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Yes, this is yet another "I'm still here" post. It's not something to be proud of.

I won't promise that things aren't going to stay choppy, at least for the short term, but more updates are coming. Watch this space. Or the space just above it, since that's where the new stuff goes.

Yes, me again. Did you seriously think I'd completely abandon a future president in a coal car outside of Tampa? The agonizing hesitation between entries paid off in a way, since the History Channel documentary Spanish-American War: First Intervention—I liked it, even if some reviewers just weren't feeling the love—was parceled out through their Cable in the Classroom slot last week. It gave some much-needed gap-filler to this entry.

On to the back end of Chapter Two, where Roosevelt, Wood, and company are piling out on the quay by Port Tampa, all the trains unloading willy-nilly “wherever they happened to be, no attention whatever being paid to the possible position of the transport on which the soldiers were to go,”—and really, why should this part of the operation be any different than anything else so far? After a metaphorical once-around-the-block, Roosevelt and Wood decided if they were going to get a transport ship at all, they'd have to hustle, mainly because nobody could tell them who to ask about ship assignments. Eventually, the found out that the guy to see was the depot quartermaster, but good luck finding him, since they were assured he was asleep on one of the transports...unless he was awake and somewhere else. Of course, being thoroughly awesome individuals, they made an end-run around that nonsense, too.

At last, however, after over an hour's industrious and rapid search through this swarming ant-heap of humanity, Wood and I, who had separated, found Colonel Humphrey at nearly the same time and were alloted a transport—the Yucatan. She was out in midstream, so Wood seized a stray launch and boarded her. At the same time I happened to find out that she had previously been allotted to two other regiments—the Second Regular Infantry and the Seventy-first New York Volunteers, which latter regiment alone contained more men than could be put aboard her. Accordingly, I ran at full speed to our train; and leaving a strong guard with the baggage, I double-quicked the rest of the regiment up to the boat, just in time to board her as she came into the quay, and then to hold her against the Second Regulars and the Seventy-first, who had arrived a little too late, being a shade less ready than we were in the matter of individual initiative. There was a good deal of expostulation, but we had possession; and as the ship could not contain half of the men who had been told to go aboard her, the Seventy-first went away, as did all but four companies of the Second. These latter we took aboard. Meanwhile a General had caused our train to be unloaded at the end of the quay farthest from where the ship was; and the hungry, tired men spent most of the day in the labor of bringing down their baggage and the food and ammunition.

The officers' horses were on another boat, my own being accompanied by my colored body-servant, Marshall, the most faithful and loyal of men, himself an old soldier of the Ninth Cavalry. Marshall had been in Indian campaigns, and he christened my larger horse "Rain-in-the-Face," while the other, a pony, went by the name of "Texas." (pp. 59-60)

The troops were packed like sardines both above and below decks, and here's a good a place as any for one of the less savory details that T.R. fails to mention: the “troop carriers” were badly converted cargo ships with one toilet for every 1,256 men. Since the place probably smelled like a stable by the time they reached Santiago, it'd be easier to forget they left the horses in America. Of course, if they had horses, they might have been tempted to eat them, since “the meat was very bad indeed.” The protein portion of their rations was something called “canned fresh beef,” which was stringy and unseasoned. “Not one-fourth of it was ever eaten at all, even when the men became very hungry.”

Of course, that was all small potatoes, because they were finally underway! Except they weren't, since the next morning, the order to sail was countermanded because some brilliant officer mistook some of the ships for Spanish vessels. Meanwhile, the men (the ones packed like sardines) were cooking like Ballpark Franks, “but everyone made the best of it, and there was little or no grumbling even among the men. All, from the highest to the lowest, were bent upon perfecting themselves according to their slender opportunities.”

About the only amusement was bathing over the side, in which we indulged both in the morning and evening. Many of the men from the Far West had never seen the ocean. One of them who knew how to swim was much interested in finding that the ocean water was not drinkable. Another, who had never in his life before seen any water more extensive than the headstream of the Rio Grande, met with an accident later in the voyage; that is, his hat blew away while we were in mid-ocean, and I heard him explaining the accident to a friend in the following words: "Oh-o-h, Jim! Ma hat blew into the creek!" So we lay for nearly a week, the vessels swinging around on their anchor chains, while the hot water of the bay flowed to and fro around them and the sun burned overhead. (p. 63)

By the way, in case you were wondering, this entry is low on cheeky rejoinders because all that talk about sardines and Ballpark Franks is making me hungry.

Finally, the order to sail arrived on June 13th, and by the next day they were actually underway for parts uncertain—would it be Puerto Rico or Santiago? Well, I already wrecked the reveal by saying “Santiago” a few paragraphs ago, so hee-haw for me, I'm a jackass. And while we're on the ocean, Roosevelt's thoughts drift back to Bucky O'Neill.

[H]e, alone among his comrades, was a visionary, an articulate emotionalist. He was very quiet about it, never talking unless he was sure of his listener; but at night, when we leaned on the railing to look at the Southern Cross, he was less apt to tell tales of his hard and stormy past than he was to speak of the mysteries which lie behind courage, and fear, and love, behind animal hatred, and animal lust for the pleasures that have tangible shape. He had keenly enjoyed life, and he could breast its turbulent torrent as few men could; he was a practical man, who knew how to wrest personal success from adverse forces, among money-makers, politicians, and desperadoes alike; yet, down at bottom, what seemed to interest him most was the philosophy of life itself, of our understanding of it, and of the limitations set to that understanding. But he was as far as possible from being a mere dreamer of dreams. A stanchly loyal and generous friend, he was also exceedingly ambitious on his own account. If, by risking his life, no matter how great the risk, he could gain high military distinction, he was bent on gaining it. He had taken so many chances when death lay on the hazard, that he felt the odds were now against him; but, said he, "Who would not risk his life for a star?" Had he lived, and had the war lasted, he would surely have won the eagle, if not the star. (pp. 67-8)

Colonel, please, no spoilers...

On the morning of the 20th, they were in sight of the Cuban coast (“High mountains rose almost from the water's edge, looking huge and barren across the sea.”), and by the end of the day they found themselves anchored off of Santiago Harbor waiting for the order to land, which came on the 22nd. The landing was attempted at Daiquri, (“a squalid little village”), and everything went off with clockwork precision. Oh, who the hell am I trying to fool, the whole thing was as much of a muddle as everything that came before. “There were no facilities for landing, and the fleet did not have a quarter the number of boats it should have had for the purpose. All we could do was to stand in with the transports as close as possible, and then row ashore in our own few boats and the boats of the war-ships.” As it happened, Roosevelt's former aide (Lieutenant Sharp) was in command of a converted yacht that was part of the escort and offered to help put them ashore. Sharp's pilot knew how to get the transport within a few hundred yards of shore, which was a mile and a half better than they managed on their own.

And so, under a cover of American shells, they set off for shore, the men stocked with three days' field rations and a hundred rounds of ammunition. “Our regiment had accumulated two rapid-fire Colt automatic guns, the gift of Stevens, Kane, Tiffany, and one or two others of the New York men, and also a dynamite gun, under the immediate charge of Sergeant Borrowe.” I'm not an expert, but dynamite gun? Now we're talking! A weapon that uses compressed air to fling explosive charges really speaks to a guy who grew up in a part of the country where evil children made pipe bombs to kill time.

Then, we come to the mules and officers' horses they managed to bring with them. What complicated procedure did they use to put their limited animal resources ashore? They pushed them overboard and hoped to God they could swim. “Well, you're on your own.” (swat to the horse's rump) And as the History Channel documentary reminded me, just because a horse could swim didn't mean you could trust its sense of direction; one horse was found alive about a week later, miles off shore and still swimming in the wrong direction. “Both of Wood's got safely through. One of mine was drowned. The other, little Texas, got ashore all right.”

There's also the matter of what immediately followed: “While I was superintending the landing at the ruined dock, with Bucky O'Neill, a boatful of colored infantry soldiers capsized, and two of the men went to the bottom; Bucky O'Neill plunging in, in full uniform, to save them, but in vain.” At the start of the next chapter we're assured “Oh, don't worry, we managed to recover the rifles.”

Okay, fine, I'm sure it wasn't as bad as I made it sounds (unless it was), but hey, we're finally in Cuba!

Next: Making camp before the shooting starts. Did you expect something clever? Cut me some slack! Horses and black guys were drowning up there!

Rough Riders magazine advertisement from June 1899 Atlantic Monthly
Where did the updates go? Don't ask me what ate the past two weeks. All you need to know is that the march to Cuba resumes later today. In the meantime, here's a vintage ad for the book to kill about ten seconds of your day.

Sorry for yet another delay. It's been a busy week in the real world.

Chapter 2 (“To Cuba”) begins with some leftover character sketches that spilled over from Chapter 1, this time focusing mostly on men promoted during basic training in San Antonio, all of them we're promised are good people, but we'll be here all day. Before we plow through, I'd be less than diligent if I didn't mention Louisiana's John McIlhenny, “a planter and manufacturer, a big-game hunter and book-lover, who could have had a commission in the Louisiana troops, but who preferred to go as a trooper in the Rough Riders because he believed we would surely see fighting. He could have commanded any influence, social or political, he wished; but he never asked a favor of any kind. He went into one of the New Mexican troops, and by his high qualities and zealous attention to duty speedily rose to a sergeantcy, and finally won his lieutenancy for gallantry in action.” He then went on to slather the world in Tabasco sauce. And no, I'm not kidding. Check your kitchen cabinet. Admit I'm right.

There's one other leftover that's just too good to skip:

One of our best soldiers was a man whose real and assumed names I, for obvious reasons conceal. He usually went by a nickname which I will call Tennessee. He was a tall, gaunt fellow, with a quiet and distinctly sinister eye, who did his duty excellently, especially when a fight was on, and who, being an expert gambler, always contrived to reap a rich harvest after pay-day. When the regiment was mustered out, he asked me to put a brief memorandum of his services on his discharge certificate, which I gladly did. He much appreciated this, and added, in explanation, "You see, Colonel, my real name isn't Smith, it's Yancy. I had to change it, because three or four years ago I had a little trouble with a gentleman, and—er—well, in fact, I had to kill him; and the District Attorney, he had it in for me, and so I just skipped the country; and now, if it ever should be brought up against me, I should like to show your certificate as to my character!" The course of frontier justice sometimes moves in unexpected zigzags; so I did not express the doubt I felt as to whether my certificate that he had been a good soldier would help him much if he was tried for a murder committed three or four years previously. (pp. 43-4)

Jury foreman: “Your Honor, on the charge of first degree murder, we find the defendant not guilty by reason of a note from Roosevelt.”

Judge: “Case dismissed. And just to speed things up, does anybody else have a note from home?”

Not long after Wood had finished his bureaucratic juggling act to get the store fully stocked, the orders came down to finally—finally!—put the troops (and their 1,200 horses and pack mules) on a train to Tampa. The train was split into seven sections, with Wood taking charge of the first three and Roosevelt the last four. This gives T.R. some thinkin' time.

To occupy my few spare moments, I was reading M. Demolins's "Supériorité des Anglo-Saxons." M. Demolins, in giving the reasons why the English-speaking peoples are superior to those of Continental Europe, lays much stress upon the way in which "militarism" deadens the power of individual initiative, the soldier being trained to complete suppression of individual will, while his faculties become atrophied in consequence of his being merely a cog in a vast and perfectly ordered machine. I can assure the excellent French publicist that American "militarism," at least of the volunteer sort, has points of difference from the militarism of Continental Europe. The battalion chief of a newly raised American regiment, when striving to get into a war which the American people have undertaken with buoyant and light-hearted indifference to detail, has positively unlimited opportunity for the display of "individual initiative," and is in no danger whatever either of suffering from unhealthy suppression of personal will, or of finding his faculties of self-help numbed by becoming a cog in a gigantic and smooth-running machine. If such a battalion chief wants to get anything or go anywhere he must do it by exercising every pound of resource, inventiveness, and audacity he possesses. The help, advice, and superintendence he gets from outside will be of the most general, not to say superficial, character. If he is a cavalry officer, he has got to hurry and push the purchase of his horses, plunging into and out of the meshes of red-tape as best he can. He will have to fight for his rifles and his tents and his clothes. He will have to keep his men healthy largely by the light that nature has given him. When he wishes to embark his regiment, he will have to fight for his railway-cars exactly as he fights for his transport when it comes to going across the sea; and on his journey his men will or will not have food, and his horses will or will not have water and hay, and the trains will or will not make connections, in exact correspondence to the energy and success of his own efforts to keep things moving straight. (pp. 47-8)

So in a nutshell, he's saying that the American style of military (at least as it was back then) rewards the proactive problem solver, and you're in for a flaming pit of hurt if you're a lazy punk who expects things to just happen. It's a good thing that T.R. and Wood are just loaded with get-up-and-go, since they'll need it in spades during the next leg of the trip.

On Sunday, May 29th, the Rough Riders were finally ready to depart for Tampa, with the three sections under Wood loaded first, and here's where things started to go a trifle awry, because if the loading experience was any indication, the 48 hour trip promised by the railroad wasn't going to come off that quickly. “There were no proper facilities for getting the horses on or off the cars, or for feeding or watering them; and there was endless confusion and delay among the railway officials.” Still, Wood had worked out a system to minimize confusion, “and when the delays of the [railroad men], and their inability to understand what was necessary, grew past bearing, I took charge of the trains myself, so as to insure the horse-cars of each section being coupled with the baggage-cars of that section.”

Roosevelt's men worked well into the night to get their freight and animals loaded, but they weren't quite out of the woods yet, since the passenger cars were still a few hours away. Meanwhile, some of the troops had drifted off to get their drink on at the “vile drinking-booths around the stockyard.” As quickly as they turned into military men, they weren't above a little drunken disorderliness once in awhile. One guy was even tossed in jail during basic training and missed the big show. Well, they are supposed to be cowboys...

Once their passenger cars caught up with them (which finally happened around dawn), they finally set off on the two day trip to Tampa, which, thanks largely to the sterling efficiency and precision of the rail yards, managed to be dragged out to four. But don't take my word for it:

The next four days were very hot and very dusty. I tried to arrange so the sections would be far enough apart to allow each ample time to unload, feed, water, and load the horses at any stopping-place before the next section could arrive. There was enough delay and failure to make connections on the part of the railroad people to keep me entirely busy, not to speak of seeing at the stopping-places that the inexperienced officers got enough hay for their horses, and that the water given to them was both ample in quantity and drinkable. It happened that we usually made our longest stops at night, and this meant that we were up all night long.

Two or three times a day I got the men buckets of hot coffee, and when we made a long enough stop they were allowed liberty under the supervision of the non-commissioned officers. Some of them abused the privilege, and started to get drunk. These were promptly handled with the necessary severity, in the interest of the others; for it was only by putting an immediate check to every form of lawlessness or disobedience among the few men who were inclined to be bad that we were enabled to give full liberty to those who would not abuse it.

That's buckets of coffee, not pots. It takes more than a sissy percolator to keep a thousand men awake and grinding their teeth. What the hell do you mean “What kind of coffee is it?” It's the coffee kind of coffee, and hot enough to change your nickname to Ol' Melty if you're not careful. Stir it with your finger if you're brave enough, just not one you think you'll need later. Latte? Latte the back of my hand, ya son of a bitch.

Everywhere the people came out to greet us and cheer us. They brought us flowers; they brought us watermelons and other fruits, and sometimes jugs and pails of milk—all of which we greatly appreciated. We were travelling through a region where practically all the older men had served in the Confederate Army, and where the younger men had all their lives long drunk in the endless tales told by their elders, at home, and at the cross-roads taverns, and in the court-house squares, about the cavalry of Forrest and Morgan and the infantry of Jackson and Hood. The blood of the old men stirred to the distant breath of battle; the blood of the young men leaped hot with eager desire to accompany us. The older women, who remembered the dreadful misery of war—the misery that presses its iron weight most heavily on the wives and the little ones—looked sadly at us; but the young girls drove down in bevies, arrayed in their finery, to wave flags in farewell to the troopers and to beg cartridges and buttons as mementos. Everywhere we saw the Stars and Stripes, and everywhere we were told, half-laughing, by grizzled ex-Confederates that they had never dreamed in the bygone days of bitterness to greet the old flag as they now were greeting it, and to send their sons, as now they were sending them, to fight and die under it. (pp. 51-3)

At the end of this journey was Tampa, “in the pine-covered sand-flats at the end of a one-track railroad.” And who was there to greet them and steer them? Don't be ridiculous—nobody. The whole place was a perfect storm of confusion. “We had to buy the men food out of our own pockets, and to seize wagons in order to get our spare baggage taken to the camping ground which we at last found had been allotted to us.” And if this was a sitcom, the little devil would pop up on his shoulder asking “How do you like your individual initiative army now, Teddy?” while rubbing its stereotypical cloven hooves together.

Of course Roosevelt liked it just fine once he and Wood sorted everything out, and soon the men were camped out along the streets and back to their drilling. “Over in Tampa town the huge winter hotel was gay with general-officers and their staffs, with women in pretty dresses, with newspaper correspondents by the score, with military attachés of foreign powers, and with onlookers of all sorts; but we spent very little time there.” As it transpired, they didn't have to sit tight for long, but they were dealt an unfortunate blow.

There were but four or five days at Tampa, however. We were notified that the expedition would start for destination unknown at once, and that we were to go with it; but that our horses were to be left behind, and only eight troops of seventy men each taken. Our sorrow at leaving the horses was entirely outweighed by our joy at going; but it was very hard indeed to select the four troops that were to stay, and the men who had to be left behind from each of the troops that went. Colonel Wood took Major Brodie and myself to command the two squadrons, being allowed only two squadron commanders. The men who were left behind felt the most bitter heartburn. To the great bulk of them I think it will be a life-long sorrow. I saw more than one, both among the officers and privates, burst into tears when he found he could not go. No outsider can appreciate the bitterness of the disappointment. Of course, really, those that stayed were entitled to precisely as much honor as those that went. Each man was doing his duty, and much the hardest and most disagreeable duty was to stay. Credit should go with the performance of duty, and not with what is very often the accident of glory. All this and much more we explained, but our explanations could not alter the fact that some had to be chosen and some had to be left. (pp. 55-6)

I know I'm still a part of the team, but dammit, I wanted to shoot something! Maybe that Tennessee guy can help me out...and maybe the Colonel can write me one of those notes, too.

On the evening of June 7th, they were informed that the train for Port Tampa, from where they'd be casting off for parts unknown, was leaving at daybreak, and if they weren't on it right on the dot, they'd just have to thumb their way to Cuba. At midnight, the men who were allowed to go were at the appointed track with their gear, but in the spirit of the operation's smoothness so far, their train wasn't anywhere to be found. “Some regiments got aboard the trains and some did not, but as none of the trains started this made little difference.” Finally, they resorted to flagging some coal-cars, and the engineer was persuaded to back his train the whole nine miles to the port. They were dusty—coal dusty, which is the second worst kind at least—but they were there.

Next: Where “there” is, and how ridiculous “there” can be. And Cuba! And this time I mean it!

Thoroughly exhausted—and exasperated—by the '08 Republican Convention, my trip into the heroic past continues unabated with the concluding entry for the surprisingly difficult to condense Chapter 1 of The Rough Riders.

The last post concerned the remarkable individuals that made up the 1st US Volunteer Cavalry, but again, the big trick was turning them into a remarkable fighting force. Fortunately most of them got it. “There were plenty of hard characters who might by themselves have given trouble, and with one or two of whom we did have to take rough measures; but the bulk of the men thoroughly understood that without discipline they would be merely a valueless mob, and they set themselves hard at work to learn the new duties.” For the officers' part, being too hard would have been as fatal as being too loose, since they didn't want to drum out the vital elements that made Congress start beating the bushes for men of the Territories in the first place. To that effect, they only stressed the essentials while letting what was considered nonessential slide, and the men adapted their approaches accordingly. That's not to say there wasn't a learning curve.

One of the new Indian Territory recruits, after twenty-four hours' stay in camp, during which he had held himself distinctly aloof from the general interests, called on the Colonel in his tent, and remarked, "Well, Colonel, I want to shake hands and say we're with you. We didn't know how we would like you fellars at first; but you're all right, and you know your business, and you mean business, and you can count on us every time!"

That same night, which was hot, mosquitoes were very annoying; and shortly after midnight both the Colonel and I came to the doors of our respective tents, which adjoined one another. The sentinel in front was also fighting mosquitoes. As we came out we saw him pitch his gun about ten feet off, and sit down to attack some of the pests that had swarmed up his trousers' legs. Happening to glance in our direction, he nodded pleasantly and, with unabashed and friendly feeling, remarked, "Ain't they bad?" (pp. 30-1)

Yes they (ahem) is. Now put your pants back on, soldier.

While the men were being drilled (first in marching, then in open-order work, skirmishing, and firing), there was the matter of getting and breaking the horses. Come on, it's cavalry. You didn't think they were going to take turns riding each other, did you? At least half were unbroken, but that's where having “abundance of men who were utterly unmoved by any antic a horse might commit” came in handy, and while the basic drills came together “ragged but right,” the mounted drill was a rollicking success. And if you don't understand why, there's obviously a part of the word “cowboy” that isn't getting through to you. Unfortunately, they weren't actually used mounted in battle, which deeply disappointed Roosevelt.

We thought we should at least be employed as cavalry in the great campaign against Havana in the fall; and from the beginning I began to train my men in shock tactics for use against hostile cavalry. My belief was that the horse was really the weapon with which to strike the first blow. I felt that if my men could be trained to hit their adversaries with their horses, it was a matter of small amount whether, at the moment when the onset occurred, sabres, lances, or revolvers were used; while in the subsequent mêlée I believed the revolver would outclass cold steel as a weapon. But this is all guesswork, for we never had occasion to try the experiment. (pp. 36-7)

And since this entry is going to be unspeakably short if I don't allow myself to meander once in awhile, let's pause for a moment to ponder hitting the opposition with horses. Even I (whose knowledge of military tactics ends with Hogan's Heroes) know he's talking about using them as big, fleshy battering rams, but why not a Roosevelt Horse Cannon (patent pending)? Do you think that firing a bronco through the air would be enough to make the Spanish break ranks? Or would we need a few Clydesdales on a catapult to soften them up?

No, no, that would be cruel...unless you trained them to tuck and roll. And wear a helmet and kneepads. It's not like they'd be landing on the hard ground, either, since they'd have a whole Spanish unit cushioning their fall! And yes, I'll stop now. This is what you get when two weeks of unceasing political rhetoric drives me around the bend.

Discarding my brilliant-but-criminally-cruel idea, the weapons of choice were the aforementioned Krag or the revolver, with all cartridges packed with the relatively new smokeless powder to increase visibility during battle. “A few carried their favorite Winchesters, using, of course, the new model, which took the Government cartridge.” For the matters of keeping things moving along, they skipped sabre training, T.R. rightly figuring that cowboys didn't use frickin' swords. Maybe the vaqueros did in old California, but dammit, we're not fighting Zorro today. The concept is enough to trigger one of those ridiculous Family Guy flashbacks. Remember, the idea here is to get these guys into Cuba before the Spanish army dies of old age.

So, the summing up:

It was astonishing what a difference was made by two or three weeks' training. The mere thorough performance of guard and police duties helped the men very rapidly to become soldiers. The officers studied hard, and both officers and men worked hard in the drill-field. It was, of course, rough and ready drill; but it was very efficient, and it was suited to the men who made up the regiment. Their uniform also suited them. In their slouch hats, blue flannel shirts, brown trousers, leggings and boots, with handkerchiefs knotted loosely around their necks, they looked exactly as a body of cow-boy cavalry should look. The officers speedily grew to realize that they must not be over-familiar with their men, and yet that they must care for them in every way. The men, in return, began to acquire those habits of attention to soldierly detail which mean so much in making a regiment. Above all, every man felt, and had constantly instilled into him, a keen pride of the regiment, and a resolute purpose to do his whole duty uncomplainingly, and, above all, to win glory by the way he handled himself in battle. (pp. 37-8)

And we've just run out of chapter 1! Time to get to the main show! The chapter head promised me!

Next: Cuba! Finally! With exclamation points!

Yeah, I know I only had a few more pages to cover in chapter 1, but this whole Sarah Palin thing has drawn me forcibly into the 21st century for the past few days. Not because I'm in the media or anything, just because I'm a filthy stinkin' rubbernecker.

She's going to speak at the Republican convention tonight, selling the idea of herself to the party of Teddy Roosevelt (at least that's what it says on the letterhead), and from there, it's back to Roosevelt building the legend that makes "the party of Teddy Roosevelt" a bit zingier to cap a speech with than "the part of William Howard Taft."

We now return to Chapter 1 of The Rough Riders, which is already in progress. Don't panic, we still haven't made it to Cuba yet.

“The only organized bodies” (that is, regular army) they were allowed to accept were from the Four Territories, “that is, from the lands that have been most recently won over to white civilization, and in which the conditions of life are nearest those that obtained on the frontier when there still was a frontier.” (I'm still really shaky on my history here, but since the mustering-places were New Mexico, Arizona, Oklahoma, and Indian Territory (which had by this time been whittled down to what's now eastern Oklahoma), those are the four he means.) However, their original allotment of 780 men was raised to 1,000, which allowed for recruitment of volunteers outside the Southwest, and since you must love them to love their war, their colorful stories make up the next part of the chapter.

First up: the college boys, social clubs, “and from among the men who belonged neither to club nor to college, but in whose veins the blood stirred with the same impulse which once sent the Vikings over sea.” Were there a lot of Viking raiders in the social set? Is that why T.R. the Prez was a trust buster, fearing the rise of overmonied raiders sailing down the Hudson in massive boats rowed by child labor? “The Morgan mansion is mine this day!” one would shout, holding his battle axe high over his head, ragged bands of accountants kneeling at his feet checking the latest stock tickers. Yes, we have done the Devil's work this day, but look at the spoils, my friends! Now make poses with me, my doughy plutocratic bretheren!

Pardon me, I went on a little trip there. Anyway, the college guys...

Harvard being my own college, I had such a swarm of applications from it that I could not take one in ten. What particularly pleased me, not only in the Harvard but the Yale and Princeton men, and, indeed, in these recruits from the older States generally, was that they did not ask for commissions. With hardly an exception they entered upon their duties as troopers in the spirit which they held to the end, merely endeavoring to show that no work could be too hard, too disagreeable, or too dangerous for them to perform, and neither asking nor receiving any reward in the way of promotion or consideration.

And what did you do with your summer break, punk? Backpacked around Europe? Bah. I snark in your general direction. And no, I never served, so you know what kind of jackass that makes me. Moving on...

The Harvard contingent was practically raised by Guy Murchie, of Maine. He saw all the fighting and did his duty with the utmost gallantry, and then left the service as he had entered it, a trooper, entirely satisfied to have done his duty—and no man did it better. So it was with Dudley Dean, perhaps the best quarterback who ever played on a Harvard Eleven; and so with Bob Wrenn, a quarterback whose feats rivalled those of Dean's, and who, in addition, was the champion tennis player of America, and had, on two different years, saved this championship from going to an Englishman. So it was with Yale men like Waller, the high jumper, and Garrison and Girard; and with Princeton men like Devereux and Channing, the foot-ball players; with Larned, the tennis player; with Craig Wadsworth, the steeple-chase rider; with Joe Stevens, the crack polo player; with Hamilton Fish, the ex-captain of the Columbia crew, and with scores of others whose names are quite as worthy of mention as any of those I have given. Indeed, they all sought entry into the ranks of the Rough Riders as eagerly as if it meant something widely different from hard work, rough fare, and the possibility of death; and the reason why they turned out to be such good soldiers lay largely in the fact that they were men who had thoroughly counted the cost before entering, and who went into the regiment because they believed that this offered their best chance for seeing hard and dangerous service. Mason Mitchell, of New York, who had been a chief of scouts in the Riel Rebellion, travelled all the way to San Antonio to enlist; and others came there from distances as great. (pp. 10-12)

Seriously, I know we're talking 110 years' distance, but this is almost like a university from another dimension. I know a few college guys who don't even “thoroughly count the cost” of choosing a cellphone carrier or posting their contact information on an Internet forum. Who knows from life or death?

The Colonel also made room for his own friends, including Harvard classmate Woodbury Kane (“All he desired was the chance to do whatever work he was put to do well, and to get to the front; and he enlisted as a trooper.”) and “ranch partner” Robert Munro Ferguson. Some of the recruits from Virginia, Maryland and the Northeastern states got a “facts of life” talk before they were sworn in that yes, there was danger and blood and bullets ahead, but there was also exhausting work ahead too, sometimes tedious but always necessary, and you were expected to face them equally. “I warned them that work that was merely irksome and disagreeable must be faced as readily as work that was dangerous, and that no complaint of any kind must be made; and I told them that they were entirely at liberty not to go, but that after they had once signed there could then be no backing out. Not a man of them backed out; not one of them failed to do his whole duty.”

The bulk of the regiment was strictly Four Territories, and you can tell Roosevelt really loved those guys. And since, as I mentioned, you must love them too, here comes the romance of the barely tamed Southwest.

They were a splendid set of men, these Southwesterners—tall and sinewy, with resolute, weather-beaten faces, and eyes that looked a man straight in the face without flinching. They included in their ranks men of every occupation; but the three types were those of the cow-boy, the hunter, and the mining prospector—the man who wandered hither and thither, killing game for a living, and spending his life in the quest for metal wealth.

In all the world there could be no better material for soldiers than that afforded by these grim hunters of the mountains, these wild rough riders of the plains. They were accustomed to handling wild and savage horses; they were accustomed to following the chase with the rifle, both for sport and as a means of livelihood. Varied though their occupations had been, almost all had, at one time or another, herded cattle and hunted big game. They were hardened to life in the open, and to shifting for themselves under adverse circumstances. They were used, for all their lawless freedom, to the rough discipline of the round-up and the mining company. Some of them came from the small frontier towns; but most were from the wilderness, having left their lonely hunters' cabins and shifting cow-camps to seek new and more stirring adventures beyond the sea. (pp. 15-16)

From here, T.R. makes the case for the officers and works his way backwards to the enlisted men.

The Captains and Lieutenants were sometimes men who had campaigned in the regular army against Apache, Ute, and Cheyenne, and who, on completing their term of service, had shown their energy by settling in the new communities and growing up to be men of mark. In other cases they were sheriffs, marshals, deputy-sheriffs, and deputy-marshals—men who had fought Indians, and still more often had waged relentless war upon the bands of white desperadoes. There was Bucky O'Neill, of Arizona, Captain of Troop A, the Mayor of Prescott, a famous sheriff throughout the West for his feats of victorious warfare against the Apache, no less than against the white road-agents and man-killers. His father had fought in Meagher's Brigade in the Civil War; and he was himself a born soldier, a born leader of men. He was a wild, reckless fellow, soft spoken, and of dauntless courage and boundless ambition; he was stanchly loyal to his friends, and cared for his men in every way. There was Captain Llewellen, of New Mexico, a good citizen, a political leader, and one of the most noted peace-officers of the country; he had been shot four times in pitched fights with red marauders and white outlaws. There was Lieutenant Ballard, who had broken up the Black Jack gang of ill-omened notoriety, and his Captain, Curry, another New Mexican sheriff of fame. The officers from the Indian Territory had almost all served as marshals and deputy-marshals; and in the Indian Territory, service as a deputy-marshal meant capacity to fight stand-up battles with the gangs of outlaws. (pp. 16-17)

The ranks were mostly made up of young men, “yet some were past their first youth,” some of whom didn't have a last name, just a first preceded by a colorful adjective suitable for a Time-Life book (Cherokee Bill, Happy Jack, Smoky Moore). There were also Indians (or Native Americans, if you'd prefer), who we're assured were treated as equals, although only a very few were actually pure-blooded. “The others shaded off until they were absolutely indistinguishable from their white comrades,” and the majority of them were schooled “at one of those admirable Indian schools which have added so much to the total of the small credit account with which the White race balances the very unpleasant debit account of its dealings with the Red.” One of the best of the lot was Pollock, a full-blooded Pawnee.

Pollock was a silent, solitary fellow—an excellent penman, much given to drawing pictures. When we got down to Santiago he developed into the regimental clerk. I never suspected him of having a sense of humor until one day, at the end of our stay in Cuba, as he was sitting in the Adjutant's tent working over the returns, there turned up a trooper of the First who had been acting as barber. Eying him with immovable face Pollock asked, in a guttural voice: "Do you cut hair?" The man answered "Yes"; and Pollock continued, “Then you'd better cut mine," muttering, in an explanatory soliloquy: "Don't want to wear my hair long like a wild Indian when I'm in civilized warfare.” (p. 21)

We're running a little long again, so let's pick one more to represent the whole.

Another Indian came from Texas. He was a brakeman on the Southern Pacific, and wrote telling me he was an American Indian, and that he wanted to enlist. His name was Colbert, which at once attracted my attention; for I was familiar with the history of the Cherokees and Chickasaws during the eighteenth century, when they lived east of the Mississippi. Early in that century various traders, chiefly Scotchmen, settled among them, and the half-breed descendants of one named Colbert became the most noted chiefs of the Chickasaws. I summoned the applicant before me, and found that he was an excellent man, and, as I had supposed, a descendant of the old Chickasaw chiefs. (pp. 21-2)

Well heck, not a lot you can do with that, maybe an inappropriate reference to that Cher song or...wait, did he say Colbert?


Is this part of our continuing series “Better Know a Regiment!”? This week: The 1st Volunteer Cavalry. THE FIGHTIN' FIRST!

No no, it was probably this guy from Troop F, the only Colbert on the muster-out roll. I doubt there's a real connection, unless the Choctaw Nation was infiltrated by Irish Catholics at some point (not entirely impossible, y'know). There's just something in the eyes that makes me want to know how he pronounced his last name. As to why Roosevelt calls him a Chickasaw and his picture is in a modern book about the Choctaws...well, most of the letters are the same. Cut a legend-in-the-making some slack, Jack.

We're also assured that while there were some “wild Indians,” it was a wildness like the cowboys with which they hung out, and a bit of “rough discipline” brought the hardest of them around. A taste of the lash? A big stick, maybe? Wouldn't that be cheaply ironic...

From Texas, they tapped the ranks of the famous Texas Rangers, which gave them Nolan Ryan, Gaylord Perry, and...oh wait. Chuck Norris? No? Aw hell, let me start again.

From Texas, they tapped the ranks of the famous Texas Rangers, which gave them disciplined frontier fighters who didn't need much to get up to speed. “They were accustomed to living in the open, to enduring great fatigue and hardship, and to encountering all kinds of danger.” Many of the recruits from Arizona and New Mexico were fresh (if that's the word for it) from Apache fighting, but they weren't exactly the standard from those territories.

As a rule, the men were more apt, however, to have had experience in warring against white desperadoes and law-breakers than against Indians. Some of our best recruits came from Colorado. One, a very large, hawk-eyed man, Benjamin Franklin Daniels, had been Marshal of Dodge City when that pleasing town was probably the toughest abode of civilized man to be found anywhere on the continent. In the course of the exercise of his rather lurid functions as peace-officer he had lost half of one ear—"bitten off," it was explained to me. Naturally, he viewed the dangers of battle with philosophic calm. Such a man was, in reality, a veteran even in his first fight, and was a tower of strength to the recruits in his part of the line. With him there came into the regiment a deputy marshal from Cripple Creek named Sherman Bell. Bell had a hernia, but he was so excellent a man that we decided to take him. I do not think I ever saw greater resolution than Bell displayed throughout the campaign. In Cuba the great exertions which he was forced to make, again and again opened the hernia, and the surgeons insisted that he must return to the United States; but he simply would not go. (pp. 25-6)

All terribly exciting, and the part of Daniels' personal legend which T.R. didn't cover is red-blooded enough to make even John McCain look like he's wearing a dress, yet I'm sad to say that my first question was if he came before or after Marshall Dillon. And if that's where Chester Goode went after season eight.

“The temptation is great,” the Colonel tells us, “to go on enumerating man after man who stood pre-eminent, whether as a killer of game, a tamer of horses, or a queller of disorder among his people, or who, mayhap, stood out with a more evil prominence as himself a dangerous man—one given to the taking of life on small provocation, or one who was ready to earn his living outside the law if the occasion demanded it.” Yeah, tell me about it. So that we won't be here all day, let's concede this point that yes, they were awesome men (and did I mention you must love them? Our whole foreign policy depends on it!), but the trick was to make them into a unified fighting force. We'll have to deal with in the next post.

Next: Basic training, which might actually be a shorter post for a change. Dammit, we still haven't made it out of Chapter 1! Why must your yarn intrigue me so, o great and powerful T.R.?

Before we launch this campaign, one caveat: it's pretty safe to assume this isn't the whole story of the war, or even of the Rough Riders themselves. What we're presented with here is most likely the version of the story considered noble enough for public consumption, and to reassure the homefront that yes, this was a decent war fought for decent reasons by gallant soldiers, the bulk of which were still alive at press time and ready to kick your sorry pansy ass if you decided to split hairs with them. However, this is a first-generation document, and you ignore it at your own peril. (makes “spooky” fingers at the reader)

As a curtain jerker for the main show (Chapter 1, “Raising the Regiment”), the first three stanzas of a Bret Harte poem:

Hark! I hear the tramp of thousands,
And of armed men the hum;
Lo! a nation's hosts have gathered
Round the quick-alarming drum—
Saying, "Come,
Freemen, come!
Ere your heritage be wasted," said the quick-alarming drum.

"Let me of my heart take counsel:
War is not of Life the sum;
Who shall stay and reap the harvest
When the autumn days shall come?"
But the drum
Echoed, "Come!
Death shall reap the braver harvest," said the solemn-sounding drum.

"But when won the coming battle,
What of profit springs therefrom?
What if conquest, subjugation,
Even greater ills become?"
But the drum
Answered, "Come!
You must do the sum to prove it," said the Yankee-answering drum. (p. xii)

If you didn't click the link, the poem's called “The Reveille,” disappointing those of you who were expecting it to be called “Stop Being A Pussy And Enlist Already.” And yes, this poem is also posted somewhere on the Stormfront site, but you can't blame Harte or Roosevelt for that.

(You really expected me to link to Stormfront? No, don't answer that. Yikes.)

As far as launching the story, T.R. doesn't futz around. From the first paragraph: “During the year preceding the outbreak of the Spanish War I was Assistant Secretary of the Navy. While my party was in opposition, I had preached, with all the fervor and zeal I possessed, our duty to intervene in Cuba, and to take this opportunity of driving the Spaniard from the Western World. Now that my party had come to power, I felt it incumbent on me, by word and deed, to do all I could to secure the carrying out of the policy in which I so heartily believed; and from the beginning I had determined that, if a war came, somehow or other, I was going to the front.”

Since there wasn't a war just yet—a minor point soon to be solved—he busied himself getting the navy up to snuff, while finding sympathizers to his point of view in the naval officers, certain Senators, and House members, “particularly those from the West, where the feeling for war was strongest.” But alas, Congress came and went with the seasons, some of them drying up, falling off the tree, and crunching under your feet as you raked them off your lawn. Roosevelt found in Dr. Leonard Wood, an army surgeon and medical advisor to the president, a friend who didn't split town when school let out, but Wood (and I'm sorry to throw this into the pot) is dangerously close to being built up as the lost Galbraith brother before the Colonel comes to his senses.

He had served in General Miles's inconceivably harassing campaigns against the Apaches, where he had displayed such courage that he won that most coveted of distinctions—the Medal of Honor; such extraordinary physical strength and endurance that he grew to be recognized as one of the two or three white men who could stand fatigue and hardship as well as an Apache; and such judgment that toward the close of the campaigns he was given, though a surgeon, the actual command of more than one expedition against the bands of renegade Indians. Like so many of the gallant fighters with whom it was later my good fortune to serve, he combined, in a very high degree, the qualities of entire manliness with entire uprightness and cleanliness of character. It was a pleasure to deal with a man of high ideals, who scorned everything mean and base, and who also possessed those robust and hardy qualities of body and mind, for the lack of which no merely negative virtue can ever atone. He was by nature a soldier of the highest type, and, like most natural soldiers, he was, of course, born with a keen longing for adventure; and, though an excellent doctor, what he really desired was the chance to lead men in some kind of hazard. To every possibility of such adventure he paid quick attention. For instance, he had a great desire to get me to go with him on an expedition into the Klondike in mid-winter, at the time when it was thought that a relief party would have to be sent there to help the starving miners. (pp. 3-4)

Well now, some of that reads like an unprocessed man-crush. I was this close to saying “get a room,” but buddy, a Medal of Honor's nothing to sneeze at. Oh, wait, there's more...

In the summer he and I took long walks together through the beautiful broken country surrounding Washington.

Steaaaaaaaady now...

So they bonded by kicking the football around and other sports, but the conversation didn't stray very far from the Spanish problem. “We both felt very strongly that such a war would be as righteous as it would be advantageous to the honor and the interests of the nation; and after the blowing up of the Maine, we felt that it was inevitable. We then at once began to try to see that we had our share in it.” What that share would consist of was another matter altogether—although both men being tight with the White House gave them a tactical advantage. Nevertheless, there were ten men for every single opportunity, which didn't bode well for a couple of guys (even well-connected guys) who wanted to get right in the thick of the scrap.

All this was solved when Congress authorized three cavalry regiments drawn from the men of the Rockies and the Great Plains. Roosevelt was offered the command of one of the regiments, but realized that in the time it would take for him to get up to speed on finding out how to equip that type of outfit, the war might be over, and that wouldn't be cool at all. “Fortunately, I was wise enough to tell the Secretary that while I believed I could learn to command the regiment in a month, yet that it was just this very month which I could not afford to spare, and that therefore I would be quite content to go as Lieutenant-Colonel, if he would make Wood Colonel.” This was fine and dandy with the Prez and the Secretary, so they were commissioned in the First United States Volunteer Cavalry, dubbed the “Rough Riders” by da peeple! The Colonel actually didn't care for it all that much, but by the time “Rough Riders” started turning up in official communications, it was too late to call that boat back to shore. He probably didn't trademark it, either.

While war fever was so hot that “[w]ithout the slightest trouble, so far as men went, we could have raised a brigade or even a division,” getting the men trained and supplied was something else again. You're not going to send those boys against the Spanish army with pocketknives and slingshots, are you? Well, you might, but that's why you're reading a blog instead of being a hero to the nation. (Unless, of course, you're busy doing both. Sometimes heroes of the nation get a day off.) Apparently, the American army of the time was really hurting for slingshots and etc. etc., which is where Wood's knowledge of red tape (and well-placed, well-timed pestering) came in handy. “To a man who knew the ground as Wood did, and who was entirely aware of our national unpreparedness, it was evident that the ordnance and quartermaster's bureaus could not meet, for some time to come, one-tenth of the demands that would be made upon them; and it was all-important to get in first with our demands.” Wood even managed to get the Krag-Jorgensen carbine used by the regular cavalry (the career soldiers...M*A*S*H hasn't steered me wrong yet on terminology). Sure, they could've waited for everything to make it through channels, but T.R. assures us that thanks to that extra bit of speed, “no other volunteer regiment saw anything like the fighting which we did.” Remember, Teddy Roosevelt was Batman, and Batman ain't no sideline sitter, buddy.

Doggonnit, it just occurred to me that we're within spitting distance of my recent post lengths and I haven't even covered a third of the chapter. Teddy's get-to-the-point, all-meat-no-gristle style so far is fresh air and clear skies after the endless rambling of Waters That Pass Away, but after last month's ordeal, it's also like buying one of those things at the dollar store that looks like a Technicolor hockey puck and watching it turn into a beach towel when you get it wet. Seriously, the best part of the chapter is yet to come, so let's draw a line here to avoid a TL;DR situation and come back in an hour (or maybe a day).

Next: Get to know the Rough Riders! And yeah, I chickened out and used the spoiler tag anyway. Some men can't be proud about these types of things.

Our next selection was originally filed by our anonymous NYT editor under “History, Biography, and Memoirs,” and it's a real humdinger, buddy...

The Rough Riders. Theodore Roosevelt, Colonel First Volunteers, United States Army. New York: Messrs. Charles Scribner's Sons. 8vo. $2.

It is unnecessary to recapitulate the reasons why this is the most interesting account of the American Invasion of Cuba, for no one aware of that achievement is ignorant of the part taken by the present Governor of New York and the regiment of which the close of the war found him commander. What no one can know without reading it is the extraordinary skill with which the narrator eludes the danger of being ostentatiously modest and of boasting either on his own behalf or on his men's, and writes as the infant talked to Eustace Cleaver, “telling this thing just as it was,” because he feels that his country desires to know it. The book is illustrated with forty full-page pictures from photographs, and has two portraits of the author. The other pictures, excellent though they are, will not be needed by those who fight the battles o'er again under Col. Roosevelt's command. Complete lists of the officers and men of the regiment are to be found in the appendices, also some much needed corrections of the narratives given by civilians, and comment by officers present in Cuba, and the text contains some matter not published in Scribner's Magazine, where the book first appeared.

The Rough Riders is our first brush with recognizable (then-) current events in the Project, and brings to the signature event of not only the previous year but possibly of America's post-Civil War foreign policy up to that point. We also hit an anniversary I could've tied this to if I hadn't been so busy with the misery porn of Waters That Pass Away. On August 12, 1898, 110 years ago this month, hostilities were halted in the Spanish-American War, the so-called “splendid little war” that effectively marked the end of the Spanish Empire and warmed up the band for the American Century. (You can safely assume that all I know about this conflict is what I saw on the History Channel, by the way.) The problem here is that, with it still being so fresh, we have more than a few non-fiction books on the list that touch on the conflict in one way or another, even a history of the recently claimed territories with the not too reassuring title of Our Island Empire. So what am I supposed to do? Read the background first or throw ourselves into events? I'm an American, Jack, so the answer is obvious: throw myself into the conquest first and then figure out what the hell's been conquered (and why) later.

In Roosevelt, we finally have an author who truly needs no introduction, so I'll just remind you that in the years immediately leading up to the events in the book he was busy living a life that befits a legend-in-the-making and being Batman. Theodore R. had recently topped off a blockbuster return to public life after spending several years getting his head together out west, first by becoming president of the board of New York City Police Commissioners and bringing a zealous spirit of reform to the NYPD, even going so far as to walk late-night and early morning beats to be sure the patrolmen were actually on duty. He followed this up with an appointment as William McKinley's Assistant Secretary of the Navy, and helped build up the country's sea power on the theory that a nation with global interests needed a modern navy. (Also on his personal belief that we probably needed a war to prevent cranking out a rising generation of callow wimps (you can look it up), but that's just a sidebar to the main show.)

Since I assume you already know how this story ends, I don't feel as compelled to use the spoiler tag. Not that anyone's paying attention to those, of course... I also probably won't be obsessively recapping every section this time, just touching on the points that jumped out at me. Or maybe I will go nuts again. We'll feel it out as we go along. Whatever keeps things moving...

As for the text itself, there are so many options here:

  • Google Books has multiple options for PDF and page-scan fans, and as usual, the page numbers will be from the Scribner's first US edition (complete with fancy-schmancy photographs).

  • Project Gutenberg only gives us a plain ASCII and PDA-compatible version this time, so for a shiny HTML edition (with the aforementioned fancy-schmancy photos), you have to go to

In a perfect world, I'd also be able to link to the serialized version that started in the January 1899 edition of Scribner's Magazine, but for some reason, the otherwise excellent Making of America archive at Cornell comes up a few years short, so you'll just have to settle for Charles Dana Gibson's manly and rugged portrait that accompanied the first installment. Poor you.

(Edit @ 11:24pm: Spoke too soon, because Google has my back on this one, too. Here are the installments from January, February, March, April (which is marred by The Monkey's, scanner's hand...on a few pages. Don't make a wish on it, just to be safe....), May, and June 1899. Regardless, I'm still working from the book for the "exclusive" material.)

Stay tuned, lit fans...we're charging the hill soon.

And once again, links to the Chapter Recaps (chock full of spoilers, links go live as they're posted): Chapters 1 (parts 1, 2, 3) , 2 (parts 1, 2), 3 (parts 1, 2, 3), 4 (parts 1, 2, 3), 5 (part 1, 2, 3), 6 (part 1, 2), and post-game.

Here now, as threatened in one of my earliest posts, is the complete version of “Hammockuity” by J. Ashby-Sterry, partly because this is the last week of summer before Labor Day weekend, but mostly because I'm still smarting from book #3. Some people deal with pain by sublimating...I deal with mine by sharing.

If you swing in a hammock the Summer day through,
And you dream with profound assiduity,
A new phase of content it will give unto you,
Which philosophers call “hammockuity.”

All through the lazy afternoon
Beneath the sycamore,
I listen to the distant Lune,
Or slumber to its roar;
'Tis sweet to muse, to sleep or sing,
When talk is superfluity;
'Tis sweet beneath the trees to swing,
And practise hammockuity.

Forgotten here, I would forget
The destiny fate weaves,
The while I smoke a cigarette
To music of the leaves;
I wish my present lazy life
A lengthy continuity;
Away from trouble, care, and strife,
In happy hammockuity!

While others work, while others play,
Or love, or laugh, or weep;
I watch the smoke rights curl away,
And almost fall asleep!
I'd give up thoughts of future fame—
Despite such incongruity—
I'd forfeit riches, power, name,
For blissful hammockuity!

I hate the booming busy bee,
Who dares to wake me up—
I wonder if it's time for tea,
Or grateful cyder-cup?
I would I could, beneath the trees,
Repose in perpetuity,
And swing, and swing, and take mine ease,
In lasting hammockuity!

    And I reiterate: Hammockuity. Ugh.

    Book #4 is on the way, I promise. Just give me a moment to catch my breath...

    Caution: This post-game rant is going to be a sprawling, rambling mess, so seat yourselves comfortably. And once again, here are the links to the spoiler-laden chapter recaps for the latecomers:
    Book I: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8. (with a Halftime Report)
    Book II: 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6, 7, 8.

    I have a dog whom we didn't train very well as a puppy. She's a great companion, but she won't fetch, she snarls at not only strangers but people who shouldn't be strangers anymore, and does all kinds of ridiculous things to the sofa pillows. But the one thing that confuses me above all is what she does when you point to something, because she'd rather look at your finger than the place where the finger's pointing.

    That in a nutshell is one of the insurmountable issues I had with Waters That Pass Away. Nannie Winston is my dog and she wrote a 300+ page story about my finger.

    To illustrate, let's go back for a moment to Book 1, Chapter 7, which focuses on the disgraceful deeds of Andrew Tompson. When I approached this chapter in the play-by-play, I mentioned the modern critic's favorite mantra: show, don't tell. With those words in mind, I want you to have a look at what's going on at the very end of this chapter, especially in light of what came immediately before.

    We have just burnt several pages, with prose so deeply purple it might as well have been navy blue, dealing with the white hot passion Tompson holds for Helen Galbraith. Everything we've learned about the man so far is (once again) spelled out in big bold letters. We've read maybe the second or third redundant account of his overheated emotions and how she will bend to his will...oh yes, she will (arches eyebrow). We've been told, flatly and rather artlessly, what we're expected to think of him, rather than just letting his creepy, stalkerly actions speak for themselves. But when it comes time for something to actually happen, for the man to act decisively for once in his life...well, you tell me...

    With this purpose clearly defined in his mind, Tompson walked on at an unprecedented pace, heeding no one who passed him by. Reaching Madison Square he still walked on, down Fifth Avenue. At Eighteenth Street he paused a moment, looked about at the numbers of the houses in that vicinity, then facing towards the east, crossed over to Broadway, and continuing east from this point he finally disappeared into a house which appeared to possess the double character of a residence and place of business.

    It is useless, and would be degrading, even if not uninteresting, to follow Andrew Tompson into this house, and to listen to the exact conversation which he held there with one who should not, under any conditions, never have touched his life. It is sufficient to say that when, at an early hour of the morning, Tompson turned into his own home, he was perfectly aware that he had been guilty of a dastardly act. He had placed the matter of Helen Galbraith and Mr. Westmore into the hands of a skilled detective! The truth he must have. The events of the future must come within his knowledge, so that he could deal with them according to his own purposes. This was his excuse, and so entirely had he yielded to the promptings of his lower nature, that he honestly felt himself justified in adopting any course which might realize the end he had in view. (pp. 147-8, my emphasis)

    So to summarize, we've been told in excruciating detail the state of mind that led him to the decision to hire a private detective, complete with extensive editorializing. We've been shown what he was doing in the hours immediately before his fateful decision. We've been told of the immediate aftermath of the detective decision. We're even given a turn-by-turn Google Maps-esque narrative of the moments before he entered the man's office. The only thing we're not privy to is the actual meeting this case, we're not even given a frustratingly vague summary from the narrator. In fact, we're told it's not even worth talking about. Don't give it another thought.

    The whole episode is infuriating, all the more so because it happens over and over again. We're told the sad story of Marie Levier and her bastard child through a third party, which is followed by a “what is to be done” debate by Mrs. Elliott's League of Busybodies, but Helen's visit to the girl, which we're assured was long and exhausting, is dismissed in one desultory sentence, and the whole episode is never mentioned again. Forget about showing adultery (seriously, that was too much to ask), it's hard to accept Helen as a woman being befouled when the author can't even bring herself to use the word “adultery.” Even worse, Westmore vanishes from the story for the entire length of their affair. After the initial “darling” at the end of Book 1, he only shows up again once it's time to dismantle the evil that he's done, and not a second sooner.

    The whole narrative is maddening like that, circling around key events from an extreme distance without actually landing on them. I understand that the author was probably a genuinely pious woman, and didn't set out to write anything other than a sincere corrective, but if you're going to write a story about sin, you're going to have to write about the sin at some point. That's not what we get.

    What we do get—in spades—are a number of rambling conversations, apparently about whatever the the author was thinking about at the time and usually completely superfluous to the story. We're also given an exhaustive history of Alexander Galbraith, telling us—again, not showing us—how godlike and imposing he was when he was operating at full-power (and with all his limbs), but he doesn't actually do anything in the present-day story but stare out the window and slowly waste away. It's an amazing amount of space wasted on a character who was utterly incidental to the plot.

    And so many Mary Sues! Would it have killed Ms. Winston to introduce a flawed but sympathetic character? The wrong decisions and the delusions were reserved almost solely for the selfish, evil antagonists. And yes, Helen Galbraith was a sinner, but you convince me that she was genuinely flawed. Her major grievous mistake had a lovingly crafted element of perfection, since she was coerced into a liason so she could keep the job that kept her husband from dying of starvation. Once you realize what type of characters the story has been populated with and where they line up on the moral axis (and none of that was left to guesswork, since it was spelled out at every juncture) nothing that happens (or nothing that you've been told just happened) really surprises you.

    Did I mention that I couldn't stand this book? This is the one time I missed having a hard copy version so that I could have the joy of throwing it across the room after I finished the last page. That's not to say there's nothing you can take away from the book, since Pliny the Elder said that even a bad book can teach you something. The digressions give you a quick trip through the attitudes of the times, and the book itself is an extreme example of sentimental style of writing that, let's face it, just doesn't work today, but was deemed Quite Worthy in 1899. In that way, it's educational...just not particularly entertaining.

    MVP Of The Book: I was very close to declaring myself the MVP, just for finishing it without pulling my hair or eyes out, but in the end I have to hand it to Sherman Elliott, so rugged and manly that his sweat smelled like Old Spice before anybody knew that was what Old Spice smelled like, for delivering in the final chapter the one monologue that felt like it had flesh and blood behind it, rather than reaching for the mechanical effects of leaden melodrama that dominate the text.

    One of the many textual games I play to keep myself engaged is to find the messages that actually speak across the chasm to us, and the last paragraph of Mr. Elliott's homily seemed to be staring holes in The Way Things Are Now—both in 1899 and 2008. When he says “Those that crave great positions, rather than true greatness—those who undertake tremendous labor for the fame attached to it rather than for the sake of adding a finer and more enduring quality to human labor—these become often popular heroes—but also only for a time,” he might as well be talking to you, buddy. It also served to open up the whole “sit still and suffer” concept as more than a callous turn of phrase (although let's be honest, it strikes modern eyes in a very different way). You can tell this is where the author's real emotional investment lies, and she puts those words into the mouth of Sherman Elliott. It's a shame Ms. Winston didn't come through until the end was in sight, and even then was only able to hold it together for two pages.

    Would you recommend it to a friend? Oh, God no. I can't think of anybody I've ever known who would appreciate this story as straight entertainment, and if they're looking for a so-called “problem novel,” they don't have to go here.

    Is this (still) a summer book? Definitely not. The book was well enough regarded in its day—but not, as I found out, well enough regarded to avoid being retitled when it was reissued a few years later—but for modern audiences, it's the exact opposite of a light read. Waters That Pass Away is the type of book that the stereotypical view of 19th century popular reading was built around. It was an ordeal to finish (it took a whole frickin' month, want me to go faster on the penalty rounds, start paying me), and I've been told that even my recaps were rough sledding; that's only because I want you to hurt like I do. Unfortunately, that doesn't bode well for the rest of the list, since for a style to become a stereotype, there obviously has to be more than one book like this on the list. My heart is overcome with terror...

    Before I let it drop, it's also worth mentioning that to go directly from The Hooligan Nights, where any morality was suggested by a character's actions but judgment was left to the reader, to Waters That Pass Away, where every page tells you at length what you're supposed to think, makes me realize what a vegetable feels like when it's being blanched.

    No nagging question this time. Let's just get this over with...

    Coming soon: The long-awaited Round 4! I've got an idea of my own, but as always, I'm open to suggestions.

    (If some of this Waters recap seems a bit hurried, that's because finally I can see the end in sight! Take me home!)

    As we reach Book 2, Chapter 8, the final step in our long ordeal, Sherman Elliott has finally noticed that envelope on his desk, the one that has “Important—to be read at once” written across it. He opens it, reads it, puts it down, and asks his private secretary to summon Westmore immediately. Oh, you couldn't possibly think we were done with the concentrated evil of Old Man Westmore? The evil so monumental that the author can't even bear to talk about it? And since Helen left him, he'd managed to regain some of his old hubris in the interim.

    Westmore would have gladly have delayed this meeting as long as possible. Yet he did not apprehend any great difficulty; Mr. Elliott could not afford to break with him and create a scandal, having his family and his editorial position to maintain, and no money of any consequence. The first rude shock, when Helen had imparted the condition of things to him, had stunned him terribly—making him fear that his reputation and great power were hopelessly lost. However, he had spent several hours considering the matter, and had decided that through its financial side he would be able to settle the whole thing satisfactorily and finally. Bracing himself, therefore, for the unpleasant interview which he could not avoid, he presented himself in the private office of the editor about eleven o'clock at night.

    “He will die game!” Mr. Elliott commented mentally, when he saw Westmore. The two men sat down opposite one another. (pp. 302-3)

    Elliot cuts to the point immediately, that Helen has spilled the beans on everything, and when Westmore tries his “that wily temptress” gambit for the first time (“I suppose you think, Elliott, that a man is to remain immaculate before every kind of temptation.”), the editor lowers the boom. “I do not believe for a moment that Mrs Galbraith tempted you. Nothing you say will make me believe it.” In addition, he makes it clear that he's become increasingly aware of the whiff of brimstone that Westmore's character puts out when the wind is right. The fate of Helen Galbraith was just the cherry on the cow chip sundae.

    Well, what is to be done? Elliott has that decided, too; the present business associations between the two men must come to an end. Although he puts up a token fight, he seems perfectly fine with it, if that's the bullheaded direction his associate wants to go. Get on your bike and pedal your overprincipled ass out of here, Sherman. Oh, but Elliott isn't planning on going anywhere.

    Wait, what?

    “I am going to speak to you very plainly, Mr. Westmore,” said Mr. Elliott, “and I do not wish to be misunderstood. The association must end, but you are the one who must go. You have no right to hold the place you hold. Your character in no way justifies the influence you can exert whenever you wish to do so. This paper is a great paper—its power is unlimited—it should be in the hands of true-hearted men who will exercise their power at all times as it should be exercised. When I came to you I did not know what kind of man you were; but now that I know, I consider myself bound so far as I can to restrict your power—to force you to retire from the situation. You must accept the terms I have to offer—for I intend to remain.”

    “I do not understand you—what do you mean?—what are you aiming at?” asked Mr. Westmore anxiously, beginning to fear that after all he might be beaten.

    “I mean this,” replied Mr. Elliott, still speaking quietly. “There was a time when I could not have commanded capital; but to-day that is different—no man in New York can command it more readily than I can, and from a high class of men. I propose to buy this paper, and run it entirely myself. You can put your own price upon it—but all the world knows what its stock is worth.”

    “But suppose I do not consent to sell,” Westmore stood directly before Mr. Elliott—he spoke as quietly as the later had done,—but it could be seen that he was furiously angry.

    “Then your whole character is revealed to the town.”

    “And you would also expose your dear friend, Mrs. Galbraith?” he asked contemptuously.

    “I do not need this last piece of wickedness to undo you; the reputation of Mrs. Galbraith is safe in my hands. That deal of last fall in connection with those western mines—that, you know, would be sufficient.” Mr. Elliott spoke very slowly watching the effect of his words. The effect was instantaneous. Westmore started, his face turning very pale. (pp. 306-7)

    Well, since you put it that way...

    As Helen before him, Mr. Elliott makes it clear that he didn't do this out of spite or personal interest. In fact, in doing this, he anticipated taking on a debt that he'd never live to completely pay off, but when you're the editor of a great metropolitan newspaper, you have a moral obligation to do the right thing. (Are you listening, New York Post? Oh sorry, that was “great metropolitan newspaper.” And I see I already did a Post snipe during this book, so never mind.) With that, the matter was settled, although Westmore, unreflective to the bitter bloody end, never forgave Helen Galbraith for her part in his ignominious fall from influence.

    The next morning, fully recharged from his chore, Mr. Elliott shares Helen's letter with the missus, who is so shaken that she reads the sorry history twice. Obviously something must be done, so Sherman sets out alone to make it clear that the Elliotts have her back. He arrives not a moment too soon, as there's now a dead body in the parlor. Gradually, Helen unburdens herself completely, and in response, Elliott gives her a small sampling of Eternal Truths. This is what the author has been building to through the whole book, so we might as well take it at full blast...

    “'Expect a grain of wheat fall into the earth and die, it abideth by itself alone; but if it die, it beareth much fruit.' This, it seems to me,” he said, “is what you must learn. You started forth in life confident of the promise of eternal youth, of eternal success. But this is never to be in any life. Youth must go—success must give way—we must learn to die to our own ambitions—even to what often seem to be our aspirations. We may try to escape a personal knowledge of the deeper truths, of the more searching and awful lessons of life; but if it be necessary for our own development that we learn them, God will surely bring us face to face with them—will instruct us, if even by severe methods, where we need instruction. There is no food which the soul needs but truth, and when once it is fed upon truth, all that is material, all that is physical will fade away, and the spiritual will come into our lives with clear and compelling dedication. I know, Mrs. Galbraith, that these things are true.

    “One must often wait long,” he continued, “for the hour that he is strong enough to grapple with and master the weakness, or the wilfulness, or the rebelliousness, of his own nature. But when that hour is come, as will surely be the case, if one is not 'disobedient unto the heavenly vision,' there will come a transformation like the descent of the heavens upon the earth, and the whole world will not be fuller of unspeakable splendors than is the human soul that has endured, and pressed forward, and achieved the entire conquest of self.”

    He saw that Helen followed his words with attention, and that they seemed to bring some kind of help, or light to her.

    “Possibly,” he went on, feeling that something concerning his own experience might draw her nearer to him, and add impressiveness and value to what he had already said, “possibly, no man comes closer to the heart of a people in modern life than does the editor of a great daily in a city like New York. In such a position a man stands shoulder to shoulder with all the great movements of his time, and with all the men who are behind these movements. If the editor will observe closely he will see that one great law works through every grade and every development of life. For a time, often, men, who are purely self-seeking, who aim to lift themselves by means of association with a great cause, seem to succeed, but only for a time. Those that crave great positions, rather than true greatness—those who undertake tremendous labor for the fame attached to it rather than for the sake of adding a finer and more enduring quality to human labor—these become often popular heroes—but also only for a time. I have seen it repeat itself over and over. My own career has taught me that the only men who, at the final count, are the winners in public life, as in private life, are those who learn to seek other things than the gratification of their own ambitions, or their own wills. In saying this, I am not seeking to point you to a state of self-abnegation where life is barren and cold and fruitless. Such, however, would not be the result of the kind of self-surrender of which I am speaking. The life which I have in my thoughts is one filled with labor and righteousness and the pursuit of truth—and you will find in it what you will find in no other life—no matter what has seemed its promise at the start—you will find in it happiness and eternal hope.” (pp. 313-5)

    Oddly enough, this was the first passage in the book that I could genuinely get behind, because finally we've reached a section that doesn't feel as artificial as a wind-up toy, even if it is still a trifle stiff. I'll touch on this fully in the post-game report, since it deserves revisiting, but for the moment I'll say this excerpt deserves to be in a far better book than this one. It definitely hammers home the Book of Job vibe I got from all that “sit still and suffer” talk.

    On Mr. Elliott's pledge that friendship is a sacred bond (“not even love is more sacred than friendship”...oooooo-kay), Mrs. Elliott soon takes charge of the household for the duration of the funeral preparations. Eventually the Elliotts remove Helen from her cottage completely, allowing her to finally catch her breath and mend body and soul. Turns out she really needed it, because after Alex is buried in his hometown, she slides into an exhausted torpor.

    After several weeks of recharging, she becomes conscious of a desire: “Yes, I want the sea! that is it!” Obviously the sea wasn't coming to Grammercy Park any time soon—global warming hadn't even been invented yet. So they make the arrangements for a quiet cottage on White Island in the Isles of Shoals, which seems to do the trick in spades.

    Alone now, except for the eternal sound of the sea, Helen gave herself up to the welcome loneliness and freedom of her life. During these days she seemed to be always awake and out of doors, and the sunrise became as familiar to her as the sunset. She began to feel that for the first time in her life she was brought face to face with the vast powers of nature, and that she was gaining a new sense of the relations of man to his Creator. Often in the soft, moonlit summer nights, while she was leading this sea-bound, solitary life, she would go alone down to the water's edge and sit there in silent awe and wonder at the majesty of the solemn sea and of the great forces of the universe. At such times as these, the mingled mysteries of human pain and human grief were unfolded to her vision; and then it was she began to feel that the future might yet hold sacred duties for her. The thought of Galbraith was always with her; but principally as he had been in his young manhood, stretching forth his strong, willing hands towards the work which he longed to do. At times the thought of him in that different life—bereft of his arms, succumbing day by day to the miseries and agonies of a slow death—this thought would come; and when it came she felt it was more than she could bear in her solitude. But as the days went by, and the influence of sky and sea wrought upon her, the lesson which all of this was meant to teach commenced to be learned by her; and the life of which Mr. Elliott had spoken—the life filled with labor and righteousness and the pursuit of truth—this life commenced to seem possible to her.

    [...]Now she saw that up to this time, even in those days of fiercest battle before Galbraith's death when she sought to surrender entirely her own will, that up to this time, through all the past, her life had been but a struggling, rebellious one. Never had she been willing to sit still and suffer, never submissive to accept what had come to her; but always fighting to alter the condition of things, always striving to find a way of her own. (pp. 318-9)

    Not long after, the Elliotts made an unannounced visit to see how Helen was coming along, and in their conversation by the shore, Helen makes clear that she's ready to go back, to find that world of “labor and righteousness and the pursuit of truth.”

    [“]My aim now is to redeem the time—to find again the way which I have lost—in fact, so to live that I may prove myself worthy to have been the chosen companion of so large and beneficent a soul as was Alex Galbraith's.”

    “Then you are ready to go back with us?” asked Mrs. Elliott, gathering Helen's hands in her own as she spoke, and pressing them against her heart.

    “Yes, my friend, if you will have me,” Helen replied.

    “Now and always,” said Mrs. Elliott. “We need you—your work needs you—no woman in the world has a place more ready for her than you have.”

    “You are too good! You are too good!” Helen's tears could no longer be held in check.

    “We are not good, dear; we only love you,” said Mrs. Elliott, putting her arms about Helen's shoulders and drawing her closely to herself. (pp. 320-21)

    “Then, I have a plan, dear,” said Mrs. Elliott. “There are my girls on the East Side. Some one must help me about them.”

    “And I—am I to be that one?” Helen asked eagerly.

    “Yes, my dear, if you will.”

    “Ah, I thank you, that is what I want—it will bring me what I seek.”

    “Then the future has hope in it already,” said Mr. Elliott.

    And so it came to pass that to-day there goes in and out among the homes of sin and degradation in New York city a tall, pale woman of wonderful grace and beauty, who, clad in a simple robe of black, is looked upon by many weary, fainting souls as their Vierge Consolatrice. The sympathies and merciful kindnesses of this woman knows no limitations. Her life is dedicated—the seal of a great cause has been put upon it—and at last she walks steadily onward, her heart purified and subject to the will of God. (p. 322)

    Sure, that makes it sound like she became a non-Catholic version of an nun, but nothing can kill this moment for me. The glory shines all around my keyboard, not just because Helen Galbraith has discovered redemption through helping others, but because this dire, interminable book has finally ended! Huzzah!

    Next: Post-game or post-mortem? Either way, once again I try to make sense of it all. Say a prayer, light a candle...

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