A Correction

Island Life


“Mr. Speaker, would it be in order to move that the article which has been read, be excluded from the Globe? It is absolutely disgraceful to the House of Representatives of the United States that we should have consumed so much time in listening to such balderdash and nonsense.”                                                                               Rep. Ebon Ingersoll (R.-Ill.) 20 March 1866

It should be noted before we get into where I might be going with this, that the article mentioned above did get read into and recorded for posterity as a part of the Congressional Globe- the predecessor to the Congressional Record which itself came into being in 1873. In the category of “It’s still amazing what one can find on the internets”, I was able to contact the Library of Congress and get digital copies of the transcripts from when this exchange transpired. The reason this congressional back and forth took place was that Horace Greeley had written an article in his paper, the New York Tribune, about how he disagreed with Rep. Calvin Hulburd’s plan for some national debt repayment. As it was, both men were from New York and both were founding members of Lincoln’s Republican party, but in this instance they seemed to be miles apart in regard to how a government debt was to be paid off.

The extended exchange between the two was a lot of money-speak to me, which went beyond my head and out the door. But apparently Mr. Hulburd took enough offense at Mr. Greeley’s desire to speed up debt payments along with his less than complimentary characterization of Hulburd’s grasp of economics,  that Hulburd decided to suggest a reading in the House of a part of Artemus Ward’s most recent book, ‘Artemus Ward, His Travels’ from the chapter titled “Horace Greeley’s ride to Placerville”. Ward was the pen name for Charles Farrar Browne, a comic writer who was a favorite of Abraham Lincoln’s and an inspiration for Mark Twain. One entire chapter in the ‘Travels’ book was dedicated to Horace Greeley’s stagecoach ride with legendary driver Hank Monk. Seven years after Ward had embellished a description of that ride, Twain included a whole chapter in his book ‘Roughing It’ of a similar telling of that same ride. Both versions had Greeley bouncing all around in the passenger compartment of the stagecoach as Monk whipped up his horse teams in order for Greeley to get to Placerville in time for a speech he was to give there that evening. The problem with both versions is that most of the pictures that they painted of the ride were basically untrue, especially the part where during one of the more chaotic parts of the ride Mr. Greeley’s head crashed upward through the roof of the coach.

Besides being one of the best stagecoach drivers in the West, Hank Monk was also a legendary drinker and storyteller. With Carson City and Genoa being the largest towns in the Nevada territory at the time, and Placerville having both a booming mining business as well as being a transit hub in that area of California, Monk had the opportunity to tell the Greeley story to a number of people as he drove back and forth regularly on that route across the state/ territory line. While the Greeley/Monk tale has been viewed as one of the basic conflict between East coast establishment and the Wild West, I hadn’t thought (and hadn’t read anywhere) until just now that perhaps Monk’s reason for making Greeley look the fool was that the main stated reason that Greeley was traveling from New York to San Francisco in this summer of 1859 was to promote the completion of the transcontinental railroad- something that wouldn’t happen for another ten years. Apparently, Greeley did make a bit of a pest of himself by badgering Monk about his need to get there on time, which did not sit well in Monk’s quarter. But it could also have been that Monk realized that a transcontinental railroad just might have an adverse effect on his trade of stagecoaching, and that even though he was committed to getting Greeley there on time, he wasn’t happy with the idea of aiding an agent of doom for his livelihood.

Some out there might still be wondering at this point where it is exactly that I am going with this. For that I would reference back to the reading of this tale in the House of Representatives and its subsequent enshrinement in the Congressional Globe as a means of making Horace Greeley look the fool. The problem with all that is that most of this telling of this part of his trip has no basis in fact. It is true that Hank Monk drove Horace Greeley through the Sierra Nevadas on the way to Placerville- I have even seen the stagecoach that took them there and read the documentation papers that confirmed that. A big problem with Mr. Ward’s version is that he has the journey beginning in Folsom on the California side and then traveling east to Placerville. As this was a part of Greeley’s westward journey from New York, this assertion makes no sense. And in Greeley’s own telling, while it is somewhat unclear where his voyage with Monk began, it all definitely originated in the Nevada territory. The bouncing around in the back of the coach part would have been a comic exaggeration of the experience that any rider might have had on this passage, but having one’s head go through the coach roof was clearly not close to being a common or random occurrence. The only injury that Greeley is known to have sustained on the entire trip, besides sore feet and saddle sores, is a gash to the leg when a mail wagon he was riding in overturned in Kansas.
There are some other details that don’t fit as well, but we won’t go into those here.

There is another reason that I am putting you through this obscure history lesson besides the fact that it’s something I’m working on right now, and that is that it has to do with elections. It has been said that this comic dramatization of the Placerville ride had a part in Horace Greeley’s loss to Ulysses S. Grant in the 1872 presidential election. For a number of reasons, I think that assumption would be a grand oversimplification. If this reason for the election outcome had been the case, then that electoral decision was made on the basis of a fiction. In a similar vein, it would be a bad thing if things that I wrote here a few weeks back regarding the parks had a negative influence on whether or not the Vashon Park District were able to carry on into the future. It is not that I intended any of that to be humorous, because it isn’t. I didn’t make anything up, but I also didn’t double check my sources which sometimes can be as bad as creating a fiction.

Over the last week I went to a Park Board meeting and had a two hour meeting with Director Ott-Rocheford. What had set me off the most in what I had heard about the Park District and the VES field was that former commissioner David Hackett had somehow become involved there again. What Director Ott-Rocheford assured me of was that Mr. Hackett was acting in his role associated with the Vashon Soccer Club regarding the installation of the field lights there and that he had no official connection to Parks. She also made it clear that the current Park Board of commissioners were adamant that not one more cent of Parks’ money would be spent on completing the still unfinished project there, and that tThe money that was paying for the lights, and the future replacement of the mobile restroom was all coming from grants and not Island taxpayer money.

As for the photo that accompanies this column, it is something of a visual in the Ebenezer Scrooge/ Christmas-yet-to-come mode. While Agren park is indeed closed now as the grass repairs there are allowed to take hold, it is possible that this combination of chains and signage