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Friday, December 20, 2013

Just call me a "Duck Private!"


 
My very first blog was about ducks… wild ducks trying to make it in the modern world, with all of our culture and even Federal Laws ironically written to prevent their preservation. The odds were stacked against their species and lifestyle. Now that story has taken on a very symbolic meaning to me. Here is a LINK to that heartwarming story: http://russellcushman.blogspot.com/2009/07/part-of-plan.html Most people are unaware that the duck or goose was the spirit animal for the Scythians, our pagan, nomadic, Caucasian ancestors of central Asia some three thousand years ago… They were a people who left their mark on the Indus Valley, Persia, the Middle East, the Mediterranean, Europe and eventually the Americas, but rarely found a home. And although they were the vanguard of many major migrations, it looks like they are still looking for a place to roost…

That brings us to “Duck Dynasty.”  Phil Robertson, a popular “reality television” personality, was asked to define sin by a magazine columnist. He was obviously being baited. But Robertson had the courage to answer the question, regardless of the consequences. Sometimes fools rush in where angels dare not tread. Now all of America is caught up in the controversy, after he was kicked off of his own TV show for being honest about his convictions. I wonder if the question, when asked, was intended to have these outrageous consequences. I wonder if Phil Robertson knew full well what storm he had set into motion, when he chose his words. But more importantly, I wonder if America is ready to stand and be counted with him, our new cultural general, regardless of the motives or the way this firestorm has started. It is a question every Christian must ask himself.
The Duck Dynasty Army is on the march...

All day after the news broke about his comments and their repercussions, I heard reasonable people question Robertson’s intelligence, qualifications and credibility. “He should have known better.”  “The network should have vetted him more thoroughly.” “He was out of touch with society.” “He was a fool to have taken on such a sensitive subject.” He probably had to go. After a day of listening, it became obvious that Americans now think that anybody who has religious beliefs based on Biblical principles and admits to them is a moron. Especially if they share their views with a Media outlet.

Network pundits have called Phil Robertson intolerant, hateful, bigoted and worse. Even though he tried to frame his definition of sin in a quiet, thoughtful way, Robertson learned what the prophets of old could have told him; there is no way to deliver that information which will ever be well received. Show me a prophet and I will show you a man rejected and vilified. Moses, Amos, Hosea, Malachi… John the Baptist, you name them, and certainly Jesus met tremendous opposition and threats and sometimes persecution and even brutality. People have always hated being told that they are bad. And if there was ever a predictable outcome of shooting the messenger, this is it.

It is sad that the most vigorous discussion in years about acceptable American values and speech would have been prompted by a question to an eccentric, bearded, duck-call maker in a very secular magazine. This may be the wake-up call to main-line Christianity that it has not only become irrelevant but is not even part of the discussion. In fact I am sure after some television interviews I have seen of today’s Christian leaders, if they had been posed the same question, they would have parsed their words cleverly and made themselves perfectly acceptable; Politically Correct, as all of us have learned to be.

Go look at the YouTube expose’s on Joel Osteen or Billy Graham, who have been actually accused of denying Christ and avoiding concepts like sin, judgment and hell in order to maintain their Media popularity. Today’s Christian spokesman has learned to avoid the tough issues about man’s sin nature and the uniqueness of Christ and the one true Salvation through Him. American Christianity has become lukewarm, and will not be any hotter than its prophets. Prophets are teachers, and today’s prophets have taught Christians to be polite and diplomatic and stress grace and love and tolerance. Those are all good things, but in the process some of our religious leaders have become Media darlings. And that is their failure.

The price for that popularity is the secular world has come to believe that Bible- believing Christians are not even in sync with their own Faith. An apparent moron like Robertson appears like a throwback to redneckdom compared to the gentle smiles and assurances of slick TV evangelists. As the majority of Christendom has trained itself to veil its foundations with doublespeak, country boys who tell it like it is were bound to rise to the top of the public discourse. People today like to cut to the chase. This partly explains the popularity of the Cowboy Churches, largely pastored by unschooled preachers who have not yet learned what not to say.


God through Creation has formed a beautiful, efficient plan for procreation. Co-operation between Male and female makes families which preserve the species, with no artificial elements necessary. Still, it is a fragile and uncompromising plan. Homosexual rights are not part of the plan.

Ask a cowboy his definition of sin. He will probably say something like, “You know, drinkin’ an gettin’ drunk, and messin’ around… hating certain races or whatever because of the color of their skin, stealing cross ties from the railroad… you know, stuff you know is wrong.” Everybody has their own definition, and this is as good as any. But in fact there are hundreds of things that God finds unacceptable according to the Bible. The cowboy just names the things that he is dealing with in his own heart. Homosexuality, another transgression listed in the Bible as a sin, for the most part, is not a problem for him. But it has become a problem for Phil Robertson. Because he believes what the Bible teaches, and says so.

One of the sins which inspired the GREAT FLOOD of Noah’s time, and since has fallen out of favor in Judeo –Christian circles, homosexuality has become a big deal in recent years. In times past it was considered to be a temptation to only around ten percent of the population. I remember a Christian friend, a homosexual, telling me thirty years ago that my culture was dying and his was growing and would eventually prevail. He was one of those “gays” that chose men after a lifetime of bi-sexuality. He never understood females. Sex was so awkward with them. It was so intense and costly. And then there was the inconvenience of birth control, the risk of pregnancy, the expectations of marriage.  And other men understood what he desired and made better lovers. The gay lifestyle was the way of the future… quick, practical, and inexpensive. His argument almost made sense in a purely scientific way, until the AIDS epidemic broke out.  It was only much later, a fact that has been largely ignored, when sociologists admitted the considerably short life expectancy of the average gay man.

My friend foresaw that a minority of gay couples who desired monogamous relationships, would one day hire women to bear them children to raise in gay homes. Gay sex, marriage, even divorces would be as common and natural as heterosexual relationships had been. According to all social trends, he was right on every count.

And yet, my friend completely understood that he was living in an ungodly lifestyle, and that his sexual preference was expressly forbidden. He had been raised in a Bible-believing home, and knew the Scriptures better than me, as I had been raised as an Episcopalian. The bottom line was that he had chosen this lifestyle, and could not ever be satisfied with a woman after years of homosexual escapades and even some true loving-caring relationships with men. He told me that I would have to experience the difference myself to appreciate his point of view.

All I could do was shrug and pray that he was wrong. But here I am all these years later remembering his predictions. But what he never predicted was that the Christian world would just roll over without a whimper. Not since the times of Noah has such a large percentage chosen to flagrantly challenge several millennia of sexual boundaries, with the approval and encouragement of society and its leaders. The reasons are everywhere, as the television industry produces racier and racier programs, gay individuals are always available for gay perspectives on talk shows and news discussions, and the Internet is infested with homosexual and bisexual sex pornography. Meanwhile the Church, God’s voice on earth, has been largely ignorant of it all, or silent for fear of political correctness. Except it seems, for Phil Robertson.

We can trace this phenomenon back to the war executed against Anita Bryant, former Miss America and orange juice spokesperson, who spoke naively and fearlessly about her beliefs. The homosexual community found its power over our culture in that controversy, and learned how to bully the majority of Americans via television advertising boycotts. Although they were a fairly minor force, with the Media’s support they destroyed her and have been quite proactive since, until most of the people in public life have learned to take a fall and just play dead. Now gays and their defenders are outraged that Robertson ganged homosexuality with other sins, like bestiality or adultery.  They act offended as if their very identities were being equated with truly horrible acts.

In other words, the homosexual community wants to be the new arbiter of what is right or wrong, so as to place themselves on Santa’s good list. How convenient for them. Why didn’t WE think of that? But they missed his point. In Robertson’s short list he also alluded to the biggest sin that threatens our families today… heterosexual immorality. Sin is all the same to God.

Welcome to God’s measure of perfection. No matter what your brand is, you have your own fatal flaw. In the final analysis, sin is sin. Homosexuals take their fate so personally, as if they are being picked on. But this is not true. Christians believe they themselves are sinners, even the Apostle Paul wrote that he was a “chief of sinners”…  that “My spirit is willing but my flesh is weak.” Whether you are a glutton, a liar, or a cheater or a hater or a sex maniac, God tells you that you have to check it in at the door.  Or He has no place for you. There will be no hierarchy in hell, it is just the place created for all souls who reject God to spend Eternity, without God… or his dumb rules.
 
Only man could dare challenge the perfection of God's plan for pairing, sex, reproduction and family, and community, and wish for something less.

Christians did not write this stuff… they just believe it. It was the Jews who first embraced these laws four thousand years ago. They believed these absolutes were handed down straight from God to Moses. The Ten Commandments were just the beginning of a complex code for a godly lifestyle that forbade many things. In fact, anything that was considered “unclean.” Sex was not for casual thrills, and was strictly restricted to married hetero-sexual couples.

Fornication, adultery, working on the Sabbath, mixing of different kinds of livestock or foods, marrying outside of the tribe, drunkenness, were all forbidden, and gossip and divorce were severely frowned upon. This list sounds more like a description of our modern culture rather than its taboos. We live in a permissive culture today where wrong-doing has become the norm, and righteousness, or even the discussion of it, looks and sounds offensive. Robertson has been called judgmental. I heard a very popular, self-righteous talk show host cite the Scripture, about “Judge not lest you be judged.” But Phil Robertson did not create this paradigm, he is not the judge or even on the jury. He is just a small voice in the wilderness reminding everyone that God has forbidden sin, and He has a plan to punish sinners.

It is no mystery what God has allowed and what He has not. And Robertson, after a full life, scarred by sin, is the first to admit his own battles with sin and warn his culture of what he believes is coming for a stiff-necked generation. He has chosen the fairly simple and expedient solution to man’s sin problem which is offered to everyone. Phil Robertson accepted Jesus Christ. He did not write the script, he had nothing to do with a Judeo-Christian system that most of us ascribe to. He is just braver than most preachers and Bible teachers I have heard in recent years.

 So I would say to homosexuals, bisexuals, lesbians, whatever, take heart. There is a God and he has provided a way for you… if you want it. If not, his people are prepared to tolerate and love you regardless of your choices or beliefs. Call them worry-warts. Mythologists. But Christians are benign and should not be expected to deny their God or their beliefs, established by the Creator of the Universe, to satisfy anyone, or any Media, or any government.

For the righteous Israelite in ancient times, clothing or bedding that had become sour or moldy had to be burned, boys had to be circumcised, pork was never to be eaten, not even touched, the firstborn of every herd had to be killed and burned as a sacrifice. Our Holy God, from His position of perfection, wanted men and women to know that they had bad tendencies, and that they had to make amends to be reconciled... Christians call this Atonement. They each had to be redeemed, for a price.  AND, among many other forbidden behaviors, men could not lay down with men, nor women with women.

The point is that homosexuality was just one of many peculiar things God demanded or God found objectionable. Part of our Faith is trusting God to do the thinking in these cases where we do not understand.  As a buddy of mine once said, “Mankind trying to fathom God’s wisdom is like an ant trying to understand the Internet.” We Christians trust that He has worked it all out. IF God is for real, then He must know what is best for His children.

When we deny the absolute perfection of God's plan, we cheat ourselves out of His best for us. We cannot be angry, regardless of our reasons, if we have chosen to forsake the flock.

In God’s measure of perfection, any tiny infraction is enough sin to prevent your citizenship in Heaven. But God wanted to fellowship with us. The point of the whole Old Testament was: It is impossible for men or women to have fellowship with God without redemption;  His provision for some kind of penalty that we can pay.  In olden times that was the sheep on the altar of the Israelites. Poor people were even allowed to sacrifice something less expensive... a dove or a goat. But Jesus made it clear, that the Law was not going to keep anybody out of the Kingdom of God unless they chose that… “I did not come into the world to condemn it, but to save it.” Jesus and his Holy Father planned to offer himself once and for all to pay the price of reconciliation with God. Unlike the indignant apostates of today, Christians celebrate their Salvation through God’s Mercy, rather than boil in the tedium over God’s view of our sinfulness. You can’t argue with God.  Wouldn’t be prudent.  But many homosexuals do.

And we live in a Country where they can. That is our strength, but it might also be our weakness, unless we hold our ground on morality.  Christians are called to be the SALT OF THE EARTH. That means our Faith preserves the Hope for Mankind.

Outside of God’s Grace and the Blood of Christ, Christians believe that WE ALL, everyone, would fall short of the Kingdom. But at the very worst, homosexual activity is no more unnatural or evil or unacceptable to God than improper heterosexual lust, or adultery or fornication. Pardon the pun, but we are all screwed in one way or another.  If you are an alcoholic, you have to fight it. Drunkenness is a sin. If you are like me, and love everything about women, you have to fight it, because according to the Bible, sexual lust, and sexual activity outside of marriage, is a sin. If you are a homosexual, God forbids you to act on your impulses. But Christians gratefully believe that through Christ we who have accepted Him have all been covered…

Heaven will be like a bucket of harmonious baby ducks, warm and protected, in the care of their loving father.

 
Hell, or "Gehenna" as Jesus called it, literally the garbage burn pile, will be full of souls who rejected THE way to be reconciled to a Holy God.  Every person has a choice. No hard feelings. That’s what Christians believe.

Declaring this frightful impasse is not hate speech. It is a major religion. It is the man standing at the edge of the Eternal cliff warning those who jump without a parachute that the fall will kill them. That is love, not hate. For Phil Robertson and other Christians, Jesus Christ is his parachute. It would not be love to keep that to yourself. It would not be love to not offer that parachute to everybody interested. But our society today, so insolent and agnostic, spurns the very parachute that has built and preserved this wonderful country.  Still, Christians do not hate, but are hated. In fact they are reviled and censored for daring to speak of their beliefs, while the worst kinds of ills erode our society, with all technological fanfare.

Regardless of our personal choices, homosexuals and bisexuals must be as tolerant as they expect everyone else to be. Our Lord and Savior expressly taught us “to do unto others as we would have them do unto us.” Christians have shown by their relative silence during the greatest emergence of homosexual flowering in eons that they are damned tolerant. So don’t piss us off, and leave our “generals” alone.

Still, a Christian cannot hate or persecute an atheist, or a Jew, or a homosexual, or anybody for any reason. In fact, a Christian believes that Jesus died a horrible death on the cross for himself AND every homosexual or Jew or drunkard or idolater or whatever. A Christian is instructed by Christ to love those whom he perceives as his enemies. And today that would certainly be the Media, homosexuals, and Muslim terrorists.  Still, surrounded by very vocal enemies, we are not called to condemn or hate but to love and serve. We have to be careful that we never appear otherwise. We have to believe God’s word, live it as best we can, offer the parachute, and never sound like we are the judge. We can and should admit there is a judge, and there will be judgment. But our job is to invite, not punish.

I choose to accept and embrace the Christian paradigm of the past two thousand years as a worthy lifestyle over the risky, hair-brained scheme of modern homosexuals, who seem a bit bold and narcissistic to me. But what I choose does not matter as much as what America will choose. Because we are at that crossroads. American Christianity stands silently on a slippery slope of relativity, which leads down to a culture of anarchy and hedonism and yes, sin.  And the Bible warns that at some point, God turns us over to our reprobate minds. We are certainly getting closer to that threshold.

[Second day of writing this blog] So this morning when I got up, I put on my camo jacket... my Ducks Unlimited cap. It’s time for the army to march. We have a cultural war to win. We now have a general, for better or for worse, and he deserves our support. It’s time to decide what you believe, what you would stand for, and if you have the courage of your convictions.  I know the gutless will scoff at this call to action. But no less than Mankind quivers in the balance. You can start by buying one of those squirrely caps at the store, as Duck Dynasty is plastered all over, for anybody that is ready to do battle. And suddenly, miraculously, IT STANDS  FOR SOMETHING. It’s not much, but it is a start.

Tuesday, December 17, 2013

Jeff Milton: An Odoriferous Legend


Jeff Milton’s story is an extraordinary one.  One of the most famous lawmen of the west, he was the subject of J. Evetts Haley’s  A Good Man With A Gun.  Born the son of the Governor of Florida, Jeff Milton became a Texas Ranger and served in various capacities throughout the American West, his legend stretching over three states. But like many mythic figures of our past, that legend was carefully crafted by his biographer and is in bad need of an overhaul. I did not arrive at the conclusion which I would have preferred, that of hailing another famous ranger from Navasota. I'm far from convinced that Jeff Milton was a "good" man, although he may have been a man good with a gun. After tackling his biography by Haley, I can't get a bothersome smell out of my nostrils...

Jefferson Davis Milton was born at the outbreak of the Civil War, the son of privilege on a Southern plantation. His father, Governor John Milton, refused to accept the failure of the Confederate States of America and took his own life. Little Jeff was raised by his mother and doting big sisters, and it is easy to imagine his character traits given these circumstances. By the time he was fifteen, he was spoiled, arrogant and restless, with a great deal to prove to himself. His mother could not handle him, and one of his sisters thought she could, given a better environment in Texas.

He came to Texas in 1877 as a teenager, eager to see and experience all the wild and woolly West he had read about in dime novels. This was the land Davy Crockett had died for at the Alamo, and where Texas Ranger Bigfoot Wallace had fought the Comanches; Where buffalo still ran wild and cowboys lived free on the American plains.
The Wilson & Yarborough Mercantile in Anderson, Texas.

Jeff’s sisters had migrated to Texas after the war and Fannie Milton had married Colonel James Quincy Yarborough, a Texas merchant who was building a small retail empire in Grimes County.  As a partner in Wilson and Yarborough, he had established several mercantiles in Grimes County. So it was the hope and prosperity there, and the promise of change which lured Jeff halfway across the country. He would join the Yarboroughs in Grimes County and hopefully see some “greener pastures” and live the life of a westerner.

Just sixteen, Jeff Milton entered Texas like a blank canvas with visions of grandeur. He was pleased when Colonel Yarborough handed him his first cigar and loved what it symbolized. He was being accepted as a man. He could not have asked for a better situation, a fresher start, or a more thrilling prospect. But soon Jeff would realize that it was not a home or retail business which made him feel complete. Hauling sacks of corn or sweeping out one of his brother-in-law’s stores seemed too mundane for the son of a governor. Jeff had always heard about Texas, but this was not it.

Colonel Yarborough eventually co-owned four stores, including one in Anderson, the County Seat , and one in Navasota, the largest store in town. There was plenty of excitement in the gambling halls and saloons down the street, but there was also plenty of work to do, and Jeff was not allowed to go there.  And there was a predictability and jadedness that repulsed him in such places, as they reminded him too much of Florida. Overall, these towns were all fairly civilized places and Jeff was seeking a proving ground… and vindication of sorts.

Just a baby during the war, he had missed out on “forging his own mettle” during the War Between the States, and his father had died shamefully. Every young man needed a way to establish his manhood, and establish his own name. He thought he would not be satisfied until he was a cowboy, living on the range, facing adventure or Indians out west, or some kind of adversary where he could display his Southern fire.

Then one day two bookkeepers, Billy Barry and Ben Calhoun left the employ of Colonel Yarborough. According to Haley, Billy’s "Uncle Buck" (Lt. Col. Buck Barry, CSA?) had made a name for himself as a ranger and  Indian fighter during the Civil War, and Billy felt some kind of itch that only northwest Texas could scratch. They took their earnings and headed west, to join a fellow accountant,  "Pete" ("Pink") Hatchett ( a newcomer to Grimes County, Captain Pinkney Gilliard Hatchett of Georgia, who had recently taken a job as a schoolteacher in Anderson) in starting up a ranch on the “Clear Fork” of the Brazos, wherever that was. Hatchett planned to raise Texas cattle there and drive them north to Abilene, Kansas to sell them.  Maybe someday if Jeff got bored around Navasota, he would come up and join them… For Jeff, this development became the proverbial seed of discontent. These three Grimes County men abandoned their desk jobs and did what he dreamed of. They put on their boots and hats and headed west and named their outfit the “Saw-Horned Cattle Company.”  Veritable geniuses, it was obvious they planned to simplify a step in cattle management, by just nipping the horns of their long-horned cattle, rather than branding them.

[Note: I can find no close kinship between William "Billy" Barry of Grimes County and Buck Barry, the famous Texas Ranger, and the son of Bryant Buckner and Mary Murill Barry. He apparently arrived  Texas in 1841 and originally settled outside of Corsicana. Billy Barry, the friend of Milton's, was the son of Confederate veteran W. E. Barry and Martha Meachum Barry.  W. E. was the son of Lewis Dickson Barry who came to Grimes County in 1849.]

The magnet of the west for young Jeff was suddenly magnified to an irresistible strength. He began to save back his money to buy himself an "outfit." He would need a good horse, saddle and tack, spurs, lariat and weapons and the leather to hold them.
Then one day Parham Yarborough gave Jeff something hotter than a cigar. It was a Winchester 44.40 lever-action rifle. Like all young men, as soon as he held it, he hungered for a place to shoot it and a chance to use it to right the world! And that Winchester told him right where he needed to go. After considerable deliberation, he and a buddy, Allen Morrison, decided to head west. They would go hire out at the Saw-Horn ranch in west Texas, where men still lived free and even a little wild; where the name Milton would be whatever he made it to be.


It turns out this ingenious cattle operation on the Brazos River was in far northwest Texas, 500 miles from home.  Comanches and outlaws still ran amok there and dangerous adventure was not just a possibility, it was guaranteed. Soon Jeff bought himself a horse and he and Allen left with little fanfare, and much against his sister’s advice.

Jeff had already come all the way from Florida. An old muddy river did not sound that intimidating. Finally they were on their way, rarely to return to the pastoral life in East Texas. And mile by mile, the West began to unfold. And Jeff Milton began to set things right... Or so he intended.

The two tenderfoots made the long trip in 1879 following the deep sluggish Brazos, until it narrowed and ran pristine between wide open prairies, teeming with wildlife. And sure enough they found their Navasota associates on the High Plains where streams ran clear and nights were cool. It felt like heaven.  So far from home, it was easy to play on the sympathy of the cattlemen who hired them on. Captain Hatchett ran a tight ship, as if he was still in the Civil War, and every cowboy was treated like a soldier. The ranch was situated a day’s ride from the old Fort Phantom Hill. It was the nearest remnant of civilization, and it was abandoned and in ruins. The ranch house was really more like a badger hole. Literally a “dugout” made of logs and mud. But the west was changing fast. The buffalo were being decimated, and the antelope were skittish. Sometimes ranch hands had to eat turkey, or jack rabbits or prairie dogs, or even snakes. But Jeff was determined to stick it out.

"Creekbed Christening"
The cowboy life was lonely and challenging. Often a cowhand was stationed completely in the wilderness, with only his wits and gun to feed himself. And in the midst of this battle for survival he had to put the herd's needs before his own... painting by Russell Cushman

Come that winter, it got even worse. Captain Hatchett bunked him in a tent, all by himself, way off in the wilderness to watch his sizable remuda of horses, which were left to run wild.  His job was to keep the “broke” horses from amalgamating with the mustangs, which ran around tauntingly like kings of the plains. If he was not yet a prince of the West, never-the-less he got to watch or even match wits with some. And it was as grand as he ever imagined. THIS was Texas!
 Two young cowboys met on the high plains of Texas and became fast friends. Jeff Milton and George Scarborough would work more together handling outlaws rather than cattle.

When Jeff got to go into Fort Griffin for supplies, he stood shoulder to shoulder with Army scouts, trail drivers, buffalo skinners, suspicious looking gunslingers and Texas Rangers. This had been the proving ground for Wyatt Earp, Bat Masterson, Billy Dixon and many others. He saw the outlaw John Selman. He met the dashing young George Scarborough, a future legend in law enforcement whom he would often team up with. He witnessed a shootout between two buffalo hunters, so close that when one shot the other’s brains out, Jeff caught the explosion of body fluids as he tried to stop them. THIS was Texas. Here he was Jeff Milton, man among men, even if he was only seventeen. Here life was measured by each breath, and your reputation was as infinite as the Llano Estacado.

In the spring after round-up, he and Allen Morrison decided to mosey back home to Grimes County and enjoy a few creature comforts. But they had blown their earnings before they ever got home.  So Jeff took a job as a guard on a prison farm near Huntsville… maybe he would get a shot at John Wesley Hardin, the famous Texas gunslinger who now resided inside the walls. But the Huntsville Prison cotton plantation was in practice and principle everything he hated about Florida. All Jeff could think about was what he might be missing out west. He made himself a modest “grubstake” and quit his life as a “straw boss.” He had to do better than this.

When Jeff finally came home to Navasota, his pocket was full of money and his heart was won over. Cowboying was tough. But the West was his first love. He put his money in the bank one Saturday in Navasota and began to stroll around like a man with a purpose. He just had not identified it yet. It is no doubt that he began to think about the gallant yet unpretentious Rangers he saw on patrol in west Texas. They seemed to embody everything he wanted to be. But he had never thought about being a lawman… at least not until his choices were made clearer.

A (good?) man with a gun: Jeff Milton went through several Colt revolvers and had this one custom made at the very end of his career.

Then that next mundane Monday morning came along. Jeff could never know how important the next few moments would be in his life. He went to go cash a check… just to see how it all worked.  You put your money in the bank, and then you draw it out as you need it. This sounded fairly uncomplicated. But when he got to the bank, he ran into a wall more arresting than one of those cold “blue northers” he had endured on the plains. A sign announced, quite matter-of-factly, the bank was closed. Forever.  Nobody could make a withdrawal.  Ever.

Jeff stood devastated and angry. He had never trusted anyone with so much money. His money.  Suddenly the sheriff came by and Jeff told him his problem. Sheriff Dan Wood was sympathetic to the young man and gave him some unofficial advice.  The sheriff knew which entrance the bankers used, and suggested that Jeff hide under the rear stairway and wait for them with his check in hand, and demand satisfaction when they opened their doors.  Sheriff Woods then made himself scarce and stood back to watch the fireworks, kind of like something Andy Griffith would do.  This was the way the Law operated in Navasota in those days.

And Jeff was game. He did just as suggested. The bankers probably saw him as a person of no consequence, just old Colonel Yarborough’s young brother-in-law. Certainly no threat to them, whatever his claims. They had much bigger problems on their minds… as they unlocked the back doors. Jeff presented his check, and his intention of getting his money out.  The bankers shook their heads and shrugged, as they heard his request. It was impossible. If they paid him they would have to pay everybody...

 But Jeff made a telltale move at that point. He pulled out his six-shooter and demanded all of his money. Technically, at this point he was robbing the bank. But quickly, amazingly, Sheriff Wood sauntered in and backed him up. Jeff explained non- chalantly that the men were cashing a check for him… which was true, albeit by gunpoint.  Sheriff Wood must have reasoned that a man had a right to demand his own money, gun or not. The bankers saw they would get no help from Wood so they somehow satisfied Jeff, probably out of their own pockets. Jeff got his money and, soon to become the toast at every bar, he soon got out of town.

 This was not the kind of reputation he had wanted. It was obvious to him and anyone paying attention that his six-shooter had become an extension of his temper. Jeff suddenly knew he had to find a legitimate expression for this propensity, or things could get ugly. About this time he heard that Major John B. Jones in Austin was recruiting good men with shooting skills to join the Texas Rangers. Jeff knew exactly what he had to do. He was too young to join... but he might be able to swing it if he played his cards right. He asked one last favor of his brother-in-law.  For his plan to work, he had to let somebody else do his bidding for him. He convinced Colonel Yarborough to write him a letter of recommendation, and his friend, the former Attorney General of Texas, and Civil War hero, H. H. Boone, as well.  Even young and na├»ve, Jeff still understood the world of his father, of politics and influence, and he used it shamelessly. After all, he did not want to go down in Navasota, robbing his own bank. Next time things might not go his way.
Young Jeff Milton about the time he left Navasota and joined the Texas Rangers... considerably under-aged. It was probably an endorsement from fellow Navasotan and former Attorney General of Texas, H. H. Boone which tipped the scales for him.
 
Yarborough and Boone probably sensed the urgency more than Jeff, and did their part and Jeff lied to Major Jones about his age. Even though he was obviously not old enough, Major Jones hired him on sight. Law enforcement often requires the talents of a poker-faced negotiator. And Jeff Milton would become infamous for his creative deceptions. Soon he would end the romance of one of his fellow rangers by telling his infatuated lover that the man was a convict! Jeff  Milton lived most of his life with his impish tongue in his cheek.

Suddenly within a few weeks, Jeff had gone from taking a few bucks at gunpoint from unsuspecting bankers, to swearing an oath to uphold the laws of the State of Texas. You gotta love this country! Where else could men find their hearts and shape their destinies and carve out their legacies in such amazing twists and turns of events?
 
Acquired in Navasota from Rodes and Owen, this A fork, high-back saddle, circa 1890-1900, belonged to Jeff Milton, and was acquired by J. Evetts Haley for the immense saddle collection at the Panhandle - Plains Museum. Thanks to the late Marcus Mallard, who told me about it, I went to Canyon, Texas and arranged to photograph it.



 
Jeff Milton only served on the Texas Ranger Force for around three years.  Within his first year, he had to kill a violent, belligerent, drunken troublemaker in Colorado City. A popular cattleman, the victim had been enraged over being chained to a tree during a previous altercation. Three Rangers tried to disarm two mad drunks and when one of them fired at one of them, Jeff immediately plugged him. This was an explainable shooting in the line-of-duty, but Jeff was prosecuted for it.  The townspeople insisted that Jeff had killed the man unnecessarily. Once again Jeff called upon the powerful services of his friend in Navasota, H. H. Boone, who got him off but managed to get the whole Frontier Ranger Battalion dismissed in a cloud of legal questions in the process. Even more ominously, if not downright smelly, the star witness for the State, Ab J. Adair, who had repeatedly demonstrated his fear to appear in court to testify, was found shot dead the morning he was supposed to testify. All this trouble, and Jeff was still not old enough to even be a Texas Ranger.
 
After acquittal in 1883, it is not surprising that Jeff left the Force and returned to store keeping in Ft. Davis, and later Murphyville, far southwest Texas. In a short time he had gone into the saloon business and almost immediately pulled his gun on a customer with intent to kill, over the wanton destruction... of a shot glass. Worse than that, his target was a member of the famous Kokernot ranching dynasty. He quickly divested himself of that tempting situation, but then ended up shooting at and hog-tying his barber one day during a haircut, after he became suspicious of the barber's razor. He thought the barber was crazy... Haley wrote that young Milton had the man committed to an institution... But this sounds like the beginning of Milton's larger than life self-aggrandizement, which Haley respectfully treated as the gospel.
Unfortunately, I have found so many discrepancies in names and relationships in just the launching of this legend, that I have learned to treat Haley's biography with a grain of salt.

Not surprisingly, once again Jeff Milton felt the "call of the horizon," which had lured him from Florida, Navasota, and his budding law enforcement career. Jeff, born to be wild Milton was quickly becoming a fugitive from society and himself, and would be on the run the rest of his life, trying to find that legitimate expression of his trigger finger. He soon struck out for New Mexico, and another fresh start... and he was only 22 years old.
Jeff Milton would return to the Brazos Valley of Texas many years later around 1900, still recovering from a shoot-out he had with train robbers. In a suspicious coincidence, Milton found himself waiting inside a Wells Fargo express car, right as some dull-witted robbers tried to hijack the contents. He prevented the robbery and plugged some of the outlaws, but paid a terrible price for his stand. He was shot and left for dead by the gang who left him and the money, and he lost the use of his arm.

Middle-aged and badly crippled, Jeff decided to look for an easier gig. Uncharacteristically, he headed east, back home to Grimes County and the loving care of his family.  After recovering from the shooting, he showed up in Navasota with a surprising scheme, his one good arm toting a briefcase full of cash from the Wells Fargo reward and a block of land leases in Walker County. Although disinformation placed it elsewhere, records showed that drilling began in 1901 in "Macedonia," known today as Mustang Prairie. Dead-eyed and dry as an uprooted prickly pear, Jeff Milton was no longer the bright-eyed gent looking for adventure. He was in fact an over-the-hill hired gunman who had faced loaded guns and death too many times to count. And rarely had he enjoyed the appreciation of the local population. He had to have become a bit cynical about lofty ideals such as Justice or the "Rule of Law." He was now just hunting cold hard cash.

Jeff Milton suddenly appeared in Navasota as an oilfield investor and driller, coming to harvest oil reserves he once suspected in nearby Walker County... A place not famous as an oilfield. Being from the area, this return and its suspicious explanation made me begin to wonder what he was really doing back home, except trying to recover from his injuries and take advantage of his sister's hospitality. The hair-brained drilling scheme turned out much like one would expect, and after a year of drilling, his well ended at 800 feet. It was assumed the reward for his famous Wells Fargo robbery intervention had gone down an endless hole... but surely this old desert fox had not suddenly become a rainbow chaser... spending his hard earned cash reward on a lark...
Simultaneously, (coincidentally?) the White Man's Union of Grimes County initiated the most successful, violent drive against the racial and social reorganization of Reconstruction ever seen, using terrorism, racial cleansing, and assassination. As a result, as many as ten black officials were dead, and the Populist County Sheriff Garrett Scott had been shot and escorted out, never to return. And at about the same time, Jeff Milton rode out with a beautiful, brand new saddle from Rodes and Owen, of Navasota, Texas (see photo above).

After travelling all over the southwest, and his ranging days over, it seems strange that he would acquire such a saddle in Navasota, at the time when he was rarely on a horse. It has every appearance of being a token of someone's esteem... perhaps a bonus, if you will, for unspoken favors.

Hundreds of defendants, the most prominent businessmen in the county, were named as accomplices to Sheriff Scott's assassination attempt, in a sham trial in Galveston, including the sons of Milton's benefactors in Navasota, but the "good man with the gun" was not one of them.  We will never know the details... but I suspect that he might have thrown his weight into family interests and paid off some old debts with in-kind services. And this would not be a surprise given the thinly disguised racial views expressed in his biography.

Still, Milton was once quoted as saying, "I never killed a man that didn't need killing; I never shot an animal except for meat."

And after reading Haley's account, I understand why Jeff Milton left the Texas Rangers so quickly. Navasota's beloved H. H. Boone not only conspired to get an under-aged trigger-happy youth into the much-maligned organization, but after his herculean defense at the murder trial, the State of Texas did not even know what or who the Rangers were! The law was as clear as mud as to responsibility, and the whole ranger organization had to be codified and reorganized. That would leave a bad taste in anyone's mouth... and that, to his credit, was Jeff Milton's legacy, especially for those outside the law. Statutory, Natural, Moral, whichever Law Jeff felt strongly about at the time...

You can read the rest of the legend in Haley’s book, a standard of Western Literature, if you can find it. Haley was the curator at the Panhandle-Plains Museum in Canyon, Texas and got to know Milton in his later years. Although I think his book is somewhat of a whitewash of Milton and his career, with a generous layer of gloss, it is worth the read.  As the early bank episode suggests, Jeff Milton was not quite the Southern cavalier that Haley created in his biography, but he was a bigger-than-life, one of kind Western legend, who once called Navasota Home.
Jeff Milton was known to use a cut-down version of the 1887 Winchester lever action Shotgun... one of the most ominous firearms ever used to bust up rowdy crowds, or in his case, several train robbers in Fairbank, Arizona Territory trying to heist a Wells Fargo express car... He took several of them out and severely wounded, put a tourniquet on his fractured arm and tossed the keys to the Wells Fargo safe out of reach, before passing out. The outlaws took him for dead and only stole a small amount.

Post Script: Captain "Pink" Hatchett gave up on the cattle business in a few years and returned to Navasota, married Mary Stone of Yarboro, a girl he had met during his previous stay,  and went into the kerosene business.
 
Walter Prescott Webb, in his exhaustive volume on the Texas Rangers... skirted the personalities and issues associated with the disbandment of the Texas Ranger Frontier Battalion in 1883 quite deftly... but his ire was obvious:
"The Rangers, after they became primarily an interior force, were often subject to just critcism because of their own bad conduct and indiscretion. The organization has throughout its history, with the exception of comparitively brief periods, had exceptionally good men in it. Unfortunately, it has also had men who reflected no credit on it.  If a man is inclined to be a rowdy or a braggart, overbearing or malicious, he has no business with the commission, the prestige, and the arms of a Texas Ranger.  If a little liquor is mixed with any of these bad qualities, it is certain to expose them to view and to subject the individual and the organization to general criticism.  On the whole, however, the men were of exceptional character...

It was after the Frontier Battalion had performed this great service that some shrewd lawyer took occassion to read the law creating the force in 1874 and discovered a way to paralyze the effectiveness of the Rangers. "

I have no doubt that Webb had certain individuals from Navasota  in mind when he wrote those words!

To read about the other Texas Rangers from Navasota, click on the LINK below.

http://russellcushman.blogspot.com/p/texas-rangers.html

Thursday, December 5, 2013

YOU ARE HERE... What are you looking for? A little orientation may be in order.

Welcome to the Navasota Current. Feeling mired in tall grass? Let me guide you out of here.  This blog has now gotten over 90,000 page views. I have started a few other blogs to help specialize the info and make your searching easier. Basically, here are my blogs and the focus of each:


YOU ARE HERE:

russellcushman.blogspot.com, titled "the Navasota Current"


The Navasota Current is my "kitchen sink." It is mostly about the history, material culture, and lifestyle of Navasota, Texas and the surrounding area. There are over 500 articles about local heroes (like Ranger Frank Hamer) , tourism information, TEXANA (like Texas stoneware) scenic photography, and some poems, songs, inspirational messages and even some political or social commentaries. You see what I mean about kitchen sink... As subjects reach their own critical mass, I branch them off into their own blog.


Many folks discover this blog looking for info about my art, what I actually do to put bread on the table, (and they understandably do not want a speech or history lesson...)  so I created a blog just about my art and art related essays... I also write some things to help and inform young artists...

[link]  russellcushmanart.blogspot.com, titled "Russell Cushman: Texas Painter & Sculptor"



I recently created a blog as a pilot project for the local Bryan ABC television station and its focus is the current arts and entertainment scene in the Brazos Valley...

[link]  brazosvalleyarts.blogspot.com, titled "BrazoSphere"
And if things do not change, :(  "BrazoSphere" will probably be amalgamated with my old music blog called:


[link]  brazosvalleyblues.blogspot.com, titled "Blues Valley"
Blues Valley was created to celebrate the wonderful music heritage of this region. There are articles about local musicians, past and present, concerts, and my unpublished manuscript about the origins and progenitors of Brazos Valley Blues. I call it "The Light of Day." There is a TON of local history here, but it is not the kind anybody wants to read. It is the unwritten struggle of racial and cultural warfare that forged the blues. It is TOMBSTONE, OH BROTHER, WHERE ART THOU, and  ROOTS all rolled into one.


Having these separate blogs really helps me track data and understand my readership. It is my version of the process of Natural Selection... Here are some interesting facts I have gleaned from my blog data provided by Google...


This blog is a Texas Ranger cyber-station! The Navasota Current has evolved into a Texas Ranger Internet resource. With 88,000 pages turned in over 500 articles in the Navasota Current alone, I can say without hesitation that Texas Rangers are one of my most popular subjects.  Almost 6000 of those pages turned have been in Ranger articles. My article on Texas Ranger badges, written this past year has already pushed to the top blog ever, with around 2,800 pages viewed. Articles about Rangers in Navasota, especially Captain Frank Hamer,  have accumulated another 2500 pages turned.

This is also a Texas Stoneware crossroads. The most popular subject overall has to be Texas stoneware. My series about Texas stoneware, parts I, II, & III, which can be found as permanent pages on the right side of the blog, has had 3000,  3700, and 630 pages turned for a total of 7330 pages turned.

I love statistics! These stats prove Texans still care about their history and about Texas artifacts. Some of these articles experience hundreds of hits in a day. On the right, at the top you will find a listing in the green column of "MY FAVORITE FEATURES." Here is where you will find permanant articles on Texas stoneware, Texas Rangers, thematic collections, and a series on Joan of Arc.

In the blue column on the right are my TOP TEN blogs, that my readers have made popular... These are the things most of you enjoy or want to know...

BUT Blues... not so much. Sadly, my blues blog, "Blues Valley," which includes lots of blues history and my manuscript on Brazos Valley blues, is now one year old, but has not collectively attracted as much as even one of these popular articles in the Navasota Current. THAT is marketing research. And I have responded accordingly!

If Texas stoneware is a 10, and Texas Rangers are a 9, and blues in general is a 1, then I  have a "photo-funny" about cowboy churches which would rate as a 6! Incredibly, with1300 pages viewed!  Not bad for something goofy that could be terribly misinterpreted! You can view it over on the right > "Boss, he says..."

The biggest surprise has been an article on INDIANOLA, TEXAS, (near the bottom of the list in blue) which has had over 570 hits! What is going on down there!?  Still, it's Texas history.. . so you can guess what you will see more of in 2014!

MERRY CHRISTMAS!  And thanks for stopping by!

Monday, December 2, 2013

Sixty-Six Dollars Could Change This Country

America may have to learn its lessons all over again. The painting is by Tom Lovell.
 
 Let me show you something with sixty-six dollars.

Americans were natural-born fighters, that is for sure. Our Country was born in battle, and it had to fight over and over for its life and its sovereignty. The U. S. fought military battles, verbal battles, trade battles and battles of ideals. It is truly a miracle it survived. With so many battles at its onset, those that survived had to be tough and able to defend. So it is a small wonder that our greatest National heroes were fighters. And it is no small wonder that our culture has produced so many weapons and wars since. Still, I think we have missed the point as we smugly cast a suspicious eye on our past. Violence, weapons, conflicts etc. are only half of the equation that forged the American character, until recent times, when we endeavored to reinvent it. Along with being formidable fighters, our forefathers were also incredible forgivers.
 
 
Look no further than a ten dollar bill. There you’ll see the likeness of Alexander Hamilton.  George Washington’s right-hand man during the American Revolution, his Secretary of the Treasury, the man who invented our National banking system and established the U. S. Mint.  He was also killed in a senseless duel with Vice President Aaron Burr in 1804. Few Americans ponder after all of this time how such a brilliant, stalwart patriot got caught up in a duel that cost him his life. Even fewer really appreciate how even then, he managed to save his reputation while granting his challenger his very life.

After refusing to apologize or retract damning remarks made about Vice President Burr by him,  Alexander Hamilton agreed to a duel  to settle their affairs. Hamilton stated before the duel that he would not fire upon Burr, but did not tell his opponent. He kept his word, and left his fate in the hands of the Vice President, who chose to kill him even though Hamilton had intentionally fired his round into the air. Hamilton could not be goaded into killing a man whom he had inadvertently enraged.  His was one of the first of many famous, enigmatic acts of violence in America accompanied by amazing respect and even tolerance or forgiveness towards the enemy. Burr was never prosecuted. It was an honorable disagreement among gentlemen.

Although illegal, the “code of honor” of that time demanded that men be willing to face up to their enemies and answer the challenge of a duel to settle serious disputes. There was a strange kind of superstition that somehow justice would work itself out in these deadly matches. Men of all classes and ethnicities faced off with pistols, rifles, swords and in the South, large Bowie knives. Can you imagine what effect this would have on the political pundits today? Hamilton placed his pride and dignity and reputation above his own life.  He must have reasoned that the former were worth more than the latter. Or at least the latter would be worthless without them. And so he chose pistols with hair triggers.

America was new and was feeling its oats. The idea of a “free press” was new and untested. Soon serious pitfalls became evident. In the beginning of an ominous cultural trend, the disagreement which culminated into the infamous Burr-Hamilton duel began with Hamilton’s private comments being indiscreetly publicized in the newspapers.  It seems even in its infant stages, the American Media was determined to fan the flames of controversy and contention.  Later the scandal of the illegal and infamous duel was fueled by them, and Burr’s political career was trashed.  So in a stroke of controlled, albeit illegal violence, America lost two of its greatest leaders. And it could be argued that the Media was the cause of the unnecessary debacle. It made the problem then it railed at the barbarism. Public sentiment began to condemn such uncivilized  traditions. Eventually the tragedy became a benchmark for popular opinion, as more stringent laws were passed and duels began to be restricted to the wilderness regions.

But America was a big place, habits die hard, and there was a lot of wilderness. Fifty years later the proliferation of duels in frontier California proves that the gentleman’s duel was still a persistent element in American folk-justice.  John Boessenecker reveals a hearty tradition of dueling in his thorough scrutiny of early California violence. I just read his exhausting study of it called Gold Dust & Gunsmoke and promise you that you will enjoy it if you like the mixture of truth and blood and history. Boessenecker makes Texas history appear quite tame, compared to the lawless hell of the gold miners in pre-statehood California.  Granted there were a lot of Texans there adding to the mayhem. And once again, the trouble usually started in the papers. Boessenecker  comments that dueling was almost a part of a California newspaperman’s job description, as they were often invited to back up their words with bullets. Time after time, something printed became the cause of a life-or-death match between opponents, who were often politicians or rival editors of local newspapers. And the average California editor was as game as a fighting rooster!

This caused me to ponder. This reckless abuse of the Media in Victorian times led to actual bloodshed when reputations were assassinated, and the damage was considered so bad that men were willing to kill or die rather than live in a world with those words in print left unanswered. Published insults could not be left unchallenged, or for that matter undefended.  Yet today accusers and the accused have no forum to end such injustices. There is no “High Noon,” or its offspring, justice and closure. Today’s politicians must endure the most outrageous lies and satire, proliferated by the various tentacles of the Media, with little or no recourse. Lawsuits eventually took the place of these fights to the death, but they also ended forever the other subtle outcomes from these matches.

For instance Boessenecker tells of a couple of instances where, after the two parties shot or stabbed, but failed to kill each other, and yet became mutually satisfied, they were known to shake hands afterwards. No hard feelings! Sometimes they even became good friends.  There was a strange shared mutual respect, even an admiration for the other! Can you imagine Hannity and Pelosi hugging and walking arm in arm after a good slugging? But that’s what this Country needs.
 
One jewel among Gold Dust & Gunsmoke’s treasury of criminal outrages is a tale of two San Francisco journalists. After months of insults and lawsuits, two editors for different French newspapers met to kill one another like gentlemen in a ferocious duel with rapiers!  On an isolated beach 12 miles away from San Francisco, Rapp and Thiele lunged at one another like Rocky Mountain bighorn sheep and began to slaughter each other with gusto. They stabbed and wrestled like to feisty granddaddy crawdads. After considerable blood was spilt, and they both were sufficiently wounded, they were pried apart.  Almost immediately they shook hands and declared their instant and lasting friendship! How bizarre. How… American!

There is a mystery here and it is worth being explored! It seems these face-offs helped tremendously to dampen reckless sarcasm… and foolish enthusiasm for physical retribution as well. Has anybody noticed how chummy the elder Bush and Clinton were, after their battles?

Boessenecker also relates how the editor of the San Francisco Herald, chronic duelist John Nugent survived a bloody, bone-smashing duel with dueling enthusiast Tom Hayes, only to become a good friend of his afterwards. So sometimes violent, blood-thirsty adversaries become bosom buddies… after trying to kill each other… but only after the showdown… Interesting.

This might sound silly or incidental. But it is not. I first saw this behavior in my own dealings with a schoolyard bully named James Mackintosh, in the fourth grade.  James was very big and mouthy and very pushy, and he drove me crazy all through Elementary School until finally I took him on one day during recess. I stood up to him and we got into a scuffle, and he eventually had me tied into a knot and held me between his powerful legs, squeezing me like a bug-eyed cartoon character. Soon I said “uncle.” I had never been made to do that before.  In fact I did not even understand when he demanded that I say uncle.  I named every uncle I had!  Anything to breathe again.  Afterwards we were friends, just like that. But he never picked on me again. In fact he promised to defend me if the need ever arose.

I have decided this is what we have lost in the American character.  This obscure making –up mechanism. We still have the violence part. But we have lost the gracious winner part.  Or the magnanimous conqueror part.  Lawsuits are rarely satisfactory, divorces rarely amicable. The courts usually fail to give us the direct eye to eye conflict we need to find closure. Americans do not know how to win or be the winner, much less how to be a loser, and in fact have made winning a license to prance, dance and provoke our adversaries. Professional Sports is the leader in the new paradigm, of ecstatic domination. But it is the domain of insignificant, small-minded egomaniacs. And it was not always this way. Still in High School sports you see the athletes lining up and shaking hands after the game. THAT is the old America I was proud of.

The first Forgiver in Chief.
I have decided that we all need to go back to Appomattox.  You know, where Generals Grant and Lee ended the Civil War. It turns out that most of the men pictured on our money were not only great leaders, they were great forgivers.  Betrayed by Jefferson and others, Washington led the way as a forgiver to unite our country. Hamilton was a brave soldier, and was able to stand and take a bullet from a man he knew would probably kill him, and leave his life to God or destiny or the marksmanship of his adversary.  But he could not shoot a man who was not his enemy in cold blood. He had to have already forgiven everyone involved to have been so much at peace to face his fate.

As the Commanding General in the Union Army, Ulysses S. Grant orchestrated an unexpected and magnanimous reconciliation with the South. 
And General Grant, on the $50, was no different. He had been chasing and battling General Robert E. Lee and his Confederate Army for years, and had seen hundreds of thousands of his men killed in that pursuit, and that day at Appomattox when he rode up, he had to have been so disgusted with the war and the great losses suffered that he wanted to just strike Lee down to the ground.

Lee had come to offer his grandiose sword, and submit himself and his haggard army to the victor. The last time they had seen each other, in the War with Mexico, then Colonel Lee had reprimanded underling Grant for his unbecoming appearance.  Ulysses S. Grant was the poster boy for a slob in uniform. And even now Grant came up in a humble enlisted man’s uniform, half covered with the mud slung on him by jaded cavalry horses, unkempt after weeks on the chase. He could not have cared less, as he entered the little courthouse chosen for this historic exchange with a great deal flowing through his mind; Lee was finally cornered and beaten; President  Lincoln’s instructions in such a case as this; The horrible war was finally over; The negotiations of healing a country were just beginning. And everything he did and said would help or hinder that process.

 
And President Lincoln’s (on the $5!) instructions were clear and uncomplicated. Grant was Lincoln’s man, as was often said, and he had to follow his orders, regardless of how he felt personally.  Grant was obedient.  And Lincoln’s terms for surrender were... magnanimous.  A baker’s dozen of Union Generals stood around, gawking at history unfold.  In other times and places, the likes of Lee and his officers would have been hunted down and executed with prejudice.  Depending on Lincoln’s terms and Lee’s reaction to them, these Generals were standing ready to call their men into further hostilities, or at the very least a colossal manhunt of Confederate leaders.

But Grant wrote a relatively simple recipe for peace. It was handed to General Lee, who was ready to be arrested, even imprisoned, and everyone watched as he read. This was the greatest moment in American history. It was when we chose what kind of people we were going to be. At least for a few generations. And Lincoln chose for all of us. And he chose gracious. We would be a gracious people. Even with our adversaries who had caused us great loss.

We would be a forgiving people. Like those editorial-crazed California duelists, North and South would shake and go home, and rebuild our lives. Lee had only to promise to lay down his sword, and his men with him, and go home and repair the land- the United States of America.  And now everybody knew what UNITED meant. Lincoln had been willing to lose his best and brightest, to squander is own political fortune, to engage in a terrible civil war to HOLD ON TO THE SOUTH. Like a loving father wrapping his arms around a violent, enraged son, holding on at any cost, Lincoln had held on until the angry son gave out, at his own great peril and at an equally great price. And as soon as the swinging and violence had subsided, he was ready to begin the healing. That is what Americans used to do.

We forgave the English, our tyrants, and became their closest allies.  We forgave Native Americans and set aside lands under their sovereignty. We forgave Mexico and forged a lasting, peaceful partnership. We forgave the Germans and Japanese and rebuilt their countries and became essential trade partners. And so on and so on. And in every case, we should have done just what we did. It is up to the winners to decide whether there will be burning indignation or humble gratitude.

THAT was the America that I was born in. The Yanks, God Bless ‘em, said put down your guns and go home and rebuild your farms and churches and towns and OUR COUNTRY. And we did.  It was hard and there was a lot of baggage with that kind of conflict.  They killed Lincoln and Grant was elected President and proved to be a better general than he was a politician. But I have to give those two credit. They gave us our AMERICAN LEGACY. The old one.

It wasn’t being the policeman of the world, or feeding the world, or leading the world in the race to the moon. It wasn’t about the world. These men knew that the only way that the United States would ever be a light to the world was that it first was a light unto itself.

Being raised in a Christian country, these men had been raised in the Judeo-Christian paradigm, and now was the time to put it into force. Jesus had taught his followers to love their enemies, to be kind to them. Now that the rebels had ceased hostilities, it was past time to turn the other cheek. It was time to remember Jesus’ words, “They will know that you are mine by the way you love one another.” And that all starts with those that you perceive as your enemies. That had to have been hard. But Grant was a good soldier.

Grant’s terms were more than acceptable and Lee walked out of there with his and the South’s dignity intact. The two armies went their separate ways and built the greatest nation on earth.  Only in a land where Jesus Christ reigns could you ever see that kind of forgiveness.  And that kind of forgiveness and tolerance and civility insured recovery and vitality for all. Check out your history, and try to find another example of such gracious terms between blood enemies. Try to find another recovery like that of ours after the War Between the States.  Only under the rule of Christ.  Only in America.

And we have lost that, perhaps our greatest asset.  Today political foes speak with the bravado and venom of those early California editors, but there are no duels to shut them up. They have the safety of anonymity on the Internet, the power of the pulpit, the protection of free speech. But they lack the courage of their convictions.  There is probably nothing they would actually die for.  They have no respect for anyone, they give no quarter and they ask for none. The American conversation has been reduced to crude insults and ruthless, thoughtless character assassinations. Maybe people were more careful about what they said when somebody might meet them in the street, the way Sam Houston did one of his verbal assailants.  We have lost our manners and we have lost our mutual respect and we have lost our FEAR.  It is a kind of intellectual anarchy.

All that is left to complete our fate is social anarchy. Already youths are running the streets with this in mind, knocking innocent people unconscious, proving that violence has nothing to do with poverty, and everything to do with unanswered insolence.  Insolence, rudeness… Just like on TV.

This was what we Texans loved about Gus McRae in Lonesome Dove, when he popped that condescending bartender in the face with his huge Walker Colt. “I can’t tolerate rudeness in a man!” he explained.  Sure Gus was wrong about his methods, but he was right about what was wrong.

Either way, we have lost our sense of mutual recognition and courtesy; Respect for the individual. Respect for those who believe differently from you.  In past times men were willing to DIE for what they believed in. To die over a word. Over a woman. Over disrespect.  If nothing else, you could admire them for their courage.  This was the simple logic of the Comanche.  Even the most basic culture admires sincerity and the selflessness of making personal sacrifice for one’s most valued things, whether family or kinsmen or ideals. At the heart of every true patriot is sacrifice.  Today we are numbed by the monotony of an avalanche of cheap shots.

Today’s notion of patriotism is a flawed conspiracy to make life fair, no matter what the consequences. It is the demand for others, richer than ourselves to sacrifice, even by force.  And it is a social war being executed totally by the Media. Today’s war of words is cheap and shallow, and it has produced a race of arrogant taunters.  There is no question that their lives are far more important to them than their pride or dignity.  They have twisted the words of John F. Kennedy into “Ask not what your country can do for you, DEMAND now that you receive the maximum from your Country!”

And the last thing they understand is what Grant and Lee did that day at Appomattox. They will never understand or practice the civility of worthy adversaries. They will never know or practice unity of purpose.  And that is why they could never rebuild the America they would destroy.

Once again, only in America; The “land of the free.”  Where the free gave rights to those who could and would destroy the plan, who gave up their rights in the name of equality and fairness. And the result will be poverty and slavery to the government.  The duel between our mightiest, mindless midgets is over. Not a bullet will be shot, nobody will die to save the country from itself, and in the end, we will never be able to forgive ourselves. And we can be sure our blood enemies will not.

The old America was one of stand and fight, AND lay down and forgive.  The new America is one of hide and satirize and lay down with one’s sanctimonious hatred.  America is headed for a long, restless sleep.
So that's what you can see in sixty-six dollars. Hopefully you will never look at your money the same again.