September 12, 2012
At the dawn of the 20th century, cycling was the most popular sport in both America and Europe, with tens of thousands of spectators drawn to arenas and velodromes to see highly dangerous and even deadly affairs that bore little semblance to bicycle racing today. In brutal six-day races of endurance, well-paid competitors often turned to cocaine, strychnine and nitroglycerine for stimulation and suffered from sleep deprivation, delusions and hallucinations along with falls from their bicycles. In motor-paced racing, cyclists would draft behind motorcycles, reaching speeds of 60 miles per hour on cement-banked tracks, where blown bicycle tires routinely led to spectacular crashes and deaths.
Yet one of the first sports superstars emerged from this curious and sordid world. Marshall W. Taylor was just a teenager when he turned professional and began winning races on the world stage, and President Theodore Roosevelt became one of his greatest admirers. But it was not Taylor’s youth that cycling fans first noticed when he edged his wheels to the starting line. Nicknamed “the Black Cyclone,” he would burst to fame as the world champion of his sport almost a decade before the African-American heavyweight Jack Johnson won his world title. And as with Johnson, Taylor’s crossing of the color line was not without complication, especially in the United States, where he often had no choice but to ride ahead of his white competitors to avoid being pulled or jostled from his bicycle at high speeds.
Taylor was born into poverty in Indianapolis in 1878, one of eight children in his family. His father, Gilbert, the son of a Kentucky slave, fought for the Union in the Civil War and then worked as a coachman for the Southards, a well-to-do family in Indiana. Young Marshall often accompanied his father to work to help exercise some of the horses, and he became close friends with Dan Southard, the son of his father’s employer. By the time Marshall was 8, the Southards had for all intents and purposes adopted him into their home, where he was educated by private tutors and virtually lived the same life of privilege as his friend Dan.
When Marshall was about 13, the Southards moved to Chicago. Marshall’s mother “could not bear the idea of parting with me,” he would write in his autobiography. Instead, “I was dropped from the happy life of a ‘millionaire kid’ to that of a common errand boy, all within a few weeks.”
Aside from the education, the Southards also gave Taylor a bicycle, and the young man was soon earning money as a paperboy, delivering newspapers and riding barefoot for miles a day. In his spare time, he practiced tricks and caught the attention of someone at the Hay and Willits bicycle shop, which paid Marshall to hang around the front of the store, dressed in a military uniform, doing trick mounts and stunts to attract business. A new bicycle and a raise enabled Marshall to quit delivering newspapers and work for the shop full-time. His uniform won him the nickname “Major,” which stuck.
To further promote the store, one of the shop’s owners, Tom Hay, entered Taylor in a ten-mile bicycle race—something the cyclist had never seen before. “I know you can’t go the full distance,” Hay whispered to the terrified entrant, “but just ride up the road a little way, it will please the crowd, and you can come back as soon as you get tired.”
The crack of a starter’s pistol signaled the beginning of an unprecedented career in bicycle racing. Major Taylor pushed his legs beyond anything he’d imagined himself capable of and finished six seconds ahead of anyone else. There he “collapsed and fell in a heap in the roadway,” he wrote, but he soon had a gold medal pinned to his chest. He began competing in races across the Midwest; while he was still 13, his cycling prowess earned him a notice in the New York Times, which made no mention of his youth.
By the 1890s, America was experiencing a bicycle boom, and Taylor continued to work for Hay and Willits, mostly giving riding lessons. While white promoters allowed him to compete in trick riding competitions and races, Taylor was kept from joining any of the local riding clubs, and many white cyclists were less than welcoming to the black phenom. In August 1896, Taylor’s friend and new mentor, Louis D. “Berdi” Munger, who owned the Worcester Cycle Manufacturing Company in Massachusetts, signed him up for an event and smuggled him into the whites-only races at the Capital City Cycling Club in Indianapolis. He couldn’t officially compete against the professionals, but his time could certainly be measured.
Some of the other riders were friendly with Taylor and had no problems pacing him on tandem bicycles for a time trial. In his first heat, he knocked more than eight seconds off the mile track record, with the crowd roaring when they learned of his time. After a rest, he came back on to the track to see what he could do in the one-fifth-mile race. The crowd tensed as Taylor reached the starting line. Stopwatches were pulled from pockets. He exploded around the track and, at age 17, knocked two-fifths of a second off the world record held by professional racer Ray MacDonald. Taylor’s time could not be turned in for official recognition, but everyone in attendance knew what they had seen. Major Taylor was a force on two wheels.
Still, Munger’s stunt angered many local cycling officials, and his rider was quickly banned from that Indianapolis track. By that point, it didn’t matter; Taylor was on his way. Later in 1896, he finished eighth in his first six-day race at New York’s Madison Square Garden, even though the hallucinations got to him; at one point he said, “I cannot go on with safety, for there is a man chasing me around the ring with a knife in his hand.”
Munger, keen to establish his own racing team with the Black Cyclone as its star, took Taylor to Worcester and put him to work for his company. He was in Massachusetts when his mother died in 1898, which led Taylor to seek baptism and become a devoted member of the John Street Baptist Church in Worcester. Before his teenage years ended, Taylor became a professional racer with seven world records to his name. He won 29 of the 49 races he entered, and in 1899, he captured the world championship of cycling. Major Taylor was just the second black athlete to become a world champion, behind Canadian bantamweight George “Little Chocolate” Dixon, who had won his title a decade before.
Taylor’s victory earned him tremendous fame, but he was barred from races in the South, and even when he was allowed to ride, plenty of white competitors either refused to ride with him or worked to jostle or shove him or box him in. Spectators threw ice and nails at him. At the end of a one-miler in Massachusetts, W.E. Backer, who was upset at finishing behind Taylor, rode up behind him afterward and pulled him to the ground. “Becker choked him into a state of insensibility,” the New York Times reported, “and the police were obliged to interfere. It was fully fifteen minutes before Taylor recovered consciousness, and the crowd was very threatening toward Becker.” Becker would be fined $50 for the assault.
It was abundantly clear to Munger and other friends that Taylor would be better off racing in Europe, where some of the strongest riders in the world were competing and where a black athlete could ride without fear of racially motivated violence. His advisers tried to persuade him to leave the United States, but Taylor would have none of it. The prestigious French events held races on Sundays, and Taylor’s religious convictions prevented him from competing on the Sabbath. ”Never on Sundays,” he insisted.
Still, the money to be made overseas was a strong lure, and the European promoters were eager to bring the Black Cyclone to their tracks. Promoters shifted events from Sundays to French national holidays to accommodate the American. In 1902, Taylor finally competed on the European tour and dominated it, winning the majority of races he entered and cementing his reputation as the fastest cyclist in the world. (He also married Daisy Morris that year, and continued to travel. When he and Daisy had a daughter in 1904, they named her Rita Sydney, after the city in Australia where she was born.)
Taylor raced for the rest of the decade, reportedly earning $30,000 a year, making him one of the wealthiest athletes of his day, black or white. But with the advent of the automobile, interest in cycling began to wane. Taylor, feeling the effects of age on his legs, retired in 1910, at age 32. A string of bad investments, coupled with the Wall Street crash in 1929, wiped out all of his earnings. His marriage crumbled, and he became sickly. After six years of writing his autobiography, The Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World, he self-published it in 1929 and spent the last years of his life selling the book door-to-door in Chicago. “I felt I had my day,” he wrote, “and a wonderful day it was too.” Yet when he died, in 1932, at the age of 53, his body lay unclaimed in a morgue, and he was buried in a pauper’s grave at the Mount Glenwood Cemetery in Chicago.
When they learned where Major Taylor’s grave site was, some former racing stars and members of the Olde Tymers Athletic Club of the South Wabash Avenue YMCA persuaded Frank Schwinn, owner of the Schwinn Bicycle Company, to pay to have Taylor’s remains exhumed and transferred to a more fitting location—the cemetery’s Memorial Garden of the Good Shepherd. There, a bronze tablet reads:
“Worlds champion bicycle racer who came up the hard way—Without hatred in his heart—An honest, courageous and God-fearing, clean-living gentlemanly athlete. A credit to his race who always gave out his best—Gone but not forgotten.”
Books: Andrew Richie, Major Taylor: The Extraordinary Career of a Champion Bicycle Racer, The Johns Hopkins University Press, 1996. Marshall W. Taylor, Fastest Bicycle Rider in the World: The Story of a Colored Boy’s Indomitable Courage and Success Against Great Odds, Ayer Co. Pub, 1928. Andrew M. Homan, Life in the Slipstream: The Legend of Bobby Walthour Sr., Potomac Books Inc., 2011. Marlene Targ Brill, Marshall “Major” Taylor: World Champion Bicyclist , 1899-1901, Twenty-First Century Books, 2008.
Articles: “Major Taylor—The World’s Fastest Bicycle Racer,” by Michael Kranish, Boston Globe Sunday Magazine, September 16, 2001. “‘Worcester Whirlwind’ Overcame Bias,” by Lynne Tolman, Telegram & Gazette, July 23, 1995. http://www.majortaylorassociation.org/whirlwind.htm “Draw the Color Line,” Chicago Tribune, April 10, 1898. “Trouble on Taunton’s Track,” New York Times, September 24, 1897. “Taylor Shows the Way,” Chicago Tribune, August 28, 1898.
July 10, 2012
At the end of the 19thcentury, William Butler Yeats was a given a bedroom at Lissadell House, the majestic estate of Sir Henry Gore-Booth on the shores of Drumcliff Bay, not far from Yeats’ birthplace in Sligo County. For two years, Yeats stayed in the house amid the enchanted landscape of Ireland’s West Coast, the guest of a “very pleasant, kindly, inflammable family.” But it was clear that Yeats, who was entering his 30s, was also enchanted by the beauty of the Gore-Booth sisters, Constance and Eva. Decades later he would write:
The light of evening, Lissadell,
Great windows open to the south,
Two girls in silk kimonos, both
Beautiful, one a gazelle.
In 1887, Constance and Eva Gore-Booth were presented at the court of Queen Victoria, with Constance, 19 at the time and older than Eva by two years, described by some in Victorian England as “the new Irish beauty.” Moving in the aristocratic circle of the Protestant Ascendancy, under which Ireland was dominated politically and economically by great landowners like their father, the Gore-Booth sisters were seemingly destined to live lives replete with the comforts and privileges of the landed class. But both women eventually broke from their background, rejected their wealth and dedicated their lives to confrontation and the cause of the poor.
Less than two decades after she sat at Lissadell for a portrait by Yeats, Constance would be sitting in a Dublin jail cell, listening to the volleys of firing squads as she awaited her own execution for her involvement in the Easter Rising. And Eva, the “gazelle” in Yeats’ poem, would become an acclaimed poet herself, as well as a prominent voice for women’s suffrage and the leading figure in an attempt to get her sister a reprieve.
Born in London in 1868 but raised in the Irish wilderness, Constance Gore-Booth had captured the attentions of Yeats, her Sligo neighbor, at a young age. Something of a timid horseman himself, Yeats “respected and admired” the girl who was on her way to becoming known as one of the best horsewomen in all of Ireland—unmatched, it was said, at riding to hounds. She was, according to Yeats, often in trouble around the estate for “some tomboyish feat or reckless riding.”
The sisters also gained a deep appreciation for art while living at Lissadell. The noted Irish portraitist Sarah Purser, also a guest, was inspired to do an iconic painting of the Gore-Booth girls in the woods around the estate. While Constance took after her father, Sir Henry Gore-Booth, an Arctic explorer and avid hunter in Africa, both girls clearly reflected another facet of his character. Sir Henry was reported to have suspended the collection of rents and made sure his tenants had food during 1879-80 famine, and his daughters were brought up with genuine concern for the poor.
Neither Constance nor Eva was interested in marrying within their class. Instead, Constance traveled to London in 1892 to study at the Slade School of Fine Art, then to Paris, where she continued to paint and study at Académie Julian. She claimed she was “married to art” and wore a ring to show it, smoked cigarettes, made a range of friends and earned the nickname “Velo” for riding her bicycle to the studio each day. When a Parisian girl teased about her about her funny-sounding English, Constance marched her to a faucet and held her head under running water.
By 1893, the Gore-Booth sisters had begun to occupy themselves with the cause of women’s suffrage—stirrings that did not sit well with Sir Henry and Lady Gore-Booth. Constance became the president of a suffrage committee and made a rousing speech in Drumcliff, noting that the number of women who signed petitions had been dramatically increasing over recent years. One man heckled, “If my wife went to vote she might never come back!”
“She must think very little of you, then,” Constance shot back to a crowd cheering in delight.
Eva became an accomplished poet and one of Yeats’ circle, and fell in love with the English suffragist and pacifist Esther Roper. The two women would spend the rest of their lives together, working on social issues ranging from workers’ rights to capital punishment.
Constance, too, would pursue a political life. Back in Paris, after her family had given up on the prospects of her ever marrying, she met Count Casimir Markievicz, a Polish artist from a wealthy family. They married and had a daughter, Maeve, in 1901, but they left her at Lissadell to be raised by her grandparents while they moved to Dublin to pursue their art.
By 1908, Constance had turned to the movement for Irish independence from British rule. She joined Sinn Fein, the Irish republican party, as well as the Daughters of Ireland—a revolutionary women’s movement—and teamed up with Eva to oppose the election of Winston Churchill to the British parliament. As the nationalist cause gained momentum, Constance founded the Warriors of Ireland (Fianna Éireann), which trained teenagers in the use of firearms. Speaking at a rally of 30,000 people opposed to King George V’s visit to Ireland in 1911, Countess Constance experienced her first arrest, after she helped stone the likeness of the King and Queen and tried to burn the British flag.
She took out loans and sold her jewelry to feed the poor and started a soup kitchen for children, around the same time she joined the Irish Citizen Army, led by James Connolly, the socialist and Irish republican leader. In 1913, her husband left Ireland to live in Ukraine—separate from Constance but not estranged, as the two would correspond for the remainder of her life.
In April 1916, Irish republicans staged an insurrection; Constance was appointed staff lieutenant, second in command at St. Stephen’s Green, the park in central Dublin. With her troops responsible for barricading the park, fighting flared after Connolly shot a policeman who had tried to prevent him from entering City Hall. Rumor had Constance shooting a British army sniper in the head, but she was never charged in such a death. Pinned down by British fire at St. Stephen’s Green, she pulled her troops back to the Royal College of Surgeons, where they held out for nearly a week before surrendering.
Taken to Kilmainham jail, Constance Markievicz was isolated from her comrades and court-martialed for “causing disaffection among the civilian population of His Majesty”; she was convicted and sentenced to death, but the sentence was commuted to life in prison because of her sex.
A few days later, she heard a volley from a firing squad at dawn and was informed that her mentor, James Connolly, had been executed.
“Why don’t they let me die with my friends?” she asked.
Transferred to a prison in England, she was sentenced to hard labor and fed limited rations. Eva Gore-Booth, a highly skilled activist, saw her sister’s failing health, lobbied for more humane treatment of prisoners, and in 1917 helped to get her sister included in an amnesty for participants in the Easter Rising.
Constance returned to Ireland a hero and was practically carried by a welcoming crowd to Liberty Hall in Dublin, where she declared herself back in politics. As Sinn Fein’s new leader, Eamon de Valera saw Constance Markievicz elected to the 24-member executive council. But in 1918, she was back in jail after the British arrested Sinn Fein’s leaders for working against the conscription of troops for World War I, yet she managed, from prison, to become the first woman elected to the British House of Commons.
Then she announced that she would refuse to take her seat, in accordance with Sinn Fein’s abstentionist policy. After all, she declared, she was “imprisoned by the foreign enemy.” She was then elected to the Dáil Éireann, the parliament established by unilateral declaration in the drive for Irish independence. After the drive secured freedom for 26 of Ireland’s 32 counties, she was re-elected to the Dáil—but then jailed in 1923, during the Irish Civil War, which was fought over the degree of independence Ireland had achieved. In prison Constance organized a hunger strike with nearly 100 female prisoners and was released a month later.
Constance remained in touch with Eva and even managed to reunite with Casimir in London. He was said to have been shocked by the sight on his bride, now in her mid-50s, gaunt from the hardships of incarceration. Eva, frail from cancer, died in June of 1926. Constance, heartbroken, did not attend the funeral. “I simply cannot face the family,” she said.
Re-elected in the Irish General Election along with de Valera in June of 1927, Constance, too, was quite ill, possibly with tuberculosis. She was hospitalized the next month in a public ward in Sir Patrick Dun’s Hospital. Casimir arrived, with roses, for a deathbed visit that Constance would describe as the happiest day of her life. She’d been long estranged from her daughter, and there would be no reunion before Constance died, on July 15.
De Valera spoke at her funeral and carried her coffin; thousands lined the streets to see the procession. And though she is remembered fondly in Ireland, both politically and with a bust at St. Stephen’s Green, the words of her old friend Yeats were less than kind. In “In Memory of Eva Gore-Booth and Con Markievicz,” the poet famously observed, “The innocent and the beautiful/have no enemy but time” and continued:
The older is condemned to death,
Pardoned, drags out lonely years
Conspiring among the ignorant.
I know not what the younger dreams—
Some vague Utopia—and she seems,
When withered old and skeleton-gaunt,
An image of such politics.
Books: Anne M. Haverty, Constance Markievicz: Irish Revolutionary, New York University Press, 1988. Marian Broderick, Wild Irish Women: Extraordinary Lives From History, University of Wisconsin Press, 2004.
Articles: Constance Marcievicz (nee Gore-Booth) and the Easter Rising, Sligo Heritage, http://www.sligoheritage.com/archmark2.htm
Lissadell House and Gardens, Sligo, Ireland, Lissadel Online, http://www.lissadellhouse.com/index.html A St. Pat’s Toast: The Rebel Countess, by Aphra Behn, Daily Kos, March 17, 2007, http://www.dailykos.com/story/2007/03/17/312918/-A-St-Pat-s-Toast-The-Rebel-Countess#comments Constance Georgine Gore Booth, Countess Markievicz, The Lissadell Estate, http://www.constancemarkievicz.ie/home.php Constance Markievicz: The Countess of Irish Freedom, The Wild Geese Today, http://www.thewildgeese.com/pages/ireland.html#Part1
March 28, 2012
In the decades after Reconstruction, sporting men came to New Orleans from across the country, drawn to horse racing during the day and to the city’s rampant vice by night. In saloons and honky tonks around Vieux Carre (French Quarter), the liquor flowed as men stumbled out onto streets pulsing with Afro-Caribbean styled music played by street urchins and lit by a system of electric flares. Brothels and gaming houses became so prevalent they were said to occupy nearly all of the city, and in the waning years of the 19th century, a reform movement had begun to gain momentum under the stewardship of an alderman named Sidney Story, a respected businessman and sworn enemy of the sin and depravity that he felt was plaguing the Crescent City.
To pen in the brothels and sporting houses so the police might gain some measure of control over the raging lawlessness, Story crafted legislation in 1897 that designated 16 square blocks just off the French Quarter where vice would be legal. Once the law was passed, hundreds of prostitutes celebrated by staging a parade down Canal Street, marching or riding nude or arrayed in elaborate Egyptian costumes. In self-proclaimed victory, they drank liquor and put on a bawdy display that brought hoots from the men on the streets who followed them into New Orleans’ new playground. Sidney Story saw it as a victory, too, but only until he learned that the district’s happy denizens had named it after him.
Storyville was born on January 1, 1898, and its bordellos, saloons and jazz would flourish for 25 years, giving New Orleans its reputation for celebratory living. Storyville has been almost completely demolished, and there is strangely little visual evidence it ever existed—except for Ernest J. Bellocq’s otherwordly photographs of Storyville’s prostitutes. Hidden away for decades, Bellocq’s enigmatic images from what appeared to be his secret life would inspire poets, novelists and filmmakers. But the fame he gained would be posthumous.
E.J. Bellocq was born in New Orleans in August 1873 to an aristocratic white Creole family with, like many the city, roots in France. By all accounts, he was oddly shaped and dwarf-like in appearance; as one New Orleans resident put it, he had very narrow shoulders but “his sitdown place was wide.”
Reminiscent of the French painter Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec, whose misshapen form was believed to be the result of inbreeding, Bellocq was believed to be hydrocephalic. His condition, commonly referred to as “water on the brain,” enlarges the head and often causes convulsions and mental disability. Bellocq’s forehead, one man who knew him said, was very high and “came to a point, and he was somewhat bald.” Bellocq masked it by wearing a hat constantly. He made his living as a commercial photographer, taking pictures of boats in a shipyard, city landmarks and industrial machinery. He was viewed as having no great talent.
Dan Leyrer, another photographer in New Orleans, knew Bellocq from seeing him around a burlesque house on Dauphine Street. He later recalled that people called him “Pap” and that he “had a terrific accent and he spoke in a high-pitched voice, staccato-like, and when he got excited he sounded like an angry squirrel.” Leyrer also noted that Bellocq often talked to himself, and “would go walking around with little mincing steps…he waddled a little bit like a duck.”
But E. J. Bellocq wasn’t just photographing ships and machines. What he kept mostly to himself was his countless trips to Storyville, where he made portraits of prostitutes at their homes or places of work with his 8-by-10-inch view camera. Some of the women are photographed dressed in Sunday clothes, leaning against walls or lying across an ironing board, playing with a small dog. Others are completely or partially nude, reclining on sofas or lounges, or seated in chairs.
The images are remarkable for their modest settings and informality. Bellocq managed to capture many of Storyville’s sex workers in their own dwellings, simply being themselves in front of his camera—not as sexualized pinups for postcards. If his images of ships and landmark buildings were not noteworthy, the pictures he took in Storyville are instantly recognizable today as Bellocq portraits—time capsules of humanity, even innocence, amid the shabby red-light settings of New Orleans. Somehow, perhaps as one of society’s outcasts himself, Bellocq gained the trust of his subjects, who seem completely at ease before his camera.
Bellocq continued to earn his living as a photographer, but never very successfully. In 1949, at the age of 76, he fell down some stairs in the French Quarter and hit his head; he died a week later in Charity Hospital. His brother Leo, a Jesuit priest, was summoned to the hospital, and when he returned to his brother’s apartment, he discovered the negatives of the portraits. They ended up stored in a junk shop—a run-down bathroom in an old slave quarters.
In 1958, 89 glass negatives were discovered in a chest, and nine years later the American photographer Lee Friedlander acquired the collection, much of which had been damaged because of poor storage. None of Bellocq’s prints were found with the negatives, but Friedlander made his own prints from them, taking great care to capture the character of Bellocq’s work. It is believed that Bellocq may have purposely scratched the negatives of some of the nudes, perhaps to protect the identity of his subjects.
Bellocq was also known to have taken his camera into the opium dens in New Orleans’ Chinatown, but none of those images have been found. His nudes and portraits have influenced the work of countless photographers over the years, and his mysterious life devoted to a secret calling has inspired characters in many novels, as well as a portrayal by Keith Carradine in the Louis Malle film Pretty Baby.
Storyville was shut down at the start of World War I and razed to make way for the Iberville Housing Projects in the early 1940s. A few buildings remain from the storied vice district of New Orleans, but they show nothing of the humanity and the spirit of a Bellocq photograph from that bygone experiment in urban reform.
Books: Lee Friedlander and John Szarkowski, E.J. Bellocq Storyville Portraits, Little Brown & Co., 1970. Richard Zacks, An Underground Education: Anchor Books, 1999. Al Rose, Storyville, New Orleans, University of Alabama Press, 1978. Richard and Marina Campanella, New Orleans Then and Now, Pelican Publishing, 1999.
Articles: “Sinful Flesh,” by Susan Sontag, The Independent, June 1, 1996. ”Bellocq’s Storyville: New Orleans at the Turn of the Twentieth Century,” Weatherspoon Art Museum, http://weatherspoon.uncg.edu/blog/tag/e-j-bellocq/.”E.J. Bellocq,” Photography Now, http://www.photography-now.net/listings/index.php?option=com_content&task=view&id=438&Itemid=334. ”Hooker Heroes: The Models of Storyville,:” by Blake Linton Wilfong, http://wondersmith.com/heroes/models.htm. 19th Century New Orleans Brothels Revisited in New Book, by Susan Larson, Missourian, April 26, 2009. “The Whores of Storyville,” by David Steinberg, Spectator Magazine. “Storyville: The Red-Light District in New Orleans: Of Red Lights and Blue Books. http://www.southernmusic.net/STORYVILLE.htm http://www.freedomusa.org/coyotela/reviews.html “The Last Days of Ernest J. Bellocq,” by Rex Rose, Exquisite Corpse, http://www.corpse.org/archives/issue_10/gallery/bellocq/index.htm. ”An Interview with David Fulmer,” by Luan Gaines, Curled Up With a Good Book, http://www.curledup.com/intfulm.htm. ”Storyville New Orleans” http://www.storyvilledistrictnola.com/ “E.J. Bellocq 1873-1949) Profotos.com Photography Masters. http://www.profotos.com/education/referencedesk/masters/masters/ejbellocq/ejbellocq.shtml
March 21, 2012
Year after year, he packed his camera and supplies—everything he’d need for months—and traveled by foot and by horse deep into the Indian territories. At the beginning of the 20th century, Edward S. Curtis worked in the belief that he was in a desperate race against time to document, with film, sound and scholarship, the North American Indian before white expansion and the federal government destroyed what remained of their natives’ way of life. For thirty years, with the backing of men like J. Pierpont Morgan and former president Theodore Roosevelt, but at great expense to his family life and his health, Curtis lived among dozens of native tribes, devoting his life to his calling until he produced a definitive and unparalleled work, The North American Indian. The New York Herald hailed as “the most ambitious enterprise in publishing since the production of the King James Bible.”
Born in Wisconsin in 1868, Edward Sheriff Curtis took to photography at an early age. By age 17, he was an apprentice at a studio in St. Paul, Minnesota, and his life seemed to be taking a familiar course for a young man with a marketable trade, until the Curtis family packed up and moved west, eventually settling in Seattle. There, Curtis married 18-year-old Clara Phillips, purchased his own camera and a share in a local photography studio, and in 1893, the young couple welcomed a son, Harold—the first of their four children.
The young family lived above the thriving Curtis Studio, which attracted society ladies who wanted their portraits taken by the handsome, athletic young man who made them look both glamorous and sophisticated. And it was in Seattle in 1895 where Curtis did his first portrait of a Native American—that of Princess Angeline, the eldest daughter of Chief Sealth of the Duwamish tribe. He paid her a dollar for each pose and noted, “This seemed to please her greatly, and with hands and jargon she indicated that she preferred to spend her time having pictures made than in digging clams.”
Yet it was a chance meeting in 1898 that set Curtis on the path away from his studio and his family. He was photographing Mt. Rainier when he came upon a group of prominent scientists who’d become lost; among the group was the anthropologist George Bird Grinnell, an expert on Native American cultures. Curtis quickly befriended him, and the relationship led to the young photographer’s appointment as official photographer for the Harriman Alaska Expedition of 1899, led by the railroad magnate Edward H. Harriman and including included the naturalist John Muir and the zoologist C. Hart Merriam. For two months, Curtis accompanied two dozen scientists, photographing everything from glaciers to Eskimo settlements. When Grinnell asked him to come on a visit to the Piegan Blackfeet in Montana the following year, Curtis did not hesitate.
It was in Montana, under Grinnell’s tutelage, that Curtis became deeply moved by what he called the “primitive customs and traditions” of the Piegan people, including the “mystifying” Sun Dance he had witnessed. “It was at the start of my concerted effort to learn about the Plains Indians and to photograph their lives,” Curtis wrote, “and I was intensely affected.” When he returned to Seattle, he mounted popular exhibitions of his Native American work, publishing magazine articles and then lecturing across the country. His photographs became known for their sheer beauty. President Theodore Roosevelt commissioned Curtis to photograph his daughter’s wedding and to do some Roosevelt family portraits.
But Curtis was burning to return to the West and seek out more Native Americans to document. He found a photographer to manage his studio in Seattle, but more important, he found a financial backer with the funds for a project of the scale he had in mind. In 1906 he boldly approached J.P. Morgan, who quickly dismissed him with a note that read, “Mr. Curtis, there are many demands on me for financial assistance. I will be unable to help you.” But Curtis persisted, and Morgan was ultimately awed by the photographer’s work. “Mr. Curtis,” Morgan wrote after seeing his images, “I want to see these photographs in books—the most beautiful set of books ever published.”
February 29, 2012
John Doyle Lee was born in Illinois Territory in 1812. By the time he was 3, his mother was dead. Relatives took him in from his alcoholic father and put him to work on their farm at a young age. At 20, Lee began courting Agatha Ann Woolsey in Vandalia, Illinois, and in the summer of 1833, she became Lee’s wife—the first of 19 for John D. Lee, who would soon commit himself to the nascent Latter-day Saints movement. He professed his commitment till the day he was executed for his part in the Mountain Meadows Massacre.
The massacre, in 1857, was one of the most explosive episodes in the history of the American West—not only were 120 men, women and children killed, but the United States and the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints almost went to war. The denouement of the so-called Utah War set Utah on the path to statehood and the Mormons on a long and fitful accommodation to secular authority, but the Mountain Meadows Massacre remained a focus of suspicion and resentment for decades. The church issued a statement on the role its members played in the killings in 2007, and opened its archives to three scholars—Richard E. Turley Jr., a Latter-day Saint historian, and Brigham Young University professors Ronald W. Walker and Glen M. Leonard—for their book, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, published in 2008. But in the aftermath of the massacre, only one participant was brought to trial, and that was John D. Lee.
Lee and his wife joined the Mormon settlement in Far West, Missouri, in 1837. That was only seven years after Joseph Smith founded the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-Day Saints, but already the Mormons had been pushed out of Smith’s home state of New York and Ohio. Conflicts arose on grounds both religious and secular—Smith preached that other Christian churches had strayed; Mormons tended to vote as a bloc and to outwork others, concentrating both political and economic power—and the antagonism intensified to the point that the Mormons would be evicted from Missouri and Illinois, where Smith was lynched in 1844. To break a cycle of mutual suspicion, recrimination and violence, Brigham Young, who would succeed Smith, made plans to lead the remaining LDS members on an exodus to Utah, which was then part of Mexico—beyond the reach of U.S. law.
As a recent convert John D. Lee joined a secret church order called the Danites, which was charged with protecting and defending Mormons. When some Missourians opposed to Mormons’ voting started a riot at a Daviess County polling center in 1838, Lee and his fellow Danites stormed into the crowd with clubs flying. “I felt the power of God nerve my arm for the fray,” he later said. Buildings were burned, and Lee later admitted that he had participated in looting.
Lee was in Kentucky when Smith was killed in 1844, but when he returned to Illinois he learned of Young’s plan to head for Utah. Lee joined the migration through hostile and foreboding territory (which led to Young’s nickname of “the Mormon Moses”), and Young appointed him a Captain of Fifty—a ranking based on number of people under one’s command. Lee served as a clerk and purchasing agent.
In July of 1847, a contingent of Mormons arrived in the Great Salt Lake valley and began a settlement that would grow to thousands in the coming years. Just six months later, Mexico ceded that land, and so much more of the West, to the United States. The old conflicts between religious and secular power arose again. President Millard Fillmore appointed Brigham Young governor of the Utah Territory and superintendent of Indian affairs, but the Mormons kept their distance from outsiders—including officials sent from Washington, D.C.
Non-Mormon locals immediately resented the appointment of Mormon surveyors and Indian agents, one of whom was John D. Lee. The agents’ relationship with the Native Americans, to whom they supplied tools, seed and proselytizing, aroused suspicion, especially among federal soldiers in the area. Mormon men, meanwhile, took offense when soldiers tried to socialize with Mormon women. Once the Army departed, “as many as one hundred Mormon women went with them,” according to Turley, Walker and Leonard. “Everybody has got one except the Colonel and Major,” one soldier said. “The Doctor has got three—mother and two daughters. The mother cooks for him and the daughters sleep with him.” The familiar cycle of suspicion and resentment built toward violence into the mid-1850s. Rumors that the LDS church was sanctioning polygamy—which turned out to be true—only made matters worse.
In April 1857, a Mormon apostle named Parley P. Pratt was murdered in Arkansas by the legal husband of one of Pratt’s plural wives. Mormons in Utah took the news as another example of religious persecution and considered Pratt a martyr. They began stockpiling grain, anticipating a violent and apocalyptic encounter with the people they called “Americans.” The Army, they believed, was about to invade the Utah Territory, (an invasion that did not come until the following year in the Utah War) and Young tried to enlist Paiute Indians from nearby Mountain Meadows in the fight. He also warned “mobocrats” to steer clear of Mormon territory or they’d be met by the Danites, who would form a line of defense in villages near Mountain Meadows. Then he declared martial law, making it illegal to travel through the territory without a permit.
At the same time, several groups of emigrants from northwest Arkansas, mostly families that in total numbered between 100-200 people, were making their way to California by wagon trains. Joining up in Salt Lake City, the Baker-Fancher party restocked their supplies, but for the rest of their trip, Mormons were prohibited from selling any goods to wagon trains. Lee and another Mormon man, apostle George A. Smith, met with the Paiutes, a a tribe of Native Americans in the region, and warned them that the encroaching Americans threatened both them and the Mormons; rumors circulated that members of the Baker-Fancher train might poison water and cattle along their way.
The Baker-Fincher party was most likely unaware of the new requirement for a permit to cross Utah. They grazed their cattle on Mormons’ land as they passed through, stoking anger. Lee later said that members of the train “swore and boasted openly…that Buchan[a]n’s whole army was coming right behind them, and would kill every… Mormon in Utah.” Others reported that the men of the Baker-Fancher party were respectful.
Throughout the summer of 1857, the Mormons’ sense of impending invasion only deepened. Parades through Cedar City included young men bearing banners reading, “A terror to evil doers,” according to Turley, Walker, and Leonard. Along the southern settlements, Mormons were urged to “shore up alliances with local Indians.” When Lee came into the vicinity of the Baker-Fancher train, he said, he saw a large group of Paiutes “in their war paint, and fully equipped for battle.” Lee claimed that he had orders from Isaac C. Haight, a leader of several Mormon congregations that formed the Iron County Militia, “to send other Indians on the war-path to help them kill the emigrants.” Haight and Lee gave weapons to the Paiutes.
The Baker-Fancher party was camped at Mountain Meadows on September 7 when Paiutes (and some Mormons dressed as Paiutes to conceal their Mormon affiliation) attacked. The emigrants circled the wagons, dug trenches and fought back—but as the siege continued for five days, they began to run out of ammunition, water and provisions. The Mormon attackers concluded that the emigrants had figured out their ruse—and feared that word of their participation would hasten an assault by the Army. It was then that militia commander William H. Dame ordered his men to leave no witnesses. The emigrants were to be “decoyed out and destroyed with the exception of the small children,” who were “too young to tell tales,” according to another militia commander, Major John H. Higbee, who relayed the orders to Lee.
On September 11, John D. Lee and a group of militiamen approached the camp under a white flag and offered a truce, with assurances that Lee and his men would escort the emigrants to safety in Cedar City. All they’d have to do is leave their livestock and possessions to the Paiutes. Having no good options, the emigrants, about 120 men, women and children, laid down their weapons and followed Lee and the militia away from the camp in three groups—the last comprising adult males. It was over quickly. The Arkansas men were shot at point-blank range; the women and children ahead were slaughtered by bullets and arrows in an ambush party. No one over the age of seven survived. The victims were hastily buried. Locals auctioned off or distributed their possessions and took in the surviving 17 young children.
The Army did arrive in Utah, in 1858, but no war ensued—Young and the Buchanan administration negotiated an agreement in which Young would give way to a new governor. The following year, troops led by Major James H. Carleton went to Mountain Meadows to investigate the killings and found the bones of “very small children.” The soldiers gathered skulls and bones and erected a cairn with the words, “Here 120 men, women, and children were massacred in cold blood early in September, 1857. They were from Arkansas.” They marked the site with a cross inscribed, “Vengeance is mine. I will repay, saith the Lord.”
Lee and the other leaders swore that they would never reveal their parts in the massacre, and Lee himself told Brigham Young that the Paiutes had been responsible for it—an explanation that became the official position of the LDS church for generations. In a report to Congress, Major Carleton blamed Mormon militiamen and church leaders for the massacre. Young excommunicated both Lee and Haight for their roles, but only Lee faced charges. After a first trial ended in a mistrial, Lee was convicted in 1877 and sentenced to death by firing squad.
Lee claimed that he was a scapegoat, and that other Mormons were more directly involved in the planning and in the killing. And although he maintained at first that Young was unaware of the massacre until after it took place, Lee would later state, in his Life and Confessions of John D. Lee, that the massacre occurred “by the direct command of Brigham Young.” And on the morning of his execution, Lee would write that Young was “leading the people astray” and that he was being sacrificed “in a cowardly, dastardly manner.”
“I did everything in my power to save that people, but I am the one that must suffer,” Lee wrote. He closed by asking the Lord to receive his spirit, and then he was taken to the massacre site. As many as 300 onlookers had gathered. On March 28, 1877, John Doyle Lee, wearing a coat and scarf, took a seat atop the coffin where his body would lie. A photographer was nearby. Lee asked that whatever photograph was made be copied for his last three wives. The photographer agreed. Lee posed. And then an hour before noon, he shook hands with the men around him, removed his coat and hat and faced the five men of the firing party.
“Let them shoot the balls through my heart!” Lee shouted. “Don’t let them mangle my body!”
On U.S. Marshal William Nelson’s command, shots rang out in the ravine where so many shots had rung out twenty years before, and Lee fell back onto his coffin, dead.
On April 20, 1961, a joint council was held with the First Presidency and the Council of Twelve Apostles of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints. “After considering all the facts available,” the Church authorized “reinstatement to membership and former blessings [temple marriages] to John D. Lee.” The reinstatement puzzled many. But four decades later, the church claimed full responsibility for the incident that led to Lee’s execution. At a memorial ceremony on September 11, 2007, the sesquicentennial anniversary of the Mountain Meadows Massacre, LDS Apostle Henry B. Eyring read the church’s official statement to gatherers:
“We express profound regret for the massacre carried out in this valley 150 years ago today, and for the undue and untold suffering experienced by the victims then and by their relatives to the present time. A separate expression of regret is owed the Paiute people who have unjustly borne for too long the principal blame for what occurred during the massacre. Although the extent of their involvement is disputed, it is believed they would not have participated without the direction and stimulus provided by local church leaders and members.”
Books: Ronald W. Walker, Richard E. Turley, Glen M. Leonard, Massacre at Mountain Meadows, Oxford University Press, 2008. Will Bagley, Blood of the Prophets: Brigham Young and the Massacre at Mountain Meadows, University of Oklahoma Press, 2002. Jon Krakauer, Under the Banner of Heaven: A Story of Violent Faith, Doubleday, 2003. Sally Denton, American Massacre: The Tragedy at Mountain Meadows, Alfred A. Knopf., 2003.
Articles: “The Brink of War,” by David Roberts, Smithsonian magazine, June, 2008. “Books: A Blot on the Mormon Faith, Church’s History Fraught with Violence, Bloodshed,” by John Freeman, the Atlanta Journal-Constitution, July 13, 2003. “New Perspectives on The West: John Doyle Lee, (1812-1877) PBS—The West—John Doyle Lee, http://www.pbs.org/weta/thewest/people/i_r/lee.htm. “John D. Lee,” Utah History Encyclopedia, http://www.media.utah.edu/UHE/l/LEE,JOHN.html. “Shining New Light on the Mountain Meadows Massacre,” Transcription of 2003 FAIR Conference presentation by Gene Sessions, FAIR: Defending Mormonism, http://www.fairlds.org/fair-conferences/2003-fair-conference/2003-shining-new-light-on-the-mountain-meadows-massacre. “Last Words and the Execution of John D. Lee, March 28, 1877,” As reported by his attorney, William W. Bishop in Mormonism Unveiled; Or the Life and Confession of John D. Lee (1877). Mountain Meadows Massacre Trial Homepage: http://law2.umkc.edu/faculty/projects/ftrials/mountainmeadows/leeexecution.html