Monthly Archives: August 2015

How Choctaws aided starving Irish

A major antagonist in my book Visions of Teaoga isn’t a person but a stone monument. Its plaque commemorates a Revolutionary War assault into the Iroquois Indian heartland–a march it says “destroyed savagery” and opened the region to “civilization.” Dedicated in 1902 by the Daughters of the American Revolution, the monument perfectly captures our country’s then-imbedded mindset that native peoples were mere savages with no redeeming values.

So I loved learning the other day about one tribe’s beautiful and little-known good works on behalf of white people a half-century earlier. What a redeeming story it is.

The Choctaw Indians were one of the first tribes to be uprooted and forced west on the horrific Trails of Tears in the early 1830s. Untold numbers died from

This sculpture in County Cork, Ireland, honors the Choctaw's generosity.

This sculpture in County Cork, Ireland, honors the Choctaw’s generosity.

hunger and exposure on the long, cold march from their Mississippi homeland to faraway Oklahoma, where they faced new hardships. Sixteen years later, the Choctaws learned of the Irish potato famine and of how the British overlords would not provide any other food than the blighted potato to the thousands of starving Irish. “Only sixteen years had passed since the Choctaws themselves had faced hunger and death on the first Trail of Tears, and a great empathy was felt when they heard such a similar story coming from across the ocean,” states the Choctaw Nation website. “Individuals made donations totaling $170 in 1847 to send to assist the Irish people. These noble Choctaw people, who had such meager resources, gave all they could on behalf of others in greater need.”

This story of generosity may be unknown here, but the Irish never forgot. A friendship monument has been erected in County Cork. Irish and Choctaw delegations have made exchange visits. The Lord Mayor’s mansion in Dublin installed a plaque reading: “Their humanity calls us to remember the millions of human beings throughout our world today who die of hunger and hunger-related illness in a world of plenty.”

The Choctaw article was sent by a friend who’d been with me on a tour of Ireland in July. We visited lovely southwestern Ireland, which is still under-populated due to the famine deaths and the resulting mass emigration to the U.S. We visited a cemetery with a potter’s field bearing ten thousand famine victims. It was explained to us why, because food was available but just not provided under British policy, the Irish call the famine The Great Hunger. The Choctaws, having been persecuted by “civilized” rulers themselves, wouldn’t have needed any explanation.

You can learn about the tribe’s continuing good works here: http://www.choctawnation.com/history/choctaw-nation-history/choctaws-helped-starving-irish-in-1847-this-act-shaped-tribal-culture/

You can also join the “Choctaw Irish Famine” Facebook page.

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“Feeble-minded” youth accused of murdering young woman

SUNBURY, Pa.Sunbury Press has released Something So Divine, J R Lindermuth’s tragic tale of murder in the rural hills of Pennsylvania.

“… reminds us of Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, with similar intrigue and tension, but set in Pennsylvania ..” The Publisher

ssd_fcWhen a young girl is found murdered in a Pennsylvania rye field in the autumn of 1897, Ned Gebhardt, a feeble-minded youth known to have stalked the victim, is the prime suspect. Incidents involving another girl and gossip stir emotions to a frenzy, nearly leading to a lynching.

Evidence against Ned is circumstantial and there are other suspects. Influenced by the opinions of Ned’s stepsister and Ellen, a woman who has perked his interest, Simon Roth, the investigator, is inclined to give Ned benefit of the doubt. Then he discovers damaging evidence.

Still unwilling to view Ned as a cold-blooded killer, Roth puts his job and reputation in jeopardy as he seeks to assure a fair trial for the accused.

EXCERPT:
The dog stirred beside him. Ned Gebhardt tilted his head, listening. Though he couldn’t see the girl for the thickness of the second-growth trees, the rattle of brush told him she was coming his way. The dog whined and started to rise. Cupping a hand around her muzzle, Ned patted the dog’s head. “Be still,” he whispered.

Excitement gripped Ned as he awaited a sight of her. His foot jiggled in the leaves, and his breath came a little faster. He snuffled, drawing in the scent of leaf mold and sun-warmed wood. But Susannah thwarted his desire, cutting across the hill opposite instead of coming to where he waited. Ned pursed his lips and muttered, his tongue thrusting out to test the air like a snake while one hand plucked at his pant leg. He rose to his feet and grinned down at the dog. “She foxed us, didn’t she? Well, there’s always tomorrow.” The dog cocked its head, gazing up at him as if expected to reply.

The boy plopped down again, drawing his knees up to his chin and sitting with arms wrapped round his legs, contemplating what to do next. He sighed in annoyance at not having intercepted the girl. Ned felt certain he knew where she’d go as he’d watched her leave home earlier that morning. I told her where to go. Why didn’t she come here? He sucked his lower lip. His disappointment souring the good mood of anticipation.

He sighed. Pap would be angry he’d skipped out on his chores. But it would be all right if he took home a couple squirrel or a rabbit. Especially rabbit. Pap’s awful fond of rabbit. Yes, that’s what I’ll do—hunt up a rabbit or two.

The warm air was heady with the odor of rotting leaves and damp earth. Almost too warm for this October morning in 1897 on a Pennsylvania hillside. But Ned knew the frost would be coming soon. He’d seen a flight of geese heading south the previous morning, and there hadn’t been any sign of frogs or turtles along the crick for the last week. A rustle overhead, and he raised his eyes to scan the canopy. Acorn caps and the hulls and shells of other nuts littered the ground beneath the nearest big tree. But it was no squirrel he spied. Only a nuthatch flitting from limb to limb.

Ned rose, brushed dry leaf litter from his trousers, picked up his shotgun by the barrel, and started up hill. The dog shook itself and followed.

Anyone watching would have had no difficulty picking Ned out of a crowd. Tall and gangly, big hands and knobby wrists protruding from the sleeves of a too-often washed cambrey shirt, strong legs encased in hand-me-down corduroy trousers, worn brogans on his big feet, he strode along with the ease of one accustomed to climbing hills and walking fields. Not yet a man, shy and immature, but with muscles and calluses defined by long hours of manual labor. He had a shock of thick hair the color of bleached corn shocks, big eyes reflecting the blue of the sky, and a protruding lower lip usually wet with dribble.

The maples were red and gold now, but the boy was oblivious to their beauty, intent on another vision flashing across the screen of his mind. He’d been sure Susannah would come to this hillside to hunt chanterelles. It was late in the season for them, but Ned had spotted a nice crop under the oaks above her father’s rye field, and he’d told Susannah. He knew her family loved these golden mush-rooms, and Ned was certain that would be her destination.

Something So Divine
Authored by J. R Lindermuth
List Price: $14.95
5.5″ x 8.5″ (13.97 x 21.59 cm)
Black & White on Cream paper
226 pages
Sunbury Press, Inc.
ISBN-13: 978-1620066126
ISBN-10: 1620066122
BISAC: Fiction / Mystery & Detective / Historical

For more information, please see:
http://www.sunburypressstore.com/Something-So-Divine-9781…

Hard historical truths

“MORE THAN SIX THOUSAND PRESENT! THE GREATEST ENTHUSIASMS PREVAILED.”

I just came upon that breathless headline while doing research for my next book, which will delve into 19th century black life in the section of northeastern Pennsylvania where I was raised. My hometown, the lovely hamlet of Waverly, north of Scranton, takes pride in the fact that it once harbored a settlement of fugitive slaves. I’ve been drilling down into that history, with a focus on the dozen remarkable black men from the settlement who served in the Union Army during the Civil War.

My goal in this latest round of road research was to find verification for a report I recently ran across online (thank you, newspapers.com!) about a rally in Waverly in October 1861, in the early stages of the war. According to the Adams Sentinel of Gettysburg, the rally was held in support of Lincoln’s policies, and it featured speeches by two gutsy officials of the opposition Democrats, representing the faction of “pro-war Democrats.” The article said ten thousand people attended and cheered loudly. Who else spoke, I wondered. Waverly’s black residents must have attended. Did one of their leaders perhaps get a spot on the platform as well? And where could such a massive event even be held in little Waverly?

I hoped the answer might pop up in one of the old Scranton newspapers, which would presumably have covered such a major event in its area. Unfortunately, the archived newspapers at the Scranton public library only go back to 1863, so that part of my search is thwarted for now.

Meanwhile, I dove into newly added microfilm for another Scranton newspaper, The Lackawanna Register, beginning in early 1863. The Register was a hard-core, Lincoln-hating Democratic house organ—and wow, the invective and racism! Its pages were filled with accounts of large antiwar demonstrations throughout the region in the summer of 1863. There was one in Greenfield, and in Scott, in Lenox, in Harford, in Dundaff, in Fleetville.

Wait a second. This picture runs directly counter to the impression I’d gotten before– that the area was in Lincoln’s camp and that its Southern-sympathizing, abolition-loathing “Copperheads” were fringe crackpots who were few in number.

Even if you figure The Register was inflating the size of the turnouts and the level of enthusiasm, the events still must have been galvanizing. For instance, the June 6 “gathering of the yeomanry” in Greenfield drew many “in their four-horse teams, heavily freighted with the Democracy of their immediate neighborhoods. Others with two-horse teams; some in buggies, some on horseback, and hundreds came on foot…Flags and national music enlivened the occasion at intervals.” Resolutions were adopted that denounced both Lincoln’s war powers and abolitionist “fanaticism” (saying the abolitionists “may be hopelessly insane; still, they shall not be permitted to rule or ruin this great nation.”).

Similarly, several thousand in Harford cheered as the speaker blasted away. According to the Register, “the ‘Negro Equality’ doctrine, in connection with the Abolition policy of the Administration, received the largest share of his satire—the tremendous volleys of which frequently call out the most enthusiastic demonstration.”

Then came the one in Fleetville, just five miles north of Waverly, on July 4 (“More Than 6,000 Present!”). A hickory pole, symbol of Jacksonian Democracy, was erected, more fiery speeches were cheered, and “a committee of two hundred ladies presented the gentlemen who addressed them with a most beautiful bouquet.”

Also that day, the crowd affirmed an angry resolution written by Waverly lawyer Thomas Smith. This long manifesto denounced the federal government’s “negro fanaticism” and called for “a speedy deliverance from Abraham Lincoln’s bloody Abolition rule.” It declared the president guilty of treason—and said that “for his numerous wanton violations of the Constitution of the United States he ought to be impeached.”

Contrary to other accounts I’ve read, the so-called “Crackerbarrel Congress” manifesto was not merely the product of a handful of cranky men who met in the backroom of a Fleetville store. They were speaking for thousands of people in that region, dissidents who repudiated “King Abraham”–and also couldn’t stand black people and their white allies in places like Waverly.

Stay tuned for more updates.