Tuesday, June 26, 2018

"I go with Custer"

Mark Kellogg was the only journalist to accompany the military expedition led by George Armstrong Custer to death and to eternal fame at the Little Bighorn River in present-day Montana. Kellogg was killed during the encounter, but some of his notes were recovered. A stone marker at the battle site commemorates his presence, but it is not at the place either where his body was found or where it was buried. Kellogg's remains were disinterred and placed in a mass grave a year after the event. Kellogg is shown in a photograph taken in LaCrosse, Wisconsin, when he was about thirty-three years of age. The music here, "Garryowen," was adopted as the marching song of the Seventh Cavalry. The photograph with it shows the staff of Civil War General Andrew Porter, which includes Custer reclining on the right.
Kellogg the only journalist with Custer
(This is the final of two related posts)
As a reporter and as an individual, I have spoken with any number of people I would categorize fascinating for one reason or another. Some intentionally attempt to mask themselves. With most, it requires uncountable hours of being together -- talking, doing things, sharing ideas and opinions -- to learn the inner-most characteristics of another person.
 Only superficial knowledge is known about Mark Kellogg. He was the only journalist present on a military expedition to Montana Territory in 1876 to drive "hostile" Sioux and Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians back to their reservations. He was a reporter for the Bismarck, North Dakota, Tribune. He was killed on Sunday, June 25, 1876, at the Little Bighorn River when a few thousand warriors overran a few hundred soldiers. Unlike most of the other fatalities that day, he was not a trooper in the U.S. Army Seventh Cavalry. His news dispatches were the only press coverage of George Armstrong Custer and his men in the days leading up to the battle during a march that began on May 17 at Fort Abraham Lincoln in Dakota Territory.
Marcus Henry Kellogg was born March 31, 1831, in Brighton, Ontario, Canada, the third of ten children. His family moved a number of times and eventually settled in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where Kellogg learned to operate a telegraph and went to work first for the Northwestern Telegraph Company and later for the Atlantic and Pacific Telegraph Company.
He married Martha J. Robinson in 1861, and the couple had two daughters, Cora Sue and Martha Grace. During the American Civil War, Kellogg became the assistant editor for the La Crosse Democrat newspaper. He unsuccessfully ran for the office of city clerk in 1867 and he played shortstop on one of the town's baseball teams.
Kellogg's wife died in 1867. He left his daughters with his wife's sister, Lillie, and began drifting around the upper Midwest, working as a reporter and editorial assistant in places like Council Bluffs, Iowa, and Brainerd, Minnesota. While living in Brainerd, he ran for election to the Minnesota Legislature, but was defeated. He also worked as a "stringer" -- a correspondent -- for the St. Paul, Minnesota, Dispatch, with most articles published under the pen name of "Frontier."
Kellogg arrived in Bismarck, North Dakota, in the early 1870s, and in 1873 helped Clement A. Lounsberry found the Bismarck Tribune. Even though Kellogg was only an editorial assistant for the paper, he substituted for Lounsberry as editor of the Tribune's second, third and fourth editions.
When Lounsberry learned that a military column including the 7th U.S. Cavalry Regiment commanded by Lieutenant Colonel G.A. Custer would soon leave nearby Fort Abraham Lincoln for the Montana Territory, he asked to accompany Custer and provide news coverage. Custer had been ordered not to allow any reporters to accompany the expedition, but he had a way of avoiding orders which did not suit his plans and told Lounsberry to prepare for departure. As it turned out, Lounsberry's wife became ill, so the editor asked Kellogg to take his place, expecting Kellogg would cover nothing more than a sensational military victory.
Kellogg sent three dispatches back to Lounsberry, the last one four days before the battle when they were near the mouth of the Rosebud River. His last dispatch read, "By the time this reaches you we would have met and fought the red devils, with what result remains to be seen. I go with Custer and will be at the death." Kellogg was not predicting his own death or Custer's defeat; instead, "at the death" is a phrase borrowed from fox hunting meaning "present at the kill" of the pursued.
Four days after that dispatch, the battle of the Little Bighorn was fought, resulting in the deaths of Custer and nearly 300 soldiers, scouts and contract civilians riding with him, including Kellogg.
A force of infantry under the command of Colonel John Gibbon arrived at the site of the battle the next day and, along with troopers from other elements of the Custer column, helped bury the dead. Four days after the battle, a detail found the body of a civilian in the high grass near the Little Bighorn River. Gibbon reported, "The clothing was not that of a soldier." The man had been partially scalped and was missing an ear. A distinctive strap rigged to the instep of one boot convinced some the body was that of Kellogg. Gibbon accepted the identification and noted that Kellogg's body was found in a ravine where a number of men from Troop E died. In all likelihood, the mule he was riding skittered at the sound of gunfire, Kellogg was hit and fell. He was forty-three at the time of his death.
When Lounsberry learned of the defeat of Custer's force and Kellogg's death, he published a special edition of the Tribune on July 6, 1876. The edition carried the first full account of the battle. Lounsberry also telegraphed the news, along with Kellogg's correspondence, to a number of eastern newspapers, including The New York Herald. Two letters written by Kellogg were published posthumously by the Herald on July 11, 1876.
As a newspaper stringer whose reports were picked up around the country, Kellogg is considered the first Associated Press correspondent to die in the line of duty.
Some of Kellogg's diary and notes survived the battle and these, along with his news accounts, are one of the primary historical sources for information on the days preceding the battle. His notes are now in the possession of the North Dakota State Historical Society. His satchel, pencil and eyeglasses are on display in the Newseum in Washington, D.C.
Before his death, Kellogg had been described as brave and daring and athletic, with a strong sense of humor. Looking at his photograph taken when he was about thirty-three years of age, he appears to me to have been a very serious man.
There might be a second post coming here about Kellogg. I recently obtained a 1996 book about him by Sandy Barnard entitled, "I Go With Custer." What additional details this book and other materials might provide me will determine if I write more or allow the only journalist to travel with and to die with Custer at the Little Bighorn to pass on into history.

I have a habit of sort of turning an interview into an interrogation, and think it would have been interesting in the least and fascinating at best to have done that with Kellogg some evening while sharing a bottle of brandy .... in any case, as a fellow journalist, his character and his thoughts pose a mystery to me .... almost certainly one which never can be solved ....
But, in a figurative way of looking at it, it is worth a shot because what is life without a few points of fascination which involve mystery and what is mystery without a driving curiosity to solve it?

Monday, June 25, 2018

This day in history, at the Little Bighorn

Just about this time 142 years ago today forces from two cultures were locked in life and death combat on these grassy plains of Montana .... but, this is what you see now at the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument when looking from James Calhoun Hill toward G.A. Custer Hill in the far distance. Custer, two of his brothers, a nephew, a brother-in-law and nearly 300 troopers and contract workers of the U.S. Army Seventh Cavalry, as well as an unknown number of Sioux, Cheyenne and Arapahoe Indians, died on these slopes on June 25, 1876. The markers between the two hills indicate where the body of Captain Myles Keogh and many of his men from Troop I were found after the battle. The body of Custer and a number of other troopers were found on the downside of the slope just beyond the distant monument. Contrary to the conception of many, the "scrap" took place over the distance of a few miles and was done in the fashion of cavalry tactics of the era.
The river of time flows ever onward
(This is the initial of two related posts)

June 24
5 A.M. to 7 P.M.
3 hour halt. 
 marched 10 miles &  found a large branch nearly as large as main stream
found another 7 miles beyond
marched within a few miles of the forks 
found lots of new signs
old camps in profusion
they begin not to be so high

Those words formed the final entry in the diary of Dr. James M. DeWolf. He was an army surgeon and one of the members of the ill-fated George Armstrong Custer expedition who was killed at the battle of the Little Bighorn on June 25 in 1876. Rather ironically, DeWolf had written earlier in a letter to his wife that ".... I fear we shall not find even a sign that is new this time it is believed that the Indians have scattered & gone back to their Reservations."

If I had a time machine and could travel back to witness three events, the first would be a journey to Jerusalem to witness the crucifixion of Jesus of Nazareth and the second would be to the plains of Montana to witness the annihilation of the troopers under the immediate command of G.A. Custer at the Little Bighorn and the third would be .... hmmmm .... I think I will save that one for a while.

Curiosity should be my name, because I occasionally encounter events which grip me with a near-insatiable fascination to learn everything there is to know about them. My time machine allusions are two of the mysteries primary to my existence. Why they are, I have no explanation: They just are ....

Sunday, June 17, 2018

Two novels & a Colt .38 Super pistol

I have fallen behind -- sort of severely -- on my reading. The reason is because of too much devotion to "trigger time," as illustrated by the Colt Model 1911 Combat Commander in .38 Super caliber. I managed to read, "Julius Winsome," by Gerard Donovan during the past week, but still have, "The Maze at Windermere," by Gregory Blake Smith to go. Sooner or later .... I expect .... Smith, incidentally, teaches American literature and creative writing at Carleton College in Northfield, Minnesota, just a few miles down the road from my present place of existence.

"The bullets flying & they're taking toll"

This is not a book review, although, at times, it might take on the appearance of one. It is sort of the fulfillment of a promise I made some time ago to read the novel, "Julius Winsome," and write my thoughts about it.

"Winsome" (the novel), was composed by an Irish writer, Gerard Donovan, who lives in England and teaches at the University of Plymouth. Winsome (the protagonist), is a 51-year-old man who lives alone in the woodlands of Maine in a cabin lined with shelves holding 3,282 books collected by his father, who has been dead for about twenty years, and whose only companion is a dog named Hobbes. When Hobbes is deliberately shot and killed, Winsome's immediate reaction is to begin killing hunters using his grandfather's World War I rifle.

Winsome has always lived in the same dwelling and has had minimal exposure to women. His mother had died when he was born and he openly blames himself for her death; he believes death is death with nothing beyond; his grandfather had killed a number of men during World War I and was haunted by it; his father had served during World War II; he had a brief sexual affair with a woman who mysteriously appeared at his home one day, but soon returned to her "normal" life in a nearby town; his father had taught him how to shoot the grandfather rifle, but Winsome did not hunt and had only killed two animals with it during his life -- a wounded fowl and a crippled fox.

Overtly, it is the lost dog and the lost woman which send Winsome over the edge and, no doubt, they are the most immediate reasons he embarks on a murderous path. But -- and that is a big but -- because the guy has so many mental issues to cope with I think it unbelievable that he did not crack long before he actually did.

If you think you display tendencies of paranoia, read this book and you see a man who truly is gripped by it. There are times when he sits in his cabin without light or fire thinking/believing police are surrounding it and waiting for the right moment to shoot him. 

The book ends with Winsome walking along a woodland trail toward the nearest town to give himself up to police, which leaves a number of questions unanswered and which is a lazy, dismal way to end a story .... in my opinion ....

The greatest flaw of the novel is the author's lack of knowledge about firearms. He is constantly confusing elements of rifles and shotguns and looks somewhere between foolish and idiotic in that regard. Since such misperception is common enough among Americans, it is (and was) no surprise to find it coming from an Irishman living in England. It did sort of spoil the story for me in many ways, though.

On the positive side, Donovan is a master craftsman with words and writes in a poetic style, which I fancy. A unique element to the book is how the author incorporates the use of Elizabethan English into the story: "Thus every week I increased my vocabulary by twenty or so Elizabethan words, words come all the way from the 1500s to sit in my mouth and in my hand when I spelled them with their definitions. I remembered one day's set: Blood-boltered meant covered with blood, besmoiled meant covered with dirt."

In passing, I will mention two other novels which this tale brought to mind. O.E. Rolvaag wrote, "Giants in the Earth," published in Norwegian in two parts in 1924 and 1925. It was later translated into English. A young Norwegian couple, Per and Beret Hansa, homestead on the prairie of Dakota Territory in 1873. The snow storms, locusts, poverty, hunger, loneliness, homesickness and the difficulty of fitting into a new culture gradually push Beret over the brink into madness and, in a sense, this leads to her husband's death.

A 1974 novel, "Centennial," written by James A. Michener, one of my "gods" of contemporary literature, describes an event in the life of Alexander McKeag when he "wintered" alone in the American mountain wilderness during the early years of the Nineteenth Century. Sheltering from a true blizzard in a sort of a cave/dugout, McKeag nearly goes insane imagining that he will never get out and is doomed to die there.  He "claws" his way out through the snow and discovers the storm has ended and the sun is shining. Unlike Winsome and Beret, he survives the experience with no harm coming to himself or to others and goes on to return to civilization, which is to say returns to significant human contact, and lives a long, productive life.

I would recommend either of those books far ahead of "Winsome," but Donovan's novel is not many more words/pages than a lengthy short story and not many hours need be invested in completing it.

Saturday, June 9, 2018

"Art is greater than we are ...."

Find a poem you like .... recite it ....

I wrote in a previous post (or two or three) that I am a devotee of Ambrose "Bitter" Bierce, which creates within me a degree of sarcasm greater than usually found in most individuals. In the last instance, I used it to say my confidence in the teaching of history in American schools is something even less than dismal. The same is true regarding the teaching of literature and the role of newspapers as they exist today. My opinion wavered a bit when I recently read a column written by Joshua Curnett, a high school English teacher currently living in and working in Singapore. Having a background which includes both journalism and teaching, it fascinated me to the point I decided to run an abbreviated portion of it as a post .... here it is:
The task is the El Capitan of freshman English. Find a poem you like. Study it. Memorize it. Recite it to your classmates. You have two weeks to scale the poem’s wall.
I’ve given this assignment for 20 years. It always elicits the same reaction when the students grasp the weight of what’s being asked. The questions begin.
Student: “Do I have to do this, Mr. Curnett?”
AdChoicesMe: “Yes, everyone has to do it.”
Student: “Is it for a grade?”
Me: “Yes, a huge grade that will count heavily.” (I’m kind of lying here, but the students equate grades with importance.)
Student: “Can I get my friend to read mine for me, Mr. Curnett?”
Me: “No.”
Student: “Can I do it from my desk, or do I have to stand in front?”
Me: “Stand in front like everyone else.” (The student rolls her eyes and looks for salvation outside the window. There is only a bird.)
Student: “Can I have notes?” (Forty-four eyes stare into my soul.)
Me: “No.” (A collective gasp. I’m fairly certain that one kid mouths an expletive but I can’t be sure.)
Student: “What happens if I forget my lines?”
Me: “I’ll help you.” (Several “yeah, right” looks. I have clearly forsaken them already.)
Student: “Can I choose a poem my friend wrote? It’s really good. It’s about love.”
Me: “No.” (“God, no,” I think.)
Student: “I can’t do this, Mr. Curnett.”
Me: “Yes, you can do it.”
(Portion omitted due to length ....)
So we begin the search for the right poem. We comb through poetry websites as if we are sweeping metal detectors along a beach, listening for beeps that might reveal treasure. Eventually, each student finds a title. I have no idea how it happens. It just does.
Recital day finally arrives. It is one of the reasons I teach — to see this annual migration of ninth-graders across the desert of pop culture to the oasis that is literature.
The student with dyslexia shines with “The Tyger,” William Blake’s rhythm reaching through 225 years to find a fearful symmetry in her voice. Students thrum their hands to the cadence. There’s applause when she finishes.
The student who is more intelligent than I will ever be recites Langston Hughes with a clarity and depth that few human beings could muster. When he finishes, the class bursts into applause again.
The quiet boy who had always seemed so aloof delivers 40 lines of Homer without a hitch. 40 lines! The students look at each other, dumbfounded, then trade expressions of approval. More applause.
On and on it goes, all day long. More than 60 poems, each performance style unique. I am proud of all the students for their efforts and abilities, even the ones who botched it.
Art is greater than we are: It’s the realization of this idea that makes the assignment so compelling. Something as weightless as a poem can have the power to make us laugh or weep or guffaw or go silent with feeling — or cause a ninth-grade classroom to erupt with applause on a Tuesday morning in April, as centuries-old words reverberate off the walls.
If you wish to read the piece in its entirety, it was published in a number of newspapers and is reasonably easy to find with an online search of the name Joshua Curnett.

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Three songs for the price of none

Imagine the rolling thunderhead is symbolic of the armed forces of twelve allied nations as they approached the coast of Normandy in France on this day in 1944. That was seventy-four years ago and that is a long time by human standards for life and living. Even still living participants who were only twenty years old at the time would be ninety-four now. It will not be many more years until all those with personal experience of the event -- those actually having been there -- will be gone and history will be left to the academians who mostly live by competition with other historians, all of which mostly live within their own self-absorbing fantasies. By the way, for budding historians who are behind in their studies, the invasion of Normandy was during World War II. If that sentence seemed sarcastic, it is because I am a devotee of Ambrose "Bitter" Bierce and have sort of lost my confidence in the teaching of history in American schools.

Something special ....