Friday, January 26, 2018

As For My Sources and Why I Don't List Them

The McCracken Research Library, 
The Buffalo Bill Center of the West, Cody, Wyoming
Dear Friends,

I was asked about my sources for my Doc Holliday article, Was Doc Holliday A Bad Shot?  After stating that I like to use newspapers, journals, diaries, court records of testimonies and arrest records, private letters, and more, I was asked about other sources.

The person asking that question didn't put much credibility in period newspapers and what I have seen as firsthand material such as court records and witness statements. He wanted to know what sources do I use besides besides that, he wanted to know what "credible authors" have I read?

He was of the belief that same court documents that's used by one of the people who he considers a "credible author" is somehow more credible than it is if examined by others looking at the same evidence. So again he wanted to know what "credible authors" have I read as sources?

Since I've been asked this before, let's talk about why I don't list sources. It has a lot to do with my basic distrust of writers, my distrust of getting secondhand information, and my concern that my readers don't buy into what some writers have to say just because I've found one specific thing which they have said that checks out to be true.

While most of you know that I research a lot of old newspapers, journals, diaries, and such, I hope you know that I'm a reader of just about anything dealing with history. I simply love the stories about what took place back when. I'm constantly amazed when learning things for the first time.

I've looked into historical records, arrest records, and even court records and testimonies such as those given after the OK Corral shooting. As for the books that I've read on Doc Holliday and others, there's been a few here and there. Some were less than 10% factual, while others were much better than that. Great entertainment, but lousy sources when digging into historical facts. 

I'm not going to lie and say that I don't have trust issues when it comes to reading the books of some writers out there. I simply don't trust what some writers put out. Fact is, I've spent a lot of time trying to verify what some writers have had to say. That's even more true if I read something that simply doesn't sound right.

Why I don't always trust Historians? 

Back in 2011, I was asked why there's so much difference in what various historians have to say? My reader wanted to know why so many Historians leave so many facts out when they write about someone or some event? She simply couldn't understand why many historians fall into the mindset of wanting to report the legend instead of facts? 

There is that famous line from the movie The Man Who Shot Liberty Valence, which believe it or not, is printed on a wall at the McCracken Research Library at the Buffalo Bill Center of the West in Cody, Wyoming. It states, "This is the West, Sir. When the legend becomes fact, print the legend."

There's the problem. Instead of printing the facts, many so-called historians are printing misinformation by running with the legend. No matter how outlandish, unfounded, exaggerated it may be, they run with it.  

If I had to call myself a historian, which I don't, I'd consider myself a "traditionalist" when it comes to researching history. Traditionalists are unlike revisionists because revisionists approach history in a subjective manner instead of objectively. Because of their approach, they ignore pertinent information when researching history. The things they ignore goes against what they "feel" took place, or what they "feel" the subject was "really" like. Revisionist like to Monday morning Quarterback an incident and say what "should have" happened, or what "could have" taken place , or what they "feel" happened, without simply taking in all of the facts and simply reporting what is known for fact.

As anyone who reads this blog knows, I try to connect the dots of history. I really try to be as accurate and impartial as possible while keeping things in chronological order in some way, shape, or form. I also try not to have a dog in the fight, at least not until I can verify the facts. Have I called this guy or that a bum, a killer, a psychopath, and more? Yes, because that what I've concluded from the evidence that I have examined. Besides, that's my opinion after looking at the facts. Yes indeed, I call a spade a spade based on facts and not hero worship or loathing. 

I see a lot of history as a mystery of sorts to be solved and not just accepted hands down without any evidence to support a claim. Old West legends impress me, tales entice me, so-called "facts" call me to examine them, and a great "bull-spit story" needs to be talked about. I hate reading what some so-called "historian" has to say when anyone reading their work can tell that they are obviously biased.

The reason I say "so-called" is because I believe that a major problem with some "historians" is that they can't seem to look at things without being biased. They take sides, and many reinforce a legend without examining it. They repeat things without questioning their so-called facts. They become supporters instead of simple reporters. They let their own subjective thoughts overwhelm any kind of objectiveness that they may have started out with. And worse of all, they make excuses for the person or event that they are writing about.

With all of the reading that I've been doing on Wyatt Earp, I've seen this a lot. It seems that there are many writers out there who claim to be historians while in reality act as Fan Club chairmen. All just fans supporting their "hero". 

Example, lately I've read many so-called Old West historians who have written about Wyatt Earp stealing horses. Believe it or not, they write it off to "a mistake during his youth," or something like this which is on multiple Wyatt Earp websites on the Internet:

"Perhaps due to distress over the death of Urilla, Wyatt gets in trouble with the law. He is accused of horse thieving in Van Buren, Arkansas. His bail is paid."

First off, that's misinformation because he never paid the fine. In reality, he escaped jail before making court. But facts like that don't stop some so-called historians from re-writing history. Yes, this is how Revisionist historians operate. Many of these Revisionist historians are Wyatt Earp fans -- so subsequently they act as supporters and conveniently leave out the fact that Wyatt Earp was not only sued for embezzlement as a Constable and later he was in fact arrested as a horse thief. They conveniently leave out that after Wyatt Earp escaped jail for being a horse thieve by climbing through the roof of the jailhouse, that he then he fled to Peoria, Illinois, where he was arrested multiple times for being a Pimp.

These so-called Historians somehow always seem to leave out that Wyatt Earp then moved to Wichita, Kansas, where even though he joined the Wichita Marshal’s office -- he also operated a brothel at the same time.

Of course the best example of bias is the whole James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok myth. There are so many books that "celebrate" his life, and his so-called adventures, instead of giving readers a really accurate unvarnished look at the man -- good or bad. It seems that much of what is written, is written by people who insist that they're non-biased -- when in fact they are extremely biased.

I'll tell you what I use as a gauge to tell whether a book on Wild Bill is going to be objective or not. It has to do with an incident that I looked into many years ago. It is the McCanles Massacre that took place at the Rock Creek Station near what is today Fairbury, Nebraska. It took place in 1861 when Hickok was a stock tender there. This occurred when Hickok was just a very young man hired to tend the livestock at the stage station.

It is where Hickok shot and killed unarmed David McCanles from behind a curtain, and then went about killing two other unarmed men who were with McCanles. Hickok even helped to hack one of them to death with a hoe, and go after McCanles young son who witness the whole slaughter take place, but that's all conveniently forgotten.

Of course if Hickok or either of the two others involved in the triple murder had caught David McCanles' son Monroe, who had run away from being slaughtered, we would have never known about the massacre.

Many Hickok historians still write exactly what a Dime Novelist for Harper's Monthly wrote back in the 1860s years after the murder took place. So-called historians still to today relay the story of a so-called "McCanles Gang" and a bloody fight to the death where Wild Bill suffered a half dozen stab wounds and 11 gunshot wounds. According to the story, Hickok single-handedly killed ten "desperadoes, horse-thieves, murderers, and cutthroats" known as the "McCanles Gang". And yes, it was reported as "the greatest one man gunfight in history". During the battle, Hickok supposedly armed with a single pistol, a rifle, and a bowie knife, was shot 11 times. At least, that's how his story went.

James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok claimed he had killed eight or ten or twelve members of the "McCanles Gang" depending on when he told the yarn, and how much booze he had under his belt when he told it. He would relate to anyone interested in listening to his side of the story, that he killed two of the gang in a knife fight -- right after he had suffered the 11 gunshot wounds.

According to Hickok, "I remember that one of them struck me with his gun, and I got hold of a knife, and then I got kind o' wild like, and it was all cloudy, and I struck savage blows, following the devils up from one side of the room to the other and into the corners, striking and slashing until I knew every one was dead."

Later, after the Harper's Monthly story came out, Hickok decided to make use of his new notoriety and changed his name after this incident. After growing a mustache to hide his protruding upper lip, which was why he was known as "Duck Bill," Hickok changed his name to "Wild Bill" instead of "Duck Bill" as Nebraska Court Records have him listed.

And just for the record, after James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok was shot in the head by 23 year old Jack McCall in Deadwood, none of the supposed 11 gunshot wounds or multiple stab wounds were found on Hickok's body. It was all a lie.

So for me, if some so-called historian, Old West or otherwise, writes about how there was something called a "McCanles Gang," I automatically throw their book into a garbage can. After all, if I can't trust writers who claim to be historians to get such a simple to prove incident correct, then how can I trust them to get other things right? How can I trust any writer to get things right, if he or she can't get the easy facts right?

Also, what happens when it comes to things that may need a lot more research? Will they just conveniently omit the things that don't fit into their narrative or doesn't support their conjecture? It seems at times that some writers would rather conveniently leave things out instead of having to explain them.

Frankly, I can't help but wonder how many so-called historians simply go with what's already been written by someone else, and maybe use what was already written without even asking if its true or not? Ever wonder why there is so much difference in what various historians report? Ever wonder why so many so-called historians leave out so many facts out when they write about someone or some event?

Well imagine for a moment that you're an Historian, and you're doing a book trying to show a heroic Wild Bill Hickok. Would you want the following information to be known?

John Burwell "Texas Jack" Omohundro was a genuine frontier scout, who later joined the famous William "Buffalo Bill" Cody on a Chicago stage as the stars of Ned Buntline's melodrama "The Scouts of the Prairie." Texas Jack was actually a Virginian who served with the Confederate Army during the Civil War, fought Indians in Texas, and who drove Texas Longhorn cattle to North Platte, Nebraska.

Texas Jack met Buffalo Bill Cody there in Nebraska in 1870. Buffalo Bill persuaded Texas Jack to become a scout at nearby Fort McPherson. The two scouts resigned in the fall of 1872 after getting the offer to go on stage. The melodrama "The Scouts of the Prairie" was a big success, and they took the action-packed act on the road to just about everywhere.

In 1873, Buffalo Bill and Texas Jack began starring in a similar melodrama called "The Scouts of the Plains." This was a continuation from their first big hit. They were joined for a short time by another frontier legend, James Butler "Wild Bill" Hickok, who had a lesser role.

And really, why did Wild Bill Hickok have a lesser role? Well, it was reported at the time that it was because Wild Bill, the legendary frontier marshal and so-called "Prince of the Pistoleers" had "a voice like a girl."

So now, if you were an Old West historian focusing on the greatness of Wild Bill, imagine your dilemma for a moment. Here you are, writing away, using what the legend says about Wild Bill Hickok as your outline. And you really feel great knowing that many many other so-called "Hickok Historians" have repeated the story of the dreaded "McCanles Gang" and their viciousness, so you write about that as well. And of course you write with enthusiasm about Hickok's many supposed adventures, his supposed knife fights, gunfights, gambling, being town marshal, confronting John Wesley Hardin, and of course his killing hundreds of "savage" Indians. Then out of the blue you come face to face with the choice of either using -- or not using -- the fact that the newspapers and Buffalo Bill Cody was reported to have said that Wild Bill Hickok had "a voice like a girl."

So what do you do? Let's say that you're vision of Wild Bill is one of a rugged frontiersman with a gruff whiskey sounding voice barking orders to his many opponents. "Make your move, or hand over your guns! Draw and die, you varmint!" -- the great dialogue of the "The Scouts of the Plains."

Then your image of Wild Bill is shattered because you find out that he sounds like a girl. All of a sudden, Wild Bill has a different sound when he's shouting "Draw!" All of a sudden he sounds like your sister when she was 10 years old, and you remember what she sounded like when she was trying to be forceful. You laugh at the memory.

For a writer, especially one that is trying to depict his hero as a testosterone dripping man's man, this revelation could be a problem. So now, what do you do if you have been one of those Revisionist historians who has placed Wild Bill on a pedestal and has been in the forefront of furthering his legend of being this rugged whiskey voice frontiersman, a tough as nails man's man, a man whose supposed mere presence was enough to supposedly make men shake with fear? Him sounding like a girl certainly doesn't help you does it?

From what I've seen, if some so-called historian was writing a book trying to make Hickok appear heroic, then most likely they'd conveniently leave out certain things. I really think that Hickok being a back-shooting bushwhacker and his having "a voice like a girl" would probably be left out.

Truth or not, it probably wouldn't help the author sell his books. And friends let's be honest here, in most cases, like with the Dime Novelist of years gone by, it's all about what sells.

As far as my sources?

Let's use my article "Was Doc Holliday A Bad Shot?"for an example, and talk about my sources pertaining to that article, I've read books by Ben T. Traywick, Karen Holliday Tanner, Gary Roberts, and Jay Nash. I browsed through one by Bob Boze Bell, and a few others. I read a book on Doc that was supposedly written by Bat Masterson. Besides these newer books, I've read others back in the 1970s and '80s. But frankly, I simply can't remember the titles or authors. 

As for people sending me things, I've received email from people claiming to be  relatives of different historic figures. Some of them have told me, "To go to Hell." Others have wanted to send me things such as pictures and documentation. Yes, I've gotten things from people claiming to be the ancestors of this bandit or that lawman, this gambler and that con artist, ranchers, and others. 

As for listing my sources, I don't do that because of a few reasons. First, during my life, I've read a lot about American history in general. Mostly, my interest has been about the Old West, the Great Depression, World War II, and the 1950s. And as I think about it right now, it just struck me that I have no way of listing down a lifetime of learning as a reference source? 

As all children do in school, I grew up learning the history of my state. Since I grew up in Hawaii, I learned Hawaiian history. After my family relocated to California when I was in high school, I was taught the basics of California history. While I loved the cowboy history of the Paniolo in Hawaii, a history that my grandfather made sure I understood because it was our heritage, I was able to learn more about the Vaquero and the Californio here in California.

When I joined the Marine Corps, I ate up the fact that the Corps encouraged us to immerse ourselves in Marine Corps history. And after returning to California from my overseas deployment in the Marine Corps in 1975, yes well over 40 years ago, I started reading and really investigating a lot of Old West history.

Part of that came from being stationed in Camp Pendleton right their near San Diego. On off-duty days, my time was divided into time at the base stables, helping a couple of old Marines on their ranches located near the base, and of course visiting historic towns nearby.

I enjoyed helping at the stables because I was again around horses. I was a part of my life that I missed from growing up on my grandfather's ranch in Kunia on Oahu. Those two old Marines were retired and also helped around the stables. They made the place feel like my grandfather's ranch because they were full of stories about the old days.

Both entered the Corps before World War II, and both had been cowboys during the Great Depression. That had all sorts of stories about the way things were in ranching in Texas and Oklahoma where they were from, of course the Marine Corps during World War II, Korea, and the early days of Vietnam. When I know them back in 1977, they must have both been retired at least 10 years or more when I knew them.

After 30 years in the Corps, both retired and settled down in the area near the base. There wasn't anything unusual about that since there were a lot of retirees who stayed in the area. Some retirees actually came back to work for the base as civilian employees. The two Old Timers were different because both wanted to take up where they left off and started ranching. That's actually how they met if I remember right. It wasn't in the Corps, but at a local rodeo.

OK, so not all of my off-duty time was spend on volunteering and learning. There was definitely some drinking, a few fights, a bar brawl or two, trout fishing, target shooting, hunting coyotes, and of course a little carrying on when the opportunity arose as well. And of course, my time off included being so liquored up that I ended up on a saddle bronc more than a few times. It was usually a combination of a lot of booze and a dare a few days before the Camp Pendleton Rodeo. Yes, a lot of booze was definitely involved. 

But the point is, I started finding out that a great deal of the Old West that I learned about as a kid watching westerns on television in the 1950s and '60s was in fact just plain wrong. Worse yet, I was finding out that many of the so-called "historians" out there were full of shit.

As I said before, it seemed as though they didn't investigate things for themselves and simply relied on what others wrote in their books. It became real apparent that most writers were simply passing on the same information. At least, that's what I was seeing.   

I remember reading a book back in the 1970s that came out in the 1950s regarding Old West "gunfighters". It was supposedly written by an "eye-witness" and "former deputy" if I remember right. I found out later that it was just a book of fairy tales. 

Why I don't always trust some Writers?

As for becoming suspect of writers, there is something that I had learned in an Evidence Class while studying for my degree in Criminal Justice/ Administration of Justice. Yes, back in the early 1980s when I also took writing classes. 

In that Evidence Class, we took a long look at a book that came out at the time. If I recall correctly, that was in 1982. Our class debated it to no end. And for me, I walked away thinking that writers should never be fully trusted. Frankly, I still feel the same way and still don't completely trust them. 

The man who wrote that book was supposedly a "highly regarded researcher". He was praised by all sorts of supposed "experts" and he was treated as a go to know-it-all on his subject. No, I'm not talking about Glenn Boyer who many called a "Guru" and "Earpist" because he was seen as the leading authority on everything Wyatt Earp.

No, the writer that I'm talking about did not write about the Old West but instead about Lee Harvey Oswald and the assassination of President John F. Kennedy. He was a British author and lawyer by the name of Michael Eddowes. The premise of his book was that Oswald was not in his grave. In fact, the author stated that the man in Oswald's grave was actually a Soviet Union assassin. Yes, his assertion was that a Soviet agent assassinated President John F. Kennedy.    

Bet you think I'm making this up? Well, I'm not. 

Eddowes had published a book titled "Khrushchev Killed Kennedy" in 1975. That was his first in a series of three books that he put out over a five or six year span. All of his books were about the same thing in that he was making the case that the Soviet Union was responsible for killing President Kennedy.

No surprise really. Back in those days, there was a lot of that sort of thing with all sorts of people claiming that President Kennedy was killed by the CIA, the FBI, President Johnson, the Mafia, the Cubans, the Soviet Union. Some claims were so wild that the only ones who weren't said to have done it was the Mormon Tabernacle Choir. 

So no, what he came up with wasn't new. What was new is that the author's plot sounded convincing to a lot of people who wanted to believe it. If that sounds like the typical con artist ploy? It is.  

To make a long story short, according to the British author, Oswald was not killed. Instead there was a KGB trained look-alike that assumed his identity sometime while Oswald was visiting the Soviet Union. 

Even though all of the evidence that Eddowes put out in his third book of the three in 1977 titled "The Oswald File" was really circumstantial at best, the notion that the dead Oswald was actually a body-double took off like wildfire. A large number of people swallowed it in the same way that a large number of people have swallowed Al Gore's Global Warming scam. 

Eddowes used everything he could to support his claim that Oswald was not killed or buried in Texas. He noted supposedly faked documents, faked records, and all sorts of other supposed facts to support his claim. And while Eddowes wasn’t the first to suggest there was more than one Lee Harvey Oswald in on the assassination of President Kennedy, I really believe he was just more persuasive than others before him. Yes, that included his making personal appearances and hawking his book on the talk-show circuit.

Believe it or not, his third book "The Oswald File" launched a federal investigation by the House Select Committee. The feds looked into it and found no evidence to support Eddowes' claims. No new evidence was found in his books, and subsequently federal investigators put it down as just another conspiracy theory.  

Of course that didn't stop anyone from believing that nothing of the sort happened. Then even though no evidence existed, soon enough there were calls for Oswald to be exhumed. Yes, just to prove that the body in the coffin was a Soviet assassin. 

Soon more calls went out saying that the public "had a right to know" what was going on. Then it happened. Lee Harvey Oswald was exhumed. As crazy as it sounds, the state of Texas gave in to political pressure. And on the morning of October 4th, 1981, they exhumed Lee Harvey Oswald at the Rose Hill Cemetery. 

Texas officials removed his and once at Baylor Medical Center in Dallas, Assistant Dallas County Medical Examiner Linda E. Norton conducted an examination. She found what remained of his body still in the clothing that he had been buried in. While his corpse was close to being completely decomposed, the forensic team was said to have only needed Oswald's head for tests.  

Hours after the exhumation, a press conference was held. Dr. Norton then announced, "We, both individually and as a team, have concluded beyond any doubt, and I mean beyond any doubt, that the individual buried under the name Lee Harvey Oswald in Rose Hill Cemetery is, in fact, Lee Harvey Oswald."

To my recollection, that British author supposedly issued a statement saying that he was "surprised." If I remember right, it was also said at the time that when asked if he felt bad about costing the American taxpayer so much money on an investigation, and costing the state of Texas a lot of money while looking into the matter as well as the cost of the exhumation, he supposedly replied, "I was trying to sell books." 

We studied this case when it all first happened. It was a lesson to me that I've never forgotten. It's been a constant reminder that writers say what they want to sell books. That's the bottom line.

A writer can pump out their chest and tell you how many papers that he or she have submitted to this or that organization, and scream about how many books that they have had published. But frankly, that has nothing to do with whether or not their material is accurate, factual, or simply borrowed from someone else who may have fabricated it in the first place.

Lately, a book on President Trump has come out and that author has had to admit that he fabricated what was supposed to be facts. Yes, that's no different than what the supposed "Earp authority" Glenn Boyer is said to have done in his work. 

So now, since I haven't found a single book that completely agrees with what I've found out about the Old West, I don't list sources. It doesn't mater to me if I've found what I can determine as some credible information or not in some book. I don't like listing books because people see that as recommended reading.    

My reason is simple, I don't want people to read something that they see that I may have sourced and take the whole book as gospel. I don't want someone to say, "Parts of this sounds like bullshit! How could Tom use this as research material when it's only partly true?" And being frank, I don't want someone to ask the question, "How could he recommend it when it's only so-so true?"

I look at recommending a book as no different than recommending a bar.  If I recommend a bar, I'd say, "It's clean. Well lit. The drinks are good at a good price. You won't be ripped off. It's fun and the people are friendly! You'd enjoy the place. No buts about it." I wouldn't recommend a bar by saying, "Well, it's sort of OK in some ways but in some ways it's not and you decide!"  

I see sources the same as when I was trained to do a criminal investigations, or when I was trained to do nuclear inspection work. I use the evidence that I can verify as a true or not as I sift through what I've found. I've learned that some things hold water while others don't even from the most celebrated writers. Whether I like it or not, I've found that some evidence is just hearsay, just conjecture, someone's biases, or may simply be false. 

To give you a quick example of how research can change things. I remember writing an article once that I had almost completed. That is until I found one piece of evidence that blew my whole article out of the water. The guy that I was writing about with such flattering terms, actually turned out to be a bum. I obviously shit-canned that article. 

As for my article on Doc Holliday? It's just my opinion based on what I've found. As I've said before, I'm a blogger and I'm not writing for a Historical Society. I'm not writing to extend my Criminal Justice credentials. I certainly don't write to be confused with some expert on television who knows it all. I write because I found a great number of things that I'd like to share. Things that changed my mind about many aspects of American history, especially Old West history. 

I've found out that some of those who we've been told were heroes, actually were not. Some who we have never heard of before, actually were. Because I'm satisfied with what I've learned on my own without being too influenced by other writers, I'd say Holliday was probably a lousy shot. 

Just the way I see it.

Tom Correa

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