Saturday, July 31, 2010

Review: Historic Photos of Heroes of the West by Mike Cox

Joseph Meek, a flamboyant mountain man who led
the push for Oregon statehood.
As both a photographer and history enthusiast, I thooughly enjoyed browsing this new compilation of historic images by Mike Cox.  Cox, a former award-winning reporter, has authored 15 nonfiction books as well as hundreds of articles and essays over a career spanning 40 years.  This latest volume is third in a series of photo collections that includes "Historic Photos of Texas Lawwmen" and "Historic Photos of Texas Oil."  Cox gleaned the images from the Library of Congress, the Denver Public Library, the Western History Collection at the University of Oklahoma, the National Archives, the University of Texas at San Antonio, Wikimedia Commons and the author's own extensive personal collection.

Cox divided the images up into five categories:  the pathfinders who believed in manifest destiny and blazed the trails across the continent, the pioneers who settled the new land,  the builders and innovators who spanned the continent with new modes of transporation and communications, the civilizers who brought law and order as well as culture and learning to the new frontier and the perpetrators of the Western myth.

Among the pathfinders, I found an 1853 portrait of Joseph Lafayette Meek.  Meek was an important Oregon settler who lobbied Congress for Oregon statehood.  Like all young Oregonians, I studied Oregon history as a child but don't remember any reference to Meek.  Instead, most of the emphasis was placed on Dr. John McLoughlin, a fiery 6 foot 4 inch physician from Quebec, once tried for the murder of the governor of the Red River Colony (now the province of Manitoba) in Canada, who served as the head of operations in the Columbia District for the Hudson's Bay Company.
Dr. John McLoughlin actually opposed
Oregon statehood.  As district "factor"
for the Hudson's Bay Company, he
advocated the formation of an
independent country.  Note: This image
is not in Cox's book.

McLoughlin built Fort Vancouver (now Vancouver, WA) and moved the Hudson's Bay Company northwest operations to the new fort from Fort Astoria.  With Fort Vancouver as his base of operations, McLoughlin managed over 34 outposts, 24 ports, six ships, and 600 employees.  When the British Parliament passed legislation imposing the laws of Upper Canada on residents of the Columbia District, McLoughlin was charged with applying the law to British subjects and American settlers as well.

In 1841, when the first wagon train arrived after traversing the Oregon Trail, the Hudson Bay Company took the official position of opposing American settlement saying it interfered with the lucrative fur trade.  But McLoughlin ignored company policy and rendered aid to the new Oregonians.  As American numbers in the region increased and tensions mounted, the Hudson Bay Company ordered McLoughlin to move the regional headquarters to Vancouver Island (modern Victoria) and, although McLoughlin complied, he, himself never moved there.

In 1842, McLoughlin advocated for an independent nation that would be free of the United States during debates at the Oregon Lyceum, a sort of gentlemen's club formed in Oregon City where local pioneer leaders would meet to discuss issues of the day.  McLoughlin was supported by most British members of the club as well as French-Canadian Catholic fur traders and Jesuit missionaries.  It was thought that the formation of an independent country would prevent annexation of the region as a U.S. territory.  So, I guess at this point Dr. McLoughlin would have been opposed to the pro-state group that included Joseph Meek. 

Bloodshed would end up tipping the scale but it was not spilled between the British and the American settlers.  On November 29, 1847, a band of Cayuse and Umatilla Indians, enraged by rumors that Dr. Macus Whitman, a physician-missionary at the Waiilatpu Mission (present day Walla Walla, WA) was not really treating the measles the native peoples had contracted from traders and settlers, but poisoning them, attacked the mission, killing and dismembering Dr. Whitman and killing eleven other people.  (Contrary to contemporary belief, it was later determined that Narcissa Whitman was actually shot in the chest by disgruntled half-Iriquois newcomer Joe Louis, who is also thought to be the source of the poison rumors.)  Another 54 women and children were captured and held for ransom, including the daughter of famed mountainman Jim Bridger (pictured on the opposite page in Cox's book) and 10-year-old Helen Meek, daughter of Joseph Meek.  Sadly, before a ransom of 62 blankets, 63 cotton shirts, 12 Hudson Bay rifles, 600 loads of ammunition, 7 pounds of tobacco and 12 flints could be raised,  Helen and four other prisoners died, it is assumed from measles or possibly cholera.

Enraged by the loss of his daugther, Meek, a mountain man before he became a farmer, struck out for Washington D.C. in the dead of winter. 

"Arriving in St. Louis in May 1848 after crossing half a continent in the dead of winter, he [Joseph Meek] announced himself as 'Envoy Extraordinary and Minister Plenipotentiary from the Republic of Oregon to the Court of the United States.'  Newspapers played up Meek's dramatic odyssey and helped publicize the cause he represented; some even suggested that, had the federal government done its duty in Oregon, blood might never have been spilled at Waiilatpu." - Carlos A. Schwantes, The Pacific Northwest: An interpretive History

When Congress created the territory of Oregon the following August, President Polk, whose wife was Meek's cousin, appointed Meek as U. S. Marshal for the newly formed Oregon Territory.

Cox's book actually includes two pictures of Joseph Meek.  Meek looks like sort of a kindly Ben Cartwright in his 1853 portrait but I prefer this more flamboyant portrait in dashing mountainman attire on page x of the preface.

In addition to portraits, Cox includes some interesting contextual images.  One image shows one-armed Grand Canyon explorer, John Wesley Powell, seated in a council circle with a group of Paiute men and boys on the Kaibab Plateau in northern Arizona.  Another depicts the grisly aftermath of a buffalo hunt by professional hunters hired to slaughter the beasts for only their hides.  Yet another shows an artist with the Wheeler Expedition in 1871 sketching ancient Anasazi ruins at Canyon de Chelly much like artists who accompanied Napoleon Bonaparte in Egypt sketched the remains of ancient Egyptians there.

In the pioneers section of the book, I liked studying the pictures of real cowboys, not the Hollywood stereotypes, particularly the image of a cowboy in the Dakota Territory circa 1870s-1880s carrying a lever-action rifle in a saddle scabbard  and a revolver on his hip turned backwards so he could quickly cross-draw with his right hand if trouble loomed.  His horse looks shiney and well cared for and I can easily picture him saying "When you call me that, smile!"  Cox points out that unlike typical Hollywood attire, most cowboys wore wide-brimmed uncreased hats.

As a photographer I had to admire the picture of a Kansas cowboy with his lasso at the ready on the left side of the image, looking out over a herd of cattle that appear to spill out over the horizon.  Although the image is undated it appears to be late 19th century based on the uncreased hat.  Although photography was a relatively new development, someone had already figured out the dramatic effect when you format your image using the rule of thirds as a guideline!
Born into slavery, Nat Love won a horse
in a lottery and sold it to move to Dodge
City to become a cowboy.

I was also surprised to find a picture of John Slaughter, a native of Louisianna who moved to Texas and joined the Texas Rangers.  When I was a girl, I used to watch the Disney series "Texas John Slaughter" starring a very handsome Tom Tryon.  I can even still remember part of the theme song - "Texas John Slaughter made them do what they ought'er cause if they didn't they died!"  Now I know that he was a real person!

One of the most dramatic portraits of a cowboy is a full length portrait of Nat Love (1854-1921).  Born into slavery, Love used money he earned from selling a horse he won in a lottery to leave Tennessee and move to Dodge City and become a cowboy.  In the portrait he wears a broad-rimmed hat pushed back on his head and rakishly turned up in the front.  He grips the muzzle of a lever-action rifle in his left hand and has his right foot planted defiantly on his saddle with the thumb of his right hand stuck in his cartridge belt.  Love ended up in Texas where he wrote his autobiography in 1907.

In an image of C Troop, Fifth Cavalry, who patrolled the Oklahoma Territory after the Oklahoma Land Rush, I noticed a young African-American woman standing proudly a little in front of the first row.  No one stands near her to indicate she was a wife and she appears to wear a tunic.  I wonder who she was and what part she played in that chapter of history?

In the "They spanned a continent" section of the book, I liked to compare the images of different models of stage coach.  There was also an image of Frank Weber, one of the young Pony Express riders, astride his mount with a spare horse in tow, circa 1861.

Images of some of the more iconic figures of the Wild West appear in the civilizers section of the book.  George Armstrong Custer figures prominently.  Since I have visited the Little Bighorn National Battlefield, I had already seen a number of pictures of Custer.  Ever the publicity seeker, I noted that Cox points out that Custer took 16 musicians, 3 journalists and a photographer on his expedition to the Black Hills.  In the image of his departure on July 4, 1874, things look pretty chaotic.

Apparently journalists were embedded with military campaigns before that, however,  One image shows Alex McKay, a correspondent for the San Francisco Bulletin, casually sketching while two grim-faced armed scouts crouch behind a rock buttress during the Modoc War that raged in southern Oregon and northern California in 1872-73.   I visited Captain Jack's stronghold, scene of the major battle of the Modoc War as a young teenager in the 1960s and walked around similar defenses made with piles of volcanic stones that still remain at the site. 
Although some contemporary participants
in the Modoc War did not find Kintpuash,
known as "Captain Jack", particularly
impressive looking, I think he was rather
handsome.  Note: this image is not in Mike
Cox's book.

Captain Jack (his real name was Kintpuash), chief of the Modoc tribe, led a small band of his people into Captain Jack's Stronghold in the Lava Beds National Monument near Tule Lake in northern California to escape the persecution his people suffered after they were forced to move to the Klamath Reservation in southwest Oregon in 1864 because white settlers wanted to farm the Modocs' ancestral land around Tule Lake.  The Klamath and Modoc were traditional rivals and the Klamath far outnumbered the Modoc on the reservation so the Modoc were treated badly.

The Modocs first sought refuge on an island in 1865 but were eventually rounded up by the U. S. Army and returned to the Klamath reservation in 1869.  Reservation conditions had not improved so in 1870 Captain Jack led about 180 Modoc back to the Tule Lake area.  In 1872, the army once more set out to round up the Modoc and return them yet again to the reservation but on November 29, while the army negotiated the Modoc surrender with Captain Jack, who had laid down his weapon and gotten most of his warriors to do the same, a fight broke out between an army sergeant and a Modoc warrior named Scarfaced Charley.  Although the two men shot at each other with their revolvers, they both missed.  But the gunfire triggered a scramble for the surrendered Modoc weapons and an exchange of gunfire that became known as the Battle of Lost River, recognized as the first battle of the Modoc War.  In the brief skirmish, one soldier was killed and seven were wounded.  The Modoc lost two warriors and retreated to the lava beds south of Tule Lake with three wounded.  However, on the way to the lava fields, a small band of Modoc under the leadership of a warrior named Hooker Jim broke away from the main group and ambushed settlers on the afternoon of November 29 and morning of November 30, killing 18 people.

The main Modoc force under Captain Jack retreated to the lava formation known as Captain Jack's Stronghold where they met an attack of the army on January 17, 1873.  This time, however, the army suffered a decisive defeat losing 35 men with dozens wounded.  The Modoc did not suffer a single casualty.

Captain Jack, still hoping for a peaceful settlement, opened negotiations with a federal peace commission.  But as haggling dragged on for months, a contingent of warriors opposed to peace with the settlers attempted to shame Captain Jack by throwing a Modoc woman's hat at him, a symbolic act meant to strip him of his manhood.  The group insisted that if General Edward Canby, commander of the army contingent, were killed, the army would leave.  Finally, Captain Jack agreed and at the next meeting of the peace commission on a prearranged signal, Captain Jack along with several other Modoc, drew his pistol and killed General Canby, making Canby the only general killed during the Indian wars (Custer had a permanent rank of only a lieutenant colonel when he met his end at the Little Bighorn). 

Of course the Modoc were mistaken about the Army's reaction to Canby's death.  A force of over 1,000 soldiers armed with mortars under the command of  General Jefferson C. Davis was sent to attack the stronghold and this time the Modoc could not withstand the overwhelming force.  Captain Jack and his warriors fled the stronghold but fractured into groups, some who continued to fight the army.  Sadly, Captain Jack himself, like Sitting Bull, was eventually hunted down by members of his own people and turned in to the army.  On October 3, 1873 he was hanged for the murder of General Canby.  His head was cut off and sent first to the Army Medical Museum in Washington D.C. then donated to the Smithsonian.  Descendants of Captain Jack learned of the location of his skull in the 1970s and lobbied for its return.  Finally in 1984 the Smithsonian returned the skull to Jack's relatives.

An excellent detailed description of the events of the Modoc War is available online at the Lava Beds National Monument website.
General Ranald S. McKenzie commanded
troops in some of the bloodiest engagements
of the Indian Wars but paid the price by
developing "military psychosis".

Another image that caught my attention in this section was a portrait of Ranald S. McKenzie, a decorated Civil War officer who later commanded troops in a number of major engagements of the Indian Wars.  What piqued my curiosity was Cox's caption that mentioned McKenzie became metally ill.  I wondered if, like the character portrayed by Tom Cruise in one of my favorite movies, "The Last Samurai", McKenzie suffered from post traumatic stress induced by his participation in so many brutal engagements.  I tried to find out what symptoms he exhibited but only found veiled references to "paralysis of the insane" and that he began "acting strangely" in 1883 and was quietly retired from the Army in 1884.  One article said his behavior was blamed on a head injury he incurred after falling from a wagon at Fort Sill.  Charles M. Robinson wrote a biography, Bad Hand: A Biography of Ranald S. McKenzie, but not enough of it was searchable through Google books for me to learn anything more than he was considered a victim of "military psychosis" - sounds like PTSD to me.

The civilizers section also included a wealth of images of famous lawmen including the Earps, Wild Bill Hickock, and the "hanging judge" Isaac Charles Parker.  As I looked at a group picture of ten of Judge Parker's tough-looking deputy U.S. Marshals, I almost expected to see one with an eye-patch like Rooster Cogburn.

I was also intrigued by the images of General George Cook.  I thought the portrait of him swathed in a heavy fur-collared cloak wearing  a civilian-style hat with a tall crown was the most dynamic.  Cox pointed out that Crook preferred more comfortable civilian clothes that were better suited to the rugged landscape.  You certainly would never guess he was a general by looking at the picture of him standing beside his trusty mule with the barrel of his 10-gauge shotgun, his weapon of choice instead of the standard issue rifle, hanging from his saddle. 

Calamity Jane looking quite feminine at the
grave of Wild Bill Hickok in 1903.
The last section of the book focusing on mythmakers was filled with images of Buffalo Bill Cody and other contemporaries who sought to cash in on the mystique of the American West.  Although it included pictures of Annie Oakley, "Little Sure Shot", I thought the portrait of expert markswoman Lillian Smith was more interesting.  Unlike Oakly, Smith is dressed in a much more feminine costume.  Oakley is reported to have said "she  [Smith] managed to shoot well enough for someone with such an ample figure!"  Smith performed in the 101 Wild West Show but never gained the fame of Annie Oakley and died in relative obscurity.

I had also always heard that Calamity Jane was quite homely and always dressed more like a man than a woman but the image of her standing at the grave of Wild Bill Hickok taken in 1903 shows her looking quite feminine and relatively attractive.

Historic Photos of Heroes of the Old West provided insight in the lives of both well known and not-so-well known people of this iconic period of American history.  I look forward to reviewing the next entry in the series "Historic Photos of Outlaws of the Old West" by Larry Johnson.

  Historic Photos of Texas Lawmen (Historic Photos)   Historic Photos of Heroes of the Old West    Historic Photos of Texas Oil  A Survivor's Recollections Of The Whitman Massacre (1920)    Devil's Backbone: The Modoc War, 1872-3 (The Plainsmen Series)      The Modocs and Their War (Civilization of the American Indian Series)    General George Crook: His Autobiography   Biography : Calamity Jane   Bad Hand: A Biography of General Ranald S. Mackenzie   Dr. John McLoughlin, the father of Oregon   River of the West: The Adventures of Joe Meek : The Oregon Years (Classics of the Fur Trade Series)  

Tuesday, July 27, 2010

Synthetic Mayan Blue May Be Used to Restore Paintings

Traces of Mayan Blue can be seen on this
ritual earthenware whistle depicting a standing
female dignitary from the Late Classical Period
600-900 C.E.  Photographed at the DeYoung
Museum of Fine Arts in San Francisco, CA by
Mary Harrsch.
Eric Dooryhee and a team of French physicists at the Brookhaven National Laboratory in Upton, N.Y.have used X-rays from a synchrotron machine to study the atomic structure of ancient Mayan blue pigment.  Using the information they obtained from their studies they have been able to synthesize the basic properties of Mayan Blue by combining indigo with a porous substance called zeolite, a commercial additive to cement, laundry detergents, nutritional supplements, and cat litter, to make a new synthetic  long-lasting blue pigment.

The Mayans made the original pigment by burning incense made from tree resin and using the heat to cook a mixture of indigo plants and a type of clay called palygorskite.

"As the mixture was heated, indigo molecules filled a network of tiny channels inside the clay. Some of these bits of indigo plugged the pores on the surface, preventing the color from escaping over time.  The clay, in turn, protected the indigo from the environment." - More: FoxNews.com 

The research team hopes to use the new synthetic material to restore paintings and is considering other applications such as  colored cement.

This painting of the construction of the Tower
of Babel by Juan Gerson created in 1652 was one
of the few colonial period paintings that
incorporated Mayan Blue. (oil on paper)
"Maya blue" first appeared around the 800 A.D. [some researchers claim 300 A.D.] and it was still used in the 16th century in several Convents of Colonial Mexico, notably in the paintings of the Indian Juan Gerson in Tecamachalco. These paintings are a clear example of the combination of Indian and European techniques sometimes known as Arte Indocristiano. After that, the techniques for its production were lost in Mexico but in Cuba there are examples from 1830." - Wikipedia


Research on Maya Blue's composition began as early as the 1950s when chemists used powder diffraction to discover its basic components.

"The actual recipe to reproduce Maya Blue pigment was published in 1993 by a Mexican Historian and Chemist, Constantino Reyes-Valerio. The combination of different of clays: palygorskite, montmorillonite, together with the use of the leaves of the añil and the actual process is described in Reyes-Valerio (1993).[6] Reyes-Valerio's contributions were possible due to his combined background of History and Chemistry, through a thorough revision of primary texts (Sahagun, Hernandez. Jimenez and others), microscopic analysis of the mural paintings and Fourier Transform Infrared Spectroscopy. " - Wikipedia
The Maya used the blue pigment for funerary murals and other art objects as well as in their rituals of human sacrifice.  In the following scene from Mel Gibson's Apocalypto we see victims coated with blue paint walking past murals depicting human sacrifice on their way to the sacrificial altar.



Of course Mel Gibson's film was panned by historians because it depicted the wholesale slaughter of captives.  Some anthropologists [National Geographic video clip] claim that sacrifices were usually restricted to special ceremonies like the induction of a new ruling king or festivals to honor the god of rain intended to bring rain at propitious times to guarantee a bountiful harvest.

Other researchers, including Mari Carmen Serra Puche, have discovered that a number of sacrifices involved women and children [Discovery Magazine video clip].  In either case, it is a far cry from what I was taught as a school girl in the 1950s - that unlike the bloodthirsty Aztecs, the Maya were a peaceful civilization of scholars who studied mathematics and astronomy!

I found a website that said Mayan Blue in digital terms is the color #73C2FB.  I don't think using it as a background color for your web page is going to guarantee that it won't fade away (at least in the public consciousness) over time though!!

If you find the Mayan civilization as interesting as I do you may enjoy viewing a slideshow of Mayan art objects I have photographed at the Deyoung Museum of Fine Art in San Francisco, California, the University of Utah Museum of Fine Art in Salt Lake City, Utah, the Field Museum and the Chicago Art Institute in Chicago, Illinois, the Dallas Museum of Fine Arts in Dallas, Texas, the Museum of Man in San Diego, California, and the Metropolitan Museum of Art in New York City.



I have even more images of Mayan art that I will be uploading to Flickr as time permits so you may wish to check back from time to time.

The Ancient Maya, 6th Edition   Breaking the Maya Code    Dictionary of Maya Hieroglyphs   A Forest of Kings: The Untold Story of the Ancient Maya  Mayans and Aztecs - Ancient Lands of the Americas (Lost Treasures of the Ancient World)   2000 Years of Mayan Literature Apocalypto [Blu-ray]    The Arts in Latin America, 1492-1820 (Philadelphia Museum of Art)  

Thursday, July 15, 2010

"Chasing Mummies" amateurish reality drivel

The trailers I watched for the new History Channel series "Chasing Mummies" piqued my interest and the "Show me the mummy" play on words brought a smile to my lips.  But I'm afraid I was sadly disappointed in at least the first episode that aired Wednesday.

The camera work was amateurish, there appeared to be no formal script and Dr. Hawass was presented as irascible and supremely arrogant.  I cannot understand why so many reality show producers think that rudeness and unprofessional outbursts make a show entertaining.  My husband often watches "Ax Men" and several "Ax Men" copycats and I've gotten to the point that I just go off in the other room because the men depicted on these programs are so grossly rude and unprofessional to their co-workers, even when they are family members.  Much of the swearing and bluster appears to be "put on" for the camera and I hope that is the case in "Chasing Mummies" because I wouldn't work under these conditions if it was the last job available on the planet.

This weekend the History Channel is rerunning an excellent program about how the Indiana Jones movies have inspired so many people to want to learn more about history and in some cases even become archaeologists.  The producers of "Chasing Mummies" should watch this program and try to emulate it to impart the love of history and archaeology that I know Dr. Hawass truly possesses. 



Dr. Hawass is actually a very gifted author.  I've read his book on the Valley of the Golden Mummies and enjoyed it immensely.  I was especially intrigued by the passage describing his paranormal experience with a pair of mummies who had been removed from their original tomb for study and who appeared to communicate with him in nightmares expressing their grief at being separated from their other family members.



The Lost Tombs of Thebes: Ancient Egypt: Life in Paradise   Secrets from the Sand: My Search for Egypt's Past   Hidden Treasures of Ancient Egypt: Unearthing the Masterpieces of the Egyptian Museum in Cairo   Tutankhamun: The Golden King and the Great Pharaohs   Mummies And The Wonders of Ancient Egypt   Silent Images: Women in Pharaonic Egypt   Valley of the Golden Mummies: The Greatest Egyptian Discovery Since Tutankhamun