Erma Bombeck says the grass is always greener but usually only over the septic tank. For all other locations what’s beyond the next hill is pretty much the same. But we humans do not let reality interfere with our favorite myths so we keep seeking Eldorado even when we may be happy where we are. And in America the gold ring is often searched for “out west”. That has been true from Plymouth Rock in 1620 until California four hundred years later. We just feel like our lives will be better if we head west.
The Gold Rush of 1849 is the eponym for this belief that paradise awaits us across the Mississippi River. Horace Greeley exhorted America’s youth to fulfill our Manifest Destiny although Greeley decided to remain comfortable in the east editing the New York Tribune. If one drives from say Indiana to Oklahoma she or he will find themselves immersed in a maelstrom of humanity trudging along Interstate 44 in their gasoline powered covered wagons. Instead of a family lumbering along behind a team of oxen with a water bucket clanging against the side and kids peeking out from under the canvas, the parents will be sipping coffee from a thermos and the kids will never see anything but the screens of their cell phones.
Should you, Gentle Reader, have been reading this column recently you may recall Peg and I have decided to join much of the rest of America and move west. Our most recent effort in this regard involved a 26 foot U-Haul truck. It had both heat and air conditioning and covered the countryside at 70 miles per hour; oxen would have had trouble trying to keep up with our fellow travelers who let us know the speed limit is only a suggestion. When we got hungry we stopped at a restaurant. Wild game did not have to be shot. When we got sleepy we stopped at a motel. Blankets on the ground were not our lot. When we got thirsty we grabbed a Coke. Searching for an oasis we did not. Our only hardship was the U-Haul did not have Sirius Radio. Since we took two vehicles we chatted along casually when we wanted to talk to each other by our cell phones while peering out the tinted windows of the U-Haul and car.
What we did fairly quickly realize was what a debt we owe to those who blazed the trail west before us. Those old western movies depicting families suffering dust, heat, cold, hunger, thirst, and medical emergencies while fording streams and crossing mountains took on a personal feel. It feels good and gives one confidence to know we come from such stock. And it certainly puts our trivial complaints in perspective.
For those of you who read last week’s Gavel Gamut and are wondering about Peg’s and my cinematic futures let me report we have not yet received a call from Martin Scorsese. I know he has been busy. We remain both confident and hopeful. However, as we await stardom life goes on. Specifically, what we have going on is the interminable saga of our move from JPeg Ranch Hoosier in Posey County, Indiana to JPeg Osage Ranch in Osage County, Oklahoma.
Peg and I bought a cabin in Osage County last December. Our plan was to vacation there occasionally as we have numerous family members in Oklahoma. What we have discovered is the truism of the ancient admonition, “Where your treasure is there will your heart be also.” And as our modest treasure has ever so increasingly been “invested” in the cabin we have slowly shifted our focus to the Tall Grass Prairie. Let me say the simple pleasures described by Laura Ingalls Wilder in her Little House on the Prairie books have been put in jeopardy by our transition.
We are in the throes of our tenth round trip of 1,200 miles with a loaded trailer and pickup. (This time we have graduated to a U-Haul, my guess is Atlas Van Lines is in our future). At first we amused ourselves with the bucolic image of The Beverly Hillbillies with junk piled high as they headed west. After a couple of trips the analogy became too apt. Now we feel more closely aligned with the fate of Sisyphus. We are not sure why, but it seems the completion of one trip only guarantees we must start another. And what we have discovered is that no matter what household item we need in one place is always in the other. We now have duplicates of everything from can openers to skillets.
Peg and I used to wonder how other people had such difficulty with everyday tasks such as how does one keep track of where they put what. Now we get it. However, the question we now most often ask one another is, “Why did you ever buy that?” We are continually discovering items that have not surfaced in years, many still in their original packaging. Of course, we must pack and move them anyway. This phenomenon has tested our ability to refrain from asking one another, “Can we just throw that away?”
I have found that a great deal of what Peg holds to be indispensable is really superfluous. And I resent her attitude about many of the items in my Man Cave; wait until we start on the junk in her Girl Cave. She does not understand that I might need some of what she calls worthless items someday. I suggest we ask the husbands of the world to fairly judge what should be placed in the Conestoga and what should be dumped along the trail.
What Peg and I do agree on is the mystery of how over thousands of years we have gone from maintaining what is truly essential to accumulating thousands of items we forget we have. George Gershwin’s old song goes:
♫ I got plenty of nothing
And nothing is plenty for me.
I got no car.
I got no mule.
Got no misery. ♫
Porgy and Bess (1935)
Well, paring down to the essentials is a fine thought but I must end this column as Peg is calling out to me to load another box onto the trailer.
Many of you have read JUDGE LYNCH!, the historical novel Peg and I wrote about the lynchings of four Black men on the campus of the Posey County, Indiana courthouse in 1878. And several of you even participated in the making of our short movie about the murders. That was our first effort at movie making and probably yours too.
To those of you who volunteered to endure the cold, rain and tedium of my directorial debut, thank you! Please do not forget the compensation you received; wasn’t Shawnna Rigsby’s bar-b-cue good? You might be interested in some of the behind scenes manipulation I engaged in to get my friends to commit suicide, get shot, get chased by night riders on horseback and to even get lynched.
For example, early on I called our sons’s one-time boxing teammate and our good friend, Danny Thomas, and said, “Danny, I need some Black men to shoot and lynch on camera.Would you, your family and friends care to do that?” Danny did not hesitate. Then there was our neighbor, Chuck Minnette, who was minding his own business when I told him he surely must feel depressed and possibly even suicidal. Chuck thought I was kidding until we filmed his suicide scene. The scene involved Chuck firing a pistol with a blank cartridge near his head while my wife, Peg, laid on her back on the floor puffing on a cigar and blowing the smoke up toward Chuck’s face.
Chris Greathouse was called upon to have his neck broken by Danny Thomas and several “soiled doves” played their parts with such enthusiasm I will leave them unnamed. Jerry King generously offered his amazing Pioneer Village for several scenes and Jerry and his wife, Marsha, even donned their costumes of General and Mrs. Hovey. Dan Funk, whose father was a minister, played his preacher part convincingly. Dr. Bill Etherton and his wife, Judy, attended Dan’s frontier church and Dr. Bill along with Nurse Bonnie Minnette attended to “injured” patients. Through it all the only person who actually knew anything about video cameras, Rodney Fetcher, managed to get the whole nineteen minute movie filmed and, along with Peg, edited. My eldest brother, C.E. Redwine, is a professional musician and he wrote and performed a marvelous score for the film. There were numerous other budding Academy Award winners who contributed time, talent, tips and immense patience; I appreciate you all!
Now, Gentle Reader, you may have noticed that I had little to do with the finished product. But let me suggest the same is often true in other movies where those who get the acclaim may not be those who do the real work. In my defense I just wish to state, “Hey, I wrote the book!”
Anyway, our little movie does tell the horrific story of murdered African Americans by the powerful white community of Posey County, Indiana in 1878 and brings to light the long hidden tragedy. I am proud of our effort and will always treasure the experience. However, it is not JUDGE LYNCH! that is the impetuous for this week’s column but Peg’s and my attempt to research the making of a full-length movie about the infamous Osage Reign of Terror that occurred in Osage County, Oklahoma where I was born.
Author David Grann has written an excellent exposé of the murders of numerous Native Americans of the Osage tribe in Osage County, Oklahoma in the 1920’s and ’30’s. Peg and I were at our cabin in Osage County when the casting call came out for extras for the Martin Scorsese directed film that will star Leonardo DiCaprio and Robert De Niro. While growing up in Pawhuska, the county seat, I often heard whispered rumors of these crimes. Kudos to Grann, Scorsese, DiCaprio and De Niro for having the courage to lift the veil from this great evil.
In preparation for this column Peg and I did go to the Osage County Fairgrounds on Sunday, November 10, 2019 for the advertised casting call for movie extras. Our purpose was to gain information about the making of the movie that we could include in this column. We were met by several extremely polite and pleasant people who were not authorized to answer our questions but they did suggest we might want to experience the casting call process from the inside by filling out applications ourselves. We did so and had an interesting and fun time. Of course, the staff at the door, the numerous tables and chairs, the clear directional signs and the four enclaves of people photographing, taking prospective extras’ measurements and interviewing the hundreds of hopeful locals was just a little different than the process I used for getting actors for JUDGE LYNCH!. My method was pretty much, “You are my friend. I need you to lynch someone (or be lynched), shoot someone (or be shot) or stand out in the cold rain and try to fathom my directions.”
In my opinion Peg is a possible Barbara Stanwyck double and after a beer or two I can find a remarkable resemblance between myself and Robert Redford. Of course, we both have movie experience. herefore, we are excited and waiting by the phone to be discovered. Hey, it happened to Norma Jeane Mortenson didn’t it? And while you may not know it, before Gone With The Wind, Clark Gable worked as an oilfield roustabout in Barnsdall, Osage County, Oklahoma which is the nearest town to our cabin. Can you say kismet? Further, since I am an experienced fellow director, maybe Marty will want another perspective for a scene or two. Next week we may dig a little deeper into the film noir that has Osage County, Oklahoma buzzing.
You may already know Peg and I bought a log cabin in Osage County, Oklahoma. Our home in Posey County, Indiana is a converted barn with 4,000 square feet of finished space and our barn/home also has a barn. Our cabin in Oklahoma is 2,000 square feet and we had to add a barn. Four thousand square feet of stuff does not smoothly fit in 2,000 square feet of space. However, my suggestion to Peg that we simply leave everything but our toothbrushes was not kindly received. Ergo, we are in the process of triage. I have learned the hard way to not suggest which items are disposable. My role is to take down and re-hang not to judge what should be preserved.
Benjamin Franklin and his wife, Deborah, lived much of their married life separated by the Atlantic Ocean as Ben served as Minister to France while Deborah refused to accompany him. But they managed to raise three children and stay married for many years. I suspect their marital success was in large part due to staying put in one house most of their marriage. When Ben’s famous quote, “We must hang together or we will surely hang separately”, is cited most people probably assume Ben was talking about our Revolution from Great Britain. I propose he was giving marital advice. You know Ben was famous and got rich for his advice column Poor Richard’s Almanac. Why not accept that he was an early Ann Landers?
What I think Ben meant was, if you and your spouse wish to avoid all out warfare, you should never engage in moving and especially not in what should be hung and where. For example, when I was sixteen my parents moved one block to a different house. Our family had three pictures on the walls. One was a black and white 8” x 10” photograph of our immediate family and the other two were Leonardo da Vinci’s Last Supper (not the original) and some European’s creation of a blond-haired Jesus. All three were taken down by my mother and put back up by my father. No argument, no stress.
On the other hand, Peg and I have countless photos of us, of our three kids and their spouses, of our seven grandkids, some of whom already have spouses, and one great-grand kid. We have knickknacks from family vacations, from gifts and from school projects. Every wall in our Indiana home/barn is festooned with something. And Peg demands all of it must be hung in our much smaller Oklahoma cabin. Of course all our furniture has to be carefully placed somewhere too. Well, you see the dilemma.
We are gingerly adjusting to this new strain of “Cabin Fever”, but there is a constant simmering of strife just below the lip-biting surface. My position is usually reasoned and rational, but Peg’s is often influenced by emotion. For example, yesterday we spent over an hour negotiating if a forty-pound mirror should be saved and, if so, where would it go? Peg’s position was it is a family heirloom and my response about it not being from my side of the family was not charitably received. The mirror now hangs in its new location.
Peg and I have now made nine trips to the cabin with items crammed onto a trailer and in a car (SUV) and a pickup. We have about two more trips to go. Each trip takes about twelve hours each way and requires a day to load and another day to unload. The nitty gritty of what goes where will consume the remainder of our lives and marriage.
Now, if you Gentle Reader, wish to be a modern day Ben Franklin marriage saver, feel free to give us a hand and bring a truck!
In the first grade Doug Givens and I fought every day after school. Doug lived one block south of 12th Street and I lived one block north. Each afternoon at 3:15 p.m. Doug and I would meet at the intersection where he would turn right and I would turn left. We would flail away as we grabbed one another and held on until our white tee shirts tore away. We engaged in this behavior for about two weeks. Our war ended without a formal armistice when our mothers figured out why they were meeting at the J.C. Penny Store tee shirt counter two Saturdays in a row. I have no clue why we started fighting, but our mothers had both of our fathers make sure we knew peace was the preferred new normal. Back then fathers shaved with straight razors and straight razors were sharpened with a thick leather strop. Behavioral modification was instant and permanent.
My mind returned to those halcyon days when the cable news purveyors of our current political fiasco published the latest imbroglio between the national Democrats and Republicans. One pundit suggested that the atmosphere in Congress was so volatile physical aggression among our elected representatives was a probability.
This comment brought forth the spectre of the May 22, 1856 caning by southern Democrat Congressman Preston Brooks of northern Republican Senator Charles Sumner. You will note the antebellum date. Slavery was the issue. At least, unlike Doug and me, those guys back then knew why they were upset.
In 2019 the issues calling out the very worst in our leaders are every bit as puzzling to me as why Doug and I saw fit to render asunder each other’s tee shirt. Why are those people constantly at one another’s throats? What divides us as a nation? Is Civil War about to break out again? Does our credo about all people being equal mean squat? Am I just unable to appreciate the great debate?
Or are the infantile machinations of our highly paid federal employees much like those of two first graders? Perhaps we should require all members of our federal government to show up for work in white tee shirts or maybe red and blue ones. As for how we outside of Washington, D.C. might respond to the waste of our tax money on ad hominem silliness I suggest we do have a razor strop of our own; it is called a vote.
By the way, Doug and I got together at our 50th class reunion. We still do not have a clue why, but we sure had a good time remembering what.
After last week’s scintillating column on Constitutional Law I know you are eagerly awaiting promised round two on politics and the United States Supreme Court. Of course, America’s judiciary eschews any notion that court outcomes are sometimes a product of the political views of the judge or judges who decide the cases. At the National Judicial College where I have served as a part-time faculty member since 1995 one of the guiding principles is the effort to have completely impartial judging of all cases. That is a proper goal. However, is that goal always achieved? Let’s take a look behind the black robes of history starting with America’s most famous case, Marbury v. Madison, decided in 1803 a mere sixteen years after the end of the Constitutional Convention that occurred on September 17, 1787.
You may recall that last week we had sought guidance on understanding the U.S. Constitution from law professor Michael Klarman who spoke to the Indiana Graduate Judges Seminar in French Lick, Indiana in June 2019. In his book The Framers’ Coup, The Making of the United States Constitution, Professor Klarman gave an in-depth analysis of the political warfare that produced our Constitution. A similar phenomenon occurred when the fourth Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, John Marshall, blatantly grabbed for the U.S. Supreme Court the immense power to declare whether a particular law was constitutional. Marshall deftly, and unethically, used the virulent hatred between those early Americans who favored a strong central government, the Federalists, and the anti-Federalists who preferred a more citizen-centered national government. John Adams was our second president and he was one of the strongest proponents of a strong central government. Adams was defeated in an election by our third president Thomas Jefferson in a bitterly fought campaign. John Marshall served as Adams’ Secretary of State and Marshall and Jefferson despised one another. Just before Adams’ term as president ran out he appointed John Marshall to be Chief Justice of the U.S. Supreme Court. Marshall was succeeded as Secretary of State by James Madison who, incidentally, later became our fourth president.
Just before John Adams left office he also appointed numerous judges and justices of the peace as a sharp stick in the eye of the incoming president Thomas Jefferson. William Marbury, a wealthy businessman and vocal opponent of Jefferson, was one of Adams’ justice of the peace appointees. While Secretary of State, John Marshall had the duty of signing Marbury’s certificate of appointment and delivering it to Congress. Marshall failed to get that done and the task was left to new Secretary of State James Madison. But President Jefferson, who was angry at John Adams for the last minute appointments, ordered Madison to not deliver Marbury’s certificate. Marbury then filed a law suit in the Supreme Court seeking to have the Court order Madison to give Marbury the certificate of appointment.
If all this intrigue seems rather petty and even perhaps reminiscent of our current political climate involving nasty actions on all sides, well, the pettiness turned out to have a momentous affect on every court case in America after 1803. The squabble may have resembled a tempest in a teapot but Chief Justice John Marshall’s highly political decision in the case resulted in a federal judiciary of immense power, a power not contemplated by many of our Founders and Framers of our Constitution.
Because of his earlier direct connection to Marbury’s appointment John Marshall should have recused himself from the case and should have had no part in it. However, Marshall seized upon Thomas Jefferson’s hatred of John Adams to trade what Jefferson wanted, that is to prevent Adams’ last minute appointments, for a huge leap toward a strong centralized government where the Judicial Branch would have power over decisions of both the Legislative and Executive Branches’ decisions.
What John Marshall and two more members of the then five member Supreme Court decided was that the legislative act that purported to give jurisdiction over cases such as the one brought by Marbury violated the Constitution therefore the Supreme Court had no authority to order Madison to give Marbury his certificate. It might appear to have been a win for Jefferson over Adams, but it was the ultimate Pyrrhic victory as Marshall and all future courts used it as a nuclear weapon in the war between the Federalists and anti-Federalists. Supreme power over what the Constitution meant has resided in the Supreme Court ever since 1803.
For example, in Dred Scott v. Sandford (1857) Chief Justice Roger Taney, a former slave owner, and the U.S. Supreme Court ruled Negro slaves had no rights that the Constitution was bound to protect. Then in George Bush v. Al Gore (2000) a bitterly divided court led by Chief Justice William Rehnquist who had been appointed by Republican President Richard Nixon to be an associate justice then by Republican President Ronald Reagan to be Chief Justice handed the presidential election to Republican George Bush.
So, as America’s judiciary proclaims it must remain independent from outside influences and look only to the law and the facts, it might appear to some cynics that the blindfold often slips. Anyway, I am certain you probably feel the same sense of relief in finishing this column that I did in finishing law school and Professor Klarman’s book. On the bright side however, the rest of your day is bound to get better.