Thursday, June 26, 2014

American Heroes Channel steps up production quality and research with "Gunslingers" premiering July 20

A history resource article by  © 2014

A week ago I received an invitation to review a new documentary series, "Gunslingers", that is slated to premiere on the American Heroes Channel (formerly the Military Channel) on July 20, 2014.  The first episode examines the life of the legendary Wyatt Earp.  Castle Pictures, who produced this docudrama series for AHC, recalls the life of each of these larger than life characters from the Old West by having the individual narrate (via a professional actor) the events of his life. AHC assures us that great care has been taken to verify the accuracy of the information presented.

WYATT EARP: World Premiere Sunday, July 20 at 10/9c
A reimagined Wyatt Earp.  Image courtesy of  the
American Heroes Channel.

"Tombstone was one of the Wild West’s most infamous settlements. The town’s powder keg of competing interests explodes, culminating in the legendary gunfight at the O.K. Corral. When the Earp brothers and Doc Holliday confront a group of cowboys demanding they surrender their arms, the cowboys opt to use them instead… and three of them wind up dead. But the gunfight is just the beginning of the story. In its wake, Wyatt’s two beloved brothers are shot down, prompting him and Doc to go on a “ride of revenge.” This is the true story of Wyatt Earp: the town-taming marshal who sacrificed everything to bring his own kind of justice and order to the American West." - American Heroes Channel
Since I've seen the movie "Tombstone", I was pretty familiar with the events portrayed in this first segment. In fact, Kurt Russell, who played Wyatt Earp in the Hollywood film and is apparently an avid admirer of Earp and has studied Earp's life extensively, provides some of the commentary in this episode.

There were two incidents related in the docudrama, however, that I either had forgotten or were not mentioned in the Hollywood film. Doc Holliday, along with the rest of Earp's posse, apparently retreated during a gunfight with a group of cowboys that Earp's posse stumbled across while hunting for Morgan Earp's killers.   This left Earp alone and practically defenseless with his gunbelt around his knees because he had loosened his belt while riding to be more comfortable.  Earp still managed to kill one of the men who was thought to have been involved in Morgan's murder and somehow mystically escaped being wounded in any way. He later spreads his arms to show his bullet riddled coat to the astounded posse and they could hardly believe what they were seeing.

I was also unaware of Earp's apparent friendship with a very young John Wayne.  I know I saw a movie once (Sunset) where Earp in his twilight years (played by James Garner) is serving as a technical consultant in Hollywood for Republic Pictures and becomes a kind of sidekick of Tom Mix (played by Bruce Willis). Apparently Earp really did finish his career in this way.

Although this series covers similar material explored in the 2008 History Channel series "Outlaws and Gunslingers" (except for extensive coverage of John Wesley Hardin and Tom Horn) and omits some of the seedier activities of Wyatt Earp, I found the series a well crafted production and look forward to seeing future episodes examining the lives of Billy The Kid, Jesse James, Wild Bill Hickok, John Wesley Hardin and Tom Horn.

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Celebrating my birthday on the 4th of July

A history resource article by  © 2014

Today I received a list of historical facts about the Fourth of July from Sandra Correa, a representative of the genealogy website My Heritage.  I doubt if she realized that I am a Yankee Doodle Dandy born on the 4th of July so the day has particular significance to me!

 When I was a girl, my family celebrated my birthday by driving down to the little southern Oregon coast town of Port Orford and watching a reenactment of the Battle of Battle Rock.  We would park the car then walk over and join the crowd stretched out on the grassy dunes on the edge of the beach waiting for the excitement to start.  Sometimes, local children would shoot off firecrackers or some of the more elaborate "illegal" fireworks that they had purchased up in nearby Washington state that had more liberal fireworks regulations than Oregon. 


I had always heard there were some graves on the rock but according to this historical narrative, none of the nine traders beseiged at Battle Rock were slain. So if there are graves there they must be someone else. Although I've been to Battle Rock State Park many times, I have never actually climbed up on the rock to see for myself.  I suppose I should add this to my bucket list!

I didn't realize until I read the narrative that so many Native Americans were involved in the attack.  At the reenactments there were only a handful of reenactors dressed as Native Americans so I never realized the scope of the event.

After the battle reenactment, my family would watch the city-sponsored fireworks that were shot over the ocean afterwards. Sadly, Port Orford has dwindled to a shadow of its former self after the timber industry logged most of the surrounding trees in subsequent years.  I sometimes wonder if the little town still sponsors the annual reenactment.

Anyway, for those of you interested in learning more about the Fourth, here is the list of factoids Ms. Correa sent to me:

·       On June 11, 1776, the colonies' Second Continental Congress formed a committee in Philadelphia whose purpose was drafting a document that would formally sever their ties with Great Britain. The committee included Thomas Jefferson, Benjamin Franklin, John Adams, Roger Sherman and Robert R. Livingston. Jefferson crafted the original draft document. A total of 86 changes were made to his draft.
·       
      On July 2, 1776, the delegates to the Continental Congress approved at the Pennsylvania State House in Philadelphia the resolution introduced on June 7, 1776 by Richard Henry Lee of Virginia calling for independence from Great-Britain.
·       
      On July 4, 1776 the Continental Congress officially adopted the final version of the Declaration.
·       All 56 men who ultimately signed the Declaration showed great courage. Announcing independence from Great Britain was an act of treason, punishable by death.
·       John Hancock, the president of the Second Continental Congress, was the first to sign the Declaration. With its ornate capitals, Hancock's sprawling signature is prominent on the document. Since then, when people are asked for their "John Hancock," they are being asked to sign their names.
·       
      On July 5, copies of the Declaration of Independence were distributed.
·      
      On July 6, The Pennsylvania ‘Evening Post’ became the first newspaper to print the Declaration.
·       
      On July 8, 1776, the first public readings of the Declaration were held in Philadelphia's Independence Square to the ringing of bells and band music.
·       
      The second president, John Adams, wrote his wife Abigail in 1776 "I believe that it will be celebrated by succeeding generations as the great anniversary festival. It ought to be celebrated by pomp and parade, with shows, games, sports, guns, bells, bonfires, and illuminations from one end of this continent to the other..."
·       
      In 1777, Philadelphia hosted an elaborate demonstration of joy and festivity.  Bells were rung, guns fired, candles lighted, and firecrackers set off. Cannons rained 13-gun salutes in honor of each state.
·       
      In 1778, marked the first Independence Day oration—given by historian and patriot David Ramsay in Charleston, South Carolina.
·       
      In 1781 Massachusetts became the first state to celebrate officially July 4.
·       
      In 1783, Boston became the first city to designate, by a public vote, July 4 as the official day of commemoration. July 4 became a holiday in some places. Speeches, military events, parades, and fireworks marked the day.
·       Both John Adams and Thomas Jefferson, the only signers of the Declaration of Independence later to serve as Presidents of the United States, died on the same day: July 4, 1826, which was the 50th anniversary of the Declaration.
·       
      Another Founding Father who became a President, James Monroe, died on July 4, 1831
·       
      In 1870, the U.S. Congress made Independence Day an unpaid holiday for federal employees.
·       
      Calvin Coolidge, the 30th President, was born on July 4, 1872, and is so far the only President to have been born on Independence Day.
·        
      Kansas City, Missouri hosted an “Americanization Day” on July 4, 1915, at which 220 new citizens sang patriotic songs.
·       
      On July 4 1918 cities such as Philadelphia, New York City, and Washington, DC held “melting-pot” celebrations, showcasing hundreds of thousands of foreign-born Americans and their traditions in an assortment of parades and celebrations.
·       
      In 1938, Congress declared July 4 a paid federal holiday.
·       
      Over time, various other summertime activities also came to be associated with the Fourth of July, including historical pageants, picnics, baseball games, watermelon-eating contests, and trips to the beach. Common foods include hot dogs, hamburgers, corn on the cob, apple pie, coleslaw, and sometimes clam bakes.
·       Some New England towns keep celebrate the night before the Fourth with bonfires.
·       
      Independence Day fireworks are accompanied by patriotic songs such as the national anthem "The Star-Spangled Banner", "God Bless America", "America the Beautiful", "My Country, 'Tis of Thee", "This Land Is Your Land", "Stars and Stripes Forever", "Yankee Doodle","Dixie".
·       
      Philadelphia holds its celebrations at Independence Hall, where historic scenes are reenacted and the Declaration of Independence is read.
·       
      Other interesting parties include the American Indian rodeo and three-day pow-wow in Flagstaff, Arizona, and the Lititz, Pennsylvania, candle festival, where hundreds of candles are floated in water and a ‘Queen of Candles’ is chosen.
       
      Traditions: hang the flag, go to a parade, have a block party, barbecue party, watch some fireworks, family reunions, baseball games, fairs, picnics, concerts.

     I hope you all have fun helping me celebrate!!