Monday, December 30, 2013

"Rutherfraud", Florida, and election results....

In the 1870's, the country's tenuously restored unity frayed, and the voting public was closely divided.  On the morning after the election of  1876, Tennesseans and other Americans awoke to find that the results were in dispute.  The candidate of the Democratic Party, Tilden, had won 184 electoral votes, or so it seemed.  This was one short of the majority needed to carry the election.

The Republican Candidate, Rutherford B. Hayes, appeared to have 166 electoral votes.  So, Hayes was the clear winner, was he not?  You might think so, but the election results from three states were in doubt, and this called the electoral college's vote into question.  The disputed states were Louisiana, South Carolina, and', in an eerie forerunner to the election of 2000, Florida.  Coincidentally or not, these were the three states in which Federal troops remained and which were still operating under Reconstruction governments.

Both Democrats and Republicans claimed victory in these states and, thus, in the overall election. They also argued over who had the right to settle the disputed results, and, this led to the appointment of a bipartisan commission to arbitrate.

By this time, the American voters growing weary of the Civil War's aftermath, including the goals of Reconstruction.  Even when it came to protecting the rights of the new black voters, the public's attention was elsewhere.  One matter which occupied center stage was the tumultuous, ongoing settlement of the west.  Another consuming issue was whether and, if so, how to regulate the burgeoning business sector.

Since the Republicans were the party associated with the Union Cause and Reconstruction, they were no longer seen as being as progressive as northern Democrats were.  At the same time, Southern Democrats were reviving in power.  These two components of the Democratic Party were forming a solid voting block.  They were similar in many points, though the Southern Democrats were pushing back against the gains that black voters had so recently won.

The Inauguration quickly approached, and, still, the election had not been settled through official channels.  Only through some backroom maneuvering did things finally come to a conclusion.  The Democrats agreed to withdraw their claim that Tilden had won the election.  In return, the Republicans agreed to withdraw all remaining Federal troops from the three contested states.  This compromise would mean the end of Reconstruction and also of direct military protection of black voters.  Long story short, this compromise played into a filibuster, which ended by the commission deciding that Rutherford B. Hayes had won the election.

Ironically, Hayes who was a supporter of both Reconstruction and the protection of all voters, regardless of race or ethnicity, followed through by ending Reconstruction and withdrawing the 3,000 or so remaining Union soldiers in the South.

Many, black and white, were incensed by this compromise, and they voiced their indignation loudly.  One tactic was to twist President Rutherford B. Hayes' name into President Rutherfraud.

To black leaders and black voters, this compromise was the ultimate betrayal.  Without even a symbolic Federal presence in the South, white supremacists among the Southern Democrats were emboldened to enact the harsh Jim Crow regime.  Sadly, this pushed the struggle for equality back one hundred years, until the Civil Rights movement turned things around.

Wednesday, August 21, 2013

The War of the Roses....

Mention the War of the Roses to a historian, and he or she will most likely think of the long, medieval battle between the Houses of York and Lancaster for the throne of England.  Tennessee had its own version, though, happily, with no bloodshed.

On August 20, 1920, after weeks of debate, the Tennessee State Legislature ratified the 19th Amendment by one vote.  Of course, this is the amendment giving women the right to vote.  In the weeks leading up to the vote, the Hermitage Hotel served as headquarters for supporters of both factions:  pro-ratification supporters, who wore yellow roses, and anti-suffrage supporters, who wore red roses.  Thus, the debate was dubbed the War of the Roses.

The one vote that broke the tie between pro-amendment and anti-amendment was dramatic indeed.  The very young legislator, Harry T. Burn, had gone about wearing a red rose, indicating his anti-suffrage feelings.  Yet, in his pocket, he also carried a letter from his mother, who urged him to "Hurrah and vote for suffrage!"  She told him she had been anxiously waiting to see what he would do.  After much thought, Harry decided that he should obey his mother and vote for suffrage, after all. This caused an outcry among the people who had counted on him to vote against the amendment. Harry, who was born in Niota, Tennessee, lived from 1895-1977.         

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Tell you what, the thing is, here's the deal, I'm here to tell you....

The other day, I wanted to use the expression, "I'm here to tell you..." in a piece of writing.  The more I thought about it, the more I wasn't sure how widespread that expression is.  I associate it with Alabama, but maybe it's said in Tennessee, too.

I googled it and found nothing about that expression.  I did come across a site where a Russian is attempting to teach American expressions to other non-native English speakers.  He had been reading a book in which a sentence started with "Tell you what".  He made a fairly good guess as to its meaning, but I thought he might have missed some regional subtleties.  Others had commented on this, including one person who wanted to know the difference between "The thing is..." and Tell you what..."

Urban dictionary informed me that "I tell you what" is a southern expression.  I am frequently surprised when I hear that words I commonly use are "southern".  Having lived in the South all of my life, I hear and use expressions that I assume are common to the whole U.S.  I must admit, though, that we southerners do come up with lots of ways to add emphasis to our sentences, and all of the phrases I've mentioned are intended to do just that.

Anyhow, this Russian speaker was pulling 50 American idioms from a work of fiction and was going to learn them and teach them. Seeing English through his eyes and the eyes of his readers made me realize just how rich our language is. As we all know, English is a hybrid of several different old languages, and new phrases borrowed from various ethnic groups are being added all of the time.  Not only that, but we do use a lot of slang and idioms and regional variations which gives a lot of color to our speech.

We all recognize a phenomenal amount of phrases.  When hard pressed to define the subtleties among them, I'm not sure that I would always be able to come up with a perfect explanation. But, I do understand the distinctions when I hear them and use them when speaking.

How would you explain the following expressions to a non-native speaker?  Here's my attempt.  Let me hear your comments about your understanding of these phrases.

"Tell you what." I normally would use this to introduce a compromise in a discussion or to volunteer a way to help someone out of a dilemma.

Sister #1.  My friend just invited me to go to the movie.  I really want to go.

Sister #2.  Why don't you?  You've finished your homework.  I think mom would say yes if you ask.
Sister #1   The thing is, I promised her that I would clean my room tonight.
Sister #2   Tell you what.  I'll clean your room for you tonight, if you'll clean mine on Friday.
Sister #1.  Thanks.

I know that "I tell you what" can be used just as a means of emphasis, either at the beginning or the end of a sentence.  Supposedly it is used this way most often in Texas.  I lived in Texas for a short time and don't particularly remember that it was used there more than in Tennessee.  Perhaps, it was, and I just brought it back to the southeast with me.  Anyhow, I think we'd all know what someone means if they say, "I tell you what; that test was hard."   I've also heard people say, "Man, I tell you, that test was hard.  I'm afraid that I flunked it."

To me, "I'm here to tell you..." begins a sentence in which you want to add emphasis.  For example:
"I'm here to tell you that you ought to clean your room before you go to the movie."

"The thing is..." introduces a new fact or opinion to a conversation.  Usually, I would use this when explaining why someone should change their mind about something or when I need to bring up a point that someone hasn't considered.  Sometimes, it's my real reason for objecting to something. In my example of the sisters, one sister uses it to explain the obstacle in her way of going to the movies.  Here's another way I might use this phrase in a conversation.

Friend #1.  My car is in the shop.  Would you drive me to my cousin's house tonight?
Friend #2.  You mean right now?  I don't see well at night.  I don't feel comfortable driving across town.
Friend #1.  Oh, you'll be all right.  Let's go.
Friend#2.  The thing is, I'm nearly out of gas, and the stations are closed.  So, you see that I can't drive you tonight.  I will be glad to take you in the morning as soon as the stations open and when I can see well enough to drive.

 I'd use "The deal is..." or "Here's the deal..." in the same way.

Here's another way it might be used.  Suppose two friends in New York meet and they talk about a third friend.

Friend #1:  Why is Anne upset with me?"
Friend#2:  You told that joke that put down Tennessee football."
Friend#1:  So, I didn't mean anything by it.
Friend#2:  The thing is, Anne is from Knoxville.  She moved up here from Tennessee, and she's a diehard Vols fan.
Friend#1.  Oh, I see.  I'll apologize to her tomorrow

"Tell me about it," is a phrase that I associate with the north, though I and nearly every other southerner I know uses it now.   I would say it in response to an emphatic opinion with which I agreed.

Someone might say to me.  "It's hot today.  A real scorcher."
"Tell me about it," I might say, as I wiped the sweat from my brow.
I don't literally mean that I want them to tell me anything.  I am agreeing with the statement they just made.

I applaud the Russian speaker for tackling the complexities of American idioms!

What say you?  How do you use these and similar expressions?   Are some particular to Tennessee and the South, or are they common throughout the U.S.?




Wednesday, June 19, 2013

It's Raining Snakes!

I'm glad that I was born too late for this event:  In January of 1877, thousands of living black snakes, ranging in size from a foot to a foot and a half, rained down on south Memphis.  This was according to several reports.  Scientific American theorized at the time that the snakes had been lifted by a hurricane from somewhere else and deposited in a rainstorm on the streets of that Tennessee city.

There is an alternate and, perhaps, more believable explanation.  There was, indeed, a torrential downpour, and, after, the citizens of south Memphis truly did find thousands of black snakes on the ground in at least a two-block area around Vance Street.  This was a newly constructed area at the time. There is some thought that the snakes crawled up from the ground, rather than rained down in the deluge. 

There were so many snakes that some were twisted around each other like threads.  According to Unnatural Phenomena by Jerome Clark, one local man scooped up some of the creatures and put them in a jar, which he carried to a local paper -- The Weekly Public Ledger.   The Ledger put the story on the newswires, attracting the interest of other publications, such as the New York Times and Scientific American. Unnatural Phenomena also states that Sargent McElroy of the U.S. Signal Corps also gathered specimens and sent them to Washington.  If so, those these specimens and the records of them have been lost to time. 

According to the book, McElroy's description of the creatures' movements implies that they might not have really been snakes, but a type of parasitic worm that can be mistaken for snakes.  There are some problems with this theory, especially that the appearance of such worms does not exactly match eye-witness detailings of the creatures.  A modern researcher has suggested that the animals were actually leeches carried in by a waterspout in the Mississippi. Again, this explanation does not fully fit with eye-witness accounts from the day.  Both theories do have some plausible aspects, though.  

Whether it was snakes or some other creatures, and whether they came up from the ground or down from the sky, it was definitely a creepy-crawly happening!


Sunday, April 21, 2013

The Trail of Tears in Tennessee...

In 1906, my great-grandfather recalled the removal of native Americans in 1837.   Large groups of dispossessed tribes camped at Chappell's Ford and on Love's Branch in Maury County.  A great many local citizens went to see the people and were surprised to find that some of the Indians, as they were called, were prosperous.  Some even rode in fine carriages and carried slaves with them. 

Wealthy or not, those who were moved from or through Tennessee were anguished to leave the land where their nations had lived for thousands of years. The "Indian Removal Act", signed into law by President Andrew Jackson in 1830, caused much suffering for those who were forced to follow a "trail of tears" to unfamiliar lands in the west.   

Famous French author Alexis de Tocqueville was in Memphis, Tennessee, as Choctaws were being dispossessed and moved from the surrounding region.  He wrote the following in Demoracy in America:
 In the whole scene there was an air of ruin and destruction, something which betrayed a final and irrevocable adieu; one couldn't watch without feeling one's heart wrung. The Indians were tranquil, but sombre and taciturn. There was one who could speak English and of whom I asked why the Chactas were leaving their country. "To be free," he answered, could never get any other reason out of him. We ... watch the expulsion ... of one of the most celebrated and ancient American peoples.

Wednesday, April 3, 2013

Highways and Budgets

Photograph by Sandra Hughes

Do you think highway construction projects are a modern headache?  Think again. In the early days of our country, our federal government faced the challenges of building essential roads.  One of these led south from its beginning point in Tennessee.

As with most road projects, the first issue that needed to be settled for this road was the issue of land rights. In 1816, the Chickasaw Indians ceded their claim to the land north of the Tennessee River.  (That's a whole story unto itself.)   Up until that time, the southern boundary of Maury County, Tennessee had been a dividing line in the area between lands owned by the Indians and lands open to white settlers.  With these new lands available to them, that year's Congress did what any good Congress would do:  It allocated 10,000 dollars to the construction of the Great Federal Highway, otherwise known as the Military Road.   This road would lead right through the new territory.

The next issues were oversight and labor. General and future president, Andrew Jackson, was placed in charge of the project.  His soldiers performed most of the work.  The road was to be 40 feet wide, and it would lead from Nashville to Madisonville, Louisiana.   Though the road served all travelers, it's main purpose was to provide an easier route for the army to travel southward.  This is similar to Eisenhower's first purpose for the construction of today's Interstate system, which was to provide convenient movement of troops throughout our country should the need arise.

From June 1817 to May 1820, three hundred men worked on the road.  That's not a bad time frame considering the magnitude of the project and the era in which is was carried out.

The workers included soldiers, sawyers, carpenters, blacksmiths, teams of oxen, traveling forges, and horses.  Jack McGhee, a slave, shod horses for Jackson's workmen.  He died in 1877 at the age of 100.

How did the $10,000 budget fare?  As you might have guessed, the road cost more than expected.  In fact, a total of $300,000 was spent.     

After the completion of the road, the Postmaster General ordered that the mail be carried over this road, and the old Natchez Trace ceased to be the mail route.  After that, the Trace declined as the main thoroughfare from Tennessee to Natchez, though it has been reconstructed as a scenic highway.  Again, this prefigures our modern times, in which old state routes have declined as Interstates have become the major traffic conduits.  The famous Route 66, for example, is one of those old routes that have been overshadowed by the Interstate system and are traveled now mainly for nostalgia.      

Today, parts of the Old Military Road are still in use in Tennessee and Alabama, though with modern paving, of course.  The photo accompanying this article is of a historical marker in northern Alabama commemorating that section of the route.

Main Source:  Jill Garrett's Hither, Thither, and Yon.  



Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Tennessee folklore -- chihuahuas cure asthma

photo by Tyke
Have you ever heard the myth that chihuahuas can cure asthma?   Asthma runs in my middle Tennessee family and sinus problems in my west Tennessee kin.  I used to visit my mother's cousins in rural Maury County.  They lived in the original cabin built when my family settled the area in the very early 1800's.  They were such a warm and welcoming family, and I used to love my brief visits there.

These particular cousins kept chihuahuas as pets.  They firmly believed that chihuahuas "take" asthma from asthma sufferers, thus leaving their owners well.  Since then, I have heard that this belief is or was common in Tennessee, as well as in Georgia and other areas.

I've long tried to trace how this belief came to Tennessee given that chihuahuas are not a native breed here.  I haven't been able to find out the exact origien.  If you know, please leave a comment!

In doing research,  I did find that a)  chihuahuas will often lie near or on places where people are hurting, and the warmth of their bodies may provide a sense of ease, b)  chihuahas, with their short hair, might be easier for some with allergies and asthma to tolerate than other pets, but this is not always so, c)  chihuahas do often make coughing or wheezing sounds which might lead to the mistaken belief that this is because the chihuha is taking the asthma upon itself and removing it from the person, and d) since asthma often goes into remission when a person enters their teens, it might be that people buy chihuahas for asthmatic children near the time when they might get better anyway and they coincidentally improve --at least for a time. 

Whatever the origin of the belief, my cousins' chihuahuas became beloved pets.  Perhaps because they were so well-loved, they were the calmest, sweetest chihuahuas I've ever met.

I know from experience that having a loyal, cuddly dog around you can be comforting when you are ill.  If you have asthma, though, I wouldn't recommend bringing a chihuahua into the home unless you have already tested it for a time and know that you do not get worse being around the dog.  Chihuahuas do not cure asthma, despite the myth.  In fact, they can make asthma worse if they cause an allergic reaction.



Tuesday, March 5, 2013

The bountiful table of the Maxwell House Hotel

In my upcoming novel, "By Streams of Water" (release date August 1, 2013), one of the main characters and her husband make a trip to the Maxwell House hotel in the 1870's.  Here is a recounting of that experience:

Edward had booked a suite for Kathleen in the fashionable Maxwell House hotel, which was at the corner of Church and Cherry Streets. Seeing the place in all of its new grandeur, she found it hard to think that it had so recently been a Union army barracks. It had housed Confederate prisoners, as well, a thought which made Kathleen shiver.
The front entrance, which was directly across from the Men's Quarter, was flanked by eight Corinthian columns and led into a magnificent rotunda. No decent woman wanted to be seen on Cherry Street these days, so the hotel had added a separate entrance for ladies. For that, Kathleen was grateful.
Once inside, there was so much to take in. The ladies entrance led to parlors and drawing rooms in such beautiful colors. There was a Dunham piano so that the women could have music while they chatted or while they promenaded around the mezzanine.
The hotel boasted steam heat, gas lighting, and a bath on every floor. In the main lobby, there were cabinetry of fine mahogany, brass fixtures, gilded mirrors, and breathtaking chandeliers. There were men's parlors in addition to the women's, and Kathleen thought these sitting areas were all lovely. She was not so enamored with the billiard rooms and bars...
...Once they were seated at the table, she couldn't make up her mind what to eat. Edward obviously delighted in going over the choices with her. The bounty reminded her of feasts that she had taken for granted before the war.
She looked up at Edward through fluttered lashes. “Oh, let's start with the turtle soup. No, let's have the gumbo.”
Edward nodded. “We can have the trout in anchovy sauce for the fish course.”
For the entrees, the couple decided on filets of beef, braised with mushrooms and Salmi of Prairie Grouse, with Spanish olives. They added fresh asparagus in butter, succotash, stewed tomatoes, and baked sweet potatoes. They followed that with yellow coconut drops and coffee.
“Oh, it was all so wonderful. I'm too full to move,” said Kathleen.
“I've never known you to be too full to dance.” Edward stood up and extended his arm to her. The couple made their way to the ballroom, where they joined in a waltz. Edward looked down at her tenderly. Then, he whispered into her ear, “I've missed twirling you about in my arms.”
“I've missed this, too,” she whispered."

 copyright Elizabeth A. Mundie 2013

Thursday, February 7, 2013

When It's Iris Time In Tennessee...

It's almost Iris Time in Tennessee!  What would our pretty state be without all of the lovely irises?  I suppose that's why one of our official songs is entitled, When it's Iris Time in Tennessee.  (We have at least 8 official songs!!The song was written by Willa Waid Newman and was adopted by the State's General Assembly as the official state song in 1935.  Here's a partial rendering of the lyrics:
(Photo by Luc Viatour)

When it's Iris time down in Tennessee,
I'll be coming back to stay
Where the mockingbird sings at the break of day
A lilting love song gay.
Where the Iris grows,
Where the Harpeth flows,
That is where I long to be.
There's a picture there that lives in memory
When it's Iris time in Tennessee. 

The Iris flower, itself, was adopted as Tennessee's state flower in 1933.   This created a slight problem, as the passion flower (Maypop) had been officially named the favorite flower in a poll of Tennessee school children fourteen years earlier.  In 1973, after years of Tennessee gardeners preferring one to another, the state legislature reached a compromise:  the iris is now the state's cultivated flower and the passion flower is the state's wildflower. In practicality, the iris receives more attention as the state flower.