Saturday, October 30, 2021

The Tell-Tale Heart by Edgar Allan Poe

First, I want to wish you a Happy Halloween! 

The story below is The Tell-Tale Heart. It is a short story by writer Edgar Allan Poe. In it, an unnamed narrator tries to convince readers of the narrator's sanity while at the same time describing a murder that the narrator committed. The victim was an old man, and the narrator emphasizes the careful calculation of the murder. 

True! — nervous — very, very dreadfully nervous I had been and am; but why will you say that I am mad? The disease had sharpened my senses — not destroyed — not dulled them. Above all was the sense of hearing acute. I heard all things in the heaven and in the earth. I heard many things in hell. How, then, am I mad? Hearken! and observe how healthily — how calmly I can tell you the whole story.

It is impossible to say how first the idea entered my brain; but once conceived, it haunted me day and night. Object there was none. Passion there was none. I loved the old man. He had never wronged me. He had never given me insult. For his gold I had no desire. I think it was his eye! yes, it was this! One of his eyes resembled that of a vulture — a pale blue eye, with a film over it. Whenever it fell upon me, my blood ran cold; and so by degrees — very gradually — I made up my mind to take the life of the old man, and thus rid myself of the eye forever.

Now this is the point. You fancy me mad. Madmen know nothing. But you should have seen me. You should have seen how wisely I proceeded — with what caution — with what foresight — with what dissimulation I went to work! I was never kinder to the old man than during the whole week before I killed him. And every night, about midnight, I turned the latch of his door and opened it — oh, so gently! And then, when I had made an opening sufficient for my head, I put in a dark lantern, all closed, closed, so that no light shone out, and then I thrust in my head. 

Oh, you would have laughed to see how cunningly I thrust it in! I moved it slowly — very, very slowly, so that I might not disturb the old man’s sleep. It took me an hour to place my whole head within the opening so far that I could see him as he lay upon his bed. Ha! — would a madman have been so wise as this? And then, when my head was well in the room, I undid the lantern cautiously — oh, so cautiously — cautiously (for the hinges creaked) — I undid it just so much that a single thin ray fell upon the vulture eye. 

And this I did for seven long nights — every night just at midnight — but I found the eye always closed; and so it was impossible to do the work; for it was not the old man who vexed me, but his Evil Eye. And every morning, when the day broke, I went boldly into the chamber, and spoke courageously to him, calling him by name in a hearty tone, and inquiring how he had passed the night. So you see he would have been a very profound old man, indeed, to suspect that every night, just at twelve, I looked in upon him while he slept.

Upon the eighth night I was more than usually cautious in opening the door. A watch’s minute hand moves more quickly than did mine. Never before that night had I felt the extent of my own powers — of my sagacity. I could scarcely contain my feelings of triumph. To think that there I was, opening the door, little by little, and he not even to dream of my secret deeds or thoughts. I fairly chuckled at the idea; and perhaps he heard me; for he moved on the bed suddenly, as if startled. Now you may think that I drew back — but no. His room was as black as pitch with the thick darkness, (for the shutters were close fastened, through fear of robbers,) and so I knew that he could not see the opening of the door, and I kept pushing it on steadily, steadily.

I had my head in, and was about to open the lantern, when my thumb slipped upon the tin fastening, and the old man sprang up in the bed, crying out — “Who’s there?”

I kept quite still and said nothing. For a whole hour I did not move a muscle, and in the meantime I did not hear him lie down. He was still sitting up in the bed listening; — just as I have done, night after night, hearkening to the death watches in the wall.

Presently I heard a slight groan, and I knew it was the groan of mortal terror. It was not a groan of pain or of grief — oh, no! — it was the low stifled sound that arises from the bottom of the soul when overcharged with awe. I knew the sound well. Many a night, just at midnight, when all the world slept, it has welled up from my own bosom, deepening, with its dreadful echo, the terrors that distracted me. I say I knew it well. I knew what the old man felt, and pitied him, although I chuckled at heart. 

I knew that he had been lying awake ever since the first slight noise, when he had turned in the bed. His fears had been ever since growing upon him. He had been trying to fancy them causeless, but could not. He had been saying to himself — “It is nothing but the wind in the chimney — it is only a mouse crossing the floor,” or “it is merely a cricket which has made a single chirp.” Yes, he has been trying to comfort himself with these suppositions: but he had found all in vain. All in vain; because Death, in approaching him had stalked with his black shadow before him, and enveloped the victim. And it was the mournful influence of the unperceived shadow that caused him to feel — although he neither saw nor heard — to feel the presence of my head within the room.

When I had waited a long time, very patiently, without hearing him lie down, I resolved to open a little — a very, very little crevice in the lantern. So I opened it — you cannot imagine how stealthily, stealthily — until, at length a single dim ray, like the thread of the spider, shot from out the crevice and fell upon the vulture eye.

It was open — wide, wide open — and I grew furious as I gazed upon it. I saw it with perfect distinctness — all a dull blue, with a hideous veil over it that chilled the very marrow in my bones; but I could see nothing else of the old man’s face or person: for I had directed the ray as if by instinct, precisely upon the damned spot.

And now have I not told you that what you mistake for madness is but over acuteness of the senses? — now, I say, there came to my ears a low, dull, quick sound, such as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I knew that sound well, too. It was the beating of the old man’s heart. It increased my fury, as the beating of a drum stimulates the soldier into courage.

But even yet I refrained and kept still. I scarcely breathed. I held the lantern motionless. I tried how steadily I could maintain the ray upon the eye. Meantime the hellish tattoo of the heart increased. It grew quicker and quicker, and louder and louder every instant. The old man’s terror must have been extreme! It grew louder, I say, louder every moment! — do you mark me well? 

I have told you that I am nervous: so I am. And now at the dead hour of the night, amid the dreadful silence of that old house, so strange a noise as this excited me to uncontrollable terror. Yet, for some minutes longer I refrained and stood still. But the beating grew louder, louder! I thought the heart must burst. 

And now a new anxiety seized me — the sound would be heard by a neighbor! The old man’s hour had come! With a loud yell, I threw open the lantern and leaped into the room. He shrieked once — once only. In an instant I dragged him to the floor, and pulled the heavy bed over him. I then smiled gaily, to find the deed so far done. But, for many minutes, the heart beat on with a muffled sound. This, however, did not vex me; it would not be heard through the wall. At length it ceased. The old man was dead. I removed the bed and examined the corpse. Yes, he was stone, stone dead. I placed my hand upon the heart and held it there many minutes. There was no pulsation. He was stone dead. His eye would trouble me no more.

If still you think me mad, you will think so no longer when I describe the wise precautions I took for the concealment of the body. The night waned, and I worked hastily, but in silence. First of all I dismembered the corpse. I cut off the head and the arms and the legs.

I then took up three planks from the flooring of the chamber, and deposited all between the scantlings. I then replaced the boards so cleverly, so cunningly, that no human eye — not even his — could have detected any thing wrong. There was nothing to wash out — no stain of any kind — no blood-spot whatever. I had been too wary for that. A tub had caught all — ha! ha!

When I had made an end of these labors, it was four o ‘clock — still dark as midnight. As the bell sounded the hour, there came a knocking at the street door. I went down to open it with a light heart, — for what had I now to fear? There entered three men, who introduced themselves, with perfect suavity, as officers of the police. A shriek had been heard by a neighbor during the night; suspicion of foul play had been aroused; information had been lodged at the police office, and they (the officers) had been deputed to search the premises.

I smiled, — for what had I to fear? I bade the gentlemen welcome. The shriek, I said, was my own in a dream. The old man, I mentioned, was absent in the country. I took my visitors all over the house. I bade them search — search well. I led them, at length, to his chamber. I showed them his treasures, secure, undisturbed. In the enthusiasm of my confidence, I brought chairs into the room, and desired them here to rest from their fatigues, while I myself, in the wild audacity of my perfect triumph, placed my own seat upon the very spot beneath which reposed the corpse of the victim.

The officers were satisfied. My manner had convinced them. I was singularly at ease. They sat, and while I answered cheerily, they chatted of familiar things. But, ere long, I felt myself getting pale and wished them gone. My head ached, and I fancied a ringing in my ears: but still they sat and still chatted. The ringing became more distinct: — it continued and became more distinct: I talked more freely to get rid of the feeling: but it continued and gained definitiveness — until, at length, I found that the noise was not within my ears.

No doubt I now grew very pale; — but I talked more fluently, and with a heightened voice. Yet the sound increased — and what could I do? It was a low, dull, quick sound — much such a sound as a watch makes when enveloped in cotton. I gasped for breath — and yet the officers heard it not. I talked more quickly — more vehemently; but the noise steadily increased. I arose and argued about trifles, in a high key and with violent gesticulations; but the noise steadily increased. Why would they not be gone? I paced the floor to and fro with heavy strides, as if excited to fury by the observations of the men — but the noise steadily increased. 

Oh God! what could I do? I foamed — I raved — I swore! I swung the chair upon which I had been sitting, and grated it upon the boards, but the noise arose over all and continually increased. It grew louder — louder — louder! And still the men chatted pleasantly, and smiled. Was it possible they heard not? Almighty God! — no, no! They heard! — they suspected! — they knew! — they were making a mockery of my horror! — this I thought, and this I think. But anything was better than this agony! Anything was more tolerable than this derision! I could bear those hypocritical smiles no longer! I felt that I must scream or die! — and now — again! — hark! louder! louder! louder! louder! —

“Villains!” I shrieked, “dissemble no more! I admit the deed! — tear up the planks! — here, here! — it is the beating of his hideous heart!”

Written by Edgar Allan Poe
January 1843

"The Tell-Tale Heart" is considered a classic of the Gothic fiction genre, also called the Gothic horror genre. The story was first published in James Russell Lowell's literary magazine The Pioneer in January 1843. It is probably Edgar Allan Poe's best-known short story. It became very famous in its time. 

The story is one of the first attempts in American literature to describe what the writer believes is the "perfect murder." Something that we all know does not exist. 

Monday, October 25, 2021

A Winter Horse Care Plan Would Be Nice

My Barn

I want to answer a letter that I received from a reader regarding caring for horses in the winter. She wrote asking me why I don't write more articles about ranching, guns, and horses. But also wrote, "Even though you would be late doing so, an article on Winter horse care would be nice." 

She then went on to tell me about her plan. All in all, she was asking my opinion of her Winter horse care plan. She also wanted to know if I can suggest other things to do for her horse? 

She wrote to say her plan at the moment includes the following: 
  • Make sure my horse has shelter to get out of the weather. 
  • Give her a little additional hay during times of extreme cold.
  • Keep her water clean and fresh
  • Make sure she is in good condition.
So, as she said, even though I'm late doing so, an article on a Winter horse care plan would be nice. And with that, I first want to say that I think her short to-the-point to-do list for a Winter Plan is on the right track.

The fact is, from what I've learned about Winter horse care, it's a two-part proposition. First, we have what needs to be done to get ready for Winter. The second is what we have to do as routine maintenance during Winter.

Allow me to explain what I'm talking about. Starting in the Spring, I begin preparing for the next Winter. What that means is that I get motivated to remedy all of the problems that seemed to pop up during the last Winter. Let me say that again, I get motivated to get ready for next Winter. The reason that I'm repeating myself is that I've found that I start out with a bang but then fizzle out. 

What really happens is that "Life 101" gets in the way and I postpone things. If you're a regular reader, then you know that I usually get more research and subsequently more of my writing accomplished when I'm not so bogged down with other aspects of my life. Such is life. 

What do I do with my time some of you have asked? Well, I do a lot of research. Yes, especially researching old notes for articles that I want to write. I have this blog to write. I'm also finishing my second book which I'm trying to make bigger and better than the first. Along with that, I also have our local American Legion post to manage. I'm a member of a Marine Corps League detachment. I put in as many hours that I can as a Calaveras County Sheriff's volunteer. And yes, I really do try to make time for my family. 

In fact, my wife and I go to lunch or dinner with my mom every week. After lunch, we take a ride and go sightseeing with no destination in mind -- or we return to her house and play cards. Frankly, I always accuse my mom of cheating at cards just to get her going. I know she doesn't, but that hasn't stopped me from pulling her leg. My friends, my wonderful mom will be 87 on November 6th. She is still going strong, but I've been around long enough to know that that can change in a blink of an eye. Because of that, I make sure that we get together as often as we can. That is if her schedule can fit me in.  

Of course, besides all of that, I try to spend time with our horses and keep up with the chores that need to be done on our small piece of property. And yes indeed, folks with small acreage like mine will certainly agree with me when I say that it feels like chores seem to never end. And no, I can't imagine being so wealthy as to hire hands to maintain large properties. 

That's why my Springtime plans fall apart and I usually find myself, as I did again this year, prepping for Winter during late Summer and Fall. That's also why I've been so busy cleaning and prepping for Winter up to a week or so ago. 

Before I retired from my first job and traveled around the country working, I used to see horses out in the snow in places like Utah, Wyoming, South Dakota, and Minnesota for example. I found out over the years that while some horses are better acclimated to cold temperatures and actually do better outdoors when the temps drop, that's not the horse that my wife and I own at all. While they do grow out their Winter coats faster than horses that are in lower elevations, our horses seem to get cold easily and seek out shelter pretty quick. 

That's why over the last few months, I've cleaned stall mats, repaired waterers and feeders, tried to store more hay, I've gotten my turn-out area ready, and much more. I try not to wait until Winter to clean and replace stall mats, so I try to get that done early. As for cleaning feeders, water troughs, and my hay storage area, I hate waiting until I need to put a horse in my barn before I get busy fixing or cleaning something that I could have done weeks ago. 

This year, I purposely made the time to fix two broken water troughs, re-do some pipes, and repair a feeder that needed it. And, I've even made sure to replace the extra floats that I used two years ago. Yes, those floats that I needed on the spare of the moment and used that were never replaced to keep on-hand for emergencies are now back on the shelf.  

Since I live in California, most folks think I live near the ocean or a big city. Well, that's not the case at all. As you've heard me talk about before, where I live here in the Sierra Nevada Mountains is what is commonly known as the California Gold Country. This is where the 1849 Gold Rush took place. And while some folks reading this might find it strange, we get snow here. Granted, it's not a large amount of snow like folks who live further up the mountain -- but we do get snow. 

So, with that, I have to prepare water troughs and pipes for freezing temperatures. That means that besides fixing broken water troughs, I've also been able to wrap pipes so they don't freeze and break. And by the way, since clean and fresh water is always a priority for horse care, I do make sure that I'm ready for the colder weather. While some people think horses can lick the ice or eat snow, that's just not the case. And of course, my knowing that our horses can get colic if they don't get enough water, I've placed their water troughs in spots where they won't freeze. 

As I said before, from what I've learned about Winter horse care, it's a two-part proposition. First, we have what needs to be done to get ready for Winter. The second is the maintenance during Winter.

If you're wondering if I have ever used electric waterers during Winter, I haven't needed to and still don't because their water troughs are located in areas where they can't freeze. And by the way, I've heard stories about horses that have gotten shocked from poorly ground electric de-icers. Frankly, I've never faced that problem. But, if you are in that situation, it's recommended that you test the water troughs out yourself so that your horse won't get shocked. I've been told that horses that are shocked will not use that waterer and refuse to take in water. And of course, that's not good.

Also, maintenance during Winter means we have to check our horse stalls, waterers, and horses more often. As for having horses confined to stalls and using waterers, it's important to check the waterers periodically and remove any old hay that's in those waterers. Old hay in a water tank will build up and can make your horse sick. So yes, it's very important to check it now and then. Believe it or not, it is said that horses need more water in the Winter in a barn than they do in a pasture during the Summer.

According to experts, "an adult horse that weighs a thousand pounds needs at least 10 to 12 gallons of water a day. If they get that, then that will help prevent dehydration and colic. During the Summer, pastures contain 60 to 80 percent moisture. This contributes to a horse's water intake requirement. In contrast to that, it's said that dried Winter feed such as hay and grain contains less than 15 percent moisture. So if our horses don’t drink enough water during cold weather, they may eat less and be more prone to impaction colic."

Again, according to experts, "even if we provide quality feed, horses will consume less if not drinking enough water. If horses eat less feed, they might not have enough energy to tolerate the cold. Also, water intake maintains a horse's fecal moisture level. If fecal material becomes too dry, intestinal blockage or impaction may occur. While a horse won't develop impaction in one day, they can over several days to several weeks of poor water intake." That's why our horses require more water in the Winter.

As for their turn-out areas, I am very happy to report that I remembered to fix areas where drainage needed to be addressed in their turn-out areas. Some of their turn-out areas ended up with a lot of standing water a few years ago. Last year, because we didn't get much rain, it wasn't that big a problem. But this year, I'm praying for more rain. And because I did address the drainage problem early this year, I think I'm ready. 

Because we've seen some high winds that have brought down a lot of branches, it's something that has to be addressed around here. If there is one thing that we have here in Glencoe, we have a lot of trees. Yes, a number of different sorts of oak, pine, cedar, and more. Because of the high winds, a lot of the loose debris that I have to deal with around here has to do with loose tree branches and that sort of thing that tends to get scattered about.  

This year, I re-did my main corral, re-built a turn-out pen, and replaced a lot of old fencing that wasn't doing the job. It was one of those things that simply needed fixing but I just never get around to it. Well, this year I did. I also put in a few new gates that I wanted to replace. I was also able to get some things done to practice what most call "good barn management."

What that means is that I got rid of what ended up being a lot of junk like old pallets, stacks of boards, old tin sheeting, and even some fencing wire that I haven't needed for the last 15 years or more. And because I used my breezeway for a few construction projects this year, I took a very large magnet and scanned the whole area where I was working in an effort to look for dropped nails, fence staples, screws, and so on. I was surprised by what I found. In reality, I hate to admit that there was more on the ground than I thought I had dropped.

As for shavings, I store bags of shavings to try to get a head start on Winter. But frankly, I never get enough for the whole Winter. So really, I just try to keep enough on hand to get me through a storm or two until I can get more. And here's a tip that has always worked for me, I never let my supply of shavings get so low that I don't have any on hand. I hate running out of shavings. 

This brings me to doing regular hoof care. Being out in the mud and possibly standing in wet pens can bring on thrush. As most horse people already know, in some cases sadly too well, thrush is an infection of the central and lateral sulcus of the frog of the horse's foot. It is most often a bacterial or fungal infection. Thrush is a huge problem this time of year. 

Good stall management is one of the best ways to prevent thrush. It is also a great way to treat thrush. Horses that are affected by thrush should be moved and kept in clean and dry stall conditions so that the frog can be cleaned and treated regularly until the infection is controlled and the tissues heal.

Good stall management, and regular foot care and inspection are what's needed as part of any Winter care plan. Horses in clean dry conditions will help keep the frog healthy. And from everything that I've experienced over the years, with early treatment and good stall management, complete recovery for cases of thrush is real good. 

Checking your horses' feet, maintaining good hoof care, goes along with the maintenance during Winter. We have to assess our horse's condition on a regular basis. So besides making sure that your barn or stable has adequate ventilation, that the waterers work well, and things stay dry, we have to assess how our horses are doing. For me, I watch their weight a lot this time of year. If they are not getting enough water or are too cold, they will lose weight. Because of that, I make sure that their waterers are going well. That's also the reason that I feed our horses some grain and additional hay during extreme cold.

I give them a little more hay and grain to keep their weight on. A healthy layer of fat provides insulation against the cold. Cold temperatures will in general increase the number of calories horses need to maintain body weight and function. I don't feed corn to them to stay warm because I learned a long time ago that corn does not cause a horse to become warmer. Instead, a little grain with hay releases more heat for them to maintain their heat and body weight. 

Experts say, "feeding high-quality hay and an additional one-quarter pound of grain per 100 pounds of body weight daily to non-working horses can provide adequate calories during cold weather. Working horses may require up to an additional one-half pound per 100 pounds of body weight per day, depending on workload, to maintain weight during cold weather."

So as you can see, even after all of the planning and preparing, it all comes down to having them inside instead of out -- and us keeping an eye on them. When that happens, the biggest thing that we can do for Winter is to check our horses every day. For me, that means rotating them to dry stalls. It also means that I spend a little more time with them to check their condition. 

So now, how about what's good for me? For you, you ask? Yes, for me. You see while I know that it gets cold in my barn, I actually enjoy putting on layers of clothing, my big winter coat, and going out to my barn to check on our horses. Frankly, it's as good for me as it is for our horses. 

I look forward to Winter because it's a time for me to take my coffee out to the barn and spend some time enjoying them while I'm checking on them. And while I check each one, one at a time, it's my time to bond a little more with them. It's also time for me to enjoy my little barn. You see I love the sound of rain hitting its tin roof because it reminds me of being a youngster on my grandfather's ranch. And as for my taking in the snow outside, it is something that I have come to enjoy. 

So yes, for me, Winter is a time for me to enjoy my time alone with my horses. Ornery, stubborn, jealous, cantankerous as they can be at times, they are among the greatest souls that God has gifted to us. And yes indeed, I really enjoy their company.

Tom Correa

Friday, October 15, 2021

Give Christopher Columbus The Credit He Deserves

If there is one sure thing that someone can say about history, something which is pure speculation but almost a sure bet, it is that someone would have sooner or later found the Western Hemisphere. Could it have been someone other than Christopher Columbus? Absolutely. And really, could it have been over something other than Spain's desire to find a shortcut to Asia? Yes, it could have been.

On October 15, 2021, vice president Kamala Harris gave a speech a day after Columbus Day, which some now recognize as "Indigenous Peoples' Day." During her speech, Harris said, "Since 1934, every October, the United States has recognized the voyage of the European explorers who first landed on the shores of the Americas. ... But that is not the whole story. That has never been the whole story. ... Those explorers ushered in a wave of devastation for tribal nations — perpetrating violence, stealing land, and spreading disease."

Not once in her speech did she mention the fact that Columbus was not looking for America, for peoples of another land, for land, or wanted to "spread disease." Not once did she say the truth is that Christopher Columbus did not travel west because he was attempting to discover a new land or was looking for slaves. It didn't matter to Harris that Africans had been selling their people into slavery to Muslims for over a thousand years by the time Columbus set sail. It didn't matter to her that tribes in the Americas had slaughtered each other for a few millennia before Columbus landed in the Bahamas, or that tribes waged genocidal war on each other longer than we know, or that tribes stole each others' lands, or that they made slaves of those who they did not butcher. She, as the Left does, conveniently neglected to talk about the horrors of war and human sacrifice that took place in the Americas for centuries before Europeans ever arrived. 

To Harris and her ilk on the political Left, Christopher Columbus has become a symbol of mass slaughter that has been idolized by White Europeans for centuries. To her and the Left, Columbus set out to intentionally do harm to others. Of course, as with most of the uneducated on the political Left whose agenda is to divide and create animosity amongst Americans, it does not matter to Harris that she misrepresented the basic reason why Columbus arrived in the Americas in the first place. 

Spain's arrival in the Caribbean and subsequently the Americas, and later in California, was all about looking for a shorter route to Asia. That's what their arrival was all about. They were trying to get to Asia. In fact, a route to the riches of Asia kept the Spanish looking for well over 200 years.  

What was Christopher Columbus looking for when he reached the Caribbean? Asia. Some folks simply don't understand that Columbus was not looking for a new continent. The "known world" did not know the Western Hemisphere, the geographical term for the half of Earth, actually sat between Europe and Asia. Map makers and scholars did not know that landmass was there. Columbus was simply trying to find a shortcut to Asia so that Spain would be able to better cash in on the wealth that Asia held.

Did Christopher Columbus fail in his quest to find that route? Yes, because he never did find what he sought -- and what Spain needed. While he, like many explorers of that age were truly fascinated by the works of Marco Polo and believed the earth is round, it is a fact that Columbus stumbled into the Bahamas purely by accident. It's true. Christopher Columbus, the man who was the son of an Italian wool maker, a man who went to sea and later ended up studying navigation and mathematics in Portugal, found the Caribbean island that he named Hispaniola by accident.

The Spanish monarchy provided him with crews for three ships -- the NiƱa, the Pinta and the Santa Maria. On August 3, 1492, he set sail from Spain. On October 12th of that same year, his ships found land. But it was not the East Indies, which is the lands of South and Southeast Asia.

When Columbus made landfall, he really believed that he had reached India. In fact, that's the reason why he called the natives who he encountered "Indians." He believed he had found the land that he was looking for. In reality, it was not the land of spices and riches that he had hoped for. But that didn't stop him from believing that he found Asia. He really believed that he found Asia and no idea where he was or what he stumbled upon.

Columbus sailed from island to island for months in what we now know as the Caribbean, all the while looking for friendly trading ports that he knew were already established in Asia. What was he in search of? He searched for "pearls, precious stones, gold, silver, spices, and other objects and merchandise whatsoever" found in the East Indies to take back to his Spanish benefactors.

Disappointed, by January of 1493, he returned to Spain after leaving dozens of men behind in a small settlement on an island which they named Hispaniola. That island is present-day Haiti/Dominican Republic. He returned to Spain after failing to find riches or Asia. He would sail west again later in 1493, 1498, and in 1502. Again and again with a determination to find a direct ocean route west from Europe to Asia. He died never knowing that he had discovered two continents which were to be called the "New World." He died believing he found Asia.

For some reason, people have this idea that Columbus thought he found a New World and that was the prize. That wasn't the case. Asia was the prize because of the riches that Asia held. In the 1400s, reaching Asia from Europe was considered nearly impossible. The land route was not only long, but it was also seen as filled with all sorts of danger including all sorts of hostile bands and rogue armies.

Portugal was an empire at sea and had solved the land route problem by sailing south along the West African coast and around the Cape of Good Hope. Portuguese conquistadors colonized the African coast and would later meet African Chiefs wanting to sell their own people into slavery. African Chiefs sold their people to Muslims as slaves for centuries before meeting Europeans. Muslim armies having black and white slaves was not unknown to the Portuguese and the Spanish. After centuries of war with the Muslim Moors starting in the 8th century, the Moors were finally expelled from the Iberian peninsula in January of 1492. That was when the Catholic Monarchs defeated the last Moor stronghold of the Kingdom of Granada.

The war with the Moors was costly to all, but especially for Spain in its last ten years in the war for Granada. Because of that, Spain wanted its explorers to find riches to rebuild their coffers. Portugal was seen as a power from the early 1400's and had already established a sea route around the Horn of Africa by the late 1400s. To say the Portuguese explorers didn't get around would be a real understatement since it's believed that a Portuguese explorer arrived in Newfoundland in North America in 1472. Yes, twenty years before Columbus arrived in the Bahamas.

When Columbus presented his plan of sailing west instead of south and around Africa to reach Asia, both Portugal and England were not interested in bankrolling his expedition. That wasn't the case with Spanish monarchs Ferdinand of Aragon and Isabella of Castile who were sympathetic to his idea. To them, Columbus' plan made sense considering the world was believed to be smaller at the time. To the known world, if the earth is indeed round, then Asia lay to the west.

Why not sail west across the Atlantic instead of heading south and around Africa to go east to get to Asia? His logic was sound, even if his math wasn't. Remember, he incorrectly argued that the circumference of the Earth was much smaller than it is in reality. He believed that a journey to Asia would be possible by going west. All he needed to do was prove it. Needless to say, that didn't happen even though Spain backed his efforts for four attempts. And no, Spanish monarchs Ferdinand and Isabella did not get any of the riches that were promised them by Columbus.

After Columbus failed to find his new trade route to Asia in 1492, and instead landed in the Caribbean, there was all of a sudden a whole new set of continents that were completely unknown to every mapmaker in the known world. 

So frankly, I say let's give Christopher Columbus the credit that he deserves for changing the world. Whether Columbus knew it or not, he did in fact make every map of the known world completely obsolete, completely wrong, in 1492. While he didn't know that he didn't get to Asia, his accidental find of the Western Hemisphere changed the way every power in Europe and Asia viewed the world. 

Think that's some small feat? Can any of you imagine a map without the Western Hemisphere on it? Imagine all of the mapmakers throughout the "known world" of Europe, Asia, and Africa needing a name for lands that no one ever knew about. No one even knew what it looked like, nevertheless what to name it. Remember, what would later become North and South America was completely uncharted. No one knew how big it was, if it was simply a small chain of islands near Asia, if it was a part of Asia, or if it were islands near a landmass as big as Europe and Asia and Africa, or all combined. No one knew.

All they knew at the time was that an Italian explorer commissioned by Spain to find a shortcut to Asia accidentally found lands where they should not have been. They were lands that no one thought existed. And by finding them, even though by accident, Christopher Columbus changed the world.  

Tom Correa

Friday, October 8, 2021

The Union Pacific Big Springs Robbery

During the late-night of September 18, 1877, Union Pacific express train No. 4 was made to stop at a remote water station in what is today Big Springs, Nebraska. It was carrying passengers and cargo from San Francisco. Among its cargo was a shipment of gold pieces straight out of the San Francisco Mint. 

In the darkness, an outlaw gang which was known as the "Black Hills Bandits" boarded the train at 10:48 pm. They had captured the station master and smashed the telegraph. The leader of the gang was none other than outlaw Sam Bass. He along with members Jim Berry, Joel Collins, Jack Davis, Bill Heffridge, and Tom Nixon reportedly stole $60,000 in freshly minted $20 gold pieces.

In reality, the gang had no idea that such a haul was to be had on that train. In fact, it's said that the outlaws lifted the cash and valuables off of the passengers and found $450 in a small "way safe" -- and were about to leave the scene when they stumbled on the $60,000 in gold. 

It's true, they were frustrated after pistol-whipping an attendant and were ready to leave. The attendant wasn't very cooperative when it came to helping to open the main safe. The attendant tried to thwart the robbery by telling the outlaws that the safe was on a time-lock when in fact it wasn't.

Then it happened. As a gang member was walking toward the door, he spotted three wooden boxes stacked by the main safe. Something must have told him to check those boxes because when he did -- he opened one to discover neatly packed $20 gold pieces. Soon, the gang realized they had found a fortune in $20 gold pieces shipped out from the San Francisco Mint.

While $60,000 might not sound like a lot of money today, $60,000 in 1877 is the equivalent of purchasing power to about $1,563,240.00 in 2021. So yes, between the $60,000 in newly minted $20 gold pieces, the money from the way safe, and about $1,200 and four gold watches talked from the passengers, that was quite a haul. How much so? Well, it is still considered the largest single robbery in the history of the Union Pacific Railroad. It is certainly the greatest robbery of a Union Pacific train in its history. 

Legend says the outlaws fled and later divided their loot in six ways. Supposedly, they split their stolen bounty evenly "under an old cottonwood tree near the town." Of course, thanks to press coverage at the time, newspaper stories sensationalized the heist and made Sam Bass and his gang instantly famous. Part of the sensationalism came from the fact that the robbery went off without a single fatality. And while that was well and fine on that Tuesday night, it wasn't the way things played out for the gang.

Within a week of the robbery, traveling in pairs, the first two to run into trouble was gang member Joel Collins and Bill Heffridge. It's said that they were shot dead by a Sheriff's posse which was supposedly also made up of a small group of Army Soldiers. 

Jim Berry and Tom Nixon headed out together. They were headed to Missouri when Berry decided to deposit part of his share and trade the rest for cash. When asked about the enormous amount of money, Berry supposedly gave folks a story about selling a mine in the Black Hills before returning home. His story didn't wash and a local Sheriff checked with the bank about what sort of deposit was made. 

When the Sheriff verified that it was newly minted $20 gold pieces, he formed a posse to bring Berry in. After an exchange of gunfire, Berry lay wounded and told the authorities that Tom Nixon was there but headed back to Canada. It is said that when Jim Berry died, lawmen found almost $3,000 in cash on him. As such is an outlaw's fate, Berry died a short distance from his home in Missouri.

Allan Pinkerton's Detectives were called in to try to find the three remaining gang members. Using wanted posters advertising a $1,000 Reward for their capture, the Pinkertons sought Sam Bass, Jack Davis, and Tom Nixon. While it is believed that Nixon did in fact return to his native Canada and was never heard of again, Sam Bass and Jack Davis fled South to Texas. 

The Union Pacific Big Springs Robbery was a very big deal. It propelled a small gang of unknowns into newspapers from coast to coast. Of course, it was the event that gave Sam Bass fame. Before that robbery, Sam Bass was a drifter, a cheap crook, and a petty criminal. He turned to law-breaking after working as a teamster on a freight line. It's said that he tried his hand at being a farmer, a hired hand on a trail drive, a bartender, and even a miner. 

When he was flush, as was the case after the Union Pacific Big Springs Robbery, he was a gambler known for betting on the ponies and playing faro. It's said that a mere four months after the Big Springs robbery, Bass was looking for his next big score. And while he formed another gang, and they too robbed trains, there was never another fluke like that that happened in Big Springs on a dark Tuesday night when by accident his gang stumbled on a fortune. 

Tom Correa