I've been doing some planning and building some more time to get things done on this site, and hope to have a number of new features added in February.
If you didn't submit your story for the book project honoring the former caretaker of Riverside Cemetery in Denver, Cliff Dougal, you still have time! If you would like to submit a story Cliff told you, or tell one of your memories of Cliff, please use this submission form.
This month's article is a bit of a deviation for me, in that it's not really so much about cemeteries. It's a review of a book that came out recently about Colorado History.
Speaking Ill of the Dead-Jerks in Colorado History
I put a hold on this book at the library because of title. From the picture on the cover, it was clear that two of the “jerks” were Horace Tabor and Mattie Silks. I would certainly grant Tabor “jerk” status. Mattie Silks, one of Denver and Georgetown’s madams, I wasn’t quite so sure qualified.
Turns out, the book was largely a disappointment.
Each chapter seems to me to be largely a rehash of things cited elsewhere, and then cobbled together with a bit of extra emphasis on “jerkdom,” except, the author seems uncomfortable with bringing out the jerky qualities of the people in her book, and often her summary paragraphs at the beginning of each biography feel like apologies for being about to make a case for “jerkitude.” In more than one case, I really felt like the author never really managed to make a case for jerk status, instead picked one instance of lukewarm “jerkiness,” and “proved” her thesis with little more than a concluding summary statement calling the person a jerk.
Me, I wanted actual jerks.
One of the “jerks” is Queen Anne B. She had a habit of “stealing” cattle. When cattle from neighbor’s herds wandered on to her property, she’d either re-brand the creature, or, she’d butcher them herself. This was something that her mother had done before her, and everyone knew was a likely outcome of cattle wandering onto her property.
This is pretty much the extent of her “jerkitude.” I’m almost bored just typing that.
Except, the story goes for 5-6 pages in the book. The biggest jerk in the story (who, I grant, does have his own chapter) is the infamous Tom Horn, who was hired by one the Anne’s neighbors to kill her foreman (who was also her fiancé). Horn ambushed the fiancé and one other man, leaving their house after breakfast, then shot and killed them both.
When the author has an actual jerk at her disposal, she seems to be afraid to really tarnish their reputation.
Take, for example, the case of Colonel Chivington. He was the jerk who led the Sand Creek Massacre, where he and the majority of the soldiers under his command murdered mostly women and children of the Arapaho tribe on the banks of the Sand Creek. This is discussed in the book.
When he was taken to trial for his actions, Silas Soule, who refused to take part in the killings, was the chief witness against Chivington. Soon after, Soule himself was murdered. The assassin, while it never went to trial and proven, was likely hired by Chivington. This part of the story is left out of the book.
It seems to me, if you are writing a book about “jerks,” you’d include all of the misdeeds that qualify them. Granted, Chivington was never convicted in association with this crime. Yet, every account I’ve read of this story indicates that this was more than mere speculation. Everyone knew who’d hired the assassin. This part of the story speaks volumes about this jerk, and it’s not even there. One of the few real jerks in the whole book, and one of the most obvious stories of the extent of his jerk-ness is not mentioned? Did she forget to read the title of her own book?
She missed the Bloody Espinozas, whose reign of terror was well known, and who butchered multiple victims throughout the southern part of the state. She missed, well, I’m not entirely sure at this moment, but, I’m certain there are multitudes of bigger jerks she missed.
I feel like this book was a lost opportunity, and look forward to seeing a book that takes better advantage of the promise of its title.
Around the Web
A very inspirational tale of a cemetery in decline, that was revived by preservationists. This is a tale which gives me hope.
A bill that is trying to improve the transparency of what a cemetery company does in Colorado has passed through a House committee. It's an interesting idea, and would require non-profit cemetery associations to share their bylaws, meetings, and etc with the families of the plot holders. Something to watch.
Students learn Civil War history using cemeteries. This effort is being spearheaded by one of the researchers involved with a similar project on the Florissant Cemetery.
Just wanted to draw attention to one of my favorite sites for cemetery preservation, Save Our Cemeteries in Louisiana.
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