Tuesday, January 23, 2018

Charley Ross and the First Ransom Notes

Susan Page Davis here. What are thought to be the first ransom notes in American history are the ones written after Charley Ross was kidnapped on July 1, 1874.

Charley, age 4, and his brother Walter, age 5 or 6, were playing in the front yard of their family’s home in Germantown, Penn., an upper scale section of Philadelphia. A horse-drawn carriage pulled up, and the boys were approached by two men.

The men offered the boys candy and fireworks if they would take a ride with them. Charley and Walter agreed, and they drove to a store in Philadelphia. The men gave Walter twenty-five cents and told him to go in and buy some fireworks. When he came out, the carriage, and his brother, were gone.

Picture used on posters after Charley's abduction
Public domain via Wikimedia Commons

The boys’ father, Christian K. Ross, owned a large house and was thought to be wealthy, but he was actually deep in debt after the stock market crash of 1873. He went to the police, and Charley’s kidnapping became national news.

The first ransom note appeared three days after Charley was taken. The notes Christian Ross received were mailed from post offices in the area. They contained many misspellings. The first read in part, “You wil have to pay us before you git him from us, and pay us a big cent to. if you put the cops hunting for him you is only defeeting yu own end.”

A second note read, “This is the lever that moved the rock that hides him from yu $20,000. Not one doler les - impossible - impossible - you cannot get him without it.” More than twenty notes were received over the next few months.

Twenty thousand dollars was a huge amount of money at that time. Christian Ross didn’t have it. The kidnappers continued to send notes, threatening Charley’s life if they were not paid.

Some prominent Philadephians wanted to help the Ross family. Pinkerton detectives were hired to search for him. Flyers and posters with Charley’s picture on them were widely distributed. 

Charley's brother Walter
Sources disagree on whether the ransom was raised or not. Some say several attempts were made to give it to the kidnappers, but each time, the culprits failed to appear and claim it. Others say that Christian Ross refused to pay the culprits, for fear it would encourage a tide of child abductions. Either way, the kidnappers stopped communicating with Charley’s father after a while.

A break came in the case five months after the kidnapping, when two men were shot while burglarizing a house in Brooklyn. Bill Mosher was killed. The second robber, Joe Douglas, was fatally wounded. Before he died, he said that he and Mosher had kidnapped Charley Ross. The witnesses disagreed on what the dying man said after that. Either he said Charley had been killed, or Charley was still alive. No one is sure, but the parents’ hopes were raised.

Charley’s brother, Walter, was taken to New York to identify the bodies of Mosher and Douglas. He confirmed that they were the same men who took him and Charley the previous summer. One way he was able to identify Mosher was by his malformed nose. Walter had described it to the police earlier as a "monkey nose."

The only arrest in the case was that of William Westervelt, who was known to associate with Bill Mosher. He was tried in 1875. While in prison before the trial, he stated that Charley was alive at the time Mosher was killed, but this was never proven. Walter Ross insisted that Westervelt was not one of the men who kidnapped him and his brother. The kidnapping verdict was not guilty. Westervelt was convicted of conspiracy, however. He served six years in prison, but maintained he was innocent and did not know where Charley Ross was.

Two years after Charley was kidnapped, his father published a book, The Father’s Story of Charley Ross, the Kidnapped Child. He hoped the proceeds would raise money to help him continue looking for his son. The case drew great and publicity. Christian Ross later reprinted the book and gave lectures to keep awareness of his son’s plight going. He and his wife kept searching for Charley until they died, Christian in 1897 and his wife in 1912.

In spite of the family's lifelong efforts, they were never able to find Charley. They received many letters and tips, and they interviewed hundreds of boys, and later teenagers and grown men who claimed to be Charley. Reports say all were proven to be impostors.

 In 1924, on the fiftieth anniversary of the crime, news stories ran recapping the case. Walter Ross, who was a stockbroker, was interviewed. He said that he and his three sisters still received letters from men claiming to be their brother.

The most successful claimant was Gustave Blair, who in 1934, aged 69, lived in Phoenix, Arizona. He petitioned a court to recognize him as the real Charley Ross. He claimed he was abducted as a child and eventually adopted by a man who told him that he was Charley Ross. 
Picture used on sheet music cover
Library of Congress
Walter Ross would not even consider Blair’s claim. He said, “We’ve long ago given up hope that Charles ever would be found alive.” But he didn’t contest the claim in court, and the judge ruled that Blair was “Charles Brewster Ross” in 1939. The Ross family refused to recognize him as Charley. Blair continued his claims until his death in 1943, and at one point tried to sell his life story to a movie studio without success.

During the early days of the case, two popular song were inspired by the crime. Published in 1874, “Bring Back Our Darling,” was penned by Dexter Smith with music by W.H. Brockway. The sheet music bore the overline, “Dedicated to the Bereaved Parents,” and a picture of “Little Charlie Ross” graced the front. A second song, “I Want to See Mamma Once More: The Words of Poor Little Charlie Ross,” also appeared about this time. It was written by George Cooper, with music by E. Mack.

The common admonition "don't take candy from strangers" is said to have come from Charley Ross's abduction. Also, the Charley Project, a major missing persons database, is named for Charley Ross. 

Leave a comment below to be entered in a drawing to win one of my historical mysteries, The Crimson Cipher, set in 1915.

Susan Page Davis is the author of more than eighty novels and novellas in the historical, romance, mystery, and suspense genres. She’s always interested in unusual events of the past. A Maine native, she now lives in western Kentucky.

Monday, January 22, 2018

The Child Thief - Georgia Tann

Headquarters of Tennessee Children's Home where adoptions took place

By Marilyn Turk   *Drawing for free book*

For thirty years, large-scale child abduction was carried out in Memphis, Tennessee, thanks to a woman named Georgia Tann and her political connections who benefitted from her child-selling business.

Hiding behind the pretense that she was rescuing poor, neglected children, Georgia Tann was lauded for her innovative social work. Only her accomplices and the people who had their children taken away from them knew the truth. But for almost thirty years, Tann became wealthy by stealing over 5000 children and selling them to adoptive families at exorbitant fees.

Georgia Tann told the public she was giving the children a chance for a better life, for education and opportunities they never would have received at the hands of their natural parents. But these kids were stolen – from hospital nurseries, as they walked home from school or even as they sat on their own front porches. Often a birth mother was told her child had died at birth, never knowing the child had been given to Tann.

Those parents who discovered their child had been taken by Tann had no recourse to get them back. Tann told them the children had become the property of the Tennessee Children’s Home Society, and most of these were too poor to pursue Tann in court. Those who tried ran into another roadblock – Judge Camille Kelley, who was a friend of Tann’s and probably getting a cut in the profits. Kelley would take Tann’s side and sign the children over to the woman. Another one of Tann’s friends was the corrupt Memphis politician, E.H. “Boss” Crump, whose pockets she lined.

Tann’s favorite “products” to sell were blonde, blue-eyed children. She purchased newspaper ads displaying photos of these children, advertising them for adoption as though they were puppies or kittens.

The adoptions were closed and secretive, preventing adopted children from ever learning the identities of their birth parents. New documents were created changing the children’s names, and other information about the child and its parents was fictionalized. Tann believed children were “blank slates” who could be made into any kind of person the adoptive parents wanted to change them into.

In the state of Tennessee, the standard rate for adoption was $75, so Tann found her greatest resource selling children across state lines, especially to the wealthy in California who paid as much as $5000 per adoption. Several well-known actors and actresses adopted their children from Tann’s adoption society.

It is believed that most of the adoptive parents did not know the truth about Tann’s black market of children. No doubt if they had, the operation would have been shut down long before it was. Former victims of Tann’s kidnapping have testified to the abuse and starvation of the children kept in the home. More than 500 children are thought to have died as a result, but no proof was found.

When Crump’s popularity declined, and a new governor and Crump rival was elected in 1948, Tann’s business began to unravel. The new governor got wind of the “baby racket” and ordered an investigation. However, Tann was only charged with pocketing money from state-funded associations instead of kidnapping, and she died from cancer in 1950, never having to pay penance for her crimes. Her co-conspirators died just a few years later. And most of the children taken never found out who their birth parents were.

I discovered Georgia Tann’s notoriety by reading Lisa Wingate’s best-selling novel, Before We Were Yours. Lisa’s book tells the story of several children taken from their home on a houseboat by Tann’s people.

Lisa is giving away a copy of Before We Were Yours to one of you who enters the drawing by leaving a comment (with their email address).

Marilyn Turk lives in and writes about the coast and people who lived there. Her books include Lighthouse Devotions, Rebel Light - a Civil War love story, and The Gilded Curse - a World War II romantic suspense. The sequel, Shadow of the Curse, will release July 2018. Connect with her at www.pathwayheart.com. 

Sunday, January 21, 2018

An Unburied Historical Treasure: Colonial Fort Michilimackinac

As you walk through the opening in the palisades into historic Fort Michilimackinac you are transported back to Colonial America. You wouldn’t guess that the structures had been rebuilt within the last century.

During the summer, the return of the voyageurs is reenacted often. In fact, this wooden fort, strategically placed on the Straits of Mackinac, at the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula was built more for the fur trade than defense. Michilimackinac was established in 1715 by the French.

Over the years scholars have disputed the meaning of the name Michilimackinac. Most have believed the name to mean “The Great Turtle” as this was considered the shape of Mackinac Island. In 1887, Andrew J. Blackbird, an Odawa historian wrote that the area was named as a memorial to an extinct tribe known as the “Mi-shi-ne-macki naw-go.” 

View of Straits of Mackinac and entrance into the reconstruction of Fort Michilimackinac from
inside by Aldryd, 2006 [CC] from Wikimedia Commons.
Voyageurs and traders came from Montreal to meet at Michilimackinac with trappers who’d traveled farther west to obtain pelts. Many Native Americans lived in a close by community, also trading at the outpost. There were many peaceful years and friendly relations between the French and Native Americans, such as the Odawa tribe.

The thriving church of Ste. Anne also had a place in the fort. Today there are reenactments of an 18th century wedding each day the fort is open to visitors.

After the British victory in the French and Indian War, the British took charge of the fort. Because of their poor treatment of the Native Americans, this did not sit well with the local tribes. Along with the fact that they had recently fought on the same side as the French, which didn’t help the relationship with the British either.

Backyards in Ft. Michilimackinac by grggrssmr, 2009 [cc]
from Wikimedia Commons
The French and Metis (Ojibwa and French) civilians along with British fur traders stayed there after the transfer of power. The British continued to maintain its operation as a fur trading outpost.

A young, perhaps rather na├»ve commanding officer, Captain George Etherington, was sent with his regiment in 1761 and took command of Michilimackinac in 1762. 

Invited by the Ojibwa to watch a game of baggatiway (a game similar to lacrosse), under the guise of celebrating King George III’s birthday, Captain Etherington was shocked when the Ojibwa pulled a surprise attack.

Cannon shot at the fort by Snaplucky, 2017, [cc]
Wikimedia Commons

After their wooden ball wound up in the fort. Ojibwa women wrapped in blankets waited on the sidelines, hiding knives to pass to their men. The warriors entered the fort, killing most of its English inhabitants. At least twenty-seven British men were killed between the attack and those executed later. Perhaps a dozen others were held as prisoners. Etherington and his lieutenant survived the attack but were held captive.

This coup had been planned by Native Americans working with Chief Pontiac, whose rebellion was designed to oust the British from the areas they controlled. The Native Americans held Michilimackinac for a year and then the British regained control after bearing gifts and making promises of better treatment.

Fort Michilimackinac didn’t have a higher vantage point from where to observe oncoming enemies and the wooden palisades were difficult and expensive to keep in repair. In 1781, the British built a brand-new fort on Mackinac Island with limestone walls in an area which could be well-defended. (If you’ve ever walked up the many steps to Fort Mackinac on an 85-degree day you know what I’m talking about!)

Inside the fort by Eli Duke, 2004, [cc]
Wikimedia Commons

After overseeing the construction of Fort Mackinac, Patrick Sinclair, the lieutenant governor of Michilimackinac, ordered the burning of Fort Michilimackinac. It’s days as a fur trading post were over.

Archaeological excavations of the site began in 1959 and led to rebuilding many important buildings in Fort Michilimackinac. Today, excavations continue and the fort is overseen and cared for as part of Mackinac Island State Parks. If you’d like a firsthand experience of colonial life on the straits at the northern tip of Michigan’s lower peninsula you will enjoy the reenactments, sites, and daily activities offered during the tourist season.

Kathleen Rouser is the award-winning author of Rumors and Promises, her first novel about the people of fictional Stone Creek, Michigan. She is a longtime member of American Christian Fiction Writers. Kathleen longs to create characters who resonate with readers and realize the need for a transforming Savior in their everyday lives. She lives in Michigan with her hero and husband, and the sassy tail-less cat who found a home in their empty nest. Connect with Kathleen on her website at kathleenrouser.com, on Facebook at https://www.facebook.com/kathleenerouser/, and on Twitter @KathleenRouser

More than fists fly after a fight between Philip and Zeke. When their widowed parents, Maggie Galloway and Thomas Harper meet they can’t seem to agree on much.
But when he is deathly ill, Maggie nurses him back to health, and takes his children in hand. Growing affection between them is quickly denied by both. An old beau appears offering Maggie a new opportunity. But then tragedy strikes the town and Thomas and Maggie find themselves working together to save the children of Stone Creek from a huckster’s potion. As Maggie considers leaving town, Thomas wants to offer her an alternative. Is he too late to declare his love to the angel of mercy who has captured his heart?

Saturday, January 20, 2018

Riverboat Travel in the Old Wild West

This post is brought to you by Janalyn Voigt.

Riverboat Travel in the Old Wild West

This riverboat Mural in Independence, Oregon (Polk County) captures a romantic view of riverboat travel; Gary Halvorson, Oregon State Archives [Attribution], via Wikimedia Commons
Most of us think of western migration in America in the context of covered wagons. While it’s true that over 500,000 people traveled the Oregon Trail at its height (between 1843 and 1869), many others made their way west by a different route. Riverboats traveled farther inland than most people realize. Alexander Culbertson of the American Fur Company built Fort Benton at the end of the navigable waters of the upper Missouri in what is now central Montana.

Those willing to occupy the limited space remaining on the lower deck after the deckhands loaded the freight onboard a riverboat, could buy tickets fairly cheaply. 'Deck passengers' brought their own food and fended for themselves against the elements on the open deck. It couldn't have been fun to ride alongside the boilers, not to mention the livestock, cotton bales, and barrels, while crammed in with other passengers. It did, however, carry them to their desired destination.

Double the fee bought a private room on an upper deck and the chance to enjoy fine cuisine in the elegant dining room, gamble at a table in the bar, and lounge in comfort while watching the river slide by.

Whether sheltering with the cargo or living in luxury, both types of passenger might face danger. A riverboat might crash into a tree snag, run aground on a sandbar, catch fire, or suffer a boiler explosion. The wreck of the Sultana, a riverboat accident on the Mississippi in 1865 at the end of the Civil War, took more lives than the Titanic. The fire that burned down half of St. Louis in 1849 started on a steamboat. 

People took riverboats at their own risk. With liquor and gambling on board, passengers had to watch both their belongings and fellow passengers. The crew might not be honest either. The riverboat captain might have hired a professional gambler to fleece those reckless enough to approach the gaming tables. Sometimes a riverboat ran aground on a sandbar or gravel bar and passengers disembarked to lighten it, only to be abandoned once it was freed.

With all these troubles, why would anyone want to travel by riverboat? Speed. A steamboat could travel up to 5 miles per hour. Compare that to the 20 miles a day a wagon pulled by livestock averaged. Remember, too, that the Oregon Trail was not exactly safe either. During Montana’s goldrush, the backdrop for the Montana Gold series, miners were in a hurry to reach gold. The heroine of Cheyenne Sunrise, the second book in the series, travels to Independence by riverboat. Her brother Con, with whom she travels, distrusts riverboats so much that they join a wagon train for the rest of their journey. His attitude was not uncommon. 
Riverboats had a reputation. 

About Janalyn Voigt

Janalyn's father instilled a love of literature in her at an early age by reading chapters from classics as bedtime stories. When Janalyn grew older, and he stopped reading to her, she put herself to sleep with tales "written" in her head. 

Today Janalyn is a storyteller who writes in multiple genres. The same elements--romance, mystery, adventure, history, and whimsy--appear in all her novels in proportions dictated by their genre. 

Cheyenne Sunrise (Montana Gold, book 2)

Can a woman with no faith in men learn to trust the half-Cheyenne trail guide determined to protect her?

Young Irish widow Bry Brennan doesn’t want another husband to break her spirit. When she and her brother Con join a wagon train headed to Montana Territory, Bry ignores her fascination with Nick Laramie, the handsome trail guide.
Nick lives in an uneasy truce between the settlers and his mother’s tribe without fully fitting in among either. With no intention of dragging a woman into his troubles, he stifles his yearning for Bry.

The perilous journey throws the two together, leaving Bry no choice but to trust Nick with her life. Can she also trust him with her heart? Answering that riddle forces Bry to confront her unresolved questions about God’s love.

Based on actual historical events during a time of unrest in America, Cheyenne Sunrise explores faith, love, and courage in the wild west.

Friday, January 19, 2018

US Army in Oklahoma--A True Tale of Cowboys and Indians Part 2

Fort Gibson, 1870's Wikipedia, public domain

By Alanna Radle Rodriguez and Judge Rodriguez

Thank you for joining us in our exploration of the history of the grand state of Oklahoma. This month, we continue to explore the rich and diverse history of the U.S. Army and its effects on the development of this wonderful state. Last month we covered the beginnings of the initial forts going through the decades leading up to the Mexican War. With the development of the “military roads” that wandered throughout the eastern part of the territory, troops were able to move considerably faster than they had before, which is no surprise as the “trailblazers” would literally have to cut through miles of forest before they could make their way to the next fort.

By the time that Texas had seceded from Mexico, and relations with our southern neighbor had dissolved into outright war, the army had been tasked with keeping the white travelers safe along the several highways that spanned the Indian Territory. These roads included the California road, and the Santa Fe trail.

When the Mexican War broke out, forts Gibson, and Washita were virtually depopulated to support the war effort. During this time, we have visitations by numerous historical personages such as Robert E. Lee, Jefferson Davis, Albert Pike, Matthew Arbuckle, Nathan Boone, and William Tecumseh Sherman, just to name a few.

Forts Washita, Gibson, and Towson served as rest stops for the troops that were moving down to Mexico during the conflict. The previously established highways made an easy road the troops going through the area. At that point, while they were still restless, the tribes did not interfere with the troop movements through their areas, especially many of these units were the same ones that forced them to relocate to the area during the diverse “trails of tears”.

After the Mexican War, it became more of a business as usual affair. The different forts were re-provisioned, re-manned, and became the “law of the land”. During the intervening 13 years between the Mexican War and the War Between the States, the fiction of the “Permanent Indian Frontier” disappeared, and Forts Gibson and Towson were closed to pave the way for Forts Cobb, and Arbuckle. The Indian Territory became the recipient of the ousted tribes from the State of Texas, and the newly formed territories of Kansas and Nebraska.

The different forts in the area helped to protect the Choctaw, and Chickasaw from the raids of the Kiowa Commanche, and Apache that tended to raid the more peaceable tribes. They also served to secure the non-indigenous tribesmen going along the different trails through the area.

The Department of the Army had effectively developed a strategic connection between the forts in the territory, and to the forts in Texas. This connection became the front line of defense in what would later be known as the “Commanche Frontier”.

It was during this time that the need for the expansion of the army became evident, and the Department of the Army started to bring in indigenous tribesman to serve as scouts, translators, and guides.

This practice became more necessary during the War Between the States, as the tribes sided with either the United States, or the Confederate States.

There were numerous factors that led the different tribes to siding with one side or the other. The main concerns happened to be the increased prospects of preserving the Indian Territory nations from being dissolved, settlement of long-standing political and familial rivalries, and the concern over the withdrawal of the protective garrisons in the I.T. allowing troops to take part in hostilities east of the Mississippi River.

Confederate Indian Commissioner Albert Pike skillfully played on the resentments that accumulated during the Trails of Tears, and the years following to be able to secure alliances with ten of the larger tribal nations.

During the War Between the States, approximately 5000 tribesmen were recruited into 11 Confederate regiments, and 8 battalions. They succeeded in conquering the different forts, and the abandoned forts that littered the area, and were successful in driving the federal troops north to Kansas, and Missouri, if for a short time.

This conflict gives us such notable names as General Stand Watie, Lt. Col. Jackson McCurtain, John Ross, Chief McIntosh, and Opothleyahola. This conflict also includes the one and only naval battle fought in current day Oklahoma.

With the conclusion of the War Between the States, new treaties were drawn to further limit the different tribes, and limit their governing power. They also authorized the Cheyenne-Arapaho and Kiowa-Comanche reservations in present-day Oklahoma.

The role of the Army in keeping the peace, as well as stemming the flow of white settlers to the dedicated “Indian Territory” would continue up through the decades, even going beyond the five land runs.

Join us next month as we discuss the role that the army, and specifically the cavalry play in the “Southern Plains Indian Wars”, and the settlement of Euro-Americans to the territory.

Born and raised in Edmond, Oklahoma, Alanna Radle Rodriguez is the great-great granddaughter of one of the first pioneers to settle in Indian Territory. Alanna loves the history of the state and relishes in volunteering at the 1889 Territorial Schoolhouse in Edmond. Her first published story, part of a collaborative novella titled Legacy Letters, came out September 2016. Alanna lives with her husband and parents in the Edmond area. She is currently working on a historical fiction series that takes place in pre-statehood Waterloo, Oklahoma. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Vinnie Ream, Sculptor

With Nancy J. Farrier

A friend shared a factual tidbit on Facebook a couple of weeks ago about Vinnie Ream being only 18 when the U.S. Congress hired her to do a sculpture of Abraham Lincoln. A woman. Only 18. I shared that tidbit on my Facebook page and then wondered about the rest of this woman’s story. Fascinated by what I found, I decided to share her information with you.

Lavinnia Ellen Ream, born in 1847, showed an artistic interest at an early age. She studied art in school, but when her family moved to Washington D.C. in 1861 she began to tutor under Clark Mills. Mills was finishing a bronze Liberty sculpture.

While studying with Mills, Vinnie met many congressmen and was commissioned by some to do a bust of them. Her work was so popular that in 1864 Congress asked her to do a bust of Abraham Lincoln.

In 1866, Congress commissioned her to do a commemorative statue of Abraham Lincoln. At that time Vinnie was only eighteen and was the first woman commissioned by the federal government for such a project.

Lincoln Statue
By Einar Einarsson Kvaran
Vinnie made the model for the statue in her studio, but traveled to Rome where she would make the Lincoln statue in Carrara marble. She studied with many artistic masters, some on her way to Rome, when she stayed in Paris and then in Rome when she was at work on the commissioned statue. While there, she also made busts of Franz Liszt and Cardinal Antonelli.

She returned with her creation in late 1870 and the statue was unveiled in January 1871. Ream designed Lincoln so that he is looking down at his right hand, which holds a copy of the Emancipation Proclamation. His left hand is holding back his cloak. The piece is serious and contemplative, possible the way she thought of the former President.

During the next few years, Ream did many portraits of well-known American
Kirkwood: Architect
of the Capital
figures. Among them were General Ulysses S. Grant and General George A. Custer. She also did some sculptures, many of them noteworthy.

In 1878, Vinnie married Richard L. Hoxie, who she met when she was doing a sculpture of Admiral David G. Farragut. She made this sculpture from the propeller of the naval hero’s flagship. The statue was unveiled in 1881.

After the Farragut statue was complete, Vinnie stopped working for a time in accordance of her husband’s wishes. They had one son and she spent time raising him and caring for her family.

In the early 1900’s she renewed her art work. She did a stature of Samuel Kirkwood, the Iowa governor, and a statue of Sequoyah, the Cherokee who developed the Cherokee written language.

Vinnie Ream was a woman of many firsts, and of great renown. Her story is inspiring and little known. In addition to her art, she used to work with the soldiers at the hospitals during the Civil War, writing letters for them and entertaining them with music. She was an accomplished musician. Vinnie died in 1914 and is buried in Arlington Cemetary. Her grave is marked by the sculpture she did, Sappho.
By cliff1066

Have you heard of Vinnie Ream before? Can you imagine having accomplished so much at such a young age? Have you ever visited Washington D.C. and seen any of her art work?

Nancy J Farrier is an award winning author who lives in Southern California in the Mojave Desert. She loves the Southwest with its interesting historical past. Nancy and her husband have five children and two grandsons. When Nancy isn’t writing, she loves to read, do needlecraft, play with her cats, and spend time with her family. Nancy is represented by Tamela Hancock Murray of The Steve Laube Literary Agency. You can read more about Nancy and her books on her website: nancyjfarrier.com.