Wednesday, October 26, 2011

Teddy Roosevelt: "Steward of the People"

Teddy and his bear, The Washington Post, 1902

There are two things that I want you to make up your minds to: First, that you are going to have a good time as long as you live ... And next, that you are going to do something worthwhile, that you are going to work hard and do the things you 
set out to do.
~ Theodore Roosevelt 
from a speech to school children, Oyster Bay, NY
December, 1898 

Theodore Roosevelt, the 26th president of the United States, was born on October 27, 1858. He was the youngest person ever to hold that position. But the election of 1901 was not the first time he won an election in spite of his age. In many way, his life was filled with firsts of all sorts.

Theodore Roosevelt, c. 1908 (National Portrait Gallery)
Roosevelt also was a Nobel Peace Prize winner, a bit of a cowboy, as well as a big game hunter and passionate bird watcher. 

He was a big man, with big energy, and a big reputation. Even so, this big man would one day have a child's toy named after him: the Teddy Bear. 

The story of Roosevelt's Teddy Bear is rather simple: The president was on a shoot when a small, black bear was caught. The little bear was tied to a tree while some of Roosevelt's compatriots thought it fun to poke and beat it. Roosevelt was given a gun with which to shoot the captive bear. He refused, saying it was unsportsmanlike. He then passed the gun on, asking that someone please shoot the animal to put it out of its misery. The story took on a life of its own in the national press and the Teddy Bear arrived. (Original cartoon from the Washington Post is above.)

The man's accomplishments were great and they spread across his lifetime. On their official website, the Nobel Prize Organization describes Theodore Roosevelt as:

 ... an historian, a biographer, a statesman, a hunter, a naturalist, an orator. 
His prodigious literary output includes twenty-six books, over a thousand 
magazine articles, thousands of speeches and letters.

Roosevelt was a man who believed in hard work and a "square deal" – in politics as well as business. This philosophy underlies his public work as well as the private man and is, perhaps, why he holds such an esteemed place in the history books as well as in our national consciousness.
We must treat each man on his worth and merits as a man. 
We must see that each is given a square deal, 
because he is entitled to no more and should receive no less. 
... The welfare of each of us is dependent fundamentally 
upon the welfare of all of us.
~ Theodore Roosevelt
 New York State Fair,  Syracuse, NY
September 7, 1903 

Not your average college drop out...

In 1881, when Teddy Roosevelt was 23 years old, he dropped out of Columbia Law School. He got in – and then he dropped out. 

He had been running for a position on the New York State Assembly and that November he won  – the youngest person ever elected to that position. But he also was a student. He couldn't be both so he dropped out of law school and stepped into the state assembly.

Roosevelt with Rough Riders, c. 1898 (Harvard Collection)
In 1898, Roosevelt dropped out again, this time from his position as Assistant Secretary of the Navy in President McKinley's administration. (His cousin, Franklin Delano Roosevelt held this same position from 1913-1920).

Roosevelt resigned in order to organize the first volunteer cavalry of the Spanish-American War, the Rough Riders.  The Rough Riders, by the way, is the only volunteer cavalry that was allowed to fight in the war, apparently due to the rigor of their training and the depth of their supplies. The group is interesting for several reasons. Originally conceived to include Roosevelt and more of a rough and ready group from the West, it ended up including Roosevelt and everyone from East Coast intellectuals to cowboys and native Americans. All were known for their guts and moxie.

Teddy Roosevelt, 1898
From asthma to the Amazon ...
As a child, Roosevelt suffered with very severe asthma so he spent a lot of time indoors looking at pictures of the outdoors rather than exploring it. 

When he got older, however, that changed and he became a famous naturalist and big game hunter. His love of nature was constant. One story says that he was late to a Cabinet meeting because he had gotten involved with a bit of bird watching.

Below is a link to a silent film from the Library of Congress containing rare footage of a trip Roosevelt made to the Amazon in 1913-1914. It is based on Roosevelt's book, Through the Brazilian Wilderness, a chronicle of a disastrous adventure along the Amazon river, the River of Doubt. During the trip, Roosevelt became infected with flesh-eating bacteria and expected he would die in the Rain Forest.  The full film, by the way, has seven parts. This is Part I.

... And back to the Wild West 
It is an incalculable added pleasure to anyone's sum of happiness
if he or she grows to know, even slightly and imperfectly,
how to read and enjoy the wonder-book of nature.
~ President Theodore Roosevelt

From Acadia in Maine, to Zion in Utah, the 58 parks of the National Park Service are the legacy of Pres. Roosevelt to the American people. Between 1901-1909, the President created five national parks but it was his signing into legislature of the 1906 Antiquities Act that gave the federal government the right to preserve and protect natural landmarks, monuments and antiquities of "scientific or historic interest."
An excerpt from the PBS Ken Burns/ Dayton Duncan documentary on Roosevelt and the American Parks system,  The National Parks: America's Best Idea.

Optimism is a good characteristic, but if carried to an excess, 
it becomes foolishness. We are prone to speak of the resources of 
this country as inexhaustible; this is not so."
~ Roosevelt's Seventh Annual Message to Congress
December 3, 1907
"Walk softly. Carry a big stick," T. Roosevelt
This link goes to the National Park Service and a brief history of Roosevelt's involvement with the NPS.

Roosevelt's presidency
After the Spanish-American War, Roosevelt went on to become governor of New York State. After that, he served as president of the United States for two terms (1901-1909). In his third presidential campaign (1912), he later would survive an assassination attempt in Milwaukee while running as the candidate of the newly formed and independent Bull Moose or Progressive Party. (Taft, as it turns out, went on to win the election.)

Roosevelt was no fan of the corporate monopoly. He was known as a "trust-buster" as well as a president who knew how to wield his authority and, thereby, expand executive powers within the confines of the law.

Besides creating over 125 million acres of national parkland, Roosevelt also is responsible for creating the Panama Canal. Roosevelt was key in creating peace between Japan and Russia (which won him the 1906 Nobel Peace Prize), and possessed a wherewithal and keen ability to move people and nations forward.

Here's the president!

Let it fly!

To find find out how to fly the flag and other flag etiquette, see USFlagstore's  Flag Etiquette 101 and USFlagstore's How to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff.

Saturday, October 22, 2011

Nevada's State Flag: Battle Born

Nevada's statehood dates to October 31, 1864. 

The statehood proclamation was signed by President Lincoln who was up for re-election one week later on Nov. 8. Lincoln's opponent was the former Union commander, Gen. George McClellan. Lincoln captured the Nevada vote as well as 212 electoral votes to McLellan's 21. The popular vote, however, was much closer than that indicates with Lincoln receiving 2,213,665 votes and McClellan 1,805,237 votes.

With this as background, reading the imagery of the Nevada state flag is a bit like reading a short story on Nevada history.

Nevada's state flag: "Battle Born" during the Civil War
 Located in the upper left hand corner and overlaid upon a field of blue is Nevada's 5-pointed silver star. It is surrounded by a yellow banner above, and a yellow and green garland below. The star is silver because Nevada's nickname is the "silver state", so named after the Comstock Lode, one of the world's largest silver mines, was discovered in 1859. 

The yellow banner above the star bears the legend "Battle Born" because Nevada became a state during the Civil War

The current version of the Nevada state flag was adopted June 8, 1991. Essentially, it is a reworking of the 1929 flag. Prior to either of these designs, however, were two other state flags.

Nevada Sagebrush

The yellow and green garland below the star depicts Nevada's state flower, artemisia tridentata, commonly known as sagebrush

When in bloom, the plant throws a yellow flower, hence the golden blossoms on the flag. (Sagebrush, by the way, is not related to culinary sage.)
In 1905, Nevada flew a blue flag with a gold and silver design incorporating 36 stars as Nevada is the 36th state. The legend simply read, Silver Nevada Gold for Nevada's great ore mines.

Nevada's first state flag, c. 1905
It was designed by then-governor John Sparks and staff member, Col. Henry Day. 

 The second state flag also incorporated a blue field but with the state seal mounted in the center. The seal is surrounded by 36 stars (half silver and half gold) forming an elliptical or football-shaped pattern. Under the seal is the legend, All for our country.

Nevada's Crisler flag, c. 1915

The 1915 Nevada state flag was designed by Clara Crisler of Carson City. The flag must have been striking to look at as it had over 35 colors in it.  This also made it an expensive flag to produce and, ultimately, considered impractical as the state flag. 

That being the case, a Crisler flag was presented to the USS Nevada and flown until the ship was decommissioned in 1945.

USS Nevada, c. 1944 (Photo:
The only ship to survive
The USS Nevada was the only battleship to survive the attack on Pearl Harbor. Of the 1,700 members of its crew, over 100 were killed. 

The battleship was one of seven in its birth along "battleship row" and the only one able to work its way out into the harbor ­– where it became a moving target for the Japanese bombers. Though severely damaged, the Nevada survived to be rebuilt.

At the time of its attack, the Nevada was under the command of Lt. Comdr. Donald Kirby Ross who had insisted his ship be anchored by itself at the end of the row. This detail allowed the Nevada the ability to slip its birth. 

WWII Medal of Honor
Ross eventually became Adm. Ross. He was the recipient of a Medal of Honor for his actions during the Pearl Harbor attack which also included manning the ship's dynamo room single-handedly (he ordered his men out after it became damaged) as well as getting his ship out. Ross and other hero survivors of Pearl Harbor were the first Medal of Honor recipients awarded in WWII.
Lt. Commander Ross' Medal of Honor reads:

"For distinguished conduct in the line of his profession, extraordinary courage and disregard of his own life during the attack on the Fleet in Pearl Harbor, Territory of Hawaii, by Japanese forces on 7 December 1941. When his station in the forward dynamo room of the U.S.S. Nevada became almost untenable due to smoke, steam, and heat, Machinist Ross forced his men to leave that station and performed all the duties himself until blinded and unconscious. Upon being rescued and resuscitated, he returned and secured the forward dynamo room and proceeded to the after dynamo room where he was later again rendered unconscious by exhaustion. Again recovering consciousness he returned to his station where he remained until directed to abandon it."

Nevada's Shellbach flag, c. 1929
The third Nevada state flag was designed by Don Louis Shellbach III, the winner of a 1926 contest sponsored by Nevada Lt. Gov. Maurice J. Sullivan. The prize was $25. Shellbach, a naturalist, would later be involved with the Lost City, Nevada Anasazi excavations as well as work at the Museum of the American Indian in New York City. Shellbach was appointed Chief Naturalist for the Grand Canyon in1941 by FDR's Secretary of the Interior, Harold Ickes.

Basically, the Shellbach flag remained unchanged until 1991 when certain design elements became standardized, such as how the word Nevada would be spelled out and where it would be placed.  

The Shellbach design was presented before the state legislature on March 26, 1929, the same day the New York Stock Exchangecelebrated a historic high of trading (8,246,742 shares) – a high some sources say indicated the volatile instability of a market that would crash before the year was over and herald the onset of the Great Depression.

Although the Shellbach flag was flown as the official state flag for over 60 years, technically it wasn't. The flag design actually described in the bill passed by the 1929 legislature was not the finalized design the legislature intended to pass. No one realized this, of course, and it bears no significance except as a curiosity: the flag that was flown between 1929 and 1991 was intended to be the official flag.

In any event, this oversight was corrected in 1991 when various design elements were standardized. The designer of the 1991 changes is by Verne R. Horton. State Senator Bill Raggio presented the changes to the flag and Governor Bob Miller signed them into law.

Let it fly!

Guide to the Nevada Legislature 2009-2010 (p. 29)

To find find out how to fly the flag and other flag etiquette, see USFlagstore's  Flag Etiquette 101 and USFlagstore's How to Fly the Flag at Half-Staff.

Friday, October 14, 2011

The Reno Gang, Train Robberies, and, uh, Elvis

The mid-West in the years leading up to and after the Civil War were wild and woolly. These were the border lands whose laws were dictated, in part, by federal politics and cut and paste compromises as much as civic law, vigilante law, and lawlessness. 

Grand Theft, Wild West style (photo: legendsofamerica)
 Bible Study on Sundays
In 1835, J. Wilkison Reno marries Julia Ann Freyhafer. Together, on their 1200 acre farm in Seymour, Indiana, they raise 6 children: Frank, John, Simeon, Bill, Clint, and their daughter, Laura.

Despite the Reno's strict upbringing which included studying the Bible all day every Sunday, four of the six became outlaws. All, it seems, were troubled: Laura was considered as wild as her brothers and "Honest Clint" eventually earned his own arrest record later in life for assault, gaming, and allegedly running a house of prostitution (source: Clint would end his days in an asylum in Topeka, Kansas committed by his Quaker wife, Anna Collins.

The Reno Brothers liked things rough. (Photo: Web)
In their day, the members of the Reno Brothers Gang were infamous. Before they were infamous, they were plain old scary. 

The gang was headed by Frank and John Reno, included younger brothers, Simeon and Bill Reno, and a changing cast of ne'er-do-wells.

Their  crimes started early with systematically setting up crooked card games. Soon they graduated to theft and arson. They stole horses. They bullied. They robbed. They assaulted people with impunity. If they wanted something, they took it. And if that meant they had to kill someone, it didn't seem to matter.

In  July, 1865, the gang's lawlessness and violence was so prevalent that the Seymour Times printed the following warning:
 "Be wary of thieves and assassins that infest the place."

The gang was based at the Radar House hotel in Seymour, Indiana (population: 2,500) but their influence was felt in five different states. How bad was it? In  early 1866, a beheaded body was found floating in the White River in Seymour. Both citizens and the law were too intimidated to prosecute the gang and so, they terrorized local communities (

The Reno Gang's claim to fame, however, is that they are responsible for the first great American train robbery. What made the robbery "great" was that they are the first to rob a moving train and to net nearly $100,000 for their trouble. Some sources credit the Reno Gang for inspiring other train robbers such as Butch Cassidy and, of course, the Sundance Kid.

Dishonorable mention
Frank Reno, the eldest brother
During the Civil War, Frank and John Reno were Union Army "bounty jumpers" – men who signed up for the enlistment fee then disappeared only to re-enlist elsewhere under a different name, collect a new fee, and so on. You also can consider them deserters. It is unclear if Simeon Reno was a bounty jumper; he definitely was a deserter. William Reno apparently deserted for a brief enough time to return and be granted an honorable discharge from the army. He is the only Reno brother to have this distinction.

Robbing trains
The first train they robbed was an eastern bound Ohio and Mississippi train that was crossing Indiana the night of Oct. 6, 1866. The robbery was unique in that they actually robbed the train at night and they did it while the train was moving ("The Express Robberies" New York Times Aug. 26, 1868).

John Reno, Simeon Reno, and Frank Sparks hopped the train in Seymour, Indiana while the rest of the gang followed on horseback. The trio managed to crack one safe which had, according to different accounts, $13,000 or $16,000 in it. They also pushed a second, larger safe overboard where the other gang members were waiting. While the gang was busy trying to open this safe, a posse was able to form and scare them off.

The contents of the safe had been insured by the Adams Express Company who hired the Pinkerton Detective Agency to bring the thieves to justice. Witnesses identified some of the gang and witnesses also were murdered which effectively discouraged anyone else from identifying the robbers. (A brief history of Allan Pinkerton and his success is located here. Source: New York Times)

A year later on Nov. 17, 1867, the Reno Gang robbed a courthouse in Gallatin, Missouri.

In December, 1867, they robbed another train, coming away with $8,000.

William Pinkerton and railroad agents (Lib. of Congress)
In February and March of 1868, the gang moved to Iowa and started off the new year with three more robberies. One included stealing $14,000 from the Harrison County Treasury. Another included stealing $12,000 from the Mills County Treasury the day after they robbed the Harrison County Treasury.

Meanwhile, that March, the irate citizens of Seymour, Indiana had formed a vigilante group, the Southern Indiana Vigilance Committee, whose sole purpose was to capture and hang the gang. Pinkerton detectives, however, caught part of the gang (Frank Reno, Miles Ogle, and Albert Perkins) that same month.

Amazingly, they managed to break out of jail in April.

Then, back in Indiana, they boldly robbed another train on May 22, 1868 by stealing the engine, the tender and an express car (New York Times front page July 25, 1868). The robbery ended up killing one guard but netting the gang $96,000 and national fame.

On July 9, 1868, they tried to rob another train but were ambushed by 10 Pinkerton detectives. Even so, all but one gang member escaped. The one who was caught traded information about the gang in exchange for a more lenient sentence.

While his information led to the capture of two more gang members, it turns out that all three of the captured gang members were abducted by masked vigilantes and hung.

Then three more gang members were caught and hung by vigilantes. Same town. Same tree.
John Reno (Web Archive)

And so it went: The gang was caught piecemeal and jailed with each jailing accompanied by an attempt at vigilante justice. 

At some point prior in 1868, John Reno was caught for the Gallatin robbery (again, by Pinkertons), and sentenced to jail for 25 years of hard labor (New York Times front page July 25, 1868). Although he was released after serving 11 years, his life of crime was not over. Counterfeiting would be next on his agenda.

Men in masks
Meanwhile, in the wee hours of the morning of December 12, 1868 at New Albany, Indiana, a mob of 65 masked vigilantes broke into jail and beat up lawmen in order to get to the jailed members of the Reno Gang.

Frank Reno was the first to be hung, then his brothers, William and Simeon. Frank Reno was 31 years old. William Reno was 20, and Simeon Reno was 25.

At 4:30 that morning, the last gang member to be hung was Charlie Anderson.

No one ever was identified or prosecuted for the hangings, nor has the gang's stolen fortune ever been found (

Where Elvis comes into the story
The movie Love Me Tender (1956) is based very, very, very loosely (less than that) on the Reno Gang. Elvis Presley plays Honest Clint. Beyond the Reno name, there is little that links this story to the real history. But! It is Elvis Presley's film debut and he does sing Love Me Tender so it is not a total disappointment. (An adviser on the film is Col. Tom Parker, best known for facilitating Elvis' drug habit and general downward spiral.)

In this film version of the Reno train robbery, the brothers have gone off to war as Confederate soldiers, not as Union bounty jumpers. The war is over. The brothers return home. They believe, however, that the eldest brother (named Vance in the movie) died a war hero. Imagine everyone's surprise when Vance returns home to find his baby brother married to Vance's true love. It's a bit like Shane meets Peyton Place on a Star Trek hollow deck: very sad, very melodramatic, and a total fantasy.

Much, much, much better than the movie is this clip of Elvis singing Love Me Tender: 


The Hollywood version of the train robbery:

Other movies and documentaries about the Reno Gang include:
Rage at Dawn (1956, starring Forrest Tucker as Frank Reno)
Gunfighters of the Old Westi (1992, documentary)

Let if fly!