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  Fall 2012 Issue Excerpts

Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Fall 2012 issue.
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The Gliddenites are Coming! Nebraska and the 1909 Glidden Tour - John T. Bauer

In July 1909, Nebraskans witnessed firsthand the most popular and spectacular Glidden Tour. More properly called the Annual Reliability Touring Contest of the American Automobile Association (AAA), Glidden Tours were not automobile races; they were reliability runs meant to challenge the driving skills of early automobilists and the reliability of their machines. The events were popularly known as Glidden Tours because of the sponsorship of telecommunications pioneer Charles Jasper Glidden, who came up with the idea and donated a large silver trophy for the winner. Glidden, a former associate of Alexander Graham Bell, amassed a large fortune from his New England telephone syndicate. In 1902 he retired and began touring the world by automobile. Together with his wife, Lucy, and mechanic, Charles Thomas, Glidden racked up over 46,000 miles in 39 countries by 1907.

A total of eight tours were held, from 1905 to 1913 (a 1912 tour was planned but cancelled). The fifth tour, in 1909, was the first to travel west of the Mississippi River. Capturing the nation's attention, it was the most grueling tour ever, a 2,637-mile adventure beginning at Detroit and passing through Chicago, Madison, Minneapolis, Omaha, Denver, and Colorado Springs, finally ending at Kansas City nineteen days later. Thirty cars competed for trophies in three classes: the Glidden trophy, for full-size touring cars; the Hower trophy, for runabouts; and the Detroit trophy, for toy tonneau cars. Drivers were penalized, using an elaborate point system, for any repair made to their car and for failure to arrive at the daily destination within the allotted amount of time. The driver who completed the contest with the lowest score was declared the winner. It was a grueling and treacherous challenge. Only two drivers finished with perfect scores. Six others withdrew along the way and one was disqualified.

Glidden Tour contestants spent two days in Nebraska, traveling a 400-mile route that closely paralleled the transcontinental Union Pacific Railroad. The same route was traveled a year earlier by the New York-to-Paris "Great Race" and would later become the Lincoln Highway. Contestants spent the night of July 21 in Council Bluffs and departed the next morning for Kearney, passing through Omaha, Fremont, Columbus, and Grand Island. After an overnight stay in Kearney, July 23 was spent in western Nebraska, passing through Lexington, Gothenburg, North Platte, and Ogallala. Contestants rested for the night in Julesburg, Colorado, before continuing on to Denver the following morning.

This article focuses on the tour's experience during those two days in Nebraska. Specifically, it examines the reactions of local Nebraskans to the event and to the publicity that it brought to their state, and also the impressions made on tour participants and the journalists that accompanied them. Secondary literature on the Glidden Tours is scarce. There are no books, and less than a handful of articles, all of which come from automobile enthusiast literature. Primary sources for this research come from period newspapers, both large and small, and automobile trade magazines such as Motor Age, The Automobile, and Horseless Age.

Route Lobbying and Speculation Begins

Planning for the 1909 Glidden Tour began in February at the Eighth Annual National Association of Automobile Manufacturers tradeshow in Chicago. Frank Hower, chairman of the contest board of the AAA, held several meetings to hear ideas for that summer's tour. Since the Chicago show was attended by midwestern manufacturers, cities from that region lobbied hard to include midwestern states. Delegations from Omaha, Denver, Kansas City, Minneapolis, and St. Louis all pressured the AAA to include their metropolis. The AAA was resistant at first. Apparently, the contest board thought automobiles could not reliably travel west of the Mississippi River. The territory was still too "wild" and the roads impassable, they argued. The trade journal Motor Age reported the delegates "asserted that the west was far from being 'wild,' that Indians and buffalo no longer roamed over the prairies, that the roads were passable at any time of the year and that there was no reason to fear that the tourists would not be able to reach Denver. All this made a big impression on Hower, it is said, and it is confidently believed by the westerners that the big tour will touch at least Minneapolis and Denver . . . ."

The AAA brass also thought automobiles were still too novel for the western farmer and underestimated their appeal to Plains people. In past tours, the AAA contest board routed the contestants through populated regions of the Northeast, which boosted participation because manufacturers wanted to demonstrate their cars before the widest possible audience. In 1909 the contest board thought that the auto market in the West was simply not large enough to make it worthwhile planning a tour there. The delegates from western states, however, disagreed. Nearly fifty members from the Omaha Automobile Club presented letters of support from Omaha manufacturers and dealers, statistics showing Nebraska's high rate of automobile ownership, and pointed out that years of bumper crops had filled the wallets of farmers eager to purchase automobiles.

The efforts of the midwestern cities paid off. A month later, on March 22, the contest board announced that the 1909 tour would begin at Detroit and go west, including Chicago, Minneapolis, Denver, and end at Kansas City. The speculation and lobbying only increased after this announcement as cities between the start and finish clamored for inclusion. Nebraskans were overjoyed. Any route from Detroit to Denver, they reasoned, must pass through Nebraska. The only question, though, was what route would it be?

The entire essay appears in the Fall 2012 issue

St. Charles Hotel

Kate Martin and Lincoln's Historic St. Charles Hotel - Patricia C. Gaster

Although never one of Lincoln's most luxurious hostelries, the St. Charles Hotel served city residents and the traveling public from the late 1860s until 1894, and under the names of first the Boyd and then the Western Hotel, lived on until 1918. Located on the south side of O Street between Seventh and Eighth streets, near the center of the city's life in early statehood days, it outlived Catherine "Kate" Martin, the Irish immigrant who owned or was closely associated with it for most of its years of operation.

Kate Martin was one of Lincoln's pioneer settlers and one of the city's earliest female hotelkeepers. Throughout her long career with the St. Charles she had a wide acquaintance in Lincoln, especially among the Irish. Born in Ireland about 1840 as Kate Curran, she came to the U.S. as a young adult with her parents. They settled first in Omaha, where on July 27, 1867, she married Robert W. Charters. Charters, also a native of Ireland, had known the Currans before they left the country and may have followed them to Omaha. The couple soon moved to Lincoln and established themselves in the state's newly declared state capital.

In later years Kate Martin loved to recall herself as a participant in Lincoln's early social life, composed of a comparatively small group of recent arrivals. At the time of its designation as the state capital in July of 1867, the village of Lancaster had about thirty inhabitants and "did not contain more than six or seven buildings, 'shacks,' log-houses, stone buildings, and all." The future site of the St. Charles Hotel, between Seventh and Eighth streets on the south side of O, was occupied by Jacob Dawson's double-walled log cabin, which also hosted Lincoln's first post office and first term of district court in November 1864. Lot sales in September of 1867 had given the struggling village a foundation, and Lincoln grew to 500 inhabitants by the close of 1868, with 143 houses and more being built every day. By 1870 the population was 2,500, and in 1872, according to the Rev. O. T. Conger of Lincoln, it was "not less than 5,000 inhabitants, besides many comers and goers." Conger also noted with satisfaction that the town was already home to thirteen churches.

Just when the St. Charles was built is unknown, but Kate must have begun her long association with it soon after its beginning. The hotel was said at the time of her death in 1912 to date to territorial days, but it's probable that it was first conducted as a boardinghouse, dignified as a hotel, sometime after Nebraska became a state on March 1, 1867. Kate's first husband, Robert Charters, a printer, has been credited both with establishing the hotel, and with purchasing an existing business that he carried on as the St. Charles. Federal census records indicate that by 1870 Charters headed a Lincoln household of thirty-two people (including Kate), most of whom were boarders. Several were family members, including Kate's mother and seventeen-year-old sister, Bridget, along with Fred W. Krone, Bridget's future husband.

Kate and her husband were popular in the small community. Charters became a naturalized citizen in 1872 and was active in the early 1870s in local politics. He ran unsuccessfully for the Lincoln city council in 1871 and successfully for city clerk in 1875, about the time a son named for him was born to the couple. The earliest extant Lincoln city directory, from 1873-74, listed John M. Sullivan, the husband of Kate's sister Ellen, as proprietor of the St. Charles, but Robert W. Charters is again listed as the proprietor in 1876-77.

Although the St. Charles dated from early statehood, it wasn't the first Lincoln hotel. L. A. Scoggin established the Pioneer House in 1867 at Ninth and Q streets, and a second hotel was opened by John Cadman later that year. In 1868, Nathan S. Atwood acquired the Cadman House, built a new brick addition on the south and opened it as the Atwood House. With the arrival of the Burlington & Missouri River Railroad in Lincoln in 1870, quickly followed by the Midland Pacific from Nebraska City in 1871, and the Atchison & Nebraska from Atchison, Kansas, in 1872, numerous hotels and boardinghouses appeared in the area east of the tracks and west of downtown Lincoln to serve the traveling public.

Accommodations at these early hotels were often spartan in the days when "everybody had to look out for himself, when no one got anything to eat unless he made a savage rush for 'the first table,' and where everybody washed in the same tin basin and dried his face and hands on the same towel." Early Lincoln settler Milton L. Trester complained that during a June 1869 stay at the Pioneer House, "I almost found it necessary to lock my door and lash myself to the bedstead to keep the bugs from carrying me away."

The St. Charles during its first years bore a less than sterling reputation. The Lincoln city directory in 1873-74 listed the establishment as a boardinghouse, rather than a hotel. Contemporary newspapers indicate that it was sometimes the scene of rough behavior. A brief report on September 18, 1877, in the Daily State Journal indicated that a tailor boarding at the hotel had fallen from the roof of the shed kitchen adjoining the frame establishment after imbibing "too much clam chowder."

The entire essay appears in the Fall 2012 issue


"Wearing the Hempen Neck-Tie": Lynching in Nebraska, 1858-1919 - James E. Potter

In the predawn hours of October 30, 1875, several masked men dragged Charles Patterson from what passed for the jail in Sidney, Nebraska, fitted him with a "hempen neck-tie," and hanged him from a telegraph pole. In May 1879 another Sidney mob forced Charles Reed to jump off a ladder propped against a telegraph pole to which the rope around his neck had been tied. Options had increased by the time Watson McDonald was lynched in Sidney on the night of April 2-3, 1881. A tree in the courthouse yard had grown large enough to bear a man's weight and the mob did not have to use a telegraph pole as a makeshift gallows.

The fate of these three men, alleged to have committed murder or attempted murder, fits the accepted definition of lynching: an illegal killing carried out by a group under the pretext of serving justice. The hanging of Patterson, Reed, and McDonald also conforms to mythology long connected with lynching in the American West. As the myth goes, vigilante justice was necessary in frontier communities that were too small, too poor, or too isolated to have reliable law enforcement, a functioning court system, and a secure place to lock up accused criminals. Hence, the citizens themselves assumed the roles of police, judge, and jury and meted out punishment. This very argument was articulated by a citizen of North Platte after three "roughs" were lynched there in 1870: "[U]nder certain circumstances, methods known to law books CANNOT protect society, however faithfully administered and that such circumstances are sometimes embodied in the social conditions of our pioneer communities." The citizen cited insecure jails, infrequent terms of court, and "little chance that the best efforts of courts and officers can keep gamblers and ruffians off juries."

During the years when Sidney's lynchings took place, the town displayed many stereotypical characteristics of a frontier community. It had recently sprung up adjacent to the military post of Sidney Barracks as the railhead for a major supply trail to the Black Hills mining camps. It had no adequate jail and its law officers were often hard to distinguish from the criminals they were expected to catch. Rolf Johnson visited Sidney in 1879 on his way to the Black Hills and described it as a "hard town," where "soldiers cowboys, bullwhackers, mule-skinners, gamblers, prostitutes, and pimps swarm on the streets, saloon and gambling halls are numerous, and a dance hall is in full blast." Nearly everyone carried firearms. When McDonald was lynched in 1881, the North Platte newspaper noted that Sidney authorities had tried and failed to suppress the town's criminal element. "The citizens then invoked the power that though resident in every community, is without the limits of the law, and by its use compelled a submission to peace and order."

The argument that lynching was a necessary and appropriate response to frontier conditions was also proposed by early historians of the American West, including Frederick Jackson Turner and Hubert Howe Bancroft. Later generations of historians and writers upheld the view that summary justice brought stability to a lawless frontier, represented progress toward "civilization," and was a relatively short lived phenomenon. These claims were supported by novels, comic books, television programs, and movies that romanticized and mischaracterized lynching as an inevitable consequence of western expansion.

Recent studies of lynching in individual states, regions, and nationally belie the mythology. Manfred Berg in his history of lynching in America concluded that the notion of frontier vigilantism as operating only in the absence of law does not square with the historical record. Ken Gonzalez-Day and Stephen J. Leonard studied lynching in California and Colorado, respectively, and reached similar conclusions. The evidence revealed that as the reach and capabilities of formal legal institutions increased, so did the number of lynchings. Summary justice was frequently applied in the West and Midwest (Nebraska included) during the 1880s and 1890s, and less often after 1900, in localities temporally distant from the assumed social and institutional instability of their formative years.

The entire essay appears in the Fall 2012 issue



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