First Big Case for the FBI: The Osage Murders; First Book About It: “Killers of the Flower Moon” by David Gann

005_Gran_9780385534246_art_r1-E[1].jpegMollie Burkhart (right) with sister Anna and mother Lizzie. (Credit: David Grann)

29496076[1] In the 1920s, the richest people per capita in the world were members of the Osage Indian Nation in Oklahoma. After oil was discovered beneath their land, the Osage rode in chauffeured automobiles, built mansions, and sent their children to study in Europe. Then, one by one, they began to be killed off.

024_Gran_9780385534246_art_r1[1] Osage in automobile. (Credit: David Grann) See “The FBI’s First Big Case: The Osage Murders” via @History

One Osage woman, Mollie Burkhart, watched as her family was murdered. Her older sister was shot. Her mother was then slowly poisoned. And it was just the beginning, as more Osage began to die under mysterious circumstances.

In this last remnant of the Wild West … virtually anyone who dared to investigate the killings were themselves murdered. As the death toll surpassed more than twenty-four Osage, the newly created F.B.I. took up the case, in what became one of the organization’s first major homicide investigations. But the bureau was then notoriously corrupt and initially bungled the case. Eventually the young director, J. Edgar Hoover, turned to a former Texas Ranger named Tom White to try unravel the mystery. White put together an undercover team, including one of the only Native American agents in the bureau. They infiltrated the region, struggling to adopt the latest modern techniques of detection. Together with the Osage they began to expose one of the most sinister conspiracies in American history.

In Killers of the Flower Moon, David Grann revisits a shocking series of crimes in which dozens of people were murdered in cold blood. The book is a masterpiece of narrative nonfiction, as each step in the investigation reveals a series of sinister secrets and reversals. But more than that, it is a searing indictment of the callousness and prejudice toward Native Americans that allowed the murderers to operate with impunity for so long. Killers of the Flower Moon is utterly riveting, but also emotionally devastating.(less) (Publisher’s Synopsis)

Killers of the Flower Moon: The Osage Murders and the Birth of the FBI by David Gann 

Review by Trish, The Bowed Bookshelf, April 2017:

That we as a nation, less than one hundred years after the Osage Indian killings, have no collective memory of these events seems an intentional erasure. The truth of the killings would traumatize our school children and make every one of us search our souls…

….The Osage Indians once laid claim to much of the central part of what is now called the United States, “a territory that stretched from what is now Missouri and Kansas to Oklahoma and still farther west, all the way to the Rockies.” The tribe was physically imposing, described by Thomas Jefferson as “the finest men we have ever seen,” whose warriors typically stood over six feet tall. They were given land by Jefferson as part of their settlement to stop fighting the Indian Wars in the early 1700s.

Jefferson reneged on the agreement within four years, and ended up giving the once-mighty Osage a 50-by-125 mile area in southeastern Kansas to call their own. Gradually, however, white settlers found they liked that particular Kansas farmland and moved onto it anyway, killing anyone who challenged them, oftentimes the legal “owners”. The government then forced the Osage to sell the Kansas land and buy rocky, hilly land in Oklahoma, land no white man would want, where the Osage would be “safe” from encroachment. This was the late 1800s.

In the early 1900s oil was discovered on that ‘worthless’ Oklahoma land and because a representative of the Osage tribe was in Washington to defend Osage interests, he managed to include in the legal agreement of the allotment of Indian Territory “that the oil, gas, coal, or other minerals covered by the lands…are hereby reserved to the Osage Tribe.” Living Osage family members each were given a headright, or a share in the tribe’s mineral trust. The headrights could not be sold, they could only be inherited.

The Osage became immensely wealthy. The federal government expressed some concern (!) that the Osage were unable to manage their own wealth, and so ordered that local town professionals, white men, be appointed as guardians. One Indian WWI veteran complained he was not permitted to sign his own checks without oversight, and expenditures down to toothpaste were monitored. But this is not even the most terrible of the legacies. The Osage began to be murdered, one by one.

When Grann discovered rumblings of this century-old criminal case in Oklahoma, he wanted to see the extent of what was called the Reign of Terror, thought to have begun in 1921 and lasted until 1926, when some of the cases were finally successfully prosecuted. The “reign,” he discovered, was much longer and wider than originally imagined, and therefore did not just implicate the men who were eventually jailed for the crimes. “White people in Oklahoma thought no more of killing an Indian than they did in 1724.” said John Ramsey, one of the men eventually jailed for crimes against the Osage. A reporter noted, “The attitude of a pioneer cattleman toward a full-blood Indian…is fairly well recognized.”

What we learn in the course of this account is that a great number of people had information that could have led to answers much sooner than it did, but because there was so much corruption, even the undercover agents and sheriffs were in on the open secret of the murders. Those townspeople who might be willing to divulge what they knew were unable to discover to whom they should share information lest they be murdered as well. Grann was able to answer some questions never resolved at the time, with his access to a greater number of now-available documents.

Why this history is not better known is a mystery still. Memory of it was fading already in the late 1950s when a film, The FBI Story starring Jimmy Stewart, made mention of it. The 1920s are not so long ago, and some of the people who were children then have only recently passed away, or may even be still living. Among the Osage there is institutional memory, and still some resentment, naturally, and a long-lasting mistrust of white people. Need I say this is a must-read?

The audio of this book is narrated by three individuals: Ann Marie Lee, Will Patton, and Danny Campbell. Interestingly, the voices of the narrators seem to age over the course of the history, and it is a tale well-told. But the paper copy of this has photographs which add a huge amount of depth and interest to the story. This is another good candidate for Audible’s Whispersync option, but if you are going to choose one, the paper was my favorite.


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“Both nature and nurture would become the anvil that would forge Raymond Washington into a formidable leader, warrior, gang member, tactician, and eventually an urban legend in the punishing and unforgiving streets of Los Angeles,” Zach Fortier writes.Image result for Raymond Washington crips  51JAQ7bDKjL._UY250_[1] A modern Robin Hood, a self-taught leader, a life wasted: this is a must-read biography of an inner city warrior

Raymond Washington, a name that has been overlooked, is getting some of the dubious “credit” that is his due, thanks to this biography. Everyone’s heard of the Crips,

Image result for raymond washington crips founder but not everyone knows who started the L.A. gang, and even those who were there argue about the origins of the name. Thousands of hours of research, documentation, personal interviews with people who knew Raymond, and judicious sifting and sorting – what to believe, who to trust with the truth – are very much in evidence here.

He didn’t finish school, but he learned more in the street. “You succeeded by being tougher, smarter, stronger, more prepared and, if need be, more brutal than your enemies. This made a lot more sense to his sixth-grade mind than the lessons being taught by his teachers in elementary school.”

At a tender age, Raymond Washington commanded fear and respect, devotion, loyalty, and a roughly equal measure of hatred, vengeance, and fierce competition from rivals and victims. Washington was elusive, showing people different facets of his personality and character, so I can understand why Zach Fortier would have a hard time pinning down a definitive character sketch of a man who could channel Robin Hood or Achilles as readily as Atilla the Hun.

I have so many lines highlighted in my Kindle, I’ll copy some in list form:

— At age 12, “Raymond Washington was in battlefield training” – and “The use of the bayonet against American citizens rather than against enemy combatants in a war zone shows the extreme measures being taken during the Watts riots.” Entirely on his own, at 12, Raymond conducted what the military would refer to as an “incursion”–defined as “a hostile entrance into or invasion of a place or territory, especially a sudden one.” He had done it in the dead of night against an occupational force and succeeded (just like his heroes in the war movies). Raymond snuck around cautiously, avoiding the several thousand national guardsmen, and nearly two thousand police officers in the area. Not to mention the snipers and looters. Gunfire and screams were heard throughout the night as “Raymond made his way to a nearby White Front sporting goods store that had been being looted. He returned home a while later, dragging a huge box of basketballs, footballs, softballs, and sporting goods he had taken from the damaged store.”

He could have sold his loot. Instead, he gave it away to neighborhood kids. “Raymond was forging alliances, leveraging relationships with his peers, and showing his future leadership style,” Fortier writes. “Granted, it was with stolen property, but the legend that Raymond Washington would become was being born. He did Robin Hood like charity on one hand, and on the other, he conducted fearless raids into enemy territory against overwhelming odds, and lived for battle in the streets of Los Angeles.”

Memories shared by Raymond’s brother help bring him to life: “Raymond also loved to play with those little plastic army guys we had as kids. But for him it was an obsession. He used real tactics and carefully planned his mini war games with an attention to detail I could never understand.” Derard said that Raymond continued to play with the toys into his teens. Now referred to as “tabletop exercises,” those same moves conducted by 12-year-old boys are used by the military today.

–As Steinbeck so masterfully described in The Grapes of Wrath, “How can you frighten a man whose hunger is not only in his own cramped stomach but in the wretched bellies of his children? You can’t scare him–he has known a fear beyond every other.”

–“I found stories about how cold and heartless Raymond could be to his enemies. These were tempered by almost unbelievable stories of compassion and patience. The duality of Raymond Washington was hard to make sense of…

— Raymond Washington “started the Crips between the ages of fifteen and sixteen, with bare minimum education, and absolutely no management or leadership training. He just understood leadership at a gut level and perfected his skills by trial and error.”

He made enemies: “What no one ever tells you in the Robin Hood story is that robbing someone of their possessions really pisses them off,” Fortier writes. “They get mad as hell, and fight back.”

On the one hand, this is a violent law-breaker known for killing the same guy twice: at the funeral, he’d show up, shoot the corpse, and turn over the casket, adding more than mere insult to injury. Fortier sees a parallel in this to Achilles, warrior of Homer’s epic: “Both Achilles and Raymond Washington were more interested in the glory of war, than the spoils of war,” and “Each had a ten-year battle for the possession of a city. Each lost a best friend in the battle. Finally, each desecrated their enemies’ bodies in plain sight of their grieving loved ones.”

Washington also had his own “Achille’s heel” –
“Much like Achilles, the hero of the Iliad, Raymond had a weakness that his enemies had exploited. He valued loyalty and friendship over everything else. That value was used against him as he was called to the car by a familiar voice. He was met by a shotgun blast to the abdomen. The occupants then drove away.”

Raymond knew who shot him, but didn’t tell anyone. He died an hour later.

A few reviewers say the prose is dry, but I found it riveting.

A gang leader who didn’t drink, didn’t do drugs, never was seen getting high like everyone else around him: this guy was smart. “He felt he had to always be ready for combat, and had to be sharp to survive.”

I cannot even imagine growing up in the world he grew up in. Here was a young man who had the right stuff, the self discipline, the power and charisma, intelligence and skill, to command armies and earn medals of honor. He deserves to be remembered. Many would say “he had it coming,” but his story is a reminder that we can do better, as a society, a people. How to reach kids like Raymond Washington and channel that passion and power without the senseless violence of life in the big-city streets? I grew up on a farm in the Midwest, sheltered, isolated. Nothing in my world ever prepared me to live in the world Raymond Washington grew up in. My heart aches for the loss, the bloodshed, the tragedy of a life cut short – most likely as a consequence of his cutting short the lives of others.

Sad, It’s all so sad, I’m off to walk my dogs in the meadow and woods, and hope-pray-dream for ways to make the world a better place.

B1jEa3dwcCS._UX250_[1] I am Raymond Washington: The only authorized biography of the original founder of the Crips by Zach Fortier (Author), Derard Barton (Author), Blue Harvest Creative (Illustrator)

Zach Fortier was a police officer for over 30 years, specializing in K-9, SWAT, gang, domestic violence and sex crimes as an investigator. He has written five books about Police work. “Curbchek” the first book is a case by case account of the streets as he worked them from the start of his 30 career. “Streetcreds” the second book details time Zach Spent in a Gang task force and the cases that occurred. The third book is by far the most gritty: “Curbchek-Reload”. In “Curbchek-Reload” Zach is damaged and dangerously so, suffering from PTSD and the day to day violence of working the street. “Hero To Zero” is Zach’s fourth book and recalls cops he worked with that were incredibly talented but ended up going down in flames, some ended up in jail, prison and one on the FBI’s ten most wanted list. Zach’s fifth book is just out and is titled “Landed On Black” and covers the constant state of hyper-vigilance required to survive the double crosses and betrayals that occurred on the streets and in the police department. Zach’s latest book I am Raymond Washington, provides the reader with an unprecedented look into the life of the original founder of the Crips gang. Filled with eyewitness accounts and recollections from friends and family give the reader a look into the life of the Original Crip. @amazon Author Page

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Richest person of all time, benevolent African King Musa Keita I, forgotten #BlackHistory

hqdefault[1]  Mansa_Musa_grande[1] #AfricanStrength Mansa Musa Tee

My daughter asked me this morning if Timbuktu was ever a real place. Oh, yes! I rushed to the internet, and quickly got distracted with the story of the man who annexed the ancient, legendary, and REAL city of Timbuktu:

African King Musa Keita I –  the richest person of all time — “richer than anyone could describe” — ruled all (or parts) of modern day Mauritania, Senegal, Gambia, Guinea, Burkina Faso, Mali, Niger, Nigeria, and Chad. And he was a GOOD king. He conquered 24 cities, each with surrounding districts containing villages and estates, but he traveled far and wide, giving away so much gold, the market value of gold temporarily declined.

Accompanied by thousands of richly dressed servants and supporters Musa made generous donations to the poor and to charitable organizations as well as the rulers of the lands his entourage crossed. On his stop in Cairo, Egypt, the Emperor gave out so much gold that he generated a brief decline in its value. Cairo’s gold market recovered over a decade later.

So why do the evil conquerors live on in history, but Asoka (aka Ashoka), the first Buddhist king, and good King Musa Keita I, are unheard of by most people? Good deeds are worthy of comic books, action adventure movies, and thrillers. Just toss in an evil villain, and bring to life, in graphic novels and illustrated children’s books and Disney movies, the GOOD GUYS.

Musa Keita I was crowned in 1312 and given the name Mansa, meaning king.

Mansa Musa was in charge of a lot of land. He annexed the city of Timbuktu and reestablished power over Gao. His empire stretched about 2,000 miles. Image result for mansa musa

In his 1324 pilgrimage to Mecca, he crossed nearly 4,000 miles:

His procession reportedly included 60,000 men, including 12,000 slaves who each carried four pounds of gold bars and heralds dressed in silks who bore gold staffs, organized horses, and handled bags. Musa provided all necessities for the procession, feeding the entire company of men and animals. Those animals included 80 camels which each carried between 50 and 300 pounds of gold dust. Musa gave the gold to the poor he met along his route. Musa not only gave to the cities he passed on the way to Mecca, including Cairo and Medina, but also traded gold for souvenirs. It was reported that he built a mosque each and every Friday.

But Musa’s generous actions inadvertently devastated the economy of the regions through which he passed. In the cities of Cairo, Medina, and Mecca, the sudden influx of gold devalued the metal for the next decade. Prices on goods and wares greatly inflated. To rectify the gold market, on his way back from Mecca, Musa borrowed all the gold he could carry from money-lenders in Cairo, at high interest. This is the only time recorded in history that one man directly controlled the price of gold in the Mediterranean.

After reigning for 25 years, Mansa Musa died in 1337. He was succeeded by his son, Maghan I. “The king’s rich legacy persisted for generations and to this day, there are mausoleums, libraries, and mosques that stand as a testament to this golden age of Mali’s history.

His wealth is estimated at $400 Billion. via @loopfyblog

Musa Keita I (c. 1280 — c. 1337) was the tenth Mansa, which translates as “sultan” (king) or “emperor”, of the wealthy West African Mali Empire. At the time of Musa’s rise to the throne, the Malian Empire consisted of territory formerly belonging to the Ghana Empire in present-day southern Mauritania and in Melle (Mali) and the immediate surrounding areas. Musa held many titles, including Emir of Melle, Lord of the Mines of Wangara, Conqueror of Ghanata, and at least a dozen others. It is said that Mansa Musa had conquered 24 cities, each with surrounding districts containing villages and estates, during his reign. He is known to have been enormously wealthy; reported as being inconceivably rich by contemporaries, “There’s really no way to put an accurate number on his wealth” (Davidson 2015).

From Business Insider:

… Upon his return from Mecca, Mansa Musa brought Arab scholars, government bureaucrats, and architects. Among those who returned with him was the architect Ishaq El Teudjin who introduced advanced building techniques to Mali. He designed numerous buildings for the Emperor including a new palace named Madagou, the mosque at Gao, the second largest city in Mali, and the still-standing great mosque at Timbuktu, the largest city in the empire. That mosque was named the Djinguereber. El Teudjin’s most famous design was the Emperor’s chamber at the Malian capital of Niani.

Mansa Musa’s pilgrimage boosted Islamic education in Mali by adding mosques, libraries, and universities. The awareness of Musa by other Islamic leaders brought increased commerce and scholars, poets, and artisans, making Timbuktu one of the leading cities in the Islamic world during the time when the most advanced nations from Spain to central India were Muslim. Timbuktu was clearly the center of Islamic Sub-Saharan Africa.

Musa’s pilgrimage to Mecca brought Mali to the attention of Europe. For the next two centuries Italian, German, and Spanish cartographers produced maps of the world which showed Mali and which often referenced Mansa Musa. The first of these maps appeared in Italy in 1339 with Mansa Musa’s name and likeness.
mansa musa 1375 Catalan Atlas, one of the most important world maps of Medieval Europe, Wikimedia Commons

Mansa Musa died in 1337 after a twenty-five year reign. He was succeeded by his son, Maghan I.

Moreover, with Israel coming under Greek, Persian and later Roman rule and dependency, renewed waves of Jewish refugees including traders and artisans began to set up more communities in Egypt, Cyrenaica, Nubia and the Punic Empire, notably in Carthage. From Carthage they began to scatter into various historically established, as well as newly emerging Jewish communities south of the Atlas mountains nearer to the modern day Mauritania, Niger, Mali, Nigeria, Senegal, Cameroon and Congo. Several Jewish nomadic groups also moved across the Sahara from Nubia and the ancient kingdom of Kush towards west Africa.

Who knew? Not I: Various East and West African ethnic nations lay verifiable claim to their Jewish ancestral heritage. Almost 300,000 “of those black Falasha Jews live in the modern State of Isreal as practising Jews. True black history.” Business Insider 

My grandson, Winslow, is the son of a native of Liberia (next door to Ghana). If I believed in reincarnation, I’d swear that Winslow is a great emperor who’s come back as a 21st Century American citizen. This is Winslow at the age of one week (in tux), then one month (with his paternal grandpa), then 2 months (his maternal great-grandpa is a farmer of German descent):

:winslow-in-tux-14344814_10210454253415297_4671954059606688489_n 15781335_10211651399950462_6115436674016212878_n[1]  15672613_10211616525158614_7264915672741688611_n[1]

His great-great-great-great-great-great-great-grandfather left Dublin, Ireland, in 1800, for New York; he married an Algonquin named Ruby; he bought land from the Sac and Fox tribe in Cedar Rapids and operated a ferry with his brother Aaron, who married Ruby’s sister Sarah; Ushers Ferry Road is named after this family.

860951_388366931261109_1525897664_o[1]   15036402_10211162954939642_3528449382187296224_n[1].jpg  15027832_10211162953859615_7611573007526620130_n[1]

Joseph Usher, ~1820    Emil Henry (mom’s side), ~1920    Kean, ~1940

17021796_10212268325133206_6901195941704280737_n[1]   15036639_10211162928458980_8034514105171824263_n[1].jpg

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Accountable: The Joseph Usher Story 1903 murder trial still studied by law students today

860951_388366931261109_1525897664_o[1] Joseph Aaron Usher Sr. (portrait, ~1820); Joseph Aaron Usher Jr’s father; heritage Native American and Irish

“I did not know there was a murder mystery in my mother’s family,” Nancy Panoch writes, but not long ago, “In the process of exploring my American Indian ancestry, I stumbled on information about that murder and asked for more. … in trying to defend the man who committed the crime, this story grabbed hold of me with a passion I could not let go until I finished writing … becoming an author never occurred to me until this story of love, betrayal and murder took hold of me … I have been working on my ACCOUNTABLE: THE JOSEPH USHER STORY for five years. I looked up the word ‘guilt’ and ‘accountable’ came up. I knew immediately what the name of my book would be because Joseph Usher was accountable for this murder.”


accountable-3D[1] In May of 1903, a hired hand is murdered in the night, in a bed in the house on the dairy farm of Joseph Usher and his family on the outskirts of Cedar Rapids, Iowa. Nancy Panoch introduces the reader to Joseph, his second wife, and his two youngest sons by his first wife. Otto, at 16, is a sturdy and reliable worker on the farm, a good role model for his 9-year-old brother. The woman of the house is Lucy, a very young woman Joseph had married some time after the death of his first wife. Lucy shows some signs of mental instability.

**Buy the ebook for $3.99 by clicking on this link: Accountable by Nancy Panoch

William Garrity is a farm hand and a good friend, when he’s not drunk. On May 26, Garrity, staying at the Usher home following a drinking bout, is killed. At first, it seems as if he died of natural causes, but then a bullet wound is discovered.

Most of the book “Accountable” is a record of the trial, with detailed testimony over a prolonged period. Circumstantial evidence puts Joseph Usher in jail for a few years (he’s released on good behavior).  are dashed, rekindled, and dashed again.

With a successful motion for a new trial, further developments stretch on into 1909. Young Otto takes on the role of running the family business and keeping the family together. Tense relations between the Ushers and Lucy’s family soften.

The primary mystery is the motive. Was it really Joseph who shot Garrity? Why would he? If he didn’t pull the trigger, who did?

All the character witnesses asserted Joseph was a good, upstanding man, not someone who’d commit premeditated murder.

— From a review by Phil Jason, Ph. D., United States Naval Academy professor emeritus of English. Read the complete and unedited review here in the Fort Meyers Florida Weekly.

The paperback is out of print, but you can find copies at

5 star review: My Ancestor’s Tale on March 30, 2013   Verified Purchase

This book is written about my Great Grandfather and Great Great Grandfather. It is a fascinating story that was not discussed in our family, and when I learned that this sad story was being written – I can honestly say that I had no knowledge of the events that took place some 110 years ago! I always knew my father’s family to be hard working, devoted, God fearing people – who never hesitated to lend a neighbor or friend a helping hand, and I can only imagine the hardship and isolation that this ordeal caused the whole family at that time. My ancestors were no-nonsense folk who did not partake in idle gossip or openly discuss any type of scandal. I can now understand why that happened to be the case. I knew my Great Grandfather Otto, who is one of the central characters in this tale. He was a man with a great deal of wisdom that most probably was gained by battling the challenges that life presents. He was just a young man when his father was tried for the murder of Bill Garrity. I can only imagine how that horrible experience forced him to age beyond his years. This book is a testament to what a good man he was and remained throughout his life of beyond 90 years.

18010592_10212771264946387_8239108730707491954_n[1] 18033265_10212771543553352_2391283914932045412_n[1] My mother is also a great-granddaughter of Joseph Usher. I met her at a Barnes and Noble book signing, bought a signed copy of “Accountable,” and learned more about my ancestors. GREAT story–of love and family, mystery and murder, and details of a 1903 trial that is still studied by law students today.


About the Author

Until a few years ago I did not know there was a murder mystery in my mother’s family. In the process of exploring my American Indian ancestry, I stumbled on information about that murder and asked for more. With this knowledge, and in trying to defend the man who committed the crime, this story grabbed hold of me with a passion I could not let go until I finished writing. My two brothers, sister and I grew up on our parent’s family farm in Chickasaw County, located in Northeast Iowa. A river, the Wapsipinicon, runs through the back side of our farm. This region is rich in Native American artifacts. As we played in the Wapsie and climbed on the Indian mounds on the banks of the river, little did I realize the connection I had to the Native American heritage. After graduating from the New Hampton High School in 1963, I attended La James Beauty College in Mason City, Iowa. In the fall of 1964 I married Ron Panoch. My first beauty salon began when Susie was two months old. Susie was six, Karen four and Gary three when we moved into our new home in Ionia Iowa, where I operated my second salon from our home for 17 years. In 1986, Ron, Gary — a senior in high school, and I moved to Punta Gorda in South West Florida. When I look back, I wrote reports and took minutes for eight-hour board meetings for the Iowa and Florida Cosmetology Associations, however becoming an author never occurred to me until this story of love, betrayal and murder took hold of me. My father passed away seven years ago. My mother, who is 92, is my love and I see to her needs. She is comfortable in her own home close to ours. Our family ties to Iowa will always be strong, however Florida is our home now and we enjoy the warm weather. Our children live on the East Coast of Florida and we have four beautiful grandchildren. I have been working on my ACCOUNTABLE: THE JOSEPH USHER STORY for five years. I looked up the word ‘guilt’ and ‘accountable’ came up. I knew immediately what the name of my book would be because Joseph Usher was accountable for this murder. As you step back with me into another time, trying to figure out “who done it,” you will admire Otto, the sixteen-year-old, and nine-year-old Walter. Otto displayed maturity and courage with every task placed upon him. I wrote this book with love in my heart. I feel that with a clearer understanding of what happened all those years ago there will be healing for those of us related to these characters.



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Disappearing Husbands: the Old West legitimized abandonment, desertion

Go West, young man, go West! And if you find a wife there, don’t venture away too long on another mission, or she might not wait for you to return. “In a sense, the westward movement legitimized abandonment,” authors Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith state in Women in Waiting in the Westward Movement.

“This book fills a void in Western American history by providing details about 19th-century frontier women’s experiences … a mesmerizing look at the frustrations and hardships faced by women left in charge of the home front and by their husbands, who went to look for gold, land, and adventure in the West. Relying on censuses, newspapers, letters, and photographs, along with journals, diaries, business records, and genealogies, the authors have interwoven six personal histories along with the experiences of 50 families that were separated during the rush for gold in the last century. The correspondence between these wives and husbands provide an insightful view into their daily lives.” —Vicki L. Toy Smith, Univ. of Nevada, Reno  (Library Journal)

51tK4fb6lrL._SX351_BO1,204,203,200_[1] Available records reveal that desertion was a leading cause of divorce in the 19th century.

During the last half of the nineteenth century, thousands of men went west in search of gold, land, or adventure-leaving their wives to handle family, farm, and business affairs on their own. The experiences of these westering men have long been a part of the lore of the American frontier, but the stories of their wives have rarely been told. Ten years of research into public and private documents-including letters of couples separated during the westward movement-has enabled Linda Peavy and Ursula Smith to tell the forgotten stories of “women in waiting.”

Though these wives were left more or less in limbo by the departure of their adventuring husbands, they were hardly women in waiting in any other sense. Children had to be fed, clothed, housed, and educated; farms and businesses had to be managed; creditors had to be paid or pacified and, in some cases, hard-earned butter-and-egg money had to be sent west in response to letters from broke and disillusioned husbands.

This raises some unsettling questions: How does the idea of an “allowance” from home square with our long-standing image of the frontiersman as rugged individualist? To what extent was the westward movement supported by the paid and unpaid labor of women back east? And how do we measure the heroics of husbands out west against the heroics of wives back home?

Deserted wives lacked the status of unmarried women or widows. They often did not have the financial resources needed to carry on family affairs; their legal status was still tied to their husbands, and marrying again raised questions. Was their spouse really gone or would he be back?

“Desertion was a leading cause of divorce in early Arizona” by Mary Melcher, Special to the Courier

… Arizona Territory’s law and that of many other states and territories allowed an abandoned spouse to remarry if one’s spouse was absent for two successive years and his/her residence was unknown. If the forsaken spouse remarried without securing a divorce, their new marriage was considered “as valid as if such a former husband or wife were dead.” Although it was not necessary for an abandoned man or woman to petition for divorce, many still did so.

The biography of one Sharlot Hall Museum Territorial Rose Garden honoree symbolized the confusion resulting from these unannounced separations. Jacob Miller came to Arizona Territory to prospect for gold in 1863, leaving his wife, Jane, in Illinois. After living in Arizona for ten years, he returned home to find that Jane had remarried, believing that he was dead. Jacob then convinced his children to leave with him and move to Arizona Territory. One of these children, Cynthia, became a Rose Garden honoree. She was just 14 when she left home and traveled to Arizona Territory.

sharlot-hall-museum-logo ….Desertion was a fairly common reason for wives to divorce. According to the U.S. government study, Marriage and Divorce in the United States, 1867 to 1886, women in Arizona Territory most often sought divorces due to desertion by the husband or to cruelty. Men in Arizona Territory, on the other hand, most often sued for divorce due to adultery. These were also the major reasons for divorce nationally at this time.

… Sometimes women deserted men. Flora Banghart, daughter of the prominent Banghart family, married John Marion, owner and editor of the Weekly Arizona Miner, on September 16, 1873.  1-po1659p_WATERMARKED_FOR_WEB_t715[1].jpgDuring ten years of marriage, Flora gave birth to two children. She absconded to California with Marion’s good friend, District Attorney Charles Rush, abandoning Marion and her children. He divorced her on grounds of desertion on March 29, 1887.

… Twice as many divorces were initiated and granted to women as to men, surprising given the common idea that 19th century women were very dependent on men. Nearly twice as many women as men petitioned for divorce, demonstrating that women had the necessary independence to leave unhappy marriages. They could not expect alimony; from 1887-1906, just 4.9 percent of Arizona divorcees received it.

During the 19th century, divorce was more common than presumed, especially in the West, where divorce occurred nearly four times as often as in the East and South. Arizona and the West in general provided a new beginning for many. For some, this new life involved leaving old marriages behind.

“Days Past” is a collaborative project of the Sharlot Hall Museum and the Prescott Corral of Westerners International ( This and other Days Past articles are also available at The public is encouraged to submit proposed articles to Please contact SHM Library & Archives reference desk at 928-445-3122 Ext. 14, or via email at for information.

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“Framing the Black Panthers: The Spectacular Rise of a Black Power Icon” by Jane Rhodes

211871 Given how much the media has defined for the masses who and what the Black Panthers are, it’s helpful to find a book that specifically addresses the images manufactured by the media, with a comparison/contrast to the facts, which are hard to find. Unless people kept journals and letters, recorded with video cameras, taped speeches, and donated archival material to libraries, and unless historians and hagiographers collect, sift, and present the facts, how do we ever know who said what, who “started it,” who “had it coming,” and what anyone’s intentions are?

I was happy to see Marcus Garvey mentioned in this book. Since reading Jason Overstreet’s “The Strivers Row Spy” last September (via NetGalley), I’ve been insatiably curious about the charismatic and controversial Garvey.



Overstreet’s novel paints a rather dim view of Jamaica’s national hero, an impassioned leader whose followers called him “Your majesty.” In 1920s Harlem, in the United States at any time, that sort of thing sounds off putting, if not alarming. Did Garvey really have such an exalted view of himself and his role in leading U.S.-born descendants of slavery to a new country in Africa? The red, black, and green stripes of Garvey’s flag wave today at Black Lives Matter protests–and in Boston, and other cities, some have demanded that the flag not be flown, because it incites violence. Garvey’s flag (I’ve devoted another blog post to that story) inciting violence? *sigh*

You see what I mean about what people are told, what they believe, what conclusions they leap to.

In 1915 W.E.B. DuBois called for a “negro brotherhood” across the globe, to fight Western imperialism and empower the darker races. Two years later, Marcus Garvey created UNIA (Universal Negro Improvement Association), and his speeches drew crowds of thousands in Harlem. Both men protested injustice and discrimination, both inspired others to work toward a unified front against white supremacy, yet both men hated each other. Garvey extolled black self-sufficiency and repatriation back to Africa.

A great many blacks, however, having been born in America, wanted to stay here. They wanted to make things better here, not start all over in a new place, where the effects of British colonialism were firmly established. In the 1970s, a leader of the Panthers’ Kansas City chapter fled to Africa and joined the Cleavers in exile in Algiers. Rhodes writes that “their experiences embody the longings of many African Americans– to be surrounded and embraced by a nation of black people, to become part of an ancestral community, and to leave behind the hostile gaze of the west.”

However many may wish that, the idea does not seem to be spreading. Even when African Americans migrated north in the early 1900s, the southern economy was said to be undermined, and northern stability threatened, because it’s in the South that “the Negro is most at home, where he is best understood, and reality best liked.” (Ouch.)

Does the hindsight of the 21st Century suggest that repatriation in Africa would have empowered blacks more than integration has in the United States? I’m still looking for the answer to that. The subject is much too big and too complex for such sweeping generalizations or conclusions.

“The black man has been a serf, a tool, a slave and a peon for all the world and has been regarded as less than a man. That day has ceased,” Garvey told a crowd in Madison Square Garden in 1920. He called for backs to reclaim Africa for their own. In creating the Black Star Line, buying a fleet of ships to bring the diaspora back together in the motherland, Garvey attracted the attention of J. Edgar Hoover, and the FBI got him jailed on a sketchy charge of mail fraud. Newspaper editorials lampooned Garvey for dressing like a medieval king and for failing to grasp that “the whole of Africa never did belong to negroes.”

This led me to read a book written in 1890s on the history of Liberia (the nation Garvey targeted), and even then, after Jefferson and Monroe launched the idea of sending free blacks to Africa, the natives there were not accommodating. This is the measure of good literature and good nonfiction: the amount of research it inspires me to take on, trying to learn more about a topic in a book.

Dismissive commentary by the press “was part of the overall discourse of African Americans,” writes Jane Rhodes in “Framing the Black Panthers.” Newspapers disseminated the prevailing ideologies on race. “Black Americans existed only in narrow and closely definable frames– as a threat to the social order and political stability, as violent and impulsive, or as politically naive and immature. Articles about the efforts of established groups such as the NAACP were invariably brief and distanced….Thus, the media…. are central purveyors of the framing of black America.”

“The media.” Rhodes asserts, “had a stake both in maintaining the status quo and in promoting social transformation.” We can figure out what the media told the world about the Black Panthers, but even public surveys don’t reveal how audiences really interpret the media’s message. The FBI “put considerable energy into feeding misinformation to the media,’ Rhodes says.

Rhodes provides an extensive bibliography and links to source material. I especially like her chapter on critical memory vs the “nostalgic impulse,” with quotes from Houston Baker, e.g., while nostalgia “writes the revolution as a well-passed aberration, critical memory judges severely, censures righteously, renders hard ethical evaluations of the past.”

What images do we associate with this #BlackPower movement? A scene in the movie “Forrest Gump” shows us the iconic  guns, berets, upraised fists, and phrases such as “pig” for cops and “power to the people.” Giving credit where it is due, blame where it is owed, would be a daunting task for anyone, but Rhodes tackles it. Her conclusion, I think, is that the Panthers used the media to gain notoriety and momentum at a time when the government sought to silence them by any means possible; meanwhile, the media had their own agenda, which is to sensationalize news and sell stories. Even half a century later, news reports of violence against the Panthers and *by* the Panthers are so numerous, so varied, I have to commend Rhodes for her years of effort and research.

  In all, this book pulls together in one place a lot of scholarly research. I’m still in a muddle about Marcus Garvey, but my own research is far less exhaustive and organized as that of Jane Rhodes. Garvey, exiled from the United States after serving his time in jail (for what many say was a bogus charge), had no connection to the Panthers, but the way he has been portrayed in the media strikes me as similar to the negative publicity heaped on the Black Panthers. Anyone who cares to enlighten me can comment on my assorted Garvey posts here at my blog.

Jane Rhodes Jane Rhodes is Professor and Chair of American Studies and Dean for the Study of Race and Ethnicity at Macalester College.

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“Turning in Circles” by Michelle Buckman: Sisters + Bad Boys in Small-Town South = a stunning and poignant coming of age novel


Michelle Buckman’s distinctive voice, vivid and authentic characters, and brutal honesty are very much in evidence in her seventh novel,”Turning in Circles.” Stunning, suspenseful, and poignant, this coming of age story is set in the South, in a town so small it barely seems to have come blinking into the 21st Century. There’s something about the literary spirit of America’s South– some knack that sets writers like Michelle Buckman 223832 apart from  authors whose roots are elsewhere.

Taut with suspense, yet rich in descriptive detail and character development, the story grips us from the opening lines and won’t let go. I love the deceptively simple, timeless opening: My sister lay sleeping in the sun on the beach beside me. Narrated in hindsight by a heroine who’d give anything to rewrite a chapter in her life, “Turning In Circles” haunts us with what-ifs. Every decision we make has consequences, not just for us, but our loved ones, our neighbors, even our pets, and for the whole community.

Savannah and Charleston, so close in age they’re practically twins, are named after towns that “epitomized the South and all a Southern woman ought to be, as if we lived back in some historic generation when women wore long gowns and went about with escorts to teas.”

More than sisters, they’re kindred souls. They’ve always kept each other’s secrets, always had each other’s best interests in mind–until Dillon, the local bad boy, adds Charleston to his collection of conquests.

In an age when other teens are immersed in video games and cell phones, these girls are busy with chores on the family farm. Their best friend and neighbor is a hard-muscled, calloused guy named Ellerbe who rides a horse to school. Ellerbe is the best teen hero I’ve seen in all the fiction I’ve read in the past ten years. Or twenty. How do we get our teenage daughters to look beyond vampires and werewolves to the sterling virtues of the boy next door, who is in fact nothing short of awesome?

f2e5da8a18caf74dd28f00565c4bb572 Ellerbe’s beloved Snow is as near and dear to his heart as Daddy’s mare­, Boudicca–“the pride of the county–­a beautiful buckskin Lusitano.” The local sheriff will stop at nothing to acquire Boudicca for himself, even test a father’s love for his wayward daughter. When Dillon lures Charleston into assorted law-breaking antics, she’s not to the only one who will suffer the consequences. Most kids get away with all sorts of mischief, but sometimes, thoughtless, reckless teenage behavior has tragic consequences.

While a sense of impending doom keeps us turning pages, the prose sparkles with rich, warm, and loving details. Though danger lurks and a beloved sister strays from the straight and narrow path, a leisurely sense of summer in the South takes readers to front porches, or among families over the dinner table. Every detail matters, every observation, every incident.

Several subplots emerge, naturally and inevitably, reminding us how the rich but troubled history of families is also the rich history of the troubled south. The racists, the innocents, the broken homes; the vicious dog fighting, petty vandalism, and bullying; the sheriff protecting the good ol’ boys; the judgments we make against others, not knowing the facts. “It doesn’t take long to figure out where a person’s loyalties lay,” Savannah observes.

One of the most stirring subplots involves Hickory, a 35-year-old black man with the mind of a child. Charlie and Savannah have nothing but affection for him.They wouldn’t dream of hurting him.

“I loved Hickory,” Savannah reflects. “Every afternoon, he stood at the end of the dirt road that led from his house to Brown School Road and waved cars by as if he was conducting an orchestra.” Tell Hickory it’s hot enough to fry an egg on the sidewalk, and he’ll set off with an egg to fry. The scene is almost slap-stick funny, but sad, and every maddening detail in the story is portentous.

Savannah nails the mood and attitude of her world. There’s Jim Miller, who “developed a thing for Hickory’s mama back years ago. Folks said he couldn’t do enough for her boy in those months when he first got it in his head to win her over.”

And there’s the new teacher at school: “No one knew much about Mr. Jefferson or if he had even been a teacher prior to that. What we did know was he was cousin to Sheriff Darlington, moved in from the other end of the state, but everyone in town was related some how or other through blood, property or feud.”

Then there’s Tasheika.

Tasheika “wasn’t just black; she was a gorgeous girl with chocolate skin and a beautiful blonde, white mama with a figure to die for. Whatever political correctness and blurring of racial differences had come about in the rest of the world had skipped right over Mr. Jefferson’s heart. He was still living back somewhere between Mama’s historical romance novels and modern day. Knowing what I did about him and how I’d seen him look at her mama …I’d say it burned him to the core of his soul to think of a black man married to that pretty blonde lady. So he was out to get Tasheika.”

Savannah takes us step by step through the gradual escalation of conflict, like a stew heating in a pressure cooker that’s gonna blow. She reflects on what happened, wondering if she could have done things differently.

“God granted us the free will to sow our seeds as we see fit,” Savannah says, but she cannot bear seeing her sister’s exercise of free will. It’s Ellerbe whose wisdom helps her put things in perspective.

The theme will hit hard and true for anyone who’s ever watched a loved one make bad decisions, and tried to steer them from the wrong path, only to see one misstep lead to another. From the serenity of the opening scene, “the peace of the whole world around us” and God’s glory “shining down in that everlasting blaze of South Carolina sunshine,” Savannah pulls us with her, inexorably, as her world spirals down, down around her, and finally shatters. It’s a journey nobody wants to take, but at the end of that tunnel, a shining light named Ellerbe brings Savannah back into the circle of life.

What makes one sibling so headstrong and foolish, the other so sensible? This is only one of many questions that would make “Turning In Circles” a great subject for the high school classroom. If I had to choose between “Rome and Juliet” and this story, I’d choose this one. Romeo was an idiot, while Ellerbe’s heart is true.

Ah, Ellerbe: “His hands were strong, like rest of him, used to hard work under the hot southern sun.” He’s good at physics. No matter what, he’s always there for Savannah. She may be slow to realize that, but she does notice “his hands, his ragged nails, cracked and broken from hauling hay, fixing fencing boards, mucking stalls, or whatever. I’d seen him use his nails to pry up boards and watched him smash ice from troughs in the winter with his bare hands.”

Savannah may not be ready yet to think of Ellerbe as anything more than a friend, but she knows Dillon is nothing but trouble. He’ll just “turn you into some gross saying on the bathroom wall like with Erin,” she warns, but Charleston, like teenagers everywhere, believes bad things happen only to other people.

Even when Charleston’s whereabouts are sure to get her grounded, should their dear, devoted parents found out, Savannah feels she has to cover for her sister. Loyalty is everything… right? And yet, the harder Savannah tries to reason with Charleston, the farther her sister, her soul mate, heads down the dark road that good girls fear to tread.

Their sixteenth summer began so well, that day on the beach: “Right then, no one could have convinced me life was less than perfect or that heaven was more than a whisper away for either of us, and on that day I would have been right,” Savannah reflects.

The final lines are as simple, and as epic, as the opening lines: “and we continue to stroll hand-in-hand down the beach, the rain misting around us,” Ellerbe’s horse “plodding along behind to the beat of time moving on.”

Did I mention that Ellerbe is the best teen hero I’ve seen in forever?

Millions of young readers, I hope, will agree.


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