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!

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

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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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

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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.

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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.

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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.

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

before building their own theater

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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.

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

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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

Blazanov

William Bullock

Claudia

Doc Cochran

Andy Cramed

Whitney Ellsworth

Steve Fields

Alma Garret

Brom Garret

Hawkeye

Hostetler

Hugo Jarry

Alice Isringhausen

Jewel

Leon

Maddie

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

 

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COVID-19 Thoughts and Questionnaire

There’s a guy I follow on Twitter by the name of Craig Calcaterra. Craig is an interesting guy. He’s nominally a sportswriter, writing about baseball for NBC Sports, but he writes at least as much about politics as he does baseball. He is an unapologetic liberal who is surprisingly even-handed in his criticism of politicians of all stripes who put their own interests ahead of their constituents.

Craig is a lawyer by training, and he appears to have more than his fair share of neuroses, which he is very open and honest about in his writing. During the current pandemic we are living through, he has been keeping an online diary of what life is like in the time of COVID-19. I have really enjoyed his diary entries. Sometimes, they make me feel better, knowing that what I am going through is being shared by millions of other people. Sometimes, his diary entries make me sad or angry, particularly when he points out how chaotic and ineffective the federal government’s response to the pandemic has been. Unlike Craig, I normally don’t write about politics, but even the most apolitical observer can see how incompetent the POTUS and his minions have been during this crisis.

A friend of Craig’s who is an amateur genealogist and historian made the comment to him that lots of people are writing about official COVID-19 statistics and taking photos of the meals they are making, but those aren’t things that people in the future will want to know about our current pandemic. As a result, Craig’s friend came up with a questionnaire that is designed to elicit more relevant information about our lives during this time of crisis. I’ve answered the questions below. I’d encourage you to do the same.

When was the last day you went into work?

I don’t remember the exact date, but it was in early March. I own a small business, and I usually don’t go into the office unless there is a specific reason for me to be there. We closed the office to face-to-face meetings on March 17, 2020 as a result of the pandemic, and it has remained closed since then. However, we continue operating, working with customers over the phone and via email.

When did your state or city order everyone to stay at home?

My business is in Wisconsin, but I’ve been riding out the pandemic in Florida. In Wisconsin, we were encouraged early on to stay at home. However, people in my small community got ahead of the curve and started shutting down even before Governor Evers issued his order. The people in our county have been fantastic about following the order and being smart. As a result, we still have not recorded a single case of coronavirus.

Florida is another story. Until the past few days, Governor DeSantis has been reluctant to issue a stay-at-home order. As a result, beaches have been crowded (especially during spring break), stores have remained busy, and people have continued to go out and about. That has been changing little by little. People have started to act more appropriately to the times, and the Governor finally issued a stay-at-home order last week, after Florida began showing signs that the virus was getting a foothold in the state.

Has there been a particular change to your lifestyle that has been difficult to make or accept?

Overall, no. I spend a good deal of time by myself, writing, so the pandemic hasn’t changed that. However, I often go to restaurants or bars with friends, and that has stopped. I miss it, and I look forward to eventually getting back out for a good meal and a few drinks. The sacrifices I have made have been small and of little consequence to my lifestyle.

What do you miss most?

I miss seeing my girlfriend and my kids. My girlfriend lives over an hour away from me, and until recently, she worked a medical job where she dealt, hands-on, with elderly people. It didn’t seem like a good idea to drive up to see her, considering the circumstances. She was furloughed a little over a week ago, but we still haven’t seen each other. My kids are in Tennessee. My daughter lives in Nashville and my son is a student at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. We text with each other every day, but I miss seeing them, which I did every 4-8 weeks before the pandemic.

What is the most unusual thing you have noticed since the crisis began?

There are a couple of things. First, the run on toilet paper seems weird to me. Stockpiling toilet paper is the sign of a very confused, desperate nation. Which leads right into the second weird thing I’ve noticed. It’s weird to me that any politician or leader could not only be so inept at running a crisis operation, but that every day, they would double down on their ineptitude. I can understand making mistakes, even though most of the mistakes I have seen are far from innocent, but I can’t understand making mistakes, having those mistakes pointed out in the press, and then going to great lengths the following day to magnify them. As a nation, we are witnessing a lack of leadership and a plethora of incompetence like we have never seen in our county’s history. It is embarrassing, disgraceful, and indefeasible.

Do you know anyone who has COVID-19?

Two people. One is a friend’s mother. Although I hope and pray for the best for her, I fear the worst. She is elderly and not in the best of health to begin with. I fear that her immune system will not stand a chance against the virus. I hope I’m wrong.

The second person is me, or, at least I think I had it. I’m hesitant to say this because I don’t want to shine a spotlight on me or gain any sympathy. That’s not my goal. However, I went on a cruise at the beginning of December and got really sick while out at sea. I had a horrible sore throat, fever, body aches, and shortness of breath. I also had a weird rattle in my throat that I’ve never experienced before.

The symptoms continued after I returned home, and I eventually went to the doctor. I was tested for the flu, strep throat, and pneumonia, but all the tests came back negative. I was given antibiotics for an assumed sinus infection, but they didn’t help. The symptoms continued through December and January, finally going away in early February. Did I have COVID-19? We’ll never know for sure. All I know is that I was much sicker than I ever have been with the flu, and I just couldn’t shake the symptoms.

Do you know anyone who has died from complications from COVID-19?

No.

How long do you think it will be before the stay-at-home order is lifted in your community?

In Wisconsin, I wouldn’t be surprised if the order continues through the end of May, maybe around Memorial Day or June 1. I wouldn’t be surprised if in Florida, the order is lifted at the end of April. The government in Florida has really not taken the pandemic as seriously as they should. Governor DeSantis seems to be of the mind that the necessary cure (social distancing) is worse than the disease. So, it wouldn’t surprise me if he lifted the stay-at-home order as a way of rescuing the economy, the virus and the people it impacts be damned.

Will you immediately return to your normal routine after the stay-at-home order is lifted? Or will you wait before returning to normal? If you’ll wait, how much longer will you do so?

I think I’ll probably go back to my normal routine—or something close to it—once the stay-at-home order is lifted. I miss seeing my loved ones, and I know I’ll be anxious to visit them, whether the stay-at-home order is lifted in April, May, or sometime beyond. Having said that, I won’t be rushing out if it looks like the order is lifted prematurely. Getting back to the old routine will have to make sense.

What’s the first thing you want to do once the stay-at-home order is lifted?

Take my girlfriend out for a good, restaurant-prepared meal. Then, I want to go see my kids. Somewhere in between, I need to get a haircut.

Have you been ordering food out from local restaurants (carry-out or delivery)?

Some, but not as much as I should. I’m concerned about the local restaurants. I’d like to keep ordering from them to help them through this tough time, but I also have health concerns with doing that. It’s a struggle I think about every day. I fear that many restaurants will not be able to come back after the pandemic has ended. The restaurant business is super tough to begin with. Add in a month or three of a pandemic, and it becomes even tougher. I should order pizza this weekend.

How often have you been going to the grocery store?

I go every 10-14 days. I’ve done a poor job of planning out my meals. If I did a better job, I could probably go less often.

Will you wear a mask when you go out?

Probably not. For some reason, I view wearing a mask out in public as a type of surrender. That’s probably a weird way to view it, but it seems like a step too close to living in a post-apocalyptic world. I’m not ready to accept that yet.

Do you think other people have been taking this crisis seriously?

Overall, yes. Speaking generally, I think most people have done a fantastic job of social distancing and being responsible. However, there are those people who have made light of what we are going through.

On a micro level, my own girlfriend has refused to stay home the way she should. She routinely runs out to stores, walks around her neighborhood talking to neighbors, and visits her daughter and grandchild often. I completely understand her desire to get out and about. She is not the type of person who easily sits and does nothing. However, we live in unusual times, and I’m not sure it’s a  good idea to continue old routines (She’s going to kill me when she reads this).

On a macro level, there have been a lot of politicians and political pundits who have not taken this pandemic nearly seriously enough. To name a few:

  • Sen. Rand Paul (R-Kentucky) insisted on working out in a closed gym, even after being tested. His excuse was that he hadn’t yet been told he had coronavirus. After infecting the gym, he got the word that he tested positive.
  • Bill de Blasio, mayor of New York, has done a couple of different boneheaded things, despite the fact that he is mayor of the city that is at the epicenter of the coronavirus outbreak in the United States.
  • And there are many, including the President, who have referred to the pandemic as a hoax, a liberal plot to bring down the president, and no worse than the flu.
  • Many of these people, including Rep. Devin Nunes (R-California), have continued making irresponsible statements despite contradictory scientific evidence.
  • Fox News has been among the worst offenders, spreading misinformation that is based totally in fantasy. They have contradicted easily verifiable evidence in an attempt to prop up the POTUS. In the process, they have endangered the lives of millions of Americans.

Do you think people have been over-reacting to this situation?

Generally speaking, no. Considering the circumstances, it’s hard to overreact. I did read a story this morning about a couple that committed murder-suicide because they thought the wife had coronavirus. As it turned out, she didn’t. But even if she had, a murder-suicide pact is an overreaction.

How many people do you think will eventually die from COVID-19?

In the United States, I expect that we will see deaths in the high five figure range, maybe 75,000 – 90,000 COVID-19 related deaths. However, with the way we are testing, severely limiting the number of people who can get tested, it will be difficult to determine who actually died from COVID-19. I think we’ll have an official count of around 75,000 – 90,000, but the actual figure will be much higher.

Do you think schools will reopen this year?

I don’t think so. It seems like an unnecessary risk.

Do you think that summer sports like baseball will occur?

I read this morning that MLB is considering a plan to run an abbreviated season using spring training ballparks in Arizona as the location for the games. I love baseball and want to see the season get underway. But honestly, forcing the season to take place, even an abbreviated season, under the current conditions, seems irresponsible. Think about the number of people that would be necessary to run each game. There are 25 players on each team, managers, coaches, training staff, equipment staff, umpires, catering service people, TV broadcast crews, etc. That’s easily 100 people or more in close proximity to one another. Multiply that by fifteen games per day. And what happens when the first person is diagnosed with coronavirus. Are the games cancelled and the participants quarantined? To me, it seems like too much of a risk. However, there’s a lot of money on the line, so it will probably happen.

What is one thing you’ve done during this crisis that you don’t usually do?

I’m eating at home much more often. Although I miss going out, I have to admit that I’ve enjoyed cooking my own food and eating at home. I’ve even saved a little money. I’ve also started watching online auto racing on TV and YouTube. I’ve enjoyed it more than I expected.

Is there anything that has changed in your life since this crisis began that you hope to keep after the crisis ends?

I think I’ll probably eat at home more often, and I might continue to watch online auto racing. I hope I don’t sit around as much as I have  during the pandemic. I’m getting too used to doing nothing.

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The Latest on “The Ones That Got Away”

For a change, I have some good news concerning my next book. I finally finished it!

The book went off to the editor (again) a couple of weeks ago. He made quick work of the manuscript, sent it back to me, and I made the necessary changes.

Recently, the manuscript was sent off for final proof reading, and copies of the book have been sent to beta readers. The next step is to get a book cover. That should happen in the next two or three weeks.

As we get closer to the publication date (6/1/20) I’ll have more news for you, including a synopsis of the story and a cover reveal. Things are starting to get exciting!

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Interpreting Kurt Vonnegut’s “Long Walk to Forever”

In 1968, Kurt Vonnegut publish a short story collection entitled Welcome to The Monkey House. The most mainstream of the stories, “Long Walk to Forever,” wasn’t his favorite. In fact, he disliked the story and was afraid it would overshadow his other work in the collection.

Vonnegut wrote the story as a sort-of tribute to his relationship with Jane Cox, the woman he pursued and married after returning home from a prisoner of war camp in Dresden, Germany following World War II. The story, which is semi-autobiographical, is about a soldier who goes AWOL to convince, in his own way, a woman to abandon her fiancé and marry him.

“Long Walk to Forever” was originally published in Ladies Home Journal, which only made Vonnegut dislike the story more. In the introduction to the story in Welcome to the Monkey House, Vonnegut wrote:

“In honor of the marriage that worked I include in this collection a sickeningly slick love story from The Ladies Home Journal, God help us, entitled by them “Long Walk to Forever.’ The title I gave it, I think, was “Hell to Get Along With.”

In a New York Times review, critic Michael Levitas didn’t care much for the story either. He wrote:

“This Vonnegut is obviously a lovable fellow. Moreover, he’s right about the story, which is indeed a sickening and slick little nothing about a soldier who goes AWOL in order—How to say it?—to sweep his girl from the steps of the alter into his strong and loving arms.”

Despite the author’s and critic’s disdain for the story, several people have adapted Vonnegut’s story to create short films. It’s amazing how different the interpretations are. The first one is from filmmaker David Seininger and was made in 1996. It remains very close to Vonnegut’s actual story.

The second one comes from director Dale Watts. He moves the story to England, but otherwise makes few changes.

The third film comes from director Travis Jones. He has a much more modern, urban interpretation. He also took the unusual approach of not having any dialogue. Even so, the story still works.

Long Walk To Forever from Travis Jones on Vimeo.

Jordan Bianchi’s interpretation is another unusual one. His film has what I would call “montage dialogue” (I just made up that phrase) to tell the story. I didn’t think it was particularly effective, but you may disagree.

Finally, director Jessica Hester offers a very straight-forward, period appropriate take on Vonnegut’s story. Below is the trailer to her film. You can find the full film here.

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Deep Dive: Deadwood (Book, HBO Series, and Movie) (Part 1)

In an earlier post, I confessed my love for the HBO series, Deadwood. The series was near-perfect, in both character development and storytelling. One of the things I noted about the show in that earlier post was that almost everything about the show felt realistic. What I meant by that was that the people running Deadwood never strayed too far outside the bounds of history and believability. Many of the characters were real. They had actually lived and participated in the early days of Deadwood and the Dakota Territory.

Many years ago, I read a novel entitled Deadwood by Pete Dexter (published in 1986). Like the HBO series, Dexter’s novel was gritty and realistic. After watching the series for a second time, I re-read Dexter’s book. I liked it just as much as I did the first time (five stars on Goodreads), but I noticed differences, both big and small, between the book and the TV show.

I often wondered if David Milch and the creators of the HBO show used Dexter’s book as research or inspiration. I had the good fortune to have a Twitter conversation about this with W. Earl Brown, the actor who played Dan Dority, and is a continuing promoter of the HBO series. He was not only an actor, he also was a writer on the show, earning a Writers Guild of America Award nomination in the process.

Brown indicated that after securing his role, he purchased a copy of Dexter’s book. However, before he could read it, David Milch encouraged everyone involved with the show not to read any works of fiction related to Deadwood. Milch said he didn’t want other’s fiction to subliminally guide the work they were doing on the show. Brown commented that enough time has passed now, and he’d like to read the book.

***

Fun Fact: W. Earl Brown received an MFA in Acting from The Theater School at DePaul University.

His classmates included John C. Reilly and Gillian Anderson.

***

One of the things that interests me most about Deadwood—both the show and the book—is who was real and who wasn’t. And of those characters that were real, how accurate the portrayal was compared to their real lives.

For instance, we know that Wild Bill Hickok was a real person. He was born James Butler Hickok in 1837 in Homer, Illinois, about a hundred miles west-southwest of Chicago. Since then, the town has been renamed Troy Grove. He left Illinois at the age of 18 after a getting into a fight with a man named Charles Hudson. He mistakenly thought he had killed Hudson and hightailed it to Kansas to avoid arrest.

He took on his brother’s name, “William”—presumably while running from the law—and gave himself the nickname “Wild Bill.” The reason he gave himself a nickname was because he didn’t like the nicknames others gave him. For instance, he had been called “Duck Bill” because of his long nose and protruding lips. He had also been called “Shanghai Bill” because of his height and slim build.

In March 1876, Hickok married Agnes Thatcher Lake, a circus proprietor eleven years his senior. A few months later he departed for Deadwood. He had been diagnosed with glaucoma shortly before marrying, and he was going to Deadwood for the supposed purpose of staking a gold claim.

Hickok arrived in Deadwood as part of Charlie Utter’s wagon train in July 1876. Also on that wagon train was Martha Jane Cannery, better known as Calamity Jane. Rather than working to stake a claim, Bill spent his time gambling.

On August 1, 1876, Bill was playing poker at Nuttal & Mann’s Saloon No. 10. Also at the table was a man by the name of Jack McCall. Bill won a lot of money from McCall that day, and when McCall, drunk and dejected, quit the game, Bill offered him enough money to get breakfast. McCall took the money, but was insulted that Bill treated him like a charity case.

The following day, Bill was again at Nuttal & Mann’s, but his usual seat was taken, so he sat in another chair with his back to the room. He didn’t see McCall enter the bar, come up behind him, and point a gun at his head. McCall screamed, “Damn you! Take that!” and shot Bill in the back of the head, killing him instantly. At the time of his death, Bill was holding two pair, eights and aces. Since then, that hand has been known as “dead man’s hand.”

In the HBO show, they stick pretty close to the actual story, although they exaggerated the number and intensity of the interactions between Hickok and McCall. The book takes a different tact. Dexter ignored the true story and had McCall kill Hickok at the behest of someone else.

In both the book and the TV show, Bill writes a letter to his wife shortly before his death. In the letter, he writes, “Agnes Darling, if such should be we never meet again, while firing my last shot, I will gently breathe the name of my wife—Agnes—and with wishes even for my enemies I will make the plunge and try to swim to the other shore.” According to the book, Famous Last Words by Laura Ward, Bill, in fact, did write those words in a letter to his wife shortly before his death.

Because of this letter, and the fact that Bill uncharacteristically sat with his back to the room, some historians posit that Bill was suicidal, inviting someone to shoot him. They argue that, because of his worsening glaucoma, Bill could not stomach the thought of being dependent on others to see for him. In addition, the glaucoma took away his only two ways of making a living, shooting and playing cards.

Although the HBO series stuck to the storyline of Bill losing his eyesight, the Dexter book intimated that, in addition to failing eyesight, Bill had prostate problems and/or venereal disease, although Dexter never called it that. Instead, Bill went to a doctor for a “blood disease” that effected his urinary tract, making it difficult to urinate. The cure prescribed to him was mercury, rubbed liberally over his body. Of course, we know now that mercury causes illness, it doesn’t cure it. The treatment sounds horrible, potentially worse than the disease, but it appears that Bill didn’t suffer this fate in real life.

Little is known about Hickok’s assassin, Jack McCall. He was born in the 1850s in Kentucky, and eventually moved west to hunt buffalo. In the show, McCall was a degenerate gambler and drunk. In the book, he was a cat wrangler, working for a business that rented cats to people with rat or mouse problems. McCall was the one who rounded up the cats and delivered them to customers. In both the show and the book, McCall was mentally weak, if not brain damaged. In real life, he was cowardly, but there’s no indication he was mentally challenged.

After shooting Hickok, McCall was tried by an impromptu court in Deadwood and found not guilty. He claimed that he had shot Hickok as revenge for Hickok shooting his brother. However, records indicate that McCall did not have a brother. He left Deadwood and relocated to the Wyoming Territory, where he bragged about killing Hickok. Unfortunately for him, Wyoming authorities arrested him again, claiming that the court in Deadwood didn’t have jurisdiction. McCall was transferred to Yankton, South Dakota where he was convicted of murder. In March 1877, Wild Bill’s killer was hanged.

In the HBO show, Seth Bullock and Charlie Utter set out after McCall when he flees Deadwood following his acquittal in the first trial. However, that’s not how it happened. To be sure, Hickok and Utter were friends. At the time of Hickok’s murder, Utter was out of town. In the book, he had traveled to Cheyenne to challenge the current pony express company to a race in a bid to take over their business. Utter wins the race, but, heartbroken over Wild Bill’s death, he never does start up a delivery company.

In the HBO show, again, Utter is in Cheyenne competing for the pony express business. When he returns, after avenging Bill’s murder, he starts a delivery company.

As for Bullock, it’s unlikely he ever really met Hickok in real life. He arrived in camp on August 1, 1876 and Hickock was killed the very next day. The TV show portrayed a mutual respect and budding friendship between Bullock and Hickok before the latter’s death. In the book, Bullock and Hickok met in passing, but there was very little interaction between them.

The real Seth Bullock was an interesting guy. He was born in Canada in 1849 and moved to Montana in 1865 to live with his sister. He was elected sheriff of Louis and Clark County, Montana where he engaged in a gun battle with a horse thief named Clell Watson. Bullock took a bullet to the shoulder, but successfully apprehended the horse thief. Watson was scheduled to be hanged, but a mob showed up in support of Watson and drove away the executioner. Bullock fought off the mob with a shotgun and carried out the hanging himself. This incident is very similar to an incident portrayed in the TV show, except it happened years later in Deadwood. The book did not mention Bullock’s life before Deadwood.

***

Fun Fact: While serving in the Montana Territorial Legislature, Seth Bullock helped create Yellowstone National Park

***

Bullock and his friend, Sol Star, opened a hardware store in Helena, but soon decided their fortunes lie in the Black Hills of South Dakota where there was a gold rush taking place. They arrived in Deadwood in August 1876, bought a lot, and started “Star and Bullock, Auctioneers and Commission Merchants,” first in a tent, then in a building. In the book, Star and Bullock own a brick making business, but in reality, that doesn’t seem to be the case.

The TV show portrayed Bullock as a reluctant sheriff. However, law enforcement was his chosen profession. And, despite all the gunplay in both the show and the book, Bullock never killed anyone as sheriff, although he did have several run-ins with Al Swearengen, the owner of the Gem Theater. Unlike in the HBO series, Bullock was not the sheriff of Deadwood, but instead was appointed the first sheriff of Lawrence County, South Dakota.

In the HBO show, Bullock married his dead brother’s wife, Martha, as an act of mercy. She and the dead Bullock had a son named William. Shortly after arriving in Deadwood, William is killed by a stampeding horse. In real life, although Bullock was married to a woman named Martha, the rest of the TV portrayal is fiction. There was no dead brother, no widow wife, and no son (at least at that time). When Martha Eccles Bullock arrived in camp, she brought with her a daughter. Subsequently, she and Seth had another daughter, and a son.

***

Fun Fact: Seth Bullock and Martha Eccles Bullock were childhood sweethearts

***

Bullock wasn’t just sheriff of Lawrence County. He had several business interests. In addition to Star and Bullock, Auctioneers and Commission Merchants, they also owned a cattle operation dubbed S&B Ranch Company, as well as Deadwood Flour Milling. When the building that housed their hardware business burned down in 1894, rather than rebuild, they erected the town’s first luxury hotel, called the Bullock Hotel (which is still in operation today).

Bullock met Theodore Roosevelt in 1884 and the two became fast friends. Bullock joined Grigsby’s Cowboy Regiment in 1898 to support Roosevelt’s Rough Riders in the Spanish-American War. However, the war ended before Grigsby’s Cowboy Regiment could be deployed. For his efforts, Bullock earned the rank of captain. When Roosevelt became vice-president under William McKinley, Bullock was named the first forest supervisor of the Black Hills Reserve. When Roosevelt became president in 1905, Bullock participated in his friend’s inaugural parade. The new president then named Bullock U.S. Marshal for South Dakota. Bullock was one of 18 officers selected by Roosevelt to gather recruits for Roosevelt’s World War I Volunteers.

After Roosevelt’s death, Bullock created a monument to his friend on Sheep Mountain. He also led the efforts to rename the mountain “Mount Roosevelt.” Bullock died of colon cancer in 1919 and is buried near Wild Bill and Calamity Jane in Mt. Moriah Cemetery in Deadwood.

 ***

Fun Fact: Seth Bullock is credited with introducing alfalfa farming to South Dakota

***

Pete Dexter’s book, Deadwood, focuses primarily (although not exclusively) on Charlie Utter. He was born in 1838 in Niagara Falls, New York, and was raised in Illinois. He eventually made his way to Colorado in the 1860s where he got the nickname “Colorado Charlie.” He worked as a trapper, a guide, and a prospector, before forming his own wagon train in 1876 with his brother, Steve, and heading off for Deadwood.

Utter was known as a snappy dresser, unusual at that time, and the opposite of how he was portrayed in the HBO series. He also had the rather odd habit of bathing every day, which was included in the Dexter book. Utter insisted on sleeping under only the highest quality blankets, he was very particular about his hair, and he didn’t allow anyone—not even Wild Bill—into his tent.

Just as in the TV show, Utter started a lucrative delivery business, shuttling mail and freight between Deadwood and Cheyenne. However, his business was short lived. In early 1879, he purchased a saloon in Gayville, South Dakota When things didn’t work out the way he had hoped, he returned to Deadwood just in time to watch fire destroy the town on September 26, 1879.

After the fire, Utter returned to Colorado for a time, then went to Socorro, New Mexico, where he opened another saloon. It’s not clear when he left New Mexico, but he ended up in Panama, where he owned drugstores in Panama City and Colon. Utter went blind and was not heard from again after 1913. It is believed that he died in Panama.

In Deadwood: The Movie, Utter is killed by an assassin hired by George Hearst. Hearst wanted a parcel of land that Utter owned, but Utter refused to sell. This is fiction. While it is true that George Hearst and Charlie Utter were in Deadwood at the same time (from October 1877 to September 1879), it is unknown if their paths crossed. Dexter’s book ends with Utter in Panama, whiling away his days in the sun.

One of the main characters in the TV show was Al Swearengen. In the show, he was English-born. As a child, Al moved to Chicago with his mother, who was a prostitute. When she left town, Al was placed in an orphanage, where the head mistress rented him out to pedophiles. This was all fiction. In fact, in real life, Al was one of eight children (along with his twin brother, Lemuel) born to a Dutch-American couple in Oskaloosa, Iowa in 1845. He remained in Iowa until 1876, when he relocated to Deadwood.

Upon arriving in camp, Al started the Cricket Saloon. It was housed in a canvas and lumber building, and featured gambling and prizefights. The Cricket did great business and Al need a bigger place. So, he started the Gem Theater in a proper building. The Gem was a saloon, dance hall, and brothel, the latter of which earned Al the reputation of being a brutal pimp. He would advertise jobs in hotels–such as maids, clerks, and entertainers–to recruit women. Those that responded were given a one-way ticket to Deadwood, where they would find themselves stranded and at the mercy of Swearengen. They were given the choice of either becoming prostitutes or being left to die in the street. Those that chose to become prostitutes were physically abused to keep them in line.

Unlike the character on the TV show, the real Al was married three times. His first wife, Nettie, followed him to Deadwood, but soon divorced him, claiming spousal abuse. He married two more times with the same results.

In Dexter’s book, Swearengen is in hiding from an assailant when he asks his wife to collect his money from the bank so he can flee. Instead, his wife collects the money and she flees, both her husband and Deadwood.

In real life, Swearengen made a fortune from the Gem, earning $5000-$10,000 most nights. However, it wasn’t without its challenges. The Gem burned down in September 1879. He rebuilt, only to have his business burn down again in 1899. By that time, Swearengen had had enough of Deadwood. He relocated to Denver.

In Deadwood: The Movie, a sequel to the HBO show, Al is shown as a weakened and dying man in 1889. This wasn’t clear to me, but it appeared that he died in his room above the Gem at the end of the film, leaving the Gem Theater to Trixie, his favorite prostitute.

Swearengen is portrayed much differently in the book. Dexter makes him out to be a brutal, bi-sexual whoremonger who is shot and killed by Charlie Utter.

Of course, neither the movie nor the book are factual. In real life, Al moved to Denver in 1899. In November 1904, he was found dead in the street. The cause of death was blunt force trauma to the head. Was it murder? He could have fallen and hit his head, but authorities at the time believed he was struck on the head by an assailant while trying to hop a train. Despite the money he made at The Gem, Swearengen died penniless.

***

Fun Fact: Much of the action in the first season of the HBO show Deadwood takes place in 1876 at

Al Swearengen’s Gem Theater. However, in real life, The Gem did not open until 1877.

***

To be continued in Part 2…

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A New Website…Sort Of

My old website was really dated. It had gotten to the point where I couldn’t update the theme or some of the plug-ins anymore because the php code was too old (I’m not really sure what that means). I’ve been looking into new WordPress themes, or maybe even a new website builder, but I haven’t found anything I like yet.

In the meantime, I’ve switched over to a new WordPress theme. It’s not really what I’m looking for, but at least it’s not outdated. And miraculously, everything transferred over to the new theme without losing any content or causing me any headaches. I consider that a victory.

Ideally, the new website will be ready by June 1, 2020, the publication goal date for my next book, The Ones That Got Away (Have you read my latest update on the book?). Realistically, I have doubts that I’ll be able to have the website done by then. I still have a lot of work to do to get the book ready for publication.

Enjoy the new theme. If you have any suggestions on a good theme or website builder I could use, let me know.

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The Latest on “The Ones That Got Away”

The book I’m currently working on, The Ones That Got Away, has been the most difficult thing I’ve ever written. Since beginning the novel, I have electronically lost the manuscript twice (once my fault, once not), I’ve moved, gotten sick, had a death in the family, and suffered from a streak of laziness that has gone on for months. All told, the writing of this book has taken more than four years so far. The good news is, I think it’s finally nearing an end.

The Ones That Got Away asks the question, how would you live your life if you were given a second chance. What would change? What would stay the same? What I’m finding is that the answers are much more complicated than I first imagined.

I’m in the home stretch of writing the book. It’s gone to the editor once, I’ve made a bunch of changes, and I continue to make changes. My plan is to have the book finished and ready for publication by June 1, 2020. As I write that date, I realize how soon it will be here. There’s still lots of work to be done, so I’d better get busy.

I’ll post more info about The Ones That Got Away as we get closer to the publication date.

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A New Cover for Driven: A Novel

My book, Driven: A Novel was published in November 2017. The story takes place in Miami in the early 1980’s, just as the drug trade in South Florida was really taking off, and becoming much more dangerous. The main character, Alex Booth, dreams of becoming a professional race car driver, but he lacks the financial wherewithal to make a go of it. That is, until he’s offered the opportunity to fund his racing by smuggling drugs.

When I originally published the novel, I wanted a cover that represented the Miami lifestyle in the early 80’s with palm trees, lot’s of neon, “Miami Vice” fonts, and, of course, a race car. The book cover choices I was given weren’t the greatest, so I went with this one:

Even early on, I wasn’t crazy about the cover, but it came closest to checking all of the boxes I wanted. Since then, I have grown more and more unhappy with the cover. So, I’ve finally done something about it. I commissioned a new cover that isn’t nearly as gaudy as the first, but still let’s the reader know a little bit about the story. I think the new cover is more subtle and understated than the original, and does a better job of representing the story the reader can expect.

And without further ado, here’s the new cover:

So, how do you like it?

Over the next week or so, I’ll be replacing the old cover with the new one on social media, as well as on both the print and ebook versions of the book. Also, in a day or two, keep an eye out for an update on my latest work in progress. And, as always, thanks for following along.

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