The Development of Time Zones in the Nineteenth Century

One of my challenges in writing about the 19th century has been trying to determine how to account for time of day. In my descriptions of travel along the Oregon Trail, I mostly refer to time in generalities—midmorning, noon, sunset, and the like. I rarely give a precise hour.

My grandfather’s pocket watch

The captain of my fictional wagon train has a pocket watch, and he occasionally refers to it. But, of course, as the emigrants travel west across the continent, the captain and others with watches would have to adjust their timepieces so they continue to read 12:00 pm when the sun is directly overhead. That’s how time was kept in the 19th century—each community set its clocks so noon coincided with when the sun was at its highest point.

In my novels, I don’t depict the captain or any other character changing a watch, and as I write this post, I wonder how often the emigrants bothered. They moved an average of about fifteen miles per day, so it probably took them a few weeks of travel for the discrepancy between a watch and the sun to be noticeable.

Clock in Union Station, Kansas City (clock is 6 feet in diameter)

But as railroads developed and the pace of travel speeded up, the need for a uniform system of setting the time became more important. Railroads needed to develop a uniform schedule. Before they did, their timetables were a nightmare to maintain—each station abided by its local time, and therefore each station needed its own printed version of the railroad timetable. But many railroads published their schedules based on where their main office was.

Great Britain set a standard time across that nation in December 1847. (Note that this was two months after my fictional wagon train arrived in Oregon City.) But although the clocks were mostly standardized, England did not legally adopt Greenwich Mean Time until 1880.

Great Britain was relatively easy—one time zone sufficed. The problem was more acute across vast spaces, such as the continent of North America.

Time zones in the United States and Canada were not standardized until 1883. The major railroads of North America facilitated the process of setting those standard zones. Having a common time across a latitude of several hundred miles was not as precise as setting noon at the sun’s apex at every locality, but the time zones were a compromise that allowed wider regions to follow a common schedule.

And so the railroads established four time zones for the contiguous United States and Canada. Those time zones survive today—Eastern, Central, Mountain, and Pacific—though there have been some changes at the edges over the years.

Once the zones were communicated, on November 18, 1883, telegraph lines transmitted time signals to all major cities across the nation. And from that point on, the continent has had standardized time settings, even if they were not universally or legally recognized.

A year later in October 1884, Greenwich Mean Time was set as the world’s time standard. GMT lasted until 1960, when it was superseded by the more precise (but almost identical) Coordinated Universal Time (or UTC).

Congress did not legally adopt the time zones until 1918. (The 1918 Calder Act that established legal time in the United States also established Daylight Savings Time, but the debate over Daylight Savings Time is a topic for another post.) Other nations took even longer to legally set their time zones.

I have always set my watch a few minutes fast so that I can avoid being late. Now that I rely primarily on a cell phone and other web-based clocks for the time, I don’t have that crutch. I must get myself ready with a few minutes to spare.

Are you someone who is regularly early or late? Why?

How Did Emigrants in Oregon Celebrate Thanksgiving in the 1840s?

I wanted to write about Thanksgiving in Oregon in the 1840s, but didn’t find anything specifically on that topic. I did, however, find some interesting information about the development of the Thanksgiving holiday as we know it in the United States. See here, here, here, and here.

From this history, I’ve extrapolated what I think happened when the emigrants reached Oregon after their arduous six-month journey.

We’ve all heard the story of the Pilgrims and the Native Americans having a feast shortly after they arrived in the New World, though this is mostly a myth. The legend of the first Thanksgiving feast did not become a staple of American folklore until after World War I.

The Pilgrims did bring a tradition of giving thanks to God for his divine providence. But it is unlikely that their early feasts consisted of turkey and cranberries, and they certainly did not have pumpkin pie. Some accounts say the Pilgrims held a feast of thanksgiving in 1621 in gratitude to God for their survival. Other accounts place it in 1637 and say that it celebrated the return of colonial hunters who had safely returned from murdering several hundred Pequot Indians.

Moreover, the Pilgrims might have been late to the table. There is some evidence that in 1565, the Spanish explorer Pedro Menéndez de Avilé and the local tribe in St. Augustine, Florida, dined together after a Mass of gratitude for the Spaniards’ safe arrival in the New World.

Throughout our nation’s early history, recognition of Thanksgiving was mostly a state and local affair. George Washington proclaimed a national day of thanksgiving in 1789, to recognize the successful conclusion of the War of Independence and the ratification of the U.S. Constitution. And although later presidents issued similar proclamations, for the most part, recognition of a thanksgiving holiday was up to state governors. Each state chose a different date to celebrate. Most governors chose late November or early December, but the holiday could be as early as September or as late as January.

Also, in the early years, Thanksgiving was mostly a New England tradition. George Washington was a Virginian, but the Southern states did not embrace the holiday until well past the middle of the 19th Century. It was New Englanders who spread the holiday from their northern colonies to Michigan, Ohio, and other “western” territories.

By the 1840s, the traditional New England menu of turkey, cranberries, potatoes, and pumpkin (and other) pies was in place, but recognition of the holiday still varied. Writer and editor Sarah Josepha Hale tried for many years to establish a national Thanksgiving holiday, similar to Independence Day. In 1846, she began a letter-writing campaign to fix a uniform date for Thanksgiving on the last Thursday in November.

Her support for the Puritanical holiday became interwoven with the abolitionist movement and caused divisiveness between the North and South. It wasn’t until Abraham Lincoln agreed to Sarah Hale’s request and issued a Thanksgiving proclamation in 1863 that a uniform national date for the holiday was established. The last Thursday in November remained the national holiday until 1939. That year, Franklin Roosevelt set it on the fourth Thursday of November to extend the Christmas shopping season during the Great Depression.

Although I didn’t find any references to 1840s Thanksgiving feasts in Oregon, I did find several articles about the Californian celebration in 1850. There is speculation that gold miners from New England would have held Thanksgiving holidays in California in 1848 and ’49 also, and General Bennett Riley, California’s last military governor, issued a Thanksgiving Day proclamation in 1849.

But the first real account of a Californian Thanksgiving is in 1850. That year, Governor Peter Barnett issued a proclamation, and the governor and his guests had a sumptuous repast at the Columbia Hotel.  The holiday was still viewed as primarily a New England tradition, but it had made it to the West Coast.

If California was celebrating by 1850, surely there must have been at least a few Thanksgiving feasts in Oregon by that time also. It is likely that Thanksgiving celebrations in Oregon would have been a mixed bag—New Englanders might have had the tradition firmly in their families, but Southern emigrants might not have recognized it.

In addition, although the emigrants might have rejoiced to have reached Oregon safely, their focus upon their arrival would likely have been on finding shelter and provisions for the winter. There are accounts of feasts on Abernethy Green in Oregon City when new emigrants camped there, but not of regular Thanksgiving celebrations.

Still, I think of the Oregon emigrants celebrating their survival and the bounty of the new land they claimed. Surely they had cause for thanksgiving.

Whatever your Thanksgiving traditions, I hope your celebrations are happy and safe.

A Belated Veterans Day Post

It seems that in over five years of writing this blog, I have never written about Veterans Day. This year, I am finally doing it, albeit a couple of days late.

I never expected to be part of a military family. I didn’t have any veterans among my relatives. Neither of my grandfathers served during World War II. One grandfather was just past draft age in 1942. He also owned a business that made machinery for sawmills—his work was deemed part of the war effort. I don’t know why the other wasn’t called up—he was still of draft age, though at the high end. He was married and had two children, but so did other men. I never heard of any health problems that would have kept him from being drafted.

My father toyed with the idea of joining the Air Force during the Korean War, but his eyes were too bad for flight school (which is what he wanted to do), so he went to college, got married, and had kids.

My brothers did not turn eighteen until after the draft for the Vietnam War ended.

So none of the men in my family served, and of course, it was much rarer for women to serve.

USNA picture

Then I married a U.S. Naval Academy graduate, Class of 1971.

My husband and I met after he had served his five-year commitment in the Navy, during which he had both sea deployments and shore assignments. Though he had left active duty, he was still in the Naval Reserve and drilled every month while we were in law school together.

He thought about going back on active duty after law school, but I was adamant that I didn’t want to move our family every few years. I wanted to put down roots in a community. So he didn’t return to active duty, but he stayed in the Naval Reserve until 2001, when he had thirty years and was forced out as a Captain.

For the first twenty-four years of our marriage, then, he was in the Reserve. He drilled every month, often in cities far from our home in Kansas City—a couple of years in Milwaukee, another two in Fort Worth, and there were a few other cities he traveled to as well.

In uniform, as a Naval Reserve officer

In addition, he went on two weeks’ active duty every year. Sometimes he trained on a ship and was at sea. Sometimes he went to a course in Europe or did training exercises in Japan. Sometimes he set up a Mobile Inshore Undersea Warfare unit on the coast and trained.

These Reserve weekends and active duty periods always seemed to fall at the worst times.

Both of our kids were born on drill weekends. He had to skip the Saturday drills to be with me at the hospital. But he made the Sunday drills.

Our first dog went into seizures on a drill weekend when hubby was in Milwaukee. I had to take the poor thing (a 60-pound mutt) to an emergency vet clinic by myself to be put to sleep. The only 24-hour vet I knew of was all the way across the metropolitan area. Our son helped me load the dog into the minivan, but I was alone when I dragged him into the clinic.

Our toddler daughter broke her arm on the Friday of a drill weekend when my husband had already left for wherever he was going at the time. I took her to the pediatrician on Saturday morning, five-year-old son in tow. It was the only time in my life I showed up at the pediatrician’s office without an appointment.

Our son almost got our car insurance canceled due to too many speeding tickets. I found out while my husband was in Japan on his two-week stint. Son and I had several lengthy conversations about the issue before hubby returned, and I purchased alternative high-risk insurance for son as well.

All of this in the years before cell phones and text messages made communications around the globe a simple matter.

In addition to the crises, my husband’s stock response when we debated who ought to do what around the house, or which of us should ferry a child to a social or sports commitment, was “I provide national defense,” as if his Naval Reserve obligation should exempt him from all other responsibilities. He said it tongue in cheek, but he did spend many weeknight evenings after working as an attorney all day on Naval Reserve paperwork and training. It’s hard to argue with the importance of supporting the national defense mission.

I do not pretend that the problems our family faced were anywhere near as significant as those of families where one spouse has been deployed for months on end in a war zone. But my husband’s military service did have an impact on our family, and I experienced enough of the single-parenthood caused by a spouse’s service that I can relate to what service members and their families endure.

Our marriage survived my husband’s absences, and we celebrate our fortieth anniversary later this month. Many veterans are not so fortunate, and many military families disintegrate under the pressures of distance and trauma.

Our veterans deserve huge thanks from this nation for their service and sacrifice, and so do their family members who do without them.

A belated expression of gratitude this year—to my veteran and to all our nation’s other veterans.

Houses in Oregon in the 1840s and 1850s

I keep finding new topics that I need to research as I write my historical novels. While I am finishing my current work-in-progress, I am also starting to think about my next book. That next book will begin in 1850, but I don’t yet know how long its timeline will continue. So far, I have only researched Oregon and California history between 1847 and 1850, so I will soon be spending more time in research.

In Lead Me Home, I wrote about 1847 emigrants traveling to Oregon in 1847. In Now I’m Found, I showed many of these emigrants settling into lives on land claims near Oregon City between early 1848 and late 1850. To write Now I’m Found, I had to speculate on what types of houses the emigrants built. I did some research, visited some pioneer reconstructions sites (mostly in the Midwest near my home), and found some pictures of log cabins that I used as models for my characters’ homes in Oregon.

On my main character Jenny’s farm in Now I’m Found, there were two residences. The cabin she lived in and a smaller cabin that the Tanner family lived in.

Here is a picture of what I imagined Jenny’s home to look like:

Here is an image of the smaller Tanner cabin on Jenny’s property, though the Tanners would have had a chimney and fireplace also:

(There was a barn on Jenny’s property also, but I never fully described it in Now I’m Found.)

Now I’m Found also mentions several other residences. For example,

  • Esther and Daniel Abercrombie and their children lived in a cabin similar to Jenny’s. They added on a room as their family expanded.
  • Zeke Pershing built a house on his claim also, though I never described it.

But when I start to write my next book, which I think will take place mostly or entirely in Oregon, I am going to have to have a better sense of what these structures look like. So I recently went back to the internet to do more research on housing in Oregon in the 1840s.

I found an article by Liz Carter entitled “Pioneer Houses and Homesteads of the Willamette Valley, Oregon: 1841-1865,” prepared for the Historic Preservation League of Oregon, dated May 2013. This article, plus earlier research I’d done, confirms how I pictured the homes in Now I’m Found. It also gives me some direction on how my characters will construct future dwellings and other buildings in my next books.

Quoting University of Oregon Professor Philip Dole, Ms. Carter says:

“On a typical claim three successive homes would be built, each an improvement over the preceding one. The last was, of course, the lumber house, but for almost every farm that ‘real’ house was at least six years into the future. A home of the first type…is characterized by: the speed of its erection; the use of rails or poles (round logs); the small size (the term ‘pen’ implies a single room); and what it was called, as ‘shelter,’ ‘rail pen’ or ‘log cabin.’ Partly on the basis of the quality of its construction, this pen or cabin might be used only a month or it might be used for years. Following it and preceding the lumber house was the second type –‐ substantial, carefully built, emphatically distinguished from the first ‘log cabin’ by its designation as ‘hewn log house.’ The logs are squared to give a flat inner and a flat outer wall. Of one or two rooms, with a sleeping loft above, the house would have glazed sash windows, doors, a fireplace, a staircase and one or two porches. The building process would require at least a month’s time and a ‘raising’ crew.”

So the Tanners’ cabin as depicted above was a one-room “rail pen,” while Jenny’s cabin was a “hewn log house” (though I call it a “log cabin”)—one large room, with a loft above, and a couple of windows. Daniel and Esther lived in a house similar to Jenny’s, but with another room added on.

Lumber house built in 1841, as depicted in Carter article

In my next book, some of the emigrants will build their “lumber houses” which will be larger and grander. But you’ll have to wait to see which characters come up in society far enough to build new houses.

It is nice to have my early speculations confirmed. It is even nicer to have a firm foundation for what I intend to write next.

What pioneer homes or reconstructed towns have you visited? What did you learn from them?

Haunting Books: Three Historical Novels About the West

Each October I’ve devoted one or more posts to the “haunting books” I’ve read during the past year—books that stay with me long after I’ve read them. This year, I’ve been diligent about keeping a list, so I have more than enough books to discuss. In this post, I’ve decided to focus on three historical novels that take place during the Civil War and its aftermath.

WARNING: THERE ARE SOME SPOILERS IN THIS POST

The first novel is Days Without End, by Sebastian Barry, which is probably the most haunting of the three featured in this post. I hadn’t heard of the book until one of the members of my book club suggested we read it. On one level, it is a typical Western, featuring the settling of the West and battles between whites and Native Americans. On another level, it is a love story between two men who save each other from loneliness and poverty. On yet another level, it is about how far parents will go to save a beloved child.

The story is told in the first person by protagonist Thomas McNulty, an Irish immigrant who becomes a female impersonator in a saloon, then with his friend and lover John Cole joins the Army to fight in the Indian Wars and the Civil War. The two men adopt a Sioux girl named Winona when the Army leaves her orphaned. After the Civil War, Thomas and John seek a peaceful life, but rejoin the Army to find Winona, who is being returned to the Sioux in exchange for white captives.

Barry is true to most of the tropes in Western novels—gunfights, war scenes, and chases on horseback (both slow and fast). Barry tells a rollicking tale, but unfortunately some of his plot twists seem forced, such as when friends and witnesses show up suddenly when Thomas is trapped.

What makes this novel is Barry’s prose. The language in Days Without End is gorgeous, if sometimes inaccessible. Barry doesn’t use quotation marks to denote dialogue, which I dislike, and which makes it difficult to interpret sometimes. Thomas’s grammar is uneducated, but his words are lyrical, and the character makes surprisingly insightful comments. I often wanted Barry to be more straight-forward in recounting the story and helping his readers along, even while I appreciated his mastery of language.

This novel “haunts” me because of its gruesome descriptions of war, and also because of the uniqueness of the narrator’s voice. I recommend the novel, if you are prepared for a violent depiction of 19th century battles ranging from Indian skirmishes to the relentlessness of the Civil War. But of the three books I’m featuring today, this was my least favorite.

Enemy Women, by Paulette Jiles is another violent story of the Civil War, though not quite as gruesome as Days Without End.  The Colley family in the Missouri Ozarks has tried to avoid involvement with either side in the Civil War. Nevertheless, after their mother dies, a band of Union militia (not the regular Army) attacks their home and arrests the father (a judge) and hauls him off to prison. When the only son leaves home, the three daughters are left alone. They head for St. Louis to try to locate their father. The oldest girl, Adair Colley, is imprisoned in a Union women’s prison in St. Louis, after she is falsely accused of being a Southern sympathizer, and her younger sisters seek relatives in Tennessee.

Through most of the first half of book, Adair is in prison and is mistreated by the matron and other prisoners. Major Neumann, the Union officer in charge of the prison orders her to write a confession so he can release her. She writes truth and fantasy (which together create a compelling explanation of how she got where she is), but she refuses to confess. Adair and Major Neumann fall in love through their discussions over her “confessions.” He helps her to escape, and although their plans go awry, she does get away and sets off for home. The second half of book describes Adair’s adventures on her way back home. Meanwhile, Major Neumann has problems of his own, but is finally discharged from the Army and tries to find Adair.

I live in Missouri and know something of the Ozark country where most of the novel takes place. But I knew nothing of the women’s prisons during the Civil War, nor very much about the violent and undisciplined militia units that supported the Union Army. The novel makes clear that there were atrocities committed by both Northern and Southern participants of that era.

Although some of what happens to the Adair family and Major Neumann was not very believable, it was a good story. Also, it was generally true to the history of the region, based on primary source material Jiles included for her readers.

What haunts me about this book is the realization of what war does to civilians caught in regions where battles rage. (I’m seeing the same theme in the Vietnam War series now available on PBS.) In addition, Enemy Women depicts the savagery of men (and women) caught up war, particularly when they are not subject to any kind of military order or discipline.

And I’ve loved the Paulette Jiles’s prose in every book of hers I’ve read.

Which brings me to News of the World, another book by Paulette Jiles that also has haunted me this year. In this novel, Captain Jefferson Kyle Kidd, an aging Civil War veteran, makes his living by reading newspapers to residents of small towns across Texas. He is dragooned into taking Johanna, an orphaned white girl who was kidnapped by Kiowas at age six (she is now ten), back to her white aunt and uncle. She has lived with the Kiowa since she was a small child and has been so acculturated to their way of life that she believes she is Kiowa. She objects strongly to being returned to white society and fights the Captain at every step.

But along their trek across Texas in the Reconstruction Era, which is full of typical Western adventures and perils, the Captain and Johanna develop a respect and affection that is both sweet and sad. It is sweet, because it is very real, and because they are two very sympathetic characters. It is sad, because it seems there is no way their bond can continue past the current journey.

Finally, the Captain delivers Johanna to her relatives, which does not go well. It would spoil too much to reveal what the good captain does next. I will only say that the book shows the power of love, even when love is not quite enough to rid the world of its troubles. I loved the novel for its spare prose and for the wonderful characters Jiles created. I wish we all had people like Captain Kidd and Johanna in our lives.

* * *

There are parallels in these three novels. They all have Western themes. They all have beautiful prose that is the envy of any writer. They all depict love found in unexpected places and families built from circumstances rather than from genetics. Days Without End may haunt me the most, because of its gory battles. But of the three, News of the World was my favorite, followed by Enemy Women.

What is your favorite historical novel?

The Luck of the Early California Gold Miners

Most of my historical posts this year have been about the Oregon Trail, because I’m working on another novel about an emigrant wagon train to Oregon. But this post is about the Gold Rush, the subject of my last novel, Now I’m Found.

Gold prospector, 1850, photograph from Wikimedia Commons

In April 2016, I wrote a post entitled “How Much Gold Was Enough in the California Gold Rush Years?” in which I wrote about what it took for the early prospectors to be successful in California.  Most of the early miners did not gain fortunes by picking nuggets off the ground, but a few did. And others made money by slowly panning flakes from streams or by digging ore out of the ground. Many of the most successful men (and women) were merchants and others who made their money off the prospectors, rather than those who mined the gold themselves.

My recent visit to the Black Hills Mining Museum in Lead, South Dakota, showed me how lucky the few early Gold Rush prospectors who earned their fortunes from panning for gold were. The town of Lead (pronounced LEED) is in the gold mining region of the Black Hills. Gold was discovered there in 1876, and the Homestake Mining Company ran a mining operation there for over a century until it closed its operations in 2002.

The early Dakota prospectors engaged in placer mining, using pans and rockers and sluices, like the California Gold Rush prospectors. However, larger mining companies soon moved into the Black Hills, and the industry became mechanized.

The Black Hills Mining Museum has a few displays of the early mining techniques, but focuses primarily on the underground machinery of large-scale gold and silver mines. The tour guide at the museum did an excellent job of explaining how mining was done through the 20th Century. The Homestake Mining Company operated its mine for 125 years, then closed when the price of gold could no longer cover the increasing cost of extracting the ore from the earth.

That yellow metal bin holds one ton of rock. On average, it took four of those bins for the Homestake Mining Company to obtain 1 ounce of gold.

One statistic impressed me the most: Throughout the Homestake Mining Company’s 125-year operating history, on average it took four tons of ore to produce one ounce of gold. That’s 8,000 pounds of rock to yield one ounce of gold.

My earlier post on “How Much Gold Was Enough in the California Gold Rush Years?” was written in terms of dollars. So after my visit to the Black Hills Mining Museum, I translated the dollars of those early miners’ success into ounces. The price of gold in 1850 was $20.67 per ounce. In the early Gold Rush years, $10,000 was a decent fortune. Therefore, at 1850 prices it took a little less than 500 ounces of gold to have $10,000.

Five hundred ounces doesn’t sound like a lot. That’s less than 32 pounds. There are many stories of miners toting around 100-pound bags of gold dust.

But at the average yield of the Homestake Mining Company (8000 pounds of ore to find one ounce of gold), that’s 4 million pounds of ore (or 2000 tons)!

And some of the early California miners made more than $50,000, equivalent to 2500 ounces of gold . . . or 20 million pounds of ore at the Homestake rate of production.

It’s a good thing that in the early Gold Rush years in California, some lucky prospectors could simply pick nearly pure gold nuggets off the ground or out of the streams. They didn’t have to move anywhere near 4 million pounds of ore to find their fortunes. They were in the right place at the right time, and California—and the United States—changed as a result.

What odd facts of history impress you?

Jesse James—Robin Hood or Rogue Criminal?

The History Channel recently reported the anniversary of Jesse James’s birth in Clay County, Missouri, where I now live. Jesse was born on September 5, 1847. I’ve done a lot of research about 1847 for my novels, examining locations from Missouri to Oregon, but I hadn’t encountered any reference to Jesse’s birth before.

Of course, as an infant Jesse James didn’t have any impact on the Oregon Trail emigrants. But as an adult, he had a huge impact on history in Missouri and Kansas, and indeed throughout the United States.

I’d heard of Jesse James growing up, but I thought of him as an outlaw. I had no idea he had a cult following until I moved to Missouri. About thirty years ago, not too long after my husband and I moved to Clay County, we toured the Jesse James farm. It was like touring Mount Vernon or Monticello—the tour guides raved about how wonderful Jesse was.

Come on! This guy robbed banks. He killed people. He was the 19th Century equivalent of a Mafia gangster.

Modern day psychologists and social workers might excuse Jesse because his father abandoned the family when he was two. Or because his stepfather abused him. Or because while still a teenager, he joined the Missouri guerrillas during the early years of the Civil War, becoming one of the pro-Confederate bushwhackers in the Little Dixie region of Missouri.

But in my opinion, his difficult upbringing does not excuse Jesse’s adult history. In the years after the Civil War, Jesse and his gang robbed many banks and also held up stagecoaches and trains. These crimes not only deprived honest citizens of their hard-earned cash but also maimed and killed many innocent bystanders.

Jesse died as violently as he lived. In April 1882, when he was only 34, Jesse was shot in the back of the head by Robert Ford, another member of his gang, while Jesse was living in St. Joseph, Missouri. After his death, his mother put a tombstone marking Jesse’s grave that read: “In Loving Memory of my Beloved Son, Murdered by a Traitor and Coward Whose Name is not Worthy to Appear Here.”

Jesse may have been murdered by a traitor and coward, but his life did not merit the exalted praise I heard during my tour of his farm many years ago. He was no Robin Hood, as many Hollywood screenwriters and dime novelists depicted him. This hero worship began while he was still alive and continues to this day.

Jesse’s family’s farm has been owned by Clay County, Missouri, since 1974, and the County now operates it as a historical site. The farm is still open for tours, much as it was when my husband and I went there about thirty years ago. A non-profit organization called Friends of the James Farm raises funds to preserve the farm and to promote the study of the Border War in the Civil War era. There is also an annual Jesse James Festival in Kearney, Missouri.

In addition, the house where Jesse was killed in St. Joseph, Missouri, is open for tours. I’ve been there also, and the tour guides recount the details of Jesse’s death, to the point of showing the picture he was straightening at the moment he was shot.

But people opposed to the hero worship of Jesse James have their own festival also. Each September since 1948, the town of Northfield, Minnesota, has sponsored “Defeat of Jesse James Days” to honor their citizens who overcame the James-Younger gang in September 1876.

What heroes or anti-heroes of history surprise you?