Monday, November 5, 2018

Anniversary of the Everett Massacre

Today is the anniversary of a horrific incident (which seems too mild of a word to use), where innocent men lost their lives at the hands of vigilantes who disagreed idealogically.  The Everett Massacre reminds us Americans how we have a capacity to turn thoughtless,  ugly, really, when it comes to our divisions.  Today, we still have not learned lessons from our past.

The University of Washington has a wonderful archive on the Everett Massacre, also known as "Bloody Sunday," here:  On this site are photos, stories, faces of the people involved.

The following is a repost from my "Chasing Rabbits" page at

On November 5, 1916, about 250 Wobblies boarded the steamers Verona and Calista bound for Everett, Washington, to protest harassment and censorship at the hands of law enforcement, vigilantes, and armed strikebreakers supporting the local lumber and milling companies. Their employers and AFL-affiliated labor councils wanted “open shop.” Forty IWWs had already been arrested, stripped, and made to run a gauntlet of several hundred vigilantes, who beat them with guns, clubs, and whips, near Seattle a week earlier.

When the Verona glided into Everett’s dock first, armed vigilantes and law enforcement met the boat. Other men, some drunk, waited in tugboats that began surrounding the steamer in a semicircle. On a hill above, a crowd formed to watch the anticipated violence, and some could hear the IWWs singing “Hold the Fort.” While a member of the steamer’s crew tied the boat to the dock, a sheriff and his deputies approached and began a heated exchange with some of the men on board. Then one shot rang out.

Gun shots opened immediately—a crossfire—with the Veronatrapped between vigilantes in the tugboats and law enforcement and other vigilantes on the docks. Deputies, hidden in a warehouse along the docks, also opened fire.  Men panicked in the boat, almost capsizing it, and some dove into the water while many others, who could not swim, fell overboard. Quick to act, a Wobbly cut the ties to the dock, ordered the engines reversed, and the Verona made her escape backing out of the area.

Afterwards, four men lay dead on its decks, one was dying, and thirty-one were wounded. At the dock, one deputy was killed, another was dying, and twenty wounded. An unknown number fell overboard, some wounded, and their bodies never found. What was to be called Bloody Sunday was immediately known as the Everett Massacre to workingmen. No one knows who fired that first shot.

Was Frank Little there as some have written? Not likely. In Michigan during August 1916, Frank had been kidnapped, mock hanged, and beaten senseless. In fact, some of his injuries were still evident when he was hanged for real on August 1, 1917. By mid-November 1916, an ailing Frank Little was in Chicago, involved with the IWW’s general executive board, preparing for the upcoming IWW convention. No doubt, the recent Everett Massacre was certainly on the board members’ minds.

Wednesday, October 31, 2018

La Bruja de Calle Piedmont

This morning I had one of those rare moments, reveries really, when I was back in El Paso. Perhaps it’s because today is Halloween, or because I am working on Jane Street family anecdotes, threshing the chaff from tiny story-seeds. I recalled sitting in Dr. John O. West’s American folklore class at the University of Texas of El Paso. Such a perfect mesh of courses—part history and part English. Well, not exactly factual history, but more like searching out El Paso lore, deciphering the spinning from the historical context. This course probably benefited me more than my nine hours of Shakespeare did in the long run. If Dr. West were still alive, I would hug his neck! I fell in love with collecting American oral history.

I collected all sorts of local stories for this class, some superstitions, quite common in a border town such as El Paso, as well as personal narratives about past events including Pancho Villa’s various forays into El Paso and Juarez. The UTEP campus sits just above the Rio Grande, not far from where Villa attacked US forces and a dense Mexican American neighborhood existed, where family narratives are rich with information and detail. I could imagine Villa’s battles, just below my classroom in the Liberal Arts building, where bullets, losing velocity, rolled off old roofs near where I parked my car, before hiking through sand dunes to the campus; where a secret, decaying wooden door, also below an old house near campus, with a tortuga (turtle) painted on it, when opened, took smugglers and gun runners under the river between Juarez and El Paso.

I had been a guest of honor, along with golfer Lee Trevino, singer Bobby Goldsboro, and the governor of Chihuahua in the Juarez mayor’s reception room in 1971, a year before I took West’s course. There were bullet holes peppered all over the ancient adobe city buildings still. Later, when we tore down an old adobe barn on a property my parents owned, we found shell casings mired in the clay. These tangible experiences enhanced my collection of old narratives and their descriptions of the Mexican Revolution. I also had learned that the seeds of truth in some tales were buried so deeply that the lore and superstitions surrounding them were made up in order to keep the curious from learning the truth.

That brings me to la bruja de Calle Piedmont, or the witch on (of) Piedmont Street.

When I was a teenager in El Paso, Texas, I recall excitement at lunch one day, as some upperclassmen recounted their experiences of the night before, trying to get close to an infamous “haunted house” we all knew about. In fact, no matter which of the thirteen high schools one attended in El Paso in 1967, everyone knew of this house. On one side of Franklin Mountain, in an old neighborhood that I now understand was the 3000 block of Piedmont Street, supposedly lived this ancient hag in an ancient adobe, a formidable witch who practiced Satanic arts. She allegedly had no electricity and lit up the house by candlelight each evening, enhancing her black magic within. These boys had lived to tell their stories, though one claimed that the witch came at him with a butcher knife when he brazenly stepped on her porch and looked through the window! Whispers between classes and at lunch further developed this story, and it was decided that my group of friends should try the same thing—that is, try to touch the Witch-on-Piedmont-Street’s house, even ring her doorbell, if she had one.

That Friday night, six of us loaded into what I recall was an old rambler, certainly not quick but safe with our bodies crammed within. All were boys except for my best friend and I who knew better than to go on such a fool’s errand, including driving on Scenic Drive over the mountain to the west side of El Paso. We were northeast El Paso kids, mainly military brats who could find plenty to do near our 1950s box houses and a shell-strewn military range. There we felt fairly safe. But this was crazy. 

I recall the boys knew where to drive in the dark neighborhood near Piedmont Street. We rolled up to a “T” where our street dead-ended and Piedmont Street loomed before us and parked dead center in the street. It was pitch-black, my eyes blind to the infamous house and any details of other homes on either side of us. No street lights, no moon or stars to break the black nothingness. No, we had not been drinking, but our adrenaline was pumping with fear and excitement. I knew I was NOT going to touch her house, but I wanted to see if the witch really would come out as the boys approached. My girlfriend and I, like two-peas-in-a-pod, snuggled against each other, crouching and giggling with nervousness, behind the others.

BOOM! BOOM! The sound of a shotgun blasted twice. I couldn’t make my legs move fast enough before we dove behind what must have been an arborvitae bush, so dense it was. My friend crowded underneath its branches with me, and I felt my bladder lose control. Humiliating. At about the same time, the rambler began reversing back down the street, all four doors wide open, with screams of “Get in! Get in!” reverberating in the old mountainside neighborhood. We ran, jumped into the moving vehicle, and tried to slam the doors shut as we heard yet another BOOM! Miraculously, no one fell out.

At the bottom of the hill awaited El Paso’s finest, his patrol car’s light revolving red and blue. “Are you ok?” the officer asked. Incredibly no one had been hit. And while we indignantly wanted to point fingers at the witch uphill, we were more afraid of being hauled off to jail and having to call our parents. I recall sitting in my wet pants, realizing that beyond my “accident” possibly having been witnessed by boys who would tell all at school the next day, I would probably be grounded “for life,” as I had been several times before. Stupid, stupid.

“Do you realize how dangerous your stunt was?” demanded the cop. Indeed, we did. 

 “Last night, two boys had to be taken to Thomason (hospital) to have buckshot taken out of their butts! You were lucky. Her daughter lives down the street, and she reported you as soon as she saw your taillights. She also warned her mother that you were on your way. You kids need to stop harassing the old lady!”

With that, we were let go.

The bruja had a daughter? I remember letting that fact sink in. She was human, after all, and I began to feel both pity and curiosity for her. In 2005, an El Paso newspaper picked up the story of the haunted house on Piedmont Street. A married couple had disappeared from the residence in the 1950s, and some believed that they had been murdered and buried beneath the floorboards of the house. The disappearances had widespread publicity and much speculation, from espionage to murder to UFO abductions. The house became known for its ghosts. An old city patrolman later complained that he “would get a hundred calls…all these kids would stop by the house because they thought the house was haunted, and they would scare this poor old lady who (once) lived there.”

So, we kids had made a crime scene, its particulars long forgotten, part of El Paso’s folklore. No witch, but a morbid story for certain.

I was teaching English to a bunch of El Paso freshmen seventeen years later. I assigned them to collect various types of El Paso folklore. One student Billy, whose father was a UTEP quarterback years before I was at UTEP myself, shared the witch-on-Piedmont-Street story. After all, his father claimed to have been up to the house and seen the old lady in person. Young Billy excitedly shared that the witch still inhabited Piedmont Street, and that he, too, would touch her door. I smiled at him as I told him my story too.

Saturday, October 27, 2018

The Bindle Stiff

When I was a kid at Halloween in El Paso, Texas, I often resorted to the easiest costume I could put together, short of cutting two holes in a white sheet and trick-or-treating as a ghost. While many of my peers often dressed as beatniks, my friends and I would dress as hoboes. Easy. Ragged clothes, smudged cheeks, holey tennis shoes, a bag on a stick, and voila! We didn’t intend to be cruel. After all, some schools had Hobo Day where everyone dressed up. With Roger Miller singing “King of the Road” on our transistor radios, we were inspired! Going door to door, we begged for our handouts, Halloween treats.

I also had no idea that part of the ‘60s lexicon originated from the original hoboes, or bindle stiffs (called thus because of the bag or bindle they carried on their backs). My friends and I used their words, including tramp (hobo), ditch (to get rid of something), can (police station), fink (or in our case, a “rat fink,” a person who snitches), flop or dump (place to “hang.”) Who knew? I certainly didn’t.

Not until I was deep into my California research of Frank Little did I realize the significance of the hobo culture, how it originated, its connection to me, and, of course, my famous hobo-agitator uncle. I must admit—I had hated this historical period, that is, early twentieth century with its industrial growth, labor unions, and robber barons. When I taught US history many years later, I was still uninspired to dig deeply in the era. Until Frank.

Just like Frank, I grew up in an anti-establishment period. The United States was experiencing an unpopular war in the 1960s, in contrast to years between 1914 and 1917, when Americans were deeply divided about getting into World War I. Many American workers had found themselves displaced during Reconstruction, families often struggling to start all over again after the Civil War. Their children and grandchildren, faced with family debt and hopelessness, often tramped, becoming part of a temporary labor force across the country. Throw in two economic panics (1893 and 1907), a heavily-enlisted immigration force to fuel the American industrial revolution, mechanization, and labor unrest, and a growing population of unskilled migratory workers hit the road seeking work.

Many of these men had left homes in the East or were recent immigrants who found the American dream out of reach. If one were to ask for an inventory of skills in a hobo camp or “jungle,” a diversity of trades would be found. American economic conditions between 1907 and 1914 had compelled even skilled men to search for seasonable jobs, their homes and families often lost. Some preferred drifting with no responsibilities and required little to satisfy their needs. However, walking was not their preferred method of drifting from job to job.

A recent television car advertisement shows a dreamy-faced young woman traveling in an open box car, her Labrador retriever beside her. Freedom. Then her daydream cuts to reality, sitting in a wonderful car that can take her on an open road deviating away from the train’s tracks. While this scene is enticing, riding the rails was a dangerous endeavor for Wobblies who often became hoboes. 

Freeloading train travel had inherent dangers. Because railroad workers were unionized, a paid-up union membership card usually protected men, including IWWs, and provided them with free passage. Brakemen otherwise booted off freeloaders without union affiliations. But trains also carried bootleggers and hijackers who stole hoboes’ small valuables at gunpoint. Later, railroad detectives patrolled to make sure “stiffs” could not board idle trains. Jumping on and off slow-moving trains was dangerous in itself. Some men died or lost limbs. As an example, in 1913 my uncle miscalculated a jump onto a Western Pacific train and badly sprained his ankle.

Like Frank, hoboes were typically apolitical and rarely stayed in one place long enough to vote. While AFL’s Samuel Gompers asserted that the lot of the migratory worker was worse than slavery, the AFL did little to help migrants who did not vote. Thus, the Industrial Workers of the World—which did not discriminate ethnicity, creed, color, or gender—captured their memberships.

When hoboes did stay in one place, it was a “jungle” or camp, often near railroad tracks and water, where a fluctuating population could find the most basic needs for survival or quickly board a train for work. In describing the migratory farm worker, Frank once wrote, “When you see one tramping along the road, he generally has a load on his back that the average prospector would be ashamed to put on a jackass. In fact, most of the jackasses would have enough sense to kick it off.” During harvest season, he added, a steady line of these bindle stiffs “tramping down the highway” begged for the “right to work to earn enough to buy a little grub, take it down to the jungles by a river or beside an irrigation ditch, and then cook it up in old tin cans which their masters had thrown away.”

Recently, as we drove through Fresno’s downtown streets, I wondered about this new generation of bindle stiffs, the homeless we saw living in an enormous tent-and-cardboard colony, its blue-and-tan tarps fluttering in soft warm breezes. Were they workers, or “occupiers”?

Just a hundred years earlier, a poster hung in a Fresno's IWW hall. A drawing of a bindle stiff walking down a railroad track with his bundle over his arm read: “He built the ROAD with others of his CLASS, he built the road and now for many a mile he packs his load and wonders why the H--ll he built the road. The "Blanket Stiff.”

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Woodie Guthrie, Another Life Cut Short

I'm busy preparing my presentation for the High Plains Book Festival so no new post. Since today is the anniversary of American folk singer and writer Woody Guthrie's death, I honor him, reposting a blog from my "Chasing Rabbits" page:

I first came across Woody Guthrie while researching another lyricist, IWW Joe Hill, whom Guthrie had honored through verse. Both men composed lyrics for working class audiences, though a generation apart. But unlike the Swedish-born Hill, Guthrie was an American product, born in Okemah, Oklahoma, the son of a cowboy-politician and musical mother. And like my Oklahoman uncle Frank Little, he witnessed his family’s economic collapse; Frank’s, after the Panic of 1893 and years of drought, and Guthrie’s, after Oklahoma’s oil boom collapsed. So, it is no surprise that all three men—Guthrie, Hill, and Little—preached populist sentiments that appealed to workers.

The second time Woody Guthrie’s name popped up was during an academic review of my manuscript, Frank Little and the IWW: The Blood That Stained an American Family. An Oklahoma historian strongly supported its publication stating, though he personally was a “left wing” kind of guy, he was reminded of a story about Woody Guthrie when Guthrie was accused of being too far left-wing. Guthrie had responded in his best Okie drawl, “Aw, left-wing, right-wing, chicken wing, it don’t make no difference to me, I just support programs that help my people.” I loved that. The professor went on to say that thoughtful readers of any point on the ideological spectrum could see the importance of my book in modern day when “red state” Oklahoma means conservative Republican, but during Frank’s life, it meant far left, as in “reds” or socialists.

This analysis got me to thinking. Guthrie’s reminder that no matter our philosophical differences or our political perspectives, most Americans want the best for their brothers and sisters. Frank Little was no different, and his passion for helping workers and their families was sincere. It is the context in which he lived that colors his historical prominence, thus requiring an informed, educated mind to evaluate his contributions in American history.

Like Frank, Woody Guthrie was a hobo during a period of his life. He had headed west looking for work during the Depression, riding freight trains and walking the open road, all the while observing folk he encountered daily in tent jungles. Also like Frank, Guthrie found native antagonism toward these same itinerant farm workers who had invaded the Golden State looking for any type of work. 

Ultimately Woody Guthrie found his soapbox—on a radio show. A Guthrie family organization states that, through radio airwaves, Guthrie “developed his talent for controversial social commentary and criticism. On topics ranging from corrupt politicians, lawyers, and businessmen to praising the compassionate and humanist principles of Jesus Christ, the outlaw hero Pretty Boy Floyd, and the union organizers that were fighting for the rights of migrant workers in California’s agricultural communities, Guthrie proved himself a hard-hitting advocate for truth, fairness, and justice” []. Later Woody Guthrie, Pete Seeger, and others from his circle, were targeted for their activist stances on such issues as the right to unionize, equal rights, and free speech. Sound familiar?

We all know Woody Guthrie’s song, “This Land is My Land.” But I find that his “Dust Bowl” ballads best liken his views to Frank Little’s:

Wherever little children are hungry and cry
Wherever people ain't free
Wherever men are fightin' for their rights
That's where I'm a-gonna be, Ma
That's where I'm a-gonna be 

From “Tom Joad” 

Another life cut short, Woody Guthrie died from Huntington’s Disease in 1967 at the age of 55.

Sunday, September 30, 2018

David Street, Hollywood Actor

I just returned from interviewing Jane Street’s grandson and gained a wealth of information.  He had already destroyed some of her work, and I was prepared to find little. Imagine my excitement to discover about a 1 ½” stack of her type-written writings. Poems, short stories, jokes, protest articles.  Who knew there would be so much more to Jane Street—artist, musician, author. Oh my! 

Last year when I was beginning my early research in Denver, I looked for Jane in the Colorado History Center archives and Denver Public Library’s Western History Collection.  I was able to investigate Denver’s strong women’s suffrage movement, even holding original Susan B. Anthony letters. Yet I discovered Jane was a ghost—all knew of her presence, some details about her work—but no physical evidence remained.  Thrilling and disappointing at the same time.  Where was Jane’s DNA, remnants of her work?

Now I am holding her papers in my hands.  I have begun reading them and will likely read them dozens of times before I can fully assess what she wanted the reader to know.

One strand I will have to address in my final manuscript is her motherhood.  Without a doubt, she loved her children dearly, so much that some individuals criticized her devotion to the children over the cause of the Industrial Workers of the World (IWW), affecting her profoundly. With all the turmoil in her life, her children certainly bore the scars, despite her care.  As a result, Jane’s sons and daughter traveled similar life-paths as their mother, enduring tragedies of their own.  In particular is her youngest son, Charles Patrick Devlin, stage name David Street.

David Street is an unmemorable individual that some of you may have actually seen on the big screen.  You wouldn’t have noticed much since David Street was a “B” actor in Hollywood from 1949 until 1962.  Yet, the paparazzi followed his activities intently, furnishing black and white glossies for Hollywood rags, generally because he was usually in the company of well-known, glamorous leading ladies, including Jayne Mansfield, Ava Gardner, and Marilyn Maxwell.  Though David inherited his mother’s musical talent, he also bore her self-destructive proclivities. 

“Tall, dark and handsome singer David Street seemed to have all the necessary credentials for musical film stardom in the 1940s, but his career fell drastically short and today is better remembered, if at all, for his tabloid-exposed private life.  From IMDb.

Actress Mary Beth Hughes, One of David Street's Many Starlet-Wives

He was married seven times to starlets of incredible beauty—Sharon Lee; Marilyn Maxwell; Mary Beth Hughes; Mary Francis Wilhite; Cathleen Gourley, stage name Lois Andrews; Elaine Perry; and probably the most famous of his wives was Debralee Griffin, stage name Debra Paget.  Some of these marriages lasted mere days, some divorces due to addiction and/or spending problems.  Jane's grandson reported that spending $300 on shoes definitely caused stress in one marriage when David was not earning enough to support his lavish lifestyle.  Yet he loaned Jane money when she needed it.

Did Jane’s personal relationships and care differ among her children, perhaps because of her life experiences?  Possibly.  How much impacted the lives of her children? Her papers reveal much.  I will have to see what Jane tells me.

Friday, September 28, 2018

Me too, Jane, too?

On a flight to Las Vegas, Nevada, my destination before heading to Bullhead, Arizona, and an interview with Jane Street’s grandson. I have waited all year for this opportunity. The trip is certainly refreshing after watching the drama this week regarding the Judge Brett Kavanaugh hearings. I wept during testimonies—for both individuals. I, like most everyone else, felt drained and saddened.

Have you noticed all the women who have “come out” to claim “me too”? Fact is, if you ask women close to my age if they have had some sort of real or perceived sexual harassment, assault or attack, many, if not most, will say yes. And with good reason. Perhaps this is because women have become increasingly empowered since my generation, the “burning-bra” era, as society finally confirmed that certain behaviors were not okay. Change has been slow, but change has happened.

I, like many women, have experiential responses when I hear stories of sexual assault. I recall sexual harassment on the job where I worked as a receptionist (except when I was expected to serve my boss his coffee twice-a-day). I endured sexual innuendos, wolf whistles (wait, I admit I miss those), and embarrassing confrontations. When I finally complained about a particular sexual advance to the aggressor himself, I was “let go” two weeks before I was already scheduled to quit.

I was also a GuyRex product, a beauty queen, a Miss Texas contestant, who modeled her body in swimsuit several times. Although I don’t recall shame, I do recall a stupid interview question about whom I would most desire to date, from a grinning Dallas-Cowboy-quarterback panel member, expecting to hear his name. I was ashamed to have been thus questioned when I could cite every fact about the city I was representing. True, I put myself in that situation. The Miss Texas/Miss Universe was admittedly a “meat” contest, unlike the Miss America-Miss Texas contest that paid for my college education. (Piano, everyone. I know you just wondered.)

Sixty years ago, I was sexually abused, and I can remember everything. The summer smells of cut-grass, the way our weeping willow looked with its fronds cut like my 1950s’ bangs. I remember his plaid shirt, my brother’s shouts, my parents’ response, or actually lack of appropriate response. Yes, like so many women my age, I am a Me-too-er.

 But I am no victim or survivor--two terms I absolutely abhor. I am a winner.

I am also a proud mother of sons and a wife to a wonderful, loving man. Yet, I fear for them. My sons are white and will grow up, God willing, to become old white men. This is not cut and dry like some want to make the issue—that men need to “shut up,” are predators, cannot be trusted, and their alleged victims too afraid to speak out. Good mothers raise wonderful sons to be good friends to women. Good fathers teach their boys to love and respect women. And, this grandmother will make certain her granddaughter will be strong and never fear speaking out. No wonder I was so drained after watching historical, high drama yesterday. I hurt for both of them and their families.

While listening to the hearing, I was also working on Jane Street and the Housemaid Rebellion: Sex, Syndicalism, and Denver’s Capitol Hill. I rediscovered a letter that Jane wrote to a Mrs. Elmer Bruse in 1917, explaining how she organized the maids. Embedded within the letter Jane confirms being sexually assaulted by men who opposed her organization. (I have other evidence to this fact as well.) She also describes how the house that she rented for maids, who were between jobs and without income, was labeled a prostitution house by local employment agencies who wanted to discredit her maids. Domestics came to her to find work, only to be solicited at the curb. Not only did these agencies publicize that her “club house” was a house of ill-repute, but they tried to pimp helpless, needy girls. Both actions, assaults and sexual solicitations, were acts of aggression, meant to change Jane’s behavior.

What stuck out to me, as the hearing’s senators were trying to decipher a high-school boy’s yearbook braggadocio, was that Jane was not screaming out “Me, too!” She appeared to expect this type of behavior, a form of sabotage. Sad. She warned Mrs. Bruse that “sex can come rushing into your office like a great hurricane and blow all the papers of industrialism out the windows.” Jane patiently explains and accepts that there will be workplace sexual harassment, and perhaps even assault. No woman in 1917 would dream of saying “not me, too.”

Today is different, thank God. In fact, women “have come a long way, baby.” (For my younger female readers, this was part of a cigarette-ad campaign.) Yes, I am Woman (can’t help myself, everyone)! I am not a survivor, but a winner.

And like this Jane, Jane Street never portrays herself as a victim, but one who continued to work aggressively to make a difference.

Saturday, September 15, 2018

So what does a book title suggest? The part after the colon?

Have you ever been to a wine tasting?  You sip a delicious Shiraz and next want to try a Sangiovese.  But before you can move on to the next wine, you must rinse the taste out of your mouth with a sip of water, or the two flavors will meld, giving a false impression.  In other words, you have to sample each wine independently, so your palate can savor the true depth of flavors.  It's that way with writing too.

Anyone who has ever known me will testify that I am a multi-multi-tasker.  Truth is, the only way I can appear that way is to do things in chunks, blind to other demands.  One piece at a time gets the job done.  Unfortunately, I have not followed my usual work mantra this past year, primarily because I couldn't wrap my brain around complex issues in my Jane Street and the Housemaid Rebellion:  Sex, Syndicalism, and Denver's Capitol Hill while taking numerous trips relating to the success of Frank Little and the IWW:  The Blood That Stained an American Family, and caring for my dying mother. So, I dabbled with the project while beginning another one, one that provided an artificial salve to other demands in my life.

I tried to work on two books at the same time! Can't do it! Now I am taking those sips of water in order to wash away the second book until Jane Street is finished.  A trip to Missouri with friends (no book research) and Gulf Coast fishing helps wash away some of the taste.  Fishing in a kayak with a resident alligator nearby definitely helps one concentrate on other issues!

Afterwards, I will go to Bullhead, Arizona, to interview Jane Street's grandson, who was raised by Jane seventy or so years ago. He should provide insight into Jane's personality. After putting together my timelines, rereading all my research, I should be in a better place, ready to begin writing.  Just looking over all the work I have done, I realize this story is wonderful - one that needs to be told.

So what does a book title suggest?  The part after the colon?  In this case, the following.

Sex.  Free love, free love societies, union members forcing themselves on immigrant girls who do not have the power to say "no."  Sex also refers to the subordination of women to men in the early 1900s.   Fighting for the right to vote, supporting WWI efforts, YWCA, education.

Syndicalism.  When an economic group, like a workers' union, proposes that a group, in this case, house servants, be organized and managed by the workers.  Enter the IWW [Industrial Workers of the World], where everyone is supposed to be treated equally.  See Sex.

Denver's Capitol Hill.  A smug, elite residential area where smug, elite mistresses spend their free time at club meetings and galas, events designed to help them feel like they are contributing to American injustices, such as supporting the war effort, women's education, and dismantling a particular housemaid union.  Their husbands, men of enormous power, own and operate mining interests near Denver, own and direct  cattle-raising interests in Wyoming, own and edit newspapers that help propel their political interests, or are already politicians. Don't get me wrong.  Some of these organizations were necessary and made a difference.  Others were simply held to make willing society-page editors take notice.  And, they did.

Then here comes Jane Street.  She shook up things, while her life was being turned over by sex and syndicalism.  It's a great story.

The Housemaids’ Defiance by Denver Housemaids’ Union
Lyrics & links to sheet music & karaoke download:
We are coming all together;
We are organized to stay.
For nigh on fifty years or more,
We’ve worked for little pay.
But now we’ve got our union,
We’ll do it never more.

It’s a long day for housemaid Mary;
It’s a long day’s hard toil.
It’s a burden too hard to carry,
So our mistress’s schemes we’ll foil.
We’ll be silent no longer.
We won’t be kept down.
And we’re out for a shorter day this summer,
Or we’ll fix Denver town.

Tuesday, September 11, 2018

Jane Street and the Housemaid Rebellion: Sex, Syndicalism, and Denver's Capitol Hill

Since I am about to resume work on my new book, Jane Street and the Housemaid Rebellion:  Sex, Syndicalism, and Denver's Capitol Hill, I am re-posting a blog from my Chasing Rabbits page at  Later I will break down this title for readers.  It sounds nasty, doesn't it?  I will say this, if the "Me, Too" Movement had been born almost 100 years ago, there would have been plenty of voices crying out.  Instead, just a few whispers will bravely protest in my narrative.  Treatment is not so equal between the sexes, even among those groups proclaiming such.

I recently discovered that my fifteen-year-old grandmother, whom I mention below, was married off to a man over twice her age after she was orphaned in 1913.  Was this Danish custom?  She later ran away to become a Boulder, Colorado, housemaid, seeking protection in a silver-baron's mansion.  Yet, Boulder and Denver mansions were not necessarily safe havens for female servants nor were many meeting places where these young women congregated.  Jane Street finds this out, the hard way.  

The blog:

A feisty young woman, for whatever reason, decided to organize domestic servants employed by Denver society women in the spring of 1916. Jane Street, not even a maid herself (despite what has been written), determined that a new union, under the umbrella of the Industrial Workers of the World, would better the lives of these women, many immigrant girls who had no other vocation or skills to support themselves. Jane’s cause likely aroused the ire of millionaire husbands who had to listen to their pampered wives’ complaints. Dealing with union workers in their gold and silver camps was one thing, but a labor conflict in their households was an entirely different animal. Imagine house maids blacklisting certain tyrannical mistresses!

Why did I chase this “rabbit”? For two reasons. The first is that my seventeen-year-old grandmother, Louise Peterson Little, was such a servant. Only she worked in a mansion in Boulder, Colorado, thirty miles north of Denver. The Boulder housemaids intently observed their sisters’ mutiny as the rebellion spread.

The second reason is because of Frank Little, my uncle. In researching Frank Little and the IWW, I discovered he not only sympathized with these women, but also helped Jane Street organize, supporting her at a time when male-dominated-union apathy, if not condescension, of women’s labor struggles undermined any real western labor organization. If fact, as this story plays out, certain male union members (not Frank!), under the guise of providing “fatherly direction” to the nascent liberation-de-la-femme uprising, determined that the new union headquarters, its rooms available for out-of-work maids, was their personal smorgasbord, enticing vulnerable girls for sexual favors. So, the house maids’ uprising is more than a melodrama—a thread of white slavery now entered my research. Enter the YWCA, whose members determined that housewives should “educate” the poor girls in gentility, education, and training; Denver’s Chamber of Commerce; a burglary of the union’s famous index card file; and a fascinating historical story emerges.

Jane Street is an attractive historical character herself. Beautiful, and bohemian as illustrated by her outlook on life and the musical talents she and her sister shared, she moved around the country, birthing three children by different fathers. Perhaps she discovered true love once she met a one-legged, world-renowned bicyclist named Charles Devlin. How Devlin’s story intertwines with Jane’s is remarkable, fraught with union organization, Thiel and Pinkerton spies, jealous lovers, and vengeful IWW leaders. Only after she was ensnared by Bureau of Investigation agents at the end of WWI does she disappear from the radical scene.

In feminist studies, Jane Street’s leadership of the Denver housemaids’ uprising is often mentioned. But her inclusion is just that—a mention—and no one has really told her story. But I will. Jane Street is the subject of my next book, and already the research of her story is captivating my musings.

Sunday, September 9, 2018

Who's Butch Cassidy? For Whom Do We Authors Write?

Here I am, my brain processing facts, connections, and others' analyses for two different books. I can't believe I started writing at such a late period in my life, but it is what it is, and I have to be hyper-vigilant about my interpretations and analyses, and even word choices. Sometimes I type a word totally opposite of what my old brain has told me to write. Where did that come from? I question myself. But this isn't my only concern about the time and effort it takes to research and write a book. Looming over my head is the realization that I will have a small audience, and there is very little I can do to change this.

Oh, it's not about the subjects, nor is it because of political division today. ( I try to stay away from the fray.) My writing is not bad.  At least, I think I do a fair job.  No, it is the audience in general.

On my way home from Wyoming two weeks ago, I sat next to a young lady (everyone is young to me), who engaged in conversation. She asked why I was in Riverton.


"No," I answered. "I am researching for a book I am writing." She perked up.

"What's the topic?" she asked.

"The relationship between Butch Cassidy and a fellow named Hank Boedeker."

Her face went totally blank. "Oh," she said.

"You don't know who Butch Cassidy is, do you? How about Paul Newman?" Still blank.  "Robert Redford?" I was getting sick to my stomach.

"No, but I will google them later," she promised.

It hit me. Why in the h___ am I writing a book about this topic if some Millennials and other young Americans have no clue as to who these people are or have reason to know? Of course she didn't know who Butch Cassidy was. The movie Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid came out in 1969, making the outlaw a household name for years, but apparently not as long as I had thought. This is akin to my asking who actor Tyrone Power was or what was Gone With the Wind. Wait, I know these things. I have always been interested in our societal history. I can cite movies, actors, outlaws, American history facts, origins of expressions, and other apparently useless trivia. I love museums, archives, places important to American history.  And, I love books.

Sadly, America's younger generations have an enormous cultural deficit. Not surprising. I used to do a family history unit with my high school freshmen. "Fill in your family tree four generations back," I instructed them, handing each a paper illustrated with an elaborate oak tree, its canopy ready to enter each student's name, sets of parents, grandparents, and great-grandparents. "Have one anecdote to share with the class when you come back, featuring an individual from your tree," I added. How hard is that?

After the Christmas holidays, when families generally get together and tell stories, it was time for students to present their anecdotes and trees. Nearly a third of the students had not been able to complete their trees. They were frustrated, not at me, but at the realization they had missed something. Some had mixed families due to divorce. Some had a parent desert them, taking that side of family history with him or her. Tragically, some parents simply did not know who their own grandparents were and could not share this info.

If our children can not even tell where they came from, how on earth will they know and understand the context in which their great-grandparents lived? Why should these kids even care at all?

America has had hundreds of years of recorded history, and it absolutely can not all be taught in school. Teachers have to pick and choose watershed moments for discussion, relegating everything else to rote regurgitation of useless information--because facts mean absolutely nothing without context.  Living in Texas and knowing how our state textbook committee works is also scary. Political correctness and politics changes interpretation depending on the makeup of the committee, and then Texas sells her textbooks to other states in the union.  Consequently, there are gaps of information and sometimes biased interpretations.

At a recent Western Writers of America conference, a panel of editors, publicists, and agents fielded questions from an anxious audience. One panel member warned authors that young adult literature (YA) books had to be small books, only so many pages, or books would not be accepted. Publishing-house representatives agreed, citing that they would not take any lengthy books. Yikes! At my editor's request, I had cut 50,000 words out of my Frank Little and the IWW book, the entire length of a typical YA book, to keep expense down.  Later a few individuals actually offered to buy those pages from me, so interested were they in my subject. But they were interested in our shared cultural history and had backgrounds that supported their interests.

An individual on Facebook, also connected to Western Writers of America, posted a stat that indicated teenager readership has declined thirty percent. Sadly, quick-search-engines guide our youth's edification. 

So, here we are today with quite a conundrum.  For whom do we authors write?  We may not have future audiences who generally love to read like older Americans did. They had patience, usually knowing that what they selected was worth reading to the end.  On the other hand, Millennials and younger generations are adept technologically, expecting quick gratification on their gadget-screens.  Keep it short and simple, right?  I see no remedy in educational trends, instead exacerbation since schools have moved toward digital instructional techniques.  

f a person wants to know something about the past, he or she can just google the topic.  Not very academic or factual, no thoughtful questions involved, but at least a baby step toward learning our cultural background.

"Butch Cassidy"

Robert Leroy Parker, better known as Butch Cassidy, was a notorious American train robber and bank robber, and the leader of a gang of criminal outlaws known as the "Wild Bunch" in the American Old West.  Wikipedia

Think the girl on the airplane looked old Butch up? I hope so.

Friday, August 24, 2018

The Dude Was Born, and the Western Rockies Have Never Been the Same

On my way home from Lander, Wyoming, after a horrible start, so bad that I questioned the wisdom in flying out last week. My Southwest Airlines flight took off an hour and half late because someone got the emergency exit door stuck. My connection in Denver was a charter flight to Riverton, WY. Instructions were explicit. Pick up luggage from connecting flight, get to DenverAir ticket counter, check bag again (no later than one hour before departure), go through security, and be at gate no less than forty-five minutes before departure time. I had everything perfectly planned out, with a three-hour layover in Denver. With the hour and a half delay, I only had thirty minutes to do all of the above in Denver, no less! Do you know that airport? I was prepared to drive to Wyoming or fly back home. No more flights for the day to Riverton. On arrival in Denver, the passengers let me de-board first, the ticket counter called ahead to the charter, and I ran, like I haven’t run since 4th grade.

Unfortunately, California sent her smoke east. I never saw the famous Wind River Mountain range. With all this misfortune, the week was incredibly productive. I absolutely love research, and I was not disappointed with what I found at the Fremont County Pioneer Museum, including a newspaper photo of Sarah’s great-grandmother. The old jail register, beginning in 1885, also had surprises. Hank Boedeker, Butch Cassidy, and his sidekick Al Hainer were all three arrested within days of each other. Hank, arrested??? A district court arrest warrant, no less. Usually that was for selling liquor to the Indians or stealing horses. Yet, there he is again in 1894, this time deputy sheriff, escorting Butch to prison in Laramie. So many incredible finds, wonderful stories.

My hosts were members of the Boedeker family. Their ranch, atop a hill overlooking the Wind River Mountains, borders the North Fork of the Popo-Agie (po-po’ zhə) River. Moose, grizzlies, elk, deer, antelope, and mountain lions have wandered this ranch. I was able to get wonderful interviews and photo items significant to Hank Boedeker’s story. But this story is more than one man—it is a story of how the West changed. Not surprisingly, Hank knew Owen Wister, who wrote the Virginian, likely discussing trails with him. Characters and events in the book are loosely based on people and events around Lander and Dubois.

Wister revisited the Wind River Valley and mountains many times and intuitively knew that the raw country would not be able to stay the same once the rest of the world discovered it. Yet he was part of that change with his journals, stories, and Frederick Remington’s illustrations of his western travels.

On my final elevator ride downstairs in my hotel this morning, a tall Asian jumped in, decked out in mountain gear. He turned to me, smiled, and in accented words, asked, “Are you heading to Yellowstone today too?” The dude was born, and the western Rockies have never been the same.

“Some day, no doubt, when civilization crawls here, this poor creek with its canyon and natural bridges will echo with the howling of the summer mob, who will have easy paths made for them, and staircases, and elevators perhaps too. There will be signposts directing you to Minerva terrace, Calypso Garden, Siren Grotto, for every unfortunate ledge and point will be saddled with a baleful name rotten with inappropriateness.” 

Owen Wister, Warm Springs Canyon, Wyoming

Monday, August 20, 2018

The Best Part of a Story Is When It Changes

My mom died. It is a strange feeling being an orphan at my age. I am uncomfortable with the void I feel. I talked to her every day for the last twenty-three years. She had been diagnosed with lung cancer in January. Four months later, gone. One of my best fans, gone. Of course, I knew her condition was terminal. But I wasn't ready when she decided to let go.

Today I scrub gray gunk off the cabinet doors, light-switch plates, and door jambs in her house. Twenty-three years removed. It feels strange to wipe away my mother's fingerprint layers. Lysol cleaner is effectively erasing her physical evidence. 

A part of me wants nothing to change.  Do we rent my mother's house or sell it?  I wonder if this is what happens in other families. I am comforted in knowing my experience is not unique, though I feel it so. Fortunately, Mom leaves a legacy, including an autobiography. Though our lives are now altered, her story will endure.

My Little family effectively buried my uncle Frank Little, rudely murdered before he turned forty years old. I spent years uncovering his life, excavating family memories and stories, rare details in order for others to know him.  His death changed labor, and eventually he was provided a tombstone, marking his purpose in life. I compare him to my father, whose ashes disappeared after his second wife died. Even my memories of him are even getting vague. Dad’s life story will be gone within two generations.

I discover Death was the purveyor of change in Jane Street's life, the subject of my next book. Her life's direction veered West after losing her parents and became an early advocate for women.  Though Jane kept a filing system in which she journaled her thoughts almost every day of her life, another family member trashed it, deciding her words were of little value. Like Frank, I am digging to uncover Jane's life.

It’s the same in the Boedeker family. Too many untimely deaths, including Mary Bratek Boedeker, Bump’s wife. Mary died in an institution in Evanston, Wyoming, after she lost her mind to Huntington’s disease. I cannot find her photo. None of her descendants have offered her up. Was her life’s story buried? Mary was only 51 when she died, a year after her eldest daughter was killed. Did Mary know?

Catherine Boedeker was so beautiful, that if there had been a beauty contest, she would have won Miss Dubois—or so Don Ricks tells me. Four or five teenagers driving around, sober and sedate, her boyfriend at the wheel. He pulled off the highway, intending to turn around and go back to Dubois. A rear wheel slipped off the road, and the car did a slow roll down the bank. Though no one else was hurt, nineteen-year-old Catherine died instantly. I bury my thoughts in another family’s tragedy.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Don't Let Your Babies Grow Up to Be Cowboys

I email Bump Boedeker’s bronc image to Sarah. I hope the new discovery peaks her interest in her heritage. Cowboys may not impress her much; after all, she is a Wyoming girl where Steamboat is imprinted on everything except the state flag. (Steamboat is Wyoming’s ubiquitous bucking bronc logo.) And like my son, she attended the University of Wyoming, where she was a “cowboy.” I fondly recall the UW band playing Big and Rich’s “Ride a Cowboy” at a fall football game years ago. But it’s the old Waylon Jennings-Willie Nelson song, “Mothers, don’t let your babies grow up to be cowboys” that fits Sarah perfectly. We even sneaked our grandson his first pair of boots. I wait to hear her reaction.

My Ancestry inquiries finally pay off! While most folks respond that they cannot help, one individual puts me in touch with Hank Boedeker’s grandson, the last living person to have actually known the man. Hallelujah! Introductions are now in order. Much to be done here.

I also receive John Foster’s giclée of “The Bronc.” I am delighted with it, and with the digital photo that originated the painting, I feel that I am closer to the Boedeker family, their story. Foster is a delightful man, wonderful artist, conscientious writer--and UFO believer. Besides viewing his lovely mountain-scapes, sculptures, and photographs, I spend time reading about alien encounters that began in the 1950s near, you guessed it, Dubois, Wyoming. He describes an event in Dubois during his summer break from the University of Nebraska below

"My friend and I finally landed jobs with the US Forest Service as fire guards. I was hired to be a member of “the trail crew,” clearing and improving trails in the deep wilderness with horses, and my friend was to be a fire guard and campground maintenance man using an old Dodge Fire Wagon truck. He was to stay at 'The Sheridan Creek Fire Guard Cabin,' a beautiful temporary cabin that sat 11 miles west of Dubois, near the spot where Sheridan Creek flowed into the Wind River. It was there where we experienced the most bizarre, important, historical UFO encounter of my life. It lasted from well before sunset until well after sunrise."

Got your attention? John has written books about these experiences, spoken to large audiences, and participated in UFO studies sponsored by prominent universities. John is now retired, having been in charge of ore extraction at a test uranium mine. He is definitely no crackpot. Having just read about UFO sightings near Nogal, NM, where we live part-time and having grown up hearing about the Roswell alien crash, I try to keep an open mind. John’s art may be viewed at His ufo studies and writings at

I check census records to see where Bump and Hank Boedeker were in 1930 and 1940. (The 1950 census has not come out yet). There Bump is with his wife Mary, living with Effie M. (Dot) and Perry Lewis on their ranch in Freemont County, WY, in 1930. Bump is working as a ranch laborer. This would have been the same time that the bronco photograph was taken in Pinedale.

By 1940, Dot’s family is renting in Lander, her husband working for the WPA. Bump and Mary, however, moved to Dubois as early as 1935. Bump has no regular job or reported income, five children to feed, and likely an ailing wife whose physical and mental debilitation is alarming and frightening. He is doing itinerant work, having worked part of March 1940. Like millions of others, the Great Depression changed the trajectory of the Boedeker families’ lives. Still, two more children would be born, including Sarah’s grandmother. Within seven years after the last birth, Mary Boedeker would be dead. I envision the tragedy settling into the ebb and flow of their daily lives. Still, my book will not be about this Boedeker family. I move on to Hank, Bump’s father.

Eighty-one-year-old Hank is still living in 1940, also in Dubois, renting a farm, with two children and his wife Maggie. No sign of him in 1930. These details provide a skeleton that will need to be fleshed out as I work backwards to Lawman Hank Boedeker and his legend.

One last observation from John Foster’s communications. He mentions being told that Bump Boedeker ran with Butch Cassidy’s son, who lived in Butch’s former cabin in Dubois. Foster reports Dot’s stories of how they were practical jokers, causing some excitement in the small community. Butch Cassidy had a son? This would have to be verified. One other detail, I record. “The cabin was about a quarter of a mile or a lot less to the west of the road that led up Horse Creek, approximately a quarter to half a mile away from town.” The Boedekers lived up Horse Creek.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Bump Boedeker, Ride "'Em, Cowboy!"

Taking care of a dying person is draining, but I can fend off depression by concentrating on the Boedeker family. This tack triggers another realization, adding guilt to my panoply of emotions. I realize that I am a voyeur, my mind's eye loupe is peering into their lives without permission. Should I tell Sarah?

I email every member who has a solid Boedeker tree, solid meaning having more documented information than I have. I might get lucky. Again, I surf the web, looking for anything on Bump Boedeker.

Then I see him, the subject of a painting entitled “The Bronc.” Mouth agape in exhilaration but right arm downward in virtual repose, Bump Boedeker sits snugly atop a contorted, bucking horse, strands of his woolies and scalp hair flung counter to the horse’s hard twist. As the painting’s artist John Foster explains, Bump’s wild bronco ride was captured on film in 1932 in Pinedale, Wyoming. By the late 1950s, Foster asserts, the photo was known in that area to be one “of the best dynamic photos of all time, showing a man breaking a bronc.” In Foster’s words, nobody handled a horse better than Bump Boedeker.

Foster also connects Boedeker Butte to Bump and his family, the landmark’s location as being several miles north of Dubois, just above Bog Lake. He claims Bump was the father of a deceased friend who was the cook on the Red Rock Ranch in Dubois, Wyoming, where the artist had worked breaking horses. Immediately I decide to contact Foster. I want a copy of the photograph and more importantly, information. A story is emerging.

I did it! I contacted John Foster. He was a teenager in 1957 when he learned how to wrangle horses at Red Rock Ranch. Besides room and board, he earned his living, breaking colts for trail rides. He wryly tells me he also had to break and train the dudes who arrived at the ranch for entertainment. Red Rock Ranch was a stopping place for tourists who traveled to Teton National Park or Yellowstone National Park when they weren’t riding older, savvy horses plodding along with their noses to the trail. So how did he happen to acquire a photo of Bump Boedeker, I want to know.

The deceased friend, a cook at Red Rock Ranch, was Dot Lewis. I recall this name on Ancestry. Dot wasn’t the daughter of Bump Boedeker—she was his sister, real name Effie Mae! The Boedeker family seems to have an affinity for nicknames. Foster mentions a Freddy, Dot’s son-in-law and a young WWII veteran, also working at Red Rock Ranch. Foster and Freddy Stevens became fast friends, and Foster acquired the photo directly from Freddy’s family.

I study the photo closely. A professional photographer had to have taken the action shot. Online I search other photos taken in Wyoming circa the 1930s. Rather quickly one name emerges—Charles Belden, famed Wyoming photographer. In Meeteetse, Wyoming, the Charles Belden Photography Museum features his works, many of which document daily life on the Pitchfork Ranch from about 1914 to the 1940s. I gaze at Belden’s photos, some quite similar to Bump Boedeker’s 1932 bronc ride in Pinedale, Wyoming, a circuitous 282-mile drive south from Meeteetse, circumventing the Wind River Indian Reservation. I decide to contact the museum, emailing the image.

In no time at all, the museum director sends me images of Belden’s mark and signature. Bump’s photo has no mark, and Belden typically signed the matting of photos he gave as gifts or sold. Could Foster’s unmatted photo be a Belden, I ask? Certainly, the director replies, but without a mark, the photo’s authenticity can not be proven. No matter. A handsome photo of Bump Boedeker exists, in an activity no one guessed.

Contacting John Foster again, I order a giclée of Bump Boedeker on his horse, beg for a copy of the original photo, and email questions about Bump and Hank Boedeker. How will Sarah feel, learning this new dimension to her great-grandfather? I wonder if I am making a mistake.

Researching Wyoming's Boedekers, Truth or Legend?

A famous quote best describes the written lore of Lawman Hank Boedeker: "When confronted with the truth or the legend, print the legend." Though not much is in print about Henry E. Boedeker, during the 1950s, campfire stories embellished tales of well-known past residents including Marshal Boedeker to impress visiting dudes at ranches across western Wyoming. Most specifically, he was reported to be more than an associate of Butch Cassidy's, whose own history is so thick with folklore, it takes a machete to cut through to the truth.​ Boedeker did escort an unmanacled Cassidy to Laramie's federal penitentiary. The exception to Hank Boedeker’s own apocrypha is a common narrative regarding a poster that the Winchester Repeating Arms Company distributed nationally in 1904, after its original presentation at the St. Louis World's Fair. That, and Hank Boedeker is my grandsons' third great-grandfather.

A few months ago, I needed to distract myself from thoughts about my mother’s terminal illness and all the stuff that comes along with the impending death of a loved one--in short, an abandon from autopiloting for the next day. As in the past, I found comfort lurking online with where I could wrap myself around others’ internet lives and the circumstances of their deaths with detached interest. As expected, worries about phone calls, groceries, and doctor appointments soon melted away, along with my reality. To augment the routine joys and tragedies of their digital lifetimes, I searched for all the “hints” Ancestry had posted on various family members in my tree, adding and updating pertinent information to various individuals’ “fact” pages. A mindless, analytical activity, at least for me. And then I shifted to Sarah’s family tree.

Sarah is my daughter-in-law, and like me, she was struggling with her mother’s imminent death. I was instantly ashamed of my pity-party. Sarah’s mom began her death-dance almost thirty years ago when she was diagnosed with Huntington’s Disease, or HD, at about the age of twenty. Most of Sarah’s childhood and adult life has revolved around her mother’s decline. Like me, she has detached herself as best she can from some realities, looking for daily joys in my two challenging grandsons. Sarah laughs at them.

Her detachment from her Boedeker ancestry (pronounced “bed-e-ker”) was primarily because the disease was introduced when her great-grandfather “Bump” Boedeker fell in love and married an immigrant girl from a Polish ghetto known for the disorder. It was not until 1993 that the HD heredity gene was identified. In mid-century Dubois, Wyoming, the Boedeker family had become alarmed and ashamed of the disease’s manifestation in family members, no doubt not understanding that they were procreating the disease’s reoccurrence through their progeny. In fact, as I looked at Sarah’s family tree, I was reminded that she had told me Bump became aimless after his wife Mary had to be institutionalized. He must have felt lost and confused, perhaps even condemned.

My interest began to peak as I filled in family-member facts on Sarah’s Ancestry tree. Then I switched to browsing the internet.

I searched Bump Boedeker, real name John Franklin Boedeker. The first hit was a blog written by Don M. Ricks called “Wyoming History Written in the First Person.” Ricks self-identified as both a historian and storyteller who grew up knowing the pioneers from the 1800s in Dubois, Wyoming. Specifically, he claimed to have known the Boedeker family. I became fully engaged, my misery evaporating, when I found a blog entry titled “Fecundity vs. The Boedecker Story” (July 10, 2016). Fecundity was not a word I have ever used: defined, it means “fertility or the production of new ideas.” Every idea would be new to me regarding the Boedekers.

Ricks believed a new street in 1950 was named Boedeker Street after Bump. Apparently Bump hauled the mail and freight from Riverton to Dubois five days a week for years. He drove for the Barnes Truck Company, and Ricks’ grandfather was Cordon Barnes’ partner. This did not sound like the story I heard. A street would not have been named after a freighter. Ricks’ mother lived with a fellow named Little Mike, a bartender, who likely would have known about Bump. Ricks had elaborated that Dubois was a two-bartender town, where Little Mike worked at the Rams Horn and a Big Mike tended bar at the Branding Iron.

Ricks even went to school with two of Bump’s daughters, Nancy and Barbara, and he had had a crush on the latter. I immediately went to my Ancestry tree and made certain this information matched. It did. So far, so good.

Ricks told of living in one of Mrs. Boedekers’ white tourist cabins and boarding at her table for several months. I wondered, which Mrs. Boedeker? He appeared to have an intimate relationship with this family, closer than even its grandchildren and great-grandchildren.The blog continued. Boedeker Street was not named after Bump Boedeker after all. The street was named after Hank Boedeker as was Boedeker Butte on the T-Cross Ranch. This must be the new idea, the fecundity part of the blog’s title, I surmised. I recalled that Sarah had, indeed, told me about a Boedeker ancestor who was a hunter, maybe even a trapper, and who owned a large property that had a mountain on it called Boedeker Mountain. He lost the property because he couldn’t pay the taxes or something like that. Perhaps a bereaved Bump Boedeker had lost interest.

Sarah told how this Boedeker left a photograph on the wall of the old cabin depicting him and his rifle with a mountain sheep he had killed. When the new owners, the Winchester family of firearms fame, saw the photo, they immediately turned it into a hunting poster, and Bump/Hank’s likeness became famous. Turns out the gun in the photo was a Winchester rifle. Where could I can get that poster? I once asked Sarah. She could only recall that her family had misplaced it long ago. When disease consumes a family like HD has done to this branch of the Boedekers, family heirlooms become trivial and irrelevant, and associated family stories bring pain and are best forgotten. My heart broke for the family who had lost touch with a beautiful western heritage.

Ricks continued his story, telling how Hank Boedeker arrived in Wyoming via Illinois and Nebraska in 1883, eventually settling in the Dubois area. As a family genealogist and new historian, I knew I would have to prove these revelations. I began by creating a timeline on Hank noting the source of each new fact and possible fiction. Next Ricks wrote, “Hank was a larger than life Wild West hero.” My heart began pounding. “As a lawman his historical apocrypha are enhanced because he shared the Wind River country with Butch Cassidy in the early 1890s.”

Here was a story, perhaps fiction, but if actually true, then perhaps I could redeem the Boedeker name for my daughter-in-law, even leave a legacy for my grandsons to be proud of. I was now hooked on the Boedeker family, and thoughts of what I needed to be doing for my mother’s care were not all-consuming. I needed this story.​​​

I quickly scanned the rest of Don M. Ricks’ blog on the Dubois, Wyoming, Boedekers. He provided titillating information, such as Hank was Lander, Wyoming’s town marshal. As such, he escorted Butch Cassidy to Fort Laramie to serve a prison sentence for stealing thirteen horses near Meteetsee. In another Ricks’ story, Hank Boedeker disarmed Butch Cassidy and his gang when they rode into town. These anecdotes would need sound investigation, research that I determined I would do. Would I find enough to warrant a book?

Ricks lamented that much of the information on Hank Boedeker was both true and suspect, dependent on “old first-person reminiscences who knew him and casually collected information full of misremembered details, melded events, and enhanced narratives.” Just the type of information I sought when investigating history! These anecdotes, full of faulty information, always have a seed of truth. Their telling brings color to the subject and gives way to begin honest research. The difference between Mr. Ricks and me, I surmised, is that I know how to ferret out the facts once I have the stories. I am an excellent researcher.

The exception to Hank Boedeker’s apocrypha is the common narrative regarding the poster that the Winchester Repeating Arms Company distributed nationally in 1904. Ricks even supplied a photo of the poster. There stands Hank Boedeker on the butte named in his honor, right hand firmly placed on his hip, in his left hand a Model 95 Winchester rifle with its butt and his left boot atop a “record” bighorn sheep. Hank Boedeker presents a formidable character, and, clearly, he and Bump Boedeker are not the same person.

​Then Ricks lost me. He next claimed that there were two unrelated Boedeker families in Dubois – Sarah’s great-grandfather, the freighter Bump, and the other Boedeker, Hank the lawman. Two Boedeker lines with no ties in a small Wyoming town? Impossible. Ricks spent a lengthy paragraph discussing anachronistic suppositions, and even he falls victim to dismissing the facts before his nose. He supplied erroneous information: Bump was a German immigrant who came to America following WWI, birth in 1908 and death in 1996. No way he could be Hank Boedeker’s son, Ricks asserts. Within this fog, Ricks still claimed to have known this family branch well.

I went back to my Ancestry tree. Our Bump Boedeker, my Sarah’s great-grandfather, was born 1899, in Lander, Wyoming, confirmed by ten sources, including his WWII selective registration card. Ricks also did not get Bump’s death correct. Ricks in his storytelling had unwittingly added incorrect information to the Boedeker story. Even more glaring was that Hank Boedeker, real name Henry Elmer Boedeker, was, indeed, Bump’s father.

Most disturbing in the blog was mention of an STD, discussion offered up by other Boedeker progeny, supposedly transmitted by a philandering Bump Boedeker, the freighter who spent much time out-of-town. Fortunately, Ricks noted that Bump should have slept in his own bed every night with the Riverton-Dubois trip being a short haul-- only eighty miles--and the salacious story illogical. Yet mention of the STD rumor bothered me. I knew it was a shadow-rumor of the genetically-transmitted disease, HD. Don Ricks and other Boedeker family members simply had no idea, Bump’s children had not discussed their mother’s illness, and some had not yet understood their own tragedies would unfold.

Don Ricks ended the blog with colorful memories of his Dubois childhood. Pictured were both Dubois bars, noting that Bump Boedeker delivered a new movie in Friday’s freight for Sunday-night viewing at the Rustic Pine Tavern. The entire town attended regardless of what film he delivered. The other bar, the old Branding Iron, had once been owned by Ricks’ great-grandfather. Built into a sandstone bluff in full view of Main Street, his cases of whiskey were safe from burglars. I could not wait to begin the real research about the Boedeker family. Despite some misinformation, gratitude swelled in my chest--someone had taken the time to record the Boedekers.