Monthly Archives: March 2013

Habemus Directoram

For today’s Gratuitous Dinosaur Post, I bring you tidings that Jurassic Park 4 now has a director.

And the world’s 1.2 billion dinosaur fans rejoiced.

The choice is a very unconventional one.  It’s Colin Trevorrow, whose only previous film is the low-budget Safety Not Guaranteed.  Didn’t see that one coming.  I was expecting Joe Johnston to take the helm again, not somebody with only one small movie to his credit.

One might say that Trevorrow is a dark horse.  And so, to return to our usual subject matter, here’s another dark horse candidate, James K. Polk.

Don’t move! Polk can’t see us if we don’t move…

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And speaking of tomahawks…

The most dynamic visual representation of tomahawk combat in modern times is probably the electrifying rescue sequence in The Patriot, in which Mel Gibson turns a detachment of British soldiers into hamburger.

This portrayal of tomahawk fighting is as elegant as it is ugly, equal parts martial art and straightforward butchery. I suspect the reality was a lot more grab-and-hack and less Jackie Chan.

One account of a tomahawk in action—or about to be put into action—comes from the pension application of Charles Bowen, who fought at King’s Mountain. During the battle, Bowen somehow heard that his brother Reese had been killed in action. As he tried to find him, he came across his own captain, dead or dying from a shot to the head. At that point, something in Bowen apparently snapped.

Making his way to a spot “within fifteen or twenty paces of the enemy” and taking cover behind a tree, Bowen shot down a Tory who was attempting to raise a flag of surrender. He was reloading when Col. Benjamin Cleveland approached him and demanded he give the countersign, which was “Buford” (after the commander of a Virginia unit defeated by British dragoons earlier that year). Bowen couldn’t come up with the word, perhaps because he was still in some kind of a berserk rage, so Cleveland assumed he was a Tory. Here’s Bowen’s recollection of what happened next, as transcribed and amended at revwarapps.org:

Col Cleveland instantly leveled his rifle at Declarant’s breast and attempted to fire, but the Gun snapped. Declarant jumped at Cleveland seized him by the collar, drew his tomahawk, and would have sunk it in Cleveland’s head if his arm had not been arrested by a soldier by the name of Beanhannon [sic, Buchanan?], who knew the parties. Declarant immediately recollected the countersign which was “Blueford,” [sic, Buford] named it and Cleveland dropped his gun and clasped Declarant in his arms.

There’s nothing fancy about what Bowen was about to do; he simply “seized him by the collar, drew his tomahawk, and would have sunk it in Cleveland’s head.” If this was typical of tomahawk combat, then that scene from The Patriot is probably too elaborate on the choreography, even though it gets the raw brutality exactly right.

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What’s offensive about tomahawks?

Last month a new Canadian basketball team announced that they’d be calling themselves the Ottawa TomaHawks (with a capital “h”).  The name wasn’t a reference to the weapon, but to a two-handed dunk.  Critics argued that the name demeaned Native Americans, and the franchise dropped it only a day after making the announcement.

I can understand why the word “tomahawk” might be considered offensive, since it connotes the old stereotype of Indians as warlike, murderous savages.  Still, tomahawks weren’t a strictly Indian instrument.  In fact, the tomahawk is a perfect symbol of the fusion of Old and New World elements that characterized colonial America.  Both the word and the weapon itself are of Indian origin, but the metal-headed tomahawks you see in pictures, movies, and museum displays weren’t available until European technology arrived in the Americas.  Both whites and Indians alike made use of them, and killing wasn’t the only thing they were doing with them, since metal-headed axes were common trade items. It’s a Native American instrument altered by Europeans and used by both Indians and whites as a weapon, tool, and commercial product.

When I see a tomahawk in a museum or at a reenactment, I don’t think about warlike Indians; I think about how two cultures encountered each other in the Americas, and how both changed in the process.

But if a substantial number of people of Indian descent found the team’s name offensive, then changing it was the right thing to do.  It’s not always about political correctness; sometimes it’s just a matter of basic consideration for the feelings of others.  Common decency shouldn’t have to be a political issue.

War club and tomahawk on display at Yale’s Peabody Museum, from Wikimedia Commons

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Ladies and gentlemen, meet your newest national historic landmarks

Thirteen new sites just made the list, including Camp Nelson in Kentucky, Harriet Beecher Stowe’s house in Connecticut, Honey Springs Battlefield in Oklahoma, and an eighteenth-century frame house in Virginia.

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Want your own antebellum house?

If you do, and you’ve got a hefty wallet, there’s a nice one headed for the auction block in Lincoln County, TN.  And this one gets bonus points for a Rev War connection.  The occupant’s father was Joseph Greer, a King’s Mountain veteran who reportedly carried news of the battle to Philadelphia.  (His compass is on display at the Tennessee State Museum.)

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“A change of scene might help me”

On January 23, 1841 Abraham Lincoln wrote a letter to his law partner, John Todd Stuart, who had been elected to Congress as a Whig.  This is the same letter in which Lincoln referred to himself as “the most miserable man living,” a reference to the melancholy spell he went through in the wake of his broken engagement with Mary Todd and his friend Joshua Speed’s departure for Kentucky.

There’s an interesting passage near the end of this document that isn’t quoted as frequently as the references to Lincoln’s bout with depression: “The matter you speak of on my account, you may attend to as you say, unless you shall hear of my condition forbidding it. I say this, because I fear I shall be unable to attend to any bussiness here, and a change of scene might help me.”

What “matter” was Lincoln referring to?  Maybe it had something to do with a position Stuart tried to secure for him later that year.  In March, Stuart wrote to Secretary of State Daniel Webster, recommending Lincoln for the post of chargé d’affaires in Bogotá.  The post was already occupied by an Illinoisan, and Stuart argued that if it became vacant it should be “filled by a Citizen of the same state,” commending Lincoln as a man with “talents of a very high order” and “a favorite with the people.”

Lincoln never ended up in Bogotá, of course, but today there’s a school named for him there.  It’s hard for me to see him carrying out diplomatic assignments in a South American capital; that’s quite a long way from a Kentucky log cabin.  Then again, so is Washington, D.C.

Plaza Mayor de Bogota in 1846, by Edward Mark Walhouse. Wikimedia Commons

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Historic sites and sequestration

CBS News talked to NPS Director Jon Jarvis about how sequestration will affect services and operations at the national parks:

“Running a national park is like running a small city,” Jarvis said. “We do everything from utilities to law enforcement to search and rescue to firefighting to proving public information when the visitor shows up. And when you take 5 percent out of that, you have a direct impact on all of those services.”

Looks like we’re in for closed facilities, reduced hours, cancelled programs, and less maintenance (which means uncollected trash, uncleared paths, uncut grass). And it’s not just the parks themselves that will take a hit.

As many agencies have argued, blindly cutting the parks budget, Jarvis said, has a domino effect on local economies across the country. A newly released 2011 NPS report on benefits to local communities from national park visitation shows that park visitors spent $12.95 billion in local gateway regions, meaning within roughly 60 miles of the park. Nationally, that contribution created 251,600 jobs, $9.34 billion in labor income and $16.50 in value added.

To see how the cuts might affect specific parks, check out these articles on Guilford Courthouse, Fredericksburg and Spotsylvania, and MLK.

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