Here's a bit of what you'll find in the Fall 2013 issue.
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“Scopes Wasn’t the First”: Nebraska’s 1924 Anti-Evolution Trial - Adam Shapiro
The waning days of the 1924 presidential campaign found William Jennings Bryan back in his former home state of Nebraska. On Friday evening, October 17, 1924, The Commoner, as newspapers called him, spoke to an audience of hundreds at the high school auditorium in Fremont. It was one of many campaign stops he made across the state. In fact, he had already made two appearances in smaller towns earlier in the day. It was a frenzied tour by train. By the next morning he would be fifty miles south, in his former hometown of Lincoln. That Saturday night, he would address thousands in a “packed house at the Lincoln auditorium.”
Bryan told Nebraskans of his worry that votes might be split between the Democratic ticket and the third-party candidacy of “Fighting Bob” LaFollette, handing an easy electoral victory to the Republican nominee, Calvin Coolidge. It was the fear of losing the votes of Western farmers that had prompted the Democratic Party to nominate William’s brother, Nebraska governor Charles W. Bryan, to be their vice-presidential candidate. William himself had been dispatched on a speaking tour to Colorado, Nebraska, and Kansas, which was what had brought him to Lincoln seventeen days before the election.
The long arc of Bryan’s public life and his career in national politics had began in Lincoln over thirty years earlier when he was elected to represent the area in the U.S. Congress. It would end in little more than nine months’ time with his death on July 26, 1925—just after the end of the Scopes antievolution trial in Dayton, Tennessee. By 1924, the three-time Democratic nominee for U.S. President was also America’s best-known antievolutionist. His 1922 book In His Image had attracted the ridicule and rebuttal of some of the nation’s most prominent biologists and also sold widely and gained a following among Fundamentalists. In 1923, he successfully guided a resolution reaffirming the “truth of the Bible” through the General Assembly of the Presbyterian Church in the U.S.A. He had already successfully inspired Florida (where he had moved in 1913) to pass a resolution condemning the presence of evolution in schools. Bryan had even gained the ear of textbook publishers who were just beginning to adapt their books to mollify the antievolution movement.
But Bryan didn’t talk about evolution in his speeches that October. The teaching of evolution was an issue in some states, but it was not a federal matter and it did not figure in the national election. And yet it’s ironic that no one asked him about evolution when he spoke that Saturday in Lincoln because less than half a mile away America’s first antievolution trial had just concluded a few hours earlier. In district court presided over by Jefferson Hoover Broady (the son of Bryan’s first campaign manager), a schoolteacher accused of being “mentally and morally unfit” to teach because he believed in “Darwinism” had just won a civil lawsuit against his slanderers.
The civil lawsuit of David S. Domer against William A. Klink and eight residents of Rising City, Nebraska (in Butler County, about forty miles northwest of Lincoln) is an enigma. It has been completely unknown to historians and received almost no public attention or press coverage when it happened. There’s a stark contrast between the public spectacle that took place just nine months later with the Scopes trial in Tennessee and this earlier case that had much the same potential.
This suggests that there were important differences in the way that the evolution controversy was understood in Nebraska in 1924 and Tennessee in 1925 and that the trope of an “evolution trial” as a convenient way to understand these cases (and the many that have come later) is not unchanging. Indeed, the anonymity of Domer v. Klink et al. shatters one of the pervasive myths about the later Tennessee trial. In 1925, participants in the Scopes trial and the journalists reporting on it tended to describe the trial not in terms of the local politics of peculiarities of Tennessee, but as the natural expression of an unavoidable conflict between Darwin and the Bible. They gave the impression that the epic debate between science and religion had to turn into a great public debate. Even though the Scopes trial’s creators went out of their way to promote the event, and celebrity figures like Clarence Darrow and William Jennings Bryan co-opted the court case in order to engage in a public debate, there was still a consensus, forged by that trial’s creators, that the media attention and the spectacle were inevitable.
What happened in Lincoln was quite different. In 1922, Domer was the superintendent of the Rising City school. He applied for a new job teaching English at Midland College, a small school in Fremont affiliated with the United Lutheran Church in America. William Klink was the pastor of the ULCA-affiliated church in Rising City at the time, and along with eight other members of the congregation, wrote a letter to the dean and president of Midland, alleging that Domer would bring the school into disrepute, in part because he was a Darwinist. Domer lost the job. The following year, Domer sued for damages because of the loss of salary and his continued difficulties finding a job in the state due to the damage to his reputation. The jury awarded him $5,675.
The entire essay appears in the Fall 2013 issue.
Ed Creighton’s $100,000 Loan to Brigham Young - Dennis N. Mihelich
Whether or not Omaha businessman Edward Creighton (1820-1874) loaned Mormon leader Brigham Young (1801-1877) a sum of $100,000 has long remained historically contentious. In 1942, Raymond P. Nielson, chair of the history department at Creighton University, wrote an article about the school’s namesake, claiming the existence of the loan and citing references both pro and con. He sought confirmation of the repayment plan from the Mormon archive, but an unidentified member of the staff informed him that the institution had no record of the arrangement. Nonetheless, by looking at Creighton family records we can now verify the loan’s existence, the culmination of a long-term business relationship between the future namesake of a Catholic university and the president of the Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints.
Creighton met Young during a stop at Salt Lake City in December 1860, as he surveyed the route for a proposed transcontinental telegraph line. They had several business dealings during the years that followed.
Alfred Sorenson (1850-1939), city editor of the Omaha Daily Bee and the author of three histories of Omaha (1876, 1889, 1924), arrived in the city in 1871, three years before Edward Creighton’s death. Given the differences in age and socioeconomic status, the two Omaha residents probably did not socialize. Yet Sorenson occupied a position from which he acquired much information, and gossip, about the Creighton clan. In a 1936 biographical article about Edward, he claimed that during his Salt Lake City stopover, Creighton “made the acquaintance of the great Mormon ruler—Brigham Young—who became his lifelong friend.” However, the veracity of the statement remains in doubt because the sketch contained several historical errors that diminish its credibility. One involved the repetition of the myth that Creighton helped raise the first pole of the transcontinental telegraph on July 4, 1861. Choosing Independence Day for the start of a piece of technology binding the United States together as the Civil War tore it apart, became a powerful symbol. However, the diary of Charles Brown, Creighton’s secretary during construction of the telegraph, identified July 2 as the correct date.
While the nature of the “lifelong friendship” remains questionable, undeniably Creighton and Young forged a business relationship. As to his mid-December sojourn in Salt Lake City, the Deseret News reported on Creighton’s carrot-and-stick negotiation method—join my venture and profit or I will choose a different route:
Edward Creighton, esq., the agent of the Pacific Telegraph line, arrived here by last mail stage, on Saturday, and is still in the city seemingly puzzled whether to carry the line through Salt Lake City or by way of Santa Fe. He has visited Governor Young, but, I think, failed to particularly interest the gentleman in the enterprise. Mr. Creighton already learned that the Mormon chief’s example as shareholder would influence the community, and without it few shares would be taken here. Unless some such encouragement is given, Mr. C. thinks it very doubtful that the telegraph line will pass through this city, for a time at least. He is receiving proposals for supplying poles for 400 east and the same west, but makes no contracts till further informed by his associate agent who went round by the Isthmus to California, as to matters there.
The entire essay appears in the Fall 2013 issue.
“A Peculiar Set of Men”: Nebraska Cowboys of the Open Range
- James E. Potter
As an American icon, the cowboy has few peers. The iconic cowboy began to emerge while the real one was still riding the open range. Buffalo Bill Cody’s Wild West show premiered in Omaha in 1883 and soon took the romanticized American cowboy abroad. “Dime novels” featuring cowboy derring-do were common nineteenth-century fare. Owen Wister’s novel, The Virginian (1902), solidified the cowboy hero archetype. The Great Train Robbery (1903) initiated a stream of Hollywood films and TV series that helped create and then diffuse the mythological cowboy worldwide.
The occasional cowboy Western still graces the big screen, and who can forget the cowboys who rode the television ranges of Rawhide, The Big Valley, Gunsmoke, and Bonanza. Larry McMurtry’s 1985 novel, Lonesome Dove, became a best seller and was made into a TV miniseries. Cowboy poetry get-togethers are frequently held, and magazines such as Cowboys & Indians and American Cowboy find an eager readership. Authors who write about the West, both fiction and nonfiction, affiliate in the Western Writers of America, an organization whose bimonthly magazine is Roundup. Cowboy imagery often appears in music and advertising.
The old-time cowboy of the nineteenth-century American West is represented today by the handful of men who work as ranch hands in cattle country and by those who straddle the broncos and rope the calves in Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA) competitions and in scores of lesser rodeos. Many other examples illustrate the persistence of the cowboy as a cultural symbol. In The Cowboy: Reconstructing an American Myth, William Savage termed him “the predominant figure in American mythology” but added, “Historically, the cowboy was an individual of little or no significance.”
Unfortunately, as Richard Slatta notes in his 1990 book, Cowboys of the Americas, “The real old-time cowboy is only dimly visible in the new sanitized, politicized, symbolic cowboy.” Slatta’s conclusion applies as well to Nebraska’s “real old-time” cowboys. While the work they did and the lives they led are generally understood, most of these hard-working, underpaid, transient laborers on horseback remain anonymous. A few, however, can be glimpsed more fully in the historical record via recollections, documents, photographs, or personal possessions they left behind. Such is most often the case for those who made headlines for murder and other crimes and for the comparative handful that made the transition from cowboy to ranch owner, law officer, or politician after their range-riding days were over.
One reason so little is known about most of the men who trailed the longhorns north from Texas or worked Nebraska’s open ranges in the nineteenth century is that the period in which they flourished was so brief. Again quoting Slatta, “Extensive open-range ranching came and went in the American West in the space of a single lifetime.” Although the term “cow boy” can be traced back to AD 1000, its early usage meant literally a youth who tended cows. In North America, “cow-boy” in its modern usage was first a nickname for cattle thieves roaming the Texas-Mexico border during the 1830s. In its more honorable context, meaning a salaried laborer working cattle from horseback, the day of the American (and Nebraska) cowboy lasted only from the end of the Civil War to about 1900. Subsequently, hired laborers on ranches, often still called cowboys, began to do much of their work as pedestrians while building fences, putting up hay, and repairing windmills. As former cowboy James H. Cook put it in 1923, “A forty-five caliber hammer, a sack of fence-staples, and a wire cutter, splicer, and staple-puller combined are all the tools needed by the modern cowboy.” Saddle horses began to give way to pickup trucks, tractors, or all-terrain vehicles. No longer was the cowboy exclusively an equestrian.
Although a few Texas cattle were driven to Nebraska Territory before the Civil War, such as a herd of 750 from Fort Worth that crossed the Missouri River at Nebraska City in July 1860, the war’s outbreak in 1861 foreclosed cattle from Confederate Texas reaching northern markets. Once the war was over a surplus of cattle in Texas, combined with a growing, increasingly industrialized nation, provided both the supply and the demand for beef. If cattle were driven from their southern ranges to the railroads pushing westward across Kansas and Nebraska, they could be transported quickly to eastern slaughterhouses and packing plants.
Moreover, post- Civil War negotiations with the Plains tribes, such as the Fort Laramie Treaty of 1868 establishing the Great Sioux Reservation, provided for the government to feed the Indians (including a pound of meat daily for each Indian over age four) while they learned to practice agriculture. By the mid-1870s, with most Plains tribes on reservations and the bison being hunted nearly to extinction for their hides, thousands of acres of Great Plains grasslands became available to raise cattle, both for market and to supply the reservations and the army posts that surrounded them.
The entire essay appears in the Fall 2013 issue.
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