How the West Was Won

Western Wagons

They went with axe and rifle, when the trail was still to blaze,
They went with wife and children, in the prairie-schooner days,
With banjo and with frying pan—Susanna, don’t you cry!
For I’m off to California to get rich out there or die!

We’ve broken land and cleared it, but we’re tired of where we are.
They say that wild Nebraska is a better place by far.
There’s gold in far Wyoming, there’s black earth in Ioway,
So pack up the kids and blankets, for we’re moving out today!

The cowards never started and the weak died on the road,
And all across the continent the endless campfires glowed.
We’d taken land and settled but a traveler passed by—
And we’re going West tomorrow—Lordy , never ask us why!

We’re going West tomorrow, where the promises can’t fail.
O’er the hills in legions, boys, and crowd the dusty trail!
We shall starve and freeze and suffer. We shall die, and tame the lands.
But we’re going West tomorrow, with our fortune in our hands.

Stephen Vincent Benet

Something for a New Year weekend.  The theme  song from the movie How the West Was Won (1962).  The death of Debbie Reynolds drew my attention to this film, which featured her in a starring role.  The film itself is an uneven work, but it has a magnificent score which captures something of the spirit of the pioneers.    The settlement of the West, from the Appalachians to the Pacific, is perhaps the defining event in the history of our nation and it receives too little historical comment.  Thomas Jefferson thought it would take one hundred generations to settle the land beyond the Mississippi.  Instead, from the ending of the American Revolution to the census of 1890 which proclaimed that the frontier no longer existed, barely five generations had passed, and there were a handful of Americans at the end still living who had lived through almost all of it.  This epic tale is perhaps too large for the historians and thus today I have picked out two poems written by Stephen Vincent Benet that convey a small fragment of the passion, grandeur, tragedy and wonder  of it all. (more…)

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Published in: on December 31, 2016 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on How the West Was Won  
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Bishop Lawrence Scanlan

Bishop_Lawrence_Scanlan

Judging from his photograph, Lawrence Scanlan, first Catholic Bishop of Utah, was not a man to be trifled with, and perhaps that was a factor that helped him get along with Mormons so well as he established Catholicism in their Zion.  Not long after Father Scanlan arrived in Utah, he was invited by the Mormons in Saint George, Utah to use their tabernacle to say Mass.  They even supplied a chorus that could sing Latin High Mass!

Respect for Catholicism had been planted in Mormonism at the start.  The Mormon prophet Joseph Smith gave this speech when an Ursuline Convent was burned in Boston in 1834:  :”The early settlers of Boston . . . who had fled from their mother country to avoid persecution and death, soon became so lost to principles of justice and religious liberty as to whip and hang the Baptist and the Quaker, who, like themselves, had fled from tyranny to a land of freedom; and the Fathers of Salem, from 1691 to 1693, whipped, imprisoned, tortured, and hung many of their citizens for supposed witchcraft; and quite recently, while boasting of her light and knowledge, of her laws and religion, as surpassed by none on earth, has New England been guilty of burning a Catholic convent in the vicinity of Charlestown, and of scattering the inmates to the four winds; yes, in sight of the very spot where the fire of the American Independence was first kindled, where a monument is now erecting in memory of the battle of Bunker Hill, and the fate of the immortal Warren, who bled, who died on those sacred heights, to purchase religious liberty for his country; in sight of this very spot, have the religionists of the nineteenth century demolished a noble brick edifice, hurling its inhabitants forth upon a cold, unfeeling world for protection and subsistence.”

Knowing severe religious persecution in their early years, the Mormons felt a kinship to other persecuted religious groups, including Jews and Catholics.  Prior to Father Scanlan arriving in Utah, Brigham Young helped Father Mathew Kelly get the land to build the first Catholic Church in Salt Lake City. (more…)

Published in: on June 4, 2015 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Bishop Lawrence Scanlan  
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Sister Blandina on the Path to Sainthood

sister-blandina-segale

 

 

One of the pioneer nuns of the Old West is on the path to sainthood, Sister Blandina Segale:

 

 

The Archdiocese of Santa Fe announced Wednesday it is exploring sainthood for an Italian-born nun who challenged Billy the Kid, calmed angry mobs and helped open New Mexico territory hospitals and schools.

Archbishop Michael Sheehan said he has received permission from the Vatican to open the “Sainthood Cause” for Sister Blandina Segale, an educator and social worker who worked in Ohio, Colorado and New Mexico.

It’s the first time in New Mexico’s 400-year history with the Roman Catholic Church that a decree opening the cause of beatification and canonization has been declared, church officials said.

Go here to read the rest at The Sacramento Bee.

 

I heartily support this cause!  Here is a post on Sister Blandina that I wrote back in 2012:

Rose Marie Segale was born on January 23, 1850 in the small village of Cicagna in Italy.  When she was four she and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, part of the initial wave of immigration from Italy to America.  From her earliest childhood she was determined to be a sister and frequently told her father that she wanted to join the  Sisters of Charity as soon as she was old enough.  She began her novitiate at the age of 16.  When she professed her vows she took the name of Blandina Segale.  She taught at Steubenville and Dayton, and in 1872 she was ordered to Trinidad for missionary work.  Initially she thought that she was being sent to the island and was thrilled.  Instead, she was sent to Trinidad, Colorado in the western part of that state.

What she found when she got there, was a town that was frequently visited by outlaws and where lynchings were common.  A fairly rugged environment for a 22-year-old sister!

Nothing daunted, she began to teach.  Soon after she got there she stopped a lynching by convincing a dying man to forgive his assailant, the father of one of her pupils.  Sister Blandina and the sheriff brought the accused killer from the jail where he was being held to the bed of the dying man, through the midst of an angry lynch mob.  The dying man, very generously I think, forgave the man, the lynch mob dispersed, and the man’s fate was determined by the court and not the mob.

One of the many outlaws who terrorized the area was Arthur Pond aka William LeRoy, sometimes known as Billy the Kid, and who was celebrated as the King of American Highwaymen by the “penny dreadful” novelist  Richard K. Fox who released a heavily fictionalized biography of him immediately after his death, conflating his exploits with those of the more famous Billy the Kid.  (Sister Blandina in later life confused LeRoy with William H. Bonney, the more famous Billy the Kid, who operated in New Mexico a few years later.  Sister Blandina had known the outlaw only by his nickname and didn’t realize that there were two Billy the Kids, who died within months of each other in 1881.)  A member of his gang had been accidentally  shot by another member of his gang and left to die in an adobe hut in Trinidad.  Learning this from one of her students, Sister Blandina went to the outlaw and nursed him back to health, answering his questions about God and religion.   When Billy the Kid showed up in Trinidad one day, intent on scalping the four doctors who refused to treat the man Sister Blandina had been caring for, he thanked Sister Blandina and at her request reluctantly spared the physicians. (more…)

Published in: on July 8, 2014 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Sister Blandina on the Path to Sainthood  
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Jim Bridger

Something for the weekend.  Jim Bridger, Johnny Horton’s 1960 tribute to the mountain man.  Bridger was the Zelig of the early West.  There were few major events in the West between 1822-1868 that he wasn’t involved in.  Raising two families with Indian women he married, his first wife dying in childbirth, Bridger was the first white man to set foot in various parts of the far West.  Active in the fur trade, he founded Fort Bridger and at the age of 60 in 1864 he blazed the Bridger Trail from Wyoming to Montana. (more…)

Published in: on March 2, 2013 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on Jim Bridger  
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Sister Blandina and the Original Billy the Kid

Rose Marie Segale was born on January 23, 1850 in the small village of Cicagna in Italy.  When she was four she and her family moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, part of the initial wave of immigration from Italy to America.  From her earliest childhood she was determined to be a sister and frequently told her father that she wanted to join the  Sisters of Charity as soon as she was old enough.  She began her novitiate at the age of 16.  When she professed her vows she took the name of Blandina Segale.  She taught at Steubenville and Dayton, and in 1872 she was ordered to Trinidad for missionary work.  Initially she thought that she was being sent to the island and was thrilled.  Instead, she was sent to Trinidad, Colorado in the western part of that state.

What she found when she got there, was a town that was frequently visited by outlaws and where lynchings were common.  A fairly rugged environment for a 22-year-old sister!

Nothing daunted, she began to teach.  Soon after she got there she stopped a lynching by convincing a dying man to forgive his assailant, the father of one of her pupils.  Sister Blandina and the sheriff brought the accused killer from the jail where he was being held to the bed of the dying man, through the midst of an angry lynch mob.  The dying man, very generously I think, forgave the man, the lynch mob dispersed, and the man’s fate was determined by the court and not the mob.

One of the many outlaws who terrorized the area was Arthur Pond aka William LeRoy, sometimes known as Billy the Kid, and who was celebrated as the King of American Highwaymen by the “penny dreadful” novelist  Richard K. Fox who released a heavily fictionalized biography of him immediately after his death, conflating his exploits with those of the more famous Billy the Kid.  (Sister Blandina in later life confused LeRoy with William H. Bonney, the more famous Billy the Kid, who operated in New Mexico a few years later.  Sister Blandina had known the outlaw only by his nickname and didn’t realize that there were two Billy the Kids, who died within months of each other in 1881.)  A member of his gang had been accidentally  shot by another member of his gang and left to die in an adobe hut in Trinidad.  Learning this from one of her students, Sister Blandina went to the outlaw and nursed him back to health, answering his questions about God and religion.   When Billy the Kid showed up in Trinidad one day, intent on scalping the four doctors who refused to treat the man Sister Blandina had been caring for, he thanked Sister Blandina and at her request reluctantly spared the physicians. (more…)

Published in: on October 11, 2012 at 5:30 am  Comments (3)  
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How The West Was Won

Something for the weekend.  The theme from the film How the West Was Won (1962).  I have always enjoyed the music from that epic, although I thought the film was too overblown and disjointed.  Here is one of the better sequences from the film: (more…)

Published in: on March 19, 2011 at 5:30 am  Comments Off on How The West Was Won  
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