplace, a wake-up call.

The Yankees felt concerned, because they enjoyed eating. And they knew that success for the new revolution they had just fomented depended on breaking the siege. So they quickly came up with a plan.

On May 10, 1775, just three weeks after the Revolutionary War began, Ethan Allen and his Green Mountain Boys, and Benedict Arnold with his volunteers, led a surprise attack on Fort Ticonderoga. Those poor damned British soldiers. There they napped, without a care in the world, living the life of Riley. And then someone shit all over their paradise.

The unprepared British had only 48 soldiers, and they were caught sleeping. Mighty, “impregnable” Fort Ticonderoga fell without a shot being fired.

This is where some of the British soldiers slept, on cozy, Sleep Number beds, while Ethan Allan and his Green Mountain Boys were sneaking up on them.

And boy, what a haul the Americans stole. Er, confiscated. The fort was stocked chock full of cannons, guns, and other instruments of death. General Henry Knox, who must have been very rich because he later had a valuable fort named after him, transported these cannons to Boston. There, they were used to end the siege.

And now Fort Ticonderoga was occupied by a newly formed Continental Army, all proud of themselves and intent on driving their British oppressors from North America.

When Ethan Allan died, his body was frozen and put on permanent display at Fort Ticonderoga. Here’s a photo of the ol’ block of ice himself.

That’s when somebody got the bright idea of using this fort as a staging ground to sail up Lake Champlain and attack Canada. They thought they could easily defeat the British army and then convince French Canadiens to join the revolution. What could possibly go wrong?

Why shouldn’t the French Canadiens want to go along with this plan? After all, they spoke French, while their British occupiers spoke English. But the American Yankees, they spoke, uh . . . well . . . never mind.

In late-August, 1775, American General Richard Montgomery confidently left Fort Ticonderoga with 1,200 troops, to invade the weak, quivering colony of Quebec. He sailed north and he met with quick success, the lucky bastard. By November he captured Montreal, and then laid siege on Quebec City.

He met up with General Benedict Arnold at Quebec City. Arnold, by the way, had drawn the unlucky straw. To reach Quebec City, he had to lead a disastrous expedition through the wilderness of Maine, losing nearly half of his men to the treacherous terrain. Meanwhile, all Montgomery had to do was sail up Lake Champlain as if he were on a Carnival Cruise. It’s no wonder Arnold later turned his coat and sided with the Brits.

In December, 1775, a new battle was fought for Quebec City on the Plains of Abraham (again, not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln). The Canadians, under General Guy Carleton, soundly defeated the Americans, killing General Montgomery and wounding General Arnold. Ouch!

But General Arnold did not leave immediately. There was no way in hell he was going back through the Maine wilderness. Instead he laid a weak, token siege upon the city, while American occupying forces in Montreal attempted to convince Canadians to join in the revolution.

Problem was, the Americans didn’t have any money except worthless paper printed by the Continental Congress. The Canadians were unimpressed. They said, “Show me the money!” And we didn’t have anything to show.

By May of 1776, it became apparent that the military and propaganda mission to conquer Quebec had failed. Meanwhile British reinforcements and supplies arrived after the ice on the St. Lawrence River thawed out. Uh-oh. In the face of certain annihilation, the Continental Army broke off its siege of Quebec City and fled back to the Colonies. But this time, Benedict Arnold made sure to travel by way of Lake Champlain. No more coach for him. He was going first class.

He led his Yankee troops lickety-split to Fort Ticonderoga.

Sigh, it seemed unification with Canada would have to wait for another day.

But maybe not too much longer, as far as the British were concerned. They were all full of themselves, putting the Yankees on the run like that, and so they pursued the retreating Continental Army, sailing down Lake Champlain toward their fortress at Ticonderoga.

The flagstone pavement and inner structures of mighty Fort Ticonderoga.

But the Americans were not to be underestimated. They had a navy of their own, and they too liked to play in the water. General Arnold took command of this navy and fought the British at the Battle of Valcour Island, in Lake Champlain, on October 11, 1776. It was no contest. Poor Arnold was defeated by General Carleton, who captured or destroyed most of the American ships. And who knows, maybe this is where Benedict first got the idea of jumping ship.

Just the same, it was a Pyrrhic victory for the British. Arnold’s efforts managed to stall the Brits long enough for winter to start sneaking her cold, icy hands up the breeches of the British army. Yep, they were freezing their balls off. So they decided to put away their ambitions to take back Fort Ticonderoga until the next year.

It’s time for bed. Don’t worry, Part 4 will be waiting right here for you tomorrow when you wake up. And smile! It’s the final part! 🙂

I believe this building was the officer’s quarters, at Fort Ticonderoga. Here is where big staff meetings were no doubt held, where some poor bastard always got the big staff.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 2 of 4

RECAP: If you can remember as far back as yesterday, or maybe the year 1758, British General James Abercromby has just decided to attack the newly constructed Fort Carillon, at Ticonderoga, and take it from the French. His long-term plan is to sail north from the fort, and drive the French out of Canada . . .

Cannon protruding through the battlement of an outer rampart of Fort Ticonderoga. It points southwest, toward the area where the La Chute River empties into Lake Champlain.

He came with an army of 16,000 soldiers. But Fort Carillon was a tough bell to ring. French General Louis Montcalm had only 4,000 troops to defend the fort, but he soundly defeated the British. Yep, he rang their bell instead.

This defeat was very embarrassing for the British. The whole world wondered how they could lose this battle against such an inferior force. The Brits looked like a bunch of wimps. But the British had a face-saving answer. They let it be known that this damned fort was impregnable.

That year the British were losing World War Zero. But then they got to praying. They prayed real hard for a miracle. And in 1759, a year that is known as the Annus Mirabilis (or, miraculous year), their prayers were answered. God switched sides.

In 1759, Great Britain and it’s allies began winning WW0, especially with some victories at sea against the French. Yessir, they hoisted the French by their own petard. Aye mateys, they keel-hauled them buggers. Yup, made them walk the plank into shark-infested waters.

Mortar and cannon aimed at Lake Champlain and the La Chute River.

France got desperate. Their prayers weren’t working, so they concentrated their resources in Europe and left General Montcalm with a skeleton fighting force to protect their Canadian colony. Well, maybe they weren’t skeletons just yet.

Montcalm muttered “oi vey” to himself. Or was it, “oh merde”? Whatever it was, he knew he was in trouble. He pondered his priorities. Should he choose Ticonderoga, or his own ass? He made the smart decision and chose his own ass. He withdrew to Quebec City, and left Fort Carillon with just a small garrison of 400 dupes. I mean troops.

That’s when the British said, “Hmm, maybe that damned fort isn’t so impregnable after all.” And in July, 1759, British General Jeffrey Amherst led an overwhelming force of 11,000 soldiers against Carillon. These 400 Frenchers weren’t idiots. They ran like hell, but not before trying to blow the fort up. After all, what could be more fun than blowing something up?

But perhaps they were drunk, or maybe their matches were wet, or maybe it’s because dynamite hadn’t been invented yet. But they were largely unsuccessful at their demolition efforts, and this “impregnable” fort fell into the hands of the Limeys, nearly intact.

The British renamed it after the Iroquois word. They hated anything French, including a French name. And so from then on it’s been known as Fort Ticonderoga.

Close-up of the business end of a mortar at Fort Ticonderoga. If I was facing this I’d feel mortarfied.

The next step would be to proceed north, and finish the French off at Quebec City. But the fickle British changed their minds. Instead of attacking from the south, they decided to attack Quebec City from the east, by sea. And why not? The British loved the sea. That’s where they had most of their successes.

British General James Wolfe sailed up the St. Lawrence River from the Atlantic, and laid siege to Quebec City. A few months later he drew the French army out of the city and defeated General Montcalm at the Battle of the Plains of Abraham (not to be confused with Abraham Lincoln).

Both generals died in this battle, so I’m not sure what they got out of it. But the French were finally defeated and were driven out of Canada. The French government, that is. The French settlers remained in place, and from then on have tried to do their best getting along speaking French in an English speaking country. It’s led to more than one awkward moment.

For the next 16 years, Canada and the 13 American colonies were unified. Yay! At last we were one! Well, sort of. We were connected by the thin thread of the Lake Champlain and Lake George waterways, with Fort Ticonderoga at the nexus.

Perhaps it would be nice for some, if the story ended here. That would mean Canada and America remained unified. And it might mean we eventually became one nation, after Great Britain slowly released its grip on us. But we know that’s not what happened. Camelot can only last for one brief shining moment. Come back tomorrow for Part 3, and find out how everything went all wrong.

A Yankee and Limey soldier fighting over a box of cannonballs. Can’t we all just get along?

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US, Part 1 of 4

Introduction

Today is the 100th anniversary of the ending of World War I. Since 1938 this anniversary has been an official federal holiday. It was originally called Armistice Day, but that name was changed to Veterans Day in 1954, to honor all of our military veterans, from all of our wars.

In Canada, today is called Remembrance Day.

I’ve decided to honor our veterans, as well as Canadian veterans, with a four-part post. And I’m going back, way back, to our very first wars.

We partly fought these wars against Canada, and they help to explain why Canada and the United States are two separate nations, rather than one unified country.

Today is part one. Tomorrow is part two. Whatever the hell day comes after that is part three. And if my math is right, I think I’ll have part 4 come after part 3.

Why Canada is Canada, and We are US

Part 1 of 4

Ever wonder why Canada never joined the United States? I mean, what’s wrong with us? Bad breath? Impolite manners? All of the above? We’re good guys, so it just doesn’t make sense.

One way to make sense of it is to understand the little hamlet of Ticonderoga, in upstate New York, just 80 miles from the Canadian border. I lived for a year in that little hamlet, having come from California to stay with my Dad for a while. I even graduated high school there. And to tell you the truth, I never quite understood the town myself. But I’m going to give it my best shot, with these posts.

Ti High, the brain factory where I graduated several score and many years ago. Whenever I did or said things out of the ordinary, I’d get brained by a teacher or student. So this is where I got all my brains.

Ticonderoga straddles the land between Lake George and Lake Champlain, and was once a very strategic spot for raiding, robbing, and killing people. Native Americans slaughtered each other on this spot for thousands of years, before we came along. Now the town’s natives just assassinate each others’ characters and run off black people. But that’s a whole different story. Perhaps one to tell after sundown.

An Indian battle near Ticonderoga, in 1609. Drawing by the explorer and cartographer, Samuel de Champlain.

There’s a waterway highway of sorts that travels from the mouth of the Hudson River, at Manhattan Island, all the way north to the St. Lawrence River in Quebec. And before the invention of the airplane it was the easiest, quickest way to get from south to north, or vice-versa, in this neck of the woods. Otherwise, you had to climb a bunch of mountains, or take a long sea voyage.

Native Americans used the route for trade and travel. They’d paddle up Lake George in their canoes, and then portage four miles from Lake George to Lake Champlain. Portage means, getting out of the water and carrying your frickin’ canoe on your frickin’ back, while you slog from one body of water to another. It’s a pain in the back, ass, and feet.

Naturally they wanted to take the shortest route possible on this portage. And so naturally that’s where rival tribes would hide out and ambush them, stealing all the goods they carried with them, that they had brought to trade. As they say in the mafia, “It’s business. Just business.”

Ticonderoga is an Iroquois word that means, “the place between two waterways.” Or maybe it means, “the place where you have to carry your frickin’ canoe, while wild savages chase you around with a hatchet.”

The entrance to the inner workings of Fort Ticonderoga. Many famous people passed this way, including Ethan Allen, Henry Knox, and Benjamin Franklin. And a man named George Sleppington often bathed himself at the nearby lake. So it is said that George Sleppington washed here.

Anyway, the French came along and colonized the St. Lawrence River valley. They were the ones who started the whole Canada thing. Meanwhile, the British stole New Netherlands from the Dutch, and renamed it New York. Then they both proceeded to try to murder each other.

That’s when World War Zero broke out. WW0 refers to any world war that occurred before World War One. Apparently there’s been a bunch of them. But the WW0 I’m referring to is the Seven Years’ War. Which lasted nine years, by the way.

We Americans call it the French-Indian War, but that just refers to the North American front of a greater war fought all over the world by France and all her allies, against Great Britain and all of her allies.

WW0 started right here in America, in 1754, when 22-year-old Major George Washington led Colonial troops against a French fort in present-day Pittsburgh. French General Teré Bradshau kicked Washington’s ass, leaving him so embarrassed his skin turned red. So he returned home and chopped down a cherry tree just to take out his frustrations. Later, he started a football team.

14 of the cannons at the restored Fort Ticonderoga, were provided by the British government. These cannons had been cast in England during the American Revolution, but the war ended before they could be deployed.

In 1755 the British got it up their butts that they could sail up Lake George and Lake Champlain, and drive the French out of their Canadian colony. They fought a great battle for Lake George, and eventually ended up victorious.

This scared the hell out of the French, so they decided they needed to build a fort at Ticonderoga, to stop any future British advances.

Some of the cannons at Fort Ticonderoga have been artistically designed and cast. It gives soldiers some beauty to enjoy, while going through the horror of being shot at.

They constructed a star-shaped fort, at first made of wood, and then stone, and named it Fort Carillon. It got this name from the nearby La Chute River, which connects Lake George to Lake Champlain. La Chute means, “The Shit” in French. It seems the tinkling sounds of the rapids on The Shit sounds just like carillon bells.

And speaking of shitting, as sure as a moose shits in the woods, the French were right. In 1758, British General James Abercromby had all the gall and stupidity to attack Fort Carillon. He really wanted to ring the French’s bell.

Will he succeed? Or will he get his ass kicked? You’ll just have to wait and see tomorrow, same bat blog, new bat post, and find out in Part 2. (And no cheating. Stay off Wikipedia.)

An inner rampart of Fort Ticonderoga, with cannons protruding through battlements. Rather intimidating, wouldn’t you say?

Memorable Providences

Cotton Mather enjoyed his cachet and influence as a religious leader of the Puritan Church. And he was a very prolific writer. He published more than 450 books and pamphlets over the course of his life, most of which are now forgotten.

But history will never forget his book, Memorable Providences, published in 1689. It’s a true story about children in Boston who fell under the spell of a wicked witch named Ann Glover.

Ann Glover and her daughter, Mary, worked as housekeepers for the Goodwin family. One day, the Goodwin’s 13-year-old daughter, Martha, accused Mary of stealing laundry. Ann felt outraged and got into a hellacious argument with the Goodwin children. Then she cast a spell upon them.

The Goodwin children soon became ill and began falling into mysterious fits and seizures.

A doctor determined they had been bewitched by Ann Glover. She was arrested, tried, and hanged. But at the gallows she cackled a sinister warning. According to Memorable Providences, she prophesied that the children would never recover from their spell, and claimed that she wasn’t the only witch in the colony. There were many others.

Memorable Providences exposed the devil’s dirty deeds, forcing Lucifer to leave Boston and seek more fertile ground elsewhere. And so Ann Glover was the last witch to be hanged in Boston.

The Prince of Darkness’ search brought him to the little village of Salem. The citizens there hated each other. A feud had broken out a few years before. People took sides. They quarreled. They brawled. Things got personal, and more and more controversies erupted. These Puritans were pious, but piety alone could not stop them from fighting amongst each other.

Satan arrived, surveyed this situation, and felt very pleased his evil influence had taken such a hold. Everyone was at each other’s throats. Everyone that is, except the children. Children are too innocent to fall under the devil’s influence. They don’t know how to hate, the way adults do.

The devil pondered, while playing with his pitchfork and twitching his tail. Something had to be done about those dratted children.

The children of Salem were a happy, playful lot, before the devil and his diablerie descended upon this unsuspecting town. Note: The dioramas in the photos of this post can be found at the Salem Witch Museum, in Salem, Massachusetts.

Sarah Good was deeply in debt, impoverished, and kind of annoying to her neighbors, from whom she frequently begged. And she had all the audacity to question Puritan values. Satan saw an opportunity for bad in Good. He transformed himself into a man dressed in black and approached her in the night. He offered to help her with her financial situation if she would become a witch and cast spells on children. She agreed, and she also agreed to help Satan recruit other women who had been reduced to beggary.

Soon young girls all over Salem were falling into fits and seizures. They became tormented by unseen forces that pinched and stabbed them, causing them to shriek in pain. These fits were caused by spells the new witches had cast upon the poor kids.

These erstwhile happy little kiddies fell under the spell of hexes, and became possessed by the spirits of demons. Which is the only reason why kids would ever behave crazy, weird and stupid.

But the men of Salem were wise, in spite of their bickering ways. They, with their families, had read Memorable Providences, and thus were very familiar with the workings of witchcraft. Yep, they knew a thing or two. It was all right there in that book by the esteemed Cotton Mather, that they had read to their wives and kids. So it didn’t take long for them to conclude that all these fits and seizures were the results of bewitchings.

And the afflicted girls knew who their tormentors were. Cotton Mather’s book taught that the witches who hexed them would appear to them in the night, in the form of specters, or apparitions. And indeed they did, just like the book said.

In no time, Sarah Good and several other women were identified by the young girls. They were arrested, tried and convicted. And this bad Good witch was hanged with four others on July 29, 1692.

These condemned witches are being carted off to the gallows. Their distress is evident, but they should have thought about these consequences before they made their deals with the devil.

The devil was undaunted by these hangings. He kept busy, continually recruiting more servants of evil to replace those who had been uncovered.

He found Martha Corey. Unlike Sarah Good, she was a devout churchgoer. But she was vulnerable to the devil’s wiles due to her way of thinking freely, and being blunt and abrasive with others. He convinced her to go about claiming that the children were lying, and that there was no such thing as witches, and to denounce the witch trials.

A couple of children overheard Martha Corey calling them liars. They discussed this with each other and it occurred to them that she must be a witch. So they identified her to the authorities, and she was arrested, tried, convicted and hanged.

Rebecca Nurse was one of the most pious, well-respected members of her community. But she was old and nearly deaf, and her difficulty hearing often led to misunderstandings. The devil took advantage of her hearing disability. He appeared to her one evening, in the form of a doctor. Then he convinced her to sign away her soul, letting her believe she was actually getting rid of a mole.

Shortly after this she got into a dispute with a neighbor concerning some pigs. Or were they wigs? Whatever, the exchange was awkward and left her neighbor feeling bewildered and pissed off. Very quickly it became apparent that Rebecca Nurse was no pious saint. She was really a witch.

She was arrested, tried and found not guilty. So she was tried again. This time she failed to hear a critical question accurately, and gave the wrong answer. It resulted in a conviction, and Satan was defeated. She was sentenced to death and hanged.

A couple of good and pious citizens of Salem, giving some condemned witches a piece of their mind. Little did they suspect, until the Rebecca Nurse case, that they too could be fooled into following Satan.

Most of the witches of Salem were female, which at the time was the more vulnerable of the genders. But the devil did manage to snag a few weak males with his recruiting efforts.

The most notorious male witch was George Burroughs. He had been a minister in Salem nine years earlier. Then he made a pact with the devil. Lucifer gave him superhuman physical strength in return for stirring up just a little bit of trouble.

He induced Burroughs to get into a dispute with his parishioners over his pay, and to borrow money, and finally to skip town ahead of his creditors. The devil promised that no one would pursue him, due to their fear of his strength and fighting skills.

The minister resigned his position in 1683 and moved to the Eastland (now the state of Maine). As promised, no one gave chase. But his former parishioners and creditors never forgot him. When the witch trials began in 1692, they realized he had been a witch all along, and it occurred to them that this was why he was so strong.

So they sent a very large posse to arrest him.

His incredible physical strength made him difficult to subdue, but the posse finally managed to put this herculean witch into chains and dragged him back to Salem.

George Burroughs fought hard, using his demonic strength to knock one member of the posse out cold, before the others could restrain him with chains.

He was tried, convicted, and brought to the gallows with four other witches. But then this very gifted former minister made a spectacular bid to enlist the entire town into the league of the devil.

He stood at the gallows and gave an impassioned sermon proclaiming his innocence. It was such a fine speech that the crowd was stirred. Little did they know that Satan the devil was standing there with him, whispering the words of this persuasive talk directly into his ear.

At the end of the sermon he recited the Lord’s Prayer with elegant perfection. This astonished the crowd because everyone knew it was impossible for a witch to recite the Lord’s Prayer in such a beautiful, flawless manner.

The crowd was moved to tears, became agitated, and cries issued forth to release him and the four other witches. But the hangman saw the danger and acted quickly, sending Burroughs kicking and writhing to the bowels of Hell.

Upon witnessing this, many in the crowd murmured that an innocent man had been executed. This marked a crucial moment for Salem. The devil was gaining control.

But much to Lucifer’s chagrin, Cotton Mather happened to be one of the crowd.

Mather bravely sat on his horse before the mob and gave his own grandiloquent speech, all the while prepared to gallop away in case the speech failed. He reminded them that the devil can appear in many forms, including an Angel of Light. And he was able to correct the picture of the evil George Burroughs so well, that soon the masses were placated. The sight of Burroughs’ dangling body, twisting in the wind, left them satisfied. And they allowed the hangings of the four other witches to continue without further interruption.

The proper way to bury a witch is in a shallow, unmarked grave. Executed witches in Salem were inhumed two feet deep, sometimes with hands, feet, or other body parts protruding from the earth.

The devil felt furious about this, and began putting all the energy of Hell into his campaign. He converted dozens and dozens more into witchcraft, until soon the witches of Salem numbered in the hundreds.

But the pure souls of Salem responded in kind. The jail overflowed with newly accused, and the witch-trial court clogged. But still it plodded along as best it could, and craftsmen worked sedulously at meeting skyrocketing demand for fresh rope at the gallows.

Then the devil got a diabolical idea. He managed to convert the governor’s wife. And soon she, too, fell under the finger of accusation.

That changed everything. Governor Phips loved his wife, for she was particularly bewitching. And because he had fallen under the spell of her love potion.

He took immediate action. He dissolved the court. He then pardoned all those who were awaiting execution. And he established a new court with a new, much more merciful judge.

Soon accused witches were released in droves from the jails. As quickly as they began, the witch trials ended. And the hapless citizens of New England were left to the mercy of an army of Lucifer’s minions. Including Governor Phips’ wife.

The devil had finally defeated Cotton Mather. Memorable Providences dropped off the bestseller list.

Witches have continued to haunt America from that time forth. But they are no longer called witches. Satan, in his craftiness, has given them new forms and new behaviors. They are just as wicked as their predecessors, but they morph like a deadly virus.

In the 1940’s they took on the form of Japanese spies. We responded by interring them into concentration camps.

In the 1950’s they morphed into communists. But thanks to the heroic efforts of Joseph McCarthy (a modern-day Cotton Mather), these witches were imprisoned and blacklisted.

In the 1980’s they became deviant parents and sexually abusive daycare workers, with a large coven concentrated in Kern County, California. They molested young children and subjected them to Satanic rituals, until District Attorney Ed Jagels saved the day. 36 witches were convicted, with many spending years in prison before the devil got 34 of the convictions overturned. The other two witches died in prison before Beelzebub could help them.

Nowadays we see a large variety of witches. For instance, they manifest as illegal immigrants, raping and murdering our citizens. They’re misogynists, accused of sexual harassment without due process. And they’re members of the media, who act as enemies of the people.

Our failure to contain the devil, back in 1692, has haunted us into the 21st century. Today there are witches everywhere we turn. Who knows which of us is a witch? Maybe your neighbor. Or maybe your husband or wife. Or maybe you, yourself. Or perhaps me.

Oh no, not me. I emphatically deny it. I am innocent. I am not a witch.

Hee-hee-hee-hee-hee!

Happy Halloween!

Swallowing Capistrano

Votive offerings before the goddess Mary, at Serra’s Chapel, Mission San Juan Capistrano.

Who’s buried in Grant’s tomb? President Ulysses S. Grant, of course. Where is Mission San Juan Capistrano located? Why, in San Juan Capistrano, California, of course.

Which is where my wife and I headed a few months ago, on our mission to visit all of California’s historic Catholic missions. This was our eighth, of 21 missions visited. We began this quest back in the 1990’s, so please be patient with our progress.

The gilded altar of Serra’s Chapel.

Mission San Juan Capistrano was established in 1776 by Father Junipero Serra. That year he built Serra’s Chapel, a small church that is still in use today, and is the oldest church in California.

Ahem, let me correct that factoid. Father Serra did not build the chapel. The Native Americans he enslaved did the actual labor. He just supervised and made sure they did a good job, while edifying themselves with good old fashioned godly hard work.

Serra’s Chapel is very long and narrow. That’s my wife standing near the back. Ain’t she purty?

And they did do a good job. So good that this autochthonous tribe was conscripted into the construction of a far larger, Great Stone Church. Their backbreaking, salvation-earning moil and toil began in 1797. Nine long years of sweat, struggle, and hernias later, the magnificent cathedral was completed.

A wall of the Great Stone Church.

Finally the exhausted slaves christians could rest. No more hoicking heavy stones. No more long, agonizing hours beneath the burning sun. And no more beatings and whippings for the slow slackers.

This mighty monument to the mercy of the Lord stood 180 feet long and 40 feet wide, and came equipped with a 120 foot bell tower that could be seen for many miles. It was something to be proud of for the Spanish, and even for the natives who built it.

Worship within the walls of this wonder began in 1806. But just six years later, on December 8th, 1812, the San Andreas fault erupted with 7.2 magnitudes of jolting, destructive power. The cathedral’s stone arch roof had been constructed poorly and could not withstand the shaking of a major earthquake. This grand structure that took nine hard years to build, was wiped out in a matter of seconds.

Ruins of the Great Stone Church. The altar seems to have been the only safe spot during the shaking.

If the purpose of this cathedral was to bring Native Americans close to God, it succeeded wildly. When the earth began to move, Mass was being held. Forty native worshipers perished beneath the falling stones of the collapsing roof. And two boys in the toppled bell tower were also killed. I suppose they got as close to God as anyone can possibly get.

Ancient mission bells, with ruins of the Great Stone Church in the background.

The Great Stone Church was never rebuilt, but worship continued in Serra’s Chapel, eventually converting more than 4,000 native souls to christianity.

A campanario (bell wall) was built a year after the 1812 earthquake, that connected the ruins of the Great Stone Church to Serra’s Chapel.

After Mexico’s independence, and the United States’ thievery of California from Mexico, Mission San Juan Capistrano fell into labefaction. Then, in 1910, Father John O’Sullivan took over the mission and began its restoration.

These brick ovens were employed for feeding the multitude of christian slaves immured at the mission.

Father O’Sullivan is credited (or rather, he credits himself) for a singular miracle that has made this site world famous. He claims to have brought the swallows to Mission San Juan Capistrano.

During his tutelage of this mission, people began to notice that thousands of swallows were building their nests on the mission walls. Every Spring, these birds would migrate 6,000 miles, from Goya, Argentina, just to make the mission their home.

And then in 1940, the Ink Spots put San Juan Capistrano on the map with their hit recording of the song, When the Swallows Come Back to Capistrano.

Why did the swallows start coming to Mission San Juan Capistrano? According to Father O’Sullivan, it all began one day when he was walking about the town outside the mission.

He noticed a shopkeeper flailing about with a broomstick, knocking down mud nests from under the eaves of his shop, while panicked birds zoomed all around him, shrieking madly.

“What in the hell is going on?!” shouted Father O’Sullivan. Well maybe he didn’t quite use those particular words. Here’s the actual dialogue, according to the good Father, from his book Capistrano Nights:

“What in the world are you doing?” O’Sullivan asked.

“Why, these dirty birds are a nuisance and I am getting rid of them!” the shopkeeper responded.

“But where can they go?”

“I don’t know and I don’t care,” he replied, slashing away with his pole. “But they’ve no business here, destroying my property.”

O’Sullivan then said, “Come on swallows, I’ll give you shelter. Come to the Mission. There’s room enough there for all.”

The very next morning, Father O’Sullivan discovered the swallows busy building their nests outside Father Junipero Serra’s Church.

In the early 1920s Father O’Sullivan began a tradition of celebrating the return of the swallows to the mission every March 19th (Saint Joseph’s Day). This tradition now draws thousands of tourists every year to join the celebration.

However in the 1990s the mission underwent remodeling. The nests of these dirty birds got in the way and were a nuisance. So the construction workers knocked them down. And after that the swallows stopped returning to Capistrano.

Many attempts have been made to lure the swallows back, but to little avail.

It seems that even for birds, hypocrisy is a hard thing to swallow.

These artificial nests were placed in this archway to entice the swallows to return. They’ve only been modestly effective. Very few birds have swallowed the bait.

The Way of the Mayans

The High Temple “pyramid” at Lamanai, Belize. Lamanai was once a major city of the Maya civilization, and was occupied for an amazing time span of over 3,500 years, from about 1600 BC to the 20th century AD. This rivals that of the Nile River Valley and northern China. It was immune from the general collapse of Mayan civilization that occurred in the 9th Century AD. And disinterest by Spanish and British colonists spared the Mayans in this city, though their culture had changed significantly from the ways of their ancient ancestors. Today many Belizeans, and in fact many others who live in southern Mexico and Central America, identify themselves as Mayan. In that sense it can be said that the Mayan civilization has never completely died out.

Much is known about the Mayans, and much is not known. What we do know is that the Mayan civilization began more than 4,000 years ago, in areas we now call southern Mexico, Guatemala, Belize, El Salvador, and Honduras. After 2,000 BC, they became advanced enough to build cities, and small city-states began to dominate the geopolitical landscape.

The view from the top of the High Temple at Lamanai, Belize. Our tour guide told us that Belize is the only country that continues to allow tourists to climb Mayan “pyramids”. Most of the climb is made by ascending wooden stairs behind the temple. Tourists are only allowed to ascend the top flight of the stone steps. These steps are so high and steep, they require you to climb bent over, using both your hands and feet. They force you, I guess, to humble yourself before the Mayan gods. As you can see from the viewshed, the topography is very flat. The New River flows in the background. We reached these ruins by traveling by boat over the New River.

The Mayans were pretty smart. They became the only native Americans to develop a full writing system before the arrival of Columbus. They also got good at math, and were the first in the world to use the number zero. The Mayan calendar was complex and accurate. And their architecture lives on today in famous ruins at archaeological digs such as Chichen Itza, Yaxchilan, Lamanai, and Tulum.

The ancient walled city of Tulum, in the state of Quintana Roo, Mexico. It’s located on the Yucatan peninsula, about 80 miles south of Cancun. Occupied around 1200 AD, this was one of the last cities to be established by the Maya. It was conquered by the Spanish in the late 1500s.

These fuckers built great stone temples that are misleadingly called “pyramids”, and used them to sacrifice human beings. Sacrifices involved decapitation, heart excision, being shot with arrows, and other brutal methods for appeasing the gods and conveniently ridding rulers of potential rivals.

The temple of El Castillo, “The Castle”, Tulum, Mexico. Many a rival ruler, and a few supposed virgins, were sacrificed on this spot.

The Mayans attained the height of their glory in the 9th Century AD. And that’s when everything somehow fell all to hell. A widespread political collapse occurred at this time, with internecine warfare, and refugees spilling out of cities. Nobody knows exactly why this happened but there are many theories.

The Great Palace, Tulum, Mexico. Here is where the royal family lived. Sort of an ancient Buckingham Palace.

One theory is ecocide. At that time, the population was up to ten times the current modern-day population, in areas where the soil was poor and very difficult to cultivate. Mayan agricultural science was highly advanced. To this day, nobody knows how the Mayans figured out how to support such a large populace with such infertile soil. But somehow they managed. At least for a while.

The ecocide school of thought holds that in spite of their agricultural genius, they overused their natural resources, and mother nature finally gave out under the strain. This led to widespread famine and political destabilization.

Temple of the God of the Wind, Tulum, Mexico. This temple is situated near a high cliff that overlooks the Caribbean Sea. Tulum was a major trading hub, and archeologists speculate that a signal light was burned atop the cliff to mark the location of a break in the coral reef offshore. This guided trading canoes safely to shore.

Other theories include extended droughts, epidemic diseases, and foreign invasion. But none of these theories have been proven, and the rapid decline of Mayan civilization in the 9th century AD remains one of the world’s greatest archaeological mysteries.

Danze de los Voladores, or Dance of the Flyers. I just call it the Mayan Pole Dance. This is an ancient Mesoamerican ceremony for the purpose of ending droughts. In this version of the dance, the participants hanging upside down spin around the pole as they gradually descend to earth. Each dancer represents the four directions, and are depicting the recreation of the world, and the regeneration of life. This dance version is so dangerous, it has been banned by many villages in Mexico. Yep, sometimes they fall and die. And then we get no rain.

But the Mayan civilization rebounded, in a sense. Archaeological evidence indicates that after the 9th century AD, many Mayans emigrated from the lowlands of Central America to areas of southern Mexico. They expanded and built more city-states, such as Chichen Itza and Tulum. But although their great civilization perdured, they never returned to their prior peak of glory.

The Cenote House, Tulum, Mexico. Below this structure lies a cenote. A cenote is an underground river. Most of the rivers in this part of Mexico flow underground, and can only be accessed through caves and sinkholes. The Mayan inhabitants of Tulum entered this cave, then descended a long rope ladder to the river below, to obtain their water. Something to remember the next time you open your tap, if you want to appreciate modern plumbing.

The arrival of the Spanish did them in for good. Their city-states were conquered one-by-one, mainly through the weapon of smallpox. The last Mayan city-state taken by force by the conquistadors was Nojpeten, in present-day Flores, Guatemala, in the year 1697. This occurred 800 years after the initial collapse that began the Mayan decline. This “officially” ended Mayan civilization, though some argue that it continues in a different form, to this day.

Temple of the Frescoes, Tulum, Mexico. This served as a solar observatory for Mayan priests. They tracked the movement of the sun, and used this information to determine the start of seasons for growing crops. A stuccoed figure of the Mayan “Diving God” can be found on this structure. And inside is a mural, though visitors are no longer allowed in to view this work of art.

A new theory is starting to emerge concerning that initial collapse. Archaeologist Rob Muller discovered thousands of small rocks containing Mayan hieroglyphics, which he calls “bleats”. These bleats apparently contain short messages inscribed by a Mayan king named Trumpamuckus, who appears to have tossed them out to the populace at random.

Muller continues to study the writing on the bleats, and has yet to issue a final report of his conclusions. But for now he claims that King Trumpamuckus rose to power around the year 816 AD. He also says that this king was highly controversial, and was accused by other Mayan leaders as having attained power with the help of the rival Aztec civilization, to the north.

The Jaguar Temple, Lamanai, Belize. Jaguars were revered by the Maya, and symbolized power and authority. Mayan rulers were often depicted wearing jaguar style attire. They also limited their travel exclusively to the use of a sports car purchased from a certain British auto manufacturer.

According to Muller, Trumpamuckus often denied some sort of alliance with the Aztecs, in his bleats. He also often proclaimed himself as the greatest king to have ever ruled anywhere on earth. And there were many stony missives that belittled warnings from Mayan scientists about impending ecological disaster.

Muller is trying to make sense of it all. It will be interesting to read his final report, and many are waiting with bated breath for the results. Perhaps it will contain lessons we can all learn.

And that would be good. So that we don’t go the way of the Mayans.

Temple of the Mask, Lamanai, Belize. Could this be a depiction of the greatest king to have ever ruled on earth? If so, it appears he is leering at a sexy Mayan celebrity lady. Because when you are that powerful, you can do anything you want.

Dick’s Place

My wife and I took a trip to the Richard M. Nixon Presidential Library and Museum. Or as I like to call it, Dick’s Place.

My wife has an interest in Dick. Her grandmother was a friend of his mother. They were next-door neighbors who visited over the fence and talked about their hobby. Which was, raising exotic roses. And which no doubt involved some one upsmanship. This was when the Nixons lived in Whittier, California.

Abraham Lincoln was born in a log cabin that he helped his father build. Similarly, President Nixon was born in this farmhouse in 1913. His father built it in 1912, with young Dick’s assistance.

Impressed? I thought not. Okay, enough with the name-dropping. But maybe I can impress you with some research. As part of our visit to this academic oasis, I did a little research on our ex-prez. Here’s the real story on the rise and fall of Dick:

Our 37th President was actually born in Yorba Linda, California, and this is where his library is located. The Nixons had a citrus ranch and raised lemons. But they were squeezed out of business when Dick was nine. His family moved to Whittier, where they bought a gas station and small grocery store. They took Dick with them.

I suppose this is how Dick learned how to turn lemons into lemonade. His beginnings were humble and hardscrabble. His family struggled. When Dick was 14 his older brother fell ill with tuberculosis, leaving him to step up to the plate and assist with the family business. He worked hard to help out, and no doubt learned a few of the dirty tricks for survival that all struggling people must learn.

While touring Dick’s Place, I turned down a shadowy hallway and got lost. Suddenly I happened upon a ghostly apparition of our former president, napping on a chaise lounge while pretending to work. He startled me, and my reaction startled him awake. He explained that as one gets older, one has a right to take naps more and more often, to make up for all the hard work they did when young. I heartily concurred and found my opinion of this man doing a complete about-face. Dick’s ghost won me over in that precious moment.

Dick was no dickhead. He was sharp as the juice of pure lemon and got good grades in school. He impressed his rich grandmother, who fortunately died and left him a bequest to attend Whittier College. That served as a stepping stone to a full scholarship to Duke University School of Law.

Dick graduated Duke in 1937 and tried to get a job with the FBI. But he couldn’t pass the fortune-telling test, which predicted he would one day get into serious trouble with the federal law. So he had to settle for a position with a legal firm, as a practicing attorney.

A full-sized replica of the Oval Office, as it appeared when Dick was lodged in it. This is the selfsame desk that Dick used during his five-and-a-half years in office. LBJ allowed Kennedy’s famous Resolute desk to go on a traveling exhibition, and then be put on display at the Smithsonian. Jimmy Carter brought it back in 1977. This irresolution about the placement of the Resolute desk left Dick with the need to scavenge a replacement from another room in the White House.

World War II found Dick bored, flaccid, and craving action. He joined the Navy as a Lieutenant Junior Grade, and was soon immersed in the South Pacific Theater, heroically preparing manifests and flight plans, and supervising the loading and unloading of cargo from aircraft. He nearly received a Purple Heart from several paper cuts incurred on an especially busy day.

In 1946 a committee of frustrated Republicans wanted someone who could defeat incumbent Democratic Congressman Jerry Voorhis. One of the committee members knew Dick. Dick rose to the occasion and thoroughly fucked Voorhis, by painting him as a communist. Red-baiting was one of the first dirty tricks up Nixon’s sleeve, and it got him elected.

In 1948 Dick pulled out another of his dirty tricks by taking advantage of a crazy California election rule. He ran for, and won the DEMOCRATIC congressional primary. Under this crazy rule he also ran, and of course won the Republican primary. This allowed this incumbent to run unopposed for reelection. “None of the above” was not on the ballot, so naturally he won the general.

In 1950 Dick ran against Helen Gahagan Douglas for the U.S. Senate. He again relied upon red-baiting, and described her as “pink, right down to her underwear.” She riposted by calling him “Tricky Dick.” This epithet stuck with Nixon for the rest of his political career. But sadly, she and her pink panties lost anyway, and Tricky Dick became a Senator.

In 1952 a smoke-filled room of Republican bigwigs selected Dick as the running mate for presidential candidate Dwight D. Eisenhower. They liked him for all his hard work fighting harmless American scapegoats dangerous suspected communists, while on the House Unamerican Activities Committee. Plus they thought he could help carry California.

Soon a huge scandal blew up, where Dick was accused of accepting bribes in the form of a slush fund from his supporters. Pressure mounted for him to resign from the campaign. But on September 23rd, 1952, Dick gave his famous televised Checkers speech, and won widespread sympathy and popularity.

In this speech he proclaimed that he would not resign, because was “no quitter”. And he lamented that he was just a man of modest means, and that the only gift from his supporters that he had accepted was a pet cocker spaniel that his daughter named “Checkers”.

Why it brought the populace to tears, and everyone suddenly loved Dick and liked Ike. They beat Adlai Stevenson and easily won reelection against the same Adlai in 1956. But then Dick’s long string of victories was torpedoed by a former PT boat commander.

Dick Nixon ran for President in 1960 and lost to John F. Kennedy by 84 votes. Electoral votes, that is. I won’t tell you the popular vote margin, because that doesn’t count in America.

In 1962 Dick ran against Pat Brown (Jerry Brown’s father) for governor of California. He was trounced, and after the election he announced his retirement from politics. He quipped that we wouldn’t have his dick to kick around anymore, or something in that vein.

Turns out, Dick really was a quitter.

But not for long. Good fortune once again smiled on this lemon picker from Yorba Linda, in the form of the Vietnam War, and the assassinations of John and Robert Kennedy. Dick rose again, and stood for election in 1968. He beat Hubert Humphrey by 110 votes and became President of the United States.

Bumper stickers from Dick’s presidential campaign of 1968. I wonder what happened to the “Honk If You Love Dick” sticker?

Dick ran under the promise of getting us out of the Vietnam War. Which he did, four years and 21,000 American lives later. He accomplished many other things also, and could have been considered one of America’s greatest Presidents–if it only hadn’t been for that other thing he did.

A short-timer’s combat helmet, in the Vietnam War. Apparently this soldier loved Vietnam so much he was counting the days until he could go home and tell his friends all about it. Photo of a photo from Picturing Nam: U.S. Military Photography of the Vietnam War, an exhibit organized by the National Archives and Records Administration, currently on display at Dick’s Place from 9/2/17 – 1/7/18.

He was the last progressive Republican president. Under today’s standards I think he’d be a screaming liberal. Here are some of the things we can thank our Dick for:

  • Reformed the Post Office Department by converting it into the modern day Postal Service. This included allowing postal unions to negotiate with the federal government for decent wages and benefits.
  • Implemented the desegregation of public schools.
  • Supported the Clean Air Act of 1970.
  • Formed the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA).
  • Endorsed the Equal Rights Amendment (ERA).
  • Presided over the first landing of human beings upon the moon.

This is the actual phone Dick used when he called Neil Armstrong and Buzz Aldrin, who at the time were taking a stroll on the moon. That’s space food in the middle, and a moon rock on the right.

On the left is the actual spacesuit used by Neil Armstrong when he walked on the moon for the first time. Depicted here, Neil and Buzz are on the verge of a great discovery when suddenly their phone rang.

  • Restored diplomatic relations with China.
  • Negotiated the SALT I treaty with the Soviet Union, limiting the deployment of nuclear weapons.
  • Prevented global thermonuclear war by helping Israel avert defeat in the Yom Kippur War.

So he was a man of many accomplishments, even when beset by scandal in his office.

In 1972 he won reelection by defeating George McGovern by 503 votes. But in that same year he used one of his dirty tricks to burglarize the Democratic Party’s headquarters at the Watergate Hotel. This was the dirty trick that broke Dick.

He spectacularly accomplished reelection, but spectacularly lost popular and political support. On August 8, 1974, Tricky Dick quit again, by resigning from the presidency.

Marine One. Dick flew a total of 125 times in this helicopter. This includes his final trip from the south lawn of the White House, where he famously waved goodbye from the door after resigning, while millions of Americans famously flipped birdies at their television sets.

He went from hero to zero in the last 18 months of his presidency, and transmogrified into the most reviled personage of our country. Everybody hated Dick. That was the popular thing to do.

These masks became popular on Halloween after Dick resigned. To this day they sell well every October, for reasons that confound all Halloween mask experts.

But in the 1980s and 90s Tricky Dick rehabilitated his image. He served as an ad hoc advisor and diplomat to Presidents Reagan, Bush, and Clinton. By 1986, a Gallup poll ranked Dick as one of the ten most admired men in the world. Suddenly, everybody loved Dick again.

On April 22, 1994, Dick Nixon died from a stroke. He was buried beside his wife, Patricia, at his presidential library in Yorba Linda, California. Dick’s Place.

Pat and Dick enjoyed a lifelong romance. Dick felt devastated after she passed away and he followed her, with his broken heart, ten months later. Strange presidential trivia: She was ten months older than him, so their lifespans were almost identical in length, with Dick living only five days longer.

Whatever you think of Dick now, don’t forget that we are all a basket of contradictions. There was much good in the man, in spite of the deplorable.

We can take comfort from his humble origins, in knowing that anyone in America is capable of great success. You don’t have to be the child of a millionaire tycoon.

We can also take comfort from his downfall. We see that when someone in America abuses their authority, and cheats, lies, and covers up, they can be held accountable, no matter how rich or powerful they are. (Okay, somewhat accountable. After all, he was pardoned.)

Let’s hope we continue taking comfort in knowing these things.

Death with honor.

Samuel Wilson

[Note: this is a cheap rewrite of a post from last year. If you remember it, you become eligible for a drawing to win a prize. The prize will be a chance to enter a drawing for a drawing to win the drawing of the prize that was first drawn.]

Samuel Wilson was a middle child, born the seventh of thirteen children. He came to this world near Boston, Massachusetts, on September 13th, 1766. So today is his 251st birthday. Happy birthday, Samuel Wilson!

Samuel Wilson, 1766-1854

But just who was Samuel Wilson? And why the hell would we want to give a damn about his birthday?

Well, to start off with, he was a solid American, and the descendent of one of the oldest families of Boston.

When he was a boy his family did what many American families have done. They moved, searching for greener pastures. And so they left Massachusetts and resettled in New Hampshire.

Around the same time our nation was born, and war came to the colonies. There are many things that can kill children before they reach adulthood, and war is one of them. Samuel took the risk. He joined the Revolutionary Army at age 14. But seven months later the war ended and he returned home alive, a war veteran at age 15.

Adventure has also been known to kill people at a young age. But Samuel was willing to take that risk, also. At age 22 he caught the traveling spirit, and he and his brother, Ebeneezer, headed west on foot. They settled in the pioneer town of Troy, New York.

Samuel and Ebeneezer teamed up in Troy and started a family business. At first they invested their sweat and energy into making bricks. The hard work didn’t kill them, and after this success they moved on to the laborious trade of meatpacking.

Then the brothers made a risky business decision. They leased some land along the Hudson River and built a dock. Now they were able to ship meat to buyers downriver, and throughout the country. And the risk paid off. The two men prospered. Soon their business grew so large it employed about 200 people.

Samuel Wilson got rich, living the American dream.

Many men wait until they’ve proven themselves before they start a family. At age 31, Samuel’s new fortune emboldened this rich bachelor to travel back to New Hampshire and marry Betsey Mann. She was the daughter of Captain Benjamin Mann, a Revolutionary War hero who fought at Bunker Hill. Samuel brought Betsey back to Troy, and they began adding new little Wilson citizens to the town’s population.

Prosperous family members tend to attract other family members (quite a few being leaches). And so it happened with the Wilsons and the Manns. Many of their numerous extended family members relocated, so that before long the town of Troy was abustle with brothers, sisters, cousins, in-laws, nephews, and nieces of Samuel and Ebeneezer. Samuel didn’t mind. In fact, he liked it when his little nephews and nieces saw him on the street and called out to their uncle. He was an affable man, and very family-oriented.

In fact, his avuncular ways were popular even with those who were not related to him. Samuel Wilson had become a beloved pillar of his community.

And then war broke out again. In 1812, the new United States declared hostilities against their old enemy, Great Britain. Britain was testing the muscles of our stripling nation.

Our military began recruiting, and the ranks of our army and navy swelled. And with all these new recruits came a new need. Food. The U.S. Government had to feed its growing military forces.

We often associate prosperity with peace. But it’s also quite available with war, at least for those who are strategically positioned. And Samuel and Ebeneezer were in just such a position. They subcontracted with a man named Elbert Anderson, from New York City, to provide meat from their meatpacking operation for troops in New York and New Jersey.

They stamped each barrel of meat with the initials “E.A.–U.S”. “E.A.” stood for “Elbert Anderson”. But what did the “U.S.” stand for? Nowadays it’s easy to assume it stood for the United States. But this was 1812. Our country was still very young, and so the initials “U.S.” were not quite so obvious to the average citizen.

One day a visitor to Troy asked a dockworker about the meaning of the “U.S.” initials. This dockworker was very familiar with the popular and avuncular Samuel Wilson, so he jokingly replied, “Why, Uncle Sam Wilson! It is he who is feeding the army.” Several bystanders overheard him, and they repeated the joke.

There was no internet in those days, but the phenomenon of things going viral is nothing new. It happened even back in 1812. And so it occured with the Uncle Sam joke. It went viral and spread all the way up and down the eastern seaboard. Before long, anything owned by the government and bearing the initials “U.S.” came to be called “Uncle Sam’s”.

And that is how Uncle Sam became the symbol of the United States.

Samuel Wilson died in 1854, at age 87. But Uncle Sam as a symbol continues to live on. His life is a fitting symbol of our country, because it represents the fortune that any American can achieve, with a willingness to take a risk, hard work, and some luck.

In 1961 the U.S. Congress recognized Samuel Wilson as the origin of Uncle Sam. And in 1989, Samuel Wilson’s birthday, September 13th, was designated by Congress as “Uncle Sam Day”.

So happy Uncle Sam Day! And happy birthday, Uncle Sam.

The Chichimeca War

It could have happened anywhere in the world, but this time it happened in Central Mexico. Central Mexico was then known as New Spain.

In 1546, just four years before the war began, a band of Indians possessed some rocks laced with silver. And they made a deadly mistake with those rocks. They showed them to a Spaniard. A silver rush quickly ensued, and soon these hapless Indians found themselves overwhelmed by hordes of Spanish settlers, greedy to mine their argent-rich hills.

But then another deadly mistake was made, and this time by the Spaniards. They decided to enslave the Indians and force them to work in their mines.

These were the Chichimeca Indians. They did not enslave easily.

They went to war against the Spanish, and these autochthonous souls held tremendous strategic advantages. They were one with the desert around them, and knew their territory far better than their adversaries. And they were nomadic, dwelling in caves, or in rudimentary shelters they could quickly construct and abandon. This made them difficult to track down. And they lived off the land, hunting and gathering, which made it impossible to cut off their food supply.

But worse than this for the Spanish, were their arrows.

The arrows they flung from their four-foot bows were long, thin, fragile missiles. In fact, these arrows were so lightweight and flimsy, it seemed laughable to the Spanish that they could pose any threat to their conquistadors clad in heavy metal armor. But they soon stopped laughing. These flying slivers were so narrow, they easily pierced through armor chinks, and slipped like cactus needles through Spanish muscle and bone.

And the Chichimecas were perhaps the best archers in the world. One Spaniard recounted a scene where he saw them heave an orange into the sky. As it soared upward, they shot that orange full of arrows. The force of the multiple impacts suspended the fruit in the air for an extended period of time before it finally dropped to the earth in disintegrated bits and pieces.

The Chichimeca conducted many successful raids against their would-be conquerors, and profited more from these sorties than the Spanish profited from their mines.

The Spanish became desperate and embarked on a campaign of “fuego y sangre”, or war of “fire and blood”. They were determined to kill any and all Chichimecas they could find. Problem was these Indians were like ghosts, and seemed to appear from thin air, and then disappear into that same element.

They exacted a heavy toll of blood and treasure on the Spanish settlers, with their raids. They even stole Spanish horses and learned how to ride them in battle, becoming the first Native Americans to utilize horses in war.

They fought like commandos. On one occasion, 50 Chichimeca warriors invaded a Spanish settlement of 2,000 people, and they slaughtered every single settler.

Statue of a dancing Chichimeca warrior.

Why did the Chichimeca fight so viciously? The main reason was slavery. They loved freedom, and hated the idea of being enslaved. So they made the Spanish pay a heavy price for this forced labor the miners relied upon.

The Chichimeca War spilled thousands of gallons of blood from 1550 to 1590. Both sides lost many lives during these four tragic decades, but the Spanish got the worst of it, by far. By 1590, they’d had enough and raised the white flag. This mighty world power conceded defeat to a small population of primitive natives.

The Spanish sued for peace. They abandoned their campaign of war by “fire and blood”, and replaced it with a policy of “peace by purchase”.

They gave food, clothing, and tools to the Chichimeca. They even gave them weapons for self-defense. And they replaced soldiers with priests, who gradually Christianized them, and helped them to assimilate into Spanish society.

Eventually hostilities died down, and the Chichimeca adopted a sedentary, peaceful lifestyle. They lived free amongst the Spanish, and ceased being a threat to them.

The Spanish colonizers learned a lesson from this and adopted a new policy. This new policy was aimed at peacefully assimilating natives, rather than trying to subdue them with violence, or force them aside.

More importantly, the Chichimeca War signaled to Spanish leadership that slavery was perhaps not the most productive or economical approach to business. And it fueled an ongoing dialogue within the Americas, Spain, and all of Europe over the abolition of slavery.

Nonetheless, the chains of slavery dragged on in the Americas. Support for it was on the wane, but even so, for the next three centuries more rebellions would have to be fought and additional blood would have to be shed, to free human beings from this treatment as chattel. Complete manumission in the New World was still a long way off, but the Chichimeca War was what really got the ball rolling in that direction.

Today the classical form of slavery that we know from history is practically extinct. But some argue that slavery still continues to a lesser degree, in various subtle forms. Forms such as poverty wages, socioeconomic repression, and suppression of worker’s rights.

And to the degree that it exists, resistance exists.

The spirit of the Chichimaca is in all of us. Because we all love freedom, and no one wants to be a slave. Thus, movements continue to thrive that pit employees against employers, the poor against the rich, and the powerless against the powerful. This is the way things will always be, to some extent. But with perseverance and determined resistance, it’s nice to know that freedom has a way of finally prevailing.