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Part I of The Donner Party

A "Somniac Excursion" Publication


July 1, 2010







Chapter 1

An Obvious Choice

A recent TV documentary discussed the movement west in the 1800s, and the tragedy of the Donner Party, who left Illinois in 1846 for the beautiful land of California.  Their trip taking far longer than expected, they hoped to make up for lost time by taking a “shortcut”, which didn’t turn out to be a shortcut at all.

The Party got caught in the Sierra Nevada mountains, and had to resort to cannibalism to survive.

The lesson learned?  Don’t take shortcuts.

I finished a glass of milk and went to bed, feeling sorry for the Donner Party, but also not so sorry for their obviously making the wrong choice.

How could they put their families at great risk taking an unproven route when thousands of others had taken “the” path successfully?

I woke up the next morning, got dressed, and walked outside.  What was this?  Where was I?  Was it happening again? 

Having gone through the experience at the Battle of Gettysburg and then the writing of the Constitution, I was used to my waking moments directing my dreams, but I can only get so use to this it seems so real!

I walked down the dirt road towards a young man yelling:  “Newspapers!  Two cents!”

That gave me an idea right off I was quite a bit back in history.  But where?  When?

The paper told me: March 19, 1846.  I flipped through the pages of the Sangamo Journal and happened upon an ad:

“Westward ho!  Who wants to go to California without it costing them anything?  As many as eight young men, of good character, who can drive an ox team, will be accommodated by gentlemen who will leave this vicinity about the first of April.  Come, Boys!  You can have as much land as you want without costing you anything.  The government of California gives large tracts of land to persons who move there.  The first suitable persons who apply will be engaged.”


It was signed: George Donner.

What an opportunity!  Here I was, a young man of good character, though I certainly had no experience driving an ox team!

Maybe I wouldn’t need to.  Why not just approach the leaders of the group leaving the first of April, and tell them not to take the Shortcut.  Stay on the main course!

Why would they believe me?  What could I say to change their mind?

I tracked down George Donner and James Reed, the leaders, who were standing over a desk talking about the map in front of them:


I introduced myself as Clyde Johnson, recently in from the east coast where I was a teacher.  Fortunately, I also was a ranch-hand, and, having seen their advertisement, wanted to sign on as help and travel west. 

They looked me over, asked about my background and ability to handle horses and oxen, and, convinced I was fit for the job, welcomed me aboard.  "We leave tomorrow!", James Reed declared.  "Be ready at day-break!"

As I excused myself, I watched George Donner pull a book from his shelf.  It was “The Emigrants’ Guide to Oregon and California”, by Lansford Hastings:


James Reed was talking:  “Look, George – it says right here:  ‘The most direct route, for the California emigrants, would be to leave the Oregon route, about two hundred miles east from Fort Hall; thence bearing west southwest, to the Salt lake; and thence continuing down to the bay of  St. Francisco, by the route just described.”

Donner responded:  “But do we know anything about this route – are we just taking this author’s word for it?”

“Why not?  It seems reasonable.  He’s written a book about it, so he must know something about what he’s talking about.  Who says the other trail is any more safe?  Only a couple hundred families have gone that route, so it’s likely there are many routes out there better than that one.”

“Besides, we need to get out there quick.  Listen to this part of the book:  ‘It is a surprising fact, that upon this entire route, from the States, either to Oregon or California, there is not a stream that emigrants cross, but that is fordable, at the season of the year, at which they pass through those regions.’  If we don’t get out there quick, others will beat us, and we won’t get any of the free land from the Government of California.”

I silently left the room with some thoughts:

a. Hastings had written a book about the travels across the midwest.  Why should he not be believed?

b. It’s one thing to question taking another route if tens of thousands of people have taken one route, and nobody’s taken another.  But these men had just said only a few hundred had gone west!  That changes things, doesn’t it? 

c.  What was the meaning of their “land” comment.  Did we really need to “get there fast” before the land was taken up?



The Greatest Record in Sports


A Continuation


July 2, 2010







A Quick Look at Hockey




July 3, 2010







Not the actual founding of Kansas City, but realistically, it should be!  July 3, 1869.  The First Hannibal Bridge.

The first railroad bridge spanning the Missouri River.

And the tipping point to the explosion of growth in Kansas City ...


View from Clay County 1876

Photo taken by Mark Frazier in November 2007




First bridge and new piers for the second bridge

Photo by Eric Kinkhorst


Photo by Eric Kinkhorst


Images from the remarkable site:



Some Flag Paitings of Childe Hassam


July 4, 2010











In Researching the Highest Point in Johnson County, I Came Upon This Gem of an Online Mapping Tool


July 5, 2010







Johnson County, Kansas


A striking element of this image is the amount of unincorporated area in the county!  The application allowed many different views of the county.  Here are several:


Cities with Sections Overlayed


Cities with Zip Codes Overlayed


Cities with Historic Sites


Digital Elevation Model


This was interesting - a topographic map of Johnson County which looked, with its dendrite-formations, eerily similar to another image ...




Computer Simulation and Cards


July 6, 2010







Marissa and I were playing cards, and closed with a modified game of "War", where you simply race through the deck one time, 27 cards each, compare one card at a time, high card takes the pair.

27 possible wins.

Marissa won 19.

I wondered how likely that was.  I'd expect, of course, the average to be between 13 and 14.  But 19?

Let's model it.

To simulate "playing card value", I'll choose a random number between 0 and 1 - for each of us.  Do this 27 times.  Add up the victories.


That's one game - Marissa won 19 out of the 27.  But if we played again, things would be different.  How different?  Let's simulate some games and see ...


Simulating 100 Games Played

And tabulating these results, we see the data accumulating around the 13-14 level, as we expected:

Of course, there's lots of variability when you just play 100 games.  We see it above.  What happens if instead I simulate 100,000 games?


Simulating 100,000 Games Played

But the story does not end here ...



The Dust Bowl


Some Starting Thoughts on an Upcoming Book


July 7, 2010














The Dust Bowl


Trying to get "The Lay of the Land" regarding the terrain of the Dust Bowl


July 8, 2010


















Between a Rock and a Hard Place - Is the Answer to Compromise?


July 9, 2010







Last month, we played around with a diagram regarding Post WWI wheat harvests, leading to the Dust Bowl ...

Here was the feedback diagram:


Let's look at this from another perspective - what should the government have done policy-wise, immediately after the War.

A bit of context ...

Post WWI.  The government had established a per bushel minimum of $2.00 - and then raised it to $2.25.  Wheat sold for $3.00 for a while.  Europe, suffering from wheat shortages due to Russian wheat held back due to the Turks controlling the Dardanelles, needed wheat.

They got it.

Massive harvests.

Farmers were rich, making far more per bushel than it cost to grow wheat.

But the War ended.  European wheat fields returned.  Farmers returned.  Russian grain began to flow again.

Our supply was much greater than demand.

Therefore, it was time to remove the price guarantees.

That's what happened.

Of course, with the market now operating, prices fell in line to reach an equilibrium with demand.

And farmers weren't happy.  Would you be, accustomed to a certain standard of living, now having it sliced in half?  With outstanding loans, due to the land and tractors you're now responsible for?

Of course not.

So they plowed - and plowed - and plowed.

Which led to ...

Increased supply over demand!  The very problem the removal of price guarantees was to solve!

Of course, many other dramatic problems ensued.

The Dust Bowl.

Let's diagram this ...


Because this is all predictable, it's tempting to say, "Fine - if removing price guarantees leads to these undesirable effects and a continuation of the problem we're trying to solve, let's leave the price guarantees in place!"

What would happen?

If the price guarantees are still in place, then it follows farmers will continue to grow more and more wheat.  And if that's the case, then it naturally follows supply will ----- outpace demand!


It seems we're damned if we do - and damned if we don't!


How many dilemmas are of this kind?  And what can be done about it?

Next issue ...


The Greatest Record in Sports


A Continuation


July 10, 2010







A Focus on Basketball


Computer Simulation and Cards

(Part II)


July 11, 2010








We ended with a graph looking like a normal distribution.  If this is the case, then the implications are we can calculate probabilities, somehow, for each occurrence, rather than run hundreds of thousands of simulations to see the likelihood (or lack of) a particular possibility.

This is the case.

Given each event is really "I win / Marissa wins", the dual nature of the outcomes suggests the binomial probability.

More to come on this in the coming issues ...

The relevant formula is as follows:

For example, suppose I wanted to know the probability of Marissa winning only 8 of the 27 hands.


Here are the calculations for all possibilities, contrasted with the simulated wins:

And graphing the relationship of results, simulated versus probability, gives the following:

But this is still not the rest of the story ...



The Greatest Record in Sports


A Continuation


July 12, 2010







A Focus on Football (Part I)




Visualizing Sound


July 13, 2010







The great Tesla nearly made a building fall.

He could have.


That which we hear - but do not see.

Let's try to see it.  Visualizing sound!  The science of cymatics.

Here are some Chladni patterns, named after the German Ernst Chladni (1756-1827).


Recently, Hans Jenny has done remarkable work in the field of Cymatics:


Hooke was interested.  So was Galileo, who wrote: 

"As I was scraping a brass plate with a sharp iron chisel in order to remove some spots from it and was running the chisel rather rapidly over it, I once or twice, during many strokes, heard the plate emit a rather strong and clear whistling sound: on looking at the plate more carefully, I noticed a long row of fine streaks parallel and equidistant from one another. Scraping with the chisel over and over again, I noticed that it was only when the plate emitted this hissing noise that any marks were left upon it; when the scraping was not accompanied by this sibilant note there was not the least trace of such marks."


Actually watching a youtube video is helpful.  Here are a couple:


Here's another great one, with a twist.  Towards the close of this latter video, the talk turns to patterns created via sound resembling patterns in nature.  It then turns to the following image and soundover:

"Sound understood as a force of creation is a theme found in the traditions of many cultures.  In Hindu culture, the entire way and course of the world is imagined in the dance of the deity Shiva Nataraja, the vibrations of his drums stirring the face of the primordial ocean of creation."


This image looked familiar.

It was.

I'd seen it in my catalogue of things in our local museum - the Nelson-Atkins.


And now, the next time I visit the museum to see other art I've been researching, I can add this to my itinerary.  Of course, I don't understand it yet, but I've got an entry point, which means I'm off and running!



The Greatest Record in Sports


A Continuation


July 14, 2010







A Look at Football (Part II)



The Vicious Cycle


An Introduction to "What's Wrong With Math", by Morris Kline


July 15, 2010








The Vicious Circle



In a self-centered circle, he goes round and round,

That he is a wonder is true;

For who but an egotist ever could be

Circumference and center, too.

Sarah Fells


Peter Landers found himself caught in a vicious circle. He had just secured a Ph.D. in mathematics from Prestidigious University and, having been well recommended, readily secured a faculty position at Admirable University. Thereupon Peter faced the problem of teaching mathematics to prospective engineers, social scientists, physicists, elementary and secondary school teachers, the general liberal arts students, and those who, like himself, had chosen to become mathematicians. Peter was fully aware of these varied career interests, and he also knew that students came to college with different drives and preparation. But he was confident that his education, typical for Ph.D.’s, had prepared him for the tasks ahead.

To put himself in the proper frame of mind he reviewed his own education. The elementary school courses had been acceptable. After all, one did have to know how much to pay for five candy bars if he knew the price of a single bar. True, some operations were baffling. It had not been clear why the division of two fractions had to be performed by inverting the denominator and multiplying – but the teacher seemed to know what was correct. He had constantly referred to rules, principles, and laws. Rules, like rules of behavior, apparently applied to arithmetic, too. For all Peter had known, principles were laid down by the principals of the schools, and certainly they were authorities. As for laws, everyone knew that there were city laws, state laws, federal laws, and even the laws of the Ten Commandments. Certainly laws must be obeyed. Though under some tension as to whether he was violating laws, Peter was young and resilient. In any case, what to do was clear and the answers were right.

In his review of his high school education Peter did recall some doubts he had had about the value of what he was being taught. He hadn’t understood why the teacher had to stress that the sum of two whole numbers is a whole number, or why he had to prove that there is one and only one midpoint on every line segment; but evidently the teacher was trying to make sure that no one could be mistaken on these elementary matters. After all, teachers knew best what had to be done.

Peter also recalled one teacher’s enthusiasm about the quadratic formula. ‘You see,’ the teacher proclaimed triumphantly after he had derived the formula, ‘we can now solve any quadratic equation.’ But Peter had been perverse and had asked the teacher why anyone wanted to solve any quadratic equation. The teacher’s reply was a disdainful look that caused Peter to shrink back. His question must have been a silly one.

He remembered a similar experience in geometry. After a long and apparently strenuous effort, the teacher proved that two triangles are congruent if the sides of one are equal respectively to the sides of the other. Then he turned to the class as if expecting applause. Again Peter dared to speak up: ‘But isn’t that obvious’ A triangle is a rigid figure. If you put three sticks together to form a triangle, you cannot change its size or shape. Peter had learned this at the age of five while playing with Erector sets. The teacher’s contempt was obvious. ‘Who’s talking about sticks? We are concerned with triangles.’

Despite a few other disagreeable incidents Peter continued to like mathematics. He believed in his teachers. It was easy to comply with their requests, and the certitude of the results gave him, as they had given others before him, immense satisfaction. And so Peter moved on to college with the conviction that he liked mathematics and was going to major in it.

His first experiences were disturbing. After his program was approved by an adviser who did not understand what an Advanced Placement Examination Grade of 4.5 meant – the adviser had thought that 10 was a perfect grade so that 4.5 was a poor one – Peter was finally registered.

He entered his first college classroom for a course which happened to be English. To his surprise he found about five hundred students already seated. The professor arrived, delivered his lecture, and, obviously very busy, rushed out of the room. Peter never found out what his name was, but apparently names were not important, because the professor never bothered to ask any student his name either. Nor, Peter thought, would the professor have noticed had a different group of five hundred students appeared each time. Term papers were required, and these were graded by graduate students who insisted that ‘Who shall I call next?’ was correct, though Peter had been taught otherwise in high school. The size of the class and the impersonal character of the instruction disturbed Peter at first, but he soon realized that the requirements of the English course could be met merely by listening. And so he relaxed.

Peter’s second class, one in social science, surprised him for different reasons. At the professor’s desk was a young man not much older than Peter. As the instructor conducted the lesson he was obviously nervous. Somehow the lessons throughout the semester were confined almost entirely to the first part of the text. And the instructor did not welcome questions.

The third class – mathematics – was a shock. Peter entered the room and found that it was a large auditorium. At the bottom of the room, at the professor’s desk, was not a man but a box, which proved to be a television set. Shortly after Peter’s entrance the box began to speak and the students took notes feverishly. From many seats one could not see clearly, if at all. But by coming early one could get a good seat. And so Peter managed to learn some of his college mathematics by listening and looking at a TV program.

Though it was not a requirement, Peter decided to take some physics. He had heard somewhere that mathematics was applied to physics, and he thought he should find out what these applications were. The physics professor constantly talked about infinitesimals and which infinitesimals could be neglected. The mathematics professors, however, had warned that such concepts and procedures were loose and even incorrect. But Peter listened attentively. He was sure that even though the mathematics and the physics professors apparently did not communicate with each other and so did not talk the same language, their methodologies could be reconciled. He did seek counsel from his professors on this matter, but unfortunately they were not available. One was actually living out of the city, in Washington, D.C.; another was always involved in consultations outside the university; and a third had office hours only on Sundays, from 6:00 to 8:00 A.M.

In the junior and senior years the classes were smaller, and the courses were usually taught by older faculty. Many blithely ignored the texts they had assigned and spent the period transferring material from their notes to the board. The professors copied assiduously and the students did likewise. When the professors looked up from their notes they looked into the blackboard as though the students were behind it.

Nevertheless Peter persevered, received his bachelor’s degree, and proceeded to graduate school. His experiences there paralleled those of most other students. Professors were hard to contact. The bulletin descriptions of the courses bore no relation to what the professors taught. Each professor presented his own specialty as though nothing had been done or was being done by anyone else in the world. And so Peter learned about categories, infinite Abelian groups, diffeomorphisms, noncommutative rings, and a variety of other specialties.

Prospective Ph.D.’s must write a doctoral thesis. Finding a thesis adviser was like hunting for water in a desert. After many trials, including writing theses on topics suggested by his professor that, it turned out, had been done elsewhere and even published, Peter wrote a thesis on almost perfect numbers that completed his work for the degree.

With the Ph.D. behind him, Peter presumed he was prepared for college teaching. Upon taking up his position at Admirable University he received from his department chairman the syllabi for the several courses he was to teach and was told what texts he was to use for these courses. Cheerful, personable Peter went about his assigned tasks with enthusiasm, He had always liked mathematics and had no doubt that he could convey his enthusiasm and understanding of the subject to his students. He had been informed by the chairman that to secure promotion and tenure he would be expected to do research. This requirement in no way dimmed Peter’s spirit, because he had been told repeatedly that mathematicians do research and was confident that the training he had received had prepared him for it.

But the world soon began to close in on Peter.


What happened to Peter ... and what is the vicious cycle?



History - Right Around The Corner


July 16, 2010







As told by the remarkable Ed Blair in his 1915 edition of "History of Johnson County, Kansas", the day was November 9, 1906, the occasion?  The laying of the Santa Fe Marker at Lone Elm ...

"Of the five Santa Fe Trail markers for Johnson County, provided by the daughters of the American Revolution and the Legislature of Kansas, the one unveiled at Lone Elm, November 9, 1906, was the second to be placed in position in this country, and it might be said here that Newton Ainsworth, one of the original old settlers, and through whose farm the train ran, together with George Black, were mainly instrumental in getting the marker located at Lone Elm.  An appropriate program that had been arranged, and was carried out. 

Mr. Ainsworth delivered the following address:


“We are here today to erect a monument in memory of that which more than anything else, wiped out the great American desert“In the beginning, the Santa Fe Trail ran from Old Franklin, Mo., across the plains to New Mexico.  The merchandise was shipped from St. Louis by steamboat to Franklin and from there was freighted west in ox and mule trains.  Usually but one trip was made a year.  After a time the outfitting point was moved from Franklin west to Independence, Mo., and later to Westport, the steamboat landing being called Kansas, the nucleus of the present Kansas City.  This trail of those days was like the railroads of today: it made and unmade towns.  The freighting business was immense.  To give an idea of its magnitude, I will note the firm of Majors & Russell, who owned and worked on the trail, 1,200 ox teams, with six yoke of oxen to the team.  This would make 14,400 head of cattle and 1,200 wagons, 1,200 drivers and 50 wagon bosses; and that was only a drop in the bucket compared with the grand total on the trail. I saw wagon trains camped on this Lone Elm camping ground, until they covered more than this entire quarter section.  In their desire not to be detained, and to be on the road first in the morning they commenced at 12 o’clock at night to hitch up and pull for the trail, and the last teams did not pass where we are now standing until 4 o’clock in the afternoon.

“At one time, for three days in succession, the last teams going out of camp had not passed here before hundreds were going into camp.  The rush to the Pike’s Peak gold fields, in 1858, is what made the heavy emigration and the heavy loads of freight that year.  All the roads north, east and south centered to the Lone Elm camp ground.  The great Santa Fe Trail was the main artery to the Southwest, and the other roads from north of the river joined it here, going east.

“In 1860, I have seen the dust here over six inches deep on account of the great drought and heavy travel.  The freight trains to New Mexico consisted of twenty-six wagons, with six yoke of oxen or ten spans of mules to each wagon, twenty-six drivers and two wagon bosses.  Lone Elm was the first camping ground after leaving Little Santa Fe, on the Missouri line.  This town is noted for the fact that more than 1600 votes were cast there at the territorial election f October 5-6, 1857, when not more than a half dozen families lived in the neighborhood.

“The Santa Fe Trail follows a dividing line or ridge from here to New Mexico, from which the waters run both ways, north and south.  The bulk of the freight going west, consisted of provisions, merchandise, meats and breadstuffs, while the return loads consisted of gold and silver in nail kegs, buffalo robes and furs; and, strange to say the gold and silver in the kegs did not leak any on the trip.

“During the height of this heavy freighting, the plains from here to Mexico abounded in immense herds of buffalo, while antelope, deer and elk were plentiful, though now almost extinct.  The old system of transportation, slow and laborious, has given way to the new system of swiftness, ease and luxury, but we are sorry to say, with less honesty.

“Fifty years ago I was a boy living in Miami county, Ohio.  My father owned a farm a few miles north of Piqua and while living there we took a newspaper published in New York by Horace Greeley, called the New York ‘Tribune’.  Mr. Greeley not only published glowing accounts of the great West, but kept a standing notice in his paper to the effect, “Go West, young man, and grow up with the country”.  After reading Mr. Greeley’s grand editorials and his advice to young men for ten or twelve years, I managed to get together a little mule team and wagon, and started from Piqua about the last days of September, 1856, fifty years ago.  I drove through the states of Indiana and Illinois, crossed the Mississippi River at Rock Island, crossed the State of Iowa and northern Missouri, and there, crossing the Missouri River at Iowa Point, came south to Wyandotte county.  I came to this Lone Elm camp ground, on the Santa Fe Trail in February, 1857, and located a claim, though the land was not yet open for settlement until May, 1858.

“In May and June, 1857, I broke seventy acres of the virgin Kansas soil on the Lone Elm camp ground.  I also broke prairie sod from May till October, all over this part of Johnson county for parties who were locating claims.  On the fourth day of March, 1858, I unloaded the lumber to build a cabin.  It was only 10 × 11 feet, with the ground for a floor, we lived in it for two years, and it was the first cabin erected in this part of the country.

“When I first came to Kansas it was occupied and held by the Indians; the Wyandotte’s were located in Wyandotte county, the Shawnees partly in Wyandotte and partly in Johnson county, and the Delaware’s in Leavenworth and Wyandotte counties ; while the Pawnees, Sioux, Cheyenne’s, and several other tribes occupied the lands farther north and west.  I feel today that the advice of Horace Greeley was good and that in taking it I have not lived my life in vain.  I have lived to see Kansas the center of the United States; to see her pass from the great American desert to the most fruitful soil in the world; from savagery to the highest point of our present civilization; and I feel proud to think that I have assisted in her advancement.”


A Bit of Background

The Santa Fe Trail, of course, was the trade route to Santa Fe.  Trade was essential to those in Santa Fe after the Mexican Revolution of 1821.

But there were other routes to the west as well - the California Trail and Oregon Trail being two such trails.

Here's a map of the "Trails to the West" ...



These are the trails in their entirety.  The above speech by Newton Ainsworth, however, focused on only one place:  Lone Elm.  Where is Lone Elm?  Focus in on the start of the trails (on this map), a bit southwest of Independence, Missouri, on the far right:


And there it is ... Lone Elm Campground.

But Newton Ainsworth didn't tell the whole story.  Emigrants taking the California and Oregon Trails from Independence westward took the Santa Fe Trail until Gardner, Kansas.

All the trails coincided .

And they all camped at Lone Elm - the site with one Lone Elm tree, it reduced to a stump.  Over a decade before Ainsworth even set foot in the area!

Now scan the above trail westward to the Sierra Nevadas.  You'll see something familiar:


Donner Camp, Donner Lake, and Donner Pass ...

Yes, that Donner Party.

On their fateful trip through the Sierra Nevadas, on Saturday, May 16, 1846,

"[i]n due time we arrived at a camp called the Lone Elm, across the Missouri line This place was thought to be the limit of civilzation, at this camp we met some hunters returning with furs & they gave us some dried bufalow meat and told us that we had no idea of what we would suffer before we reached California. This prediction proved too true - At this camp was a Elm tree the only tree of any kind in sight. I shal never forget the loneliness of the scene boy though I was at time. What made the matter still more lonelir we were only one family not having yet been joined by any other parties crossing the plains that year. Still we were fairly on our way across the plains, and were afterwards joined by other parties."

The Diary of Hiram Miller and James F. Reed.


It all happened right here - right in our backyard!  You see, this marker is just a few miles from our house!



The Santa Fe Trail

Written by Ed Blair

on the dedication of the marker on the Santa Fe Trail at Lone Elm, Johnson County, Kansas.



Fifty years – ‘Twas a prairie then

And the deer roamed wild and free;

Fifty years – I see it a gain

As it appeared to me.

The old trail runs where the barn stands now,

The trail was here long before plow,

And we drove ox teams with sometimes a cow,

In the days that used to be.


Fifty years – Yes I lived here then

And a lively place ‘twas too.

Wagons for miles with their fearless men

Coming and passing from view.

On the wagon covers, “Pike’s Peak or bust!”

Yes, the fever was high for the yellow dust

Just a lot of grit and then their luck to trust,

For those that won were few.


Fifty years – ‘Twas a camping ground

Where the trees now cast their shade,

And the faithful oars – ‘Twas a camping ground

Where the trees now cast their shade,

And the faithful rambled around

And rarely if ever strayed,

And the camp fires burned each night of the year

In the pastures there and the cornfields here,

Yet I slept each night with never a fear,

And many the friends I made.


Yes, fifty years – What a striking change

From the way we do things now,

No less these farms from the boundless range

Or the way we sow and plow

The sickle is gone and the binder’s here,

But the sickle still to my heart is dear,

But I look in vain for the roving deer

And the prairie chicken now.


Fifty years – Ah, I love to know

That the old trail shall remain,

That the markers tell in the years to go

Where the ox team crossed the plain

Of the men who traveled the toilsome way

But few are left to tell it today,

But their march was Progress on its way,

And its glory ne’er shall wane.



The Vicious Cycle

Part II


An Introduction to "What's Wrong With Math", by Morris Kline


July 17, 2010







As a novice he was assigned to teach freshmen and sophomores. His first course was for liberal arts students, that is, students who do not intend to use mathematics professionally but who take it either to meet a requirement for a degree or just to learn more about the subject. Recognizing that many of these students are weak in algebra, Peter thought he would review negative numbers. To make these numbers meaningful he reminded the students that they are used to represent temperatures below zero; and to emphasize the physical significance of negative temperatures he pointed out that water freezes at 32° F, so that a negative temperature means a state far below freezing. Though the example was pedagogically wise, Peter could see at once that the students’ minds had also frozen, and the rest of his lesson could not penetrate the ice.

In a later lesson Peter tried another subject. As an algebraist by preference he thought students would enjoy learning about a novel algebra. There is an arithmetic that reduces all whole numbers by the nearest multiple of twelve. To make his lesson concrete Peter presented clock arithmetic as a practical example: Clocks ignore multiples of twelve, so that four hours after ten o'clock is two o'clock. The mere mention of clocks caused the students to look at their watches, and it was obvious that they were counting the minutes until the end of the period.

And so Peter tried another novelty, the Koeigsberg bridge problem. Some two hundred years ago the citizens of the village of Koeigsberg in East Prussia became intrigued with the problem of crossing seven nearby bridges in succession without redressing any. The problem attracted Leonard Euler, the eighteenth century’s greatest mathematician, and he soon showed by an ingenious trick that such a path was impossible. The villagers, who did not know this, continued for years to amuse themselves by making one trip after another during their walks on sunny afternoons – but when Peter presented the problem in the artificial, gloomy light of the classroom, a chill descended on the class.

Peter’s next class was a group of pre-engineering students. These students, he was sure, would appreciate mathematics, and so he introduced the subject of Boolean algebra. This algebra, created by the mathematician and logician George Boole, does have application to the design of electric circuits. The mention of electric circuits appeared to arouse some interest, and so Peter explained Boolean algebra. But then one student asked Peter how one uses the algebra to design circuits. Unfortunately, Peter’s training had been in pure mathematics and he did not know how to answer the question. He was compelled to admit this and detected obvious signs of disappointment and hostility in the students. They evidently believed that they had been tricked. In his attempts to explain and clarify other mathematical themes Peter also learned that engineering students cared only about rules they could use for building things. Mathematics proper was of no interest.

Nor were the premedical students any more kindly disposed to mathematics. Their attitude was that doctors do not use mathematics but take it only because it is required for the physics course, and even the physics seemed of dubious value. The physical and social scientists had a similar attitude. Mathematics was a tool. They were interested in the real world and in real people, and certainly mathematics was not part of that reality.

Peter was soon called upon to teach prospective elementary and high school teachers. He did not expect much of the former. These students were preparing to teach many different subjects and so could not take a strong interest in mathematics. However, high school teachers specialize in one area, and Peter certainly expected them to appreciate what he had to offer. But every time he introduced a new topic, the first question the students asked was, ‘Will we have to teach this?’ Peter did not know what the high schools were currently teaching or what they were likely to teach in any changes impending in the high school curriculum. Hence, he honestly answered either ‘no’ or ‘I don’t know.’ Upon hearing either response the prospective teachers withdrew into their shells, or Peter’s teachings were reflected from impenetrable surfaces.

Peter’s one hope for a response to his enthusiasm for teaching was the mathematics majors. Surely they would appreciate what he had to offer. But even these students seemed to want to ‘get it over with.’ If he presented a theorem and proof, they noted them carefully and could repeat them on tests; however, any discussion of why the theorem was useful or why one method of proof was likely to be more successful or more desirable than another bored them.

A couple of years of desperate but fruitless efforts caused Peter to sit back and think. He had projected himself and his own values and he had failed. He was not reaching his students. The liberal arts students saw no value in mathematics. The mathematics majors pursued mathematics because, like Peter, they were pleased to get correct answers to problems. But there was no genuine interest in the subject. Those students who would use mathematics in some profession or career insisted on being shown immediately how the material could be useful to them. A mere assurance that they would need it did not suffice. And so Peter began to wonder whether the subject matter prescribed in the syllabi was really suitable. Perhaps, unintentionally, he was wasting his students’ time.

Peter decided to investigate the value of the material he had been asked to teach. His first recourse was to check with his colleagues, who had taught from five to twenty-five or more years. But they knew no more than Peter about what physical scientists, social scientists, engineers, and high school and elementary school teachers really ought to learn. Like himself, they merely followed syllabi – and no one knew who had written the syllabi.

Peter’s next recourse was to examine the textbooks in the field. Surely professors in other institutions had overcome the problems he faced. His first glance through publishers’ catalogues cheered him. He saw titles such as Mathematics for Liberal Arts, Mathematics for Biologists, Calculus for Social Scientists, and Applied Mathematics for Engineers. He eagerly secured copies. But the texts proved to be a crushing disappointment. Only the authors’ and publishers names seemed to differentiate them. The contents were about the same, whether the authors in their prefaces or the publishers in their advertising literature professed to address liberal arts students, prospective engineers, students of business, or prospective teachers. Motivation and use of the mathematics were entirely ignored. It was evident that these authors had no idea of what anyone did with mathematics.

Clearly a variety of new courses had to be fashioned and texts written that would present material appropriate for the respective audiences. The task was, of course, enormous, and it was certain that it could not be accomplished by one man over a few years’ time. Nevertheless Peter became enthusiastic about the prospect of interesting investigations and writing that would lure students into the study of mathematics and endear it to them. The spirit of the teacher arose and swelled within him. As these pleasant thoughts swirled through his mind, another, dampening thought, like a dark cloud on the horizon, soon entered. He was a recently appointed professor. Promotion and, more important, tenure were yet to be secured. Without these his efforts to improve teaching would be pointless – he would be unable to put the product of his work to use. But promotion and tenure were obtained through research in some highly advanced and recondite problems almost necessarily chosen in the only field in which he had acquired some competence through his doctoral work. Such research was no minor undertaking. It demanded full time and total effort.

Clearly, he must give the research precedence, and then perhaps he could undertake the improvement of teaching. And so for practical reasons Peter decided to devote the next few years to research. But the struggle to publish and to remain in the swim for promotion and salary increases caught Peter in a vortex of never-ending spirals of motion; and the closer he came to the center the deeper he was sucked into research. In the meantime Peter continued to teach in accordance with the syllabi and texts handed down to him by his chairman. His few, necessarily limited efforts to stir up some activity among his older colleagues, who were in a better position to break from the existing patterns, were futile because these professors had accepted the existing state of affairs and chose to shine in research. Success there was more prestigious and more lucrative.

Ultimately, Peter, like other human beings, succumbed to the lures that prominence in research held forth. As for the students – well, students came and went, and they soon became vague faces and unremembered names. Education might hope for an epiphany, but Peter was not ordained to be the god of educational reformation. By the time he had acquired tenure he had joined the club. Like others before him he concentrated on research and the training of future researchers who would also be compelled to resort to perfunctory and ineffective teaching. Peter had taken his place in the vicious circle.

The history of Peter Landers’ aborted teaching efforts, real enough, seems exaggerated. One might conceive of its taking place in nineteenth-century Germany or France. But the United States is devoted to education. We were the first nation to espouse universal education and to foster the realization of the potential of every youth. Our Founding Fathers, notably Benjamin Franklin and Thomas Jefferson, stressed the necessity of this policy, and it was adopted. Even today no country matches the educational opportunities and facilities that the United States provides for its youth. But the practices within educational institutions seem to be in marked variance with the principles and policies of our country.

How has it come to pass that Peter and the many thousands of his colleagues find themselves enslaved by research, while education, the major goal of our vast educational system, is being sacrificed? Does the pressure to do research stem from the professors because they prefer the prestige and monetary rewards? Or does it come from the university administrations? In either case, does not research make for better teaching? Or is there a conflict between the two, and if there is, how can we resolve it? Since the crux of the problem lies with the universities – which train the teachers of all educational disciplines and at all levels – we must examine the policies and practices of our higher educational institutions.

Let's take a stab at diagramming this - tomorrow ...



The Vicious Cycle

Part III


July 18, 2010







The Fractal Nature of Mathematical History

“The repetition of a similar structure in a different context on a different scale” - With noble origins and good intentions …



The New Math, implemented in the 1960s, had noble origins and good intentions. The 19th and early-20th centuries had seen the erosion of “certainty” from the once-solid foundations of math. Euclidean geometry, the calculus, and set theory were under assault at the ground level for inconsistencies, contradictions, and non-intuitive results. As a result, a paradigm shift in mathematics took place, the goal: shore up the foundations of math.

We're still arguing about what constitutes "good" math.  Most adults proudly announce they're math "illiterate".

Going on 1/2 a century ...

I talk about a lot of this elsewhere, including what constitutes a "good" curriculum.  Here, I want to focus on the mechanics of how one gets caught in "a vicious cycle" ...



Consider a math classroom.  20 kids, all different.  Different abilities, different interests.  You're the teacher.  A daunting task!  What do you do?  What do you teach?  You teach - what you've been taught to teach - what you're told to teach.  This appeals to some kids.  Some kids love it.  Others don't.  OK - let's be honest.  MANY don't!  But some advance.

Of all of the original 20 students, who's likely to become a teacher?  Any who don't like math?  Of course not.  They've long ago dropped from the math scene, instead joining the growing ranks of people proudly proclaiming their dislike for the subject.  What about all of those who do like the subject?  How many of them will go on to become a teacher?  A fraction?  Fine.

What does this "fraction" do?  They go back into the classroom.  What do they teach?  They teach - what they've been taught to teach - what you're told to teach!





But you, as the teacher, know something's not right.  You see many students "not getting it".  You probably see, by now, your OWN children struggling!  You know something is wrong.  What can you do?  You can change things!


After all, you're a member of the National Council of Teachers of Mathematics.  They SET the standards!  They help write the tests!  You can make things better!


What are you going to do to revise the curriculum?  You're with other similar-minded people, and you see something's not right.  You're the professional.  You're "in the game".  You're going to change things.







And the circular argument only intensifies!  Teachers taught a certain way help redesign the new system!  What can they do differently?  How will things be different?  How do they "break out of the box"? 


Evidence suggests they've been unable to do it, given the history of math education in the United States!




The future seems ominous!  In this system, it IS ominous!  Can we break free of the educational tractor beam?  Is there a shearing force we can apply?



Happy Birthday, Degas


July 19, 2010







Edgar Degas - born this day in 1834.


A look at some of Degas' more popular paintings reveals an interesting trend ...


Ballet seems to be a dominant theme ---


Degas is, of course, known for these paintings.

But lumping all these ballet paintings together obscures a change in Degas over the years.

Degas started painting ballet from the perspective of the group.  There were many people in the paintings.  Here are several "rehearsal" seens.


But he changed, about the age of 40.  1874.  "The pictures became simplified, the number of figures were reduced from those of the early ballet pictures with ten or more dancers to works with three or four at the most.  And as he moved closer to his subject, he began to lose interest in the individual quality of the face; his heads became generalized, and the pictures e see, for example, of the ballet stand for any dancer, in any ballet, at any time.  Another important preoccupation was to find ways of capturing movement, whether it be the pirouette of a dancer or the gait of a thoroughbred.  Movement, he believed, gave beauty to people and objects ... It was the movement of the female figure which most delighted him and which drew him to the ballet.  It was there that he found all that survived of the "movement of the Greeks', the note of grace that he had observed in Greek statues as a young student in Paris and Rome.  The pictures he now began brought him right back to his beginnings, to the study once again of the human figure."

P 130-131

Degas, by Ian Dunlop



Do you see the change - the befores - the group scenes - and the afters - focusing on the individual - the movement?






When you see the following at the Nelson-Atkins, what will you think?  Watch the people move around you - walk up the stairs, take a seat, move from the refreshment stand, the person at the register, the person climbing the ladder in the bookstore --  watch for movement!







Part II of The Donner Party

A "Somniac Excursion Publication


July 20, 2010







Chapter 2

Training and Talking

We left at day-break.  April 15, 1846.  Three families:

James and Virginia Reed, their four kids, and Virginia's Mom;

George and Tamsen Donner, and their five kids;

Jacob and Elizabeth Donner and their seven kids.

The teamsters (as we were called) brought our Springfield group to a total of 32 people heading west.

Each family also had three wagons.  The first was to live in, the second for supplies along the way, and the third to carry things to California once we were there.

One wagon stood out - the Reed "Pioneer Palace".  This

The oxen, of course, were essential.  2,500 miles across the continent. To know something about ox-teams is to know these animals don't respond to beating.  They respond to gentle words like a human.  Most important – to me – was the fact they needed to be guided, which meant I had to walk alongside them the entire way.

2,500 miles on foot, walking 10-15 miles every day!

As we headed towards Independence, Missouri, I sat by the fire and listened to others talk of the trip.  I, of course, was still trying to get my bearings – being thrust into the 19th century like I had been.  I asked many questions, but mostly to other teamsters when we had moments to ourselves, away from the families.

“Why are these people heading west?  What’s the allure?  They had comfortable lives back in Springfield?

“Most folks think it’s because the Reeds and the Donners are not content, and non-content people are always on the move, looking for something better.  Maybe that’s the case.  People have to be on the move.”

“I don’t think that’s the case.  These people are content.  They’re successful.  And they’ve fought for what they have.  Reed fought in the Black Hawk War with Abe Lincoln.  Donner too has traveled a might, so they both have been around.”

“But the idea of land – free land – that’s as strong a reason as gold to get a man moving.  Land.  A parcel of earth you can call your own, farming it with your own hands, your own sweat, growing crops for yourself and pasture for your stock.  Land.”

“But how is it free, this land in California?”

“Son – I thought you were a teacher.  How are you teaching if you don’t know these things?”

“Well – I teach math and I’m just in from Boston,” I said, a bit ashamedly.  This, however, was only part of the truth.  My ignorance lay in the fact I was thinking about America like this ...


“It really all started with the Mexican Revolution in 1821, where Spanish rule was overthrown.  Mexico now was in control of a great bit of land, a lot of which was undeveloped and unpopulated.  So what did they do?   They invited Americans to come live in Texas.  Americans had a fever to move west, and Mexicans needed some semblance of civilization in their newly acquired land.  You follow?”

“Not quite.  Why did they need people there?”

“You’ve lived in the city your whole life, so I can see why you don’t follow.  Look around you.  You see a lot of openness, right?  Well, if there’s too much openness, what stops another person – or country – from saying, ‘This is here for the taking – and I’m taking it!’”

“I see – but what has this to do with California?”

“In a minute.  Texans moved in – and continued to move in.  Imagine the type of people moving in.  Rugged.  Individuals.  Probably not much for following rules made up by a government hundreds of miles away.”

“And in 1836, the Republic of Texas declared their independence from Mexico!”

“How can a group of people do that?”

“What’s wrong with it.  Spain ruled Mexico, and the Mexicans didn’t like the rule, and revolted.  Texans merely did the same thing.”

“But what about California?”

“I’m almost done.  Be patient.  Texas declares itself a Republic.  Not a state, but a republic, and starts formal relations with foreign countries.  Eventually, Texas was admitted as a slave state to the Union in 1845.  How do you think Mexico felt?  Mexico still claimed Texas had no right to declare itself a Republic, and now the area was a state in the United States!”

“Not so good,” I added, obviously. 

“This was 1845.  A few Americans thought the same way about California.  Why not populate it, and declare itself a Republic?”

“But to do that, you need people on the land, right?” I responded.

“Exactly.  Come to California and we’ll give you land.  Why not?  There was no one else on the land!”

This was the "America" he was describing ...


Across unorganized territory, past "Texas", and onward to Mexico!

"I'll have more time to think about this," I thought to myself.  "What I have to focus on is the fact many of these people I'm with right now will be dead within a year because of what's going on right now.  What can I do to stop it?"

"First, focus on the 'cutoff' - the shortcut Lansford Hastings boasted about in 'Emigrants Guide to California'."


Concentrate on this - get these people to realize the 'cutoff' isn't a cutoff.

But how?



The Forest and the Trees


An Introduction to Sampling Theory


July 21, 2010







Opening graphics to an ongoing project on the nature of sampling ...


Suppose I had 10,000 coins, and flipped them all.  I did this until I got 5,000 heads exactly.

That's my starting point.

I know the results.

Now I'm going to sample this universe of coins ...

Picking 100 coins randomly, 100 times ...


Picking 1,000 coins randomly, 100 times ...


Picking 10,000 coins randomly, 100 times ...

This is more a "credibility-test" to make sure the program is working correctly.  If I sample 10,000 coins out of 10,000, I'm simply choosing all of them!  I'd better get 50% heads!


Let's Put It All Together

This is the results of all of my simulations - let's organize things a bit, grouping the results together into a probability distribution graph:

100 Coins Sampled


1,000 Coins Sampled


10,000 Coins Sampled


Let's Put It All Together (Again)




PASCAL'S LAW (I think)


July 22, 2010







"When pressure is applied anywhere to an enclosed fluid, it is transmitted uniformly in all directions."

I don't know what that means.

But it was accompanied by this image:


I don't believe this picture either.  Why?  Because many similar pictures show a person standing on the left side, providing the downward force.  I don't believe this is possible.  It doesn't pass the "intuitive" test, to me.

Let's try to build some understanding into all of this:

The general idea is if I push down on the left side, the water forces up the object on the right side.

This, in itself, assumes something:  the water - or liquid - must not be compressible.  It can't be "squishable". 

This is the case with water.

If I push down on the left side, and if the water is not compressible, then it must go somewhere.  It must go into the right chamber.  And if it goes into the right chamber, then the amount of water in the right chamber must go up.

The Law of Conservation says if I do work on the left moving the water down, the work must equal that on the right in moving up the level of the water.  That is:


What do I know about work?  Work = (Force)(Distance). 

The Law of Conservation of Energy tells us the work done on each side is equal.  Therefore, putting these two facts together, we have:

What else is known?

When I push down on the left, I displace a certain volume of water.  How much?  The total volume is given by  Volume = (Area)(Distance).

Another relationship is Pressure.  How is Pressure related to anything?  Pressure is the same as Force, except it's per some unit area.

That is:  Pressure = Force / Area

What do I have?  Let's play around with some symbols for a moment.  I can multiply each side by Area, provided I also divide by Area.


What do I gain by such manipulation?  Remembering F/A = P and AD = V, I now have:


I think I understand what's happened, leading to the conclusion about pressures, but I still don't believe it.

I know something is missing because the initial image gives the impression I push down on the left, and up pops a car on the right.  Intuitively, I know something is missing here.  That doesn't make sense to me.

At the same time, I know I'm missing something, because this is how both a hydraulic and a pneumatic jack both work!

I also know in my conversational language, I use "Force", "Pressure", "Work", and "Energy", pretty sloppily, and likely have even used them incorrectly above - somewhere.  We'll fix that - and fix our language.  We'll also address my problems!

Stay tuned for Part II!



The Greatest Record in Sports


A Continuation


July 23, 2010







Baseball and Hitting

Part I



The Greatest Record in Sports


A Continuation


July 24, 2010







Baseball and Hitting

Part II



Remember The Alamo - Remember Goliad!


July 25, 2010








The Short Life of Davy Crockett


But before he died at the Alamo in 1836, and after his exploits making him a famed frontiersman, he was a Representative in the House of Representatives! 

And it was there one of the great political stories in the United States took place ... NOT YOURS TO GIVE ...



Col. Davy Crockett


From The Life of Colonel David Crockett

Member of the U.S. Congress 1827-31 & 1832-35

Compiled from The Life of Colonel David Crockett

by Edward S. Ellis (Philadelphia: Porter & Coates, 1884)

One day in the House of Representatives, a bill was taken up appropriating money for the benefit of a widow of a distinguished naval officer. Several beautiful speeches had been made in its support. The Speaker was just about to put the question when Crockett arose:

"Mr. Speaker --- I have as much respect for the memory of the deceased, and as much sympathy for the suffering of the living, if suffering there be, as any man in this house, but we must not permit our respect for the dead or our sympathy for a part of the living to lead us into an act of injustice to the balance of the living. I will not go into an argument to prove that Congress has no power to appropriate this money as an act of charity. Every member upon this floor knows it. We have the right, as individuals, to give away as much of our own money as we please in charity; but as members of Congress we have no right to appropriate a dollar of the public money. Some eloquent appeals have been made to us upon the ground that it is a debt due the deceased. Mr. Speaker, the deceased lived long after the close of the war; he was in office to the day of his death, and I have never heard that the government was in arrears to him."

"Every man in this House knows it is not a debt. We cannot, without the grossest corruption, appropriate this money as the payment of a debt. We have not the semblance of authority to appropriate it as a charity. Mr. Speaker, I have said we have the right to give as much money of our own as we please. I am the poorest man on this floor. I cannot vote for this bill, but I will give one week's pay to the object, and, if every member of Congress will do the same, it will amount to more than the bill asks."

He took his seat. Nobody replied. The bill was put upon its passage, and, instead of passing unanimously, as was generally supposed, and as, no doubt it would but for that speech, it received but few votes and of course, was lost.

Later when asked by a friend why he had opposed the appropriation, Crockett gave this explanation:

"Several years ago I was one evening standing on the steps of the Capitol with some other members of Congress when our attention was attracted by a great light over in Georgetown. It was evidently a large fire. We jumped into a hack and drove over as fast we could. In spite of all that could be done, many houses were burned and many families made houseless, and besides, some of them had lost all but the clothes they had on. The weather was very cold, and when I saw so many women and children suffering, I felt that something ought to be done for them. The next morning a bill was introduced appropriating $20,000 for their relief. We put aside all other business and rushed it through as soon as it could be done.

The next summer, when it began to be time to think about the election, I concluded I would take a scout around among the boys of my district. I had no opposition there, but, as the election was some time off, I did not know what might turn up. When riding one day in part of my district in which I was more of a stranger than any other, I saw a man in a field plowing and coming toward the road. I gauged my gait so that I should meet as he came to the fence. As he came up, I spoke to the man. He replied politely, but as I thought, rather coldly.

I began, 'Well, friend, I am one of those unfortunate beings called candidates, and-'

'Yes, I know you; you are Colonel Crockett, I have seen you once before and voted for you the last time you were elected. I suppose you are out electioneering right now, but you had better not waste your time or mine. I shall not vote for you again.'

This was a sockdolager, I begged him to tell me what was the matter.

'Well, Colonel, it is hardly worth while to waste time or words upon it. I do not see how it can be mended, but you gave a vote last winter which shows that either you have not capacity to understand the Constitution, or that you are wanting in the honesty and firmness to be guided by it. In either case you are not the man to represent me. But I beg your pardon for expressing it in that way. I did not intend to avail myself of the privilege of the constituent to speak plainly to a candidate for the purpose of insulting or wounding you.

I intend by it only to say that your understanding of the Constitution is very different from mine; and I will say to you what, but for my rudeness, I should not have said that I believe you to be honest. But an understanding of the Constitution different from mine I cannot overlook because the Constitution, to be worth anything, must be held sacred and rigidly observed in all its provisions. The man who wields power and misinterprets it, is the more dangerous the more honest he is.'

'I admit the truth of all you say, but there must be some mistake about it, for I do not remember that I gave any vote last winter upon any constitutional questions.'

'No, Colonel, there is no mistake. Though I live here in the backwoods and seldom go from home, I take the papers from Washington and read very carefully all the proceedings in Congress. My papers say that last winter you voted for a bill to appropriate $20,000 to some sufferers by a fire in Georgetown. Is that true?'

'Well, my friend, I may as well own up. You have got me there. But certainly nobody will complain that a great and rich country like ours should give the insignificant amount of $20,000 to relive its suffering women and children, particularly with a full and overflowing Treasury, and I am sure, if you had been there, you would have done just as I did.'

'It is not the amount, Colonel, that I complain of, it is the principle. In the first place, the government ought to have in the Treasury no more than enough for its legitimate purposes. But that has nothing to do with the question. The power of collecting and disbursing money at pleasure is the most dangerous power that can be intrusted to man, particularly under our system of collecting revenue by a tariff, which reaches every man in the country, no matter how poor he may be and the poorer he is, the more he pays in proportion to his means.

What is worse, it presses upon him without his knowledge where the weight centers, for there is not a man in the United States who can ever guess how much he pays to the government. So you see, that while you are contributing to relieve one, you are drawing it from thousands who are even worse off than he. If you had the right to give anything, the amount was simply a matter of discretion with you, and you had as much right to give $20,000,000 as $20,000.

If you had the right to give to one, you have the right to give to all and as the Constitution neither defines charity nor stipulates the amount, you are at liberty to give to any and everything which you may believe, or profess to believe, is a charity, and to any amount you may think proper. You will very easily perceive what a wide door this would open for fraud and corruption and favoritism on the one hand, and for robbing the people on the other. No, Colonel, Congress has no right to give charity.

Individual members may give as much of their own money as they please, but they have no right to touch a dollar of the public money for that purpose. If twice as many houses had been burned in this country as in Georgetown, neither you nor any other member of Congress would have thought to appropriating a dollar for our relief. There are about two hundred and forty members of Congress. If they had shown their sympathy for the sufferers by contributing each one week's pay, it would have made over $13,000. There are plenty of men in and around Washington who could have given $20,000 without depriving themselves of even a luxury of life.

The Congressmen chose to keep their own money, which, if reports to be true, some of them spend not very credibly; and the people about Washington, no doubt, applauded you for relieving them from the necessity of giving by giving what was not yours to give. The people have delegated to Congress, by the Constitution, the power to do certain things. To do these, it is authorized to collect and pay moneys, and for nothing else. Everything beyond this is usurpation and a violation of the Constitution.

So you see, Colonel, you have violated the Constitution in what I consider a vital point. It is a precedent fraught with danger for the country, for when Congress once begins to stretch its power beyond the limits of the Constitution, there is no limit to it and no security for the people. I have no doubt you acted honestly, but that does not make it any better, except as far as you are personally concerned and you see that I cannot vote for you.'

'I tell you I felt streaked. I saw if I should have opposition, and this man should go talking, he would set others to talking and in that district I was a gone fawn-skin. I could not answer him and the fact is, I was so fully convinced that he was right, I did not want to. But I must satisfy him and I said to him:

Well, my friend, you hit the nail upon the head when you said I had not sense enough to understand the Constitution. I intended to be guided by it and thought I had studied it fully. I have head many speeches in Congress about the powers of Congress, but what you have said here at your plow has got more hard, sound sense in it than all the fine speeches I ever heard. If I had ever taken the view of it that you have, I would have put my head into the fire before I would have given that vote; and if you will forgive me and vote for me again, if I ever vote for another unconstitutional law, I wish I may be shot.'

He haughtingly replied: 'Yes, Colonel, you have sworn to that once before, but I will trust you again upon one condition. You say that you are convinced that your vote was wrong. Your acknowledgment of it will do more good than beating you for it. If, as you go around the district, you will tell people about this vote and that you are satisfied it was wrong, I will not only vote for you, but will do what I can to keep down opposition, and perhaps, I may exert some little influence in that way.'

'If I don't, I said, I wish I may be shot, and to convince you that I am in earnest in what I say, I will come back this way in a week or ten days, and if you will get up a gathering of the people, I will make a speech to them. Get up a barbeque and I will pay for it.'

No, Colonel, we are not rich people in this section, but we have plenty of provisions to contribute for a barbeque and some to spare for those who have none. The push of crops will be over in a few days and we can afford a day for a barbeque. This is Thursday. I will see to getting up on Saturday week. Come to my house on Friday and we will go together and I promise you a very respectable crowd to see and hear you.'

'Well, I will be there. But one thing more before I say good-bye. I must know your name.'

'My name is Bunce.'

'Not Horatio Bunce?'


'Well, Mr. Bunce, I never saw you before though you say you have seen me, but I know you very well. I am glad I have met you and very proud that I may hope to have you for my friend.'

It was one of the luckiest hits of my life that I met him. He mingled but little with the public, but was widely known for his remarkable intelligence and incorruptible integrity and for a heart brimful and running over with kindness and benevolence, which showed themselves not only in words but in acts. He was the oracle of the whole country around him, and his fame had extended far beyond the circle of his immediate acquaintance. Though I had never met him before, I had heard much of him, and but for this meeting it is very likely I should have had opposition, and have been beaten. One thing is very certain, no man could now stand up in that district under such a vote.

At the appointed time I was at his house, having told our conversation to every crowd I had met, and to every man I stayed all night with, and I found that it gave the people an interest and a confidence in me stronger than I had ever seen manifested before. Though I was considerably fatigued when I reached his house, and under ordinary circumstances, should have gone early to bed, I kept up until midnight talking about the principles and affairs of government, and got more real, true knowledge of them than I had got all my life before.

I have known and seen much of him since, for I respect him - no, that is not the world - I reverence and love him more than any living man, and I go to see him two or three times every year; and I will tell you, sir, if every one who professes to be a Christian lived and acted and enjoyed as he does, the religion of Christ would take the world by storm.

But, to return to my story. The next morning I went to the barbeque and to my surprise, found about a thousand men there. I met a good many whom I had not known before, and they and my friend introduced me around until I had got pretty well acquainted - at least, they all knew me. In due time notice was given that I would speak to them. They gathered up around a stand that had been erected. I opened by speech by saying:

Fellow-citizens - I present myself before you today feeling like a new man. My eyes have lately been opened to truths which ignorance or prejudice, or both, had heretofore hidden from my view. I feel that I can today offer you the ability to render you more valuable service than I have ever been able to render before. I am here today more for the purpose of acknowledging my error than to see your votes. That I should make this acknowledgment is due to myself as well as to you. Whether you will vote for me is a matter for your consideration only.

I went on to tell them about the fire and my vote for the appropriation and then told them why I was satisfied it was wrong. I closed by saying:

And now, fellow citizens, it remains only for me to tell you that most of the speech you have listened to with so much interest was simply a repetition of the arguments by which your neighbor, Mr. Bunce, convinced me of my error. It is the best speech I ever made in my life, but he is entitled to the credit for it. And now I hope he is satisfied with his convert and that he will get up here and tell you so. He came upon the stand and said:

'Fellow citizens, it affords me great pleasure to comply with the request of Colonel Crockett. I have always considered him a thoroughly honest man, and I am satisfied that he will faithfully perform all that he has promised to you today.'

He went down, and there went up from that crowd such a shout for Davy Crockett as his name never called forth before. I am not much given to tears, but I was taken with a choking then and felt some big drops rolling down my cheeks. And I tell you now that the remembrance of those few words spoken by such a man, and the honest, hearty shout they produced, is worth more to me than all the reputation I have ever made, or ever shall make, as a member of Congress."

"Now, sir," concluded Crockett, "you know why I made that speech yesterday."


Crockett, of course, died at the Alamo in 1836.  The rallying cry of the Texas Revolution became - "Remember the Alamo - Remember Goliad".


The Alamo may not have been inevitable - if Colonel Fannin had sent troops like he should have.

And Goliad might never have occurred.


The remarkable story of the Goliad, Massacre - coming after our trip to Parkville, MO.



A Numerical Magic Trick


July 26, 2010







Pick a number between 1 - 127.

I show you the following cards.  You tell me what card(s) your number appears on. 

I tell you your number.

How did I do it?  Let's suppose I don't even see the cards.  I'm blindfolded.  You don't even tell me the number.  I just hold the card up and you respond yes / no.

I tell you your number.

How have I done this?


And what does this trick have to do with this image?





The Horse Race of the Century


July 27, 2010







The greatest horse of all time ... your choice? Maybe it's one of these great equine warriors:

Affirmed?  Dan Patch?  Man o'War?  There are many candidates.

What about, instead of the greatest horse, the greatest horse race

The "Race of the Century" ...

It happened on this date - July 27 - in history.

Cleveland Driving Park. 

The great Goldsmith Maid was the favorite - the run-a-way favorite.  Great horsemen were in charge of other horses, however, which suggested a challenging race.

And then there was Smuggler:


As reported by Hark Comstock, "When Smuggler jogged through the gates, and some one exclaimed, 'There comes Smuggler!', the entire assemblage rose to their feet with round after round of deafening plaudits ..."

In the first heat, as Smuggler, back in the field, began to close the gap, spectators noticed he faltered a bit.  Nonetheless, he finished a close second behind Goldsmith Maid.  What had happened to cause the falter?  A shoe had come off!  Nevertheless, a spectacular time was completed, Goldsmith Maid just finishing off the world record, the belief Smuggler would have broken it!

The second heat also went to Goldsmith Maid.

The third heat went to Smuggler.

In the fourth heat, it was evident the other horses conspired to box Smuggler in, and down the stretch, it appeared they had done so successfully, until ...

"Horseman Charles Marvin pulled Smuggler back.  The conspirators, not dreaming of this piece of strategy, rushed on together in a close group.  After they had passed Marvin deliberately pulled Smuggler to the extreme outside, and attempted to win the heat.  His success seemed to be impossible ... On he came to his adversaries, with the fatal swoop of an unerring eagle on its prey.

"The electric rush of his finish fairly frenzied the excited multitude.  Their former deafening plaudits seemed almost like the echoes that now came from the reverberations of the surrounding forests."

And this was just the fourth heat!

In the fifth heat, "The stallion ... trotted down the homestretch alone, in advance of all his competitors, pulling hard for his trainer to let him go up to his greatest flight of speed, ... winning the most remarkable race, taking in consideration his obstacles and opposing combinations every recorded in the history of the turf."

It was the fastest 5-heat race in racing history.

And Smuggler came away victorious.

The race was written up as a 184-line poem, concluding with:

"The queen is dead.  Long live the king!"  Get ready now to cheer;

Let drums be beaten, bugles blown, to greet the victor here!

Resistless as the whirlwind's rush where summer winds have played,

He finishes the race alone, just as the sunbeams fade;

Into the night; and that is how bold Smuggler beat the Maid.


The great Smuggler ...

This colorized photo of the above I found in:

Track and Road:  The American Trotting Horse

by Peter Welsh


Yes - Smuggler was a champion harness-racing horse.

And the date of the 5-heat race above --- July 27, 1876!

The poet, incidentally?  Oliver Wendell Holmes..


Smuggler was born 10 years earlier ... 1866.  Can you imagine?  10 years after birth is when he hit his stride!

Foaled in Ohio, he was then brought to Olathe, where, with patience and persistent training, his trainer, Charlie Marvin, gradually developed him into a fast trotter, training at the best mile race track west of the Mississippi.

Elm Park Track.

In Olathe.

That’s right! The best harness-racing race track west of the Mississippi River – right here in Olathe! Erected apparently in 1871, by September 5, 1872 The Olathe Mirror was already reporting its magnificence as follows:

“Of the track, it is not too much to say it is not excelled by anything in America. Of course there is more ornamentation on the large old tracks of the eastern cities, which Elm Park can only get by age, but the ground itself is unexcelled.”


As remarkable as it may be to believe such a fine establishment once existed here, what’s more remarkable is that wasn’t the only horse track in Olathe. There was a second track: the Olathe Fairview Race Course, which was erected in 1885 and abandoned in 1902.

There are no known pictures or lithographs of either course.

Their locations are even in doubt.  My research suggests they were here:


I continue the search for pictures and confirmation of the track location.  Who knew such tracks once existed?  What else lurks, like historical ghosts, just waiting to be recalled to the present?



Two sites of interest in the course of my research thus far ...








In Closing ...


I close with the poem from Oliver Wendell Holmes (Sr.), father of the Supreme Court Justice ...






Oliver Wendell Holmes



Draw back the curtains, Father Time, and pin them fast with spears;

Call out the flyers, dead and gone, of fifteen years ago —

The heralds of a flying age, that even now appears,

Swift climbing o’er the mountain peaks, white with their caps of snow.


What though the sulky-wheels be stilled, a driver gone to sleep

Beneath a little mound of sod, where tangled grasses creep?

So long as in the breast of man an honest heart shall beat,

And kings and queens of equine birth in battle royal meet,

Will Mem’ry journey backward to that golden summer’s day

That gave to one a kingly crown and took a crown away.

Let’s trot it o’er,— that greatest race the century has seen,—

For never grander field has trod a trotting-track, I ween,

Than took the track at Cleveland, where a king dethroned a queen.



The sun that ushered in the day looked down upon the corn,

That raised a hundred thousand spears all flashing in the light,

To greet a queen that jogged the track in pride at early morn,

Then faced about to greet a king that strode the track at night;


For from the far-off Kansas plains, where rippling grasses grow,

And ox-eyed daisies star the sod like flakes of living snow,

Had come a slashing big bay horse, with flashing hazel eyes

That held imprisoned ‘neath their lids the light of sunset skies;

And boldly thrown a gauntlet down and dared a queen to meet,

While fawning courtiers knelt around, astonished, at her feet.

But Doble picked the gauntlet up and swore a lance he’d break

With Charley Marvin then and there, just for his lady’s sake.

Then Dan Mace said he’d take a hand, and so did Charley Green,

While Johnston, armed all cap-a-pie, appeared upon the scene.

Ah! one there is, gone fast asleep —God keep his mem’ry green.



Beneath the grand stand met that day the men from ev’ry State;

From North and South, from East and West the trotting cohorts came.

They argued things from every point and figured out the slate;

Then, looking o’er the records, said, “She’ll get there just the same!”

For Goldsmith Maid, the trotting queen, was then just in her prime;

Her record, “Two-fourteen,” still stood unchallenged by old Time.

She skipped along with airy grace and ruled a queen by rights

Of conquests made on many tracks o’er ladies fair and knights.

“And who,” they asked, “is this who comes from out ‘ the wooly West,’

To beard the tigress in her den, the eagle in her nest ?”

“Tis Smuggler,” Marvin answered back, “and we shall wrest the crown

From Doble’s little trotting queen before the sun goes down.”

Then Mace he swore a mighty oath that Goldsmith Maid should win,

And Green with Lucille Golddust vowed he’d help Budd Doble in,

While Peter Johnston winked his eye and wicked looked as sin.



The ladies in their fleecy robes gave back Dame Nature’s smiles.

Their bright eyes gleamed more brightly than the jewels that they wore.

Fond cavaliers above them bent, lured by their graceful wiles;

While music of the laughing waves came faint from Erie’s shore.

A thousand dainty fans of lace were flutt’ring in the air,

As though a swarm of butterflies had come to hover there;

A thousand dainty handkerchiefs tossed on the south wind’s breast—

‘Twas like a cloud of snowflakes blown across a flowery heath.

Eyes spoke to eyes that spoke again, and laughter low and sweet

Went rippling o’er the crowded stand — a zephyr in the wheat.

Bon-bons were wagered everywhere, and gloves a thousand score

Would find new owners ere the night came down upon the shore.

A statue grand upon the stand stood Smuggler’s owner there;

A statuette was Doble’s wife, upon her lips a prayer.

Around the pool-stands surged the crowd in rough but noisy glee,

While wagers flew about like hail and words were bandied free.

‘Twas Goldsmith Maid against the field, at any odds, you see.



Loud clangs the bell that calls them out, and, ‘midst a storm of cheers,

Budd Doble jogs the trotting queen up slowly by the stand;

Judge Fullerton, prince of the realm, with Dan Mace next appears —

The Wizard of the Sulky bowing low on every hand;

Now Lucille Golddust comes along, her driver Charley Green,

And P. V. Johnston follows fast, he piloting Bodine.

The storm of cheers, that died away like thunder in the sky,

Bursts out again as Marvin jogs the mighty Smuggler by.

Pretender though the horse may be, pretender to a throne,

Where Goldsmith Maid has reigned a queen for many years alone,

He hath a royal bearing, and his flashing hazel eyes

Reflect the lightning’s glint that plays along the western skies.

They wheel beyond the judges’ stand; they’re marshaled for the fray.

Each man’s a master of the craft that holds the reins to-day.

Let drums be stilled and bugles mute, while heralds clear the way!



Two false attempts, then down they come, but Smuggler lurks behind;

The others level reach the wire, and “Go,” the starter cries;

They sweep around the lower turn as swiftly as the wind;

Each stride they take is measured by ten thousand pairs of eyes.

Judge Fullerton has left his feet! The Maid is out in front;

Determined as was Joan of Arc, she bears the battle’s brunt!

Bodine is in the second place! With muscles made of steel,

The mighty Smuggler strides along —he’s at the gelding’s wheel.

Resistless as the torrent’s rush in mountainous ravine,

He sweeps into the second place, a heaven-made machine.

The noisy crowd is hushed and still. He’s gaining on the Maid,

And now they swing into the stretch. “Come on! Come on, you jade!”

The stallion falters. What was that? A shoe that’s cast in air;

The answer to a muttered wish, a woman’s whispered prayer.

He comes a cyclone through the stretch, born on a Kansas plain.

She beats him home by half a length. The courtiers smile again.

That rush electric fired the blood like lightning’s tongues of flame.



With one false start, they’re off again. Like arrow from a bow

The trotting queen shoots to the front, and Smuggler leaves his feet.

Her sulky like a storm-tossed bark is rocking to and fro;

She’s shod like Mercury of old—’twas wings that made him fleet.

The stallion’s settled down at last — great Scott! a distance out,

With only dust that’s backward blown to show to him the route.

He hears the noise of iron-shod hoofs that echo from the track,

The humming of the flying wheels, the noisy whips that crack.

He borrows swift Pegasus’ wings,— they’re lent him from the skies,—

And, like a blood-hound on the trail, around the circle flies.

The Maid, a victor, reached the wire. Down drops a bloodred rag.

Thank God for that wild burst of speed that beat the distance flag,

For Smuggler’s just ten lengths away, his breast .bedecked with foam;

He looks a giant cast in bronze, and left to trot alone,

For Lucille Golddust and the rest, all, all have beat him home.



With two heats to her credit now, the Maid is sure to win;

You’d bet a brownstone front she would against a peanut-stand.

Through overconfidence in Eve was Adam made to sin,

And Providence has oft o’erturned the best schemes ever planned.

Again the Maid shoots to the front and speeds around the turn.

Her hoofs, that twinkle through the dust, you scarcely can discern.

Judge Fullerton is two lengths back, with Lucille at his wheel;

The Kansas stallion coming next, while Bodine foots the reel.

Lucille has taken second place before the half is passed,

While ‘way on the extreme outside comes Smuggler, trotting fast.

He leaves Judge Fullerton behind! he bids Lucille good-by!

He scarcely seems to touch the earth, but rather seems to fly. 

He comes a demon in the stretch; he’s at the leader’s girth.

The queen’s attendants silent are. They’ve lost their looks of mirth.

‘Tis vain that Doble plies the whip and lifts the mare along;

That cyclone from the Kansas plains is coming mighty strong.

“God save the queen,” the courtiers cry, but all in vain the prayer —

He beats her by a head and neck, while hats are tossed in air.

Pretender, eh ? and to a throne ? Ah, Doble, have a care!



They’re off again at second trial, with Smuggler two lengths back.

The queen goes sailing off in front, Lucille at Smuggler’s girth,

While Fullerton is lapped outside, and Doble, looking back,

Has reason good to think he holds a mortgage on the earth,

For never yet in patent trap was rat more surely caught

Than was the stallion pocketed — so everybody thought.

Three of the greatest drivers that the trotting-track has seen,

Three of the fastest horses—aye, and one of them a queen —

Have formed a combination that shall make her throne secure.

“They’ve got him fast!” the watchers cry; “the Maid will win it sure!”

They hold him till the stretch is reached — they’ll never let him through.

Great Scott! what’s Marvin thinking of ? Good Lord! what can he do?

He sudden takes the stallion back, then brings him on outside.

The same cyclonic rush again, the same resistless stride.

Green sees the white face rushing by and quickly turns about,

Then loudly shouts above the din, “Look out there, Budd; he’s out!”

And Doble, rattled, seeks the whip and lays it on the mare;

He fairly drives her off her feet and up into the air.

True as a bullet to its mark the stallion rushes by.

Again he beats her by a neck, while hats are tossed on high,

And cheers like rockets rise from earth and break against the sky.



The courtiers wear a troubled look; there’s danger in the air;

The throne is trembling at its base; a rival’s drawing nigh.

“God save the queen!” again they shout,—’tis like a frenzied prayer,—

And hope that Night her starry scarf will fling across the sky.

Six times they score, and then they’re off. Good Lord, another game!

‘Tis Fullerton that shows the way; ‘tis Mace’s fertile brain

That’s planned the scheme by which they hope to bolster up the throne

On which the queen has sat for years and ruled her hosts alone.

The Maid is trailing in the rear; she hangs on Smuggler’s wheel.

You catch the flash of silvered rims while sulkies rock and reel.

The trick is old as are the hills; naught ‘s new beneath the sun;

For every jock has played the game — they call it “two pluck one.”

The leader’s flying like the wind — he’s struck a storm-cloud’s gait;

He’s carried Smuggler to the half; the watches mark “one-eight!”

His mission’s finished on the turn, and now the Maid goes out

To catch the steed they hope to tire by forcing him the route.

‘Tis all in vain. The stallion comes along in conscious pride;

There is no soft part in his heart, no falt’ring in his stride.

“The queen is dead. Long live the king!” Get ready now to cheer;

Let drums be beaten, bugles blown, to greet the victor here!

Resistless as the whirlwind’s rush where summer winds have played,

He finishes the race alone, just as the sunbeams fade

Into the night; and that is how bold Smuggler beat the Maid.


Let fall the curtains, Father Time; call all the phantoms back

You brought from out the misty past to trot a race to-day.

Their ghostly hoofs no echoes wake when pounding on the track;

The driver’s lips that Death has sealed can neither scoff nor pray.

The king that won, the queen that lost, both, both have passed away.

Dan Mace has driven out of life. Above his dust to-night

The snow lies like a fleecy scarf and hides the mound from sight.

The frost is thick in Marvin’s hair, while Doble looks alone

Of that quintette as young as when the queen was overthrown.

Though fifteen times the flowers have bloomed and fifteen times the snow

Has fallen to the breast of earth and drifted to and fro,

Since Smuggler won a kingly crown, the mem’ry of that scene

Will live as long as roses blush, as long as grass grows green.

Now Marvin brings, from Golden Gates, Sunol, the new-crowned queen.



Re-Thinking The Greatest Sports Accomplishment


July 28, 2010







The criteria and logic laid out earlier, the greatest basketball achievement was found to be John Stockton's career assist total, 45% above the second-highest total.


Is this right?  Does this make sense?

The career mark may be a good indicator in determining the "greatest sports accomplishment".  Let's assume so.  Does it make sense to compare these numbers with those of different periods?

Maybe.  Maybe not.

Hank Aaron's career home-run total of 755 beats Babe Ruth's 714, but how did Babe Ruth's compare with those in his era?

The above philosophy was intended to capture this as well.  If a different era produced different results, an exceptional player in that era would be much better than another player in his era.

But would that be captured here?

Maybe not.

What if we looked the above data - but by decades, rather than simply comparing historical career numbers and putting everything side by side.

That analysis is in the works.

Food for thought, in this regard:

Home runs were a rare commodity, in the early days of baseball.  The baseball was a tattered piece of cloth.  Fences were non-existent.  Stolen-bases and triples were the cash commodity.

Along came Babe Ruth:

In 1919, he hits 29 home runs.  Gavvy Cravath was second with ...12. 

Babe Ruth's performance was a factor of 2.42 of Cravath's.

To put that in comparison, when Maris beat Mantle 61 to 60, that's a factor of  1.0167.

What does just plotting 1st and 2nd place in home-runs look like, historically?

We can see the gap around 1920 - that's Babe Ruth.  A paradigm shift.

But graphing the raw numbers also obscures the relative difference between the performances.  Here's what this looks like:


Now you see Babe Ruth as a real paradigm shift:  1919 - 1920 - 1921.  HUGE differences between he and the field!

But this is just home runs.

What if I created this graphic for every statistic?























What if I overlaid them, so everything is on one graphic ...about 1518 data points ...

Like this ...

You'll see in the early indexed graphs the scale runs from 1.00 - 3.50, but there are two points above this here.  One is Bonds and IBB, the other BB (1879, 29 league-leader, 8 second).  Since these two points significantly throw off the scale, I've removed them in the earlier graphs, but retained them here ...

Now you see Babe Ruth's HR performances in 1919 - 1920 - 1921 are significant, but there are contenders!  THREE GREATER THAN HIS! 

Can you guess what they are?



Planes, Trains, and Horses!


An Introduction to the Upcoming Book on Stories Told via Poetry


July 29, 2010










An Introduction

The Lost Art of Story-Telling Via the Poem


You’d recognize the following words in a moment ..


LISTEN, my children, and you shall hear

Of the midnight ride of Paul Revere,

On the eighteenth of April, in Seventy-Five;

Hardly a man is now alive

Who remembers that famous day and year.


He said to his friend, "If the British march

By land or sea from the town to-night,

Hang a lantern aloft in the belfry arch

Of the North Church tower, as a signal light, --

One, if by land, and two, if by sea;

And I on the opposite shore will be,

Ready to ride and spread the alarm

Through every Middlesex village and farm,

For the country-folk to be up and to arm."


Then he said "Good-night!" and with muffled oar

Silently rowed to the Charlestown shore,

Just as the moon rose over the bay,

Where swinging wide at her moorings lay

The Somerset, British man-of-war;

A phantom ship, with each mast and spar

Across the moon like a prison-bar,

And a huge black hulk, that was magnified

By its own reflection in the tide.


Meanwhile, his friend, through alley and street

Wanders and watches with eager ears,

Till in the silence around him he hears

The muster of men at the barrack door,

The sound of arms, and the tramp of feet,

And the measured tread of the grenadiers,

Marching down to their boats on the shore.


Then he climbed the tower of the Old North Church,

By the wooden stairs, with stealthy tread,

To the belfry-chamber overhead,

And startled the pigeons from their perch

On the somber rafters, that round him made

Masses and moving shapes of shade, --

By the trembling ladder, steep and tall,

To the highest window in the wall,

Where he paused to listen and look down

A moment on the roofs of the town,

And the moonlight flowing over all.


Beneath, in the churchyard, lay the dead,

In their night-encampment on the hill,

Wrapped in silence so deep and still

That he could hear, like a sentinel's tread,

The watchful night-wind, as it went

Creeping along from tent to tent,

And seeming to whisper, "All is well!"

A moment only he feels the spell

Of the place and the hour, the secret dread

Of the lonely belfry and the dead;

For suddenly all his thoughts are bent

On a shadowy something far away,

Where the river widens to meet the bay, --

A line of black, that bends and floats

On the rising tide, like a bridge of boats.


Meanwhile, impatient to mount and ride,

Booted and spurred, with a heavy stride

On the opposite shore walked Paul Revere.

Now he patted his horse's side,

Now gazed on the landscape far and near,

Then, impetuous, stamped the earth,

And turned and tightened his saddle-girth;

But mostly he watched with eager search

The belfry-tower of the Old North Church,

As it rose above the graves on the hill,

Lonely and spectral and somber and still.

And lo! as he looks, on the belfry's height

A glimmer, and then a gleam of light!

He springs to the saddle, the bridle he turns,

But lingers and gazes, till full on his sight

A second lamp in the belfry burns!


A hurry of hoofs in a village street,

A shape in the moonlight, a bulk in the dark,

And beneath, from the pebbles, in passing, a spark

Struck out by a steed flying fearless and fleet:

That was all! And yet, through the gloom and the light,

The fate of a nation was riding that night;

And the spark struck out by that steed, in his flight,

Kindled the land into flame with its heat.


He has left the village and mounted the steep,

And beneath him, tranquil and broad and deep,

Is the Mystic, meeting the ocean tides;

And under the alders that skirt its edge,

Now soft on the sand, now loud on the ledge,

Is heard the tramp of his steed as he rides.


It was twelve by the village clock,

When he crossed the bridge into Medford town.

He heard the crowing of the cock,

And the barking of the farmer's dog,

And felt the damp of the river fog,

That rises after the sun goes down.


It was one by the village clock,

When he galloped into Lexington.

He saw the gilded weathercock

Swim in the moonlight as he passed,

And the meeting-house windows, blank and bare,

Gaze at him with a spectral glare,

As if they already stood aghast

At the bloody work they would look upon.


It was two by the village clock,

When he came to the bridge in Concord town.

He heard the bleating of the flock,

And the twitter of birds among the trees,

And felt the breath of the morning breeze

Blowing over the meadows brown.

And one was safe and asleep in his bed

Who at the bridge would be first to fall,

Who that day would be lying dead,

Pierced by a British musket-ball.


You know the rest. In the books you have read,

How the British regulars fired and fled, --

How the farmers gave them ball for ball,

From behind each fence and farm-yard wall,

Chasing the red-coats down the lane,

Then crossing the fields to emerge again

Under the trees at the turn of the road,

And only pausing to fire and load.


So through the night rode Paul Revere;

And so through the night went his cry of alarm

To every Middlesex village and farm, --

A cry of defiance and not of fear,

A voice in the darkness, a knock at the door,

And a word that shall echo forevermore!

For, borne on the night-wind of the Past,

Through all our history, to the last,

In the hour of darkness and peril and need,

The people will waken and listen to hear

The hurrying hoof-beat of that steed,

And the midnight-message of Paul Revere.



Longfellow’s Poem – The Midnight Ride of Paul Revere – is 130 lines long.


And it tells a story.


If you read the poem without knowing the story, you can follow along – sometimes.  Maybe.  It’s not always easy to figure out “what’s going on” just be reading the words.  For example:


Oh, say can you see by the dawn's early light

What so proudly we hailed at the twilight's last gleaming?

Whose broad stripes and bright stars thru the perilous fight,

O'er the ramparts we watched were so gallantly streaming?


And the rocket's red glare, the bombs bursting in air,

Gave proof through the night that our flag was still there.

Oh, say does that star-spangled banner yet wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave?


Is there any hint here of the combatants?  The geography?  The time-frame?  The writer?  None.

And Key's story, of course, goes on ...

On the shore, dimly seen through the mists of the deep,

Where the foe's haughty host in dread silence reposes,

What is that which the breeze, o'er the towering steep,

As it fitfully blows, half conceals, half discloses?


Now it catches the gleam of the morning's first beam,

In full glory reflected now shines in the stream:

'Tis the star-spangled banner! Oh long may it wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


And where is that band who so vauntingly swore

That the havoc of war and the battle's confusion,

A home and a country should leave us no more!

Their blood has washed out their foul footsteps' pollution.


No refuge could save the hireling and slave

From the terror of flight, or the gloom of the grave:

And the star-spangled banner in triumph doth wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


Oh! thus be it ever, when freemen shall stand

Between their loved home and the war's desolation!

Blest with victory and peace, may the heav'n rescued land

Praise the Power that hath made and preserved us a nation.


Then conquer we must, when our cause it is just,

And this be our motto: "In God is our trust."

And the star-spangled banner in triumph shall wave

O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave!


But we know the writer / poet is describing some event – some aspect of reality.

They’re telling a story.

Poetry and the Story-Teller

The interesting aspect of this method of story-telling is it really permits no lies – if one is honest with oneself.

And it’s hard not to be.

To tell a story via the narrative poem, you really have to know the story.  If there’s a gap in your knowledge, you know it instantly.  And you research the gap.

Included here are three such narrative poems I’ve found regarding the history of Olathe and Johnson County.  I only found these narrative poems after doing all the research.  The poems, now, of course, not only make perfect sense to me, but bring history to life – beautifully!



The Greatest Sports Accomplishment


July 30, 2010







Baseball Pitching ...




July 31, 2010







It sounds ridiculous - the Iroquois Confederacy, influencing the American Constitution.

I once thought so as well.

After all, when I hear the word "influence", I picture active participation, and I know this isn't the case with the writing of the Constitution.

But let's look at this from another perspective.  Let's consider the primary thought:


If the Iroquois Confederacy influenced the Constitution, and if no Iroquois were present at the writing of the Constitution, then it must be the case the Iroquois contribution must come via influencing someone who was there.  That is:


Who was there?  Jefferson?  Adams?  Franklin?  And not only was Franklin present at the writing of the Constitution, he was also present at many Indian Treaties in the first half of the 18th century.  Therefore, it's reasonable to infer if there was an Iroquois influence, it's via Benjamin Franklin.  That is:


The research thread leads to Franklin.  What about him?  Not only was he present at Indian Treaties in the first half of the 18th century, but he also submitted the Albany Plan to the 1754 meeting in Albany.

Therefore, perhaps the Albany Plan was based on Iroquois ideas.  That is:


I think I'm on to something, but I have to think this through.  After all, the Albany Plan - even if influenced by the Iroquois - was rejected in Albany.  And even if it had been accepted, it was Jefferson - and not Franklin - who wrote most of the Constitution.  Therefore, if I'm right - thus far - about the connection, then it must be the case Franklin's ideas in the Albany Plan not only were influenced by the Iroquois, but he so understood the thoughts of Jefferson, he trusted Jefferson with writing the Constitution, knowing the right ideas were about to be put to paper.  That is:


All of this, of course, is logical conjecture.  There's research to be done now!