Deep Dive: Theodore Parker and His Continuing Influence in the World

During times of civil unrest, particularly when that unrest is motivated by unequal justice based on race, people tend to quote Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. One of Dr. King’s most popular quotes at times like this is:

“The arc of the moral universe is long, but it bends toward justice.”

Until recently, I didn’t realize that Dr. King was actually paraphrasing a quote from a 19th century theologian and abolitionist by the name of Theodore Parker. I had previously never heard of Parker, and decided to look into the man and his message. What I found was quite interesting.

Parker was born in Massachusetts in 1810 to a farming family with long roots in the history of the United States. His ancestors were involved in founding and running cities in early day Massachusetts, and his grandfather, John Parker, was leader of the Lexington militia in the American Revolution Battle of Lexington.

Parker was self-taught in several subjects, including math and Latin, and he began teaching in a local school at the age of seventeen. At the age of nineteen, he applied to and was accepted at Harvard University, but he could not pay the tuition. Instead of attending classes, he studied on his own, then took exams with his classmates. He completed his studies in three years and was hired to teach in a school in Watertown, Massachusetts, where he met his wife, Lydia Dodge Cabot.

In addition to teaching, Parker began writing, completing his first book, The History of the Jews, when he was just twenty-five years old. The book was an extension of his strong religious faith, which included a healthy skepticism in Biblical miracles. His beliefs led him to attend Harvard Divinity School, after which, he began preaching in 1836.

Both his marriage to Lydia and his career in the ministry turned out to be a disappointment to him in the late 1830s. He and Lydia could not have children, placing great stress on the marriage, and he was becoming increasingly disillusioned with orthodox theology.

Parker met Ralph Waldo Emerson in 1837 and began attending Transcendentalist gatherings. During these gatherings, he met noted intellectuals such as Henry David Thoreau, Orestes Brownson, and Amos Bronson Alcot. Slowly, Transcendentalist thought began creeping into his sermons. After publishing an article about John Gorham Palfrey, in which Parker broke from the theology of supernatural realism, his critics in the Unitarian church began speaking out. Parker pushed back, and in 1841, gave a sermon entitled “A Discourse on the Transient and permanent Christianity,” openly breaking with orthodox theology by rejecting all Biblical miracles and revelations, and pointing out full contradictions and mistakes in the Bible. He kept his faith, but stressed the personal nature of belief, encouraging parishioners to “center their religious belief on individual experience” rather than on Biblical teachings.

Parker was attacked for his newly stated beliefs. Critics claimed that his denial of Biblical miracles and his belief that the Bible was not the literal authority of the church proved he was not a Christian. He fell out of favor with the Unitarian establishment, but his church at the time in West Roxbury stood by him. Increasingly isolated, Parker turned his attention to social activism, believing that advocating for the poor and disadvantaged in society was a natural out-growth of his religious beliefs.

As Parker matured in both his personal life and his ministry, both his marriage and career improved. He and Lydia traveled to Europe in 1843 and 1844. It was during this time that Parker developed and refined his theology. When he returned to the United States, the Unitarian establishment prevented him from resuming his post at the Roxbury church. Loyal congregants rented a hall in Boston, and, despite misgivings, Parker preached a sermon espousing his beliefs. The sermon went so well that he started a new congregation in Boston he referred to as the 28th Congregational Society of Boston. His congregation included several of the most prominent activists of the day, and eventually grew to more than 2000 congregants.

In 1846, Parker began to focus more of his efforts on social activism. Slavery was becoming a hot button issue in the country, and Parker was an avowed and devout abolitionist. He led the movement against the Fugitive Slave Act, which required citizens and law enforcement in all states, including free states, to assist in recovering fugitive slaves. He fought against the law, which was part of the Compromise of 1850, and personally smuggled and housed slaves in his home. His advocacy was so strong that between 1850 and the start of the Civil War in 1861, only two fugitive slaves were captured in Boston and returned to the South. Parker participated in reform movements of the day for peace, temperance, the condition of women, education, and justice reform, but no cause drew his energies the way the anti-slavery movement did.

In addition to inspiring MLK, President Abraham Lincoln paraphrased him in the Gettysburg Address. The words Lincoln used in that speech, “Of the people, by the people, and for the people” was borrowed from a speech Parker gave in 1850.

Dr. King’s quote was a paraphrase of a sermon given by Parker in which he said:

“Look at the facts of the world. You see a continual and progressive triumph of the right. I do not pretend to understand the moral universe; the arc is a long one, my eye reaches but little ways; I cannot calculate the curve and complete the figure by the experience of sight; I can divine it by conscience. And from what I see I am sure it bends towards justice.”

But it wasn’t just politicians or clergy or social activists that were influenced by Parker. In 1963, Betty Friedan, in her ground-breaking book The Feminine Mystic, quoted Parker in her epigraph:

“The domestic function of the woman does not exhaust her powers…To make one half of the human race consume its energies in the functions of housekeeper, wife and mother is a monstrous waste of the most precious material God ever made.”

Eight months after Friedan’s book was published, Kurt Vonnegut used the same quote in his short story “Lovers Anonymous,” which was originally published in Redbook magazine, and later included in his 1999 short story collection Bagombo Snuff Box.

Other quotes that speak to us still today include:

From “A Lesson for the Day”:

“Every man has at times in his mind the ideal of what he should be, but is not. This ideal may be high and complete, or it may be quite low and insufficient; yet in all men, that really seek to improve, it is better than the actual character. Perhaps no one is satisfied with himself, so that he never wishes to be wiser, better, and more holy. Man never falls so low, that he can see nothing higher than himself.”

From “Thoughts on Labour”:

“The world no doubt grows better; comfort is increased from age to age. What is a luxury in one generation, scarce attainable by the wealthy, becomes at last the possession of most men. Solomon with all his wealth had no carpet on his chamber-floor; no glass in his windows; no shirt to his back. But as the world goes, the increase of comforts does not fall chiefly into the hands of those who create them by their work. The mechanic cannot use the costly furniture he makes. This, however, is of small consequence ; but he has not always the more valuable consideration, TIME TO GROW WISER AND BETTER IN. As Society advances, the standard of poverty rises. A man in New England is called poor at this day, who would have been rich a hundred and fifty years ago; but as it rises, the number that falls beneath that standard becomes a greater part of the whole population. Of course the comfort of a few is purchased by the loss of the many. The world has grown rich and refined, but chiefly by the efforts of those who themselves continue poor and ignorant.”

From “The American Idea”:

“There is what I call the American idea. I so name it, because it seems to me to lie at the basis of all our truly original, distinctive, and American institutions. It is itself a complex idea, composed of three subordinate and more simple ideas, namely: The idea that all men have unalienable rights; that in respect thereof, all men are created equal; and that government is to be established and sustained for the purpose of giving every man an opportunity for the enjoyment and development of all these unalienable rights. This idea demands, as the proximate organization thereof, a democracy, that is, a government of all the people, by all the people, for all the people; of course, a government after the principles of eternal justice, the unchanging law of God; for shortness’ sake, I will call it the idea of Freedom.”

From Unnamed Sermon:

“It is very sad for a man to make himself servant to a single thing; his manhood all taken out of him by the hydraulic pressure of excessive business. — I should not like to be merely a great doctor, a great lawyer, a great minister, a great politician.—I should like to be, also, something of a man.”

From “Of Justice and the Conscience”:

“Man naturally loves justice, for its own sake, as the natural object of his conscience. As the mind loves truth and beauty, so conscience loves the right; it is true and beautiful to the moral faculties. Conscience rests in justice as an end, as the mind in truth. As truth is the side of God turned towards the intellect, so is justice the side of Him which conscience looks upon. Love of justice is the moral part of piety… The people are not satisfied with any form of government, or statute law, until it comes up to their sense of justice; so every progressive State revises its statutes from time to time, and at each revision comes nearer to the absolute right which human nature demands. Mankind, always progressive, revolutionizes constitutions, changes and changes, seeking to come close to the ideal justice, the divine and immutable law of the world, to which we all owe fealty, swear how we will.”


The Ones That Got Away is Launched!

Thank you to everyone who purchased The Ones That Got Away, my new novel. Because of your purchases, The Ones That Got Away moved into the top 50,000 books on Amazon yesterday (6/1/20). That may not seem impressive, but for a book like mine without a top publisher and big marketing budget behind it, it’s not bad. It was also in:

• Top 1000 in historical literary fiction (Kindle)
• Top 6000 in historical fiction (Kindle)
• Top 6000 in literary fiction (Kindle and print)
• Top 7000 in historical fiction (print)

These are not best seller numbers, but they’re better than I expected. They’ve already started to go down, but for a brief, shining moment, they looked pretty good.

Thank you for purchasing the book. I hope you enjoy it.


The Ones That Got Away: What If You Had a Second Chance?

Have you ever thought about what your life could be like if you had the chance to do it over? What mistakes would you correct? What regrets would you re-do? What would you do if you could do it all over again?

That’s what Scott Thompson wonders. Scott is the protagonist in my new novel, The Ones That Got Away. He’s just gone to bed in the guest bedroom after another fight with his wife, Kathy. He’s lying in the dark and thinks how much better his marriage and his life would be if he had married any one of the three women he seriously dated before meeting Kathy.

Melanie was his college sweetheart. She was smart, sexy, and adventurous. She could also be a handful when she drank; loving and amorous one night, volatile and angry the next. But when things were good with Melanie, they were very good.

He met Holly when he was in law school in Chicago. Holly was driven and in control. She had a plan for her life and she wanted Scott to join her on the journey.

Liz came into his life when he was first practicing law. She was a sweet and upbeat woman who was full of life. She loved her job as a teacher, and had plans to move into administration. The thing about dating Liz was, they never fought. Scott had never been with a woman he got along with so well.

He’s thinking about these three women as he drifts off to sleep. When he wakes up the next morning, he finds himself back in his college apartment. And lying next to him is a naked Melanie.

This is the start of Scott living his life over and over again. What changes will he make? Who will he build a relationship with? How will he try to change his life…and the world?

The Ones That Got Away comes out on June 1. It’s available as an ebook or in paperback from Amazon or your favorite bookstore.


Thinking More About Baseball

In my last post about baseball, I listed my favorite players by position. Today, I’m going to list the best players by uniform number from 0-60. This was something that Tim Kurkjian did, and since I’m missing watching baseball games, I thought I’d do the same. Kurkjian only went to #55. I’m going to #60 to prove something or other.

O – Al Oliver (OF, 1B) – Adam Ottavino is a distant, distant second.

1 – Ozzie Smith (SS) – Lou Whitaker (2B) is a close second. Pee Wee Reese (SS, 3B) and Richie Ashburn (OF) are a little further behind.

2 – Derek Jeter (SS) –Charlie Gehringer (2B) was close. Jimmie Foxx (1B, 3B, C) was better, but only wore #2 for one season)

3 – Babe Ruth (OF) This is a no-brainer. Alex Rodriguez (SS, 3B) and Jimmie Foxx (1B, 3B, C) were also in the running.

4 – Rogers Hornsby (2B) – Because numbers were originally issued based on where a player hit in the batting order, there are a lot of really great players who wore #3 and #4. While Hornsby is the best player to wear #4, Lou Gehrig (1B) and Met Ott (OF, 3B) are near the top of the list.

5 – Albert Pujols (OF, 1B) – Henry Aaron and Mel Ott (again) both wore #5 for one year each and are both slightly better players than Pujols, but Pujols is the best player to wear #5 for most (or all) of his career. Others that could have been in the conversation are George Brett (3B, 1B), Jeff Bagwell (1B), Joe DiMaggio (OF), Brooks Robinson (3B), and Johnny Bench (C, 3B). A lot of really great players wore #5.

6 – Stan Musial (OF, 1B) – Hornsby (2B, SS, 3B) and Mickey Mantle (OF, 1B) each wore #6 for one season but are associated with other numbers. Al Kaline (OF, 1B) is also in the discussion.

7 – Mickey Mantle (OF) – Barry Bonds (OF) wore #7 for one season.

8 – Joe Morgan (2B) – This one was tough. It came down to Morgan, Carl Yastrzemski (OF, 1B), and Cal Ripken Jr. (SS, 3B). Yogi Berra (C) was also a tremendous player who wore #8. I went with Morgan because he is generally considered the best second baseman ever.

9 – Ted Williams (OF) – Rogers Hornsby (2B, SS, 3B) and Joe DiMaggio (OF) both wore #9 for one season but are more associated with other numbers.

10 – Chipper Jones (3B) – An argument can be made for Lefty Grove (P), but I went with Jones.

11 – Barry Larkin (SS) – This one was tough. Hornsby (2B, SS, 3B) wore #11 for two seasons, and Eddie Mathews (3B, 1B) for one, but both are more associated with other numbers. An argument can be made for Paul Waner (OF), Edgar Martinez (3B, DH), and Carl Hubbell (P).

12 – Roberto Alomar (2B) – Several people wore #12 who were better than Alomar, but they only wore the number for a short time. Wade Boggs (3B) wore #12 for seven seasons but is normally associated with another number.

13 – Alex Rodriguez (SS, 3B) – No one else is really close.

14 – Pete Rose (Everywhere but P and C) – Willie Mays (OF) and Ricky Henderson (OF) both wore #14 for one year each but are more associated with other numbers.

15 – Carlos Beltran (OF) – There were four players better than Beltran who wore #15 for a short time, but all were more associated with other numbers.

16 – Ted Lyons (P) – Kurkjian went with Whitey Ford (P), but I thought Lyons and Hal Newhouser (P) were both more deserving.

17 – Keith Hernandez (1B) – An argument can be made for Todd Helton (1B) or Scott Rolen (3B), but I went with Hernandez. Kurkjian went with Dizzy Dean, but I don’t think he’s in the conversation.

18 – Bret Saberhagen – This was a tough one. A good argument can be made for Johnny Damon (OF). Kurkjian went with Damon. Joe Morgan (2B) wore #18 for seven years, the same number of years as Saberhagen, but Morgan is more associated with #8.

19 – Robin Yount (SS, OF) – Another tough one. Tony Gwynn (OF) is definitely in the conversation, but I felt Yount was the better player.

20 – Mike Schmidt (3B) – This is almost unfair. Frank Robinson (OF, 1B) also wore #20, and I’ve always thought that he was an underrated player. But even when I’m in a position to give him some love, I can’t because he’s up against the greatest third baseman in history. Life isn’t fair.

21 – Roger Clemens (P) – Warren Spahn (P) and Roberto Clemente (OF) are both in the conversation. In fact, Kurkjian went with Clemente. I don’t know if steroids played into Kurkjian’s decision, but Clemens is one of the greatest pitchers in history.

22 – Jim Palmer (P) – Kurkjian went with Clayton Kershaw, which is reasonable. Several other better players wore #22 for a few years, including Roger Clemens, who wore it for nine years. But these players are more associated with other numbers.

23 – Ryne Sandberg (2B) – He’s my favorite player. You didn’t think I’d pick someone else, did you? If I had, it could have been Zack Grienke (P) or Luis Tiant (P).

24 – Willie Mays (OF) – A lot of really great players wore #24, including Barry Bonds (OF), Rickey Henderson (OF), and Ken Griffey Jr. (OF). But Willie Mays was the best of them all.

25 – Barry Bonds (OF) – Jim Thome is a distant second.

26 – Wade Boggs (3B) – No one else is even close.

27 – Mike Trout (OF) – Scott Rolen (3B) is in the conversation, but Trout is the class of the field.

28 – Bert Blyleven (P) – No one else is close.

29 – Adrian Beltre (3B) – Rod Carew is the only one close. Kurkjian went with Carew. He was wrong.

30 – Nolan Ryan (P) – Tim Raines (OF) is a close second.

31 – Greg Maddux (P) — #31 is a special number to Cubs fans. Both Maddux and Fergie Jenkins (P) wore the number. They are also the two best players in MLB to wear #31.

32 – Steve Carlton (P) – Kurkjian went with Sandy Koulfax (P). That’s reasonable, but Koulfax’s career was so much shorter. Of course, that’s always the argument with Koulfax.

33 – Larry Walker (OF) – Kurkjian went with Eddie Murray (1B), which is reasonable.

34 – David Ortiz (OF, 1B, DH) – Nolan Ryan (P) could have been the choice here as well as for #30, but I’ll toss Ortiz a bone.

35 – Rickey Henderson (OF) – Phil Niekro (P) is a distant second.

36 – Gaylord Perry (P) – Robin Roberts (P) is the only other one in the conversation.

37 – Dave Steib (P) – Keith Hernandez could have been the choice here as well as #17.

38 – Curt Shilling (P) – No one else in the conversation.

39 – Dave Parker (OF) – The best players to wear this number only wore it for a short time. Parker wore it for 19 seasons. Roy Campenella (C) is also in the conversation.

40 – Frank Tanana (P) – Kurkjian went with Bartolo Colon (P).

41 – Tom Seaver (P) – This one was automatic. Eddie Mathews (3B) is a distant second.

42 – Jackie Robinson (2B, 1B) – Robinson might be the only player that could beat out Mariano Rivera (P) for this honor.

43 – Dennis Eckersley (P) – No one else is even close.

44 – Henry Aaron (OF) – Lots of great players wore #44, including Reggie Jackson and Willie McCovey. But no one is going to beat out Hammerin’ Hank.

45 – Bob Gibson (P) – This was a tough one. Pedro Martinez (P) is right there with Gibson, but only one can have this honor, and it goes to Gibson (Sorry, Pedro.).

46 – Andy Pettite (P) – I’m still scratching my head on this one. Kurkjian went with Lee Smith (P). I don’t think it’s even close.

47 – Tom Glavine (P) – Jack Morris (P) is in the conversation.

48 – Torii Hunter (OF) – I almost went with Rick Reuschel (P) who has a higher WAR in fewer seasons than Hunter. In fact, I think Reuschel’s career is badly underrated. But in the end, I went with Hunter.

49 – Charlie Hough (P) – Hough was one of the best knuckleballers ever. Kurkjian chose Hoyt Wilhelm (P), who he claims was the best knuckleballer ever. But Wilhelm only wore #49 for five seasons. Hough wore it for twenty-five. And if you want to throw a third knuckleballer into the mix, Tim Wakefield wore #49 for nineteen seasons.

50 – Mookie Betts (OF) – In just six seasons, Mookie Betts has a higher WAR than any player in history to wear #50, sans two players. One only wore the number for one year, and the other, Jamie Moyer (P), wore it for sixteen seasons. Kurkjian chose J.R. Richard, who was very good, but wouldn’t be in my top three.

51 – Randy Johnson (P) – I wanted to select Ichiro Suzuki (OF), but there was no way I could ignore Johnson. He was just too good.

52 – C.C. Sabathia (P) – No one else even close.

53 – Don Drysdale (P) – Bobby Abreu was in the conversation.

54 – Rich “Goose” Gossage (P) – No one else was close.

55 – Orel Hershiser (P) – Kevin Appier was close.

56 – Mark Buehrle (P) – No one else close.

57 – Johan Santana (P) – No one else close.

58 – Jonathan Papelbon (P) – Now I know why Kurkjian stopped at #55.

59 – Carlos Carrasco (P) – Ismael Valdez (P) is in the conversation.

60 – Dallas Keuchel (P) – No one else in the conversation.


Petty Complaints From the Grocery Store

I went grocery shopping this morning. It’s not my favorite activity, especially now during a pandemic. For whatever reason, people often exhibit their worst behavior at the grocery store. I’m not sure why that is, but the grocery store seems to bring out their worst traits.

Before I begin my rant, let me be clear about one thing. I know I’m being petty. If you’ve ever heard the phrase “Don’t sweat the small stuff,” you’ll likely recognize that the things I’m complaining about are “the small stuff.” But writing is how I deal with most things in life, both good and bad. It helps clarify my thoughts, and often relieves any stress or anxiety. And it’s cheaper than therapy.

Shopping Carts

Probably my biggest complaint about the way people act at the grocery store is when they fail to put their shopping cart in the  cart return. Why would anyone think it’s okay to empty their cart and then simply leave it next to their car? The grocery store actually provides a place to put the used carts so they don’t cause parking problems or damage to shoppers’ cars. And the cart returns are conveniently located throughout the parking lot so they’re not too far from any parking spot. Yet, some people refuse to put forth even the tiny amount of effort it takes to put their used shopping cart where it belongs. These people make me so mad.

A couple of years ago I was walking out of the grocery store and saw a guy who had just emptied his groceries into his car. He pushed his empty cart to the front of his car and gave it a little shove. I normally would not have said anything, but I was in a bad mood and the thoughtless shopper set me off.

“Hey, there’s a cart return just down there,” I said, pointing at the cart return.

The shopper slowly turned toward me. When he did, I noticed his shriveled left arm. He looked confused and took a step toward me, limping badly. “What?” he asked. When he spoke, it became evident that he had a hair lip.

“Nothing,” I said in a friendly voice. “Never mind.” I quickly walked away.

I don’t chastise people anymore when they don’t put their used shopping cart in the cart return, but I still hate it.

Shopping Carts (Chapter 2)

I appreciate the fact that grocery stores put cart returns in their parking lots, but it irritates me to see a cart return overflowing with shopping carts. If shoppers are going to be good enough to put their used carts in the cart return, it needs to be emptied every once in a while. Otherwise, the carts left outside the full cart return can roll around and cause the exact same problems that carts left out in the parking lot can cause. Come on, people. You’re better than that.

Problem Parkers

Why do people insist on taking the parking spot closest to the store, even if they have to wait several minutes for another shopper to pull out of their parking spot? And why, while they’re waiting, do they hold up traffic in their aisle, despite the fact that there are plenty of other parking spots available?

At the store this morning, I saw a woman block traffic for several minutes waiting for someone to pull out of their parking spot. This, despite the fact that there was a parking spot open just three spots further from the store that she had to drive past before blocking the entire aisle. Stop doing this, people!

Wrong Way!

My grocery store has made each of their interior aisles one way, so shoppers in each aisle are all going in the same direction. I assume this is to help separate people because of the pandemic. Since I normally don’t go down every aisle, this is slightly inconvenient. Even so, I support it and follow the arrows for each aisle. These are not normal times.

Today, there was a woman (wearing a mask) who was going down the aisle the wrong way. She went past me, and then we crossed paths again in the next aisle. I wasn’t going to say anything. I didn’t think it was my place. She looked up at me, laughed, and said, “I know I’m going the wrong way.” She seemed embarrassed by her mistake. But she didn’t turn around to go the right way, and she proceeded to go the wrong way down the next aisle.

I’m not sure what she was trying to prove, if she was trying to prove anything. I took her deliberate disregard of the rules as a type of political statement, refusing to be told how to live her life. However, as I said, she was wearing a mask, so I could be wrong. It’s easy to ascribe evil motives, but in this case, I don’t have any idea why she refused to follow the rules.

Snippy Grocery Store Workers

A few weeks ago, I was shopping and had just paid for my groceries. As I was rolling my cart out of the store, one of the employees informed me that I was going out the wrong door. I was virtually one step away from being outside, but she apparently wanted me to go back into the store and then leave via the correct door. It wasn’t so much that she pointed out my mistake. It was her tone, filled with disdain, that really bothered me.

“Was there a sign?” I asked. I hadn’t seen one.

She pointed where she thought there was a sign, but the wall was empty. “It’s because of the coronavirus,” she said, not really answering my question.

I didn’t want to argue with her. If the store wanted to regulate the way people entered and exited as a way of promoting social distancing, that was fine with me. I’ was happy to comply. But I hadn’t seen a sign.

Today, as I was entering the store (through the correct door), I saw the employee who had confronted me, leaving the store from the incorrect door. Because I am an evolved, responsible adult, I didn’t say anything to her. But I did give her a dirty look.


My Admittedly Limited View of the World

I had an unusual experience last night. But first, some background.

My son is in college and I don’t get to spend nearly enough time with him. When he is home with me, I often watch him play video games. It’s what he loves to do, and I want to spend time with him. Plus, by watching him, I have come to enjoy watching other people play video games. That seems a little weird to me. On the other hand, Twitch and YouTube were built on watching others play video games, so I guess I’m not alone.

Since I’ve been sheltering in place during the coronavirus pandemic, I’ve started watching iRacing, primarily on Twitch. There is no real racing going on right now (although NASCAR starts back up this weekend), and I’ve been bored. So, I watch other people race virtual cars.

Some of those people I watch—primarily Conor Daly and Lando Norris—also stream themselves playing Call of Duty Modern Warfare. My son is a big Call of Duty fan, and I’ve watched him play in the past, so it seemed only natural for me to watch Conor and Lando.

I’m also a fan of Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5). I’ve played the game quite a bit, but I’ve never watched anyone else play it. So, last night, there was no sim racing on and I wasn’t enjoying Call of Duty, so I decided to watch someone play GTA5 on Twitch.

This is where things got weird. The person I was watching was in the GTA5 world, but he really wasn’t playing the game. His character was a police office (who he continually referred to as a LEO—Law Enforcement Officer), and he was on patrol in the online game world. He received police calls from a dispatcher (also a real human being), and he spoke to the dispatcher using police lingo, including 10-codes. He also used a fake southern accent when he spoke as the cop, an accent he definitely didn’t have when he spoke to his viewers on his Twitch stream.

I watched for about 20 minutes (Who is the real weirdo in this scenario?) and almost nothing happened. The player playing the cop received three calls in the 20 minutes I watched, and two of the calls were resolved before he even got to the location. The one call he received that he had to resolve himself was a burglar alarm call. It turned out that an elderly civilian (the cop’s word) set off his own alarm when he forgot his alarm code. There was no crime. No shooting. No arrests. Oh, and the elderly civilian. He was played by a real person too.

These role players routinely inhabit their characters for hours at a time, almost like they are working an actual shift. One guy I was watching was talking about his plans to “work a double shift” of 16 hours this weekend. These people are really committed to their role playing lifestyles.

I spoke to my son about what I had witnessed, and he was familiar with the phenomenon. There are apparently entire communities of like-minded role players who not only take on the roles of cops, dispatchers, civilians, criminals, etc., but they also create their own software and apps to go along with the game.

I want to put a little finer point on this idea of creating add-on software and apps for GTA5. The cop I was watching had a cop car, sirens and lights, police radio system, in-car radar, and supplies in his trunk (including Clorex wipes) that are not part of GTA5. They had to be created by some interested third-party. Like I said, there’s an entire community, including coders and graphic designers, who make this role playing possible.

Discovering this world of role players opened my eyes, yet again, to the fact that, no matter how worldly I think I am, I really live a fairly narrow, naïve life. There is so much going on in the world right now that I I’m completely unaware of.

When I was younger, I believed the everyone was generally good. I thought that the troubled, evil people I saw on TV were just the figment of some writer’s imagination. I didn’t think that these types of people actually existed in the real world. Even as I got older, I still didn’t fully comprehend how different the world could be from what I saw with my own two eyes.

Once, in a fiction writing workshop in grad school, we read the book Once Upon a River by Bonnie Jo Campbell. I thought the book was terrific. In the workshop, I admitted that I liked it very much, but that I had a problem with part of the storyline. In the book, the protagonist, a 15-year old female runaway, sleeps with every adult male who crosses her path, with the exception of an 80-year old gay man. My problem, I explained, was that I didn’t believe that so many adult males would have such low morals as to have sex with a 15-year old.

My professor and several classmates looked at me with a combination of confusion and derision. I don’t think they could believe my naivete. To them, the storyline was completely believable. Their lived experience told them that what the young protagonist went through was not only believable, but expected. My experience, on the other hand, told me that adults simply don’t act this way.

I have to admit that in the intervening years, I have come closer to sharing my professor’s and classmates’ opinions. People are not as good as I thought they were. And in particular, adult males are not as good. This saddens me, but it does open my eyes more to the world as it is, rather than the world that I saw while looking through rose-colored glasses. And, although I’m not happy to learn that the world isn’t the generally good place I thought it was, as a writer, it is good to know the truth, or at least as much of the truth as I can.


Book Cover Reveal

We are only a couple of weeks away from the publication of my newest novel, The Ones That Got Away. Writing this book was a long, difficult slog. Even so, I’m happy with the way it turned out, and I’m excited for the publication date (June 1, 2020) to arrive.

Today, I want to introduce the cover for the new book.  Here is the cover for the ebook version of the book.

I would share the print version cover, but it’s in a format that this site doesn’t like. Oh well… How do you like the ebook version?

The last couple of weeks before a book is published are exciting and nerve-racking.  I’ll share more news with you as we get closer to June 1.


George Saunders Makes Sense of Our New Reality

George Saunders is one of my favorite writers. His books include The Tenth of December, CivilWarLand in Bad Decline, Pastoralia, and my favorite, Lincoln in the Bardo. In case you don’t know, Saunders is one of the pre-eminent short story writers of our time. In addition, he is a professor of creative writing at Syracuse University. He is equal parts writer, teacher, and thinking, feeling human being.

Saunders recently wrote a short story entitled “Love Letter” that was published in The New Yorker. In the story, a grandfather is writing a letter to his grandson. The grandson’s friend (girlfriend?) is in trouble with the government, and the grandson has turned to the grandfather for advice. I thought it odd that Saunders decided to refer to many of the characters in the story only by the first initial of their first name, but as the letter to the grandson unfolds, the reason becomes clear.

The grandfather does his best to explain the fascist regime that has taken over the country without actually referring to the fascists or their behavior, presumably for fear of what could happen if the letter ever falls into the wrong hands. Perhaps the most heartbreaking part of the story is the grandfather’s attempts to explain why he and his wife didn’t do anything when the fascists first appeared.

“Seen in retrospect, yes: I have regrets. There was a certain critical period. I see that now. During that period, your grandmother and I were doing, every night, a jigsaw puzzle each, at that dining-room table I know you know well, we were planning to have the kitchen redone, were in the midst of having the walls out in the yard rebuilt at great expense, I was experiencing the first intimations of the dental issues I know you have heard so much (too much?) about. Every night, as we sat across from each other, doing those puzzles, from the TV in the next room blared this litany of things that had never before happened, that we could never have imagined happening, that were now happening, and the only response from the TV pundits was a wry, satirical smugness that assumed, as we assumed, that those things could and would soon be undone and that all would return to normal—that some adult or adults would arrive, as they had always arrived in the past, to set things right. It did not seem (and please destroy this letter after you have read it) that someone so clownish could disrupt something so noble and time-tested and seemingly strong, that had been with us literally every day of our lives. We had taken, in other words, a profound gift for granted. Did not know the gift was a fluke, a chimera, a wonderful accident of consensus and mutual understanding.”

As with all of Saunders’ writing, the prose  in “Love Letter” is subtle and nuanced. Even so, it is not difficult to figure out what country he is talking about and who the clownish one might be.

After stating his regrets, the grandfather goes on to advise the grandson to stay out of his friend’s problems. Interfering, the grandfather suggests, could just make things worse, not only for the friend, but also for the grandson, his parents, and grandparents. Thus, the man who did nothing to stop the fascists from taking control advises the grandson to do nothing to return the country to “normal.”

“Love Letter” is powerful, beautiful, heart-breaking and all too real. It should not only be read, but its morals and lessons, as subtle as they are, should be heeded.

As I mentioned, Saunders teaches creative writing at Syracuse University. Because the pandemic shut down colleges so quickly, he did not have an opportunity to say goodbye to his graduating students. So, he penned a letter to them. In it, he gave them some advice that is valuable, not only to his students, but to us all.

“We are (and especially you are) the generation that is going to have to help us make sense of this and recover afterward. What new forms might you invent, to fictionalize an event like this, where all of the drama is happening in private, essentially? Are you keeping records of the e-mails and texts you’re getting, the thoughts you’re having, the way your hearts and minds are reacting to this strange new way of living? It’s all important. Fifty years from now, people the age you are now won’t believe this ever happened (or will do the sort of eye roll we all do when someone tells us something about some crazy thing that happened in 1970.) What will convince that future kid is what you are able to write about this, and what you’re able to write about it will depend on how much sharp attention you are paying now, and what records you keep.”

Pay attention to what is going on around you, how you are feeling, how those feelings are manifested. We are not living through normal times. Someday, in a few years or many, we will need to explain to our children and grandchildren what life in 2020 was like. Others may try to gaslight this period in history. We must be witnesses to what truly happened.

Saunders goes on in the letter to share a beautiful metaphor that should bring some small measure of comfort to those of us freaking out over the changes we are living through.

“But I guess what I’m trying to say is that the world is like a sleeping tiger and we tend to live our lives there on its back. (We’re much smaller than the tiger, obviously. We’re like Barbies and Kens on the back of a tiger.) And now and then that tiger wakes up. And that is terrifying. Sometimes it wakes up and someone we love dies. Or someone breaks our heart. Or there’s a pandemic. But this is far from the first time that tiger has come awake. He/she has been doing it since the beginning of time and will never stop doing it. And always there have been writers to observe it and (later) make some sort of sense of it, or at least bear witness to it. It’s good for the world for a writer to bear witness, and it’s good for the writer, too. Especially if she can bear witness with love and humor and, despite it all, some fondness for the world, just as it is manifesting, warts and all.”

Never in our lifetimes have we lived through a time like we are living through right now. That is, unless you were alive for the Spanish Flu epidemic. Since most of us weren’t, this is all new territory. But, just as Saunders points out, everything is always changing. “It’s only when we expect solidity—non-change—that we get taken by surprise. (And we always expect solidity, no matter how well we know better.)”

The best we can do right now is be open, be kind, and work together. Unfortunately, there is a significant (or, at least, vocal) portion of the population that wants to fight their fellow citizens rather than fight the virus. They don’t want to listen to science. They don’t want to follow rules. They don’t care about anyone other than themselves.

In an email to me (and about a million other people), Saunders addressed these people and their profound misunderstanding of the word “freedom.”

“There seems to exist an American personality type that has taken a childhood resistance to being told to eat his or her vegetables and grown it into a political position—the type of person who has a tendency to misunderstand “freedom” as “being allowed to do exactly what I want, perpetually, no matter the effect of this on other people.” That attitude is more correctly called “being a brat” or “perma-juvenilia.” We have to get things up and running, of course; that’s a healthy aspiration and a humane one. But to simply put aside science to do it, out of boredom, is only going to make things worse in the long run, and harder on the working-class people this thing is affecting the most.”

Saunders then goes on to offer a metaphor that, although not perfect, captures the insanity of the people calling for an instant return to normality.

“Imagine a day at the beach. There’s a shark in the water. You say to me, “We’d better stay out of the water.” I agree. We stay out. The shark keeps circling. Then you start to get bored. Suddenly you start making justifications for going in (“It’s so hot! We came here to swim! It’s not right, to have a beach and have nobody swimming!”)

“With the difference, of course, that in real-life, that “shark” is contagious. So I guess the analogy would be: You go in, get eaten, turn into a shark, come out of the water (perhaps asymptomatically, i.e., no bite marks) then eat me and a few other people nearby. (Here my metaphor admittedly gets a little wobbly . . . ) But at least you are still “enjoying your sacred freedom.” And to top off a perfect day at the beach, you open the picnic basket and refuse to eat any and all vegetables in there. Victory! The Founders would be so proud.”

As I write this, the world is celebrating the 75th anniversary of VE Day, the day the Allies defeated the Nazis. My father was in Paris when Germany surrendered. He and the soldiers in his unit had spent the previous month liberating the Buchenwald and Dachau concentration camps, witnessing more horror in a month than anyone should witness in ten lifetimes. I can only imagine the joy and relief he and his fellow soldiers must have felt after six years of war (nearly four for U.S. troops). Their perseverance and dedication won the war and saved the world.

Now, imagine if, after a few months of fighting, they decided to give up. What if they had decided the war was no fun, they were bored, they wanted to go shopping, so they just walked away? Where would we be now, 75 years later? We’d be screwed, that’s where we’d be. And we’d be speaking German.

In his email, Saunders commented on the generation that fought World War II.

“What we admire about the Greatest Generation is the fact that people made very real personal sacrifices, responding to coherent leadership, to fight a very real evil. We can find coherent leadership in the medical professionals and local government officials. Let’s hope we can find the discipline to see this thing through like grown-ups.”

He also imagined what it would have been like if our founding fathers had acted like some are acting today.

“I know we committed to fighting the British and all, General Washington, but these pants are so tight. And just so you know? I am fighting for freedom, by taking these pants off, then going home. My freedom. Because that’s what I want to do! Don’t tread on me!”

Stay home! Stay safe! Be adults! Keep your pants on!


Thinking About Baseball

I miss baseball. Before our world was changed by the COVID-19 pandemic, I would routinely watch at least one baseball game each day. Sometimes more. Right now, we should be three weeks into the 2020 baseball season, and rather than writing this blog post, I should be watching a baseball game. Unfortunately, that’s not the world we’re living in right now.

To pass the time, and to scratch that baseball itch a little bit, people have been posting various baseball lists on Twitter. One I saw recently was a list of favorite players at each position. That’s not the best player at each position, but the author’s favorite player. That makes the list a little more interesting. Here’s what I came up with.

Starting Pitcher – There were a few possibilities here. I’ve always been a big fan of Pedro Martinez. In fact, if I had one game to win and my life depended on it, I think it would be Pedro that I would choose to start the game. I also have an unnatural affection for Orel Hershiser. I loved watching him pitch for the Dodgers in the late 80s, especially during the 1988 World Series. But my favorite starting pitcher of all time is Greg Maddux. Oddly, it’s not the Greg Maddux in a Cubs uniform, but the one pitching for the Braves. He was at the top of his game during his days in Atlanta, and to watch him pitch with (and compete against) John Smoltz and Tom Glavine, was a sight to behold.

Catcher – Growing up watching the Cubs, I was spoiled getting to watch Randy Hundley. To this day, I consider Hundley to be underrated. After him came Jody Davis, who was like a folk hero to Cubs fans, especially when Harry Carey would sing about him during broadcasts on WGN. Joe Girardi was another Cub who was a fan favorite because he was raised in Illinois and went to college at Northwestern, in the Chicago metro area. But my favorite catcher of all time isn’t a Cub, it’s a Pirate. For whatever reason, I have loved watching Francisco Cervelli catch. I liked his demeanor on the field, the hard-nosed way he plays the game, and his sense of humor. One season in Pittsburgh, Cervelli, who is of Italian descent, but was born and raised in Venezuela (Wikipedia lists him as Italo-Venezuelan), gave dating advice as part of a Pirates promotion. It was hilarious. Here’s a sample:

First Base – I liked Mark McGwire as much as the next guy. It was fun to watch him hit homeruns. But he was a great hitter that just happened to play first base. To me, a really great first baseman has to be good with the glove. I loved watching guys like Mark Grace and Will Clark play the field. Keith Hernandez might be the best defensive first baseman I’ve ever seen. In fact, I think there’s a legitimate argument that Hernandez should be in the Hall of Fame. But my favorite first baseman of all time is Anthony Rizzo. Sure, I’m showing both a Cubs and a recency bias, but, if you watch him play the game for any length of time, I think you’d have to agree that there’s a lot to like. He crowds the plate just daring the pitcher to throw inside, he hits bombs, and he can field as well as any first baseman in the game. But the thing that makes him my favorite is how he plays the game with so much joy. That’s important to me. It is a game after all, and you’re getting paid millions to play it. The least you can do is be happy about it.

Second Base – This one is easy. Ryne Sandberg is my favorite second baseman of all time. In fact, he’s my favorite player of all time. He was a great hitter, a great fielder (notice a trend here), and he was a humble superstar. Again, I’m showing my Cubs bias, but the guy is a Hall of Famer.

Shortstop – When I was young, every kid in my neighborhood would try to backhand ground balls, jump in the air, and throw the ball to first, just like Don Kessinger. Kessinger was a prototypical shortstop during his playing career. He was a slick fielding, weak hitting player. That’s what most shortstops were in the 1960s, 70s, and into the 80s. He was easy to like. But when I first saw Ozzie Smith play shortstop, I saw talent like I had never seen before. He was the best fielding shortstop the games has ever seen, and he made himself into a good hitter. And like many of my other favorite players, Ozzie played the game with joy.

Third Base – My favorite third baseman wasn’t a third baseman for most of his career. In fact, he played more games at three other positions than he did third, but to me, Pete Rose was a third baseman. That’s how I remember him. And before the gambling controversy booted Rose out of baseball, he was one of my favorite players to watch. He was hard-nosed, aggressive, and willing to do anything to get a hit, field a ball, or do anything else to win a game. I loved that about him. As a less that stellar player myself, I tried to emulate Rose to get the most out of my limited talent.

Left Field – One of the constraints I put on myself when putting this list together is that I had to actually see the player play. If not for that constraint, Stan Musial might be my favorite left fielder. As honored and beloved as Musial is, I still think he’s underrated. He was just so good at everything. But I can’t chose him, so who will it be? Near the top of the list are Billy Williams (Cubs bias), Lou Brock, and Hideki Matsui. But my favorite left fielder is Lance Berkman. I have to admit, this answer didn’t come easy. Berkman played more games at first than he did in left, but I remember him early in his career with the Astros, and always remember him being a terrific hitter. Don’t get me wrong, Berkman could field too, but he is one of the few players on this list who was known as more of a hitter than a fielder.

Center Field – This is an easy one to answer, but a hard one to justify. I was a big fan of both Willie Mays and Ken Griffey Jr. They were both fantastic all-around ball players, and were a blast to watch. Andruw Jones was a wizard with the glove, and there isn’t anything that Mike Trout can’t do. But my favorite center fielder of all time is Jim Edmonds. He could hit, but it was his fielding that drew me to him. He was so graceful in the field, it was like watching poetry in motion. Okay, that’s probably overkill, but he was really good with the glove.

Right Field – How could Henry Aaron not be my favorite right fielder. He was an all-around great player, and a greart person to boot. I hold Aaron in extremely high regard, but he’s not my favorite right fielder. I could say the exact same thing about Frank Robinson, another player that is held in high esteem, but to my mind, is still underrated. Vladimir Guerrero was a hoot to watch, and Mookie Betts might end up being one of the greatest players of all time. But my favorite right fielder of all time is Ichiro Suzuki. There wasn’t anything that Ichiro couldn’t do. He could hit, field, throw, and he was fast. And as amazing as he was, his best days as a player may have been in Japan, before he came to the states.


Deep Dive: Deadwood (Book, HBO Series, Movie) (Part 2)

In part 1 of this deep dive into Deadwood—the HBO show, movie,  and the Pete Dexter novel—I looked into the facts and fiction of the characters, the places, and the storylines. But part 1 only scratched the surface. In part 2, I look at several more real life characters and their stories. I also include a list of those characters that played a role in the HBO series, but who were strictly fictional.

Wyatt Earp played a small part in the HBO show. Wyatt and his brother, Morgan, arrive in camp claiming some heroic deed (the specifics escape me at the moment). When Morgan shoots one of the men Hearst has hired to create chaos among the citizenry, Bullock suggests the Earp brothers leave town. They agree and are never heard from again.

This episode never occurred, but in real life, Wyatt Earp did have two interactions with Deadwood. The first occurred in September 1876 when Wyatt and Morgan arrived in Deadwood planning to lease a mining claim. However, when they arrived, there were no claims to be leased. Morgan decided to return to Dodge City (from whence they had come, and where Wyatt had been a deputy marshal), and Wyatt stayed for the winter, hauling wood into camp with his team of horses. When no mine lease came available in the spring, Wyatt also returned to Dodge City.

Wyatt’s path crossed with Bullock’s in 1905 after President Theodore Roosevelt appointed Bullock U.S. Marshal for South Dakota. Earp was interested in becoming the sheriff in Deadwood, but Bullock was opposed to the idea. Earp, who was a deputy marshal in Dodge City with a reputation for heavy-handed enforcement of the law, traveled to Deadwood, only to be told by Bullock that they wouldn’t be needing his services. There was some fear that Earp wouldn’t react well to Bullock’s rejection, but Earp stayed calm. He simply returned to Dodge City, never to return to Deadwood again.

Although George Hearst wasn’t mentioned in Dexter’s book, the TV show and movie made him out to be one of the biggest villains in Deadwood history. So, what did they get right?

George Hearst was incredibly wealthy from his mining interests in California, Nevada, Utah, New Mexico, and Montana, as well as from the Homestake Mine near Deadwood. He also became a senator in California, as was portrayed in Deadwood: The Movie.

Hearst was known to be ruthless when it came to his mining interests, having his employees beaten and challenging anyone who stood in his way. However, there’s no reason to believe that he was as violent as he was portrayed in the TV show. For the most part, Hearst tried to get along with the locals in any of the towns where he held mining leases.

Hearst did send an agent to Deadwood to investigate the possibility of buying mine claims. However, his name was not Francis Wolcott and he did not kill a prostitute. The real-life agent’s name was L.D. Kellogg. Kellogg is the man who purchased the Homestake claim for $70,000 from Mose Manuel, Fred Manuel and Hank Harney on behalf of George Hearst.


Fun Fact: The same actor, Garrett Dillahunt, played Jack McCall and Francis Wolcott in the HBO series, Deadwood. He also played an unnamed angry drunk in Deadwood: The Movie


One person I haven’t mentioned yet is E.B Farnum. In the TV show, E.B. was portrayed as a bit of a buffoon, eccentric and endlessly greedy. He owned the Grand Central Hotel, which he eventually sold to George Hearst for $100,000. In real life, he was anything but a buffoon.

Ethan Bennett (E.B.) Farnum was born in 1826 in Massachusetts. He moved to Wisconsin and was appointed postmaster of Walworth County.  In 1876, he moved his wife and three kids to Deadwood, where he was one of the first non-mining residents. Rather than a hotel, Farnum opened a general store upon arriving in Deadwood. Sensing the growth of the town, he also acquired several vacant lots on Main Street. He was instrumental in convincing the U.S. Army to locate a camp near Deadwood, and he was the driving force behind raising taxes that helped fund a pest house (to quarantine those with smallpox) and a toll road, to ensure the town would be able to get the supplies they needed. The taxes also helped Farnum in establishing a system of street cleaning, a fire department, a public school, and telegraph facilities.

Farnum was the first mayor of Deadwood, and he served as the head of the school board. He also served as justice of the peace. However, shortly after losing his bid to remain justice of the peace, he and his family moved to Chicago. It’s unclear exactly when they left, but it appears that Farnum was still in Deadwood for the big fire in September 1879. After Chicago, Farnum moved to Maury County, Tennessee, where he is believed to have died.


Fun Fact: In the HBO series, the “E.B.” in E.B. Farnum stands for Eustace Bailey.

In real life, it stands for Ethan Bennett


John Sewell (Jack) Langrishe is a fairly odd character in the TV show, the book, and in real life. Just as in real life, the book and TV show portrayed Jack as a stage actor and proprietor of a theater company. In the book, Dexter made it clear that Jack was gay. It wasn’t quite as clear in the TV show, although others claim it was obvious he was gay. In real life, Jack wasn’t gay, or at least there’s no reason to think he was gay. He was married, and he and his wife were partners in the theater company.

Before building a permanent theater, Jack’s theater company operated out of the Bella Union. They continued to entertain Deadwood residents until the great Deadwood fire in 1879. Jack and wife moved to Leadville, Colorado where they performed at the Tabor Opera House. Eventually, they moved to Idaho, where Jack gave up the stage and turned to politics, serving first as justice of the peace in Coeur d’Alene, and then as a state senator. In 1892, he founded the Wardner News newspaper in Wardner, Idaho. He died there in 1895.


Fun Fact: On the HBO series, the Bella Union was a bar, gambling hall, and brothel. In real life,

it was a grand theater that featured plays, concerts, and boxing matches.


I talked a little bit about Sol Star previously, but let’s look a little closer at the man and the character. In the TV show, Sol was in love with Trixie, a prostitute at the Gem Theater. In the book, he was in love with a Chinese prostitute. This was apparently out of character for Sol (he had a wife back in Montana). Bullock did his best to protect his friend and business partner, but that didn’t stop Sol from tracking down the prostitute’s killer and returning the favor.

Of course, none of this is true. In real life, Sol was a pillar of the community. He was a successful businessman who served Deadwood on the first town council, became town postmaster, and served for fourteen years as mayor. He was elected to the South Dakota House of Representatives in 1889, serving two years, then served as Lawrence County Clerk of Courts for twenty years. He died in 1917 in Deadwood.


Fun Fact: The fire of 1879 destroyed more than 300 buildings in Deadwood


Dan Doherty (spelled Dority in the HBO series) and Johnny Burns were both based on real people. They both worked for Al Swearengen at the Gem Theater. In real life, Johnny was known as a box herder, the person in charge of the prostitutes at a brothel. Unlike the gentle-hearted character in the HBO show, Johnny was actually quite brutal. He was known to routinely abuse his charges in order to keep them in line.

Dan Doherty worked as general manager of the Gem Theater and, like Johnny Burns, was hard on the prostitutes that worked there. However, Dan had bigger ambitions in real life than he had on the show. In 1877, after having a falling out with Swearengen, Dan quit the Gem and started his own saloon with Johnny Cooley. He later married, eventually moving with his wife to Nevada.

Calamity Jane Cannery is an unusual character, both in real life and in fiction. She worked as a scout for the U.S. Army, was an Indian fighter, as well as an occasional prostitute at several different brothels. Jane was known to be a nurse and comforter to the sick, including those suffering from smallpox in Deadwood’s pest tents. She married “Wild Bill” Hickok, and they had one child, a daughter, who was adopted by an Army captain and his wife..

What is fact and what is fiction when it comes to Calamity Jane is difficult to determine. Much of what is known about her comes from an autobiographical pamphlet she dictated for publicity purposes. Almost all of her claims are challenged, including her marriage to Wild Bill.

Those close to Bill claimed that he had no use for Jane. However, in 1941, a woman by the name of Jean Hickok Burkhardt McCormick applied for and was granted old age assistance by the U.S. Department of Public Welfare. At the time, she claimed that she was the biological daughter of Martha Jane “Calamity Jane” Cannery and James Butler “Wild Bill” Hickok. To prove her assertion, she presented a family Bible that contained documentation of Jane and Bill’s 1873 marriage at Benson’s Landing, Montana Territory. The Bible was signed by two ministers and several witnesses.

McCormick published a book of letters that purportedly were written by Jane and sent to McCormick. The letters spoke of Jane’s love for Bill, their marriage, and McCormick’s adoption. However, there is reason to believe those letters were forgeries. Jane was illiterate, barely able to write her name. Because of this, many historians dispute the authenticity of McCormick’s letters.

What we do know for certain about Jane was that she was an alcoholic. There are many stories about her drinking and public drunkenness. On the final day of her life, Jane was riding on an ore train to Terry, South Dakota, drinking heavily. She took sick and had to be carried from the train to her room at the Calloway Hotel, where she died. She was just fifty-one years old. As was her dying wish, she is buried next to Wild Bill at Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.

In the HBO series, Jane is portrayed as gay, entering into a relationship with Joanie Stubbs, a prostitute and brothel owner. Joanie is a fictional character, and there is little reason to believe that Jane was a lesbian in real life.

Also in the HBO series, Jane befriended an African-American man by the name of Samuel Fields, who claimed to be a General in the Union Army during the Civil War. Fields was a real person who lived in Deadwood at the same time Jane was there. However, it is unknown if their paths crossed or if they were friends.

In the show, Fields also interacts with Aunt Lou, George Hearst’s black cook. Hearst brings her with him when he settles in Deadwood. Although Aunt Lou is a real person, she didn’t work for George Hearst.

Lucretia “Aunt Lou” Marchbanks was born a slave in Tennessee. She traveled with the daughter of her master, first to Colorado, then to California, where she lived and worked in gold camps. She returned to Tennessee following the Civil War, a free woman.

Life in the gold camps appealed to her, so she traveled west once again to Deadwood, finding work as the kitchen manager at the Grand Central Hotel. Because of Aunt Lou, the Grand Central became known much more as a restaurant than a hotel. After leaving the Grand Central, Aunt Lou worked for a succession of mine superintendents before landing a job as a cook at the Golden Gate Mine in Lead, South Dakota. From there, she went to work as the manager of Rustic Hotel at the DeSmet Mine, before going to work in a boarding house owned by Harry Gregg.

In 1883, Aunt Lou started her own hotel and restaurant near Deadwood. Her cooking and hospitality were well known, being written about in the Black Hills Mining News, and spoken about at the New York Stock Exchange. She even won a diamond ring when she was voted the most popular woman in the Black Hills.

In 1885, Aunt Lou sold her hotel and moved to Rockyford, Wyoming where she started a cattle and horse ranch. She managed the ranch until her death in 1911.


Fun Fact: As many as 400 Chinese lived in Deadwood in an area known as the “Badlands.”

They had their own mayor and city council, as well as their own police and fire departments.


Albert Walter (A.W.) Merrick was born in New York and moved to Nebraska, where he owned and published the Cuming City Star. Although records are scarce, it appears that he sold the newspaper in 1860 and went off to fight with the Union Army during the Civil War. Upon his return, he re-purchased the newspaper and continued to publish it until he moved to the Black Hills of South Dakota.

In the HBO series, Merrick was portrayed as a bumbling fool. Not so in real life. In 1876 he started the Black Hills Weekly Pioneer newspaper with W.A. Laughlin. He was married and had five children. His oldest, a son, died in Deadwood in 1880.

A.W. Merrick died in 1902 in Deadwood and is buried in the Mt. Moriah Cemetery. The re-named Black Hills Pioneer is still in operation today.


Fun Fact: Jack Langrishe’s theater company put on shows at the Bella Union

before building their own theater


Tom Nuttall is portrayed in the HBO series as one of Deadwood’s first residents. This is historically accurate. Nuttall co-owned Nuttall’s and Mann’s No. 10 Saloon, the bar where Wild Bill Hickok was killed. The following year, Nuttall partnered with Tom Miller, the owner of the Bella Union in Deadwood. Nuttall managed the business before following the mining boom to Leadville, Colorado, where he opened another establishment called the Bella Union. Things started to unravel for Nuttall in Leadville. His wife left him, and he moved on to New Mexico. In 1882, he was arrested for a gambling violation. Little is known about Nuttall after his arrest.

In the HBO show, Reverend Henry Weston Smith was an itinerant preacher who wandered around Deadwood preaching the gospel and doing good deeds for its citizens. When he gets sick, Doc Cochran diagnoses him with a lesion on his brain. The lesion makes the good reverend speak nonsensically and have frequent seizures. He eventually loses his ability to walk or stand. The lesion eventually kills him. However, in real life, that’s not how Reverend Smith’s life ended.

Henry Weston Smith was born in Connecticut. He was married in 1847, and in 1848, his young wife and infant son died. In his grief, he turned to religion, becoming a Methodist minister. He remarried several years later and had four children. He served in the Union Army during the Civil War and became a doctor. In 1876, Reverend Smith became the first minister in the Black Hills. He did not have a church, instead ministering to his flock in the streets. In August 1876, Reverend Smith, along with three other men, were attacked and killed by Indians between Deadwood and Crook City. Smith was forty-nine years old at the time of his death. He is buried in the Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.


Fun Fact: Martha Bullock (Seth’s wife) is credited with bringing arts and culture to Deadwood


In the HBO show, Con Stapleton is partners in crime with his friend, Leon, an opium addict and sometimes dealer. They both work for Cy Tolliver, owner of the Bella Union. However, Leon and Cy are both fictional characters. Con, on the other hand, was very real (although the horrible hernia he suffered from in the show probably wasn’t).

In the show, Con is appointed the first Sheriff of Deadwood after begging Al Swearengen for the job (along with Tom Nuttall’s help). In real life, Con, who emigrated from Ireland, was elected sheriff after the previous sheriff, Isaac Brown, was killed by Indians in the same attack that killed Reverend Smith.

Stapleton was at the table playing cards when Wild Bill was killed by Jack McCall. But that wasn’t the only interesting event he was involved in while in Deadwood. As sheriff, Stapleton was in a bar when a man with a gun came running in. The man threatened several patrons before Sheriff Stapleton tried to disarm him. Stapleton grabbed the gun and wrestled it away from the man, but not before the gun discharged and struck David Lunt, a friend of Stapleton’s. The bullet entered Lunt’s forehead and exited the back of his head, knocking him to the ground. Everyone was amazed when Lunt stood up and claimed he was fine. More than two months later, Lunt was still alive. However, he began to experience terrible headaches, and eventually died, sixty-seven days after being shot in the head.

Stapleton remained sheriff for about a year, but after Seth Bullock was appointed county sheriff, many of Stapleton’s previous duties were assumed by Bullock. As a result, the town sheriff position was eliminated. Out of a job, Stapleton moved to Leadville, Colorado along with others who were following the mining rush. Sadly, Stapleton died from unknown causes eight months after arriving in Colorado. He was just thirty-one years old.

There were several characters in the HBO show that didn’t actually exist in real life. They include (in alphabetical order):

Silas Adams


William Bullock


Doc Cochran

Andy Cramed

Whitney Ellsworth

Steve Fields

Alma Garret

Brom Garret



Hugo Jarry

Alice Isringhausen




Harry Manning

Sofia Metz (The Metz family was massacred, just like in the HBO series. However, an adult male survived the attack, not a young girl.)

Pete Richardson

Eddie Sawyer

Joanie Stubbs

Cy Tolliver

Captain Joe Turner

Trixie (There was at least one prostitute in Deadwood named Trixie (or Trixsie), but it doesn’t appear the Trixie in the HBO show is based on her.)

Francis Wolcott

Caroline Woolgarden

Mr. Wu