Friday, May 1, 2020

The John Coffee Hays Club's Annual Roundup -- Guest Speaker Tom Correa

Tom Correa signing books before speaking 
at the John Coffee Hays Club Annual Fundraiser
Photograph by Troy Ellis

Above is a link to my first speaking engagement. My subject was "Vigilantes in the Old West." As for the overall message of my speech, it was a simple one: We are the law.

Below is the backstory about how this all came about. You might find it interesting.

If I remember right, it was in May of last year, 2019, when I was contacted by Dan Terry who is one of the officers of the John Coffee Hays Club. He invited me to speak at their annual dinner which was supposed to be held later in October. Along with the invitation to speak at that event, he advised me that his organization would cover my transportation costs and they even offered me an honorarium. And also, he asked me to join the John Coffee Hays Club.

Before going on with how I ended up speaking at the dinner, let me just say that since starting my blog The American Cowboy Chronicles in December of 2010, there's been several groups who have invited me to attend their events. All have requested me to speak to them about some subject or another, but surprisingly not every group has wanted me to talk about Old West History.

All of them have been very gracious. All have been very respectful folks. But, even though that had always been the case, I hadn't accepted any invitations to speak to any group. Please understand, that's not to say that I haven't been flattered to have been invited. And that's not to say that some groups haven't made some very enticing offers of compensation for me to do so. It's just that I haven't been very comfortable talking to a group of people who I don't know.

Let's be frank here. I don't mind talking to the folks here in our small rural community. I don't mind standing up during our local Memorial Day observance or when I've had to officiate the funerals of friends. In those cases, folks know me. And besides, a few minutes of talking with a group where everyone more or less knows everyone else, and a few good words and prayers are needed to comfort those there, that's a lot different than giving a speech to people who I don't know.

Since Dan Terry said he was familiar with my work, I decided to look into the John Coffee Hays Club almost immediately after getting his invitations. The group's website says it is "a private, fraternal organization, with a selective membership."

Their website also states, "We organized a club through which we, as free men, may unite: to address the responsibilities we have to defend, protect and promote our shared American heritage, American culture and The American Way.

To educate the members and the public at large as to what The American Way has contributed, contributes in the present and will further contribute to the security of free men and the promotion of ordered freedom as defined by Natural Law and the Greco-Roman, Anglo-Saxon, Hebraic-Christian deposit of social capital here in the United States of America – the crowning glory and zenith of milenia of Western Civilization.

We advocate and support the timeless truths of the Natural Law, the triumphs of Western Civilization and the supremacy of The American Way.  This organization promotes our American heritage generally, the cultural legacy of the American West more distinctively and the patrimony and ideals of northern California specifically."

I immediately liked what I read. Yes, including when they said "John Coffee Hays was an American icon who lived by, respected, and honored the heritage of the American firearm."

The mission of the John Coffee Hays Club is "Defending The Republic." Their motto is "Virtuti, Honor, Traditio" which is Latin meaning "Virtue, Honor, Tradition."

The event which I was being invited to was their second dinner. By the way, their first dinner, their founding dinner, had a very prestigious speaker who is a world renown author and scholar. The previous speaker at their founding dinner was the famous Dr. Victor Davis Hanson. Friends, I'm a great admirer of Dr. Hanson and enjoy hearing his views on Fox News. I couldn't see myself following him on the second year. We are cut from two different types of cloth. Dr. Hanson is a very polished brilliant speaker. I'm just Tom.

While that's all the truth, to my absolute surprise, 12 hours after receiving Dan Terry's email, I accepted his invitation to join his group and to speak there. I found out later in an exchange of email that the event was actually a fund raiser for a charity that they sponsor. In fact, the charity which they sponsor is the Happy Trail Children's Foundation started by Roy Rogers and Dale Evans.

My Book & A Glass Of Whisky
Photograph by Troy Ellis
So now, I replied to Dan Terry, and in my reply I let him that I did know a little about John Coffee "Captain Jack" Hays. From what I know about him, Capt. Jack was really an impressive individual. He is a legend among Texas Rangers, a man who was also the first Sheriff of San Francisco County, and he was a die-hard Indian fighter. I think I let Dan Terry know that I've been working on an upcoming book which may have a story about Capt. Jack's relationship with the San Francisco Committee of Vigilance of 1851. When I say "may have" --  it's only if I'm satisfied and feel I do justice to the Captain.

Since I accepted his offer to become a member, I let him know that I would set up a back-link so that my readers can visit The John Coffee Hays Club website if they want to read more about the famous Texas Ranger. To answer some email asking me about that back-link on my website, that's why it's there.

As for my speaking to his group, I did ask if there would be other speakers there, when was it being held, and of course what topic would the club like me to address. I later learned that I was the only speaker scheduled. It became very obvious to me that I had no idea what took place at such events.

As for the club covering my transportation costs and any sort of an honorarium, I turned it down. Fact is I wasn't interested in letting them do that. Besides liking what I read on their website, I didn't feel right since I'm obviously not a professional speaker. Also, whatever they wanted to spend on me being there was better sent to their charity. After all, as I said before, I had found out that it was a charity fund raiser. That's a good cause.

Instead, I suggested the club simply buy my wife and me dinner. Friends, the dinner was held at one of the best steakhouses in Northern California -- the Back Forty Back Forty Texas BBQ Roadhouse & Saloon in Pleasant Hill. From everything that I heard about them, those folks know how to Bar-B-Q!

So okay, a few months go by and I hadn't heard from them to confirm a time or date. Frankly, I started to wonder if the invitation still held. Then, after a few emails, they let me know that they had some bad news. Their dinner had to be postponed until January or February because of scheduling with the folks at Back Forty Back Forty Texas BBQ. 

By the way, when I was informed of the date, they also let me know that there was an initiation to the club that I needed to do. Yes, an initiation. The initiation was going to be held at the grave of John Coffee Hays himself. Yes, at his grave.

When I told my wife about that, she asked me what sort of initiation? When I told a couple of close friends about it, they laughed and wanted to know if it included booze. Two of my very close friends who wanted to go to the dinner, also wanted to go to the initiation just to see what that was all about. 

So yes, my wife, my close friends Kevin and Brett Haight, and I arrived at the grave of John Coffee Hays in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland at about 2pm on February 8th. It was there that I had the pleasure of meeting part of the club's board of directors, Dave Yuers, Dan Terry, and Keith Schwartz. I met the rest of the board, Chuck Baumann and Daryl Chilimidos, when I arrived at the Back Forty Texas BBQ.

Among the very famous people buried in Mountain View Cemetery in Oakland is railroad magnate and banker Charles Crocker, J. A. Folger who was the founder of Folgers Coffee, Domingo Ghirardelli who was the founder of the Ghirardelli Chocolate Company, and Austin H. Hills who founded with his brother, R. W. Hills, Hills Bros. Coffee in San Francisco in 1878. Also, Henry J. Kaiser is buried there. Many know Kaiser Hospital, but some might not know that he's considered the father of modern American shipbuilding. Besides such industrialists and businessmen, a large number of California governors and military men whose deeds are found in history books are also buried there. Many are Medal of Honor recipients.

As for those who are greats of American History who are buried there, of course there is none other than Texas Ranger legend John Coffee "Capt. Jack" Hays. The first time I visited Capt. Jack's grave was in 1980. I would have never thought that I'd be drinking outstanding whisky at his grave some 40 years later. But frankly, that was the situation in a nutshell. 

My wife Deanna, along with my friends Kevin and Brett, witnessed my initiation. Dave Yuers, Dan Terry, and Keith Schwartz, presented me with a whisky glass embossed with my name. They poured the drinks and I took the oath. We toasted Capt. Jack, and then poured a little on the grass near the three flags that sit atop his grave. The three flags represent the Texas Ranger, the California Pioneer, and the American Patriot that he was. It was a good thing all the way around.

Me talking with Keith Schwartz, Daryl Chilimidos, and Chuck Baumann
John Coffee Hays Club Annual Fundraiser

February 8, 2020
Photograph by Troy Ellis
When we arrived at the steakhouse, the club had already set up a table for me to sell and sign books. This was my first time doing a book signing and everyone who I met were all very nice and interested in the Old West. Believe it or not, some said they had already bought my book The American Cowboy Chronicles Old West Myths & Legends: The Honest Truth Book 1They bought it on line when they heard that I was going to be the keynote speaker.

We took pictures at the bar, we had a few drinks, then had dinner. Soon enough, I was introduced. David Yuers is the president and he gave me a very nice introduction. He opened by telling those there that I might explain where the 3-7-77 comes from.

The 3-7-77 was a vigilante group in Montana. I sort of decided to stick to my notes and pass on that. The reason that I did has to do with the 3-7-77 itself. I felt, since no one knows exactly where the numbers came form, and it is a real Old West mystery, explaining all of the different theories as to where that came might have been too time consuming. Looking back on it now, I could have simply told those there that the accepted version of what the 3-7-77 means has to do with the dimensions of a grave back then. And frankly, I wish I had. 

Below is the link to the video, I hope you enjoy it: 
John Coffee Hays Annual Roundup - Speaker Tom Correa 

Tom Correa speaking at the John Coffee Hays Club Annual Fundraiser
February 8, 2020

Photograph by Troy Ellis
It was my first experience as a public speaker. They say we're all our worse critics. For me, that's always been the case. I admit that I was sort of nervous at first and I did lose track of time. And besides not addressing where the 3-7-77 is believed to have come from, my only regret as far as my talk goes is that I had so many great stories about vigilantes that I wanted to tell, but time got away from me. 

As for the video, I cannot thank photographer/cinematographer Troy Ellis enough. He did such a great job making me look better than I felt by the end of the night. As for the sound, I think I sound horrible. My friends who've seen the video say that doesn't sound like me. But there may be a reason for that. And yes, that goes to my coming down with the flu. That morning, my throat was killing me so loaded up on flu medications. So while that night was great, I felt horrible and fought the flu for the next three weeks after that. 

Brett & Kevin Haight
As for the dinner, it was really great. The food and drinks were outstanding. The sense of camaraderie was wonderful. Frankly, it made me think I should leave the farm more often. As for my friends, besides Kevin and Brett, my friends Rudy and his wife Paula showed up, so did my in-laws Tom and Fran Prickett. All seemed to have had a very good time. 

I have to say that the people who attended the dinner were very nice. And as for the John Coffee Hays Club's board of directors, folks would have a hard time finding a nicer group of guys. After the dinner, my wife and I were surprised when Dan Terry's wife presented my wife with a bouquet of roses. Dan presented me with a Bowie Knife.

I was touched by their graciousness and class. Little did they know that I have a small collection of Bowie knives, bayonets, my old K-Bar from my days in the Marine Corps, and such. So yes, it was very much appreciated. I enjoyed it a lot.

After my talk, a few people came up to me to ask questions. All said they enjoyed what I had to say. A couple of people who I spoke with asked where and when would be my next speaking engagement. They said they wanted to learn more. I told them they were very nice to say that, but that I don't usually do public speaking even though I've been asked to in the past. I told them that I'm a lot more comfortable writing. 

So now, with all that said, I have to admit that I left the door open to do it again for the same group simply because I like the guys who are the board of directors. They are some of the nicest guys who I've ever met. While it felt like they were going out of there way to be gracious, I think it just comes natural for them.

Every once in a while I get to meet a person who impresses me. Sometimes it's because of their craftsmanship, skills, or maybe because of their fighting the good fight. Sometimes, every blue moon or so, I'll meet someone with truly exceptionally good character. Well, I've never met a group that impresses me as much as Dave Yuers, Dan Terry, Keith Schwartz, Chuck Baumann, and Daryl Chilimidos, did that day. They are truly exceptional.

Dave Yuers, Keith Schwartz, Tom Correa, Daryl Chilimidos, Chuck Baumann, Dan Terry
Me with the John Coffee Hays Board of Directors

February 8, 2020
Photograph by Troy Ellis
Because of who they are and how they treat others, they impressed me. They treated my wife and I as welcome friends. They treated my friends and in-laws wonderfully to the point that my friends still talk about how nice they were that night. Yes indeed, these are guys who I'd ride to the river with.

My grandfather once told me, "When telling a story, always to tell the truth while remembering that people won't believe it anyway." My favorite Gunny Sgt. put it this way, "When telling a fish story, always keep the fish the same size. Just make the catching sound better."

What do those quotes have to do with my speech. Well, it goes to the heart of my telling stories about what took place in the real Old West -- when I tell real stories about what took place in American History. While some people like fiction, I believe the truth about what took place in the Old West is much more fascinating and enjoyable than the tale tales and fabrications Hollywood and fiction writers come up with.

As a writer, as a storyteller, I enjoy telling stories about life in the Old West as it really was. I like telling folks what I've learned about our heritage. I like telling others why we need to celebrate our history as Americans. And while some will not believe it, it will be the honest truth.  

Tom Correa

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